The Bayin' of Their Existence

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Bad dog.
Especially when beagling is a sport loaded with etiquette. You'd expect nothing less from Britain, where it remains one of the great aristocratic pleasures, along with grouse shooting and fly fishing. Hunting families send their children to private colleges such as Oxford or Stowe that maintain beagle packs of their own. As part of their early studies, 19th-century girls were taught beagling as well as how to curtsy and enter a room like a lady.

Hunting beagles get their names from thefirst letter of either of their parents' names--one litter, for instance, the offspring of Brigand and Artless, produced the now8year-old hounds Arrow, Adobe, Angel and Ascot. Pilgrim and Playboy and Precious are all a year older; and one of Angel's pups, fathered by Pilgrim, went on to birth Prophet, the youngest of the pack.

The hounds' collars are all imprinted with the Bohannans' phone number, so none of them has ever been lost for good, not even in the earlier days, when hunts were as chaotic as a Jerry Springer Show. But if an AWOL dog like Precious doesn't return by the hunt's conclusion, the riders will leave a piece of someone's clothing at the site, and the hound will often sniff its way back to that spot and wait.

These desert hounds are pretty talented when you consider the scenting conditions. In England, they say the scent's bad if the fog lifts. Here, if a fog lifts, it's usually because the group is out of apricot brandy. The best times for hounds to catch a scent in the desert are after a rain or in the early morning before the sun burns it off. That being the case, the Paradise Valley beagle hunts start at 8:30 a.m. and last a couple of hours.

So, with intermission finally over, Stevenson sounds her horn again, and the beagles scatter into silent arcs, working the ground in front of them, snuffling through the dirt.

They don't last much longer, though, because everyone from the horses and riders on down to the hounds is pretty much out of shape. They have to work up to the three-hour marathons that come later in the season.

The British can't imagine that the Paradise Valley Beagles never kill a thing, "but actually, we're quite delighted about that," Margaret Bohannan says.

And besides, club members point out, beagles usually aren't fast enough to actually catch a rabbit. Everyone has a good time, even the rabbits.

Those hares are pretty wily: Sometimes they'll just squat down and lie there and watch the beagles run by. If there are two of them, they might split up and divide the hunt. Sometimes the rabbit will be ahead in plain sight while the beagles run around looking for the scent. Sight is not their principal attribute.

Once, a jack popped up in the middle of the pack and basically trotted right through in the other direction. The hounds were allso stunned that they just sat there with dumb looks on their faces and watched it goby.

Margaret Bohannan came to Arizona 25 years ago and met her husband, a mortgage banker from Ohio, during an organized fox hunt they used to have down in Sonoita. Another pack, the High Country Hounds, still hunts coyote near Flagstaff. Sometime in the early Eighties, the Bohannans thought it'd be a hoot to get everyone on his horse on New Year's Day for a morning of hunting the way she knew it in Wales.

They began with four hounds: Ambush, Anchor, Playfair and Padgent. They took a coyote pelt and dragged it through the desert north of Shea Boulevard, then put the thing in a tree. Then 200 people on horses, with Bob Bohannan as the field master, rode excitedly after the hounds, who were going full cry. "It was very dramatic for a hunter," Margaret Bohannan says.

But most of the riders had never been on a hunt, and it was frenetic. Etiquette was nonexistent, and Bob Bohannan didn't stay close enough to the riders, and the horses, not used to galloping with such abandon over the countryside, were jumping all over the place.

"The New Year's hunt was outrageous," remembers robust riding instructor Kris Denton. "I believe I jumped my doctor. We came to an arroyo, and her horse stopped, and mine didn't, and as I went over her, I said, 'Sorry, Judith!' I won a medal."

The Bohannans figured it was so much fun that they ought to start a pack, and, with the help of a British friend who gave them a couple of hounds from the Britannia Beagles--the official pack of the British Royal Navy--they started breeding one.

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Marc Ramirez