About 40 horseback riders and 14 sniffing hounds scoured the sagebrush-laden countryside of Yakima County this weekend hunting something that wasn’t there — a fox.
Well, if there had been a fox, they wouldn’t have killed it.
Meet the Woodbrook Hunt Club.
The club is based in Lakewood and has about 120 members who participate in drag hunts (no-kill hunts). They primarily hunt on Joint Base Lewis-McChord by permit.
For them, it’s simply the thrill of the hunt. A few riders and a few people on foot drag what they call a tail — a rag dipped in fox urine tied to a line — through the countryside. The hounds pick up the trail, and the hunt is on.
This past weekend, club members journeyed here to chase the scent of a fox through the area’s arid fields and towering cottonwoods that line the Yakima River.
But there was more to the event than just the hunt. The club came over to support an effort to rescue older horses from slaughter.
The club stayed the weekend at the Cherry Wood Bed and Breakfast at 3271 Roza Hill Drive north of Zillah. The B&B is a nonprofit focused on funding its horse rescue, said owner Pepper Fewel.
Fewel often rescues horses that are about 15 years old, which are considered old by many, but can live to be 30, she said.
“We’re farmers — we don’t do this for the money,” she said Sunday as the group of riders came in from the day’s hunt. “We just do it for the horses.”
She usually finds homes for rescued horses. She keeps the ones that she can’t place in a home.
“They can just live here until they die,” she said.
For the past four years, the club has come to the B&B to help support its mission as well as other nearby businesses and, of course, to take in a good hunt, said club member Jason Heaverlo.
“There’s a lot behind this,” he said. “It’s just for bringing everybody together.”
This year Heaverlo was able to bring his group to his old riding grounds behind Sportsman State Park in Yakima, where a trail system unfolds across 90 acres.
Heaverlo grew up here, but now lives in Seattle.
“I’ve been wanting to bring the club up here and take them out back, so it was really neat to do this,” he said. “I grew up riding back there. We finally got the big group out there. It was neat.”
Each day, the group visited area wineries for tasting after hunts.
They hunted near Silverwood Winery, then down to Cultural Winery, both in the area, before they broke from the scent for some wine tasting, said Jennifer Hansen.
“So it’s very social,” she said. “We mix it up with hunting and socializing.”
Originally there was a fox hunt here stemming back to 1926, she said. At that time, it was in area near the Yakima Training Center, Hansen said.
But the hunt ended. Later it was started up again here, but closer to the Zillah area with the B&B serving as primary host the past four years, she said.
“Pepper has been an amazing host for us,” she said. “It’s great. It’s been really fun.”
After Sunday’s hunt, Tammy Masters raved about the area’s offerings.
“This wine country and hunting — we really enjoy this country out here,” she said. “Everyone out here is so friendly.”
Club members spend considerable time with landowners in the area so hunts don’t end up in areas they shouldn’t, Masters said.
“We try to be real respectful of landowners — don’t do anything wrong and support the businesses,” she said.
She hunted as a child, but quit to work and raise children. She returned to the sport a few years ago.
She’s hunted in California and in Ireland, where they are allowed to kill prey. She’s also hunted coyote in Nevada.
“I wanted to get out and do something fun and adventurous,” she said of returning to hunting. “I like to watch the hounds.”