PRE-MEET TACTICSA lot can be done to sabotage a fox hunt before it starts to hunt, by ensuring that there are unlikely to be foxes in the area, by covering the scent of those foxes that remain, and even by leaving false trails. Pre-meet tactics require that you know where the hunt are going to meet, as they all take quite some time. Often it is a good idea to arrive at the area to be hunted early to familiarise yourself with the land around the meet, with special reference to roads and footpaths. Check the wind direction and try to ascertain the scenting conditions.
Pre-BeatingIf you know from experience which coverts the hunt is likely to draw. beating a covert hefore the hunt arrive can have the effect of clearing it of foxes. Beating should be done no earlier than bout half an hour before the hunt are likely to draw a covert, as foxes will return fairly quickly. To carry out beating form a line at the up wind end of the covert and walk through thc wood using whistles horns and hunting calls in an imitation of the hunt. The line should beat right to the end of the covert. as foxes are often loath to leave. Care should be taken to keep the beating line straight. The area to he shunted hould he 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 wood . 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 ever green trees (to avoid fire risk) and away from footpaths and bridleways. It must be stressed that pre-beating call be very difficult due to communcation prohlems in the dark and over rough terrain. Also there is the danger that foxes driven from a covert will wait in hedgerows and field horders where they will actually be easier for the hunt to put up.
SprayingCoverts ean be sprayed with a scent duller (see tactics article in HOWL 55) before the hunt arrive.to confuse hounds. Spraying should be conducted at hound head height with particular emphasis on gateways and bridleways. This will negate any scent in the area though any foxes may well remain. In woods too large to spray completely or when just a few sabs are available it may well be worth spraying a section or two. particularly at the down wind end so that hounds that do pick up a scent elsewhere in the covert will be likely to lose it as the fox is forced out of the wood and through the sprayed area.
False TrailsWith false trails the intention is to simulate the scent trail left by a fox. making the huntsman and hounds believe they have found a scent. They are ideal when you find it hard to get onto the land once the hunt has started or when there are large numbers of thugs or police intent on preventing you from sabotaging the hunt in other ways.
The best results are obtained using a dried blood solution. For those not keen on dried blood. fox bedding can be used if you know of a sanctuary that has a fox. The bedding must be fresh. so you will need to collect it early on the morning of the sab.
For blood. use an absorbent cloth. and carry the container to re-soak the rag occationally. For bedding or a road casualty use a netting bag tied to a string. Having decided which coverts the hunt is likely to draw, assess thc wind direction and try to work out how a fox would run from each one. If thcrc's time lay scvcral trails through thc wood so that thc drawing pack can't miss them. Start at one end of the covert and walk with thc wind through the wood. continuing the trails into thc opcn. If time is short you could simply lay a trail around the perimeter of a covcrt, in thc hope that the hounds will switch to this from a genuine sccnt. You'll only necd two or three people to lay the trail. with one dragging thc cloth or bag. and the others walking ahead to check that thc way ahcad is save, that it doesn't lcad into danger for the hounds, and that it doesn't lead to any fox carths.
Rcmcmber that roads and dry ground will not hold the scent, and if it looks like raining, only lay thc trails insidc coverts. as they are likely to be washcd awaly in the open. Obviously false trails are going to be less eftectivc in poor scenting conditions. Trails will be most effective when laid shortly before the hunt arrives. Thc longer the trails, the more time will be consumled by thc hunt on a false run, but a trail that can take thirty minutes to lay might be covered by hounds in just a few minutes, so 'jink' when you can. and lay circular trails wherever possible.
During the hunt. you may bc able to cncourage hounds onto your trails with voice and horn calls. If you don't know the meet in advance, you could try laying some last minute trails when you have found the hunt, though usually there is not enough time for this.
Other Pre-Meet TacticsWhilst carrying out any of the above tactics, keep an eye open for blocked earths. If thcse are in soft soil don't unblock the earth, as this could create an opportunity for a dig out. If you unblock such an earth and a fox goes to ground, the terriermen are more likely to block any exits and dig out the tox. If the soil is very hard, frozen, particularly full of roots or stones, or the earth is a large warren, it can usually be safely unblockcd, thereby affording a hunted fox another refuge, with little chance of it being dug out. Gatcs can be secured with wire, or even padlocks and chains. This will delay the hunt and perhaps even force them to hunt in less favourable country. Finally, if hunting conditions have been bad for a day or two before a meet, it is sometimes worth ringing any local newspapers that advertise the hunt, and tell them that the hunt has been cancelled. This can have the effect of losing the hunt some supporters and create confusion
GROUSE SHOOTINGSeason: August 12th-10th December
Grouse are smaller than pheasant and larger than partridge which they resemble. They are found in coveys, large and small, sometimes singly, sometimes of 20 birds or more. Later in the season they often pack in large numbers. They feed mostly on heather shoots, occupying bleak moorland. They are very hardy birds living in cold conditions, breeding and maturing early. They take to their wings within a week of hatching and in spite of endemic disease on most moors, they are one of the strongest flying birds.
