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Longreen Foxhounds at O’Donnell Bend, AR


2021/02/04


Photography by Huger Foote
By Harriet McFadden and Tom Brannon

On January 9, 2021 Midge Ellison, MFH, seized the chance to put the O’Donnell Bend, Arkansas fixture, along the banks of the Mississippi River, back on the hunt calendar for the first time in a few years. Due to excessive rain and high water, the land between the levee and the river had been underwater during hunting season for the last two years.  So everyone looked forward to hunting here again from the Quonset hut.

The Arkansas delta between the levee system and the Mississippi River is a unique topography. The ground is quite flat and in the winter can host some bone chilling winds. There is no rock in the topsoil, but every year the Mississippi River deposits sand and silt during flood season. The mixture of sand and silt makes for surprisingly good footing. Whipper-in Trey Lawson describes it as “riding on a 40,000 acre sand arena.”   It is best to have an unshod horse on this ground and splint boots are an impediment, as they quickly get caked with mud and dirt. The river makes sharp bends, flowing mainly south, but twisting and turning so much that at some points it flows north. This makes for river peninsulas (chutes), which are often forested because they are not plowed, and may extend more than a mile across. It is great habitat for all types of wildlife and is often where the quarry are found. There are also a number of oxbow lakes and bayous of various sizes, surrounded by vegetation, formed when the Mississippi River changed course.         

This day, Joanna and Rob Calwell came from middle Tennessee to deliver a horse for his sister, Kim. They also brought their Penn Marydel hounds, a Basset, and other assorted dogs.

The day’s team of Longreen Whippers-in included  Chip Carruthers (horseless today);  Lee Alexander, with  his Oldenburg Olivia, who can top  out at 45 mph; John McClure, riding in a side by side, Trey Lawson on a Fresian war horse; and, a surprise – Walter Foster, Whip and Huntsman missing for too long from the hunt field.  

The air was a frigid 35 degrees with steady north wind 10 to 12 mph.  Once everyone was mounted or revving their engines Susan let the Longreen hounds out of the trailer, and Rob’s hounds charged from his trailer to greet the Longreen hounds.  The combined packs uncharacteristically burst for the banks of the O’Donnell Bend chute, and the whippers-in leapt into action.  Before the field had moved off, the mayhem of galloping hooves, whip cracking, and barking baritone voices attempting to bring the hounds under control set the young horses and riders on edge. The field horses began dancing around and backing into cars and causing pedestrians to jump out of the way!

Susan and Rob reassembled the pack in the cotton stubble, but the young hounds tore off again, to the south.  Chip, on his 4 wheeler, got ahead of them, while Mark and Trey galloped down the field on horseback to return the wayward puppies to the masters. 

The pack reassembled, Susan and Rob roaded the hounds west over the open ground to a covert of cottonwood trees with a floor of poison ivy near the levee. As she approached the covert, Susan, astride Winston reached for her horn and pursed her lips to blow the first note.  The hounds, with their pent up desire to bolt, sensed their impending freedom.  Just before the horn rang out they gave tongue and raced into the undergrowth. 

Deer came out on the northwest side, with Rob in position to stop any wayward hounds. There was babbling among the field members as to the type of animal that first appeared from the covert. It was running so fast and had not even shown its white tail.  Back in the covert, Susan was thrilled that her young hounds had not been tempted by the deer.  The week before, Susan had done some training with Robyn Miller and Junior Whipper-in Kodie Young to teach the hounds not to follow deer scent. This training carried over to the hunt field, as the hounds trained on the deer scent showed no interest in the deer.  Pleased, she circled the covert twice. 

We headed back to O’Donnell’s chute and hunted towards the main river. With the river in view, Field member Brookie Tribo recalled her father’s time as a riverboat pilot when he had taken her with him as he pushed barges by this spot heading for St. Louis. 

In the grassland, hounds found a coyote, but the pack had split. Three hounds were running a coyote near the river, while the main pack was miles away out in the open, where the sight of the trailers in the distance became a bigger draw. Rob stayed with the hounds running the coyote, but for the field, the magnet of food was strong. Kim Michaelson set up the tailgate out of the wind, so we snuggled against a truck and trailer and kept six feet apart.


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