No. of packs in England, Scotland and Wales : 190 and 100 + unregistered packs
Ireland : 34
Official season :
Cub hunting : 4 August to 31 October
Fox hunting : 1 November to 1May
Usual start :
Cub hunting : 4.00 a.m. in late July to 10.30 a.m. in October
Fox hunting : 11.00 a.m.
[Right: Fox’s Tracks: Fore (left) Hind (right)]
STRUCTURE OF THE HUNT : THE OFFICIALS AND RELATED ACTIVITIES
Fox hunting is the most complex of all the bloodsports. To explain how the hunting of the fox is conducted, it is necessary to describe the role of the persons involved in the days “sport”. Much of this description also applies to other forms of hunting.
The foxhound was originally bred to hunt deer and hares and despite years of intensive breeding they will still “riot” after these quarries. The foxhound stands normally between 22 – 25 inches at the shoulder.
The hounds are not bred for speed but for their stamina and scenting ability, so although the fox runs much faster than the hounds, the hounds superior stamina will eventually enable it to kill its quarry. A much faster hound could be bred by crossing it with a racing type dog, but this would not be considered “sporting” and, after all, those who ride behind would not be too pleased if every fox was killed after only a minutes gallop!
A pack of hounds may number up to 40 (20 couple in hunting terms; hounds are always counted in pairs known as “couples”), and are made up of either all dogs, all bitches, or sometimes a mixed pack. Different hounds in a pack may have different scenting abilities – some better on grass, others on the the road etc. More hounds are kept in the kennels so the huntsman is able to choose which hounds will make up the pack on any given day. It also enables sick or injured hounds to be rested without lowering the number of the hunting pack.
Usually no feed is given to the hounds the day before the hunt in order to heighten their sensibilities. Most hounds only have a hunting life of six or seven years, they are then killed off, donated/sold to a mink hunt or maybe used to breed from. It has been known for slaughtered hounds to have been fed to their kennel mates.
They are the people who have to dig in their pockets at the end of the year and pay any outstanding hunt debts! Hunting is so costly that most hunts these days have joint masterships, where up to four people may share the title and overheads. Most Masters belong to the Master of Foxhounds Association, (MFHA) but this is by no means statutory. If they are a member of MFHA they are bound by the rules of the Association and can be disciplined by them. The Master is responsible for controlling the kennels, the season’s programme, and for showing good sport and is directly answerable to:
The Hunt Committee
The committee are elected by the subscribers. The committee, in their turn, appoint the Master (all friends together). They are responsible for the “hunt country” and overall policy. They are also responsible for raising money to run the hunt, which includes the wages for hunt servants, food for the hounds, maintenance of the hunt premises and equipment, earth-stopping, damage to non-hunt property, repair to hunt jumps etc. The money raised comes from subs, caps, Hunt Supporters clubs, point-to-point races, sales and hunt races etc.
The huntsman hunts the hounds and is responsible for the welfare and the cleanliness of the kennels. They are usually professional, (i.e., they are paid wages), but sometimes the Master will hunt the hounds, in which case the professional in charge is known as the Kennel Hunsman who will usually act as first whipper-in.
The Huntsman is assisted by :
The huntsman’s right-hand man. Some hunts have more than one, they may be a professional or an amateur (not paid wages). Their job is to aid the huntsman, while hunting hounds, by keeping the pack together, collecting stray and straggling hounds, helping to sight the fox and keeping followers away from the hounds.
This unsavoury character will “dig out”, shoot or “bolt” the fox when it has gone to ground using terriers. Terrier men are recognisable by their flat caps, Landrovers and missing chromosomes! Many of them double as pest controllers, and have connections with badger digging (every convicted badger digger in the UK for the past 10 years has had some link with foxhunt terrierwork).
These people go out either late at night or early in the morning and block all the earths while the fox is above ground going about his business. They may do the blocking with earth, sticks and branches, plastic bags filled with stones, rabbit nets,wire mesh or oil drums. They are also known to block badger setts in the hunting area. They may be paid by the hunt, or just do it for the love of it.
This is the Landrover-roaming band of men employed by some hunts to make good all fences etc., ruined by the mounted followers.
The mounted “Field”
These are the hunt followers who pay their subs or “cap” (money paid on the day), which varies from hunt to hunt, in order to have a good ride across the countryside. They rarely see a kill or the hounds working as they are kept in strict control, either by the Master or a person known as the Field Master, who may be the Joint Master or an elected member of the Committee. 90% of the field are there for the social side of hunting and are more interested in whether Rodney knows that Cynthia is having an affair with Guy, than whether the hounds have killed a fox! The majority seem to care little for the technicalities of hunting and are most likely to come out with cliched defences of hunting which they have learned parrot fashion. The field are kept well in the background while the hounds are “drawing” the “covert” and it is not until the hounds are well on the scent that they are permitted to follow on. If it is a slow day – scent wise – the huntsman may come in for a great deal of criticism for “not hunting his hounds properly”(!).
