A review of Staghunting literature

This review of the Staghunting literature was written years before the Hunting Act 2004:-


A Review of the Literature.

Now any review of the literature under the above topic is potentially enormous. It is also potentially enormously boring if it amounts to no more than a list of the Masters of the hunt, the notable meets and the notable runs of the deer. That would be boring if done over just one season, let alone 200 seasons!

Accordingly I have decided to break it up into sections. Essentially the review is an account of the persecution of red deer in this area by man. As such we need to look at the two sides in this "conflict", the red deer and those who hunt them.

Red Deer.

According to H.N. Southern in The Handbook of British Mammals published in 1964 the Red Deer Cervus elaphus has a range covering the Palearctic Region as far as Manchuria and reaching into Oriental Region along the southern slopes of the Himalayas. (HNS page 411) Noel Allen in Exmoor's Wild Red Deer (1990) puts the weight of an adult Exmoor stag at 300lbs and a hind at "seldom weighing over 200lbs" (NA page 5). Southern gave the weight of an English woodland stag at up to 420lbs (HNS page 412) Evered writing in 1902 in Staghunting with the Devon and Somerset reported a stag killed by the Tiverton Staghounds at Chain Bridge in the autumn of 1897 as weighing "when cleaned and dry, no less than 333lbs." (PE page 281)

Southern describes the red deer as "Normally beasts of forest, especially of forest margin." (HNS page 413)

The time of the rut is variable with Southern bracketing it between early September and mid-October. The hinds are fertile when three years old and bear their first calf the following year. (HNS page 413) The gestation period is eight months so the calves are usually born around the end of May to early June, though some have been born as late as October. (HNS page 416) Fortescue reported the killing of two heavily pregnant hinds during staghunting in August and September (despite efforts being made to save the deer) (HJF page 108) The calves are suckled for eight to ten months and remain with their mothers until the second Autumn. (HNS page 416)

There is obviously great potential for red deer to come into conflict with man. According to Southern the Forestry Commission suggest that one per 120 acres is the limit above which serious damage can occur. (HNS page 416)

Devon & Somerset history.

The history of hunting deer in these two counties can really be divided into five main phases. Phase one was the period up to 1825 when the hunters effectively hunted whatever suitable deer they could find on and around Exmoor.

Phase two was the period from 1825 to 1855 when the hunt was in conflict with the local landowners and as a consequence was a turbulent time with frequent changes of Mastership. Many deer were killed not by the hounds but were shot for food or profit. The wild red deer of the region were effectively exterminated in this period.

Phase three was the period 1855 to 1871 the first part of the Bisset Mastership in which stability returned to the management of the pack the conflict with the landowners was largely resolved and strenuous steps were taken to reinstate and enlarge the deer herd. Deer were released into the area, captured alive by the hounds and moved, particularly to colonise the Quantocks for sport.

Phase four was the period from 1871 to 1914. In this time the deer population boomed. The emphasis in hunting changed from one of preserving the deer as objects for sport to one of killing sufficient numbers to prevent the farming community becoming too irate.

Phase five was the period from 1914 to the present day. During this time questions arose as to whether the deer herd instead of being played with for sport should be managed humanely and effectively for the benefit of the deer and for the benefit of the local agricultural community. There was a rise in opposition to the cruelty of staghunting. With the formation of the League Against Cruel Sports in 1924 the hunters were forced ever more to justify their actions.

Phase one: Up to 1825.

Where the Devon and Somerset staghounds are concerned Baily's Hunting Directory lists the first Master as being Colonel Bisset from 1775 to 1784 though at this time they were known as the North Devon Staghounds (HB page 90). Deer had however been hunted locally for a considerable time prior to that. One of the earliest records I found of hunting deer with dogs in either of the counties comes from The History of Hunting by Patrick Chalmers published in 1936. Recounting the hunting exploits of Alfred the Great we learn that "In 878 we find Alfred (he is now a young man of thirty, and a proved soldier as well as a sportsman) hunting with certain officers and vassals in the forests of Somersetshire. But all we know of that woodland day is that the hunted stag escaped the hounds for a truly original reason: "The Sun becoming totally in eclipse between nones and vespers but nearer to nones," the deer "disproved the dogs." (PC page 99) Cecil Aldin writing in Exmoor, The Riding Playground Of England published in 1935 tells us that stag-hunting specifically over Exmoor is one of our oldest hunting institutions and that "the first recorded Master of Staghounds was a gentleman of the name of D'Auberville, who lived in the time of William the Conqueror." (CA page 65)

According to Macdermot in The Devon and Somerset Staghounds written in 1936 "regular hunting on Exmoor dates from 1508, when King Henry VII granted to Sir Edmund Carew of Mohun's Ottery, Devon, a lease of the forest for his life with licence for him "and all other our lieges by his authority freely to hunt and course the deer with hounds, greyhounds, bows and arrows." (ETM page 13)

In Queen Elizabeth I's reign Exmoor was hunted as a Royal Forest. Mind you the Royal forest was a strange place as it had no trees and held no deer. (ETM page 31) The Royal Forest status lasted until 1818 when the lease of the forest ran out, and an Act of Parliament was passed, enabling the Crown to sell. The property was then purchased by a Mr John Knight. (WSD page 45). Charles Palk Collyns in his Chase of the Wild Red Deer first published in 1862 reported that the earliest record he found of a pack of staghounds in Exmoor was 1598.

In 1803 the North Devon Staghounds became a subscription pack. The early and middle part of the 19th century proved a turbulent time for the hunt. In 1825, seven years after the forest was sold, the last of the true staghounds left England when the pack, about 30 couples of hounds, (CPC p14) was sold out of the country. They ended up in the kennel of a German baron. Why were the hounds sold? Palk Collyns is veiled about the reasons: "from untoward circumstances, and in consequence of dissatisfaction felt by the subscribers and landowners at the mode of conducting the hunting, arising from causes which it is not necessary to enter into now, the hunting was for a time discontinued." (page 13) Later in his book he enlarges slightly more : "But circumstances (to which I have already referred generally) had occurred shortly before the sale of the pack which had given great dissatisfaction to the proprietors of coverts, and patrons of the sport, and feelings of lukewarmness and apathy were engendered, which well-nigh proved destructive to the cause of stag-hunting altogether." (page 90) Lord Porchester in a letter to Charles Palk Collyns dated March 10th 1826 referred to "the differences that have unhappily prevailed among the sportsmen of Devonshire." (CPC page 91) Even a century after these events William Scarth-Dixon in his booklet Devon and Somerset Staghounds is no more forthcoming. He says only that "Both landowners and subscribers were very much dissatisfied at the manner in which the hunting was carried on." (WSD page 40) He is at a loss to explain why the eminent subscribers to the hunt at the time, including Lord Porchester, Sir T.D. Acland, and Sir A. Chichester and the perhaps aptly named E.P. Bastard Esq. could find no other solution other than to stop hunting altogether. Writing soon after the first world war he was particularly aggrieved that the hounds ended up with a German Baron : "When one thinks of those gallant hounds in a German forest, one cannot but say, "Oh! the pity of it!" (WSD pages 41-42) They talk about the loss of their gallant hounds, the last of the true staghounds, but just how true were they. We learn from Macdermot that in 1800, under the Mastership of Colonel Bassett "The pack was reinforced this spring by some large foxhounds from different kennels." (ETM page 39) Then when he handed over the pack to Lord Fortescue in August 1802 only 6½ couple were passed on, the rest being sold or given away. (ETM page 41) All sorts of drafts were brought in and by 1812 Lord Fortescue named only 8, i.e. 4 couple, in his kennel as pure bred staghounds.

Phase two: 1825 to 1855.

Two years after the hounds were sold, in 1827, Sir Arthur Chichester formed a new pack made up of large drafts from different kennels of fox-hounds and hunted the area until 1833 after which the hunt country remained unhunted for 4 years. As to why Sir Arthur Chichester gave up Charles Palk Collyns only says : "from some cause or another the worthy baronet gave up the hounds". (page 90)

In 1837 Mr Palk Collyns reorganised the hunt taking in drafts of hounds from various sources including six couples from Her Majesty's stag-hounds. He christened his pack the Devon and Somerset Staghounds. (ETM page 18) He kept it going until 1841 when funds failed. From 1842 to 1847 Lord Portsmouth, the Hon. Newton Fellowes, kept the hunt going. Charles Palk Collyns says that many good runs were had during that period but he was also critical : "the omission to observe the good old rule of 'tufting' for the deer, and a practice of drawing coverts with the whole pack, occasioned the death of many an 'unwarrantable' stag, as well as deer out of season, and caused considerable dissatisfaction among the landed proprietors who countenanced the ancient sport, and lent their aid to the preservation of the deer." (pages 94-95) Various gentlemen then took over the management of the hunt. In the autumn of 1849 Mr Theobald brought his own pack, used to hunting deer in the Cheltenham country, to Exmoor. He only stayed two months and killed three deer. (ETM page 18)

Phase three: 1855 to 1871.

Stability returned with the Mastership of Mr F. Bisset, commencing in 1855. He was a shooting man from Berkshire who according to Macdermot "knew nothing of staghunting" (ETM page 18) He controlled the hunt for 26 years a time during which considerable efforts were made to increase the stock of deer. Alfred Vowles in Stag-hunting on Exmoor (1920) tells us : "The deer during this time increased rapidly and were preserved with zealous care, while all the poachers were brought to bay or hounded out in dire disgrace never to return." (AV page 10)

Phase four: 1871 to 1914.

