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HUNTING Covering the

HUNTING Covering the country 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 “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 Picture by 48 Horse & Hound 8 February 2018

adge 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 The importance of creating a meet card that satisfies the desires of followers, landowners and the shooting fraternity cannot be underestimated 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. H&H 8 February 2018 Horse & Hound 49

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