Fox hunting, deer hunting, duck or dove hunting. What are they all about? Every person has a different opinion. When questioned, most hunters will agree the greatest joy is sharing the great outdoors with friends who have a common interest.
Fox hunting is similar to most team sports in that each member of the team has his or her own unique job and skill set. And yet, everyone must work together in order for the team to be rewarded. In fox hunting the team consists of riders (men and women from first grade to senior citizen), horses, and foxhounds. Each person, horse and hound has a special place on the team.
The biggest difference between fox hunting and other sports (and in my opinion what makes fox hunting so joyful) is our playing field. We don't use a well-groomed fairway or the inside of a stadium. Instead, we get to enjoy Mother Nature's entire playground: through open pastures, pine thickets, and pecan fields; past hardwoods with many colored leaves; and into creek bottoms by ponds and streams. We have it all. Our hunt is truly blessed to know landowners who allow us to enjoy this countryside.
In modern fox hunting, killing is not the objective or the desire. The thrill - which causes the adrenalin to flow for riders, horses and hounds alike - is the chase. The hounds catch the scent and start to make their beautiful music. The horses hear the hounds and can barely stand still while waiting for the huntsman, staff and the field to peel off in hot pursuit.
As they chase, the huntsman tries to match wits with the coyote or fox, striving to get closer, constantly second-guessing which way the animal will turn. The goal is to get as close to the front of the chase as possible. This is where the music of the hound's voices is its loudest, and just maybe, if you're lucky, you'll see the quarry.
But Brother Fox and Wile E. Coyote are tricky; they know how to play and how to enjoy this game of chase. Brother Fox likes to circle over and over his own trail. Sometimes he runs in the middle of a creek or across the top of a fence or darts into the middle of a herd of cattle, anything to keep it interesting for all the players, himself included. When he gets tired of the game, he might duck into a hole or den sending out a fresh fox to take over or he'll climb a tree, thus ending the game.
While all this has been taking place, the riders and horses have been racing through the woods, dodging trees, crossing creeks, jumping ditches, logs, fences and man-made obstacles. "Wow," some say. "I can't believe I kept up!" Then, someone might whisper under his breath, "I kept up because I don't know the way back to the barn!"
On any given Wednesday or Saturday, from Nov. 1 until April 1, you can find the Belle Meade Hunt ready for the thrill of the chase. The usual group consists of approximately 40 to 50 riders who live in about a 100-mile radius of Thomson (not to mention our Canadian members who move south for the winter simply to foxhunt) and 60-80 hounds that live fulltime at the Belle Meade Kennels.
Belle Meade Hunt enjoys national recognition not only as having one of the best fox hunts in the country but also for having access to some of the most beautiful hunting grounds anywhere. Each year visitors from around the world come to ride with us. In January, when their own hunt country is iced up, dozens of northern foxhunters, mostly from Virginia, come south for a week of hunting with us.
Belle Meade Hunt is proud to have been a part of McDuffie County for 40 years and is always ready to show visitors a new thrill out in our beautiful country.