Although not in the strictest sense of the word artificially reared, the moors are keepered and the grouse population kept artificially high e.g. the heather is burned to encourage the growth of new shoots, every form of winged and fourlegged predator is rigidly exterminated etc.If left alone the population would stabilise at a much lower figure and natural immunity to endemic disease develop in most cases.
Birds are shot in two ways; walking-up or driving shooting.
Walking-upentails the guns walking in a line across the moor, with the wind, sometimes with a variety of gundogs to disturb concealed birds, shooting as they take off. This method is employed mainly in the later part of the season when the numbers have been depleted by driven shooting or on moors where grouse are in short supply anyway.
Shooting driven birdsis the traditional form of grouse shooting. Grouse are driven by a long line of beaters over the waiting guns, concealed behind shooting butts. The drive can cover miles of moorland and often be out of sight until within reach of the shooting butts.
WHERE ARE GROUSE SHOOTS ADVERTISED?
- On the roadside. Notice boards at the beginning of footpaths or public tracks leading onto a grouse moor. They will tell you when the moor is closed for shooting.
- National Park Planning Boards will supply on request a list of dates when moors will be closed for shooting along with a photocopied map showing moor boundaries. They have negotiated access agreements with shoot owners in the area, that allow the public onto the moors at certain dates, providing that the moors are allowed to close on certain days for shooting.
- In some local newspapers, under the public notices column, they will list moors, that are accessible to the public, and when they will be closed.
- Some County Councils have negotiated public access agreements with the owners of grouse moors and it becomes their task to inform the public that these moors will be closed. These county councils will keep lists of such moors and when they are closed.
- It should be remembered here that most grouse are huge, private, fenced-off tracts of land where no member of the public is ever allowed. You will have great difficulty in finding shoot dates for these moors, because the owners are under no obligation to warn the public and publicise the dates. It should also be pointed out that those moors which have had access agreements negotiated with them and allow public on, have to fix days of shooting well in advance of the 12th August. Once decided on, the dates cannot be changed - so if one shoot is disrupted by sabs, they cannot hold another to make up for lost sport. Unfortunately, these shoot dates are never available until the first week of August.
- reflecting light into the eyes of shooters to disrupt their aim
- materials that will reflect light and warn grouse of impending danger at the butts. Hand mirrors would also be useful.
DRESSWear white/yellow/light colours that will assist in clearing the grouse whilst pre-beating and make you stand out when in the shooting butts. Otherwise try and look like a hiker as it may provide you with a cover story on the moors. Strong sensible footwear is a must for high, often boggy rocky slopes. Also of course clothing that can protect you from the elements is a must. Fog, rain and winds are a common feature of the Pennines and Dales. Lastly, don't forget grouse are colour-blind; so a colour like red is not as effective as it may at first appear.
PLANNING A GROUSE SHOOT SABBecause regional or joint hits are needed to sab a shoot effectively, the organising groups really need to explore the shoot moors and it is vital that someone knows their way around the moor. A good sab is really dependant on the planning that has led up to it. The following points have to be known:-
How far does the shoot boundaries extend - they cannot shoot willy-nilly over the nearest 100 miles of moorland. The moor is divided up into say 5 or 6 shoots and shooting your neighbour's grouse just is not cricket.
You need to know all access points onto the moor. How far can you get a Landrover up the track? Most of the access to the butts will be little better than dirt tracks. Remember also, grouse shooters are often sickly creatures and hate walking uphill. Nine times out of ten there should be some means of getting a Landrover up to the butts.
Lines of shooting butts are marked on the 2 1/2" scale maps as are shoot boxes. All these lines have to be marked onto the O.S. map; there could be as many as six lines of 12 butts. Once they are marked it is possible to determine which stretches of moor belong to which line of butts i.e. what particular stretch of moor is beaten for each butt line. Once all the facts are marked on the map, you can determine the direction the beat-line will take, the size of moor you have to beat for each line of butts and indeed even the line of butts that will be used. Ensure all butts have been checked and correspond to those marked on the map. Also some may be "double butts"; can be shot form the front and the back and used for two beats.
With this information in hand, obviously moving across the moors and directing sabs becomes a lot easier.
TACTICS BEFORE THE SHOOT STARTSPre-beating is the most effective method, and it should be done:-
- With the wind - no bird wants to fly into the wind.
- Away from the line of shooting butts that are to be used first and indeed beyond the point that shoot beaters will start their beating.
- If possible downhill; it is a lot easier to force birds to move in this direction.
TACTICS AFTER THE SHOOT HAS STARTED (DRIVEN)Depending on how many sabs there are and how well the pre-beating has gone there are a number of options open.
As in hare coursing, counter-beating or flank beating can take place. However this should not merely be an opposing line of sabs parallel to grouse beaters. The aim is to move or funnel grouse in a particular direction. Taking into account wind, land gradient and position of shoot butts, a line of around 45 degrees to grouse beaters and shoot butts should be formed. This should be as tight as possible - as birds approach and are turned down the sab line, so the noise should progress down the line. If the whole sab line is a block of noise all the time, not only will you simply turn the grouse back but you will wear your voice out. So the grouse have to be funnelled away from both shoot butts and beaters. Controlled noise and constant attention are required for counter-beating to work as it should.
