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Longreen Opening Meet


By Harriet McFadden; photos by Tommy Brannon

Longreen Foxhounds 63rd Opening Meet was held at Birdlands in Como, Mississippi on November 7, 2020.
To say the least, 2020 has been a strange and frightening year. COVID-19 has sickened and killed us. We have lost jobs. As a country we recognize the pain and anguish coming out of minority communities and wrestle with the questions the movement is asking. The 2020 elections created polarization and mistrust in the core values of our democracy. Yet everywhere we cling to the rituals of our lives, and Opening Meet is part of that. “Happy New Year!” shouted Whipper-In Chip Carruthers, parking his trailer.

The first day of the 63rd hunt season began warm, dry and sunny with a slight wind from the northeast. Huntsman Susan Walker, MFH, brought the “A team” of 4½ couple hounds – Klown, Kudos, Fiona, Future, Leaf, Limerick, Nellie, Ozark, and Okra – for the Blessing of the Hounds on the lawn in front of the house.

The red and yellow maples were dazzling in the sunshine! The scarlet coats of the Masters and Whippers-in dotted the lawn like ambling burning bush. A French horn rang out from the porch, as music wafted around the horse trailers where the side saddle riders filled their flasks and adjusted their veils. Others were spit polishing their boots or braiding manes or looking for their stock pins. Evelyn and Kate Kennedy poured an ounce or two more rum into the Stirrup Cup, a punch sure to fortify the heart.

John McClure handed out St. Hubert’s medals to further protect the riders. Reverend Paul McLean stood on a stump wearing his vestments with a stole depicting all the animals on the Ark. The friendly Longreen hounds greeted him as he began the service of blessings and safety for the animals, the horsemen and the stewards of the land. Rev. Paul spritzed holy water with a sprig of rosemary, giving the horses a head tossing surprise as it hit their faces. At the end of the ceremony, Susan blew her horn and we were off down the driveway.

Five minutes later a coyote was spotted crossing Lucius Taylor Road, but the huntsman decided not to hunt that direction. We rode into the old dove field and jumped the coop into the horse pasture, the side saddle riders taking it in stride, judging from the whoops and hollers as they leapt across. At the northeast corner of the pasture the hounds struck scent in a small copse of trees. The field was right on top of this and could hear the snorts and cry of the hounds as they picked up the scent here and there. The hounds were trying to work out which direction the coyote was headed, but the scent had become spotty.

Nevertheless an occasional voice opened as we worked our way towards Twin Lakes. The field of riders jumped a log before crossing the dam. All the noise surprised some deer who fled over the dam. One jumped into the pond splashing water as loud as your big brother doing a cannonball! The doe briefly submerged before popping up to swim across the pond and disappear. We rode on.

The hounds got a strong draw of scent in the grass east of Lanier Lane and carried it over the hill in front of the carriages, where the scent dissipated again. While horses and hounds took a water break, some analysis began.

Mrs. Imo Erb began by observing the horses. “Harriet, there are a lot of gray horses out today. Count them!” With the milling about, it was as hard to count grays as it is to count hounds, but 15 seemed to be about right. Other points of interest included five ladies riding aside on well-kept, mahogany toned saddles. Their veils and lipstick were the pleasant facade to the tough, athletic, and bold riders they are.

Carriages in the hunt field added another dimension of elegance. An antique buggy, English tweeds, a bright tie and a driving cap, or the magnificent feathers on the hats of the women often stand out.

There were five carriages and eight young people. The young folks are our future, not just for hunting, but also for land preservation. If you don’t experience the value in conserving land, you might not try to protect it.

With her horn, Susan summoned the hounds and riders to attention and we entered the pine stand east of the hay field.  Coyote scat was seen on the path. What a good omen! The Big Bluestem grass provided good cover for a coyote until he was rousted by the hounds. The whole pack gave voice at once as the “orchestra” began with the finale. There was no waffling as the hounds took off with the huntsman, whips and riders right with them. The coyote crossed the run-off ditch at the salt lick. The riders watched the hounds work the banks following the coyote – a moment that is one of the most exciting in hunting.

The hounds chase the game by instinct, scent, and drive. The riders keep up to watch this unfold and because the thrilling voices of the hounds excite us the way Elvis does. We picked up speed with the hounds as they chased the coyote to the grand canyon of ditches - the Arkabutla. The riders had no choice but to standby and listen to the hounds. One by one most of the hounds tired out and returned to Susan’s side. By now the late fall light was turning amber and crossing the hay field with the golden sedge chest high and the sweet gums looking iridescent in the distance. A contented rider said, “How grateful I am to see these colors and be here today.” We all felt that way.

This year the breakfast was a boxed lunch brought to us by Dennis Mangum and consumed with gusto behind the cabin. We are grateful to Dennis, and to the Lanier family, who maintain Birdlands, and to all those who make Opening Meet something special to relish, especially this year.

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