The Bite Stuff

The hunt continues to outfox opponents.

As the 75th-anniversary weekend begins, Beeman, now seventy and a joint-master of the Arapahoe Hunt, lays out the plan: "Today," he says, "we're gonna draw the hounds north a mile and a quarter or so, then put them under cover and head south. From then on, the coyote will tell us what to do."

In the stables, an equine beautician braids the manes of several thoroughbreds. The horses have been shaved close to the skin so they don't overheat in their hot pursuit of the wily coyote. The hounds mill about in an enclosed area behind the stables. They won't be fed until after the hunt. "It tends to make sure they come home," explains Donald O'Connor, Arapahoe's third and final joint-master.

Dogged days: Hunters prepare to match wits with a 
wily coyote.
Dogged days: Hunters prepare to match wits with a wily coyote.

Masters of the hunt enjoy a lofty position of esteem and respect within their organizations. "We speak only to God," O'Connor explains. "You have to be smooth, elegant and charming and have been around a long time."

O'Connor appears to qualify on all counts, but he has definitely nailed at least one. A New York City native, he agreed to try hunting for the first time in 1965 at the behest of his wife, a prep-school girl from Virginia and a bona fide member of the horsey set. Nearly forty years later, O'Connor is still chasing vermin across the rolling hills and draws of the Colorado plains.

Of course, to many in the hunt world, O'Connor and Beeman are still considered newcomers, dilettante riders with bloodlines as thin as water. "My grandfather did it; my father did it; now I do it," says Mason Lampton of Columbus, Georgia. Lampton has flown up to Colorado for the 75th-anniversary hunt. His hounds, the famous Midland hounds (throughout the weekend, the noun is never uttered without the modifier), were driven up by their professional handlers, a three-day trip.

Even Lampton's pedigree pales, though, in comparison with that of his wife, Mary Lou. Her father is Ben Hardaway, scion of a legendary Southern hunting family. In fact, it is charge over Hardaway's hounds that son-in-law Mason has inherited. Hardaway, the father of three girls (hunters all, but girls, nonetheless), was only too happy to hand over kennel operations to his daughter's husband, a proper Southern gentleman who rode and fox-hunted. "With Mason," Mary Lou continues, "he 'bout broke his ankle clickin' his heels.

Indeed, today's hunt seems to be all about love and tradition. While there has been speculation over how the Arapahoe hounds will get along with the famous Midland hounds, all appears well as the mounted hunters sip sherry and a master from a visiting hunt reads a blessing prior to the start of the day's chase.

"Dear Lord, thank you for blessing this day," he intones. Left for a moment to their own devices, the dogs begin sniffing each other in earnest. "Each hunt is a gift from you..." By now the hounds have started humping each other with serious intent, grinding their hips into any square-nosed face or stern they can get to.

"Blue!" Marvin Beeman growls from his mount, snapping a whip over the head of one especially amorous hound.

"Protect each of us from injury..." Lampton tries to get his pack to focus as well. "Raja! Raja!" he mutters forcefully in a low voice. Then he shrugs as Raja continues to pound away at another Arapahoe hound. "He's horny, I guess. Instead of fighting, my hounds want to make love."

And what's not to love? The day has warmed to a balmy 60 degrees. The warm weather means that finding and keeping a scent on the dry and dusty plains will prove a challenge to the assembled noses. Yet the warmth and sunshine are early-December gifts.

"Huntmasters, show us good sport," the blessing concludes. Beeman turns his horse and yells to his hounds: "C'mon, boys! C'mon, bitches!"

And the spectacle! A dozen-plus groups from across the country have gathered to celebrate 75 years of Colorado tradition. Scarlet, black and gold are brilliant paint drops dripped against the dun canvas of the brown winter scrub. Overhead, in a spine-tingling, if incongruous accompaniment to the centuries-old union of horses and hounds, black Army helicopters from a nearby base perform maneuvers.

Within half an hour of being put under cover, the hounds pick up the scent of a coyote. They take off running, a full-throated symphony of primordial joy and bloodlust. One hundred and thirty-odd horses and riders follow hard behind. A half-mile to the east, heading in the opposite direction, a coyote crests a rise, pauses for a moment and then lopes off into the distance.

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