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OTTER-HUNting is one of the oldest English sports, and at one time enjoyed royal patronage. King John is reputed to have kept his “otter dogges"; and William Twice, who was grand huntsman to the second Edward, at the beginning of the fourteenth century, has left us an interesting description of the different kinds of game hunted in his day, which includes “ Beasts for hunting "_namely, the bear, the harte, the wolfe, the hare, and the wild boar ; “ Beasts of the chase”-namely, the buck, the duck, the fox, the martin, and the roe ; and, lastly, “Beasts of bad odour"
—to wit, the badger, the wild cat, the weasel, the stoat the polecat, and the otter. King Edward II. had a round dozen of otterhounds, and a master to direct them, to whom he paid the not over-munificent salary of thirteen pence a month, with certain perquisites.
Notwithstanding its inferential antiquity in history, it is difficult to diagnose the precise pedigree of the modern otterhound. One authority states it is a breed derived from “a cross between a bloodhound and a southern hound, at once fierce enough to face the savage creature he hunts, and courageous enough and patient to do the huntsman's bidding. To the courage of a bulldog he must add the sagacity of the pointer, the speed of the foxhound, the constancy of the poodle,
the cunning of the sheep-dog, and the endurance of the Newfoundland.” In addition, “he must be ready to stand wet and cold, to hunt by sight as well as by scent, and to be a thorough sporting dog—hard, wiry, grave, steady, and obedient.” Others trace the descent of the otterhound to a cross between the Welsh harrier and the old southern hound. Again, a dash of terrier blood is insisted on, whilst some, in a waggish spirit, suggest the most impossible composite parts. That the modern hound is a survival of the ancient one does not appear to have suggested itself—at least I can find no mention of such a theory.
The truth is, I suspect, that many other dogs and hounds which were not "otterhounds” were drafted into the work of hunting the otter ; indeed, it is stated in so many words that “any dog that will take readily to the water, and fight bravely against his fierce enemy, is employed by the sportsmen." In modern times foxhounds and terriers are used, and thus the pack becomes a conglomerate one to the eye, not confined to the rough-haired variety, which is technically associated with the name of “otterhound.”
In this connection I may mention my own limited experience of otter - hunting, which occurred in the Punjab. I was out wild - duck shooting, and came across some hunting gipsies, with their “bobbery” pack. Surely never was there such an assortment collected together since Noah stepped out of the ark ! Dogs of pariah type predominated, but there were others of greyhound, hunting hound, terrier and bulldog suggestion, and several local species. And devil a one of them was ever fed, but had to catch its own dinner, or go foraging for it. The scene was a low valley at the foot of the Sewalics, where a sluggish river flowed oozily through a vast miniature forest of tall rushes ; herein were hogdeer and otter to be found, the latter accounted of the greater value because their pelts are eagerly bought by the wealthier natives for their curative properties. Into the rushes went the pack, helter - skelter, greyhounds taking to the water like retrievers, and bulldogs galloping like whippets. It is wonderful what sheer hunger will teach a dog! The gipsies lined up silently outside the rushes with sticks and stones, and imitated the call of the otter. In and out, like mungooses in a rotten thatch, scurried the “hounds,” giving tongue in the vernacular. Suddenly there was a special crash of music, and an earthquake waving of the rushes in a certain far centre. In rushed the gipsies; but they were too late. By the time they reached the spot the otter was eaten up. But, for bustle and hustle, that ten minutes in the rushes was the finest thing you can imagine, and my only regret was that there was nothing to see—not even the otter after he was accounted for! And the way that bobbery pack got larruped! You see the otter's skin was worth 6s. 8d.—a month's good salary to an Indian gipsy.
If I have lugged in this naïve experience it is merely to indicate that any sort of hound will hunt the otter, as I suppose any sort of dog, with sporting instincts, will hunt any quarry it can see or smell, -as, for instance, my old greyhound, who tried to climb a tree after a squirrel ; but this is neither here nor there, and rather trifling with my subject. Let me relieve this levity by quoting Somerville on hunting the otter. Had he left us as good a pen-picture of the hound as of the hunt in his day, I should have been better pleased.
See! The bold hound has seized him! Down they sink,