The foot followers
As the name implies, these hardy folk will follow the hunt on foot. They may even form their own club. They come in all shapes, sizes and ages. The older ones are a mine of information about the hunt country and ways of the hunted fox. If you want to know where the hunt will be in half an hour they are the ones to ask.
The Car Supporter
Car supporters are actually a completely different species, generally divided into three subspecies:- Mr Thermos Flask – He is out for a picnic with a difference. He can be seen leaning on his car, a thermos lid in one hand, a pair of binoculars in the other. His wife usually can be seen passing sandwiches out of the window with a bored expression on her face, and a travelling rug over her knees. He prefers to travel in convoy, following “holloas” rather than hounds. He thinks he knows all about hunting but is usually looking in the wrong direction. Mr Bored – He can be seen aimlessly driving about the lanes looking for the hunt, but not putting a lot of effort into it. He is mildly surprised when he finds them. Mr Heavy – He likes to travel in a gang, usually in a Landrover/pick-up. He is very boisterous. He prefers to attach himself to the Terrier man (he may be the Terrier Man!). A common exponent of the “foxes kill chickens/cows/babies” stories because he, of course, has actually seen them do this. There are of course exceptions to these categories, as every hunt will have its own idiosyncratic followers.
Hunt Supporters club
Most hunts have their own club, membership of which is made up of car and foot followers of the hunt. They will organise fund-raising events (including terrier shows) in order to support the hunt. They will also help in erecting and supervising fences at the point-to-point. Many publish their own newsletters.
The fixture list is drawn up before the season starts and is distributed to all subscribers. The hunt follows a similar agenda each season, but much relies on the crop rotation and fox distribution. It’s possible to work out approximate dates and venues from old fixture lists (hence the importance of hit reports from past seasons).
A greater part of the hunt revenue comes from these events. The programme is organised and run by the hunt, in conjunction with the Jockey Club, and entries come from riders both inside and outside the hunt. It is a one-day event, usually in early summer. Most hunts have a permanent course which they may share with another to cut down costs. The event takes place over brush hurdles. Beagle packs have been known to organise human steeplechase courses for ebullient supporters.
These usually take place at the end of the season, and represents a general party at which all levels of support from the hunt are in attendance. They are good for doing demos outside the venue and are notable for the large amount of damage usually caused by the participants. For a group of people who spend a good deal of time going on about sabs as “hooligans”, they are notorious for their bad behaviour at their own social events.
These are registered with the British Horse Society. Nearly every hunt country has its attendant pony club. Sometimes hunts will arrange a special meet for children belonging to these clubs, who are ripe for indoctrination. Check the meet cards for special children’s meets. (Although not all pony clubs do have hunt connections).
Having described those involved either officially or as spectators we will describe the procedure on a foxhunt and also a cub hunt.
THE HUNT ITSELF
The “meet” takes place at a pub, village green, crossroads or other suitable and easily accessible point, usually at 11.00 a.m. This is where the participants get together with the huntsman and hounds. Much is made of this public appearance and this is all the majority of the general public knows about fox hunting – the pleasant, sociable aspect. The meet may also take place at a subscriber’s home, in which case it is referred to as a “lawn meet” The hunt may also meet in another hunts country “by invitation”.
After the meet the hunt moves off to the first “covert” to be “drawn”, which may be some distance from the meet, either across the fields or adjacent to the road. Huntsman and hounds lead, followed by the Master and the field. The hounds are then put into the covert (where the earths may be blocked) and encouraged by the huntsman, by using their voice and/or horn, to explore and sniff out the fox (usually drawing with the wind at their backs).
The cries used by the huntsman will differ from hunt to hunt but are generally based on utterances as “covert-hoick”, “forrard”, “leu-in”, etc. The sounds employed by the huntsman may have the dual purpose of getting foxes moving. If the earths have been blocked then the fox may be lying up under a handy bush. (Foxes only use earths in moments of danger or when raising young). The hounds may find a scent a few minutes old or one that has been left by a fox half an hour before. The whippers-in (whips) will position themselves on the edge of the covert in order to signal to the huntsman when a fox is seen to leave, or the point the fox leaves the covert. The field will be drawn up on the side of the covert the hunt do not want the fox to run, e.g. towards the main roads etc. The members of the field and any foot follower will also keep a look out. When the fox is sighted the viewer may cry “gone away” or give a “holloa” and indicate the direction of the fox with an extended arm. A hat or hanky may also be held in the hand.
Once the hounds are on a scent and are away out of the covert, the huntsman signals to the Master, using the horn, and the field gallops on after. Some hounds “speak” i.e. yelp in a manner peculiar to hounds, when they find the scent, some hounds hunt silently. If the pack loses the scent (checks), the huntsman will “cast” them in a wide arc hoping to pick it up again. Often the scent of two foxes will cross and it is up to the huntsman to decide which is the hunted fox. Assuming they pick up the lost scent, the hounds will continue to hunt that fox until they either tire it or can overwhelm and kill it, “run it to ground”, lose the scent once and for all, or if the fox enters another hunt’s country it will usually “be given best”(left for another day). The hunt may cover up to ten miles chasing one fox – not necessarily in a straight line – this may take several hours.