As the grouse beaters advance on butts and sabs so the counter-beat line will have to slowly retreat, as beaters meet the front end of the sabs line, so these sabs should move down the line. Alternatively, they should fall back to the butts and block the line of fire of the shooters.
If it proves impossible to form a static counter-beat line at an angle than a line of sabs should be placed approximately 200 metres out from the butts. This line should be very tight and noisy; the object being not to turn the birds back into the beaters but to make them rise up into the air, out of range (50 metres) of the guns. This however is a somewhat dodgy tactic, the best means of defense of the grouse is low flight hugging the hill gradients. By forcing them up higher, they are denied this natural defence. Sabs have to ensure birds DO fly high and must watch that shooters do not shoot behind their butts after the birds have flown over and started to descend.
The "ultimate" tactic is to occupy butts and block the line of fire at both the front and the rear of the butt. The shooting butt is usually made of natural materials i.e. timber, turf, stone and is usually shoulder height. Its prime task is to provide camouflage for the gun-wielder, hence their tweedy attire. Clearly then no shooter is going to want white sheets, banners, piles of non camouflaged bodies, lots of silvery reflective items, screams and shouts etc., as it just might ruin his camouflage cover. By standing in front and on top of the butt it becomes more difficult to shoot accurately. Sometimes shooters will put away their guns when sabs resort to this tactic, others will attempt to carry on; groups must be prepared to assist areas that persist in shooting around sabs. Good communications and quick thinking should take care of most trouble spots. This tactic is not as stupid as it may sound. The majority of shooters will not shoot in close proximity to people, and indeed the BFSS official line on such confrontation is to advise shooters to put away their guns immediately, and in fact to lock it in a secure vehicle (well you can never be too sure these days, with crime as high as it is!). If shooters persist in shooting past you, bring up the fact that the shooter is refusing to toe the accepted line of the god-like BFSS.You never know, it might work!
During the day, guns and beaters will move to different lines of butts on their moor. Always keep with the guns, just as you would keep with the hounds on a fox hunt.
Remember the Country Code.
WALK-UP SHOOTING TACTICSBeing well ahead of the shooters is the main tactic to adopt here. At times shooters will abandon their butts and forming a long line, move across the moor with the wind and shoot as grouse get up in front of the moving line. Sab beaters should form an arc 400-500 metres ahead with the two ends furthest from the shooters and keep ahead of them clearing all bird-life as they proceed.
Care has to be taken that sabs proceed at the same speed as guns and that guns do not switch direction, leaving the sab line too far away to swing back in front of them.
PHEASANT SHOOTSSeason: October 1st - February 1st
Wild pheasants are now almost a thing of the past and the shooters now breed and rear their own birds to satisfy their demands. Shooting syndicates are set up to ease the cost and in many woods can now be found the rearing pens. You will come across them as you pre-beat woods on fox hunts.
From incubation the chicks are kept in large sheds and as they get older they are placed in larger and larger pens until they are old and "ripe" enough to be released from their holding pens into the countryside. Feed is kept permanently for them in hanging containers, i.e. old plastic drums to ensure the pheasants remain in the area where they are to be shot. Also, an aniseed solution is put around coverts, the smell from this appeals to the pheasants and they stay in the vicinity.
The shoots take place regularly and will be advertised in shooting magazines and locally. Most shoots take place just before Christmas. A large shoot will generally take place with beaters and the shooters remaining stationary. Several beats will take place during the day. Smaller shoots may be of the walk-up fashion.
TACTICSAction has to be taken early in an attempt to prevent birds from remaining in the area they are released into. The feed containers can easily be located and you should act accordingly.
Pheasants have been known to follow a trail of the feed for some distance and remain if enough food is left. They will particularly follow an aniseed trail which can be sprayed from a garden spray. The aniseed fluid, bought from chemists, should be mixed with spirits such as white spirits. Grain soaked overnight in aniseed as a trail will also work.
BeatingMuch the same as grouse shoots, when their beaters and shooters are in position, beat away towards their beaters. If there are enough of you, stand in front of their guns and prevent them from shooting.
On a walk-up shoot, position yourself ahead of the shooters and beat away at the same speed as the shooters walk, always watching to see if they change direction.
No of clubs in England and Wales : 27
Ireland : Coursing is governed by the Irish Coursing Club and the rules differ slightly, as the hares are gathered before the meet and released from a man-made tunnel into the coursing field when needed. This is known as "park coursing".
Season: September 15th-March 10th
Usual start: Any time after 9.00 am.
Hare coursing, as opposed to other forms of blood sports involving hounds, is not a pack event. Only two dogs are involved on any one "course" and the area involved in the chase is usually enclosed. The hounds hunt by sight. According to the NCC (The National Coursing Club, the governing body) coursing does not claim to control hare numbers, but conserves them by ensuring that some grounds regularly coursed are not shot over outside the season. However, in most coursing areas hare shoots, to reduce numbers, does take place.
