Terrier Work: The Soft Underbelly Of Illegal Fox Hunting

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Following a number of recent scandals, hunting’s governing body – the British Hound Sports Association – has announced a ‘review’ of terrier work. But what is this secretive practice and why is it so important to the criminal fox hunters?

Scum: just your average terrier crew.
Scum: just your average terrier crew.

Fox Hunting

At first sight, fox hunting looks like the random pursuit of foxes across the countryside…let a pack of hounds loose and hope for the best.

The reality is very different: fox hunting is, in fact, a highly organised, pre-meditated activity, designed to guarantee the pursuit of foxes for the enjoyment of paying subscribers. Hunt terriermen play a crucial role in this process behind the scenes. 


Terriermen are a familiar sight on fox hunts. They travel on quad bikes which allow them easy access to the woods and fields where they ply their grim trade. Typically, there is a grilled box on the front of the quad containing a couple of terriers, with a longer box on the back for their tools: spades, digging bars, drainage rods, nets, and other equipment.

Terriermen are essential to illegal fox hunting.
Terriermen are essential to illegal fox hunting.

Earth Stopping

It is totally unnatural for a predator like a fox to run for extended periods. Their first line of defence when hunted is to ‘go to earth’ – to seek refuge underground. But this is a serious impediment to the fox hunters, who want to enjoy the spectacle of a terrified fox being hunted across open fields.

The first job of the terriermen is therefore to trap foxes above ground on the day of the hunt. They achieve this by visiting all known fox earths, badger setts, and other potential refuges the night before the hunt and ‘stopping’ them – filling them in – with earth or other material.

The next day, the hunted fox will make for a known refuge, find it blocked, and be forced to run on, thus producing the extended chase that the subscribers are paying for.

Going equipped: note spade, terrier locator collar, and red receiver box.
Going equipped: note spade, terrier locator collar, and red receiver box.

Terrier Work

Despite the best efforts of the ‘earth stoppers’, a hunted fox may eventually find an unblocked refuge during the course of the hunt. Again, this is an interruption to the subscriber’s ‘sport’ and, again, terriermen are crucial to getting the day back on track.

Brutalised terriers are sent into the hole to locate the fox and attack her underground. These days, terriers are fitted with a locator collar that transmits their exact location back to the terriermen above ground. While the terrier savages the fox, the terriermen will dig down – often several feet – to expose their terrified victim.

Avon Vale Video

The recent video of the Avon Vale Hunt abusing two foxes is a good illustration of what happens next. Either the fox is pulled from her refuge and fed to the hounds – as happened with the Avon Vale’s first victim – or the poor animal is bolted and forced to run on – as happened with the second fox. Either way, it’s a dirty and wholly illegal business.

Avon Vale huntsman and terrierman work together to torture foxes.
Avon Vale huntsman and terrierman work together to torture foxes.

In this 2022 footage from Reading Hunt Sabs, the Avon Vale Hunt terriermen can be seen attempted to dig out a fox that has been chased to ground in a badger sett. The presence of sabs thwarted the dig out.

‘The Soft Underbelly’

Hunt sabs jokingly refer to terriermen as the ‘soft underbelly’ of fox hunting. We take this phrase from Hunting Office Director Mark Hankinson’s description of terriermen in the now-infamous ‘smokescreen’ webinars. Hankinson knew that their presence on a supposed ‘trail’ hunt, was one of the most obvious indicators of illegal fox hunting.

It seems that even the Hunting Office – now rebranded as the BHSA – has finally understood that no one believes that tooled-up terriermen attend hunts to ‘mend fences’. The BHSA review of terrier work is a last-ditch attempt to save their cruel and illegal ‘sport’.

But it’s too little, too late – the credibility of the BHSA and hunting lies in tatters.

Terriers are victims of the hunters too.
Terriers are victims of the hunters too.

A HSA spokesperson commented, “Terriermen are the scum of the earth. They brutalise their own terriers, delight in torturing foxes, and are routinely involved in other illegal blood sports such as badger baiting. When not attacking animals, they attack hunt sabs…but usually end up regretting it!

Terrier work plays a crucial role in both fox hunting and the illegal summer bloodsport of mink and otter hunting – neither of these activities can proceed without terriers. 

Of course, we know that the hunters will respond to the BHSA edict with a whole new set of ruses and deceptions. But we also know that hunt sabs will be on hand to expose their criminality and stop their cruelty in its tracks.”

Help us to fight the cruelty of terrier work by joining the HSA here.

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