It must be remembered that hunts like to kill their quarry above ground, as they generally believe that it is more sporting, but the quick, clean death of the fox, so joyfully spread by the hunting fraternity is, in the majority of cases a lie. They will say that a fox is always killed by hounds with a quick nip on the back of the neck thus severing the spinal cord. It may die finally this way, but it is likely that it will suffer multiple agonising injuries before the final “nip” is given. Many foxes have been recovered with their innards torn out, but no sign of that fatal nip. When the fox is finally cornered by the hounds above ground the huntsman (if present) will encourage the hounds by voice thus, “tear ‘im and eat ‘im” and similar noises. The horn will also be blown for the kill.
If the fox goes to ground and they decide to dig him out, the terrier men are called in and the following methods are used. Making sure that all escape routes from the earth except one, are blocked, a terrier will be encouraged into the earth to locate the fox and keep him holed up. The terrier man listens for the confrontation. When the position of the two animals has been ascertained, the earth will be dug out and the terrier removed, they will then carry on digging until the fox is reached and its head and shoulders exposed. It will then be killed with either a blow to the head with a spade or crop, or more commonly, a humane killer is fired at point-blank range at the head. After removing trophies, i.e. mask (head), brush (tail), pads (feet), the remains will be thrown to the hounds.
Alternatively, the terrier will be entered in one hole and another hole is strung with a rabbit net, the purpose being to bolt the fox into the net and despatch it. Sometimes if the earth is a large one consisting of several runs and chambers, or the ground is to hard or full of roots, digging out is not always possible and the fox will be left.
Often terriers will get trapped and have to be rescued or they will get attacked by a badger resident in the earth. The digging out of a fox may take sometime and the hunt don’t usually wait for the outcome. Sometimes the earth will be stopped with the fox inside and the terrier men will return later in the day to dig it out. If the fox goes to ground to quickly it is more likely that they will bolt it, again using the terriers, and continue the hunt after giving it “law” (a fair chance to run before hounds are laid on). Bolting is common amongst the fell packs.
Hunting takes place in all weathers unless there is a risk of injury to the horses (such as hard or slippery ground) and the hunt will pack up as dusk falls. Some hardy huntsmen will carry on hunting on foot in snow and it is fairly common for a determined hunt to carry on well after dark.
When describing the death of a fox, the word “kill” is not normally used. The usual terms are “bowled or rolled over”, “accounted for”, “brought to book”, “punished”, “dealt with” and “broken up”. The fox is usually termed “Charles James” or “Charlie” (after the statesman Charles James Fox); “Todd/Mr Todd” (in Wales and Scotland) and “the Pilot”. According to the way it runs, it is referred to as a “straight-necked” or “crook-necked” fox (depending on whether it has run straight or turned). An adult fox usually weighs 14.5lbs although weights of up to 23lbs have been recorded. A fox can foil his scent by running through manure, flocks of sheep or herds of cows, rolling in mint, crossing the path of another fox, crossing a stream and other such methods of outpacing the pursuers. As in all hunts, the longer the chase, the better the hunt – the kill is less important. A red ribbon around a horse’s tail indicates that the horse kicks. A rider wearing a green sash over the shoulder indicates an appointed gate shutter.
FOX HUNT TACTICS
Many Masters of Foxhounds have previously been associated with beagles. Likewise much of their thinking surrounding the sabotage of a foxhunt can be related to the sabotage of beagling. Of course the behaviour of the quarry is somewhat different, as is the pace and distance covered. Nevertheless it is useful to look at the similarities and differences in the four areas which have been defined as rules.
Scenting rules – fox
n.b. The general scenting rules as found in the beagling section still stand
Scent comes from various glands over the foxes body.
As the fox tires the scent weakens.
Fox scent is pungent and musty and is easily recognisable to humans.
Huntsman’s rules – fox hunting
The general huntsman’s rules as found in the beagling section still stand
To encourage the hounds to hunt in the covert, the huntsman will use his voice.
The huntsman will rely much more on the whippers-in to give him the sighting of the fox than in the case of beagling/hare hunting.
The huntsman will use horn calls in much the same way as in beagling. Both horns and a tape of horn calls can be obtained from your local group.
Supporters will holloa when a fox is sighted to assist the huntsman to find the line, (to indicate a fox crossing the road, the supporters will shout “tally-ho over”).
Quarry rules – fox
Foxes, like hares, will run the same line, but not with the same consistency as hares.
Foxes will lie up in hedgerows and kale fields.
Foxes tend to run downwind when they are being hunted.
It is harder to get a fox to move in cold windy weather.