HoundsGreyhounds are the most popular dogs used in coursing and the NCC has a standard set of rules drawn up to regulate the proceedings. Greyhounds may be trained by using dummy hares or live hares in competition with another hound in open country. Several reports have been heard of live captive hares and rabbits being used, and also cats. Greyhounds used in greyhound racing may be trained at course meetings and retired hounds from racing may finish their lives in coursing surroundings. Other hounds used are Whippets, Saluki, Deerhounds, Borzois, Afghans, Lurchers.
The average days spent coursing in a year amount to 120 days for greyhounds and 25 days for whippets, saluki and deerhounds.
SlipperThis is the person who "slips" (releases) the two hounds onto the selected hare. He uses a special attachment provided with twin collars which enables him to release the dogs simultaneously. He will judge whether the hare is fit enough to be coursed (i.e. strong and without "balled up" (clay clogged) feet), if it is found to be "lacking" then he will wait for the next hare. He is registered and trained by the NCC.
JudgeMounted on a horse, for better visibility, he awards points to greyhounds according to their ability.
BeatersA gang of people, using white flags on poles, who form three sides of a box and drive wild hares towards the coursing field. At large meets such as Altcar, they may be controlled by a system of walkie-talkies. They take advice from the local game keeper as to the normal feed paths taken by hares, as they say that a hare will not be driven in a direction not normally followed. At Altcar, and possible other grounds, hares are kept in the area by placing feed in the surrounding fields. Beaters form in a different way for "walk-up" coursing. Beaters are usually paid for their services and the club may employ children. Other persons involved will be mentioned in the text.
LAYOUT OF THE COURSING AREAThe field used for the actual chase is normally grass or unploughed, and is, ideally surrounded by a hedge or ditch and ridge. Hounds hunt by sight and should lose the hare when it passes through the hedge - this is not always the case and both animals have been known to disappear over the horizon. The coursing club may get permission to build a "sough" (an artificial shelter, usually dug into a bank or hedgerow) into which the hare can escape. This may be necessary in more open country, such as the Fens where shelter is not guaranteed. Spectators, bookies and owners stand outside the coursing field. The only persons allowed in this area are the Judge and the Slipper (on larger courses maybe also the owners of the two coursing dogs and possibly four pickers-up). The pickers-up are there to make sure the hare is dead if it gets caught by the dogs. Silence and static positions should be maintained by the onlookers, and under NCC rules, the hare must not be headed back into the field (not always upheld).
A TYPICAL DAY'S STATIC COURSINGThe programme for each club is sent out about a month before the season starts, so that the owners may enter their dogs. Entry fees may vary, but obviously the more prestigious the event the higher up the scale the fee. The entry money goes towards the prize money.
Names of entered dogs are drawn from a hat to pair them for each course. A knockout competition then takes place for the final pair. The first dog listed in each pair wears a red collar and stands to the left in the "slips" (as the collar is known), the owner standing to the left of the field. The other dog wears a white collar and he and his owner stand to the right. The slipper will position himself in the shelter of a wall or hedge or, as at Altcar, a specially constructed hay or wooden shed. A number of beaters, anything from 30-120 will form a beating line some 1-3 miles away from the coursing arena and will drive hares with the wind towards the coursing field. This will take up to 45 minutes. As the beating line approaches the coursing field, the centre of the line will remain straight whilst the flanks will curve forward to form a funnel through which hares can be channelled onto the coursing field. As the hare enters the field the slippers will judge its suitability to be coursed and , satisfied, will let it run up to 80 - 100 metres ahead of him and then release the dogs.
The object is not to kill the hare, but to test the hounds against each other, and points are awarded accordingly. As the hare runs it will turn sharply to evade the jaws of the hounds, and because greyhounds are faster than the hare, they will overshoot and will have to double back. Some dogs have a smaller turning point than others, but some may make up by being faster on the straight. As the hounds twist and turn after the hare points are awarded thus:
1/2 - 3 points for the lead dog at the first turn
1 point for the dog that leads the hare beyond 90
1/2 point for the dog that turns the hare less than 90
1/2 - 1 point for the kill (although not the object of the exercise, but points are awarded in special circumstances)
The judge will indicate the winners by raising the appropriate coloured handkerchief (i.e. red or white). Other colour used - blue indicates a "bye" meaning that a dog has been withdrawn), therefore, raising a blue and red means white has been withdrawn and that red is the winner of the bye, and vice versa. Yellow means that a tie has occurred and that the dogs will have to run again later. Some dogs are not capable of running a second course and normally no dog runs more than three times in one day. The judge's actions are duplicated by a Flag Steward, thus passing the message onto spectators. When all the hares have been beaten through and there are still courses to be run, a new area may be chosen. If insufficient hares are to be found to complete the card, the prize money is awarded between the heat winners, unless the match takes place over a few days.
