by Richard Clapham 1922
The average otterhound pack to-day is usually composed of foxhounds, cross-bred hounds, and a few couples of pure, rough-coated otterhounds. In the old days the latter predominated in most packs, and it is only of late years that the foxhound has come to the fore in the pursuit of Lutra.
The origin of the rough-coated hound is more or less shrouded in mystery, but it is pretty safe to say that he is closely related to the bloodhound. If true to type he possesses many of the bloodhound’s characteristics, including the long pendulous ears, the deep-set eye showing the haw, and the black and tan colour which so often predominates. The rough coat was gained by a cross of some sort, but it is impossible to say with certainty what this cross was. The wire-haired Welsh harrier may have had something to do with it, and again it is quite likely that the old hard-coated Lancashire harrier may have been used for the same purpose. It is possible, too, that the old southern hound was crossed with the bloodhound, while there are those who believe that the French griffon had a share in the business. Thus we see that the rough outer coat may have come from a variety of sources, but the thick, woolly under-coat is no doubt a provision of nature to protect the hound from the effects of frequent and long-continued immersion in the water. This under coat is worn by the Chesapeake Bay dog, a breed of retriever much used by wildfowl shooters in America.
In the fourteenth century raches or running hounds—known later simply as hounds—were of various kinds. In the “Master of Game” it says: “There be also many kinds of running hounds, some small and some big, and the small be called kenets, and these hounds run well to all manner of game, and they (that) serve for all game men call them harriers. And every hound that hath that courage will come to be a harrier by nature with little making.”
Harrier was in those days spelt heyrer, and it was not until after the sixteenth century that the modern spelling came into vogue. It was probably derived from the Anglo-Saxon herian, to harry or disturb. In the “Boke of St Albans” it says that the hart, the buck, and the boar should be started by a limer, and that all “other bestes that hunted shall be sought for and found by Ratches so free.” Thus it appears that all beasts that were enchased were moved by a lime-hound, while those that were hunted up were found by raches. The otter-hunting illustration in the “Master of Game” shows five hounds, one of which is on leash, and appears to be a limer. The otter was certainly not enchased in those days, being looked upon as vermin, yet as the picture shows a limer at work, it is possible that lime-hounds were sometimes used for other game than the recognised beasts of chase. The hound shown swimming the otter is bloodhound-like, while two smaller hounds appear to have broken coats. In the fourteenth century the otter and various other creatures, such as the rabbit, fox, wild cat, etc., were hunted by biss hunters (fur hunters) for their skins, and no doubt the smaller breed of hounds then known as heyrers were employed in their capture.
Coming down to modern times, there are, as far as we are aware, but two existing otterhound packs entirely composed of pure, rough-coated otterhounds. All other establishments employ mixed packs. Cross-bred hounds are usually the result of a union between a pure otterhound bitch and a foxhound. The majority of foxhounds which find their way to the otterhound kennels have been drafted for over-height, age, or faults. They are often presented to the M.O.H., or he buys them at a low figure. Having purchased or otherwise got together sufficient hounds to make a start, you can gradually weed them out, retaining the best workers for future breeding operations. It is perhaps unnecessary to state that you must have a couple or two of entered hounds to begin with, otherwise you are likely to walk as far as the Rev. Jack Russell did before you find an otter. As regards cross-bred hounds, the first cross may be capital workers, but it is doubtful if much good comes from breeding from them.
