Fox hunting is an activity involving the tracking, chase, and sometimes killing of a fox, traditionally a red fox, by trained foxhounds or other scent hounds, and a group of followers led by a master of foxhounds, who follow the hounds on foot or on horseback.
Fox hunting originated in the United Kingdom in the 16th century, but is practised all over the world, including Australia, Canada, France, India, Ireland, Italy, Russia, New Zealand, and the United States. In Australia, the term also refers to the hunting of foxes with firearms, in a manner very similar to deer stalking or spotlighting.
The sport is controversial, particularly in the UK, where a ban was introduced in November 2004. Proponents see it as an important part of rural culture, vital for conservation and pest control, while opponents argue that it is cruel and unnecessary.
Europe Many Greek- and Roman-influenced countries have long traditions of hunting with hounds. Hunting with Agassaei hounds was popular in Celtic Britain, even before the Romans arrived, with their Castorian and Fulpine hound breeds which they used to hunt. Norman hunting traditions were brought to Britain when William the Conqueror arrived, along with the Gascon and Talbot hounds.
Foxes were referred to as beasts of the chase by medieval times, along with the red deer (hart & hind), martens, and roes, but the earliest known attempt to hunt a fox with hounds was in Norfolk, England, in 1534, where farmers began chasing down foxes with their dogs for pest control. The first use of packs specifically trained to hunt foxes was in the late 1600s, with the oldest fox hunt likely to be the Bilsdale in Yorkshire. By the end of the seventeenth century, deer hunting was in decline. The Inclosure Acts brought fences to separate open land into fields, deer forests were being cut down, and arable land was increasing. With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, people began to move out of the country and into towns and cities to find work. Roads, rail, and canals split hunting countries, but also made hunting accessible to more people. Shotguns were improved during the nineteenth century and game shooting became more popular. Fox hunting developed further in the eighteenth century when Hugo Meynell developed breeds of hound and horse to address the new geography of rural England.
To protect pheasants for the shooters, gamekeepers culled foxes almost to extirpation in many areas, which caused the huntsmen to improve their coverts to preserve their quarry. The Game Laws were relaxed in 1831, which meant that anyone could obtain a permit to take rabbits, hares, and game birds.
In Germany, hunting with hounds was first banned on the orders of Hermann Goering on July 3 1934, one of the first laws to be introduced by the Nazis when they came to power in 1933. In 1939, the ban was extended to cover Austria after Germany's annexation of the country. Bernd Ergert, the director of Germany's hunting museum in Munich, said of the ban, "The aristocrats were understandably furious, but they could do nothing about the ban given the totalitarian nature of the regime."U.S.
According to the Masters of Foxhounds Association of America, Englishman Robert Brooke was the first man to import hunting hounds to America, bringing his pack to Maryland in 1650 when he imported his horses, his slaves, and a pack of foxhounds. Also around this time, numbers of European red foxes were introduced into the Eastern seaboard of North America for hunting. The first organised hunt for the benefit of a group (rather than a single patron) was started by Thomas, sixth Lord Fairfax in 1747. In the United States, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both kept packs of fox hounds before and after the American Revolutionary War. Australia In Australia, the European red fox was introduced solely for the purpose of fox hunting in 1855. Native animal populations have been very badly affected, with the extinction of at least 10 species attributed to the spread of foxes. Fox hunting continues in Australia, with thirteen clubs with over 1000 members, still hunting with horses and hounds, in the state of Victoria. Fox hunting with hounds results in around 650 foxes being killed annually in Victoria, compared with over 90,000 shot over a similar period in response to a State government bounty.
After the ban on fox hunting, hunts say that they follow artificially laid trails, although the League Against Cruel Sports has alleged widespread law breaking. Supporters of fox hunting claim that the number of foxes killed by dogs has increased since the ban, that hunts have reported an increase in membership, and that around 320,000 people (their highest recorded number) turned up to fox hunts on Boxing Day, 2006.U.S. In America, fox hunting is also called 'fox chasing,' as the purpose is not to actually kill the animal but to enjoy the thrill of the chase. A hunt may go without a kill for several years, despite chasing two or more foxes in a single day's hunting. As a rule, foxes are not pursued once they have 'gone to ground.' American fox hunters undertake stewardship of the land, and endeavour to maintain fox populations and habitats as much as possible.
