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Wilson enjoys passing his passion for fox hunting on to others

He'd be better suited as a carnival barker if there was a dishonest bone in his body.

He'd be better suited as a charlatan if he was looking to make a buck.

Epp Wilson is neither.

Instead, covered in dust, hound slobber and horse hair, he's right at home - smiling, laughing, hooting and hollering his way throughout the countryside of McDuffie County.

There's a passion he brings to the woods. It's rooted in 42 years of his family's dedication to the Belle Meade Hunt - McDuffie County's "dog and pony show," as he calls it. He remembers a time when opening meet was nothing more than a few friends and fox-hunting enthusiasts trekking through a couple of acres of forest and Stagecoach Road was dirt thoroughfare. And he grins when he talks about the "rolling tailgate party" the Opening Meet has become.

The 2008 Belle Meade Hunt Opening Meet - dubbed the largest in the world - crisscrossed the fields and creeks last Saturday.

"You don't have to like horses," he said during a recent Thomson Rotary Club meeting. "You don't have to like hound dogs. You don't have to like people."

For Mr. Wilson, foxhunting is therapy in the woods. It's a time to commune with trees and nature. And it is a time to leave any airs in the stable.

"Our hunt isn't about elite," he said. "Our hunt is about just going out there to ride."

Started in 1966, the Belle Meade Hunt is open to family memberships only, no individuals, Mr. Wilson said. That fosters relationships between generations and offers fathers, sons, mothers and daughters the opportunity to participate in an activity together.

Members work as hard as they hunt, he said, offerings examples of bridges built over creeks, graveyards restored and trails cleared.

"I like to say we are custodians of God's most wondrous cathedral," he said.

That cathedral takes them across the property of dozens of landowners, each who graciously offer their acreage for hunt use. The list of participating owners takes up a whole page in the Opening Meet program.

Aside from the ceremonial annual Opening Meet, Hunt members also gather for regular rides. Sometimes, Mr. Wilson said, those regular hunts start with about 70 riders and may end up with only seven.

"But they've got bugs on their teeth, he said, "and they've got a great story to tell."

Web posted on Thursday, November 06, 2008

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