One sees all shapes, makes, and sizes of rough hounds in the various packs, but the best bred ones are big, upstanding animals, from twenty-two to twenty-four or more inches in height. Speaking from our own experience, we have found the majority of rough hounds to be much more clumsy and less active than foxhounds. Their feet, too, are often inclined to be open and flat, and they lack the heart and stamina of the foxhound. There are, of course, exceptions, and we have come across rough hounds that were capital workers, but take them all round they are too big and clumsy, at any rate for work on rough, rocky streams. Despite their rough jackets, they suffer from the effects of long immersion in water far more than the foxhound, whose short, smooth coat is dry after a shake or two. In addition they are not such good doers as the foxhound, and require more attention after hunting. They are also apt to be quarrelsome in kennel. Many of them possess extremely fine noses, and can speak to a line a day or two old, but this is of no practical help in hunting, because it is impossible to drag up to an otter that has been so long gone. They swim well, and often draw well when swimming, but the foxhound is quite their equal in this respect. In our experience the hound that can wind his otter across the stream and go straight to him is more often a foxhound than a rough hound.
The foxhound, too, is usually a better marker once he has entered properly, and when it comes to holding and killing an otter, the rough hound cannot compare with him. Across country, too, and when an otter runs through covert, the foxhound’s dash and drive at once put him in the lead. The rough hound has a resonant, musical voice, and a picturesque appearance, but taking him all round, from a solely working point of view, he is, in our humble opinion, inferior to the foxhound, particularly on rough, rocky rivers, where a light-built, active type of hound shows to advantage. Custom ordains that hounds for otter-hunting should be rough jacketed, and by employing cross-bred or rough Welsh foxhounds you get the rough coat, without the undesirable qualities found in the pure otterhounds.
The latter show to the best advantage in low-lying country, where the rivers are slow running, and the going easy. In these days, when meets are late and time is valuable, pure otterhounds with their tender noses dwell and revel on the drag instead of pushing forward. The foxhound, on the other hand, may feather on a stale line, but he will not as a rule open unless the drag is fairly fresh. When he does throw his tongue, you can confidently cheer the others to him, knowing that your otter is not so very far in front. Although we cannot deny that the deep, resonant music of a pack of pure otterhounds is delightful to listen to, something more than the “band” is required to kill an otter.
Foxhounds, cross-breds, and Welsh hounds throw their tongues well enough, and in addition they possess dash and drive, with little or no inclination to dwell. Foxhounds, before they have entered properly, draw wide and will not always stick to the river, but if they have done a few season’s stag-hunting—thus being used to water work—they generally enter well to otter and draw closely enough. A hound may not take any interest in the sport during his first season, but the following season he may prove to be one of the best. Unfortunately the majority of draft foxhounds are aged before they find their way to the otterhound kennels, therefore any lengthy delay in entering to their new quarry shortens the period of their usefulness, that at the best cannot be very long.
Aged foxhounds after a time show an inclination to dwell and revel in the scent, and when this happens it is a sign that their utility is coming to an end. If possible always get hold of foxhounds which throw their tongues freely, and have nothing whatever to do with a mute hound. However closely you keep an eye on the latter, he will sooner or later get away “on his own,” and be the means of spoiling more than one good hunt. No matter how good a mute hound is in his work, get rid of him, for unless he lets you know what he is doing he is useless to you. Likewise, never on any consideration be tempted to breed from a mute hound. Rough otterhounds cannot stand punishment like the foxhound, and will howl and kick up a dreadful racket if hurt, or hit with the whip for some fault.
It is during the course of a long hunt in heavy or chilly water that the average rough otterhound will pull out and sit shivering on the bank, while the foxhounds are keeping their otter on the move. In our experience, the foxhound is a much better fresh-finder than the pure otterhound, and it is the hounds good at fresh-finding and keeping their otter going that do most towards bringing the quarry to hand. At the end of a long day, too, the cross-breds and foxhounds will return to kennels with their sterns up, while many of the rough sort exhibit a very depressed appearance. They never seem to pick their feet up like a foxhound, but shuffle about in an ungainly fashion. When it comes to killing an otter, the foxhound has it all his own way. Time and again we have seen him seize and hold a big otter, often shaking his quarry like a fox. The rough hound often fails in this respect, for he has not the courage to make him a good seizer and killer. A foxhound which comes to the otterhound kennels with the reputation of being a good marker nearly always keeps up his fame in the same way when entered to otter. Good marking hounds are the mainstay of any pack. As far as brains are concerned, the foxhound appears to make more use of his “grey matter” than the rough hound, and shows more initiative and individuality. His pace and activity, too, are beyond question, both of which qualities are of the greatest assistance when swimming an otter, and more particularly when hunting one across country or through extensive coverts. It is the active hounds which score so often on rough and rocky rivers, for drive and pace are an occasion quite as necessary in otter-hunting as fox-hunting.
