The Smokescreen of ‘Trail Hunting’

Around the time of the Hunting Act coming into force in 2005, the fox and hare hunting community invented ‘trail hunting’ as a solution to what they saw at the time as a ‘temporary’ ban.

While hunts claim to be following a ‘trail’ – a scent based on their traditional quarry animal (such as a fox) – they are covering themselves legally but can continue hunting as they did before. They do this using the same hounds, and hunt through the natural habitat of prey species (such as foxes or hares). When animals are hunted and killed they can claim hounds deviated from the ‘trail’ and that the pursuit or kill was therefore accidental.

The lie of trail hunting was finally exposed in 2020 when the Hunt Saboteurs Association published leaked webinars from the Hunting Office – hunting’s governing body – showing that ‘trail hunting’ is, in their own words, “a smokescreen.” The webinars further confirmed that when trails are visibly and overtly laid in front of observers – such as police or sabs – it is merely a tactic designed to conceal illegal hunting. 

Too many loopholes

Terrier Work

Terrier work is a practice undertaken on hunts by terrier men – the people often on quad bikes with terriers in boxes and spades – and is particularly cruel. It involves putting a terrier into an underground earth to either bait or kill the fox, or to ‘bolt’. Terrier men on hunts also ‘dig out’ foxes for the same reason, often damaging protected badger setts (where foxes sometimes take refuge) in the process.

An exemption under Schedule 1 of the Hunting Act allows the “use of dogs below ground to protect birds for shooting,” which is what hunt terrier men claim they are doing.

Even Hunting’s own governing bodies understand that terrier work is inexcusable – in the leaked Hunting Office webinars it was described as “hunting’s soft underbelly” – and the BHSA have recently admitted that it has no place in ‘legal hunting’ and have tried to impose a self-enforced ban.

Exempt hunting

There are also a number of forms of ‘exempt hunting’ listed under the Act:
  • Hunts are able to use hounds to flush a fox to be killed by a ‘bird of prey,’ or to use no more than two hounds to flush a fox to be killed by a gun. Hunts have rarely used this, but will often have these present to help muddy the waters.
  • Hunts are able to use hounds to flush animals for ‘observation and research’ purposes, a cover that Stag Hunts frequently abuse.
  • Hunts are able to chase and kill rabbits and rats with hounds, a claim often used by Beagle, Basset and Minkhound packs.
  • Hunts being able to retrieve ‘shot hares’ with hounds, a claim sometimes used by Beagle, Basset and Harrier packs.

Not enforced

The Hunting Act is rarely enforced effectively, due to the lack of willingness, understanding and resources from police forces to do so. Hunts know this, and so get away with routinely breaking the law.

No deterrent

The weak sentencing options available under the Hunting Act means there is little deterrent to stop offenders, with many repeatedly offending.

Currently, fines given are often based on the weekly income of the individual offender. As many hunt staff roles include tied properties and limited income, these are often small and ineffective. This also allows the culpable institution (the Hunt as a whole) or Hunt Masters, to pass the buck onto an employee or subordinate and continue unaffected.