WALKUP COURSINGAfter a mornings "static" coursing, the club may switch to "walk-up" coursing in the afternoon, if it is felt that more hares will be found by this method or if the surrounding fields are not suitable for beating. Walk-up coursing is sometimes practised as a rule, rather than an exception, by "unofficial" coursing clubs - this is known as lurching. The layout now changes and a line of beaters, with the slipper and dogs in the centre, will walk over the fields putting-up hares in front of them. When a suitable hare is moving the line halts and the dogs are loosed. Points are awarded in the same way as in static coursing.
Only the judge is allowed in front of the line and if not enough beaters are there to form a line then spectators and owners will join in. The picker-ups also have to remain behind the slipper, so if a hare is caught they will have to run forward in order to kill it.
GENERAL OBSERVATIONSIf a greyhound catches a hare, it will grab any part of the animal. Once it has hold it will not drop the hare and may run off with it. Both hounds may grasp the hare and the much disputed, but well documented, tug-of war will ensue. That the hare suffers cannot be disputed but "torn-to-shreds" is not the best way to describe the outcome. Internal injury is more likely and the screams of an injured or distressed hare resembles that of a human infant. We are told that a caught hare is despatched by a picker-up within three seconds, but this is by no means always the case. In a well-documented and much sneered at instance in 1975, a hare was screaming in the jaws of a hound for over two minutes before having it's neck broken by a picker-up. (The event was filmed but labelled as rigged by bloodsports supporters who were shown the extract as part of the evidence against coursing in the House of Lords enquiry)
HARE COURSING TACTICSEstablish beforehand which are the coursing fields. Determine the areas and direction which hares are beaten in from and the likely location of the funnel (which is the area where the hares will be held before release into the coursing field). The funnel is normally always in the same place for each particular coursing field, as the beating will normally follow the same pattern. There are three main sab tactics:-
Pre-beatingThe beating of hares is a lot more difficult than pre-beating fox hunts. To have effect, the line has to cover the width of the area covered by the coursing beaters, which can be up to two miles. Taking into account wind direction and the location of the coursing field, use the beating line to drive hares down wind, outward and away from the coursing fields to a position which will make it difficult for them to return (i.e. over a road or stream or into a large patch of woodland. Obviously care must be taken when beating over roads to position sabs to control traffic). Clearly, large numbers of sabs are required for pre-beating. The best distance between sabs in the line is 10-120 yards. Sabs should wear bright clothing and have white flags or fertiliser bags. It is imperative that the line is kept straight as possible. It should continue at the pace of the slowest person. The use of CB's and the use of appointed stewards to control groups of say, twenty sabs in the line will be helpful in ensuring that the line remains straight. Noise is all important, but it must be controlled. Too much noise can panic hares into running back through the beating line. Whistles and horns are recommended. Equally important is ensuring that the line goes to the very end of the pre-arranged destination. To do this successfully, the outside flanks should curve in until the only open gap gives access to the required destination. At this stage there will be a lot of hares in a panic ridden and confused state within the funnel. Movement of flags must be increased and the lines tightened up to ensure that hares attempts to break through the beating lines fail. If there is no suitable place to which the hares can be pushed into safety, then they must be beaten away from the coursing field and some sabs must remain to prevent them from returning to within the coursing range. This may be necessary anyway, as hares do not like to be on unfamiliar ground.
Counter-beatingWhen pre-beating is finished, sabs should wait for the coursers first beat line to form up. Then sabs should form an opposing line between the coursing arena and the coursers beat. Sabs should then advance their beating lines toward the coursers beat. On approaching their line, the flanks should curve in to prevent hares from running around the sides and the sabs should pass right through the coursers line. This tactic needs to be repeated each time their beating line forms. In order to scare the hares back through the coursers beat, it is necessary to make more noise than them. Smoke flares and air-horns can be of assistance here in forcing hares to flee in the desired direction.
Funnel beatingIf the beaters are persistent, they will eventually succeed in bringing some hares to the coursing arena where they will be held up in a funnel or V shape at one end of the coursing field. Sabs must make every effort to break up this formation by breaking through the lines of beaters and panicking the hares into running in any direction. This can be done by charging through, but if this proves to be impossible, rockets can be fired over the formation to panic the hares out. If this is successful, the funnel formation will be ruined and beating will have to be resumed by the coursers. In this case resort to tactic two - Counter-beating. On no account should any attempt be made to run onto the coursing arena, as this will prove to be ineffective and you run the very real risk of attack by supporters and/or arrest.
Be on your guard against the coursers moving to a different area at lunch time. Also if you have been particularly successfully they may resort to rough or walk-up coursing, in which case they will split up and go across country in search of hares. In this event walk about 50 -60 metres in front of each group and put the hares up by making a lot of noise, so clearing them from the coursers path. As rough coursing is not official, you could encounter it at any time, even outside the usual season.
The meets are advertised by the National Coursing Club and a full list usually appears in the national "sporting" journals. A list of coursing club secretaries is available from your local sab group. Hare coursing meets have been known to be violent in the past, so think hard and plan well before attempting to organise one.
MINK HUNTINGThe joint effects of the decline in the otter population in the sixties and the rising costs in maintaining otter packs meant that many hunts had to sell hounds and stop hunting. These hunts then became clubs, still with subscribers, but inviting others to hunt their rivers.
