2003 Opening Hunt Story
Opening Hunt and The Hardaway Documentary
October 18, 2003
By: René L. Latiolais
Midland Opens With a Starring Role
The day was abuzz with excitement. Opening Hunts, with the start of new season always are, but this year we had an added burst of anticipation.
The helicopter was ready, the cameras loaded, the land was especially well groomed, the guest list was large and distinguished, the hounds were eager and the “film stars” were prepped. The Opening Hunt of the Midland Foxhounds and a major filming opportunity for the Hardaway Documentary!
The day and night of the Opening Hunt Party had already set the stage for drama in Fitzpatrick, AL. An impromptu filming studio had been in full operation in the living room of Mason Lampton’s Foxpatrick House during the day to conduct interviews and reminiscences with friends and Midland Hunt Country landowners about the life and times of Ben Hardaway. Man, there was smoke coming from those hallowed halls that had little to do with the hot lights and the turning cameras. I personally witnessed men and women of great accomplishment and poise, never reluctant to voice an opinion of Ben, go mute with stage fright. Others seemed to be describing someone I could not recognize. In the end, if the truth be known, there was lots of praise, love and respect for “THE MAN.”
The Opening Hunt Party was akin to a family reunion of 300 relatives -- friendly, boisterous, old friends and new friends, landowners closer than family and the ever-present producer and film crew. There was the expected thrill and anticipation of a new season in the air that night, with all of the usual stuff, but also there was a special magic in the air. Tell me about those cameramen and soundmen; what are they doing here, and who is that little redhead? A Documentary on Ben Hardaway, what is that all about?? You know, the usual spectacular Midland Opening Hunt Party, with a twist!!
The Hardaway Documentary is entitled NEVER OUTFOXED - IN FULL CRY. Mr. Hal Barry, MFH of the bear Creek Hounds, conceived the idea in the beginning of 2003 as a visual story tribute to Benjamin H. Hardaway III for his enormous contributions to the crossbred foxhound, the creation and fine-tuning of the Midland Foxhounds Pack and his generous dissemination worldwide of his breeding stock for the betterment of fox, coyote and bobcat hunting with hounds. Quick and enthusiastic support for the idea from “the boss,” Sarah Hardaway, and from his Huntsman-Master son-in-law, Mason Lampton, breathed life into the project, and excitement from a core group of respectful friends and family members gave the project urgency.
The steps that lie ahead would include launching a campaign to solicit funds to produce such a documentary, select a producer and production company, schedule and conduct the activities of filming and recording of interviews, recollections, hunts and other important events. Then, create a comprehensive story line that would result in a documentary quality production of the life and times of Ben Hardaway that essentially followed the theme that Ben had chronicled in his book Never Outfoxed in the year 1997. And finally, conduct a marketing program to sell the Documentary in the United States of America, the British Isles and others markets with interests in hounds, foxhunting, breeding and an life-long adventure story about a most interesting, lovable and accomplished man. The proceeds of this endeavor, assuming there will be a profit, will be returned to where the essence of the story belongs – The Midland Foxhounds.
Remember the “that little redhead” at the Opening Hunt Party mentioned earlier? Well, she is Ms. Heather Doleman, a 2003 Gold Medal winner for her documentary on retrievers, selected by the committee to produce this documentary, NEVER OUTFOXED - IN FULL CRY. With Heather Doleman, Simpatico Production Company, Masumé Alikhan Anees, graphic designer of the sales brochure and Hamilton Northcutt, an experienced narrator from PBS television and fellow foxhunter, our professional staff was in place to carry out production.
Short, Sharp And Decisive
The Midland opening meet gathered at Frank and Colleen Rutland’s pasture off of Highway 110 in Cecil, AL, which had been given tremendous care and cutting by Frank for this special event. This site was selected for its abundance of game, its excellent combination of coverts and wide-open pastures (remember the cameras will be rolling), the beautiful contour of the land, and a history of classic “gone-away” runs. The day was going to be splendid, with a chilling land-hugging fog now hovering to the treetops and a clear, pinkish blue sky in the offing just above the trees.
