Gene Chague | Berkshire Woods and Waters: Berkshire Beagle Club stays in good hands

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In the fall of 1979, the late Ted Giddings wrote this headline in his Berkshire Eagle outdoor sports column entitled Our Berkshires, "Beagle Club flourishing."

He wrote that the club, which was formed in 1932, "had experienced ups and downs but was in better shape than ever with a closed membership of 55." Well, in the 40 years that have since elapsed, the club has experienced more ups and downs, but today it still survives, has 55 members and there is still a waiting list to join. The feeling remains that restricting membership to 55 is in the best interest of the club. Too many hunters with beagles would stress the bunnies. It's amazing that the little club has been able to survive some 87 years now. To be sure, there have been many changes over the years. In the earlier days, there was no internal organization and the only likely beaglers were a handful of small game hunters who sought a way to keep their hunting dogs in training during the months of the year when hunting seasons were closed.

In fact, the first formal meeting of seven members took place in a funeral parlor. That's according to Gary Menin who wrote an excellent article about the Berkshire Beagle Club in a 1998 issue of the "Massachusetts Wildlife Magazine" entitled "The Berkshire Beagle Club." He is the son of the late Anthony "Bucky" Menin, a BBC member in the early 1950's and one-time chairman of the licensed field trials.

According to Gary Menin, there were insufficient funds to purchase any substantial real estate and the earlier trials took place wherever the group was allowed (Lands in West Pittsfield, Lee, Windsor, etc).

The club formed a corporation in June 1951 with the principal officers being: Earl Holt, Karl D. Henry, Robert Minkler, Wellington Nadeau, Elmer Jones, H.C. Huddleston and Harry C Ward. Another founding member was Paul Husky.

According to Menin, the group began to grow and, the membership realized that the use of random acreage for training grounds wasn't sensible. Bunnies leave areas whenever the food supply becomes depleted through forest succession. The members learned how to entice the bunnies by building them shelters (such as brush piles) from weather and predators. Cutting trees and brush to make shelters results in young sprouts, an attractive food for the bunnies. However, most landowners were not always fond of tree cutting on their properties and prohibited it.

Menin noted that the beaglers saved their money and in 1954 were able to purchase 90-plus acres in the Town of Richmond. According to former Club Secretary David Norton of Pittsfield, they purchased a piece of land and it came with a 19th century mansion. He remembers it having a giant circular staircase. The members converted it into a clubhouse, but it proved too expensive to maintain and it was sold. The house was moved to a place on Rt. 295 in Richmond near the Hillside Orchard and restored. They subsequently purchased a second parcel on the other side of Sleepy Hollow Road. The current clubhouse was built by members in 1961 for $6,000. Some 72 of the club's 90 acres were enclosed by fencing.

During Norton's time, he remembers members: Harry Ward, Manual Lester, Mr. Mancivielano, Steve Strauss, George Hamilton, Ken Huddleston, Lambert "Mickey" McGinty, Thomas Dellert, Bill Danford, George Huddleston, Bucky Menin, Syl Lanoe, Carl Henry, Bob Kingsley, George Ripulsa, Ken Hanson, Arthur Giftos, Paul Mangin, Pete Barzie, Lorenzo Briggs, Robert Haunch, Walter Snook, Ed Tierney, Bob Minkler, Al Mazzeo and others. (Names from the past, eh?) He said that Bucky Menin did more work at the beagle club than any other man.

Over time the membership grew considerably and it was inducted as a member of the American Kennel Club and became subject to the rules and privileges of the AKC. They began having "field trials" (competitive events between members of the BBC and other clubs recognized by the AKC). These AKC-sanctioned field trials continue to this day with three of them being held in 2018.

In the 1980s or 1990s, about 22 acres of land along Dublin Road were sold to the gas company so now there are 35 acres of land which contains the clubhouse on one side of Sleepy Hollow Road and 33 acres on the other side.

In its earlier days, to raise funds, Sunday turkey shoots were conducted. Wives did a lot of work such as cooking and baking pies for turkey dinners. Deb Kuni, Dave Norton's daughter, remembers going to the club house with her parents on weekends when the wives were cooking. She said that she would sometimes be allowed to help with small chores like setting the tables. The women were all baking and cooking in the big kitchen, laughing and talking.

"It was always so warm in there and smelled so good!," Deb said, and she was torn between wanting to be inside with her mom or outside running the dogs with her dad.

Some days when there weren't trials going on, Dave would let her go with him to run their dogs. She would shag rabbits and help him keep track of where they went. He showed her how to help the dogs to pick up the trail when the rabbit jumped under a brush pile or went down a hole.

