Strong Coffee And Citronella – The Dawn Disgrace That Is Cub Hunting

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cub hunting
Image courtesy of Peterborough Hunt Sabs

From the late summer harvest onwards, as soon as local conditions allow, until the beginning of the “season” for fox hunting, hunts will be engaged in cub hunting as often as they are able. For some packs this could be every single day and is a side of hunting very rarely seen by the public due to the early starts, and more low key meets.

“Cubhunting should begin the very moment the state of the harvest will allow, and should be pursued relentlessly, no matter how hard the ground may be”

Hunting The Fox, Lord Willoughby de Broke

What is it?

Cub hunting (or autumn hunting as it had become to be known by some in the late 20th Century, even before the ban) is the time reserved in the hunting calendar for the hunt staff to train hounds in the skill of finding and killing foxes and dispersing the survivors for improved hunting over the later season..

New entrants to the pack, and there will be many each year to replace the older dogs dispensed with by the huntsman’s gun, require extensive training to properly function as hunting hounds.

“It cannot be too often repeated that the primary objective of Cubhunting is to teach young hounds to hunt, and in addition to complete the education of the last years entry”

Hunting The Fox, Lord Willoughby de Broke

On a morning cub hunt, the huntsman selects a covert where a litter of foxes is known to reside. The purpose of the hunt is training, and nothing is achieved if cub hunting is attempted where there are no foxes. The hunt will aim to kill at least one or two foxes on every outing, to reward the training in the new hounds.

Image courtesy of Peterborough Hunt Sabs

“The first morning you take out the young entry, go straight to a covert where you are certain there is a litter, and if you know of one in a small spinney that is not a regular draw in the season, it is the very thing you want. You must use every means in your power to catch a cub, and do whatever you think most likely to attain that end”

Thoughts On Hunting, Peter Beckford

Why does it happen?

The very fact that cub hunting is practised at all, tells us several things. Firstly, that the hunt clearly have fox hunting in mind. There can be no possible need to set a 4am alarm to meet at a rarely visited covert or spinney, and simply stand around while hounds race around inside baying, unless it is for training them in fox hunting. If fox hunting had been genuinely abandoned after the Hunting Act came into force in 2005, then cub hunting would have been a distant memory. ‘Trail hunting’, if it ever existed, is not found in a misty wood at sunrise.

Secondly, the practise of cub hunting disproves the frequent claim that hounds hunting foxes are “doing what comes naturally”. Cub hunting represents an intensive training period which if not carried out as intended, results in a poor pack unable to hunt foxes effectively.

“It is essential that hounds should have their blood up and learn to be savage with their fox before he is killed. A sleeping cub killed by two or three enquiring hounds is of no use whatsoever to the rest of the pack, and nothing will have been learnt”

Fox Hunting, The Duke of Beaufort

Of course, hounds that fail to learn and display the required ability and savagery during cub hunting, are of no use to a working pack, and will be dispatched by the gun, just as the older hounds are.

How to identify it

cub hunting
Image courtesy of Peterborough Hunt Sabs

Cub hunting takes place usually in the early daylight hours, the conditions required are cool air and a knowledge that the foxes being targeted are likely to be in their home covert. Followers, mounted or on foot, will line the edges of the wood or crop field being hunted, and they will be fewer in number than seen at a meet in the main season. This lining up practise, is referred to as ‘holding up’ and is intended to keep their quarry within the covert.

Open chases across the fields are not the objective of cub hunting, rather the hounds are expected to spend a significant amount of time in the same place until they kill their fox. For this reason, a cub hunting ‘meet’ may only cover one or two coverts in a morning. Once the temperature becomes too warm, with hounds panting, then scenting is impaired and the ideal time for hunting has passed.

Followers lining outside of the covert are instructed to make sounds which discourage fox cubs from leaving the area the hounds are hunting.

“If holding up is done, it should be done quietly; the tapping of a stick, or the clap of a hand, is often sufficient.”

Thoughts on Hunting, Peter Beckford

What does the law say?

There is no mention of cub hunting in the Hunting Act, however none of the usual excuses for hunting can be used to fob off the public. Hound exercise although often claimed, is a poor alibi since the hounds are simply searching inside a wood. Trail hunting could not possibly take place since nobody is following any trails, and any pack which uses a bird of prey as a smokescreen are on very shaky ground indeed!

How to sab cub hunting

The key to successfully sabotaging a cub hunt is prior knowledge of the meet. Once the key covert is known, it can be pre sprayed before the hunt which renders the entire morning of hunting pointless. If no sprays are available, then simply walking noisily through the covert may be enough to flush away any foxes (known as pre beating) which should give the hunt a fruitless morning.

As with all hunt sabotage, distracting the hounds is the most powerful tool at the hunt sabs’ disposal.

“Bad noise has probably saved more foxes than anything else for it distracts hounds, especially young hounds, and breaks their concentration. Shouting gets hounds’ heads up when they should be on the ground, smelling, which leads us to the second reason for the failure – foil. If hounds spend too long going backwards and forwards over the same ground, that ground becomes foiled. This simply means that the whole covert will stink of hound, which will effectively mask the scent of the fox”

Thoughts on Hunting, Peter Beckford


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