Foxes will cross major obstacles such as rivers, railways, and busy roads whereas hares will not.
When tired a fox will attempt to go to ground.
Hound rules – fox hounds
Fox hounds vary from 22 to 25 inches at the shoulder.
The hounds are bred for stamina and scenting ability, not speed.
The terrain to be hunted will govern the breeding. What is required is the optimum balance between stamina and scenting ability.
After a kill, fox hounds can hunt onto a fresh fox immediately without any difficulty.
SAB TACTICS BEFORE THE MEET
A lot can be done to sabotage a fox hunt before it meets. To do this effectively bear the following things in mind.
- A good working knowledge of the local hunt is necessary. Collect information from past hunting reports, hit reports etc.
- Familiarisation with the area, the coverts to be drawn and positions of earths is particularly useful.
- If pre-meeting, an early start to allow two or three hours before the meet is essential.
Pre-meet spraying coverts with anti-mate or garlic can cover scent. Spraying should be conducted at hound head height, with particular emphasis on gateways and bridleways. This will negate an area for scenting purposes but may not be enough to save the fox. If pre-meet spraying is used, it is strongly recommended that pre-beating takes place at the same time, because with spraying alone, the fox may still be in the covert. Pre-beating should be very organised and may take time to perfect. To carry out pre-beating form a line at the up-wind end of the covert and walk through the wood using whistles, horns and hunting calls in an imitation of the hunt. The line should beat right to the very end of the covert, as foxes are often loathe to leave. Care should be taken to keep the beating line straight. The area to be hunted should be beaten systematically in this fashion, covert after covert away from the meet. If only a small number of sabs are available, Rook scarers could be used to flush the woods. If timed to go off up until the time of the hunt they will ensure that flushed animals will not return. You must make sure that the rookies are set well above head height in evergreen trees, ( to avoid fire risk), and away from footpaths and bridleways.
Alternatively, in large woods you might try block spraying which involves spraying sections of the wood so that if hounds pick up the scent of a fox and the fox goes through a sprayed area the hounds will check and can then be called by the hunting horn or voice. A more complex method of spraying is for sabs to collect in the centre of the wood and walk out in different directions spraying as they go. One sab then sprays into the wood all around the perimeter. A good spray used thus could well save a fox and has the added advantage of requiring fewer sabs than the normal pre-beating tactic.
Useful hints – before the meet
- Search for blocked earths, and if they are blocked up, then remove the blockage. Make a note of the earths for future reference.
- Secure gates in the area (this will cause the hunt considerable inconvenience and delay).
- In doubtful weather conditions, ring the local papers and tell them that the hunt has cancelled, if it is a pub meet ring the pub and tell them also. This can lose the hunt support and create confusion.
SAB TACTICS – AT THE MEET
If you have contacted the press, hold a banner demo. Otherwise, it is better to act as followers, mingling with and chatting to supporters. This way you can find out which way the hunt are likely to be going. If you are known to the hunt stay clear of the meet, and just have one person at the meet to see which direction the hunt moves off in.
If several sabs are present, split forces and cover all the roads leading away from the meet. As the hounds move off, spray the road side with Antimate. (Never spray the hounds directly, always spray well in front of them, out of sight of the supporters if possible ).
When acting as a supporter, remember to remove identity badges and use the correct terminology (e.g. hounds not dogs, and charlie not fox).
Have your cars and vehicles ready to move off quickly or you may get blocked in by supporters or the police.
SAB TACTICS – DURING THE MEET
If pre-meet tactics have gone well, sab tactics during the hunt can be minimised, thus reducing confrontation and aggravation. It is important not to call hounds out of pre-beaten woods, as it is to the sabs advantage to leave hounds in as long as possible.
As in beagling, there are two parts to the hunt: Part 1 concerns the finding of the quarry. Part 2 concerns the tracking and killing of the quarry.
Dealing With Part 1 – The Search
The principles of drawing a fox are generally similar to those found in hare hunting, that is to cast the hounds. From the meet the hunt will make its way to the first draw (usually a wood but it can be a scrub or hedgerow). The huntsman will position point riders (whippers-in or a trusted member of the field) at a point where they will be able to view the fox as it makes its escape. The hounds will then be put into the wood and encouraged with horn and voice to cast themselves through it in search of a fox. The mounted field are positioned where the fox is not wanted or expected to run. If the fox is seen leaving the covert the point rider or any other observer allows it unimpeded escape and then gives out a “holloa” to announce its departure and indicates its line with a raised handkerchief or cap pointing in that direction.
If the hounds are not already following a fox the huntsman will encourage them with horn or voice to answer the holloa and find the scent. If all goes well they will follow the scent to the conclusion of the hunt. If, however, they lose the fox the procedure will be repeated, either in the same or a different wood. The positioning of sabs is of the utmost importance. When hounds are drawing try to call them out of the covert by using horn or voice from behind or the side. If possible try to call them back into an area which has already been drawn.
