We all have memories of our past — some good, some not so good. As our minds wander back, special times and people stand out because they have affected our lives and these stories should be told.
As a young boy, and even now, I enjoy the outdoors and communing with nature. Hunting was my favorite sport. I still enjoy a day in the field, especially with a good hunting dog.
Back in the day, most folks kept a .22 rifle and a shotgun over the mantle or tucked away in a closet. Some hunters would never use these guns because they loved to fox hunt. The fox was never shot but was chased by dogs — that is, unless it got caught stealing chickens.
I was introduced to fox hunting by my many neighbors who loved to hear the sound (music) of a pack of foxhounds pursuing a wily fox. My friend Roger and I would team up and go with his granddad, Mr. Dan Allen Sr. In the fall of the year, late in the evening on Friday or Saturday nights, we would help Mr. Dan load up several of his many foxhounds into a large dog box which filled the back of his truck.
After the hounds were loaded, we would ride down Harrington Road, take a short left on Dockery Road and turn right on what is now the road that leads to the Richmond County landfill. Back in the ’50s, it was a one-lane dirt road and the land bordering it on both sides was owned and farmed by the Kelly family. At the end of the road was a tobacco barn with a long shelter. This was the meeting place for all the local fox hunters to turn dogs out on these cool crisp nights.
Let me tell you folks, this won’t an ordinary sandhill road, no siree. It might have started out in the sandhills area but at the end of the road you were definitely in the river hills section of Richmond County As most of you know, if you have ever been to the landfill, the view of the river hills and valleys is breathtaking. Why, you can see for miles on end as Cartledge Creek winds like a giant snake through the hills and valleys on its way to the Pee Dee River.
Mr. Jack Kelly farmed tobacco on this parcel of land while later on his brother, Walter, ran a bird-shooting preserve on the property. Mr. Jack, as I called him, loved to hear the sound of a good fox chase along with other neighbors like Pleas Poole, J.D. King and Mr. Leo Wobbleton. Other hunters who liked to bring their dogs were Wesley Smith, Larry Chappell and Bill Allred, all from the Ellerbe area. Why, on a good night’s hunt, there might be 10 or more hunters and twice that many dogs.
Before I go any further with this here story, our community fox hunt didn’t consist of men wearing fancy clothes, shiny boots or riding jump horses, not by a long shot. These men and boys were farmers, sawmill owners, textile mill workers, school boys and even a retired car salesman, all of whom loved the sport of fox hunting.
By the time it got dark, all the hunters with dogs dropped their tailgates and out ran the dogs. Now this was an exciting time for me as I watched and heard the sounds of the dogs making their way into the woods.
Why, there would be all types of walker dogs like the English and American foxhounds. A lot of times the men would bring July Walkers and a breed called the trigg, all of which were bred for speed and their keen scenting abilities. Some had cold noses, which meant they could pick up a track that was old, while some would only bark when the trail got hotter. But imagine, if you will, the sounds of 20 barking dogs behind one wily and swift fox.
Sometimes the fox race would last on up into the night, especially if the dogs got on a red fox. You see, the red fox isn’t native to our country. They were imported here from the British Isles in the 1700s. They can’t climb trees like the gray fox and thus they run in a large circle (miles) till they take a hole or the dogs catch them, which is highly unlikely.
Now the gray fox runs like a swamp rabbit, dodging back and forth just ahead of the dogs. Why, sometimes they will run across the top rails of a fence or climb a tree just to watch the dogs go by. You have heard the term “sly as a fox,” well believe it folks, it’s true. Sometimes, I think the foxes enjoyed the chase as good as the dogs.
As the night hours went by and the chase continued, the sounds of the dogs might fade among the river hills like the clouds that blow in the wind. But if’en the dogs hold the trail, the fox will eventually make himself a giant circle and return to where the dogs jumped him.
One of my favorite things I remember about this night fox hunting is after the dogs left the truck and some of the men sat on their tailgates listening, others would start cooking a chicken stew or start frying some fresh-caught fish. You have heard the term, “things just taste better when cooked outside” — well, I can vouch for that because my friend, Roger, and I, why, we ate our share.
This type of community fox hunting went on for years until the deer started coming in. Back then, won’t no such thing as a shocking collar for dogs. ‘Bout the only way to break a dog from running deer back then would be considered inhumane in today’s world. Most fox dogs would rather run a deer than a fox, I reckon because the scent might be stronger and deer mostly run in a straight line.
As the deer came in, so did posted land. I reckon I was in my teens when I first started seeing a lot of posted signs. Sometimes the land was posted by deer hunters who leased the land, sometimes because people started abusing the land, and other times folks got the idea that they just didn’t won’t anyone or dogs on their land.
Not having a lot of free range to hunt on, some fox hunters built their own fox pens. These pens consisted of several acres, even 100 or more, being fenced in. These pens would most all the time have some source of water within its compound. The pen owner would trap or buy wild foxes to place in their pens and feed them dog food or dead chickens. As time went by, coyotes took the place of the penned foxes.
Talking about coyotes, why, they have just about moved into every part of our country. Yes siree, they have come to stay. Coyotes will chase the red fox plum out of its territory and eat anything they can get their mouths on. Gray foxes seem to fair better around coyotes because, probably, for no other reason than they can climb trees to get away.
To wind this here story down, your average fox hunter has all but disappeared, just as the wild quail hunters. ‘Bout the only way you can run a fox nowadays is in a pen. Yes, in Moore County, they still do have well-organized fox hunting clubs that use horses and dogs. But mostly instead of a wily fox they use scented drags for the dogs to trail.
The years have passed on, but every time I go to take my trash to the landfill, seems I can still hear the sounds of the hounds, the smell of chicken stew, and see the smiles on the faces of my fox-hunting friends Most all have gone on to their just reward but they will not be forgotten as they pursued their favorite sport and the “thrill of the chase.”
J.A. Bolton is a member of the N.C. Storytelling Guild, Anson County Writers’ Club, Anson and Richmond County Historical Societies and co-author of the new book “Just Passing Time Together.”