Man, this place is a beehive of activity. The Frank Rutland Pasture road is jammed with arrivals -- cars, trucks, three and four-wheelers, two, four, and six horse rigs are streaming in with full headlights and running gear on. A big fire is already glowing and growing; the smell of fresh baked biscuits is in the air, and the sun is just breaking through the horizon. I hope there will be scent and game today. Poor Mason, if there isn’t any! Mason comments, “I didn’t realize how noisy that thing can be,” referring to the hovering helicopter overhead, which sounded like an excuse in the making. With the field of supporters, hunters, guests, staff, media professionals and landowners swelling to perhaps 100, the people were fed, the toasts completed and hounds, horses, land, landowners, hunters and quarry blessed by Rev. Gil Watson, the Opening Hunt began with Mason Lampton carrying the horn.
The great British foxhunting author Peter Beckford, in his book Thoughts Upon Hunting in 1781, summed up a perfect hunt as “short, sharp and decisive.” Within five minutes of the casting of the hounds near the Meet Site, the Midland Foxhounds delivered such a performance on a coyote, and then followed with another fine example on a bobcat.
Lampton cast the 25½ couple of Midland Hounds into Frank Rutland’s pasture near a semi-dense covert, when suddenly, out of a rather relaxed hunting pattern, the pack exploded in a fury of voice. The field went from a quiet period of last minute tack adjustments to full gone “away status,” as only a fresh coyote scent on eager hounds can cause.
At full gallop, the hounds and huntsmen crossed the beautiful pastures of Frank, Louie and Joe Rutland in pursuit of the dark brown coyote. I think this is what Beckford meant by “short and decisive.” The whole adventure had only taken 25 minutes, with the quarry well accounted for.
A Bobcat In The Corn
After a brief stop for hounds, horses and riders to catch their collective breaths, and for Mason to breath a sigh of relief as the all important filming of the highlights for the Documentary were completed, the Hunt moved off.
Huntsman Mason Lampton was deliberately trailing back to the “Honey Hole,” adjacent to Louie Rutland’s cabin by the lake, when three coyote’s were spotted together in Tommy McGough’s front yard (a 1,000 acre pasture) not too far away. Mason was lifting his hounds to go to the line on which the coyotes had been seen, when the pack again struck hard on the property of Mike and Linda Reynolds. Here we go again, but this time it felt more like a fox or a bobcat as the hounds dwelled and worked in tighter.
The answer came when the bobcat dashed in the open, and then ducked into the Reynolds’ dried cornfield. It was a memorable sight to behold. The bobcat was playing hide-and-seek with the full pack in pursuit into a dense, dry cornfield.
As the stalks turned and twisted with an urgent crack, one could imagine the drama on the ground by watching the dance of the corn stalks. After perhaps 30 minutes of this “chess game,” Ben Hardaway turned to Mason to offer kind encouragement with “my cat-hounds would have got’m by now.”
Suddenly, the crafty bobcat bolted out of the cornfield, ran through the horses of the field members, and took refuge in the dense woods fifty yards away. Hot on the scent, the hounds cross-footed the field’s horses, and followed the cat into cover. The final act in this drama was swift and certain.
Wow! So much for bad scenting on a “blue bird” day, the distraction of the helicopter, the filming activities, the potential drama and pressure of a blank day on “Stage One” put on Mason and his hounds. Our helmets and hats are off to Master Lampton for his skilled huntsmanship, despite the interruption of communications with his hounds due to the noise of the helicopter, to the hounds for their pack-on drive, nose and great cry and to Ben for his leadership and wisdom in breeding this pack for such an event. Beckford would have termed this “sharp and decisive.”
It was a spectacular and classic hunt, in the great tradition that the Fitzpatrick Hunt Country has historically offered to the Midland Foxhounds. Lightening fast, long and challenging runs, great access for riders and truck followers, wonderful views and the satisfaction of sporting ends to two worthy quarries.
To the Midland crossbred hounds, which looked like a squadron of jet fighter on attack, and to the field of 60, 40 mounted hunters and landowners and the 20 in vehicles, it was a hunting day to remember.
For the many friends and generous owners that made their lands available, it was a very special weekend, and most importantly, the beginning of a new season under the capable and legion-building leadership of Mr. Mason Lampton, Master and Huntsman.
The Hardaway Documentary, NEVER OUTFOXED - IN FULL CRY, is well on its way to completion, and will be offered for sale in the spring of 2004. As for the Midland Foxhounds, stay tuned…
René L. Latiolais
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