Fine-Tuning Nose, Cry and Biddability
The great Ben Hardaway, who passed away a couple of years ago, was perhaps the most famous breeder of hunting hounds worldwide during my lifetime. He was Master of the Midland Foxhounds of Columbus, Georgia. He used modern English, Fell, Pennmarydel, and July bloodlines to produce what became known as the “Midland Crossbred” foxhound. His bloodlines today are used by mounted (horseback) foxhunters all over America and England. I used to enjoy listening to him speak at hound shows and seminars, and once when he shook my hand and introduced himself, it was one of the great thrills of my life. There was always a crowd listening to him, formally or informally. Mr. Hardaway wrote a book, “Never Outfoxed: The Hunting Life of Benjamin H. Hardaway III” published in 1997. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in hound breeding. It can still be found online.
What follows are some excerpts from his book:
We usually refer to the sound of hounds as “music”. With instrumental music, you have a conductor who is responsible for orchestrating, organizing, blending and leading his musicians so that their individual efforts create symphonic music. I am the “conductor” of my pack. It is up to me to breed, cull, train and draft hounds so that I can bring into the field the best possible orchestration of hunting hounds.
But like a good conductor, I want more than good mechanics: I want art. For the audience, the art should bring excitement, fulfillment and inspiration.
Photo: Midland Kill - a typical Hardaway Crossbred.
Which trait of a foxhound is most important? Is it nose, or drive, or cry? All of those things are important. But for me, the most important characteristic of a good hound is biddability.
In plain English, that means obedience. But it’s a special type of obedience, one that complements the hound’s basic hunting instinct with attention to the huntsman. You can have the most beautiful, hard-running pack in the world, but they are not any good to you if you cannot get them to hunt where you want them to hunt and stop when you want them to stop.
I’ve spent more than 50 years developing a pack that has good scenting ability, a lot of drive, and great cry. But it is also a pack that can be trained not to hunt deer. I didn’t accomplish that task by sticking with one type of hound or one bloodline. I traveled all around the foxhunting world and always kept my eyes open for traits that would improve my pack.
I was not ”hidebound”. That is, I temporarily sacrificed looks and pack uniformity for actual hunting traits that resulted in thrilling runs in the field. (Don’t be misled, though. I have also bred hounds with great hunting ability that are handsome enough to win at hound shows).
My philosophy is to breed as many hounds as I can so that I can cull many hounds, keeping only the best. That, coupled with introducing lines with favorable traits from outside my kennel, keeps me running a top-notch pack that boasts all of the necessary characteristics of a good foxhound. A good breeder must not be afraid to experiment and must not be too proud to look at other packs for qualities that he seeks. And he must always be willing to share his best with other huntsmen.
Photo: Ben Hardaway (blue tie) presenting an award at the 2012 Virginia Foxhound Show.