In only one country in the world can the medieval pageantry of the Chase, so vividly pictured on the following pages, still be seen in all its elegant ceremony. In France the world's oldest sport—the stag hunt—has survived the centuries and maintained its traditional ritual. Its origins go further back than the memory of man, for ever since man first established himself as the hunter instead of the hunted, the Chase has been a vital part of his existence. To the Greeks it was preparation for war; to the Persians, schooling for life; to the Romans, proof of prowess. But to the Gauls the Chase represented sport in its purest form. Today, in the manner of their ancestors, elaborately attired sportsmen still pursue the noble stag through France's great forests. And the chasse √† courre is as cherished a part of France's heritage as its fine wines and epicurean fancies. Like these, it must be savored with gourmet taste, for the follower of the Chase is a connoisseur of sport. And nowhere in France is there a group of sportsmen more devoted to the ceremony of the Chase than the Rallye Pique-Avant, which each week during the season gathers at the Chateau de Chantilly in Oise to re-enact the Chase with all its pomp and panoply. To the ringing laisser courre sounded on the horns of the boutons, the equipage rides through the Allée des Lions into the forests of Chantilly, following the hounds according to centuries-old tradition. Their pleasure is in the music of the hunting horns, the pageantry of the ceremony, the excellence of fine horsemanship and the resonant voices of hounds on trail. When finally the stag is brought to bay, as in the dramatic photograph at right, there is both tragedy and triumph in the moment of victory. For then the Chase is ended, and as the mort is sounded on the horns, all hunters pause in respect and humility before the vanquished symbol of an ageless sport.
Dramatic moment of climax occurs when stag, a magnificently antlered 4-year-old, is brought to bay by hounds in waters of a nearby lake.
Les Boutons" of Rallye Pique-Avant, carrying traditional hunting horns, pass the Chateau de Chantilly on their way to the hunting rendezvous.
Valets de chiens" unleash hounds under supervision of hunt master Marquis de Roualle after stag has been roused by advance party.
Exhausted stag, chased to edge of Lac de Molton on estate of Duc de Gramont, makes futile attempt to escape pack through water.
Mme. Écot, leading French sportswoman and a crack rider, discusses hunt with Comte de Coulomhiers, a "bouton" of the Rallye Vallieres.
Hunt Master Marquis de Roualle signals to gamekeeper to join the "rapport," a council of war held to determine the best hunting area.