On no account call them forward or make any noise at the down-wind end of the covert which is being drawn, or you may head the fox back into the hounds.
In large woodland it is helpful to listen for the direction in which the huntsman is drawing the pack. Usually during the course of the day a fox will be put up and you must employ the part 2 tactics, remembering that far greater distances may be covered than in beagling, and a degree of mobility may be essential.
Dealing With Part 2 – The Chase
Once on the line of the fox the hunt itself may last anything from a few minutes to a few hours depending on the strength and skill of the fox, the skill and speed of the hounds and their huntsman, the efficiency of the earth-stopper, the nature of the terrain and most importantly the scenting conditions.
If the scenting conditions are favourable the hounds should hold the line of the fox wherever it goes, if not the hunt will be slow and the hounds may lose the scent (or “check” as the hunters call it), many times before finally they lose or kill the fox. If the hounds check the huntsman will cast the hounds in an arc around the point at which they lost the scent until they rediscover it or until it is certain that nothing more will be made of it.
The fox will eventually either be killed by the hounds, go to ground or escape and is given best. Hunts prefer a long chase followed by a kill above ground, rather than a quick kill or a short chase, or a short chase followed by a long dig out.
If you are situated down-wind from the hunt you are well positioned to intercept once the fox has passed. Never rush in if you are unsure of the whereabouts of the quarry, wait then act decisively.
If the fox is seen, spray Antimate behind it but out of sight of the huntsman if possible (as you might alert the hunt to a fox being present in the area). As scent will drift, spray a wide area behind the hunted animal, not just directly behind it. Spray into the air about 18 inches above ground level as well as on the ground itself, as scent is windborne. (If other sabs are available it can be useful for them to act as decoys and to be seen spraying areas where the fox has not been, in order to mislead the huntsman. Some huntsmen familiar with sab tactics will cast the hounds forward of where sabs have been spraying).
When hounds come up, try to stop them by rating, i.e. shouting in the same way as in beagling. If the pack breaks up or start hunting in a different direction, encourage them along a false line by using hunting calls. If fox and hounds disappear into the distance try to get mobile and reach a point where you can intervene again. If hounds lose the line of the hunted fox, they will then do a natural cast (i.e. without having to be told to do so). It is important for sabs to use this opportunity to try to gain control and to call them as far away as possible, but never call them from in front. If the huntsman regains control of the hounds he will do one of two things, either a) move forward to try to find the line again by casting the hounds, in which case make as much noise as possible to distract the hounds, or b) he will collect the hounds and go to another area to start hunting again, in which case the cycle begins again and so you must resort to part 1 tactics.
Horn blowing and calling the hounds is the most effective tactic to use. It is essential that you become proficient in both. The proper use of both will lead to the splitting of the pack and hopefully the taking away of the hounds altogether. To take the pack one person only should blow and call, thereby imitating the huntsman. To split the pack two hornblowers should operate at either side of the hounds.(do not blow the horns at the same time).
When the huntsman is with his hounds, it will be almost impossible (depending on how good the huntsman is) to take the hounds away. The time to attempt it is when the huntsman is a distance from the pack and particularly when the hounds are actually hunting.
There are many calls the huntsman will use but sabs at first need know only two or three. Obviously, the more you know about horn and voice calls the better, and as with anything in sabbing, get more experienced sabs to explain all this to you.
The most important is blowing staccato notes on the horn. This excites the hounds and will encourage them over to you. This sound is made by keeping the lips tightly together while darting the tongue between them, as if spitting paper from your lips. Interspersed with this call you should give a high pitched “hoick” noise two or three times. This is made from the back of the throat.
To slow the pack down, blow long notes on the horn. This will also draw hounds out of a wood.
No other calls are absolutely necessary, though knowing the gone to ground call from the huntsman is essential. These calls by horn and voice are available on a tape from your local group. It is especially important to learn the horn calls of your own huntsman and to imitate his calls, his voice and that of his whipper-in. Do not practice horn blowing while at a hunt.
DURING THE HUNT
A few useful tips and hints:
- Pretend that you have seen a fox and “holloa”. This will often bring the hunt and /or the hounds over. Then you have to either “disappear”, or misdirect the hunt.( NB see Warning number 1).
- It you can’t blow a horn, try calling the hounds to you with a sharp “Yut”, “Yut-Yut”, try “C’mon” “Yut, Yut-Yut”. There will be many local variations, so it is best to listen to the huntsmans call.
- Hunts often lose hounds. If you see a stray take it to the local police station. Allowing a dog to stray onto a road is an offence.
- Spray the near side of the hedge or any obstacle rather than the farside if a fox goes through the gap. (In this way if the hounds check, the huntsman is more likely to try casting on the nearside to relocate the scent).
- If the hunt draw a covert with a road, railway, river or other obstacle at one end, they will enter the hounds at this end and flush away from the obstacle. Position yourself accordingly at the far end (do not block the fox’s escape routes). If the the fox breaks covert try to intercede between the fox and the hounds. Use sprays, horns, whistles and whips. Try to call the hounds away.
