There is something to be said for a thing that lasts a very long, long time. My hunt, Wicomico, has been around for 85 years and today was the 85th edition of the opening day hunt. Traditionally this signals the official start of foxhunting over the 2014-2015 winter season.
Foxhunting is a sport that has not died with the advent of modern civilization, in defiance of all logic and certainly in the face of some really difficult times. Our nation’s Founding Fathers were highly supportive of foxhunting; George Washington left a good bit of writing behind about hunting, a subject probably that got more than its fair share of his time. Hounds were imported to this country to chase fox right here in Maryland, just beyond the Bay Bridge, actually, in the mid 1600’s. That’s right — 1600’s. Foxhuntings’ roots run very deep in America.
Our hunt, Wicomico, had its start in the thriving community of Salisbury, Maryland, back in the 1920’s when so much open land around the town lent itself wonderfully to the sport. Up until the 90’s much of the hunt’s usual hunting locations were in Wicomico County, in and around Salisbury. Today, however, the hunt has no land left in that vicinity. Most all of the land over which the hunt did follow hounds is now housing development, although if you drive slowly and look hard you’ll still see an occasional wooden coop at a fence corner.
It’s hard to talk about Wicomico Hunt without talking about Hamilton Fox, who joined the new hunt as a young sportsman in the professional and social whirl of Salisbury. Ham guided the hunt as master for many years, riding at the end when he had to be lifted upon a horse to hunt the hounds. He brought many people with him to fox hunt. We lost Ham in 2013, but there is no question he was with us today as hounds cast in our first trot into the woods. A strong person often carries a good idea forward and acts as a beacon. They attract energy and support. It is no mystery Ham was such a great huntsman, and strong leader – he was a lawyer and decorated World War II military veteran who served on D-Day in Europe. It’s hard to know exactly but it is very likely Ham attended well over half of those 85 years of opening day hunts with Wicomico. No wonder I felt him those quiet moments walking single file in the woods with first field, as hounds cast for scent.
Opening day is the day when everyone comes to meet up, follow hounds, and socialize after. We bring delicious food to our little barn clubhouse on private property near our state hunting land. There are trailers that pull in and park and unload all sorts of horses from every breed, and the folks who ride are from all walks of life, young and old, experienced and green. We pay honor, almost unconsciously, to the 84 years that have gone before us today, the spirits of good horses no longer in the trailer, hounds no longer hunting, men and women no longer following hounds or laughing and talking at breakfast with a beer and plate full of food. The fox is the only one who knows, completely, what the foxhunting we do is all about, the only one who controls the sport. Perhaps that is the secret survival reason for foxhunting, that ultimately, man cannot control the game and only a small woodland creature with a bright red fur has the last word.
If the enthusiasm and energy of today’s foxhunters is any measure, the sport will last and thrive again another 60, 70, 80 years. Long live this hunt!