[Right: Otter & Mink Tracks (Fore and Hind)]
The situation before the otter became a protected animal in 1978 in England and Wales was thus;
No of packs in England, Scotland and Wales: 17
(9 being hunt clubs)
(NB Otter hunting was banned in Ireland in 1990).
However mosts hunts who were previously active have turned their attentions to mink. The situation now stands:
Mink hunts in England and Wales : 17 and 20 + unregistered
Ireland : 2
In 1980, the mink packs were recognised by the British Field Sports Society, and they formed their own association. Mink packs which were formerly otter hunts tend to have more otter hounds in their packs, and like to hunt at their traditional meets. Many have radically changed their names, for example the Bucks and Courtney Tracy Otterhounds are now the Yetne Minkhounds. New packs tend to have Foxhound or Foxhound crosses.
The HoundsPure-bred otterhounds are shaggy individuals about the size of an Alsatian. Although some packs may still remain 100% otterhounds, other packs either have a mixture of otterhounds and foxhounds, all foxhounds or labrador/foxhound crosses. The foxhounds may be cast-offs from fox hunts. Terriers are used on mink hunts to flush the mink either at the beginning of the chase or if the mink goes to ground.
The Officials and Hunt ServantsThese are the same as in fox hunting, except the earth-stoppers and fence menders are not needed. A terrier man is still in evidence but he will normally walk along with the hunt. There is an official hunt uniform consisting of jacket, breeches tucked into long socks and boots, plimsolls or hockey boots as footwear.
Mink hunting attracts the same variety of followers and also small children, as well as the same type of heavy. Many of the followers carry otterpoles (5 - 6 foot long staves) on which kills are tallied by means of notches. These staves were once used to form "stickles", but we are told that this practice no longer occurs and these poles are merely used as glorified walking sticks for use in wading across rivers, climbing banks and stabbing around in the roots of river-side trees in the hope of disturbing the hunted animal.
THE HUNTThe meet usually takes place at a pub, members house or a bridge over the river to be hunted. Mink hunting takes place on foot along the river bank. The huntsman will take the hounds in front of the followers and they will search the bank and reeds for scent. There seems to be no sure way of determining which way the hunt will go although former otter hunts now hunting mink tend to hunt upstream (against the water flow) first, take lunch then hunt downstream afterwards. Unlike otters, mink have small territories (less than a mile of river bank) and once put up by the hunt tend not to go far. When they have located a scent, minkhounds tend to give voice in the same manner as foxhounds. If they lose the scent the huntsman will cast his hounds backwards, then forwards, and if unable to find scent, may cast the hounds on both sides of the river away from the banks and along drainage ditches, hedgerows and small tributaries joining the river.
Minkhounds are very prone to rioting after ducks, moorhens and swans - in fact any animal or bird that pops up under their noses. Most packs, however, hunt as much by sight - human and hound - as by scent. When a mink is sighted by a follower a holloa is given as in other forms of hunting.
Mink do not swim as well as otters, tending when hunted to run along the river bank, being small they frequently seek sanctuary in holes or beneath over hanging trees. Being good climbers they often attempt to escape up trees. Small and agile mink can often go straight through a pack of hounds and still escape. Mink hunting then, in full swing in many ways resembles a glorified rat hunt, the whole hunt going up and down river in a small area chasing the mink from one refuge to another, digging it out of river-bank holes with shovels and terriers and shaking it out of tree branches.
Humane killers are rarely used, the mink being killed either with spades, by being drowned , by the hounds or by the terriers. Hunters have no respect for the mink and do not care how its end comes providing no bad publicity comes of it.
Mink bred during the summer and the hunt will, if they find them, feed the entire litter of young mink to the pack. If a bitch mink with young is killed and the litter escapes detection they often starve to death. The young ones are dependant on their mother for at least six weeks after birth.
A mink hunt meets at around 11.00 am and may end at dusk. A good pack may kill several mink in a day.
MINKHUNTING TERMSTrencher fed - hounds which are kept privately, then brought together on hunt days to form a pack.
MINK HUNTING TACTICSA mink hunt is unique in that it is usually possible to tell in advance exactly where the hunt will go from the meet; the only variable being upstream/downstream and on either side of the river. In fact, it is usually self evident which side of the river the hunt will take and (except sometimes for a brief stroll down-river before lunch), mink hunts will usually head upstream.
Otter hunts which have changed to mink will usually keep to their traditional meets, so try to obtain any old meet cards or hunting reports. As most do not advertise it may be necessary to follow them from kennels and to be familiar with the hound van and supporters car numbers.
Before the meetIf the meet is known then spray bridges, possible holts, root outcrops and banks (especially where hounds will either enter or leave the river) with scent dullers. Whilst doing this you will also be acting as a beat which will flush mink form the area. You could also run a false trail along the bank and then out into the fields away from the river. It is worth noting that mink hunts will operate on streams and brooks as well as main rivers.
At the MeetIf you have arranged for the press to be present hold a banner demo; mink hunts hate publicity.
