A fox hunt with no foxes

February 5, 2013

McClellanville, South Carolina

By Randall Hill

In a thick strand of woods in rural Georgetown County, South Carolina, the self-proclaimed “Gullah Huntsman” Bill Green prepares for his latest drag fox hunt. It’s a cool day in early February and the stocky built African-American man sits comfortably atop his trusted horse.

“You got to treat these animals with loving kindness,” he says with a smile referring to the fox hunting hounds and horses he trains for these events. “If you don’t treat them well they won’t do what you want.”

Green pulls from a stained and worn saddlebag a wet rag tied to a long rope. The strong, pungent smell of fox urine covers the area around him like a cloud when he opens the bag. It’s an odor so strong one doesn’t need the olfactory prowess of a dog to detect.

On this day Green is portraying the fox in this hunt presented by the Middleton Place Hounds, a foxhunting club of Charleston. The club has traveled to plantation land in nearby Georgetown County owned by one of its members.

The members of Middleton Place Hounds take pride in conducting drag hunts where no live foxes are used or killed in events. With that idea, Green is hired to drag the urine soaked rag through the woods, giving the hunt club’s hounds a scent to follow and their horses a path to chase.

Meanwhile back in the horse staging area about a quarter mile away, Middleton Place members prepare their horses and sip sherry in red plastic dixie cups before the start of the hunt. Depending on their experience level and rank, there is etiquette for proper attire and colors to wear for the event.

Middleton Joint Master Frank D. Haygood of Charleston strokes his horse “Mr. Big Stuff” on the head as he prepares to place the saddle. The large white horse with speckled brown spots, takes a step back and then resumes its meal of hay stuffed in a bag on the side of the horse trailer.

Haygood is one of three leaders of the hunt and one of a handful of men who are members. He is wearing the customary leadership yellow vest and billowy neck garment with white riding pants.

“I’ll admit the clothes are kind of prissy but everything serves a purpose,” he said while harnessing the horse. “This necktie can be used as a tourniquet or bandage if you fall and have an injury.”

Soon Green takes off through the woods and lays a path for the hounds with the drag of the cloth. He adds to the scent by spraying fox scent from a plastic squirt bottle staged at his side like a cowboy’s pistol. Every few yards he will lay down a squirt from the bottle. A horn is sounded and the hounds, horses and riders take off in a quick pace into the woods on the path of the scent.

Later, non-riding observers sip on bloody marys and share hors d’oeuvres around a large fire pit as they gather in front of a plantation house about a mile away. In the distance you can hear the dogs clamoring as they chase the scent laid down by Green.

A half hour later, the riders and hounds emerge from the woods and gather around a large pond on the property. The hounds jump into the pond and drink to cool off from the run.

Green and his crew conducted five drags that day. After the fifth, the members dismounted from their horses and gathered back at the plantation house for socializing and a catered meal of flounder, cole slaw and yellow rice.

Joint Master Kathy Wall, wearing a black derby hat, is all smiles after the run with her horse. She seems at ease around the horses and friends that gather for the hunts. The group’s 75 members meet for about 40 hunts during the season that spans November to March in South Carolina.

The Middleton Place Hounds club was established in 1973 and has always been a hunt that involves no live foxes. “We just want to keep the tradition of the Fox Hunt alive.” She said. “Drag hunts give us the opportunity to control the hunt so we can better predict how long they will take.”

No comments so far

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/