Bisset continued until 1881 when in failing health he resigned the Mastership. Near the end of his tenure disaster befell the hunt when in January 1879 there was an outbreak of rabies and the whole pack had to be destroyed. More about that later. (WSD page 50). Bisset was succeeded by Lord Ebrington a pupil of the Rev. Jack Russell and a member of the Fortescue family. He retired in 1887 and was succeeded by Mr Basset. (WSD page 50) He was followed by Colonel Hornby in 1893 who kept the Mastership until 1895. His successor Mr Sanders, who reigned until 1907 faced with complaints over the rapidly rising deer population increased the number of hunting days from three to four each week. (PE page 32). His place was taken by Mr Stanley who came from the Quantocks. He lasted a couple of years as did his successor Captain Adkins. (ETM page 22) He was followed by Major Grieg who was Master from 1912 to 1914 when he went off to war. He was killed landing in Gallipoli in October 1915. (ETM page 22)

Phase five: 1914 to present day.

Hunting was carried on during the first two years of the war by a Committee and then for the last two by a Mr Badco who seems to have been simply passing by and thought it a good idea to Master a pack of staghounds. (ETM page 22) He was succeeded by Colonel Wiggin who remained in position until 1935. The Hancocks and Abbotts then took over and kept the hunt going through the second world war. There then follows a whole assortment of different individual, Committees and the like until we end up with the present incumbents, Scott, Scott and Lycett Green.

History of Exmoor Forest since 1818.

In 1818 the major part of the old Exmoor Forest was an empty wilderness with but one house, a small farm and just five people living therein. (HB page 135) John Knight from Worcestershire purchased this so-called 'King's Allotment', totalling 10,262 acres (HB page 116), for £50,000 in August 1818. He then bought out those neighbours who had acquired large slices of the old forest as awards in lieu of ancient rights. He bought Sir Charles Bampfylde's south western allotment of 1,880 acres. He paid Sir Thomas Acland 5,555 guineas for his north eastern allotment of 3,200 acres. He also bought the manor of Brendon that carried with it Sir Arthur Chichester's allotment and he bought several other smaller allotments as well. By 1820 he had acquired some 15,500 acres, nearly three-quarters of the whole area of the original forest. (HB page 119).

The Exmoor Forest is but a tiny part of the present day Exmoor National Park. The latter covers 265 square miles or 165,000 acres, two-thirds in Somerest and the rest in Devon. (NA page 13)

Hunt kennels.

In the late 1700's under Sir Thomas Acland the pack was kennelled at Highercombe. (HB page 92) The hounds were kennelled at Castle Hill from 1812 to 1818. (HJF page 4). The hunt kennels up to 1861 were at Jury close to Dulverton. The pack was then moved into the Rhyll Kennels, four miles west of Dulverton. (CPC page 70) In 1876 the Master at the time, Mr Bisset erected the kennels at Exford and presented them to the Committee. (AV page 10). Alfred Vowles writing in 1920 referred to two packs being kennelled at Exford "one of big hounds and the other of smaller--each taking it in turn to hunt." (AV page 13)

What is hunted and when.

The hounds hunt stags or hinds according to the different times of the year. The stag, or warrantable deer, is a male deer in his fifth year. (WSD page 18) Charles Palk Collyns noted that in his day "The period for stag-hunting commences on the 12th of August, and ends the 8th of October;" (page 63) He recommended that after the 8th October "the hounds should be kennelled for a fortnight or three weeks while the hinds are engaged with the stag," He then envisaged a division of the hind-hunting season with a break after Christmas to protect the hounds from water-hunting in the cold weather. When recommenced hind-hunting then continued until the 10th of May. He recommended that in the autumn hunting a barren hind be selected. He also considered allowing the hounds to hunt one or two hinds about the end of July to sharpen the pack up. He had no doubt that "the eagerness of the pack will be materially increased by giving them blood." (page 64)

The one-armed Mr C.H. Basset who took on the Mastership in 1887 introduced the practice of hunting stags in the spring. (ETM page 19) Clearly the duration of autumn staghunting was also being extended. Evered in 1902 refers to Friday October 25th 1893 as being the last day of the "legitimate season". Even so they hunted on the next day, the Saturday, and killed a "magnificent deer". (PE page 146) By the time of W. Scarth-Dixon writing in Devon and Somerset Staghounds 1925-26 the seasons had changed again. Staghunting still commenced about August 12th but then ended "about the middle of October". Hind-hunting then began at the beginning of November and went on until the first week in March. Spring staghunting started the last week of March and went on "for about three weeks." (WSD page 16) Scarth-Dixion was scathing about the previous practice of hunting hinds well into May : "this was very objectionable as the hinds were very heavy in calf before the season closed." (WSD page 16) According to H.J. Marshall, Nicholas Snow, the Squire of Oare who perhaps did as much as anyone to reintroduce deer into the area, was against the concept of spring staghunting : "Now this spring staghunting disturbs the hinds just in the critical time, when they have settled down for their calving: and we want to keep them quiet. Depend upon it, Mr Marshall, the more deer are 'leared' in Badgworthy, the better the sport in years to come. And to do that we must keep Badgworthy quiet in April." (HJM page 43) Alfred Vowles writing just previous to William Scarth-Dixon referred to hindhunting extending from the beginning of November to the middle of March. He also referred to : "Bye meets, stag-hunting, July (to train puppies)" and allocated 2 weeks for this practice. (AV page 12).

In the 1932-33 season the Quantock staghounds commenced on August 2nd and the DSSH on August 3rd, though the latter had been out several times from July 22nd. (CS Sept 1932 page 76) Nowadays big stags of five-years-old and older are hunted from the middle of August until the end of October. There is then a break of about a fortnight in early November after which hinds are hunted until the end of February. Young stags of about three-years-old are hunted from early March until the end of April. (Vive La Chasse pages 100-101).

The question of when hinds have their calves has caused some interest to hunting folk for many years now. Clarles Palk Collyns in the Chase of the Wild Red Deer first published in 1862 reported two incidents of hinds ready to give birth in September. "The second instance occurred in September 1853, when Captain West was hunting the country. He had tufted a long time at Culbone, the seat of Lord Lovelace, but had not been successful in finding an old stag, which was known to frequent those coverts, when a hind broke, and the field being impatient for a gallop, urged the master to lay on the hounds. It was objected by some who had viewed the hind that she appeared big with calf, but the idea was scouted, as being contrary to all probability. The hounds were laid on, and after a fast burst to Oare, Badgeworthy, Brendon Common, Farleigh and Watersmeet, near Lynmouth, the hind was killed, and was found to have a fine male calf in her." (page 46) Clearly the hunt were used to hunting hinds that were heavily pregnant. Palk Collyns refers to an enormous leap taken by a hind to try and escape the pack. She failed but clearly amazed the hunters with her effort : "What makes it more extraordinary is, that on being paunched, a calf was taken from her almost able to stand." (CPC page 155) Sometimes the hinds were hunted with their calves. On August 18th 1819 the hunt met at Porlock and we learn : "In Berry Castle they found a hind and calf, and as the hounds wanted blood, the pack was laid on under Buckethole." The hind ended up taking to sea and before the hunt could arrange a boat "a sloop going up Channel saw her, and put out a boat, caught her, and carried her away." (CPC page 200). What happened to the calf is unreported.

Suffering of the deer.

The deer could suffer in several ways at the hands of the hunters. They could be attacked by the hounds before being killed by the hunt in a variety of ways. They could die from their exertions, particularly at sea, they could become exhausted and the herd structure could be disrupted. Perhaps the most dramatic disruption for individual deer was the separation of the hinds from their calves.

Attacked by the hounds :

This could obviously happen on many occasions when the deer were subsequently killed by other agencies. Fortescue details a particularly grusome incident that occurred in the season of 1885. "a stag turned to bay in the doorway of an outhouse and no doubt thought himself unassailable, but the hounds went straight at him and pulled him out like terriers drawing a badger-- a thing quite unprecedented, and not it is hoped to be repeated." (HJF page 162) There was abundant evidence that the hounds attacked the deer if they could. Evered recounts the death of "a real forest king" from the meet on Monday August 27th 1894. The end came under Honacott. "A lemon-coloured hound called Sovereign seized this stag by the flank, and never released his hold though carried for some distance through the air." (PE page 158) Modern hunters deny that their hounds ever touch the deer but the earlier authors were more truthful. Evered recounts the end of a hunt : "now his course was run, hounds rapidly overhauled him, and in the home pasture of Winstitchen Farm they fairly bowled him over in the open.." (PE page 175)

Fortescue had referred to deer being "rolled over" almost as if they were foxes. He tells us "There are instances of both stags and hinds being rolled over in the open, and it sometimes happens that a good number in some seasons are killed on dry land; but while a hind, being defenceless, is sometimes killed before she can reach the nearest water, a stag can generally fight his way down to it." (HJF pages 157-158)

Archibald Hamilton in The Red Deer of Exmoor published in 1907 detailed the end of a hind hunt from a day at Brendon Two Gates on February 28th 1903 : "she dashed down the hill with the pack at her haunches into Dunster town, where she was pulled down right against the gates of Dunster Castle at 3.5p.m. (AH page 117)

How were the deer killed.

How were the deer killed? They have been killed by the hounds, knifed to death or shot by the hunters or killed by hangers-on, they could be drowned or killed by falls over cliffs. They may also have died as a result of capture myopathy this is the condition whereby forced exercise has been known to cause wild animals to exhibit certain manifestations that result in paralysis and death. (J. sth. Afr. Wildl. Mgmt. Ass. 1974. 4 (1) 25-28)

Killed by the hounds :

The Appendix at the back of Charles Palk Collyns's book details some interesting incidents. On September 20th 1780 from a meet at Bratton the stag ended up : "in view over Woodburrow and Furzehill Common ; here, on leaping over the ditch wall, one of the hounds seized him by the hock, and was dragged over the field ; the pack soon pulled him down, and he was killed after a very fine chase." (CPC pages 167-168) One wonders whether the deer was killed by hound or human hand. That they could be killed by hound was shown by an incident mentioned by Palk Collyns that occurred on April 27th 1789 : "before reaching Alderman's Burrow, a dense fog came on, the hounds were lost and two days after the head and part of the carcase of a fine old stag was discovered on Exmoor, evidently killed and eaten by the hounds." (CPC pages 171-172) A similar fate befell a hind on May 4th that year : "The meet was Porlock; the hind at once faced the open country, and such was the pace over Exmoor, that no horse could live with the hounds ; the consequence was, that before any of the sportsmen could catch them, they had killed and eaten their deer." (CPC page 172)

In the Appendix to his book Fortescue reports the end of a hind hunt from Doone Valley on November 15th 1884 "Fresh found their hind, ran her on to Tennerleigh, pointing for Westland Pound, but turned to the left near Whitefield allotment, and again to the left over Wollhangar, killing her in the dark in Farley Water, high up in the combe. Not a soul with them." (HJF page 271) One can but guess how death came to her.