During the HuntKeep in front of the hounds (this is the only occasion when you need to sab in front of hounds), talk to the hounds and try to distract them, also talk to the huntsman in an effort to break his concentration. If possible, have sabs further along the river bank, this will ensure that any mink are on the move before the hunt gets there. These sabs can also spray or cover scent. The hunting horns can be most effective if hounds have gone off on their own away from the huntsman. However, if the huntsman is in full control of his hounds, the use of the horn will be ineffective and it is best to use voice. Encourage hounds to hunt false lines and with individual hounds encourage them to go further afield by imitating hunting calls. If in the event of a quarry being sighted and the hounds beginning to speak use whistles and horns etc., to try and confuse the hounds and get their heads up. Also, if possible, wade into water between the mink and the hounds to foil the floating scent. If the mink is on land spray behind it. If the mink hides in deep tree roots or holes in the bark, prevent the insertion of terriers which are used to flush it out. If the mink climbs a tree link arms beneath the tree or the hunt will attempt to knock it down with their hunting poles. Sabbing a mink hunt takes place at close proximity to the hunt supporters, so when using the above tactics make sure you are in a position to defend yourselves.
MINK HUNTING HINTSMany mink hunts will stop for lunch, re-box their hounds and take them by van to another part of the river. Be prepared for this or you could get stranded with your transport three miles away at the meet. Ideally one car driver should stay with the hound van all day to follow it, and to ferry stranded sabs to the new meet. C.B. contact is also an excellent way to avoid getting stranded.
If the hunt knows sabs are around, it may try and give sabs the slip. In such cases, always follow the hound van, not the supporters. If in doubt head upstream. If upstream of the hunt, remember that hounds will be looking for a scent on top of the water. Try spraying leaves, branches twigs etc., with scent dullers and floating them downstream. Sprayed sticks and stones can be thrown across the river - ahead of, not at, the hunters - if you are caught on the wrong side of the river from the hunt.
Be prepared to get wet. The hunters will wade into rivers - so sabs must, if necessary, take spare shoes and socks. Don't wear wellies or waders - you could be in trouble if they get full of water.
Registered mink hunts should not disturb otters, but do not be fooled by the argument that they no longer hunt otters, they will. Local conservation groups, water authorities, river keepers and landowners may be able to advise on the whereabouts of otters. A mink hunt should not meet within four miles of known otter habitat. If this is ignored, try to implement a ban by approaching the river owners and explaining the situation. Apart from killing mink and otter, hounds have been known to kill moorhens, swans and other river wildlife. The disturbance factor is also particularly damaging, as river banks provide miniature sanctuaries for flora and fauna.
Ideally only one or two people should be involved in pre-meeting to keep disturbance down to a minimum.
It should be noted that it is useless to follow a mink hunt unless you are actively preventing them from making progress along the river bank, merely trailing them in case they pick up a scent is adding a disturbance factor.
The best method to sabotage a mink hunt is to swamp the hunt with sabs, this prevents hunting altogether. It also minimises disturbance to a fragile environment packed full of breeding wildlife since neither hunt nor sabs will need to proceed along the river bank.
A mink hunt killing an otter in Britain would presumably be open to prosecution, though this would be of little benefit to the otter involved.
STAG AND DEER HUNTINGNumber of packs in England: 4
Seasons : Red Stag, Sika Stag, Fallow Buck : August 1st - April 30th
Red Hind, Sika Hind, Fallow Doe, Red Doe : November 1st - February 28th
Usual Start : 11.00 am.
[Right: Deer's "Slots"]
Three packs hunt the Red Deer - the Devon and Somerset Stag Hounds, the Quantock Stag Hounds, Tiverton Stag Hounds, and only one registered pack hunts the Fallow - the New Forest Buckhounds (although there are also several unregistered packs of buckhounds hunting the roe deer in the West Country). The procedure is roughly the same for both, any deviations will be noted in the text.
HoundsA larger type of foxhounds is used in deer hunting, in fact foxhounds were originally bred to hunt deer. The pack may consist of up to 35 hounds.
Officials and Hunt ServantsThe Master, Huntsman and Whipper in perform the same functions as in fox hunts. A man complete with shotgun is in attendance.
The mounted field is the same size as in fox hunting but as many as 300-400 car supporters may try to follow the hunt by road and track: those in Landrovers/4-wheel drives having better luck in maintaining contact with the hunt. The large amount of followers have a tendency to block the roads in the area and many come for miles to see the "spectacle".
The HarbourerThis man's job is to select a "warrantable" stag (i.e. five years or over) for the hunt. The day before the hunt he goes round the area of the meet checking on suitable stags., both by talking to people and looking for signs (e.g. size of slot etc). On the morning of the hunt, before dawn, he will revisit the area of the chosen stag to make sure he is settled (Once a stag has chosen a suitable "couch" or harbour he will remain there for the rest of the day, unless disturbed). At the meet, the harbourer will inform the Master as to the whereabouts of the quarry, its size and the condition. Naturally it will be selected to give a good hunt. An unharboured stag is sometimes hunted when the first one is killed early or escapes. Hinds are never harboured, as in winter the undergrowth is less dense and they tend to herd together. The Buckhounds do not employ a harbourer, but a number of Beat-keepers who perform essentially the same function.
