Sam Clifton, 33, has hunted the hounds of Green Spring Valley for the past seven years, but like many professionals he was born into a hunting family and has perpetuated the family custom. At Green Spring Valley, he has not only found an organization just as steeped in tradition, but one that is dedicated to bolstering the sport in ever changing conditions, growing and learning to adapt and preserve fox hunting. The territory is located north and west of Baltimore, MD and encompasses part of Baltimore County and all of Carroll County, with a combination of open, rolling terrain with sections of wooded land. This area is the heart of Maryland steeplechasing and home to the Maryland Hunt Cup.
e-Covertside: How many hounds do you have in the kennels and what is their breeding? What are the best characteristics of the pack?
Sam: We have 46 couple of Crossbred hounds and 2 couple of English. I would say my favorite quality in these hounds would be their "never quit" attitude and the passion they show when marking a fox to ground.
e-Covertside: What are the best characteristics of the organization?
Sam: Green Spring Valley has huge tradition with timber racing that goes back several generations. That, combined with constant efforts to conserve the country lends itself to quality horsemen and plenty of country to hunt. I'm also very lucky to have four very good masters in J.W.Y. Martin, Jr., Mrs. Sheila J. Brown, Mr. George P. Mahoney, Jr. and Mr. Franklin W. Foster who are equally dedicated to the sport.
e-Covertside: How did you become involved with hunting?
Sam: You could say I was "whelped" into a hunting family. My father Steve Clifton has been in hunt service for over 36 years, he now hunts the Eglinton and Caledon hunt in Canada. My mother also grew up with horses and hunting, her father trained and rode race horses, hunted and later went on to train polo ponies.
e-Covertside: Name three things you never hunt without.
Sam: The last thing I say leaving the kennels is, "Wallet, watch, pound, pencil, piece of string and a pocket knife just in case." check, check , check...I can’t quite remember where I picked that up, but its all the things you might need out hunting.
e-Covertside: What makes your territory unique? What types of modifications have you made/will you make for this territory compared with your previous experiences?
Sam: I would say the thing that makes Green Spring somewhat unique is that we have kept and hunted the same country for over 100 years with the same families still hunting, and in this day and age is no easy task. The other thing that makes us unique is having the Maryland Hunt Cup course in our backyard, which is one of the biggest timber courses in the country, so as you can imagine with local trainers, jockeys and other accomplished horsemen, and not to mention the caliber of horses, we have a pretty able field. As far as modifications to the country, GSV is very well paneled with board fences, pole jumps and coops, so it all comes down to communication with the masters and land owners as to what can be done to make things as easy as possible to stay with hounds.
e-Covertside: What are your goals for the pack?
Sam: I'm always looking to improve on the hounds' hunting ability, voice, nose, and the drive to hunt a fox, while trying to keep them level and keep a type. I don't think there will ever be a day that I will just be content.
e-Covertside: Any memorable experiences you’d like to share?
Sam: I do have a few stories to tell, but one day that stands out was a joint meet last year with Howard County Iron Bridge with our hounds. We ran a good fox for 40 minutes or so when he ran up to a road and was turned by a car follower. He ran down the road and made a right at the intersection, on receiving the information I took hounds down to where they last saw the fox. Thinking the fox made the turn and slipped off the road, I let the hounds drift over the road only to have nothing. While watching the hounds flick themselves back to the road a third season dog called Kingston hit a line on the road, feathering every 10 feet or so and speaking. This went on for over a mile down the road until the road made a slight left turn, as soon as the rest of the pack hit the grass in front of them they opened up, ran another 40 yards or so and marked the fox in a barn full of hay bales. I've had some pretty memorable days but that will stay with me for a long time.
e-Covertside: Do you have hobbies/interests outside of hunting?
Sam: (Laughing) My hobbies would be, hunting, fishing and did I mention hunting??