Tim Minkler, son of co-founder Robert Minkler, remembers his late father taking him and his sister to Shadowbrook for 5 a.m. Mass service, listening to the Seminarians sing, and rushing out to the Beagle Club in time to set up for a beagle trials on Sunday morning. He remembers that in front of the clubhouse was a well with an old-fashion handle that you had to pump to get the water to flow.

"Great fun for kids that were five and six years old," he said. Minkler also remembers those pies as being a "big deal."

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"I never knew there were so many versions of apple pie," he said.

On a personal note, although not members, our family benefited greatly from the BBC. In the 1940s and 1950s, my first cousin, William Kincaid, was a member and big into the field trials, winning some of them and judging others. He bred his own dogs and frequently he would end up having too many pups or perhaps having one that for one reason or another, didn't meet AKC 13 or 15-inch size specifications (or perhaps he wanted a male and not a female and he would give us those dogs). I can't remember a time growing up when we didn't have 2 or 3 great hunting dogs. It was a natural progression for me to eventually take up rabbit hunting and ultimately join the club.

There have been changes over the years. They began raising their own snowshoe hares and cottontail rabbits, gradually releasing them on club property as needed — the cottontails on one side of Sleepy Hollow Road and the hares on the other. Those bunnies in the rearing pens are treated like royalty; fed, watered, medicated, protected from predators, etc.

In addition to the annual dues ($200) and hosting field trials, the club began having bunny hunts in Januarys to help offset its expenses, (No hunting allowed on club property). Sadly, there are no baked pies and turkey dinners anymore, but John Demary, Teddy Billis and others make mean venison and bear meals. During the field trials they and other volunteers prepare the meals.

It was necessary to raise the fencing to eight feet to prevent deer from jumping over it. (The last thing that a beagler wants is to have his dogs take up chasing deer). To prevent bears, fisher cats, bob cats and other unwanted critters from preying on the bunnies, it was also necessary to put an electric fence along the top of the fence to keep them out. Owls and other raptors started to take their toll on the bunnies and steps had to be taken to protect them. Some perching trees had to be cut, special night blinking lights were installed and screening or other preventative measures were placed atop the rearing pens.

These days, the leaders and heavy lifters of the BBC are: Robert Jones, Jeff St John, Richard Kalisz, John Demary, Rob Kane, Tom King, Pat Barry, Tim Cahoon, Rodney Hicks, Al Costa, Berny Drysgola, and Ray Meandro. (My apologies to anyone that I may have missed). The club is in good hands.

Unfortunately, the amount of local rabbit hunting habitat has severely declined due to development or lands prohibiting hunting. The Berkshire Beagle Club is the only beagle club in the Berkshires where one can unhitch his dog and let it do its thing without fear of being preyed upon, hit crossing a road or getting lost. All persons of good and reputable character, who are really interested in the future of the purebred beagle, are eligible for membership in the Berkshire Beagle Club. Each person applying for membership must complete a membership application and be sponsored by a current member of the Club. The prospective member must also agree to carry his/her share of the maintenance workload.

Many thanks to: Gary Menin, Don Puntin, Dave Norton, Deb Kuni, Dan Barry, and Tim Minkler for providing information for this article.

Gun Course

The Lenox Sportsmen's Club has announced that the next Mass State Compliant LTC and UTAH gun course will be held on Sunday, Feb. 17, from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at its clubhouse off of New Lenox Road in Lenox. The price list is as follows: $70 MA, $125 UT, $125 AZ, $125 CT and $125 FL. Stand-alone prices listed, combine any two for $150 — any additional state above two is $50. You must pre-register. For more information, contact Tom Nadolny at (413) 822-6451 or tnadolny1@gmail.com.

Ice Fishing Derby

The Cheshire Rod & Gun Club and the Adams Outdoor for Youth will be having a youth ice fishing derby on Sunday, Feb. 17 from Sunrise until 4 p.m. at the 1st and 2nd Hoosac Lakes in Cheshire, Mass. Weigh-in will be at Farnams Causeway. The heaviest ticket holder's fish wins an Eskimo Propane Auger ($500 value). There will be youth fun prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place.

Prizes and refreshments are at 5 p.m. at the Club House. Kids 14 and under free with adult ticket — $10 donation.

Only cancellation will be due to lack of ice. If the derby is cancelled, auger will be raffled off to ticket holders

Questions/comments: Berkwoodsandwaters@roadrunner.com. Phone: (413) 637-1818


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