The HuntThe meet may be at a pub or more usually at a cross roads or other land mark on the open land. The Buck Hounds will meet in the forest in which case the meet may only be a named clearing.
The pack is taken to a point near the resting place of the animal to be hunted and usually held up in nearby farm buildings or the hound vehicle. Meanwhile four or five couple "steady" hounds (those who can be relied upon to keep to the scent and not "riot") called "Tufters" will, with the aid of the Huntsman flush out the deer from its harbour. (In the New Forest the pack is held up while the "Tufters and huntsman seek out a suitable buck). When hunting hinds, half the pack is used to cut the hind from the rest of its companions and, when running, the rest of the pack is laid on.
The Whipper-in will station himself at the likeliest point the stag will break cover and when the deer has been separated and is running on a direct line into the open, the huntsman returns for the rest of the pack, while the whipper-in holds the tufters, and then the whole pack is laid on and the hunt begins proper.
The initial stage may take some time. The hunted deer will try to escape the hounds by driving other deer from their resting places and lying down itself, but the huntsman will direct his hounds onto the selected deer and keep it running. Galloping across the moor or through woodland, it will leap fences and streams in an effort to get away, and on occasions has been known to head for farm dwellings, towns and even the sea in order to escape. However, it is not safe anywhere. Hunts have been known to row out to sea or venture into the urban scene in order to kill the animal. It is certain that most of the field and car supporters will never see the death of the unfortunate animal.
Deer will invariably head for water and the huntsman will have to cast hounds, keeping an eye out for the "slots" on some mud, or recently splashed rocks. The deer may find refuge in thick gorse, which the hounds do not favour.
Eventually the superior stamina of the hounds will tell and the exhausted animal will turn and face the hounds (known as "standing at bay" or, referring to the hounds, "bringing to bay"). We are told that the hounds will merely keep the deer "at bay" by snapping and baying at it until the dispatcher arrives and uses his gun at point blank range. However, it has been known for the hounds to pile on the deer and, hanging onto its rear quarters, bring it to the ground. It has also been known for the deer to swim for its life, followed by hounds swimming after it to try to latch on.
After the gun has been used the throat is slit to bleed the meat, and whilst still warm the liver is removed and divided amongst the spectators. The feet are also given out as souvenirs. It has been said that on occasion only a knife has been used to slay the animal, and recent events have shown that the hunters are not adverse to trying to drown the exhausted animal.
DEERHUNTING TERMS"Slot" - track of the deer
"Bye meet" - the staghunt equivalent to cubhunting (early July to mid-August)
STAG AND DEER HUNT TACTICSStag hunting on Exmoor during the stag hunting (not hind hunting) season, differs from other forms of hunting, in that a particular animal is selected prior to the hunt by a harbourer. The harbourer will indicate to the master where the stag is to be found on the morning of the hunt. Hinds are not harboured and are hunted by casting scent methods as employed in foxhunting. Un-harboured stags will also be hunted on occasion.
The best method of sabotage (and in fact the only one of merit), is to flush the woods in the area of the hunt the night before. This should be done between midnight and seven in the morning. If the harboured deer has been scared off and all the other deer in the area are "jumpy" then it will take the hunt quite a while to find a deer that is worth hunting and by the time they do, it should be too late in the day. In the winter months, because it gets dark very early on the moors, hounds will be called off about 4-5 pm, ( as a rule), and the deer will have a good chance to get away. However if a stag is put up, try to proceed in the same way as sabbing a fox hunt, but remember because of the terrain it is virtually impossible to select a good position to intercept. Hunted stags are known to seek refuge in towns or by swimming into reservoirs or out to sea. In these instances alert the HSA's press officer and your local press immediately and try to draw the public's attention to what is happening.
Flushing the woodsThis method makes the harbourers job very difficult and denies the hunt an easy find. When eventually a deer is found, the time can be quite late in the day and the hunted animal has a good chance of outrunning the pack.
The night before a meet, the woods within a 2-3 mile radius of the meet can be systematically cleared of deer. This is done by stringing rook scarers at regular intervals and using whatever other means of making noise you have to hand. To obtain the best results four teams of two each are required to work from the centre of the woods outwards. This is the best way of disrupting a stag hunt, although there are several important points which should be noted:
the number of sabs required - it is possible for two or three experienced sabs to prove quite disruptive, although the more the better.
this method can be very expensive, considering the number of rook scarers needed.
the noise is apt to wake the local population (and the police).
the hunt are likely to catch on to this method quite quickly and you may have difficulty using the it again in quick succession.
If the hunt go into a wood that you have flushed, do not encourage the hounds to leave.
It is essential for work on the moors, (especially at night) to wear sturdy boots and warm clothing, preferably clothes that blend well with the surroundings. Reliable transport is also a definite pre-requisite, for if you break down, as often as not, you are on your own. Also of equal importance, for night work, is a good working knowledge of the area.