Saturday April 29th saw the end of the brutal stag hunting season, which has seen numerous stags hunted to exhaustions and killed.
At its peak there were 126 registered stag hunts, by 2004 however, only three remained, all in Southwest England – the Devon & Somerset, the Quantock, and the Tiverton.
The first weekend of the season on 2/3/23 saw North Dorset Hunt Saboteurs hit the opening meet of the Quantock Staghounds at Sixty Acres. Despite the hunt’s best efforts there were no kills. The hunt quickly headed to the Little Quantock area and had chosen their stag to hunt, however the stag had given them the slip and jumped onto land belonging to Forestry England. Losing that stag meant another would be singled out to be chased to exhaustion, the chosen stag was located in the Crowcombe Park Gate area and the Quantock proceeded to hunt the stag.
With the stag headed towards the hills, sabs got themselves in position, whilst the hunt had moved above Bicknolled and made a frantic attempt to stop the stag running to safety on National Trust land. Two groups of deer grazing nearby had become alert to the hunt and come together, the hunted stag then also joined the large herd as they ran into Hodders Combe. The huntsman put the two hounds on the line of the deer as riders headed into Hodders Combe in an attempts to turn the stag back. The hunt spent a considerable time searching Hodders Combe and Nearby Willoughby Cleaves which happens to be National Trust land, before realising they’d been outsmarted this time, and headed back to pack up.
Monday March 13th and the relentless North Dorset Hunt Sabs (NDHS) were back out with the Quantock Staghounds, this time at Cothelstone Hill. NDHS caught the Quantocks red handed using three hounds to chase a young stag. Sabs had followed the huntsman’s tracks and after over an hour of futile attempts from the huntsman the hounds went into cry. The young stag was witnessed fleeing for his life, followed by the three hounds, two hounds is the maximum permitted under the 2004 Hunting Act to flush wild mammals. Sabs briefly distracted the hounds but they then continued on the scent. The huntsman on seeing the sabs did a runner, without the huntsman to hunt on the hounds they soon lost the scent of the young stag. No doubt the sabs’ presence saved this stag.
A short while later and the huntsman was heard in the long grass shouting “leave it”, possibly because he’d be caught out, or maybe he’d picked up on the wrong quarry. By how the sabs presence had the hunt support rattled, and threats and insults soon followed, even pretending to call the police to report the sabs for trespassing. The hunt had spent three hours in the grass before loading up the hounds and heading up Cothelstone Hill, where presumably hunt support had spotted a stag and alerted the huntsman. A monitor had also witnessed the stag running with a hind (female red deer), the hunt support in their vehicles were whizzing around the area in search of the stag, but were out of luck as the stag, who was clearly exhausted and lagging behind managed to join a herd deer and escape without being spotted, before the hunt with all of seven field riders head back to the meet to pack up, in what was another unsuccessful day for the Quantock thanks to the sabs.
March 20th and a similar story as NDHS caught the Quantock Staghounds hunting a young stag on the Quantock hills. Despite the poor weather conditions the Quantock had located a stag near Lower Hare Knapp, however once again they lost him and spent most the day searching for the stag but with no luck, before packing up at 5.20pm. A week later the 27th and NDHS were back at the Quantock Staghounds. The hunt drew Crowcombe Park causing stags to cross the busy A358, the stags were then seen being chased by a hound across open fields. The hunt picked off one stag to hunt, but despite being clearly exhausted the stag found some energy from somewhere to escape the hunt.
The start of April saw some brutal scenes as the Quantock killed a stag. With North Dorset Hunt Saboteurs, Mendip Hunt Sabs and Wildlife Guardians present the Quantock who met at Rydon Farm, chased the stag to exhaustion near to Forestry England land. The Quantock relentlessly pursued the stag back and forth over Hare Knap. Sabs had kept close to the huntsman who was searching for the stag in “the Hollies” and his yells to scare the stag could be heard. The stag had managed to raise himself and ran back over Hare Knap into Holford Combe and Slaughter House Combe, possibly joining a herd of stags that were seen attempting to run over Longstone Hill but were turned back by riders.
A short while later a gun shot was heard…. a sab waded through waist high gorse and heather and found the riders, some of them off their horses. The sab arrived on the scene to see the stag with his throat already slit and mouth gaping open being loaded up and taken away.
Just two days later 8/4/23 and NDHS were out again, this time at the Devon & Somerset Staghounds, who met at Kings Farm in Withypool. With over a hundred riders and many vehicles this could well have turned out to be a very difficult day, however there were no definite kills to report. One stag was hunted earlier in the day which they lost, and later on a stag was witnessed being chased by hounds towards Draydon, the fate of this stag is unknown. The hunt then packed up around 5.30pm.
