On a sunny, warm Friday, October 13th, keen masters, huntsmen and members from eight hunts packed up horses and hounds and hit the road, heading for a common destination - the Moore County Hounds' 7th Annual Performance Trials in Southern Pines, N.C.  Participating hunts included Aiken (SC), Camden (SC), Cedar Knob (TN), Last Chance, Mecklenburg (NC), Sedgefield (NC), Thornton Hill (VA), and Wiggins (SC). Under the auspices of the MFHA Hark Forward initiative, a season-long celebration of foxhunting across the country, we were looking forward to connecting with our foxhunter colleagues in friendly rivalry, to vie for top hunt and hound honors over the two-day performance trials.

Friday evening's cocktails and dinner were kindly hosted by our Moore County friends at the clubhouse, followed by a Calcutta offered for top hounds, with at times intense bidding on each huntsman's favorite picks.

Day 1:

Before dawn on Saturday, more than 24 trailers, over 50 hounds, at least nine Masters and huntsmen, and 60-plus riders converged on Moore County's fixture located at J. Robert Gordon Field Trials Grounds, a beautiful, long leaf pine forest preserve of over 9,000 acres & sand trails.

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Hounds from eight packs move off. Photo by David Rees-Potter.

Just before moving off at 8 am for three hours of scheduled hunting, greetings and announcements were offered by Cameron Sadler, MFH Moore County, David Twiggs MFHA executive director, Epp Wilson and Jean Derrick, Hark Forward Performance Trials organizers, and Lincoln Sadler from Moore County, performance trials huntsman.

All moved off, hounds calling and horses prancing, to the first cast below the clubhouse, in nice, damp bottomland. Though the weather was overcast, it was warm, creating some scenting challenges, with several casts by the huntsman over the first hour. Our luck then turned: a coyote was viewed and we were off, on what turned out to be the best run of the morning and the first day's competition. Following our return to the clubhouse, a delicious and much-appreciated hunt breakfast was hosted by club members for the famished group.

That evening found everyone at the Moore County Kennels, for cocktails and sparkling southern hospitality featuring a Low Country shrimp boil & oyster roast, followed by the eagerly anticipated first day hunting results and awards. Epp Wilson and Jean Derrick kindly explained the competition categories, scoring and qualities that were valued by judges, both daily and over the two-day trials. They commended all hunts for the quality of their hounds and their hunting on Day 1, and distributed the following awards for the day: Top Three Hunts: 1st - Aiken Hounds, 2nd - Cedar Knob Hounds, 3rd - Camden Hunt. Top Three Hounds: 1st - Aiken Euro, 2nd - Camden Igloo, 3rd - Cedar Knob Archer.

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The scorers kept busy tabulating each day's results for the eager participants. Photo by David Rees-Potter.

Day 2:

Early Sunday morning, a fine fog rolled into hunt country, with saturating moisture, boding well for improved scenting conditions. As we listened to Day 2 announcements before moving off, our huntsman shared that he would draw first just past kennels, heading into grey fox territory! Shortly after the first cast hounds opened and were off. This a fabulous hunting country. Most of it is open pine forest – some of the best-managed in America. The forest is burned regularly for habitat management. Lincoln had warned all of us, “Beware the green! Everywhere that is very green with vegetation is likely to be too boggy to cross safely with a horse." He was right. Been there. Done that. Got the tee shirt.

These are great expanses of the well-maintained pine forest. And the drains and streams are these strips of green vegetation. If there is not an improved crossing, then it won’t hold up a horse. It is rather treacherous, as these places often look like safe crossings would - at home. This terrain is different. “When in Rome, do as Romans do,” comes to mind. The locals do not cross the green drains….  That should tell us visitors something!

The hounds ran the grey fox about a mile down one meandering drain to the west. Judge Epp Wilson was lucky enough to be across the drain from huntsman Lincoln and several other judges.  Surely the fox would be viewed so that we could get some full cry scores. No joy. The green strip was anywhere from 20 feet to 80 feet wide. And that grey genius was smart enough to stay out of sight of the judge and the hounds.

