Foxhunting with packs of dogs

This was banned by the Hunting Act 2004 on grounds of cruelty. Hunting foxes with packs of dogs was a game that was invented many years ago. It was cruel by design and cruel by calculation. The dogs used were bred not for the speed that might have produced a quick kill but rather for the stamina that guaranteed the lengthy chase the supporters sought. There were no instant kills. Some kills occurred quicker than others. All were designed to be protracted to entertain.

The 1911 Protection of Animals Act, if interpreted in common parlance, could have banned this cruel pastime long ago. Scandalously, a specific exemption barred “wild animals” from being construed as “animals” within the meaning of this Act. This anomaly allowed the cruelty inherent in this amusement to continue for years.

The hunt

Foxhunting used to run, depending on the area, from August/September to March/April. This encompasses the breeding season. Vixens were hunted when pregnant and nursing their cubs.

Foxhunting started with cubhunting. This phase of the game taught the participants the “rules”. Puppies to hunt as a pack, kill foxes and be savage with their victims. Foxes to fear the sounds of the hunt and to run for their lives, thereby providing entertainment later in the season.

Here is a short video clip showing cubhunting at the Quorn foxhounds in 1991. A fox tries to flee the wood but is driven back by a hunt rider and foot followers:-

Here is another clip from the Quorn foxhounds on the same day showing a young fox being bolted from the earth where he sought sanctuary:-

Common foxhunting started early in November. The dogs were mostly followed by riders but in more inaccessible areas on by supporters foot. Wherever possible steps were taken to block any holes where fleeing foxes might seek refuge. The game focused on the contest between the Huntsman wielding his dogs to follow the scent left by the tiring quarry, and the frantic escape attempts of the latter to escape.

The kill

Sometimes foxes were caught by the dogs above ground. There could be a fight between the fox and the lead dog but if the pack were there in force their victim was soon dismembered. Many foxes succeeded in finding refuge below ground. Terriers were then entered to their sanctuary to bait them. The fox could be killed by the terriers, shot, evicted, or left injured. Traditionally this climax to the game of foxhunting attracted great interest and support but in latter years, with the advent of video cameras used by conservationists, it provided vivid images of cruelty. Fearing increasing pressure for abolition foxhunters changed their rules to hide the cruelty of terrierwork from public view and sanitise it. However terriers operated beyond the realm of rules and at the interface between terrier and fox in the dark tunnel, the conflict was as bloody as ever.

Here is some film of the end of a dig-out at the Quorn foxhounds in 1991:-

Not pest control

To justify their obvious cruelty some foxhunt supporters claimed to be involved in “pest control”. The facts shouted otherwise. Many foxhunters encouraged foxes by feeding them and building homes, (“artificial earths”), for foxes to breed in. The Burns Inquiry was damning : “The active use of artificial earths, with a view to hunting, is inconsistent with the stated objective of controlling fox numbers through hunting.” Foxhunting with dogs had little impact on the fox population but for individual foxes caught up in the game caused immense suffering. The Burns Inquiry, after exhaustive study, found that foxhunting “seriously compromises the welfare of the fox”.

Humane alternative

People campaigning for the abolition of the cruel pastime of foxhunting lobbied hard for it to be replaced by the humane alternative. Packs of dogs can easily be taught to hunt the scent of a person fleeing or of a trailed rag. Aside from being humane there is none of the mayhem associated with foxhunting as the route is controlled. Foxes obviously would flee anywhere. Into gardens, over roads, railway lines etc. At such times the hunt frequently lost control. Pets and livestock could be harassed or killed by rioting dogs.

Draghunting can be enhanced to better simulate foxhunting with the guile of a man, rather than the terror of the fox, pitted against the Huntsman. Clay pigeon shooting, once derided as a poor replacement for shooting live pigeons released from traps, now thrives whilst the latter was banned. Likewise humane hunting, with no animal quarry and the only missing element being digging-out, can provide a real boost for the rural economy.