Female Firsts, Fox Hunting, and Murder By Gyrocopter

HUNTRESSFox

What I know about English-style hunting could barely fill a Dixie cup. But I found one interesting headline on the topic this morning, which led to another, then another, resulting in the following thread of barely connected, but none-the-less interesting news items.

First to catch my eye was this article in New Zealand's Gisborne Herald in which last Sunday's Poverty Bay Hunt was led by a female Master of the Hunt for the first time in its 117-year history. Nikki McHugh is a lifelong hunter and horsewoman, who now enjoys taking her children into the field. As master of the hunt, the article explains, "She is responsible for the hunt's finances, must run the hunt's house, work with the huntsman with the kennels and hounds, and liaise with landowners." Although New Zealand has four female masters of the hunt, McHugh told the paper, "Some hunts would never allow a female master."

The article also made the claim that, "In the United Kingdom, being a master of the hunt is considered even more prestigious than being a Member of Parliament." Curious about that tradition, I started picking around a few English Web sites and ended up at the Masters of Foxhounds Association homepage. The group represents 174 packs of foxhounds that hunt in England, Wales and an additional 10 in Scotland, and maintains a strict list of rules and codes of conduct (which the site notes do not apply while the hunting ban is in force).

I was about to exit the site when I noticed a somewhat surprising announcement of a memorial fund. It had been set up in the memory of a Trevor Morse, "in the wake of the tragic events of Monday 9th March 2009... when the Warwickshire Hunt was deprived of one of its truest and most loyal supporters... following the incident involving a gyrocopter at Long Marston airfield..."

Because one doesn't often hear of gyrocopter hunting tragedies, I did another search to satisfy my morbid curiosity. Sure enough, the BBC reported that on March 9, Mr. Morse had been following the hunt when he died as a result of severe head injuries from a gyrocopter's propeller. The incident took place on the last day of the season. Almost more bizarre, a joint master of the Warwickshire Hunt told the BBC, "A gyrocopter had been following us for a couple of weeks and we had made a formal complaint to the Civil Aviation Authority 10 days ago." The two people in the gyrocopter were arrested on suspicion of murder, and one appeared in court March 23. No mention was made of the suspects' possible motives.

So somehow, I went from a feel-good story about a New Zealand woman serving as first master of the hunt, to a murder story on English hunting grounds. A meandering path for sure, but maybe you've found it as interesting (and regrettable) as I did. -K.H.