Epp was the lucky one this time.  “Tally ho grey fox. Lincoln, he is just across the drain from you. Right beside the drain. Going back east toward the main pack.”  

The huntsman responded, “OK. I see you. Got it.”

Epp was all ready for scores. Horse actually standing still – for the moment. Recorder in hand, time already stated – and dang: the pack did not come on the line where he could see them and score them. All the judges want to do is give every hound credit where credit is due.  

The fox had made a clockwise teardrop loop and was headed back east - right beside the main pack  He knew their scent would foil his scent, and he was right. He ducked back into the green vegetation right behind the last hound and headed back east up the drain. The front hounds checked at the teardrop loop. The tail hounds were speaking so loudly, that the front ones harked back to the tail hounds. This was just the luck the fox needed to confuse the pack and slip away.  

Lincoln, the huntsman, did a great job waiting for the hounds to try to work it out. But, scent was failing fast. And the fox scent was overrun by the scent of the 21½ couple that had been over the same track. Foxes hunt by scent, too. They know how to fool the hounds.

It was then that the bold and swashbuckling Sedgefield MFH Fred Berry decided to try to help. He saw a promising line to maybe, just maybe cross the green swampy strip and get everyone closer to the action. He decided to boldly go where no man had gone before. Two steps in and he and his horse found out why no man had ever gone there before. They both took a mud bath, and a very thorough mud bath at that.  

Fred’s horse was easy to catch – as was Fred. After scraping much mud off his fine leather saddle, he mounted back up ready for action – albeit quite a few pounds heavier with the black swamp mud from head to toe. Fred is the greatest. Not only is he bold and brave, but he is always good for entertainment of one kind or another. He can not only tell a great story; on occasions like this, he is the story!

Alas, this fox got away. Drawing the hounds toward where he had last been seen was to no avail. It had been a great run. It was a classic grey fox run, and we all enjoyed the exquisite hound music to no end. Remember that most of these hounds were Penn-MaryDels, and they can really sing!

This very sporting grey fox set the tone for the day, casting, hitting game and many good runs, with lots of hound music. So plentiful, that at the 11am close of Day 2, we were still intensely on game and continued to run for another 30 minutes! Exhilarating! After calling it a day, muddy, sweat-covered, exhausted hounds, horses and riders headed in, after a hugely satisfying hunt for all.

Again, Moore County members served up a delicious hunt breakfast, with hunt tales shared as we anticipated Day 2 results, and overall awards for the two days of competition.

Sunday Day 2 Awards:

Once again, Epp and Jean spoke of how impressed they were with the quality of hounds and hunting and commended all hunts for their ongoing efforts. David Twiggs spoke of the success of the Hark Forward initiative, with thanks to Moore County, their staff and members for hosting a highly successful event. They shared the results from Day 2: Top Three Hunts: 1st - Camden Hunt, 2nd - Aiken Hounds, 3rd - Sedgefield Hounds; Top Three Hounds: 1st - Camden Flirt, 2nd - Aiken Lacrosse, 3rd - Aiken Vampire

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Plenty of ribbons and smiles at the end of a fantastic weekend. Photo by David Rees-Potter.

Overall Championship Awards (Saturday and Sunday hunting):

Top Three Hunts: 1st - Aiken Hounds, 2nd - Cedar Knob Hounds, 3rd - Camden Hunt

Top Three Hounds: 1st - Camden's Essex Igloo, 2nd - Aiken Lacrosse, 3rd - Aiken Euro

Huntsman’s Choice: Camden's Essex Igloo

Many thanks go out to the Moore County Hounds Master Cameron Sadler, huntsman Lincoln Sadler, and to Epp Wilson and Jean Derrick of Belle Meade Hounds and Hark Forward organizers, David Twiggs, MFHA executive director, and the many volunteers who worked tirelessly to put together a wonderful weekend of competition and comraderie. Eight hunts - nine counting Moore County, our host - came together from across the south to connect and celebrate foxhunting, establishing new and renewing old friendships, and definitely all would agree: MFHA Hark Forward - Mission Accomplished!

To view the complete scoring card for the weekend, click here.

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