As the days lengthen and Covid restrictions begin to lift, mink hunters are gearing up for a summer of cruelty on the riverbank. This post lifts the lid on this most secretive form of hunting.
Origins in Otter Hunting
Mink hunting has its roots in the old summer blood sport of otter hunting. This activity is almost unimaginably cruel: otters are large, powerful animals and the hunt can last for up to nine gruelling hours. Even when finally cornered by the hounds, the otter’s size and strength would mean a long, agonising fight to the death.
The HSA prioritised disruption of this cruelty from its very earliest days, often in the face of extreme violence. In 1964, for example, sabs were attacked by the Devon-based Culmstock Otterhounds. They had their car turned over and one sab’s jaw was smashed. On another occasion, years later, a group of peaceful sabs were ambushed and badly beaten by thugs especially drafted in by the Border Counties Otterhounds.
By the 1970s, the hunters faced a more definitive threat to their ‘sport’: they were running out of otters to hunt. A combination of hunting, habitat destruction and the use of DDT pesticides had driven the otter to the brink of extinction.
Mink Hunting Begins
In 1978 the otter finally gained protected status, despite the best efforts of the hunting lobby. Three of the nine otter packs folded, the other six suddenly claimed they would hunt the American mink. This species had become well established on Britain’s waterways since escaping from ramshackle fur farms in the 1930s and ‘40s.
Initially, the move to mink hunting was simply a tactic to preserve hunt infrastructure ‘pending a possible resumption of otter hunting’ but the idea caught on, and several new packs were established from scratch. By the 1980s there were about 18 of these hunts operating on Britain’s waterways.
Of course, this improbable overnight conversion to hunting mink foreshadowed the even more ridiculous claim that hundreds of fox and hare hunts suddenly converted to ‘trail hunting’ following the Hunting Act 2004.
What Happens On A Mink Hunt?
On a typical day, the hounds are taken on foot to a river or stream and encouraged to search the undergrowth for the scent of a mink. When the hounds find a scent, they will pursue the mink across land and water. If the poor animal seeks refuge in a burrow, it will be dug out or bolted by terriers and forced to run on; if it climbs a tree, it will be dislodged by a barrage of rocks from the hunt supporters. This stop-start pattern continues until the exhausted animal is overwhelmed and torn apart by hounds.
Of course, many so-called mink hunts also hunt otters. In 2019, sabs filmed the Culmstock Mink Hounds chasing an otter and were attacked when they bravely intervened to save the animal. The Eastern Counties Mink Hounds, too, have faced claims that their supporters are split between those who want to hunt otters and those who want to stick to mink.
Regardless of the quarry, it’s a cruel, sordid business that causes huge damage to sensitive riparian environments.
Mink Hunting and the HSA
The HSA made a concerted effort to sabotage mink hunting as much as possible in the early 1980s. This attention ensured that it has only ever been a fringe blood sport enjoyed by a tiny minority of hunters.
The early 1990s saw some of the most intense action against mink hunting, particularly the Ytene Mink Hunt. Brave sabs from the south west, often supported by colleagues coming in from hundreds of miles away, took on this notoriously violent hunt on a regular basis. Even the Ytene’s large crew of thugs, drawn from the most psychotic southern foxhunts, were unable to prevent a relentless campaign of sabbing and kennel blockades.
In recent years, the Ytene have reverted to their old otter hunting name: the Courtenay Tracy…hmmm, wonder why?
But Isn’t Mink Hunting Illegal?
Yes, but this doesn’t stop them. Because they hunt in and around water, mink hunters can’t resort to the usual ‘smokescreen’ of trail hunting. Instead, they come up with even more ridiculous excuses to mask their illegal behaviour: one hunter told sabs they were ‘dealing with nettles on the riverbank’ while another claimed to be hunting ‘rabbits’ while standing thigh-deep in a river.
With the police not interested in enforcing the Hunting Act, hunt sabs are the only hope for our persecuted wildlife.
Mink Hunting This Summer
With no blood sports since January, we know that mink hunting is likely to more popular than usual amongst the hunters this summer. If you have any information on mink or otter hunting – no matter how small – or if you witness a hunt in progress, please call our tip-offline on 07443 148426.
You shop ‘em, we’ll stop ‘em.