Knifed to death :

Fortescue describes the end of the hunt : "Occasionally a stag is lassoed, and so taken, but as a rule some one or two men go up to him in the water when his attention is distracted by the hounds and take him literally with finger and thumb........The stag must of course be approached from behind, as it would be certain death to attack him in front. His horns must be seized when his head is laid back and jammed down on to his shoulders. He is then powerless, and may be dragged ashore if there be men enough for the work, or thrown and stabbed to the heart there and then. The strength in a stag's neck is enormous, and a very old stag has been seen to hurl two strong men who handled him injudiciously, far in front of him. It is rare for men to be hurt by a stag, though two men were roughly handled by a very savage one in 1883." (HJF pages 159-160)

Writing in 1902 Evered had referred to the use of the huntsman's knife. (PE page 145) The same author writes of the end of the hunt : "The workmen on certain farms have exceptional opportunities of assisting at the taking of deer, and inasmuch as a pair of wet legs is always handsomely rewarded, there is no little enthusiasm displayed when the hunted animal comes to his final stand still. While the chase is in full swing, one is often met with the anxious enquiry "Is he nearly run up!" and if the reply be in the affirmative tools are cast hastily aside and hobnailed boots go pounding down the waterside track to the accompaniment of much hard breathing and many a hoarse ejaculation. Then, when the weir pool is being lashed into foam, and the hounds are plunging in on all sides to the assistance of their luckier and more adventurous kennel mates that have been first to come to close grips with the stag, brawny arms are stretched through the leafy alder boughs, the brown many pointed horns are seized as they turn with some anxious movement of the mighty head, and with a heave and a shove and a lusty shout three full hundredweight of resisting venison are lifted up the muddy, slippery, dripping bank to the shelving green sward where the huntsman waits." (PE pages 284-287)

Hamilton describes the end thus : "the main arteries above the heart are severed, and insensibility and death result in a very few moments." (AH page 100)

Shot :

This is the "modern" method of killing the deer, it was introduced in 1929. (HPH page 15) As we know all too well from video evidence such as that acquired by Kevin Hill it can lead to a great deal of suffering.

Drowned :

The deer could also be drowned. They could be drowned by their own exertions, by the hounds or by the hand of man. We are told by Palk Collyns of an incident in 1797 when "After a brilliant run with a hind, she went to sea at Coscombe, between Porlock and Lynmouth. Old 'Aimwell' leapt on her back as she took the water, and was carried out nearly a league ; the hind was drowned, but the hound swam ashore." (CPC page 181)

Evered is informative about the hounds drowing the stag : "it sometimes happens that on dashing into the sea hounds are quick enough to secure their stag before he can swim clear of them, and once out of his depth a stag is easily mastered by a couple of bold and resolute hounds, inasmuch as he can no longer use feet or antlers, and if seized by the ear is easily drowned." (PE page 266)

It seems that the deer could even be drowned by the hounds when the hounds were muzzled. In the Autumn of 1879 following a recurrence of rabies in the kennels the dogs were muzzled and there was no formal hunting between Christmas 1879 and March 1880. According to Fortescue "Throughout these three months the hounds were regularly exercised in muzzles, occasionally running a crippled deer, of which there were an unusual number in that winter. On one day a herd of hinds passed just in front of the hounds while exercising, close to Hawkcombe Head, and the whole pack broke away in different directions, finally killing two hinds in spite of the muzzles at Blackford and Horner, and being with difficulty prevented from killing two more. The streams were very high, and the muzzles did not prevent hounds from drowning their deer when they brought them to the water dead beat." (HJF page 79)

Fortescue is clear about the deer being drowned : "If he should get into deep water, where he must swim, the hounds will get on his back and drown him." (HJF page 159)

The terrified deer taking to the sea was very inconvenient for the hunt. According to Fortescue it "is very troublesome : the deer must be taken if possible when they go to sea, or they will go there every time they are pursued. So a boat has to be procured, the deer captured, blindfolded, and taken to the shore, whether fit or unfit to kill, to scare them from taking to it again." (HJF page 163)

Hunted deer taking to the sea must have been a common occurrence. Evered writing in 1902 tells us : "The swimming powers of deer are very great indeed, but they have their limits, and deer are more often drowned at sea than is supposed. The chill of the water is sufficient at times to drown a beaten deer, and it has occasionally happened that a stag or hind has been seen to drown in comparatively still water, when they might have returned with ease to the beach." (PE page 262) On the next page he adds : "Steamers, in passing up or down channel, have occasionally sighted the floating carcase of a deer that has been lost at sea in this way,"

Cecil Aldin writing in Exmoor. The Riding Playground of England published in 1935 talks of the huntsman killing the deer "with the gun he now always carries." (CA page 59) This same author is also most informative concerning the fate of the deer that take to the sea. He tells us : "At other times he may at the end take to the sea, swimming out long distances before being taken by a motor boat brought out by the fishermen of Porlock Weir, who are ready whenever they hear a hunted stag is in the neighbourhood.

One often hears complaints about this modern motor boat method of taking the stag, but when I first hunted on Exmoor the Pollards and Perkyns of the Weir went out on these occasions in a row-boat. It often took a very long time, first to get out to the swimming or floating stag--they float as easily as

they swim--and then secure him, generally by tying the legs and somehow getting him into the boat, so bringing him in alive.

I never liked this method. A fast motor boat, notwithstanding the adverse criticisms I have heard from time to time, is a much more humane and quicker way of ending the life of a hunted deer" He is graphic about how this is done : "Immediately the motor boat gets to him a rope is slipped over his antlers and the boat goes ahead at full speed for a minute or two. This pulls the stag's nostrils under water and he is drowned in a very short space of time, or, unable to struggle, one knife-thrust can be accurately made and so kill him instantly.

Tying the legs and getting a tired stag into a row-boat was not pleasant and a very spun-out operation, whereas the motor boat reaches him immediately and puts him out of action in a few seconds without any further struggling or fighting." (CA pages 80-81) Why doesn't he recommend the huntsman being there to use "the gun he now always carries"?

Falls over cliffs :

Deer could suffer in other ways at the hands of the followers. On August 15th 1855 from the meet at Brendon Barton a stag was hunted until he ended up near the beach : "He now leapt down about four feet on to the ledge of another rock, where it was impossible for the hounds to get at him ; no doubt thinking himself safe, he lay down exhausted. Severeal foot-people attempted in vain to reach him ; eventually , by throwing stones at him, he was driven off, and made a bound for the beach, a distance of sixty feet ; he so injured himself that he could not going to sea, and was easily captured." (CPC page 234)

Cruel Sports, November 1934, reports how the previous month on October 6th the stag and eight hounds were killed falling over the 120ft cliffs at Glenthorne.

Killed by hangers-on :

That deer can be killed from those who might be described as hunt hangers-on has been known for some time as shown by this incident recounted from 1798 : "A rather singular occurrence took place this spring, after a good chase with a hind from Clilfham Wood. At Bradbury, before the hounds ran up to her, the hind's throat was cut ; this was done no doubt with the view of stealing the animal, the offender not thinking the pack was so close on her. Colonel Bassett offered fifty pounds reward for information that would convict the delinquent, but no one came forward to claim the reward." (CPC page 182). Fifty pounds was an enormous sum of money in 1798!!

There have been several accounts of what happens to the deer at the end of the hunt. F.J. Snell in A Book of Exmoor wrote : "Collaring a deer, when set up by hounds, makes a great demand on a hunter's skill and resolution, and the operation is never attempted without the help of a line which is thrown over the deer's horns, and by which he is at last firmly secured. Then you will see the hounds, which hitherto have kept for the most part at a respectful distance, swarm up and bite the poor animal's nose and ears, and indeed any portion of his anatomy to which they can gain access. Once we saw a hind drown in deep water through the efforts of the vengeful dogs. A hind, having no horns, can do nothing but kick; and a stag, when in the water, will sometimes use his heels with effect in the short rushes that precede his final stand." (CS March 1934 Page 22)

The operation of using a line clearly as you can imagine caused, shall we say a degree of amusement for the hunters.

Writing in 1902 Evered recounts tales of the deer being lassoed at the end and the difficulties that could arise from this : "Some stags, especially towards October, will give their captors some awkward moments, and the author well remembers a lassoed stag turning short on the holders of the rope in a bend of the Exe under Curr Cleave, whereby they all fell hurriedly on the slippery sod, and for some anxious seconds were very much at his mercy. On another occasion in Horner the huntsman found himself obliged to mount a tree with all speed, a roped stag swinging round with such celerity that nothing but tree climbing was possible for the chance of an escape." (PE page 71)

Another account of a deer being lassoed came under the caption "Exhausted Hind Lassoed" in the Evening Standard December 16th 1929. This described the end of a hunt "The Tiverton Staghounds had hunted a hind from Haddon. When the hunt began the hind had a calf running beside it, but it left the calf sheltered in undergrowth.

Closely pursued, the hind was hunted in and out of the river Exe several times, and when exhausted it entered the river Barle, near Marsh Bridge. Because of the flooded state of the river the hounds and hunters could not reach it. The hind was eventually caught by a hunter, who threw a rope over its head. The rope was drawn tight and the animal was pulled out of the water and killed." (CS Feb 1930 page 19). What fate befell the calf was unreported.