In 2007, the Masters of Foxhounds Association of North America listed 171 registered packs in the U.S. and Canada. This number does not include the nonregistered (also known as 'farmer' or 'outlaw') packs. In some arid parts of the Western United States, where foxes in general are more difficult to locate, hunts track coyotes and, in some cases, bobcats. Charles Dickens, in a short story titled Coyote Hunting and published in 1893, vividly describes hunting coyotes near Denver, Colorado.Other countries Fox hunting with hounds is practised in countries including Australia, Canada, France, India, Ireland, Italy, Russia and New Zealand, whereas the Burns Inquiry reported that fox hunting was "not practised or is largely banned" in Spain, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway.
The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is the normal prey animal of a fox hunt in the U.S. and Europe. A small omnivorous predator, the fox lives in underground burrows called earths, and is predominantly active around twilight (making it a crepuscular animal). Adult foxes tend to range around an area of between square kilometers in good terrain, although in poor terrain, their range can be as much as . The red fox can run at up to . The fox is also variously known as a Tod (old English word for fox), Reynard (the name of an anthropomorphic character in European literature from the twelfth century), or Charlie (named for the Whig politician Charles James Fox).
The coyote (Canis latrans) is one of the most prevalent game of North American hunts. The coyote is an indigenous predator that did not range east of the Mississippi River until the latter half of the 20th century. The coyote is faster than a fox, running at and also wider ranging, with a territory of up to , so a much larger hunt territory is required to chase it. Coyotes can be challenging opponents for the dogs in physical confrontations, despite the size advantage of a large dog. Coyotes have larger canine teeth and are generally more practised in hostile encounters.
The gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), a very distant relative of the European red fox, which can be the subject of a fox hunt in North America, is an adept climber of trees, making it harder to hunt with hounds. Hunts also pursue the bobcat (Lynx rufus), and the choice of quarry depends on the region and numbers of each quarry available. In countries such as India, and in other areas formerly under British influence, such as Iraq, the golden jackal (Canis aureus) is often hunted.
Fox hunting is usually undertaken with a pack of scent hounds, and, in most cases, these are specially bred foxhounds. These dogs are trained to pursue the fox based on its scent. The two main types of foxhound are the English Foxhound and the American Foxhound. It is possible to use a sight hound such as a Greyhound or lurcher to pursue foxes, though this practice is not common in organised hunting, and these dogs are more often used for coursing animals such as hares. There is also one pack of beagles in Virginia that hunt fox. They are unique in that they are the only hunting beagle pack in the U.S. to be followed on horseback. English Foxhounds are also used for hunting stag, otter, or mink.
Hunts may also use terriers to flush or kill foxes that are hiding underground, as they are small enough to pursue the fox through narrow earth passages.
The horses, called "field hunters" or hunters, ridden by followers of the hunt, are a prominent feature of many hunts, although others are conducted on foot (and those hunts with a field of horseback-mounted riders may also have foot followers). Horses on hunts can range from specially bred and trained field hunters to casual hunt attendees riding a wide variety of horse and pony types. Draft and Thoroughbred crosses are commonly used as hunters, although purebred Thoroughbreds and horses of many different breeds are also used. Some hunts with unique territories favor certain traits in field hunters, for example, when hunting coyote in the western U.S., a faster horse with more stamina is required to keep up, as coyotes are faster than foxes and inhabit larger territories. Hunters must be well-mannered, have the athletic ability to clear large obstacles such as wide ditches, tall fences, and rock walls, and have the stamina to keep up with the hounds.
Dependent on terrain, and to accommodate different levels of ability, hunts generally have alternative routes that do not involve jumping. The hunt may be divided into two groups, with one group, the First Field, that takes a more direct but demanding route that involves jumps over obstacles while another group, the Second Field (also called Hilltoppers or Gaters), takes longer but less challenging routes that utilize gates or other types of access on the flat.
