Staghunting with packs of dogs

The hunting of red deer with packs of dogs was a game invented many years ago. It took place on and around Exmoor in Devon and Somerset, England.

It was banned by the Hunting Act 2004 on grounds of cruelty but the hunts continue. They do so by using just two dogs running in relays to pursue the deer and by conducting so-called "scientific research".

Staghunting with dogs was cruel by design and cruel by calculation. The dogs used were bred not for the speed that might produce a quick kill but rather for the stamina that guaranteed the lengthy chase, and thereby the fun, that the supporters seek.

The 1911 Protection of Animals Act, if interpreted in common parlance, would 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 many years.

The hunt

Staghunting existed in three phases. The Autumn stags with the big spread of antlers, the finest males, were hunted from August to the end of October. Male deer are particularly vulnerable during their October rut when their exertions exhaust them. The hinds were hunted November to February inclusive. They were pregnant the whole time. Finally, spring stags were hunted in March and April.

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. If the quarry tired too early and the hunt followers had seen little fun, attempts were made to whip the exhausted deer on in order to prolong the entertainment. Hunts could last for hours and cover many miles. The deer were pursued not only by the dogs but also by riders, motorcyclists, 4WD vehicles and cars. Supporters used binoculars, mobile phones and radios to track their quarry and then coordinate action to prevent the fleeing deer finding sanctuary.

The resulting trauma to the deer was well documented. The Burns Inquiry stated : “There seems to be a large measure of agreement among the scientists that, at least during the last 20 minutes or so of the hunt, the deer is likely to suffer as glycogen depletion sets in.

The kill

Eventually the victim tired and stood at bay, usually in a stream. This phase generated extreme excitement and delight amongst the followers. With the advent of video cameras in the hands of conservationists, it has also provided vivid images of cruelty. The dogs would try to attack and savage the deer. Fearing public condemnation for their blatant savagery the hunters took steps to hide the kill from public view. Conservationists trying to film the kill were frequently attacked. Hinds were particularly vulnerable at the end of the hunt. They were pregnant, lacked antlers with which to keep the dogs at bay and often ran beside their previous years calf.

Here is some film taken by Mike Huskisson at the end of a stag hunt in 1981. Mike was working undercover, pretending to be a hunt supporter in order to gather proof of the cruelty inherent in hunting. This film was silent super-8 Cine film:-

Here is film taken by Mike Huskisson of the end of another stag hunt the following Spring. On this occasion the young stag cheated his tormentors of the pleasure of killing him when he tried to jump a hedge, caught his feet on the top and flipped over onto the road, breaking his neck:-

Cruel means of control

To justify their obvious cruelty staghunt supporters claimed to be involved in “pest control”. Vulnerable farming practices can be protected by deer fencing makingn it debatable how much real damage deer cause. Seventeen out of every twenty deer culled in the west country of England are culled by marksmen whose aim is a quick kill. The remaining three are killed by the hunt whose goal is a protracted kill to have fun. The Burns Inquiry found that stalking is : “in principle the better method of culling deer from an animal welfare perspective”. The humane method of deer population control is through birth control techniques.

Humane alternatives

The obvious humane alternative to hunting deer for hours on end is to use the same dogs 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 staghunting as the route is controlled. Deer used to flee anywhere. Into gardens, amongst livestock, over roads etc. At such times the hunt frequently lost control. Pets and livestock could be harassed or killed by rioting dogs.

Draghunting could be enhanced to better simulate staghunting with the guile of a man, rather than the terror of the deer, 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, would provide a real boost for the rural economy.


The Hunting Act 2004 should be strengthened so that all pursuit of deer with dogs is banned by law. Red deer, as with all mammals in Britain, should be fully protected from unnecessary suffering.

Video evidence

This film of the Devon and Somerset Staghounds killing a spring stag on April 3rd 1999 was taken by a member of the New Forest Animal Protection Group (NFAPG). The hunters did their best to block or stop the filming to keep the savage cruelty from being seen by the outside world. Hunting like this was banned by the Hunting Act 2004 but the hunts now use a variety of exemptions to carry on their brutal pastime -- and they still hunt and kill red deer. The hunting season lasts from August to April. David Cameron is determined to repeal the Hunting Act as soon as he can -- doing so will make this gruesome cruelty fully legal again.

Staghunters claimed their dogs never touched the live deer - see the truth for yourself thanks to the courage of the NFAPG hunt monitor who filmed this.

Here is another view of the same incident taken by a second monitor from the NFAPG:-

And here is a third view of the same incident recorded by a third NFAPG monitor. Recognise and salute the courage of this female NFAPG hunt monitor: "I can't cope with this....they're so cruel" she cries - and yet she carries on filming so that you can see what really happened at the end of a staghunt.

Here is a report by an ACIG investigator of a day spent undercover with a stag hunt:-


The meet was held at the Portsmouth Arms pub on the A377. The weather conditions were good through most of the day though it rained on and off in the afternoon.

The meet was very well attended with 50+ cars and a number of families with children. There were 14 riders and 2 red coats. One stag was killed at the end of the day, at 3.30p.m.

The hunt moved off at 11.30a.m.. Followers in cars were reminded by a hunt lady to keep out of wooded areas to avoid disturbing pheasants. We were also asked to help stop the stag from running into areas they could not go into but apart from that not to stop the stag. The initial draw took place in the wooded area near Hacknell. Followers fanned out into the back lanes to act as spotters.

Two stag were soon flushed from this area and headed towards Northcote Manor followed by the hunt.

I moved to an area of high ground by Northcote Manor and learned that the hunt were following a stag that was in woods near Kingford. The stag though doubled back and crossed the open ground to Upcott. By this time supporters in cars were in this area and the stag was forced into the valley below my position followed by the hounds. From my position on the rim of the valley I saw the stag break cover 300 yards away, it was though forced back into the wood by a large party of followers.

However, with the hounds behind it, it was forced from cover near me and I took a number of photos as the stag broke through our lines and headed back towards the Portsmouth Arms with the hounds following.

There followed a quiet period in which it was thought the stag had crossed the river.

At 1.30p.m. though the stag was once again flushed out of cover near Hacknell and headed towards Hill Farm. The hunt then moved from Hill Farm to Kings Hill, then Churchlands to Bircham.

At all times the car followers were vital to the hunt by showing where the hunt had crossed the road. From Bircham the hunted stag moved between Cleave and Golland with supporters moving ahead to stop it entering Ash Wood. It then ran from Horsford Cross towards Horridge where there is a large deer farm. All roads surrounding this area were soon filled with car followers.

I positioned myself at Dunsham then Chittlehampton. I could see little from that position though so I headed down towards the river Tarr intending to complete the circle and come back to Ashreigny to see if any of the hunt supporters had any further information. Whilst doing this I was told that the hunt had killed the stag near the road above Horridge. A female supporter told me that the stag had become entangled in the wire of the deer farm and had been shot by the owner.

I then found the dead stag lying in a field surrounded by hunt supporters. The guts were fed to the hounds. The slots were taken along with other trophies and then the carcase was loaded into the back of a pick-up and driven away.

The hunt spokeswoman told me not to take photographs and there was some hostility to my presence at this scene, though none of it open.

ACIG Investigator RH

October 1990