Deer have ended up in all sorts of predicamments at the end of hunts. According to Fortescue "More than one has jumped on to the roof of a house lying under a hill and thence set all at defiance." (HJF page 162) Bisset in his journal quoted by Fortescue refers to the following outcome to the day from Raleigh Cross on November 13th 1868. The hind ended up at West Kidland Farm. "Here the hounds, which had been alone for some time, were found at a check; it was now dark (5.15) and it seemed hopeless to do more, when the hind was suddenly found to be lying on the roof of a linhay close by. Attempted to lasso her here, but she jumped off, and in spite of all endeavours some of the hounds broke away after her. Stopped all we could reach and were going home, when it was announced that the hind was on the roof again. This time we dazzled her eyes with lights, and so took her safely without a scratch. She was turned out on Hawkwell Moor the same night, duly ear-marked." (HJF page 223) The same hind was hunted again on the 26th December that year and again caught. Again she was saved and turned out "a few days later apparently alright" It was not a case of lucky three times sadly. She was captured by a shooting party at the end of January 1869, badly injured and was killed. (HJF page 223)

The difficulties caused by footfollowers thronging in at the kill have been around for a long time. 61 years ago Cecil Aldin drew attention to this "Very few of us, anyhow, enjoy seeing a kill, and the people who seem to like most this necessary part of hunting are the foot people who always seem to collect from nowhere on such occasions, and who press on the hunted animal in his last moments, sometimes hindering the huntsman in his work much more than do the riders." (CA page 82)

Exhausted deer.

That the hunting is punishing to the deer Charles Palk Collyns has no doubt. He mentions several incidents where the deer have taken to the sea or even jumped off the cliffs to escape the hounds. He considers why : " It is more than probable that, at times when the deer have sprung from the cliffs, they have done so under delusion as to the depth of the fall, caused by partial blindness, the effect of severe exertion. In most cases, however, the animal has, no doubt, taken the fatal leap while under the influence of uncontrollable fear." (pages 150-151) He mentions an incident in the Appendix on April 23rd 1845, supposed to be hind-hunting when "they fresh found, and after a fast gallop of fourteen minutes ran into a young male deer; every effort was made to save him, but he died during the night from exhaustion." (CPC page 223)

It is interesting to compare Palk Collyns's theories with those of a report by Wobeser et al in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association Vol 169 no. 9, November 1 1976 entitled Myopathy and Myoglobinuria in a Wild White-Tailed Deer. This recounts how in September 1975 a farmer in west-central Saskatchewan found a female deer lying in a field and called the authorities because he thought the deer might be rabid. The clinical findings were as follows : "When found in the field the deer, a female approximately 2½ years of age, was lying down and was oblivious to human beings, but tracks indicated that it had been circling. While the deer was being captured it passed dark brown urine. The deer crawled under a gate in the veterinary clinic during the night, but the following day was unable to rise, offered no resistance when handled, and lay quietly unrestrained in an open truck during the 3-hour trip to Saskatoon. Approximately 2 hours after arrival......the respiratory rate was irregular....deer was severely depressed....would respond to sound but appeared not to see.....the following morning the animal was comatose and died approximately 42 hours after capture." In the discussion at the end the authors say "The clinical and pathologic findings were indicative of acute myopathy........We have seen similar myopathic conditions in a pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americana) and a moose (Alces alces) that died after having been captured, and myopathy may be a more common disease in North American game animals than is generally recognized."

Another name for capture myopathy is exertional rhabdomyolysis. In A Review of Exertional Rhabdomyolysis in Wild and Domestic Animals and Man in Vet. Pathol. 14 : 314-324 (1977) the authors, Bartsch et al expand on the topic : "Exertional rhabdomyolysis is a disease with a basic pathologic process that affects many species, including man. Muscle breakdown in exertionmal rhabdomyolysis seems to be caused by more than usual exertion. The stress of capture or of a new and unusual environment also may play a causative role." (page 320)

Perhaps the most relevant case for our interest was in a report by Dr John Henshaw and Ruth Allen entitled A Case of Suspected Capture Myopathy in a West Country Red Deer in "Deer" Volume 7, no. 9, pages 466-467, 1989. In this we are told of capture myopathy "Its symptoms are variable but often dramatic and it typicaly involves rapidly occurring changes to blood chemistry and the functioning of muscles. In acute cases death is the usual result." A red deer stag calf had been found at about 7pm on 16 March 1989 by local residents close to Steart on the minor road from Timberscombe to Blagdon. On that day the Devon & Somerset Staghounds had been hunting in the region around Robin How some 3.4km to the north west of where the deer was found. It appears that the hunt split up and were running in different directions around Blagdon wood. A Timberscombe resident and companion found the stag calf just before 10pm and described the circumstances as : "The deer appeared disorientated; it took little notice of them; it had little control over its legs; it was staggering about in the lane bumping into the banks; and it could not hold up its head." The deer made no effort to run away and as it went down it was covered with a blanket and John Hicks at the time the Sanctuary Manager of the LACS was called. He collected the deer and put it on to straw in a stable at his home. "Veterinary surgeon Mr D. Elliot attended the deer, describing its condition to Mr Hicks in terms of a stress problem." He treated the deer The next day John Hicks called in Dr Henshaw and Ruth Allen. They found the following : "The deer was very unsteady on its feet with the hindquarters swaying from side to side. It was staggering around the inside of the stable, bumping into the walls. It was unable to lift its head off the ground and its forwards movements, in effect, caused it to push its nose along the floor of the stable. It appeared to be completely unaware of our presence, bumping into us as we stood there." They concluded that in all probability the deer was suffering from acute capture myopathy and they recommended that it be killed to prevent further suffering. This was done and a blood sample taken. It has been stated that a creatinine kinase (CK) or creatinine phosphokinase (CPK) value in the order of 10,000 iu/litre at 30 degrees C would be indicative of the stress effects and blood chemistry changes which occur in severe cases of capture myopathy. The blood sample from this deer revealed a CPK level of 25,600 u/l at 30 degrees C. According to the Starcross Veterinary Investigation Centre, Exeter "This high value would be consistent with acute myopathy."

Henshaw and Allen were keen to point out that not all deer were affected by myopathy. "Deer are not consistent in their susceptibility to capture myopathy and in New Zealand it was noted that a hind pursued by a helicopter for 12 miles showed no ill effects after capture, versus the case of another hind in the same area which died from the effects of capture myopathy after only a short chase across open farmland lasting only a few minutes."

Diana Scott, Joint Master of the Devon and Somerset Staghounds disputes the existence of the condition. She was quoted in an article on the subject in The Telegraph Saturday 9 September 1989 : " "If myopathy really exists," she asks, "how come Exmoor is not littered with the bodies of dead deer after every hunt?" Dr Henshaw is not surprised by this state of affairs. "Over the years I have myself found many carcases of deer which seem to have died in mysterious circumstances. And I have seen deer limping and staggering about after hunts have taken place. They may or may not have been cases of myopathy, but we couldn't diagnose it then, simply because we didn't know about the condition....it is thoroughly irresponsible of the hunting people to deny it."

With the benefit of hindsight it is possible to look back in the literature and wonder whether previous incidents of myopathy might have been described. For instance Bissets journal quoted by Fortescue details the day October 26th 1866 from Haddon when a hind was hunted, one of three found in Haddon Wood. The hind ended up heading for Triscombe and was taken two hours and fifteen minutes from the lay on "at racing pace". Bisset states "Deer saved and turned out, but found drowned in a reservoir next day." (HJF page 219). More than likely myopathy played a part in the demise of this deer.

Suffering of the hounds.

The hounds could and frequently did suffer in the course of the hunt. They could be injured or killed.

Hound injuries.

Hounds could obviously suffer many minor injuries. They could also suffer in more dramatic ways. Bissets journal detailed in Appendix A of Fortescues book mentioned the following incident that occured on September 11th 1863 hunting a stag from Greystone Wood, Dulverton. The stag ended up in the river in Filleigh Mill Weir "where for nearly half an hour he swam up and down with the hounds all around him, during which he managed to pierce one of them through the right ear, and towed him up and down by his left brow antler for full ten minutes before he was lassoed and taken." This deer was saved and turned out only to be killed by the hunt almost exactly a year later. (HJF page 207)

From the meet at Cloutsham on October 9th 1866 the stag ended up being killed in the water below Ilford Bridges. Bisset laments " "Factor" was dangerously wounded by this deer in the chest and flank." (HJF page 218)

As for fatalities the hounds could be killed out hunting, killed by the deer, killed by falls, drowned, trampled over by the horses or in the present day run over. They could also be killed by the hunt for a variety of misdemenours the main one being sheep killing that will be detailed later. In addition they could be killed by sicknesses such as rabies either by the hand of God or by some kind of crude experiment such as was carried out by the hunt in the latter part of the last century.

All in all the hounds those most trusting faithful and lovable of creatures could have a very bad time of it.

Killed by the deer.

From the meet on September 10th 1781 Charles Palk Collyns reports how the hounds ran into their deer at Badgworthy and a fine young hound 'Driver' was killed by the deer. (CPC page 168) This feat was exceeded by the deer on August 31st 1788 when the deer that was killed at Newtown Bridge killed two of the best hounds in the pack, 'Brusher' and 'Lofty' (CPC page 171) Fortescue recounts that Mr Bisset (1855-1881) "never lost a hound killed by a stag, though he had a certain number injured" but his successor Lord Ebrington (1881-1887) lost "one if not two in 1881 and no fewer than five in 1882" (HJF page 162)

Killed by falls.