Fox hunts are the setting for many social rituals, but the hunting itself begins when hounds are "cast" (put into) rough or brushy areas called coverts, where foxes often lay up during daylight hours or when they hear dogs moving toward them. If the pack manages to pick up the scent of a fox, they will track it for as long as they are able. Scenting can be affected by temperature, humidity, and other factors. The hounds pursue the trail of the fox and the riders follow, by the most direct route possible. Since this may involve very athletic skill on the part of horse and rider alike, fox hunting is the origin of traditional equestrian sports including steeplechase and point to point racing. The hunt continues until either the fox evades the hounds, goes to ground or is overtaken and usually killed by the hounds. In the case of Scottish hill packs or the gun packs of Wales and upland areas of England, the fox is flushed to guns. Hunts in the Cumbrian fells and other upland areas are followed by supporters on foot rather than on horseback. In the UK, where the fox goes to ground, terriers may be entered into the earth to locate the fox so that it can be dug down to and killed.
Social rituals are important to hunts, although many have fallen into disuse. One of the most notable was the act of blooding. This is a very old ceremony in which the master or huntsman would smear the blood of the fox or coyote onto the cheeks or forehead of a newly initiated hunt follower, often a young child. Another practice of some hunts was to cut off the tail ('brush'), the feet ('pads') and the head ('mask') as trophies, with the carcass then thrown to the dogs. Both of these practices were widely abandoned during the nineteenth century, although isolated cases may still have occurred to the modern day.
In the U.S., some cubs are chased and allowed to escape to teach them better skills of evasion so that they may be tracked (preferably without being killed) again another day. Many foxes learn to evade the hounds by running up or down streams, running along the tops of fences, and other tactics to throw the hounds off the scent.
Once the season proper starts (usually from early November in the northern hemisphere, or May in the southern hemisphere), the idea is to drive the fox from the covert and chase it for long distances over open countryside. The northern hemisphere season continues through to April, though a few hunts continue into early May. Fox cubs are born between January and May, dependent on their geographical range, which means that pregnant and nursing vixens may be hunted.
In addition to members of the hunt staff, a committee may run the Hunt Supporters Club to organise fundraising and social events and in America many hunts are incorporated and have parallel lines of leadership.
Britain, Ireland and America each have a Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA) which consists of current and past masters of foxhounds. This is the governing body for all foxhound packs and deals with disputes about boundaries between hunts.
Mounted hunt followers typically wear traditional hunting attire. A prominent feature of hunts operating during the formal hunt season (between late October and the end of March) is that hunt members wear 'colours'. This attire consists of the traditional scarlet coats only worn by huntsmen, masters, former masters, whippers-in (regardless of sex) and other hunt staff members, and are also known as Pinks or Pinques; the ladies generally wearing scarlet tabs on their black or dark navy coats. These help them stand out from the rest of the field. Various theories about the derivation of this term have been given, ranging from the colour of a weathered scarlet coat to the name of a purportedly famous tailor.
Some hunts, including most hare hunts, use green rather than red jackets. The colour of breeches (riding pants) vary from hunt to hunt and are generally of one colour, though two or three colours throughout the year may be permitted. Unlike the jacket, the colours of the breeches remains the same throughout the cubbing and formal seasons. Boots are generally English dress boots (no laces). For the men they are black with brown leather tops (called top boots), and for the ladies, black with a patent black leather top of similar proportion to the men. Additionally, the number of buttons is significant. The Master of the hunt wears a scarlet coat with four brass buttons while the huntsman and other professional staff wear five. Amateur whippers-in also wear four buttons.
Another differentiation in dress between the amateur and professional staff is found in the ribbons at the back of the hunt cap. These ribbons were designed to deflect rain over the collar of the coat rather than allowing it to drip down the back of the neck. The professional staff wear their hat ribbons down, while amateur staff and members of the field wear their ribbons up. The traditional reason given for these differences is that the professional staff has no option but to remain out in inclement weather, whereas the amateur or field member may go home whenever they wish.
