Membership in the Paradise Valley Beagles fluctuates between 50 and 60, with dues of $75 for singles and $125 for families. The group belongs to England's Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles, and is recognized by the National Beagle Club.
And, now that the hounds are better trained and riders know to stay out of the way, hunts are more sedate and orderly. But in those early days, wild-goose chases and calls from Carefree reporting stray beagles were not uncommon.
Just the same, back East, where most hound hunting occurs, they say beagles are the breed of the future. Development has spilled into the forests and marshes of places like Florida and Kentucky. As a result, the tall, long-range hounds once used to hunt deer are giving way to beagles because they're easier to control and less prone to roam off onto someone's private property.
States have started designating actual "short dog" area restrictions, and beagles are an easy answer.
The Paradise Valley Beagles are finding areas they hunted a decade ago disappearing. One spot was at Pima and Indian Bend roads, where now stands a giant shopping complex known as the Pavilions; another was Tatum Boulevard from Union Hills all the way up to Dynamite, which has made way for development. The club used to be able to go out and hunt almost anywhere, but no more.
Old grazing areas are best because they're flat and there's not much cactus. But with all the hunting areas diminishing, the group is having to take the hounds farther and farther out of the Valley and worrying about things like wandering onto ranches and Indian reservations.
For instance, the group is in the process of checking out a potential site near the White Tanks that looks pretty good. The bad news is, the hounds could be chasing bunnies right through the middle of paint-ball games.
The desert itself is changing, too. Riders say they encounter more dumped trash and old tires and mattresses than they used to. And, in one spot they found last year outside Apache Junction, they end up going straight past the rusted-out vehicles in squatters' front yards.
That happened just last week, on another warm Saturday morning when the hounds caught a good line on yet one more frisky bunny. Turned out to be a pair of them, and when they split, Pilgrim took a couple of hounds in one direction while the rest headed the other way.
The jack hopped up right in front of the second group and bounded away in giant leaps, leading the pack in a big arc for a good half-hour, which was long enough to lose a couple of hounds along the way. The rabbit never had its ears down, meaning it wasn't trying too hard, just enough to stay ahead. Finally, it got too hot, and the hounds tuckered out first, the way they nearly always do. They'd had enough. They were pooped.
The horn tooted and they packed it in, and, naturally, they'd lost track of Precious again, and finally she showed up, blood streaming down her back leg. Somewhere in the brush, she'd gotten into it with a javelina. The same thing happened to Pilgrim last spring, only he got it much worse, in the neck. Precious' punctures were small and at the tail end, which were no doubt painful, but at least not potentially fatal.
Precious was treated by the retired Mayo surgeon in the group, and Margaret Bohannan carried her back to camp on her appaloosa. At 9 years old, perhaps it's time for Precious to retire.
A beagle puppy has the nose, and it has the voice, but it doesn't know what to do with them. For six months, a hunting beagle pup is "walked out," meaning it's farmed out to a volunteer household to learn how to get along with people. After months of playing with the kids, chewing up things and digging up the carpet, it's time to go back and see if it's worthy of joining the pack.
The young hounds learn by example their first year out. They learn which scents to follow by feeding off the commotion of the others. They're trained to avoid rattlesnakes; electric collars are fitted to give them shocks when they show the slightest interest in a pet gopher snake placed in front of them.
Some of the young ones excel and go on to lead hunts, most often giving tongue before the rest. It's a lot of running around and answering to people with whips, but it probably beats life as a humdrum household pet.