The hounds frequently fell to their deaths over the cliffs. Fortescue reports that the autumn hunting of 1884 was marred by the loss of four of the best hounds in this way on the third day of staghunting. (HJF page 97) Macdermott tells us that from the meet at Wheddon Cross on October 10th 1907 the stag went over the cliff by Glenthorne and two young hounds were killed. (ETM page 65)


The hounds could also be drowned along with the stag they were pursuing. Evered records the death of a Quantock deer that set off from the beach near St. Audries. "In a dead calm this stag swam straight out into the smooth grey waters of the Bristol Channel, the pack following close in his wake and baying melodiously as they swam in full view of his noble head." He described how a boat was despatched to Watchet to get the boat sent out and in due course "the boat returned to the anxious watchers on the rocks, towing the stag, already dead with the chill of the water, and with seven hounds on board, one of which had already succumbed merely to the effects of his long swim. Another drowned hound shortly was seen, and two others never returned to land." (PE pages 265-266)


On August 24th 1781 from a meet at Stevenstone Charles Palk Collyns describes "several of the hounds were killed, and many seriously injured, by the rabble pressing on and running over them." (CPC page 168)


At the end of hindhunting on the 19th February 1878 a hound was observed showing suspicious symptoms. In a few days this was recognised as rabies and that hound together with five others similarly afflicted was shot. The rest of the pack were kept separated and muzzled, each chained to a box where he could not reach his neighbour. By the 23rd May seven more hounds had either died or been killed. There was no further case until 12th July when another hound "was observed to be looking queer" and he too was killed.

As soon as he was sure it was rabies, Mr Bisset, ever the optimist, began to form another pack so that by the start of staghunting he had a new pack of 16½ couple of which the bulk were old fox or carted deer hounds. Thus there were two distinct packs, the "mad pack" and the "new pack". Surprisingly the "mad pack" took their regular turns out hunting.

Fortescue tells us "The old hounds, or "mad pack", were still kept separate from each other, except when actually out hunting, until the 25th of September, when, on a fearfully stormy night, they were put together into kennel, though of course apart from the new pack. (HJF page 77) Rabies broke out again in one hound in October. The hound was killed. This was when a bit of amateur experimentation went on as Fortescue recounts : "there was another case in December, and three more at the beginning of January, two of them being of hounds belonging to the new pack, which, being not very highly valued, were placed with the "old mad 'uns" as an experiment. There was now nothing to be done except to destroy the whole of the old pack, which was accordingly done on the 21st January 1879." (HJF page 77) Staghunting started in 1879 but before Christmas rabies had returned and four more hounds were killed. The rest were separated and there was no hunting until March 1880.

As if all that was not enough the poor hounds could also suffer in the most extraordinary fashion. Palk Collyns reports an incident that occured during the Mastership of the Hon. Newton Fellowes where at a meet the first intelligence was that "one of the best hounds in the pack had been killed and eaten in the kennel, nothing having been left of poor 'Gambler' save his head." ( CPC pages 151-152) That was a bad day for the hunt because their quarry a stag apparently "deliberately committed suicide" by leaping from the cliff and ended up on the shore "a disfigured object, mashed to a jelly, the horns broken to flinders and scattered on the rocks." To cap it all a horse being led home by a groom became excited when hearing the hounds and fell headlong off a cliff onto the rocky bed of the river Lyn and was killed!

Hounds could also have close escapes at the hands of more modern contraptions. From the meet at Exe Bridge on January 18th 1876 the hind was eventually killed at Bottreaux Mill. Bisset records in his journal "Hounds had a narrow escape from a train, but the engine-driver stopped in time." (HJF page 241)

Suffering of the horses.

Horses can suffer not only from the sheer exertions of the chase, they have been known to drop down dead, they can also be attacked by the deer. On August 21st 1789 we learn : "Sir Thomas Acland's horse, was injured during this run, and was so lame at Cheriton, that Sir Thomas left him, and ran the rest of the chase ; a gentleman from Minehead had his horse drop dead under him" (CPC page 172-173) On September 21st 1795 : "The pace was such that the huntsman's horse, a real good one, died in the field." (CPC page 180)

Fortescue tells of an incident that occurred in October 1885 when "the hounds broke away after one of the park stags at St. Audries, and set him up against the park palings. The whip galloped up and got them away, and the stag at once charged him and dove one antler deep into his horse's chest. Had it not been that he drove his forehead against the man's knee, the brute would probably have killed both. As it was the horse was unfit for work for a month." (HJF page 160)

Some of the days seemed to combine the suffering to all species. Fortescue in Appendix A of his book reports the day on April 21st 1858 from the meet at Cloutsham "One tufter found a hind and calf in Sweetworthy. Separated them going towards the Forest. Laid on the pack on the hind." The hunt then progessed hither and thither and ended up heading for Woody Bay. "Here the hounds fresh found their deer in the stunted oak coppice. Deer viewed, dead beat. One last effort and over Freeth Gap (about 400 feet) into the sea and smashed to atoms, "Warrior" following." As for the calf we are told that "joined the hind again on Porlock Common, left her on Blackhill, and was killed by three couple in Badworthy Water--a male." This was a bad day for the hunt. Bisset quoted in his journal by Fortescue described it as "A day of slaughter; the hind, her calf, a hound, a sheep, which went over the cliffs soon after the hind, and four horses." (HJF pages 195-196)

Hunt runs.

Referring to particular runs Charles Palk Collyns mentions an incident that may have occurred on this very spot. "I remember once when Captain West hunted the country, we tried hard to kill a stag on the water under Baron's Down very late in the day. The deer was dead beat, but had sufficient strength left to baffle his pursuers by stepping into the river ever and anon, after a short turn or two in the wood by the side of the stream, and this he did with so much perseverance that we were obliged to leave him in the water, secured from capture by his own adroitness and the shades of night." (page 130)

Writing in 1902 Evered tells us of an interesting end to a hunt at Winsford. "The Royal Oak" once witnessed a sensational finish to a run, which at the time caused much local excitement. A stag from Haddon ran by the Exe valley to the Allotment preserves, and then, finding his strength failing him, crossed the fileds of Halse farm and came down dead beat to the back of the village and rushed into the premises at the rear of the hostelry. As the leading hounds closed in he essayed to scale a low and convenient roof, but slipping back, made the best of his way to the back entrance of the inn, and there in a gloomy pasage encountered a waitress bearing a tray of glasses. Curious to relate, the tray was not dropped, and the stag seeing an open doorway, passed into the best sitting room which was prepared for guests, while the ready witted Hebe closed the door. Thus trapped, the stag was easily secured, the field watching the proceedings through the narrow window panes." (PE page 51)

The same author describes another interesting end to a days fun : "Of all the queer places that hunted deer have got into, the Roadwater roller mills was one of the most dangerous and inconvenient both to stag and hounds. Here a Slowly stag gave some very anxious moments to his captors, but by good fortune avoided the machinery in motion, and passed on into a stable where he was secured after an exciting tussle." (PE page 372)

Macdermot writing in 1936 tells of some interesting runs in his time. From the meet on October 15th 1921 at Marsh Bridge the deer ended up by Culbone Plantations. "Hounds came up with their stag at the deer fence and bayed him more than once, but he broke away and having jumped a wired gate full seven feet high, went on down through Culbone Wood to the beach at Ivystone, where the huntsman, who scrambled down alone, found three hounds baying him and a fourth lying dead at the foot of the cliff. The stag then took to the sea and disappeared in the darkness, followed by the three hounds. One of these was back at Exford by daybreak, and the huntsman found the other two at Culbone and Broomstreet next morning, but could hear nothing of the stag." (ETM page 79)

Royal involvement?

What about the question of Royal involvement with the Devon and Somerset Staghounds. Alfred Vowles recounts that The Rev. John Russell invited the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) down to Exmoor in 1879. From the meet at Hawkcombe Head there was a lengthy run after a fine stag that was eventually "brought to bay near the romantic valley of the Doones and was despatched by the Prince." (AV page 11) 1879 was the year you will recall when there had been an outbreak of rabies in the pack. Think how the course of history might have been changed if the Royal Prince had been bitten by a rabid dog in the melee of the kill?

How many deer killed.

The rate at which the hounds have killed the deer has varied over the years. Charles Palk Collyns in the Chase of the Wild Red Deer first published in 1862 gives the following figures. In the nine seasons between 1784 and 1794 killed 150 deer (73 stags and 77 hinds) That was an average of 16 to 17 deer per season. In the six years between 1812 and 1818, under the Mastership of Lord Fortescue, in what Palk Collyns described as "glorious days" 90 deer were killed (42 stags and 48 hinds). That was an average of 15 deer per season. ( CPC page 11)

