Hunt­ing meet cards We out­line what’s in­volved in the plan­ning process and pro­duc­tion

The pro­duc­tion of a meet card is the first in­di­ca­tion for many of what the sea­son holds in store. Polly Portwin ex­plains what is in­volved in the plan­ning process

Horse & Hound - - Contents -

“DEVISING a meet card is like putting to­gether a large jig­saw puz­zle,” ex­plains Tim Easby, di­rec­tor of the Mas­ters of Fox­hounds As­so­ci­a­tion (MFHA) when asked to de­scribe one of the most chal­leng­ing — and im­por­tant — as­pects of the role of a master of a pack of hounds.

“The fact is, things have changed con­sid­er­ably over the years and the ma­jor­ity of packs have moved on from is­su­ing iden­ti­cal meet cards year on year.

“The num­ber of in­flu­enc­ing fac­tors is get­ting larger, ef­fec­tively mean­ing the num­ber of pieces in the jig­saw is in­creas­ing — and if one piece is miss­ing, the whole thing very eas­ily falls apart and you have to start again.”

Ev­ery hunt coun­try has its unique chal­lenges and with those come many of the vary­ing fac­tors that in­flu­ence the struc­ture of a pack’s meet card plan­ning. By the time that Fe­bru­ary meets are re­vealed, there is a like­li­hood that some of the most fash­ion­able parts of the hunt coun­try that have been hunted reg­u­larly since the au­tumn will no longer fea­ture. Farm­ing prac­tices such as lamb­ing, or en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors in­clud­ing wa­ter­log­ging, may in­evitably mean that some ar­eas are sim­ply in­ac­ces­si­ble. How­ever, the end of the shoot­ing sea­son of­ten means that where one door closes, another one opens.

The im­por­tance of get­ting a meet card to­gether that sat­is­fies the de­sires of all those who fol­low hounds, the landown­ers, the shoot­ing fra­ter­nity and any oth­ers that may need to know the hunt’s where­abouts can­not be un­der­es­ti­mated.

Each master will know how of­ten it is ac­cept­able to visit a par­tic­u­lar part of their hunt coun­try. This will in­flu­ence the ro­ta­tion of draws to en­sure that no one area is over-hunted, while other ar­eas are cov­ered suf­fi­ciently to en­sure the coun­try stays open. A prag­matic ap­proach is vi­tal to know­ing when to ac­cept that cer­tain parts of the hunt coun­try are per­haps no longer vi­able, while plenty of “sum­mer hunt­ing” around the coun­try will help to avoid plan­ning a meet where an en­tirely new hous­ing es­tate — or so­lar panel farm — has been erected vir­tu­ally overnight.

As a child, the ar­rival of a new meet card was highly an­tic­i­pated; within mo­ments of ar­rival, the high­lighter pen was usu­ally in ac­tion with suit­able dates writ­ten straight on to the fam­ily cal­en­dar. See­ing the much-her­alded and tra­di­tional “Pony Club pro­fi­ciency

badge hold­ers only” meet on the card around Christ­mas was al­ways greeted with glee, while the tra­di­tional Christ­mas Eve meet for many is sec­ond only to the open­ing meet in terms of a com­pul­sory ap­pear­ance.

SO HOW DOES IT ALL COME TO­GETHER?

“UL­TI­MATELY, it comes down to the plan­ning,” ad­vises Sam Butler, chair­man of the War­wick­shire. “Like many packs, our out­line draws would stay largely the same each year, but we al­ways en­sure we ask for shoot dates well in ad­vance to min­imise the risk of any clashes and we usu­ally have to fac­tor in numer­ous other re­quests through­out the sea­son too.”

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween those or­gan­is­ing hunt­ing and those in­volved in shoot­ing is vi­tal and the ar­range­ments be­tween the two varies dra­mat­i­cally even within the same hunt coun­try. Some landown­ers with vast com­mer­cial shoots wel­come hounds through­out the en­tire sea­son, while some pre­fer to limit ac­cess un­til af­ter the sea­son fin­ishes, hence the rea­son why new doors open from the begin­ning of Fe­bru­ary.

Some ex­pect the meet dates to be or­gan­ised around their shoot­ing, while oth­ers will “fit in” once they know when the hunt is in the area.

