Number 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.
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.
A 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 Servants
The 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”.
This 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 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.
“Slot” – track of the deer
“Bye meet” – the staghunt equivalent to cubhunting (early July to mid-August)
STAG AND DEER HUNT TACTICS
Stag 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 woods
This 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.
Never venture alone at night – if you are injured, and this can happen very easily, you could remain there for days before being found, so always let somebody know the route you will take. There is also the threat of a clash with deer poachers, as they are a regular feature of stag hunting areas.