Jamie Hughes was raised on a dairy farm and spent long hours with his family working the farm. He followed in his mother’s footsteps in a career as a secondary school teacher and administrator, earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in education. He first started riding to hounds at the age of 35 and now finds himself as MFH and Huntsman for the Beaver Meadow Foxhounds. He is now in his seventh season hunting the thirteen couple of crossbred hounds (with significant large PennMarydel influence) out of the Beaver Meadow kennels located in south central Ontario, Canada, between the cities of Toronto and Ottawa.
eCovertside: How did you become involved in hunting?
Jamie: I was always fascinated with the tradition of the sport and enjoyed riding as a kid. Horses and dairy farmers don't often mix and I had to beg my father to get an equine mount for me, which usually was an un-broke, ill-mannered pony or horse that no one else wanted. Much later in life, I was invited by a friend who rode with Bethany Frontenac Hunt (Ontario) to attend a hunt breakfast and follow the hunt and I was immediately hooked. The next week, after not riding a horse for almost 20 years, I went out and bought a big rogue Hanoverian crossbred named King Arthur and together we learned the finer points of riding to hounds. Arthur went on to live till he was 33 and together we traveled many miles over hill and glen in Canada and the United States.
eCovertside: Name three things you would never hunt without.
Jamie: First, patience. I transport hounds to and from fixtures on my own with my horse. It is during this travel time that I get myself settled for the day's work ahead and unwind after the days hunting is complete. I think huntsmen, and especially huntsmen who are also Masters, need to be patient with hounds, but more importantly with staff and with field members. Too often I see hounds or personnel rated sometimes unprofessionally and it isn't necessary. Don't get me wrong--discipline is extremely important for safety of man and beast while hunting but an unbelievable degree of patience must be demonstrated as well and at key times during the day.
Secondly, staff! Never leave home without competent staff, especially whipper-in and road crew. While our territory is still somewhat rural, busy roads can make hunting treacherous and it is here that my road crew are most needed and valued. Many a hound has been saved due to the quick thinking of the road crew. My whippers-in on horseback have a paramount task, not only in that they have to read the mind of the hounds and the quarry, but my mind as well. Our territory is extremely diverse and challenging and staff need to work on instinct most of the time. A huntsman can draw much solace from the skills of a talented whipper-in and if you have a good one, sometimes that is all you need.
Thirdly, completed homework. Research! Research! Research!! Just like you can never be overdressed for an occasion, so too you can never be over prepared for a hunt day. Know the land; know the landowners; know potential problem areas, know how the game usually runs and their alternate route and hope for some luck as well. If one has prepared the day as best possible, because no one can predict what the quarry might do, then if and when, and yes it will happen, things run amuck, it is much easier to handle the unexpected.
eCovertside: What characteristics of your pack and the hunt itself do you most appreciate?
A consistent routine, firm guidelines and fairness are the key words that would describe my approach to working with the club's hounds. Not unlike teaching secondary school students, I have found that the hounds develop well with a regular routine with just enough variety to keep them entertained; they appreciate knowing the rules and regs set out by me and they want to be fairly and kindly treated. Certainly, discipline is important but fairness in discipline is critical. Less is best often works well!!
For a number of reasons I have gone to a full bitch pack for hunting in our area. I work alone on a daily basis with hounds and for me, I find the females to be more responsive and more respectful to me and each other. Major incidents in kennel are down and, for the most part, the entire pack is very friendly with each other and with people.
Our club is a very small club and, of course, financial matters are always a concern. I have found that costs have decreased greatly with having all female hounds. I feed flesh of which they eat less and our veterinary costs are almost nil each year.
The most important characteristic of the club itself is that it tends to be, for the most part, one big family. Like families, members have their disagreements and arguments but on the whole our members look out for one another. Our club is extremely friendly to outside visitors and the club itself really knows how to "put on the dog" when company arrives.
eCovertside: What is the best characteristic of your pack?
Jamie: The best characteristic of Beaver Meadow's pack of hounds is loyalty. Our bitches would do anything to please me as huntsman, and thus, in turn, show great sport for the club. No swamp, no wood, no gorge is too much to ask of these hounds. With our diverse country, the addition of the PennMarydel has made great strides for our overall success on any given hunt day and the enjoyment of our members.
eCovertside: What makes your territory unique?
Jamie: We are very fortunate to live in a section of Ontario that is still predominantly rural with large farm areas, bush land and lots of water. All of these add up to a large game population--mainly coyote, red fox and more and more black bear. What hunt area can state that it actually has local farmers phoning us to come and hunt their property? Our biggest problem with a small membership is getting time and energy to clear as much land as is needed on a regular basis.
Our spring fixture would see us hunting the wide open crop fields to the south of our territory along the 401, which is a major traffic corridor for the province, to hunting the hills of Northumberland overlooking Lake Ontario, and then off to the north country that is heavy bush and swamp, which challenges even the most rugged rider, horse and hound.
eCovertside: What are your goals for the pack and the organization?
Jamie: A major goal for the club is to continue to attract new members, especially young members who are keen to carry on the sport. We are nestled in between the two large metropolitan areas of Toronto and Ottawa, and certainly the clientele in our area is different to theirs. We have a much smaller population density and, as a result, fewer horse people and we face more challenges to attract permanent members.
Goals for the pack are to increase our number of hunting hounds and continue to crossbreed with great PennMarydel bloodlines. Their tremendous voice, drive, willingness to please and size bid well for our club and our country.
eCovertside: How do you balance the jobs of MFH and Huntsman? What sorts of strategies do you employ to balance your dual role?
Jamie: I have often thought that all Masters should have to hunt hounds at least one season— it would make for better Masters in many ways. Likewise, if more huntsmen were Masters then they might appreciate the complexities of the job.
I think the challenge comes to the forefront more on days when hunting is not the greatest for whatever reason and game is scarce. As a huntsman, my mind should be on working with hounds and seeking out the quarry to the best of my ability, but in the back of my mind the Master kicks in and I am often worried about the field. What are they thinking? Are they enjoying themselves? Will guests come back to ride another day? This can often become very distracting and sometimes I will forgo what should be happening in a specific draw just to entertain the field. It can and does become a mental game at times.
Hunt mornings would see me wear both hats. I arrive very early to the fixture and spend time greeting members and meeting guests, ensuring that all are ready for a great day. Then I switch to huntsman mode and call a quick staff meeting to go over the day ahead, assign duties and answer any questions. At this point, the Master's hat is gone and I remain huntsman till hounds are all safely tucked away in the trailer, relying on competent staff to carry out a variety of tasks.