The same ap­plies for smaller, fam­ily-run or syn­di­cate shoots, of which there are an in­creas­ing num­ber to con­sider. Their re­quests and those of ev­ery landowner should all be treated with the same re­spect and con­sid­er­a­tion.

Know­ing whose re­spon­si­bil­ity it is for find­ing meets and or­gan­is­ing the days should be es­tab­lished early on among the mas­ter­ship and sec­re­tariat, many of whom also have their own busy lives and need to fac­tor hunt­ing in wher­ever pos­si­ble. Get­ting the first draft pro­duced can be the most chal­leng­ing, but it works as a use­ful frame­work to build upon.

It would be fair to say that the ma­jor­ity of packs would have cer­tain dates and as­so­ci­ated meets that are set in stone, such as the open­ing meet and Box­ing Day, which form the ba­sis for the meet card.

“We or­gan­ise our meet card in three parts — au­tumn hunt­ing, shoot­ing and af­ter-shoot­ing,” re­veals Charles Carter MFH, joint-master and hunts­man of the Mid­dle­ton.

“We start with draw­ing up a ‘Satur­day skele­ton’ then stick with our pat­tern of hunt­ing where we hunt dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try on spe­cific days of the week.”

In ad­di­tion to know­ing shoot dates in ad­vance, a mem­ory for sig­nif­i­cant birth­days and an­niver­saries can be a great ad­van­tage for a master when the plan­ning process is in its in­fancy. Re­ceiv­ing a call to ask that “our meet takes place on a date af­ter Christ­mas this sea­son” in­stead of its tra­di­tional date in Novem­ber can throw a few ad­di­tional balls into the air.

LANDOWN­ERS ARE KEY

MOD­ERN meth­ods of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, con­cerns about meet se­cu­rity and a re­quire­ment to be more flex­i­ble means that fewer packs print a tra­di­tional meet card that ar­rives through the post. Print­ing off an emailed list of meets or tak­ing a screen shot hav­ing logged on to the ded­i­cated se­cure zone on a hunt web­site might not be quite the same as the more tra­di­tional type of card, but the in­for­ma­tion is still held in equally as high re­gard.

Some packs plan an en­tire sea­son’s card in ad­vance, but an in­creas­ing num­ber of packs now ad­vise their sup­port­ers of meets only a few weeks at a time, of­ten with an out­line of the area to be hunted but with meet de­tails to be ad­vised nearer the time. This al­lows for read­just­ments if meets are lost due to frost, snow, fog or other un­fore­seen cir­cum­stances.

“We plan our card in two halves — up un­til Christ­mas and then the sec­ond card to the end of the sea­son,” ex­plains Ryan Ma­nia, joint-master of the Ber­wick­shire. “How­ever, we let our sub­scribers know two weeks in ad­vance be­cause the weather can be an in­flu­enc­ing fac­tor and it means we can be more flex­i­ble if we need to resched­ule meets.”

Gary Thorpe, hunts­man at the East Es­sex be­lieves that “plan­ning meet cards for the en­tire sea­son is great for sub­scribers but it can be a night­mare for mas­ters.”

Landown­ers are al­ways the key to piec­ing to­gether the draw for a hunt­ing day. A num­ber of packs are re­liant on large blocks of land owned by dif­fer­ent bod­ies such as the Forestry Com­mis­sion, the Min­istry of De­fence, United Util­i­ties and the Na­tional Trust, land where li­cences are re­quired be­fore be­ing granted per­mis­sion to con­duct le­gal hunt­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. This sea­son the li­cens­ing terms were amended in re­la­tion to the Na­tional Trust, which caused a de­lay in the ap­pli­ca­tion process for some packs.

“We’ve been op­er­at­ing with­out a meet card as such so far this sea­son,” says Char­lie Watts, master and hunts­man of the Western in Corn­wall. “A lot of our hunt coun­try is Na­tional Trust land and we’ve been work­ing it out on an ad hoc ba­sis while the ap­pli­ca­tion goes through.”

Al­though not every­one has the plea­sure of still be­ing able to place their hunt logo-em­bossed meet card on the man­tel­piece for all to see, what­ever form it takes, the meet card should still be seen as an ob­ject of pride, both by those re­ceiv­ing it and those pro­duc­ing it.

The im­por­tance of cre­at­ing a meet card that sat­is­fies the de­sires of fol­low­ers,

landown­ers and the shoot­ing fra­ter­nity can­not

be un­der­es­ti­mated

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