A rainy day didn’t dampen the excitement at Strathalbyn Farms Club in St. Charles County, especially after the announcement was made, “They’re releasing the hounds.” Which hounds you ask? Primarily, Three Creek Bassets, the four-footed athletes that reveled in the day’s hunt, hound races and related contests.
The occasion was the 43rd Annual Gumbo Flats Gold Cup, an event celebrating the centuries old sport of Basseting.
Never heard of it? Basseting focuses on following a Basset pack on foot in their pursuit of rabbits or hares. Similar to a traditional foxhunt, Basseting is conducted on foot without horses and without fox hounds, the ones usually seen in vintage hunt paintings and movies. While fox hounds may have a higher profile, Basset Hounds have their own rich hunting tradition and history, including what some would call a “divine lineage.”
Basset is a French derivative of bas, meaning low. These low hounds were favored by the eighth-century French nobleman who became St. Hubert. His spiritual conversion is linked to his love of the hunt and his hounds. As legend goes, Hubert skipped Good Friday mass to hunt with his hounds, the forerunners of today’s Bassets. While in pursuit of a stag, the animal stopped and faced Hubert and his hounds. At that moment, a vision of a crucifix appeared between its antlers, with a voice warning Hubert to begin to live a holy life or face damnation.
Hubert, paid attention and turned is life around. Today, he is the patron saint of hunters, dogs, trappers, archers and forest workers.
“St. Hubert is credited with developing the Basset Hound, which is bred to hunt in the tradition of St. Hubert. That’s the reason why Bassets are also known as the St. Hubert Hound,” explains Laura Carpenter Balding, Master of the Basset Hounds at Three Creek Farm in St. Charles County. “Every year I have our hounds blessed on or near St. Hubert’s Feast Day (Nov. 3).”
The Basseting season runs from late September through April.
Balding’s love of Basseting began with her parents, Clarkson Carpenter and Dorothy (DJ) Mahaffey Carpenter Moore, who started the Basset pack at Bridlespur Hunt Club, the oldest hunt club west of the Mississippi.
“My father was the Master of the Basset Hounds until he died, then my mother was master,” Balding says, explaining how her parents also started the Basset pack at Strathalbyn Farm. That pack would be reorganized and moved to Three Creek Farm to become the Three Creek Bassets.
Balding and Three Creek Bassets Joint Master, Lei Ruckle, serve as huntsmen for the pack. Using a traditional hand-held hunting horn, they signal the hounds and inform the field (followers who come to watch) on the hunt’s progress. After a brief demonstration of how the horn sounds, the kenneled hounds immediately respond.
“They’re singing,” Balding explains. “I’m glad when I hear them signing. When they find the scent of a rabbit, they’ll start to speak. We love to listen to their voices, which is part of the romance of the hunt – that’s music.”
Once the hounds begin the hunt, everyone follows for the brisk walk through the countryside, watching the Bassets find and follow the scent through the brambles but not into the woods.
“I don’t like going deep into the woods because there’s not that many rabbits. And another thing, there are many deer, foxes and whatever else is in the woods that you don’t want to hunt. It can ruin a day’s hunt if a deer crosses the line because the hounds are going to chase the deer. Then, you spend the rest of the day looking for them.”
The hounds can go years without catching a rabbit.
“This isn’t a hunting person’s thing,” Balding explains. “We’re not interested in killing the rabbit. It’s a dog thing. And if you’re a dog person this is fun.”
Hunts are held on Sundays during the season. Those who are interested in the experience and preserving the tradition, who love Basset Hounds and the outdoors are welcome to join the field. To join as a guest, become a subscriber/member of Three Creek Bassets Hounds, or learn more visit www.facebook.com/ThreeCreekBassets.