The Ashland Bassets (VA) held their annual Fundraiser Dinner in Hume, VA on September 29, 2018. Along with dozens of fantastic silent auction items and a lavish buffet meal, the evening featured remarks by Alasdair Storer, huntsman at New Market-Middletown Valley Hounds (MD) and also huntsman and Master of the Middletown Beagles. His presentation focused on techniques to engage children in our sport, reflecting the vibrant junior program he has nurtured at both packs.
Alisdair Storer tries to express the magnetism and passion of hounds.
Storer began by asking what elements are essential to have a successful hunt. All agreed that country and landowners were the top requirement. Storer added, "Not only landowners, but your farmers, and tenant farmers.... We're here today because they enjoy seeing the hounds over their land. Without you, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing. To all of you who own land, farm land, and are caretakers of the land, I thank you."
Of course, the other essential is the hounds. "If you don't have the hounds, you can't go hunting," Storer said. "Some people might think they can, but no!" He described the close relationship between the Middletown Beagles, where he has been Master for six years, and the NMMV foxhounds, which share the same home property and many of the same landowners. Admitting that he is slightly biased in favor of beagles, due to growing up beagling in the UK, he listed foot packs' advantages for recruiting children. "Anybody can come beagling and basseting, you don't need to have a horse. Anybody and everybody can come along and join in, because it's on your feet, it's a lot closer proximity, everyone can see [hounds working], they're not going to disappear into the wild blue yonder."
Storer went on to describe the many places he takes his hounds to meet and encourage new participants. These include 4-H meetings and competitions, Pony Club activities, local schools, the county fair, FFA events - even inviting children who ride the school bus he drives as a part-time job to come out with the beagles. The importance of this outreach is clear, he said: "If you don't get with the juniors to try to pass this on, it's going to die." More potential sources are children whose parents foxhunt but their kids never got into horses, conservation clubs, and shooting or other outdoor organizations. "Talk to them, invite them out; maybe you don't see them again, but maybe you can snag one - and if you can get that one, that makes a difference."
Storer and some enthusiastic future leaders of our sport. Photo courtesy of Alasdair Storer.
Once an interested young person has made the connection, he, the Masters, and the hunts' members oversee a serious program of fun, work, education, and practice. Acknowledging that NMMV and Middletown Beagles junior handlers pin very well - they brought 25 children to the Bryn Mawr Hound Show last spring - he cautioned that these results are no accident. "They turn up every week, about eight weeks beforehand, [and practice] on leash, off leash, so when they do well at the show, it's been a lot of work and they are dedicated. And it's a passion of mine, I really do enjoy it with them, passing on that information- they all pay attention, they get on with it, and we have fun with it."
Storer touched on the relationships that bring the hunting community together across oceans and borders. For example, his father's best friend in the UK was also in hunt service, and Storer was sent to work for him each summer. Remarkably, that gentleman's grandson is Ashley Hubbard - now huntsman at Green Spring Valley Hounds in Maryland, and Storer's neighbor. At a joint meet with Warrenton Beagles at Idle Hour Farm in PA, Storer found a painting of his great-great-great-grandfather and the East Sussex Foxhounds hanging on the wall. "You could have knocked me down with a feather duster," he said to appreciative laughter, "because I walk in the house, and over the fireplace is my great-great-great-grandfather staring at me. And if it hadn't been for hunting, we would never have made that connection."
Following his prepared comments, Storer took several questions. Asked to pick his favorite type of hunting, he repeated his fondness for beagles, but added, "I don't care whether it's beagle, basset, foxhound, whatever, it's a hound. My passion is that relationship with that hound, that I get to go hunt, and that they hunt true, when it's done right, there's nothing on earth to touch it.
"They've got to hunt true, hard, and just be in the game. When they turn around at you and go, 'What do you want us to do next?' there is nothing like it," he said toward the end of the evening. "And to be able to share it with the juniors is something."
To watch Storer's complete remarks, please visit this post on our Facebook page.