Interestingly Scarth-Dixon gives different figures for these six years. He says that 50 stags, 48 hinds and "10 other deer" were killed. (WSD page 36). As to the number of deer about at the time when Lord Fortescue took over from Lord Graves in 1812 he was informed by the latter that "There are now about 200 deer in the country, about 100 less than in Sir Thomas Acland's time." (Vive La Chasse page 87). By 1855 Waddy Wadsworth and Dick Lloyd, writing in Vive La Chasse published in 1989 tell us that "in the whole of the West Country the red deer were down to somewhere around the 50 mark" (Vive La Chasse page 88). Macdermott gives a figure of about sixty deer at the start of Mr Bissets mastership in 1855 (ETM page 32) That being the case it is hard to see how the herd could have caused any real harm and it is clear that killing any for fun threatened the very survival of the herd. In the first season of Mr Bisset's Mastership that commenced in 1855 the hunt took three stags and two hinds (and one of these stags was released). Mr Bisset also took steps to increase the deer population for sport. Fortescue tells us that before staghunting began in 1858 : "Mr Bisset carried out a project on which he had long set his heart, namely the introduction of new blood into the herd. With this view he procured, through a friend, two stags, two male deer, and three hinds, from Me Legh of Lyme in Cheshire." These were turned out in Hadon and Horner. "The two hinds in Haddon were killed after good runs in the spring seasons of 1859 and 1860, and the stag after a poor run in the autumn of the latter year. Of those turned out in Horner one stag was barbarously murdered by deer-stealers within three days after his arrival, one of the male deer was killed by mischance by the hounds in 1860, the other (grown to a stag) was killed after a poor run in 1865. The hind gave good runs, and was spared only to be destroyed by poachers in 1860." (HJF pages 51-52) Mr Bisset appears to have been fairly keen to release deer that his hounds had caughtbut this was not always possible. Fortescue talls how from the meet at Cloutsham on September 18th 1857 the deer was finally taken at Malsmead. "Hoped to save him, but he had a broken blood-vessel." (HJF page 193) Philip Evered recounted an incident when two stags had been killed At Larcombe Foot on Wednesday 13th August 1894. One had an interesting history : "It appears that no less than seventeen years ago the deer was taken alive when less than two years old, and having been somewhat injured by the hounds was, by the late Mr Bisset's orders, turned out again some time afterwards, when fully recovered." (PE page 153) In the 1881/1882 season 26 stags and 57 hinds were killed; in addition 6 young male deer and 3 crippled deer were also killed. A further 9 deer were killed either having been found dead in the covers, "killed by sheep-dogs after having been saved from the hounds" or lost and drowned at sea (HJF page 92-93) Deer were still being taken alive as late as 1888. Evered writes : "A certain one horned stag that ran to this point (Hurlstone Point) from Haddon in the October of 1888, after covering the distance in one hour and fifty minutes from the time of his rousing in the fields above Lady's Drive at Steart, broke from his bay here, and striking boldly out to sea, swam round the headland and was carried by the tide and his own efforts for some miles towards Minehead, landing at the last near Greenaleigh and being safely taken. This stag was subsequently sent to Lord Rothschild and shewed several good runs before his pack." (PE page 260) In the season 1856-57, seven deer were killed and the following season eight deer. (WSD pages 47-48) Rather as pheasants might be protected by shooting interests steps were taken to increase the deer population. Macdermottt tells us : " Oare Common was inclosed in 1860-1, and as soon as the fences had been erected Mr Snow devoted over 300 acres of his own allotment adjoiniong Badgworthy Water exclusively to the deer, planting larch and fir in the combes for shelter. This became known as the Deer Park, though deer have always been quite free to come and go, and was most jealously guarded from sheep, ponies and human trespassers by his son, the last Nicholas Snow of Oare, till the latter's death in 1914." (ETM page 33) In the early 1870's the task of keeping up the number of deer for sport changed to one of keeping them down so rapidly had they increased and spread. In the 1870's and 1880's the hunt killed some 80 to 100 deer each season out of a population estimated for the area as some 500 deer. (ETM page 33) In the early years of this century the deer population was estimated at 1500 and the four packs accounted for some 250 a season. (ETM page 33) Writing in 1902 Philip Evered in Staghunting with the Devon and Somerset referred to a booming population ; "For several years past a superabundant herd, and the hard times experienced by the hill country farmers, have made it a matter of absolute necessity to take as many deer as possible with hounds." (PE page 5) By the time of the 1905-06 season the four packs that operated in the West Country killed no less than 370 deer. (Vive La Chase page 88). In the 1929-1930 season the Devon and Somerset Staghounds killed 137 hinds and stags, the Quantock 26 and the Tiverton 32. (CS July 1930, front page) In the 1933-34 season the Devon and Somerset Staghounds reported killing 134 deer (CS Sept 1934 page 71) Macdermott in his book published in 1936 estimated the deer population then as between 600 and 700. By 1989 Waddy Wadsworth and Dick Lloyd write of the three west country packs killing between 150 and 200 deer a year out of a herd they estimate for Devon and Somerset as being 1000. (Vive La Chasse page 90) Noel Allen in his book published in 1990 puts the herd at 1,500 within Exmoor National Park, 400 immediately south of the border towards Tiverton and South Molton and 500 on the Quantocks. (NA page 12)

Deer capture and release.

The capture of the deer alive at the end of the hunt and the release of the animal for future hunting has been going on for many years. On October 10th 1821 from the meet at Buryhill a stag was found in Haddon and after a lengthy hunt killed at Emmetts under Redway. Charles Palk Collyns tells us : "He was a five-year-old deer, and had been taken with the hounds in 1819, and let go with half of one ear cut off."!! (CPC page 207)

In the 29 years between 1855 and 1884 according to their own records listed in Appendix B at the back of Fortecues book the hunters took alive and released no fewer than 86 deer.

Hamilton writing in 1907 regarded it as a bad thing to catch deer alive and release them : "If hounds have the misfortune, as must inevitably occur several times in a season (no matter how smart the hunt servants may be) to run a young male deer and pull him over, it is a great mistake to save his life and subsequently turn him out If by any luck he can be secured before any of the hounds have had hold of him, he would, of course be saved; but as the bite of one of these powerful hounds is so serious that though he may, and, unless badly torn, probably will, recover, he is not likely to grow into a strong, healthy stag whose presence is any advantage to the herd and the sooner he is put out of his pain the better." (AH pages 125-126)

H.J. Marshall writing in 1946 referred to the practice of deer being caught alive when young : "Some farmers used to keep a tame deer which had been taken on their farm, when a calf, by the hunt. George Lansdown at Over Stowey kept one for many years. He used to experiment with it in artificial feeding stuffs." (HJM page 13)


For as long as there have been deer on and around Exmoor and the Quantocks there has been poaching. Charles Palk Collyns refers to the threat posed to the deer by the activities of the poachers when the area was not hunted between 1825-1827 and between 1833-1837 ( CPC pages 88-90). It is also clear from his book that there was a threat from poachers when the area was hunted as he later cautions his reader : "May I be excused for giving utterance to a word of caution to those who, either in quest of sport, health, scenery, recreation, or with any other object, pay a visit to our country? It is a warning against lending a willing ear to certain fustian-coated, 'early morning' looking gentry, who, for a consideration of from five to ten pounds, may offer to provide you with a stag's head, or horns, to take back with you as a trophy from the West. An assent to the propositions of these members of the poaching fraternity will probably seal the fate, by slugs or bullet, of at least one stag; it will be fortunate, indeed, if many should not be mortally wounded or permanently injured, in the attempt to secure the prize for which you have, possibly in a thoughtless moment, bargained with an idle and lawless marauder." ( CPC page 137) Writing of events on the opening meet of 1855, August 21st Fortescue tells us that a stag was taken : "He proved, however, to be a deer that had been turned out by Captain West, so he was spared and turned out again--only to be fired at by poachers, and eventually killed "to prevent his dying," less than two months later. Such occurrences were only too common at that time, the appearance of a poached deer in Exford village being the signal for general rejoicing among the whole population. (HJF page 47)

Fortescue bemoans the appearance some time in the 1860's on Exmoor "of a Dulverton man from London, who offered £6 for the head of a stag--an offer which resulted in the death of more than one deer and in the dismissal of a keeper." (HJF page 60)

Writing of the difficulty of separating out herds of hinds Fortescue says "In fact the only deer that can be depended on to be alone are the sick or broken-legged, of which the last, owing to wire fences and in some instances foul play, there are generally two or three, if not more, killed every year." (HJF page 170)

Injured deer killed.

Staghunting reports have been littered for many years with accounts of injured deer being killed by the hounds. Evered details this : "Many and many a deer has stood before hounds for an average length of time, that was never suspected to have had all the time a broken limb, until he or she was actually handled." (PE page 298)

Conflict between farmers and deer.

The imminent demise of the red deer herd on Exmoor has been forecast for some time now. Charles Palk Collyns in the Chase of the Wild Red Deer first published in 1862 wrote : "perhaps the present generation may witness the death of the last of the wild deer in Devon and Somerset." (Authors preface XXI) He was aware of the damage that the deer could cause to farming interest but he was also keen to see the farmers take steps to minimise that damage: "I have seen five or six cart-loads of turnips pulled up in a single field by the marauders in the course of a morning's meal. How much are the sportsmen of the West indebted to the kind and unselfish feelings of those farmers who endure this loss and annoyance in order that they may contribute to the amusement of their friends and the neighbourhood! I wish that the practice of "ricking" the turnips was generally adopted by the farmer, as by this means not only are the roots preserved from the attacks of the deer, but they are protected from the frost, and preserved for the stock in time of need." (page 82)

With the introduction of spring-staghunting by Mr Basset who commenced his mastership in 1887 the hunt effectively ceased to make any pretence at controlling the deer population. Macdermot is clear that both Mr Basset and his successor Colonel Hornby who took over in 1893 "did not pay sufficient attention to the hinds in the winter, with the result that the number of deer in the country, already too high for the damage fund, increased still more." (ETM page 19) The first deer fence to protect crops was put up by the Earl of Lovelace around the Ashley Combe Estate in 1898. Following the first world war the Hunt Committee took to supplying wire netting to exclude the deer in cases where the deer damage was regarded as excessive and continual (ETM page 20)

Opposition to staghunting.

Opposition to staghunting was generated on several main grounds. In the first instance it was probably caused by the hounds rioting and killing livestock particularly sheep. Then it was generated by the booming deer population that was protected for sport causing damage to crops. The rise in popularity of the sport doubtless generated anger due to the mayhem and havoc caused by the followers. Finally of cause there was opposition generated on the grounds of the overt cruelty inflicted on the quarry.

Rioting hounds killing sheep.