- Don’t let the hunt get away while you argue with the supporters or police. Always try to stick with the hounds (the hounds do the killing not the supporters/field).
- Keep your O.S. maps with you – they can be invaluable if you get lost and can give an indication of where the hunt is likely to go. O.S. maps also show footpaths.
- Ideally it is best to have sabs in the field, plus sabs in vans so that the hit can proceed on various fronts. Also the mobile sabs will sometimes be in a better position to move everyone on to a better position.
- It is quite possible for just two or three experienced people to successfully sab a hunt and save lives using the above tactics.
SITUATIONS YOU MAY ENCOUNTER AT A FOX HUNT
If a fox goes to earth, the hunt may call up its terrier men to dig the fox out and kill it. The hounds may be moved on to continue hunting while this is taking place. If you feel you have a chance to save the fox that has gone to earth, do not follow on with the hounds, but take the following action. Sit in all of the open tunnels and refuse to move. If the fox has gone to earth near a public road or footpath, try to get a passer-by to stop, and explain to them what is going on, (the hunt are very touchy about killing foxes in public view). If within fifty meters of a public right of way, the hunt should technically not be allowed to use the humane killer. Try to find out if the owner has given permission for the dig-out (some land owners allow open hunting, but not digging out).
If you come across a digging out after it has started, you will notice that the terrier man will have put one or possibly two terriers into the earth at one tunnel, and he will have blocked the rest so that the fox cannot escape. They will then dig down to where he can hear the terrier barking, as this will be just in front of the fox. In this situation, search round for the blocked tunnels and open them by hand. Also make a lot of noise so that he cannot tell where the terrier is. Remember that in all events he will not give up without retrieving his terrier, so you may have to remain at the earth for a number of hours, but the longer he is delayed the more chance that he will not complete the dig out.
This is of course a potentially violent situation, and many terrier men are rural hooligans, so a good number of sabs are needed for most of the above tactics. If there are only a few of you, try to get the landowner to stop the digging out, or as stated above involve members of the public, the press or anyone with a camera.
Remember as it is illegal to dig badgers out it may just be possible to stop them, should a fox go to earth in a badger sett. This should be kept in mind if arguing with the landowner or police, on the validity of a dig-out. If the hunt block badger setts before hunting starts, try to take photographs then unblock them. Local nature groups will probably assist in preventing these setts from being blocked again.
Similar to digging out but in this case the hounds and the huntsmen will remain a short distance from the earth and the earth will not be blocked up. Terriers will be inserted to flush the fox from the earth and as it comes out the terrier man will shout “gone away” or something similar. This is the signal for the hounds to be put onto the fox again. In this case, once again the most successful tactic would be to sit on the earth tunnels to prevent the insertion of terriers. Failing this, when the fox goes away, use horns and calls to try and hold the hounds. This is very difficult as often the fox will be coming out under their noses. Try to lead the hounds away from the earth while the fox is being bolted, and make life uncomfortable for the huntsmen so that they will not want to stay around. Once again this is a potentially violent situation, so exercise care. Important – if you are sure that the fox is to be bolted, stamp the earth and make a lot of noise above the earth. This will keep the fox in, then if the hunt move off, tactics proceed as for a digging out. Be certain if the terrier men move off that they do not return later! In some cases (for instance if terriers need to be brought in from a distance), the terrier men may block all the entrances of the earth to keep the fox in until they return. If this happens, simply wait until they go and then unblock all the entrances as quietly as possible and then leave.
The blood of the killed fox is sometimes still smeared on the face of a child or newcomer witnessing their first kill. If possible take photographs.
Although rare it may happen when the hounds have not killed for some time. A live fox is “acquired” and released from a bag or box in a field close to the hounds. A normal hunt will then ensue, but of course the fox will be at a distinct advantage and very disorientated. This practice is against the Masters of Foxhounds guide-lines and thus any strangers are likely to be excluded from this event. A photograph of this happening would have serious repercussions for fox hunting. If you should see this happen, contact the HSA immediately, inform local press and the national press. Steps would be taken by the HSA to bring charges against the hunt concerned before the Masters of Foxhounds Association, with a view to their suspension (naturally the bastards would stick together, but this would be an instance where maximum publicity and pressure would bring some dividends).
The object of cub hunting is :
- to train young foxhounds in pack work, to follow the older hounds, obey the horn and calls of the huntsman, to familiarise themselves with the scent of the fox so they don’t riot after other animals and to give them the taste of fox blood.
- to disperse the fox cubs over a wider area (especially from coverts that can’t be visited in the main season due to their position near roads, railways and other hazardous places) so there will be foxes in most coverts to provide better sport, to persuade cubs that safety lies not in going to ground but in fleeing across country – thus providing good runs.
- to reduce fox numbers.