The cross between foxhound and rough otterhound possesses many of the attributes of the former, including a rough jacket, and thus is admirably fitted for the pursuit of Lutra.
Turning to Welsh hounds, some of which have rough, and others smooth coats, we find a breed admirably suited to both fox and otter-hunting. Many Welsh hounds are white or nearly so, while others are the old black-and-tan colour. The English foxhound of standard type is bigger and has more substance than the Welsh hound, but the latter excels in nose and tongue, and can stand any amount of hard work in rough country. In our experience, too, Welsh hounds—particularly those of the smaller type—are very active, and have plenty of drive, while they are often capital markers, and can hold and kill an otter quite as quickly as any English foxhound.
Another type of hound admirably suited to otter-hunting is the fell-foxhound of Cumberland and Westmorland. He is for the most part a light-built, active sort, with a capital nose, and any amount of tongue. In the Lakes and certain districts adjoining, fell-hounds often hunt fox in winter and otter in summer. The fell-hounds are kennelled in the fox-hunting season, but go out to walk in summer, and generally a few couples are lent to the local otterhounds for the chase of Lutra. In our experience fell-hounds enter quickly to otter, and on our rough and rocky northern rivers they are very hard to beat as all round performers. Many of them are capital markers, and they will hunt a drag, and kill an otter with the best.
Turning to the “Otter-hunting Diary” of the late Mr James Lomax, of Clayton Hall, who « kept a pack from 1829 to 1871, we find an illustration of the old Lancashire harrier or foumart-hound. The picture shows a couple of rough-haired hounds in full cry, which appear a medium-sized, light-built, active type; more suggestive of the rough Welsh foxhound than the modern otterhound. Mr Lomax used these foumart-hounds in crossing with his otterhounds. In another illustration, showing some of the pack in 1835, the type of hound appears to be lighter-built and more active-looking than the big, present-day rough otterhound.
The tendency with English foxhounds has been to breed them much bigger than was the case in former years, and the same apparently applies to the rough otterhound. Certainly a tall hound can wade where a smaller hound is obliged to swim, but a medium-sized, active type is less clumsy, and more fitted for work on rocky streams than the heavy hounds now seen in most packs. From a purely working point of view, a pack composed of English, Welsh, and fell-foxhounds would be very hard to beat. By judicious crossing, an ideal pack could be bred, retaining to a great extent the rough coat of the Welsh hound, if that was thought indispensable to the appearance of the pack.
Although draft foxhounds are generally used for otter-hunting, it pays to get hold of a bitch or two and breed from them. By so doing you can gradually get together a pack composed of hounds of the desired sort, and if you are lucky you may be able to hunt fox with them in the winter, and thus keep hounds in condition for their summer work. Hounds, like human beings, get very fed-up with continual road exercise, therefore a bit of winter hunting appeals to them far more than the dull routine of exercise walks.