Opposition must have been generated by the occasions on which the Exmoor staghounds ran riot. On October 18th 1789 we are told the following : "Drew the Shillets with the pack ; they ran sheep, killing several. Sir T.D. Acland desired the huntsman to hang the whole of them, and then himself. The worthy baronet's wrath was soon after this appeased by a good fast run from Hawkcombe, ending with a kill at Exford. (CPC page 173). Rioting on sheep was a continuing problem. Palk Collyns notes solemnly ; "The great vice to which, on different occasions, the pack has been addicted, is that of sheep killing; and for this offence it was necessary to sentence to death, and execute, no less than twelve couples (i.e. 24 dogs) of the old stag-hounds in 1794." (pages 64-65) "Sentence to death", "execute" ? I thought that the concept of a hound trial in judiciary terms was a joke! Quite what fate befell the huntsman after the execution of his hounds is unknown. Capital punishment failed to cure the pack for we learn that the following year : "Colonel Bassett was much vexed by the pack killing sheep again, from which they had been free for a year ; no doubt they were corrupted by a buck-hound, from the New Forest, which, with three of the supposed ringleaders, died by the halter." (CPC page 178) Efforts were sometimes made to conceal the propensity for sheep killing. Hope Bourne tells us "Incidentally it must in all truth be confessed that these splendid hounds had one grave fault which may have contributed to the embarrassment of their last master : they were inclined to sheep killing. In the edited and printed extracts of the old hunting diaries such lapses from virtue are not mentioned, but in the originals they do appear. As in Parson Boyce's fine old diary, (he was the sporting parson from Withypool who noted most of the runs from 1776 to 1816) the faded brown handwriting not infrequently records, 'hounds also killed sheep'. Such laconic comments suggest a good deal more than they actually tell." (HB pages 95-96)

Local opposition to staghunting continued. Scarth-Dixon tells us that early in the Mastership of Mr Bisset that commenced in 1855 "there was not that support from the landowners that there should have been, or perhaps it would be more exact to say that there were only a few landowners at first that took a keen interest in the hunting of the red deer." Perhaps his next line explains why. "The hounds, too, were a source of trouble, for they took to killing sheep." (WSD page 46) Fortescue describes such an incident at this time : "A deer had been run from the forest over the "chains,"--that is to say, the worst tract of ground in the main watershed. No horse, of course, could live with them through it, but on coming up with them beyond "we found them very busy with something which was at once pronounced to be the deer; but deer in this country do not die so easily. Upon getting to them it was discovered to have been a sheep, of which nothing but the skin and horns were left." (HJF pages 48-49) Evered writing in 1902 admits to the hounds killing sheep. He tells us "It is not far from Hurlestone Point, on the sunburnt sheepwalks near east Myne, that a great outbreak of sheep killing by the pack took place in recent years, and caused the early demise of many promising hounds." (PE page 261)

Opposition by landowners.

Opposition by landowners has been around for a long time. It was their opposition that effectively closed the hunt down in 1825 The oppostion at that time was probably generated by several factors, personal disputes and conflict, damage caused by the hunt, disagreements over hunting practice and the like. It can hardly have been generated by damage caused through excessive numbers of deer.

Evered admits that local opposition to staghunting existed : "The history of staghunting contains many instances of individual landowners exhibiting animosity to the chase" (PE page 341) One such of these was Lord Graves writing in the early part of the 19th century and quoted by Fortescue : " "We have been unpopluar for some years at Dulverton," writes Lord Graves, "and the deer have constantly been disturbed and killed in the Hawkridge Bottom and at Bratton ; during Mr Chichester's hostility they had no rest, and great numbers fell victims to that gentleman's resentment." (HJF page 35)

Opposition to the hunt also manifested itself by farmers trying to protect their crops. Charles Palk Collyns mentions an incident in 1801 when the stag was lost : " A farmer living close by the road, told us he saw the deer more than half a mile below his house ; the hounds were taken down, but we could not recover him. The next day this same man boasted that he had 'sold the staghunters' for he saw the deer cross the road into a field of corn, and lie down close to the spot he broke from the stream ; and in order that no injury might be done to his corn, he sent them half a mile below to look after him." (CPC page 187) 'Cecil' in Records of the Chase first published in 1854 did not hold out much hope for the future of staghunting on Exmoor. He wrote that "it appears to be going fast to decay, despite the exertions of several zealous supporters of the time-honoured sport." As to the reasons for this he offered : "The wandering propensities of the deer in their wild state cause them to travel many miles in search of favourite food; consequently there is great difficulty in preserving them. I am informed that the damage they do is often considerable.......Their company, therefore, is not welcomed by the small farmers, who require compensation for the damages they sustain; but considering that it is the last relict of the ancient custom of staghunting, it will be asubject of much regret if some remunerative arrangements cannot be effected." (ROC page 215). Incidentally the book that I refer to was published in several editions. Mine was published in 1922 and a name label inside the front cover dates from 1932. For all that it has many pages that are as yet uncut! The hunting enthusiast or enthusiasts who had owned it previously hadn't even bothered to read it yet doubtless they would point to their extensive library of hunting literature as evidence of their great knowledge of the subject. I am keeping the pages uncut to prove this point and am using the LACS copy of the same book for reference.

As the deer were ever more strictly preserved so was there increasing opposition from the farmers. Fortescue tells us that in the 1865 season the Horner covers that had previously been left untouched until September were hunted in August as "the farmers of the district were complaining of the numbers of deer." (HJF page 63) Thus began the tradition of the opening day at Cloutsham.

By 1868 the deer in the Horner covers were so numerous that it was necessary to hunt the hinds there on five consecutive days. (HJF page 65) Before Mr Bisset resigned in 1881 these so-called "Horner campaigns" were to extend to twenty and thirty consecutive days hunting. (HJF page 65)

It seems that from 1855-1871 the main difficulty that Mr Bisset had was "keeping up a sufficient herd of deer." From 1871-1881 it was the opposite : "the question was how to keep it down within reasonable limits." (HJF page 70) Even so in the 1871 season deer were still being caught alive presumably to be moved to areas where they were scarcer. That year 30 deer were taken of which 4 were spared. (HJF page 70)

By 1881 Fortescue complained that "the country was simply swarming with deer." (HJF page 80) "In a word, the deer had got out of hand, and in spite of great efforts to diminish their numbers it cannot be said that they have been under control since 1879." (HJF page 81)


Opposition to staghunting on grounds of ethics and cruelty has been around for a considerable time. Charles Palk Collyns in the Chase of the Wild Red Deer first published in 1862 commenting on the way that in previous days many bishops and abbots had hounds and hawks noted that : "Times are changed ; and great would be the scandal at the present day if a bishop of the church were to enrol himself as a master of hounds. Indeed, the presence of a clergyman in the hunting field is by many considered objectionable." (page 4)

Increasing media interest in the activities of the hunts generated greater concerns as to the cruelty involved. The Manchester Guardian reported on August 13th 1932 how a few days previous a stag hunted by the DSSH from Hawkcombe head "got away from the hounds at Watersmeet after being hunted about fourteen miles and went down Lyn Valley to Lynmouth where its flight was checked by a wall. In desperation, however, the stag leaped over the wall and fell down on to the rocks in the River Lyn several feet below. It broke its legs in falling and lay, quivering and helpless, tormented by the hounds for ten minutes until the hunters arrived to kill it.

Meanwhile great anger was expressed by a large crowd of holiday-makers who had gathered at the spot, and their feelings towards the stag-hunters were so vigorously expressed that the latter deemed it prident to withdraw from the scene as soon as they had secured the deer. Ever since this affair happened visitors have been protesting angrily about such things being allowed to continue. " (CS Sept 1932 page 77). The same paper reported an incident that occurred at Minehead on Wednesday 26 th October 1932 involving the Quantock staghounds "the stag suddenly jumped into the claypits at the brickfields and then ran down between the engine house and a mortar mill. It then jumped down into a pit, and was unable to get out again. Some men who were near held the exhausted animal, where it was imprisoned for about fifteen minutes until the hunters arrived to kill it. Sections of a crowd who watched raised angry shouts of protest." (CS Dec. 1932)

Relationship with the media.

As the media started to report the truth about what took place in the course of staghunting so the hunters began to loathe the media. Occasionally this loathing would turn to violence. In September 1928 a Mr Hemingway a young free-lance journalist from Minehead said to have caused offence to hunting people by sending to London newspapers accounts of stag-hunting attended a polo ball at the Metropole Hotel, Minehead. The Daily Express, September 7th 1928 detailed what occurred : "The man was standing in a private part of the hotel when, without warning, a number of men, said to be prominent stag-hunters, burst in, seized him, and, shouting at the tops of their voices and blowing hunting horns, dragged him by his arms and legs to the vestibule. They were joined by a crowd of shouting dancers, who folowed the procession through the hotel grounds and across the road to the sea-wall.

The critic was then thrown five feet into deep water. He climbed to the breakwater when, it is alleged, one of the party shouted, "Let's drown him again." He threw the man into the water and tried to hold him under. Police are making enquiries." (CS October 1928 page 132)

League Against Cruel Sports.

In 1931 the West Somerset Free Press reported the demonstration by some 30 representatives of the League for the Prohibition of Cruel Sports, about 13 of whom were from London, at the Opening meet of the DSSH at Cloutsham. The majority of the party were ladies. League supporters carried banners bearing slogans such as "Abolish the Shameful Sport of Stag-hunting" and "Stag-hunting is not Cricket." Sir Francis Acland the owner of Cloutsham had warned the League people to keep off his land. The National Trust who cared for the land in the area were on hand "to see that nothing was done that might occasion a breach of the peace". The demonstrators undertook to keep to the road. At first light hearted banter was exchanged between the two sides. "If you don't hold with the sport clear out and don't interfere with us" shouted one hunt supporter. Then it became more menacing : "the crowd began to press in upon them and tempers, it was evident, among the protagonists of hunting were wearing thin. A farmer follower of the Hunt did not improve matters by riding to and fro along the line of demonstrators cracking his whip and jostling them about." It became more violent. "with the crowd becoming angrier in mood the demonstrators were soon in the midst of a rough and tumble with many supporters of hunting, women as well as men coming into conflict with them. A woman it was--an Exmoor farmer's wife-- who captured the first banner. Grabbing it from one of the ladies of the party--there was a bit of a tussle for possession--she tore it fiercely to tatters and, amid the cheers of the crowd, trod the fragments in the road. Others strove to gain possession of banners, and in the midst of an excited mass demonstrators struggled helplessly. Their banners were all destroyed, the women's umbrellas wrecked and the League literature ripped to fragments." The police intervened and advised the League supporters that "it would be well to remove themselves" This they did but the intimidation ncontinued: "On their way from Cloutsham to Webber's Post, where their motor-coach was parked, the demonstrators were subjected to a hostile reception. Four police officers who were with them protected them from being roughly handled, but cat-calls, jeers and hunting cries from mounted and foot supporters could not be restrained. At intervals a hunting horn would sound and this would be the signal for a fresh outburst of vituperation and abuse. Eventually the party reached their coach by a devious route and took their seats amid renewed hostility, while a chorus of "boos" was maintained. Two or three children attempted to climb the sides of the coach and two or three handfuls of mud were thrown, in spite of the watchfulness of the police.