Cub hunting takes place in the early morning when scent is at it’s best, before the heat has dried it up. But sometimes the more popular evening meets are held, taking place as the sun begins to lose its strength at the end of the day.
As with the fox hunt the huntsman, hounds and whippers-in are present, but followers in theory attend only at the Master’s personal invitation. In practice, this means only the really keen hunt followers will be there, so there’ll be less than full season but they’ll be the serious hard-core hunt fanatics. Hounds will go straight from the kennels to the covert and the field will usually wear ordinary hacking gear.
LATE JULY, AUGUST AND SEPTEMBER
On arrival, followers will be positioned round the perimeter in order to keep the cubs (and hounds) in the wood, this is called “holding-up”. If a cub is seen exiting it will be frightened back by the mounted followers slapping their saddles with their crops. The idea is to keep both cubs and hounds in the close confines of the wood so that the young hounds will learn to hunt in thick covert where they have to use their noses, and listen and follow the cries of the old hounds. It is not unusual for cubs to be dug out and given to the hounds, thus giving them a taste of fox blood.
Runs in the open will be encouraged so that young hounds can learn to hunt on the right line, to see the fox and know what it looks like, therefore earths may be blocked up. It is also time to disperse the cubs. The cubs will be between four and seven months old, having been born between the end of January and the beginning of May. By the time fox hunting starts, they will be almost fully grown and also by this time they will know that the sound of the horn is the signal to leave the covert and run.
CUB HUNT TACTICS
Most hunts know exactly which woods harbour litters of fox-cubs. Coverts are owned by hunt supporters and are often carefully protected by their owners so that by the time the cub-hunting season starts the hunt has all the information it needs to decide which woods to hunt and of course plenty of young foxes to kill. Since foxes tend to bred in the same coverts from generation to generation you should keep records of which woods are hunted during cubbing and use this information to your advantage in future years. Pre-meet work is vital during cub-hunting.
One of the most effective means of sabbing a cub hunt is by using pre-spraying methods before the hunt meets – refer to tactics already mentioned for pre-meeting fox hunts. Sabs should bear in mind two problems at this time of year, a) the density of the coverts and b) the time in the morning that cubbing takes place. For pre-beating, rookies can be especially useful as they remain effective during the course of the hunt.
In early season cubbing it is important to try horn blowing and calling to confuse the new and inexperienced hounds, try to compete with the huntsman for control (a pack which riots easily will be difficult for the huntsman to control in the coming season). If the hunt enter a covert that has not been pre-sprayed, it is essential to call them out by horn or voice from different directions.
False trails can also be used and they should be laid so that the false trail comes straight out of the wood. If a few hounds appear to be interested in it they should be encouraged by the sabs to hunt the trail, (doubling the horn is the best tactic to do this). This tactic (trail laying) should be done early in the season when the coverts are being held up and the huntsman is more interesting in teaching his young hounds to kill rather than to hunt a foxes line. Later in the season when the hounds are being trained to hunt a line sabs should stop the chases at the first opportunity.
For late Autumn cubbing adopt tactics as for fox hunting.
It should be noted that meets are usually advertised less frequently (if at all) during the cubbing season, as its function is not necessarily to provide “sport” for subscribers in the short term. The long term functions are
- to spread cubs over a wide area during the late autumn cubbing so that there is less chance of a blank day
- to encourage cubs to run from the coverts rather than go to earth
- to teach young hounds to kill.
Some hunts conduct cub hunting in early evening and all hunts when cubbing will hunt more often during the week, anything from three to six days. Sabs waiting in a prominent position outside the kennels have been known to dissuade some hunts from cubbing.
No. of packs in England : 6 (all in Cumbria)
Season : September-April
Usual Start : 9.00-9.30 a.m.
The fell packs operate a completely different system from that adopted by most lowland fox hunts. For a start their stated aim is to kill foxes: that does not mean that they are primarily interested in “sport” as are their lowland brethren. Far from it, the sporting element is just as strong in the fells as anywhere else, but here hunters would soon outlive their welcome if, in this predominantly sheep rearing area, they did not place the killing of foxes at the top of their list of priorities.
It is because of their reputation as fox killers and the fact that all of the fell packs offer a lambing season “emergency call-out service” in which they will attempt to kill any foxes which are alleged to be helping themselves to lambs, that these hunts are used to reinforce claims that hunting is necessary to control foxes. In actual fact fell hunting has almost nothing in common with lowland hunting and the fell packs are not even members of the Masters of Fox Hounds Association (MFHA).
All fell hunts are followed on foot, the ruggedness of the terrain precluding the use of horses. Few followers attend the meet, the keen and experienced will already be stationed on the best vantage points. The hounds are taken to the draw by he huntsman, and they will work along the fellside and bracken beds until they either put up a fox, or as usually happens, they come across a fox’s overnight trail and pick up its old drag (old scent). Once a fox is put up, usually accompanied by a considerable amount of shrill holloaing from the followers, the hounds will press it hard.
