When a person hears about a fox hunt, one naturally thinks about a bunch of people riding around on their thoroughbred horses wearing red or black jackets with jodhpurs following a pack of hounds chasing a fox. This usually also entails a bit of champagne drinking and a few nut cases from PETA complaining about everything.
Last year was the first time I heard there was going to be a fox hunt in Unionville, Iowa, of all places. I had to see this. I was not aware of more than half a dozen thoroughbreds in the whole area and I did not personally know anyone that would be seen in public in jodhpurs. I was filled in with the details when I arrived.
The annual fox hunt, officially named something about southeast Iowa and northeast Missouri annual dog show, trials and a few other things, is called the fox hunt to make life easier for those discussing the event. It is actually the competition for the dogs that are used to hunt coyotes the year 'round. Some of these dogs are great hunters and some are not so good. As with any sport, there is a certain amount of bragging about who is the best.
Over a hundred years ago, a few people in Unionville decided to quit arguing and put their money where there mouths were. Dogs were entered, put out for the hunt, and scored on such factors as staying on trail, leading the pack, and tracking ability. The competition has grown to be quite a spectacle. Since my son does a bit of coyote hunting but does not have a dog in the hunt, he has been chosen to help judge for the past two years.
The contest begins at O'Dark-thirty on Saturday morning. Over a hundred dogs are dropped off in the middle of nowhere and they take off hunting. I am glad they are not dropped off at my little piece of the middle of nowhere. That many dogs can make a heck of a racket. They are happy and ready to go. They do not hesitate to tell the entire world about their excitement.
The judges are scattered over several square miles. The dogs have large numbers marked on their sides. When a coyote runs by a judge, the dogs that are hot on its trail get good scores. The dogs that get caught chasing cars on the highway (yes one did) or are seen chasing deer, (yes several did), they get marked down or blackballed from the competition. The judges move from one location to another trying to stay with the main pack.
Last year, Damon borrowed a mule from a friend to follow the pack while judging. Little did he know, the friend had a mule that needed to be trained and thought this would be the perfect opportunity to get the job done. Every couple of hours, the mule would get tired of the whole game and dump Damon off onto the ground. After the third time, Damon became a bit perturbed and had a heart-to-heart discussion with the mule. The mule may be trained now, but just in case, Damon took his own horse for his judging duties this year. I have not heard of anyone falling or getting thrown off their mounts this year.
Over one hundred and thirty dogs competed, which I am sure made every coyote in the area very nervous. A few deer may have decided to leave the area also and move to the more quiet confines of rural Drakesville. One dog traveled over 20 miles away while hot on the trail of something. A couple dogs got caught in the fences and were rescued. The last I heard, there was only one dog not returned to his rightful owner. He has a tracking collar and is still on track, having a good time, just like everyone else did on the great annual fox hunt.
Walter Scott is an outdoors enthusiast and freelance writer from Bloomfield, Iowa.