Next in importance to the hounds are the terriers, for without their help it would be impossible to eject an otter from his holt. The most important quality in a terrier is gameness, for no matter how well built he is, if he has not the courage to go below ground and stay with his otter until the latter bolts, or the diggers unearth him, he is not worth his keep. Provided he is thoroughly game, and not too big, it matters not how a terrier is bred. He is there to work, and not to be looked at. Roughly speaking, a terrier of about 14 lb. weight will be suited to otter-hunting. As, apart from bolting otters, he will not be called upon to do any great amount of travelling over rough country, short legs are no great drawback to him. For all that, however, we like to see a terrier with a fair length of leg, for there are certain holts, particularly amongst rocks, where an otter can command the upper position, and a short-legged terrier is much handicapped when trying to get at him. A terrier should have a fair head and jaw, and he should be as narrow in front as is compatible with adequate heart and lung room. A narrow-fronted dog can always get into a smaller place than a broad-chested one, even if he is longer on the leg. A terrier that will lie up close to an otter and move him with his tongue is preferable to one that goes straight in to the attack. His barking eventually gets on the otter’s nerves and causes him to get “out of that,” while should the otter refuse to bolt, the terrier’s voice is a guide as to where to dig. A terrier soon learns his job, and after getting mauled a time or two by otters, he will make more use of his tongue than his teeth. When entering a puppy for the first time, choose an easy place, so that the youngster has a fair chance to get in touch with his otter.
As to the colour of a terrier, good ones—like horses—come in all colours. White is perhaps preferable, as a white terrier is less likely to be mistaken for the otter by hounds at a kill. Certainly white terriers appear to suffer fewer casualties in this respect than coloured ones. As to whether terriers should run loose with hounds is a question the Master must settle for himself. When terriers are loose, there is always the chance that cubs may be chopped by them, though to set against such a contretemps, many an otter is found and put down by the terriers. Again, coloured terriers running loose may be killed or badly mauled by hounds, when the latter are hard at their otter.
During the season of 1921, with the K. and D.O.H., we had two coloured terriers worried by hounds, one of which recovered but the other died the same night. The otter, which was getting beat, took to land, and hounds collared him as he left the water, the terriers being seized by some of the pack in mistake for their quarry. Had those terriers been in the couples at the time, they would have been saved. It is really safest to lead the terriers until they are wanted, and after bolting their otter they should be got hold of again as soon as possible. The same when hounds are worrying their otter, always pick up the terriers if any of them are loose.
In order that hounds shall keep fit and well, they must receive proper attention in the kennel. Less flesh is needed for feeding otterhounds than foxhounds, because they do their work in summer, and both the season of the year and the work itself do not make so great a call on their powers as does the chase of the fox in winter. During the off season, otterhounds should be exercised for two or three hours daily, and as the hunting season approaches the exercise can be gradually lengthened. With a pack of cross-bred, Welsh, or English foxhounds, it is possible to hunt otters in summer and fox in winter, and where this can be done, hounds will, of course, keep perfectly fit. In the case of the fell-foxhounds, those hunting otter in summer return to their own kennels for the winter fox-catching. As far as food is concerned, this should always be given thick, rather than soft and sloppy. Hounds splash “slop” into their eyes, and get particles of it up their nostrils, to the detriment of both sight and olfactory powers. On the return from hunting, cuts and bruises should be attended to, and thorns, etc., extracted. Hounds’ coats should also be brushed, and burrs, etc., removed. Rough hounds require more looking after in this respect than smooth-coated ones. The huntsman should see that his hounds are fed and properly bedded down before he attends to his own wants. If hounds look well and hunt well, you can rest assured that your huntsman or feeder is paying proper attention to the pack in kennel. As regards kennels, these need not be of an expensive nature, but the drainage and general sanitation must be adequate if hounds are to keep fit. Wherever waste matter is present, either in the boiling house, feeding place, or yards, there will disease germs gather, and complaints amongst hounds will be for ever breaking out. The old adage “Cleanliness is next to godliness” applies as much to hounds and their kennels as it does to human beings and their houses.
Some huntsmen are apt to let hounds get very much out of condition during the winter months, instead of exercising regularly, which means that on the approach of the hunting season all sorts of physic is used in an attempt to get them fit again. It is quite safe to say that the less medicine you employ about the kennels the better, and there will be little or no need for it if hounds are rationally fed and exercised in the winter.