Fell huntsmen are usually very proud of the fell hound, it is a vastly different animal from its “soft” lowland cousins. The nature of the landscape demands a tough, powerful, resilient hound, and one which, because the hunts man will not be able to keep up with during the hunt, can hunt unaided. Fell hounds, therefore have to be very independent. For this reason, splitting the pack is not as effective as with the lowland packs e.g. the hounds are capable of hunting on their own.
Once on the scent, the fox will either be lost, caught or driven to seek refuge underground as is the case in lowland hunting. Once underground the fox will either be dug out or bolted, foxes are only given best if their chosen sanctuary is difficult to work. The entrances to such sites are normally watched by experienced supporters and any foxes heading for them are turned away. Fell fox hunting, like stag hunting allows for considerable spectator participation and followers will holloa more freely than would be considered polite elsewhere.
The hunting season is spent doing the rounds of the hunt’s country. Some hunts still maintain the tradition of taking most of the hounds away to one district after another, spending a week in each and hunting three to five days in each area. During the week the hounds are kennelled in a supporters barn and the hunt staff are welcomed into the house as honoured guests.
The fell fox hunting season lasts from September to April but for two months following the end of the season the hunts operate their call out service to sheep farmers. After that the hounds are farmed out (usually to families which are responsible for “walking” them as puppies).
Fell hunts promote themselves as no-nonsense fox killers which can find and kill a single fox accused of killing lambs. In the Lakes you will not find fox coverts planted and maintained for the benefit of fox nor artificial earths for them to breed in. Nor are foxes given best, as sometimes happens elsewhere, if a fox can be caught and killed it will be. Yet fell hunts score tallys rarely exceeding 100 a year.
Another aspect of fell hunting is “bolting”. With lowland fox hunts bolting is a fairly common practice. Put simply it involves evicting a fox from any place of sanctuary to which it has fled whilst being hunted or in which it is found. A fox can be bolted from a tree, farm or any other place of safety, but most are bolted from fox earths or badger setts. In lowland packs the fox is usually given a head start, “Law”, as it is known to enable it to put up a good run in front of the hounds. It also serves to prolong the hunt and thus improve the sport.
Of course bolting often enables the fox to escape, something which would be unpopular with the hill farmers upon whose land the fell packs hunt. Thus these packs do not give law. In effect a fox bolted in the fells is bolted into almost certain death. The hounds have little trouble in quickly overrunning the fox and killing it. Any hunt which bolts a tired fox is effectively doing the same thing but in the fells the action is highly visible, the fox being bolted on the open hillside rather than in the seclusion of a wood.
Thus the fell packs are viewed as a potential threat to more orthodox fox hunts and could not be too closely associated with the MFHA. Should the fell packs ever be pulled up regarding the bolting issue the MFHA would immediately disassociate itself from the pack concerned.
There is only one effective tactic to sab a fell pack, this has been used to great effect over many years. Study the area to be hunted, and with the help of local information and past hit reports try and ascertain which area is to be hunted that day. With a good map of the area, decide which will be the best vantage point to watch and sab the hunt from e.g. the highest fell or crag.
Before the huntsman and followers set off from the meet it is vitally important that the sabs who are going up the fells set off, allowing plenty of time to climb up them (always go at the pace of the slowest person), if possible always split into two groups, (leaving one group on the roadside) as the hunt might change the meet at the last minute and leave you stranded up the wrong fell.
When the hunt starts the huntsman will usually make his way up towards a good vantage point to watch and control his hounds from. Then when the huntsman casts his hounds in search of a fox this is the best time to sab them. Using your horn and voice calls start calling the pack over to where you are standing, as fell packs rarely get sabbed you will find they will come over towards you very easily. It will be very difficult for the huntsman and whippers-in to stop the pack coming to you, as they will probably be at a great distance away from the pack at this time. Once you have control of the pack (by using your whips) there are a couple of things you can do:-
- Hunt the pack on, but be very careful as to where you are hunting the pack to. Beware of any hazard that might be near e.g. steep fells, dangerous rock formations etc. It will take a long time for the huntsman to get all the hounds back if you have used this tactic correctly.
- You can try and attach leads to some or all of the hounds and take them on an extended walk! However, always give the huntsman his hounds back at the end of the day, as they have been known to get quite upset if you don’t.
WHEN ON THE FELLS
Always be aware of the weather as it can change at a moments notice, and wear clothing suitable for the conditions, always wear good strong walking boots as these will protect your feet/ankles if you slip on the rocks. Hunting horns and whips (for those hound leads) are essential. Take a good map of the area and a compass just in case you do get lost. Always keep in good communication with other sabs on the fell or on the road by using a C.B. radio, these are also very handy for listening into the hunt to hear what they are doing. A good pair of binoculars is also very useful, and a whistle can be of use in fog or bad weather conditions. Take some food and a drink up with you, as you might be up the fells all day, and it’s a long walk back down to the van.