Tuesday April the 11th and Mendip Hunt Sabs were at the Quantock Staghounds in West Bagborough, with no kills to report in what they described as a ‘washout’ and in ‘gruelling conditions’. Despite the weather, the Quantock did manage to flush a herd of deer including a stag and hounds gave chase in cry towards Triscombe Quarry. Here they upset residents as they trespassed, however the huntsman had now lost his hounds and spent some time trying to find them. As the hunt gave chase to another herd, sabs were able to slow down the hounds long enough, and it’s believed the targeted stag took refuge on National Trust land. With everyone soaking wet the hunt packed up by 5pm.
Sabs were back out on the Thursday, this time Mendip Hunt Sabs and North Dorset Hunt Saboteurs were at the Devon & Somerset Staghounds who met at Woolcotts, near Wimbleball Lake. Quick reactions and intervention by sabs saved a stag that was being hunted. The stag had attempted to run to sanctuary land where the hunt are not allowed, but the stag was turned back by a large deer fence, purposely installed by the hunt for this purpose. The stag had doubled back along the valley heading South, then jumped into the road right in front of one of the sab vehicles! Sabs quickly covered his scent with citronella, and despite the hunts best attempts they couldn’t find the fleeing stag.
A mass sab on the Devon and Somerset Staghounds on April 15th on Exmoor, saw North Dorset Hunt Saboteurs and Mendip Hunt Sabs joined by Three Counties, Devon County and Herefordshire Hunt Sabs, along with other independent groups. With so many groups out, sabs were able to split into teams and successfully follow the hunt on foot whilst vehicles dropped off sabs in other locations. Three deer were seen being pursued by hounds in a valley but nothing came of it, in what was an unsuccessful day for the Devon & Somerset Staghounds but a good day for stags and sabs, one hunt member even confirming to a sab there were no kills.
Sadly the Quantock Staghounds did kill a stag they had hunted to exhaustion, on Monday April 17th, at a kennel meet in West Bagborough. This was despite the best efforts of North Dorset Hunt Saboteurs and Mendip Hunt Sabs who witnessed the stag being unlawfully shot at the side of a road. A sab had stood amongst the hunt’s members and had overheard messages coming through their radio’s. It would appear the hunt had been harbouring a stag somewhere and directions came through to “let him out”.
Soon afterwards the stag was seen being chased by hounds towards Slaughterhouse Combe, and the huntsman had been located at Knacker’s Hole blowing his horn and hollering as hounds went into cry towards Duke’s Plantation. “Primaeval whoops and shouts” were heard as the hunt tried to head the stag away from National Trust owned land, however the stag did enter the land and the huntsman and hounds were caught trespassing by sabs. The stag then ran onto private farmland and the hunt continued to trespass, a gunshot was then heard.
A sab ran onto the land and found the stag still alive and unhurt hiding in a hedgerow too exhausted to continue. The sab tried to shield the stag from the approaching riders which included Master Chris Gibbons, another sab attempting to get to the stag’s location was violently assaulted by hunt thugs on the public road. The hunt managed to scare the stag once again, back to his feet as he made one last desperate effort to escape, however the stag’s body was giving up (after being chased for hours) and he collapsed once again, against a fence, and was unlawfully shot from the roadside.
Three Counties Hunt Saboteurs travelled to the Tiverton Staghounds at Bullaford Gate on Wednesday April 19th to join other independent groups. Three Counties reported two kills and possibly a third was reported by Wildlife Guardians. The Tiverton are not used to the attention of sabs, and on Three Counties arrival they came across hunt support in the woods claiming to be searching for injured deer, they even claimed to have shot a deer earlier in the day that had a badly broken leg, in reality the deer had probably broken her leg on fencing after being chased. A stag was then killed after being chased for miles.
Multiple groups were out on Saturday April 22nd when a stag was shot in front of sabs by the Devon & Somerset Staghound at Cussacombe Common, Exmoor. North Dorset , Mendip, Devon Counties , Sheffield, Bath, Herefordshire, West Yorkshire Hunt, Three Counties , Scottish Borders, Cirencester Illegal Hunt Watch, Weymouth Animal Rights, Plymouth & West Devon County and Cotswold Hunt Sabs were all present, at what Mendip Hunt Sabs described as “Shocking scenes” and a video posted by Devon County Hunt Saboteurs described as “Distressing footage”. The stag had been hunted for several hours, and collapsed exhausted near a river after being chased through the woods down a steep hill, where members of the hunt were already waiting with a gun. As a sab approached the collapsed stag, somebody from the hunt said to the sab “get out of the way”, but then still shot the stag in the back of the head despite the sab being in the line of fire.
