Guest status is wonderful. You succumb to the wind and currents and allow yourself to be carried along—no other chores, no responsibilities. The day begins with an enormous buffet style breakfast at the Belle Meade Country club (no relation to the hunt)
Eggs, Biscuits, Bacon, Sausage and cheese grits.
Over breakfast, I chat with an attractive out of town couple full of Questions about foxhunting. How did this Harvard—trained attorney and his wife happen to be there? “We bid on it at a silent auction in Atlanta And Won!” said his wife. I would see them at various intervals during the day, and their curiosity, enthusiasm and sense of adventure never flagged. Chalk up a new friend of foxhunting.
Time to mount up. I am privileged to be asked to ride to the blessing of the hounds with huntsman, hounds and staff. As we approach the site of the blessing, I get my first view of the enormous crowd assembled there. The logistics had been planned and excited well ahead of time by Epps tireless volunteers and everyone— wagons, spectators, honored guests mounted field and presiding pastor – was in place and ready for us. Master, Hounds, staff and your reporter make a grand entrance by jumping a coop into the field, then walking v-formation of dismounted riders and horses – more than 40 on each side of us – toward the waiting pastor.
Reverend Father E.R Frank has been performing the blessing ceremony every year since the beginning, 34 years ago. He hunted with Belle Meade and senior Master James Wilson for many years, and although he has given up riding, his enthusiasm and love for the hunt still glows. Father Frank begins by relating the story of Saint Hubert and hoe he became the patron Saint of hunters to the assemblage. He then invokes the blessing, copies of which have been handed out so all may participate in the responses. We then, each and every one of the mounted riders, come forward to receive our own Saint Hubert medal from Father Frank. Many will carry the new medal with them through the entire season, and then add it to their collection of medals from prior years – each a unique design to commemorate the occasion.
Time to remount. We move off with the hounds, staff and field. The first exhibition of the day is a drag hunt for the benefit of the crowd in the tally-ho wagons. And it takes considerable time to move 728 people and park them so they can see. The radio finally crackles that all is ready, and we jump into a field where the drag has been laid. Hounds do there part, running and speaking to the line in full view of the assembled wagons. Cameras click, videos whirr, and huntsman, staff and field follow the hounds around a pond in this natural amphitheater. We complete the segment by jumping the final panel toward waiting photographers and gallop to a finish between the two rows of parked wagons.
While the wagon train moves to the next location and assembles to view the final drag, Master Epp takes the opportunity to hunt live quarry. At Belle Meade chances are 50-50 of finding either fox or coyote. Although he never served in the navy, Epp has adapted a system of station keeping for his staff’s formation at all times, he wants hounds and huntsman in the middle and whippers-In at each corner. Ahead and behind
To Help “Keep station” each wears a wrist compass.
After drawing a short while through a thickly wooded covert, hounds open with a Glorious Sound much different of their notes from the drag! And we were treated a nice burst of action. A whipper-in reports viewing a coyote, but with the noise, traffic and confusion of the day, neither the coyote nor the hounds seem to be able to settle down to their respective duties.
The final segment brings hounds, staff and field to their conclusion at the top of a hill in the midst of the hunting country, where Miraculously, a graciously laid table of hors d’oeurves and champagne materializes, Hot and perspiring after hours in the boiling sun under wool hunt coats, we gratefully accept the sparkling beverages offered. “Welcome to Champagne Hill” says Epp. For more information please visit https://www.deerhunters.net/.