IT IS to the Normans that the English-speaking races of the earth today owe their hunting hounds and in all their varieties. The Talbot hound was introduced into England at the time of the conquest by William the First.
All are not agreed as to the color of these Talbot hounds. Somervile, the great sporting poet, describes them as "white as Alpine snows," There is, however, reason to believe that they are invariably of a reddish tan and often with a black saddle. In form, color and shape they are very much like the English bloodhound of today; indeed, that noble animal is supposed to be the bedrock of all the breeds of hunting hounds that are now in use the world over; and this because of that sentiment and recognition of the variety as the chief pillar or the stay of several of the most valued breeds, that the bloodhound is placed first in the stud books of England and America, and the breed is number one in the catalogues of the all-round dog shows everywhere.
English Foxhounds in Full Cry.
It was and is desirable that the head of a hunting hound should be of the above description - that is, if a close-hunting, unerring hound is required to hunt singly, rather than in a pack. The formation of the head above described, is one that is "made" for the purposes of hunting; and in such a head are to be found the highly developed olfactory nerves which communicate with the brain and actually inform the hound when he strikes the scent of an animal and whether the effluvium is recent or old.
It is the gloriousness and health-giving surroundings that have made the chase so popular with nearly all peoples, and that is the reason hounds are bred with such care and may generally be found in the ownership of the well-to-do and the high personages of the world.
In the early days the English pursued the chase on foot, and their objects of pursuit appear to have been principally the wild boar and the wolf. The Anglo-Normans might be considered as the more polished, more noble, and more scientific hunters, and they introduced that powerful and pleasant assistant in the chase - the horse - as well as a great variety of objects of pursuit. They chased the stag, the roebuck, the fox, the hare, etc., and hunting the less dangerous animals seems to have constituted their principal amusements; though the wolf and the boar occasionally occupied their attention, and in all these branches of the hunt dogs of varying degree were used.
Every village in England has its beagles, and nothing is more enjoyable than an old-fashioned fox hunting, or chase, where hounds belonging to many owners are packed together, and, jumping a fox, they run him for hours on end, their glorious music resounding throughout the woods and delighting the ear of the sportsman. The American foxhound appears to have more of the old harrier or English southern hound blood in him than is allowed to remain in the hound of the English. There are some broad-headed and long-eared and heavy-lipped hounds in the United States which remind the observer of the hounds of France and other Continental countries - hounds that still bear a good deal of resemblance to the old talbot-hounds - the hounds of the Normans. Finer and finer the English bred their hounds as stag hunting gave way to fox hunting. The old staghound was only one remove from the talbot, and he was a big and picturesque creature and these hounds are to be found in France today.
Hunting is a foremost sport all over the world, and there can be little wonder that the spirit and standing of the peoples may be gauged from the quality of their hounds The panoply of the chase is among the more glorious sights of the world, and in the pursuance of the various sports connected with hounds, large and small, a vast amount of money is spent, and a large number of persons employed, in the piping times of peace.
The beagle should be 15 inches or under, measured across the withers. If he is ever that height he becomes a harrier;; and a harrier over 19 inches becomes a foxhound, and a foxhound standing 24 inches at the shoulders and 30 inches round his girth is indeed a splendid creature and a beautifully proportioned one to boot. The hound is indeed a beauty and a joy forever!
In England alone there are more than 800 packs of hunting dogs. Roughly, there are 326 owners of hunts or hunting establishments in France. Some of these hunts have 50 or 60 couples. In Belgium foxhounds are kept, and the chief packs of hounds in Germany are the Royal Hounds, at Potsdam, and the Hanover Hounds. They both hunt the drag and the boar. The conditions of hunting in Austria and Hungary are much better than in Germany. It is a good wild country and full of foxes. The Roman hounds are world renowned. Fox hunting was introduced into Italy by Lord Chesterfield in 1842, and the sport has flourished ever since. In Spain the Calpa foxhounds show much sport in the vicinity of Gibraltar.
• In the United States there are about forty well-known and properly established packs of foxhounds. Throughout the Indian Empire there are numerous packs, many of them being of the bobbery or mixed kind. The jackal is the most frequently hunted animal. The Bombay Hounds are the chief pack in India.
In South Africa the jackal is hunted with foxhounds, and a single hound is used to drive buck to the rifle or gun. American foxhounds have recently been introduced to British East Africa for the purposes of hunting lion. These hounds have been of great use in bagging such large and dangerous game, and in the case of cheetah and other tree-climbing animals, the American foxhounds have not had the slightest difficulty in driving their quarry at such a pace and with so much persistence that the large cat is glad to see the supposed shelter of a thorn or other tree standing out like a sentinel on the vast expanse of plains.
The foxhound, the harrier and the beagle are also of great use in Africa for driving certain of the antelope, which keep in the bush, to the gun, and a good deal of sport may be had in some of the rivers otter hunting, and when otter hunting, a monitor, or huge lizard-like creature, is often started in a swamp, and the reptile, taking to the water like an otter, he will provide a good deal of sport. The otters in the Eastern province of South Africa are plentiful and of good size. The rivers are very huntable, for they are not deep and there is no great width or volume of water at certain seasons of the year. There is much sport to be had on the Mooi River, in Natal, where a pack of pure-bred otter hounds is kept. And these hounds will not only hunt the water dog but the aforesaid African monitor. Everywhere the hound is useful and especially is this the case in a big and open country like Africa, where a dog is required to be not only a hunter, but a guard and a friend.
In Australia there is a good deal of hunting and the Melbourne hunt is a well-organized institution. Australia is a country in which all animal life increases and multiplies rapidly. In 1864 one dog fox and two vixens were imported from England. There soon became enough foxes in Victoria to last the colony, now the province, forever. But red deer and kangaroos are sometimes hunted with foxhounds, and in Western Australia, in the neighborhoods of Freemantle, Perth and Kalgoorlie, there has been much sport experienced in hunting the brush-tailed kangaroos. This form of hunting was introduced by Mr. Cairns Candy in the late nineties.
In Tasmania, the island province off the main Australian continent, there is some hunting with properly constituted and maintained packs of hounds. In this lovely country, noted for its apples and the matchless complexions of its pretty women, they hunt deer and hare. In New Zealand there is a good deal of hunting, and harriers are principally in use. There is a fine open country, and that in the North Island will remind the hunting man of some of the shires of England.
The hounds of Europe, Asia, Africa and Australasia have been discussed, and now we will find ourselves back in America. And this country may well be proud of its old-fashioned, long-eared, heavy-jawed and deep-throated foxhounds. That American foxhounds are suitable for hunting American foxes, and where foxes are shot before hounds, there can be no manner of doubt; but they do not kill many foxes, neither may this killing quality be placed to the credit of the English foxhounds in this country. Once a fox is able to sit down and listen to his pursuers, then a foxhound or a pack of foxhounds, have as much chance of overtaking the quarry as a short-winged hawk has of catching a swallow on the wing. A century ago, it is recorded, it was not unusual in South Carolina to drive out of one large swamp, deer, wolves, bears, foxes, wildcats and wild turkeys. The sportsmen were ready to shoot all of these.
In descriptive poetry of the earliest date, hunting is frequently alluded to; even in the most important action of the whole Iliad, the death of Hector, the pursuit of him by Achilles is thus introduced:
"As through the forest, o'er the vale and lawn, The well-breathed beagle drives the flying fawn, In vain he tries the coverts of the brakes, Or deep beneath the trembling thicket shakes, Sure of the vapor in the tainted dews, The certain hound his various maze pursues."