The ire of a certain section of the crowd was intensified when a lady member of the party attempted to photograph the agitated crowd through an open window. Her action was noticed by a man on foot, who attempted to knock the camera out of her hand, but he was pushed back by a policeman. One or two children followed his example and were rebuked. Then a mounted follower of the Hunt rode along the side of the coach, the close proximity of the horse's head causing the lady to withdraw hurriedly, to the amusement of the majority of those assembled, while her co-demonstrators hotly protested. The lady with the camera would not be baulked, however, but when she tried to take her photograph from inside a closed window hats and caps were held against it to prevent it." (CS Sept 1931 pages 75-76)

League Hunt Monitoring.

League hunt monitoring has a longer history than one might imagine. The front page of Cruel Sports September 1930 tells us "the Secretary of the League was present at the first bye-meet of the Devon and Somerset Staghounds at North Molton, and saw the "rouse" of the stag. He conversed with several villagers and others interested in stag-hunting, and obtained some useful facts for the coming lecture season." Hunt paranoia about pictures was also evident even at that time as the following paragraph in this same League report tells us "One visitor, who took several photographs of the "rouse" was later accosted by a stag-hunter, who "hoped that they were not intended for the newspapers." " (CS September 1930, front page)

Changing popularity of the hunt.

It is interesting to note the changing support for hunting. The earliest record I found recounted in A Little History of Exmoor by Hope Bourne published in 1968 dates from September 1759 at which we are told five hundred horse and '1000 foot' attended at the meet. At the meets in the late 1700's under Sir Thomas Acland "there might assemble five hundred horsemen." (HB page 92) Scarth-Dixon reports a field of "at least two hundred" at the meet at Cloutsham on October 3rd 1815. (WSD page 40). Charles Palk Collyns reports 500 horsemen and 300 foot followers at least at the meet on September 21st 1819, the Barnstaple fair hunt. (CPC page 203) Perhaps the most spectacular day was that August morning in 1879 when Edward, Prince of Wales rode with the hunt. Acoording to Hope Bourne between 10,000 and 15,000 attended the meet and no fewer than 1,200 to 1,500 riders followed the hounds! (HB page 149). By the time of Alfred Vowles writing in 1920 the opening meet at Cloutsham was reportedly attended by "thousands". (AV page 20)

Cecil Aldin writing in 1935 referred to "500 men, women and children who come out on horseback at a meet of the staghounds" (CA page 59)

The support for staghunting amongst even other followers of bloodsports has always been lukewarm. Back in 1930 the stag-hunters were aggrieved at the scant support their attempts to create a pro-stag-hunting society received. The Daily Mirror September 23rd 1930 reported "An informal vote was taken at a private meeting of subscribers to a famour Leicestershire hunt, and three quarters of those present supporterd a resolution that hunting the stag is not "sport" " Whether they were referring to hunting carted deer, the Exmoor deer or both is not certain (CS October 1930 page 82)

As today the support for the hunts varies according to whether it is stag or hind hunting. Writing in 1887 Fortescue says of hind-hunting "The field rarely consists of more than a dozen persons, frequently of less than half that number, but these are all of the right sort, very much unlike the hundreds that appear in the autumn." (HJF page 172)

Accuracy of modern hunting literature?

As with most hunting literature the early books were the accurate ones. By the time of Waddy Wadsworth and Dick Lloyd writing in Vive La Chasse published in 1989 some interesting claims appear. On page 98 the reader is assured "for nearly half the year no hunting takes place" The break that was formerly from October 8th for two or three weeks to allow the rut is now described thus "Then comes a break of about a fortnight in early November to rest hounds, horses and hunt staff" (Vive La Chasse page 101). Perhaps the idea is now to allow the hunt staff to rut!

Modern staghunters when pressed on the killing of hinds claim that they can defend themselves against the hounds with their hooves. Writing 94 years Evered had none of that nonsense. He was dismissive about the end of a hind hunt : "Not that the hinds figures much in the scene, for she has no antlers with which to fight, and her end is swift and sudden." (PE page 86). This did not appear to have instilled any great sympathy in him

Quantock Staghounds.

Red deer had been introduced on to the Quantock hills in the 1860's by the Master of the DSSH, Mr Bisset. According to Fortescue "from 1862 onward young deer captured before the hounds on the Exmoor side of the country were from time to time transported to the Quantocks and there turned out." (HJF page 58) This may have been done to form some sort of reservoir of deer as at the time the deer on an around the Exmoor forest were still heavily persecuted. As Fortescue puts it "There was something to be said for raising a herd in a country where it would be strictly preserved, and that too in covers belonging to the master himself." (HJF page 59) Fortescue was dismissive about the earlier Quantock deer : "the deer on the Quantocks had never been wild deer as on Exmoor, but simply a small tame herd turned out from some deer park, which had been exterminated and replaced by a few more still tamer." (HJF page 60)

The hunting of deer on the Quantocks commenced in 1865 when Mr Bisset killed his first stag there on August 29th (HJF page 63) The Quantocks were no part of the original stag-hunting country and Mr Bisset effectively annexed the area when the deer in the Exmoore Forest were unsafe (HJF page 98) Fortescue was dismissive not only of the deer on the Quantocks but also of the hunt supporters there : "There is not wild land enough to give them a fair chance of going where they will, and the result is that they simply ring round and round and about the small range of hills, hustled by the unsportsmanlike field without any hope of fair play." (HJF page 98)

Deer were regularly moved from Exmoor to the Quantocks. Fortescue tells us that in the hindhunting season of 1876 "twenty-three hinds were taken, of which nineteen were killed and four saved for the Quantocks;" (HJF page 74)

The Quantock Staghounds were first set up in 1901 by Mr E. J. Stanley of Quantock Lodge. (ETM page 20)

Tiverton Staghounds.

These were set up by Sir John Heathcoat-Amory of Knightshayes Court , Tiverton in 1896 in an effort to aid Mr Sanders the Master of the DSSH at the time with the control of deer. They were known to start with as Sir John Amory's Staghounds. (ETM page 20)

Staghunters views on carted deerhunting.

Charles Palk Collyns was as derogatory about carted deerhunting as present day foxhunters are about draghunting. "Until the ancient sport of the country ceases to exist by the complete extinction of the wild deer, the more modern expedient of turning out a 'calf' will never acquire popularity with the sportsmen of Devon and Somerset. Without implying the least disrespect to those who enjoy a gallop after a stall-fed deer, I am quite sure every one will feel that there is a charm in the sport which I have attempted to describe in this little volume which can never attach to that of following a chase after an animal bred in a park, 'enlarged' for the day's amusement, and carted back to his paddock at the conclusion of the run. True, the 'calf-hunter' is certain of not having to undergo the disappointment of a blank day ; but from what I have read and heard (for I have but little personal experience in the matter, the performances of the uncarted deer are very unequal, and the runs frequently very poor." (pages 152-153) The following curious incident was reported on August 26th 1823 : "This day the hounds ran a stag which had been imported from Badminton Park. The hounds soon ran into him ; in fact, he had no go in him." (CPC page 211) Whether this was an attempt to introduce deer into the area or an attempt at some kind of carted deerhunting who knows? Deer certainly were moved about by hunting interests. On September 17th 1858 a stag was taken above Marsh Bridge. Bisset reported that examination "proved him to be a deer which I turned out as a yearling six years before ; he was one given me by Captain West. I presume that his head had never been properly developed ; his running was very inferior to that of a stag bred in this country." (CPC page 245)

It would be difficult to find a single quote that summarises all the cruelty that I have recounted. The best that I can offer is drawn from the book The Fairest Hunting. Hunting and Watching Exmoor Deer by H.P. Hewett published in 1963. In this is writes of the end of a hunt "That there is a bad ten minutes at the last is undeniable, but we all have to face that sooner or later." (HPH page 45) My view is that whether or not we do is irrelevant, and with modern medicine to be honest it is unlikely, the point is that the red deer needn't suffer and they certainly shouldn't. If we work together and strive hard for what we know to be right we can put an end to this catalogue of misery


Cecil Aldin : Exmoor. The Riding Playground of England 1935 (CA)

Noel Allen : Exmoor's Wild Red Deer 1990 (NA)

Hope L. Bourne : A Little History of Exmoor 1968 (HB)

Patrick Chalmers : The History of Hunting 1936

Charles Palk Collyns : Notes on the Chase of the Wild Red Deer 1862 (CPC)

Philip Evered : Stag-hunting on Exmoor 1902 (PE)

Hon. John Fortescue : Staghunting on Exmoor 1887 (HJF)

Archibald Hamilton : The Red Deer of Exmoor 1907 (AH)

H.P. Hewett : The Fairest Hunting. Hunting and Watching Exmoor Deer 1963 (HPH)

E.T. Macdermot & Lionel Edwards : The Devon and Somerset Staghounds 1907-1936 1936 (ETM)

H.J. Marshall : Exmoor, Sporting and Otherwise 1948

Malcolm C. McGowan : Stag Hunting on Exmoor with the Devon and Somerset Staghounds 1987

H.N. Southern : The Handbook of British Mammals 1964 (HNS)


August 3rd1881- March 1st1882 : 26 stags, 57 hinds plus 6 young male deer, 3 crippled deer plus 9 dead in covers, killed by sheep-dogs or drowned. (HJF page 92-93)

1882-April 5th 1883 : 87 deer killed, 6 taken and saved. (HJF page 93)