ZUTENDAAL, Belgium – The quiet of a Sunday afternoon broke Oct. 31, 2021 at Army Prepositioned Stock (APS-2) Site Zutendaal as a host of horses, riders, carriages, English hunting hounds, cyclists and vehicles emerged from the forest and crowded the Army-operated airstrip.
The event was part of the 50th anniversary of the town of Wiemesmeer’s “slipjacht” or “drag hunt,” a hunt where riders in hunting caps and velveteen equestrian helmets, hunting coats, jodhpurs and riding boots took a team of hounds to track an artificial scent trail.
The Sint-Hubertus Comité (Saint Hubertus Committee), the Sint-Hubertus Slipjacht Vereniging (Saint Hubertus Slipjacht Association) and the Gezellen Van Sint-Hubertus Jachthoornvereniging (Companies of Saint Hubertus Hunting Horn Association) organize the event annually in the Belgian Limburg town. No event took place in 2020 in accord with COVID-19 prevention measures.
Even though the hunters and their hounds form the heart of the event, hundreds more took part as spectators, following by bike, by jeep, by double-decker bus, by horse-drawn carriage and even by double-decker horse-drawn carriage. The entourage cheered, shot photos and videos, and enjoyed each other’s camaraderie after many miles following the dogs and riders through the towns of Wiemesmeer and Zutendaal and environs. Several members of the party in hunting regalia played a call-and-response on the circular natural horn.
The portion at APS-2 Zutendaal was just one part of the hunt and the day’s events. The day began with breakfast at the town’s sports hall and a blessing at the Sint-Jozef church. After the blessing, the crowd gathered at a park across from the church where food and drinks were sold, and there the crowd watched the opening ceremony. After that the hunt began, and the hounds tracked a scent trail made by a dragging an artificial scent bag along a predesignated path.
Bjorn van Vlerken, the master of the hunt, explained that the hunting with hounds began when much of the forests in the area were owned by the aristocratic class, who transferred ownership of the land to the Flemish community. Hunting of roe deer continued until hunting live quarry with hounds was outlawed. After that, the drag hunting began as a means to continue hunting while complying with the law.
“It’s a very traditional sport we’re trying to do,” said van Vlerken. “It all comes from the old days when they had the folks in England dress up like that. And we try to carry on that tradition.”
After going through the town and the areas around, the party entered APS-2 Zutendaal via King’s Gate, so named for when King Albert II of Belgium used the gate when the site was operated by the Belgian Ministry of Defense. The Belgian nature and forestry service (Agentschap Natuur en Bos) ushered the group on post, and the cyclists, carriages and other vehicles took the road from the gate to the airstrip. The pack of hounds bayed and ran along the scent trail, accompanied by their hunters on horseback, running parallel to the air strip, both horse and hound bounding through the grass and mud.
The garrison provided coordination with the forestry service, security for the on-post portion of the hunt, and several garrison leaders took part, riding along on carriages to follow the hunting party.
“It is historical precedent that they would come onto base, and that’s where it would allow all the other people to gather to watch the dogs work and the horses work as a final part of the activity,” said Steven Campfield, garrison site manager for APS-2 Zutendaal.
The runway serves as the wide-open venue for the crowd to see the hunting party work. There were even obstacles set up alongside the runway for the horses and riders to optionally jump as they passed.
Once the hunters and hounds passed, the crowd climbed back aboard bicycles and carriages to leave the Army prepositioned stock site. As evening grew and clouds thickened, rain began to drop on the large assembly, and they made their way back into town for the final event of the evening, a simulated kill. During that final event, the master of the hunt suspended the cow entrails from a tripod fashioned from logs, which the dogs then attacked.
Van Vlerken said his group hunts weekly from October to March.
“We also have very low profile days where we meet at a pub or a bar somewhere and use fifteen horses and three cars,” said van Vlerken. “We’re a private livery, a small private pack of hounds, so we don’t really take it to the big public. The hunt – the day at Zutendaal – is an exception of course.”
The slipjacht is part of a two-week program of festivities, which finished at the church Nov. 3 (Saint Hubertus’ feast day) at the church at Zutendaal. Saint Hubertus, the patron saint of hunters, was the first bishop of the Walloon town Liège.
“We are always very grateful people allow us on their lands to do our hobby, which it is and our sport and our tradition,” said van Vlerken. “We try to do this as correctly and as traditional as we possibly can. We’re just a small group and very grateful that we can come to Zutendaal once a year, and people have us there.”
For more photos from the event, visit www.flickr.com/photos/usagbenelux/albums/72157720105967779.