Another stag lost his life on Monday April 24th to the Quantock Staghounds at a meet at Haddon Farm, Exmoor. With the end of the season in sight the hunt were desperate to kill, after having very little success separating a stag from a herd, and spending much time trying to find looking for their lost hounds who were seen rioting through a field of sheep, at around 4pm they did manage to isolate a young stag to hunt. They chased the stag over Pixy Copse right next to the A396, the stag had then doubled back and headed towards Bury. As sabs closed in they could hear the hounds in cry below them, as they got closer they could hear hunt members “whooping and hollering” which suggests they’d seen the stag.
The terrified stag was witnessed by sabs fleeing and a couple of minutes later the hounds came along searching for the scent, sabs were able to hold up the hounds for a while with offers of affection. Sabs had hoped the stag had escaped but the hunt must have spotted the stag again and killed him before the sabs from North Dorset, Mendip Hunt and Three Counties Hunt could catch up. Sabs then had to witness some gruesome scenes back at the meet point as the hunt carved up the stag, token pieces of liver were passed to hunt members, and other trophies were taken including antlers and teeth and given to children.
Mendip Hunt Sabs, Three Counties hunt Saboteurs and Cirencester Illegal Hunt Watch were at Devon & Somerset Staghounds on Tuesday April 26th. Using a drone, sabs witnessed a group of five deer flushed by hounds and a single stag was separated. The hounds in cry gave chase as hunt support made noise to stop the stag crossing the road. The stag did eventually cross the road into a valley and the hunt followed, but with sabs close by the hunt decided to leave the valley and go in search of another, before packing up around 4pm.
The final meet of the Season for the Quantock Staghounds was on Thursday April 27th, at Bagborough House, which was attended by North Dorset, Mendip, Devon County, Plymouth & West Devon Hunt Saboteurs, Staffordshire Hunt Sabs, Weymouth Animal Rights and some independent groups. The day had started very frustrating for the hunt with thick fog and pouring rain causing many of the riders to pack up after three hours of unsuccessful attempts to flush any stags, even the hounds had got bored and at one point chased a fox, which isn’t their chosen quarry. In their desperation the hunt then sent in extra hounds to flush a stag, this contradicts their use of only “two hounds’ legal loophole they try to use to justify their hunting.
As the stag broke the supports started their whooping and hollering to try send the stag North. In their excitement the hunt support decided to attack sab vehicles, jumping up and down on one trying to smash the windows and pulling off the number plates and other bits, then attempting to smash the windows on another . The hunt had lost the stag and had struggled in the thick fog to relocate him. As the hunt headed back towards the meet two gunshots were heard, the hunt claimed they’d shot an injured hind, but with no body seen this can not be confirmed.
The final Saturday of the season April 29th saw Mendips, North Dorset, Devon County hunt Saboteurs, Three Counties Hunt Saboteurs, Plymouth & West Devon , Bath, Herefordshire , Kent, North London, North London, West Yorkshire , Weymouth Animal Rights and others, head to the Devon & Somerset Staghounds, who’d met at Mounsey Hill Gate. With pretty much every mounted hunt in the country finished for the season the Devon & Somerset were able to attract scumbags from far and wide for one last chance to satisfy their bloodlust.
The hunt had managed to flush a herd and spent an hour chasing the herd up and down steep hillsides, the hounds had become fatigued and had been replaced by more hounds, a term known as relaying. Eventually a group of exhausted stags were flushed and one was isolated to be hunted. The stag was hunted towards the A396 and Chilly Bridge, the hunt support lining the roads made as much noise as possible to prevent the stag running to safe land.
By now the hunt were letting their frustrations get the better of them and sabs were assaulted and threatened. Soon after hounds were heard baying and stationary, which suggested the stag had laid down. The sabs had followed the huntsman into the woods, but remarkably the stag had managed to muster enough strength to get back up and fled towards Musicpark Farm. Sadly a short time later, after being chased for hours, the stag must have laid down once again as a gunshot was heard. The stag’s death was the end of the season, and as sabs headed back to the meet, hunt supporters cheered and celebrated just showing the type of people who go along to these hunts.
The spring stag season is thankfully over for now, but our work at the stag hunts is just beginning.