Those members who do not wear colours, tend to dress in a black hunt coat and unadorned black buttons for both men and ladies (called "ratcatcher"), with breeches the same as the other members. Boots are all English dress boots and have no other distinctive look. Some hunts also further restrict the wear of formal attire to weekends and holidays and use ratcatcher all other times.
Other members of the mounted field follow strict rules of clothing etiquette. For example, those under eighteen will wear tweed jackets or ratcatcher all season. Those over eighteen will wear ratcatcher during Autumn hunting from late August until the Opening Meet, normally around November 1. From the Opening Meet they will switch to regular hunting kit where full subscribers will wear scarlet and the rest black or navy. (In American hunts, only Masters, staff and gentlemen members with colours wear scarlet.) The highest honour is to be awarded the hunt button by the Hunt Master. This means you can then wear the hunt collar (colour varies from hunt to hunt) and buttons with the hunt crest on them. (In America male followers are awarded their colours, which includes the right to wear a scarlet coat. Female followers are usually awarded colours which allow them to wear the collar of the hunt but also often a dark navy coat with brass buttons.)
Amongst its findings, the Burns Inquiry committee analysed opposition to hunting in the UK and reported that:
Anti-hunting activists who chose to take action in opposing fox hunting can do so through legal means such as campaigning for fox hunting legislation and monitoring hunts for cruelty or illegal activities. Some activists choose to engage in direct intervention such as the sabotage of the hunt. Hunt Sabotage is illegal in a majority of the United States, and tactics used (such as trespass and criminal damage) are illegal in other countries.
Fox hunting has been undertaken since the 1500s, and in this time, strong traditions have built up around the activity, as have businesses and rural activities and hierarchies. For this reason, there are still large numbers of people who support fox hunting, and this can be for a variety of reasons.
Opponents of fox hunting claim that the activity is not necessary for fox control, arguing that the fox is not a pest species and that hunting does not and cannot make a real difference to fox populations. They compare the number of foxes killed in the hunt to the many more killed on the roads. They also argue that wildlife management goals of the hunt can be met more effectively by other methods such as lamping (dazzling a fox with a bright light, then shooting by a competent shooter using an appropriate weapon and load).
Fox hunts claim to provide and maintain a good habitat for foxes and other game, and, in the U.S., have been leaders in fostering conservation legislation and putting land into conservation easements. Anti hunting campaigners cite the widespread existence of artificial earths, and the historic practice by hunts of introducing foxes, as indicating that hunts do not believe foxes to be pests.
It is also argued that hunting with dogs has the advantage of weeding out old, sick and weak animals because the strongest and healthiest foxes are those most likely to escape. Therefore, unlike other methods of controlling the fox population, it is argued that hunting with dogs resembles natural selection. The counter-argument is given that hunting can not kill old foxes because foxes have a natural death rate of 65% per annum.
In Australia, where foxes are a major ecological pest, the Government's Department of the Environment and Heritage concluded that "hunting does not seem to have had a significant or lasting impact on fox numbers." Instead, control of foxes relies heavily on shooting, poisoning and fencing.
Since the ban in the UK, there has been no evidence of significant job losses, and hunts have continued to operate along limited lines, either trail hunting, or claiming to use exemptions in the legislation.
Many animal welfare activists believe that fox hunting is unfair and cruel to animals, most especially the fox. They argue that the chase itself causes fear and distress and that fox is not always killed instantly as hunters claim, but is torn to pieces by hounds. Animal rights campaigners also object to fox hunting, on the grounds of a belief that animals should enjoy the same rights as humans (such as the right to life).
In the United States and Canada, pursuing the quarry for the sheer purpose of killing is strictly forbidden by the Masters of Foxhounds Association. According to article 2 of the organisation's code:
Supporters of hunting maintain that when a fox is hunted with dogs, it is either killed relatively quickly (instantly or in a matter of seconds) or escapes uninjured. Similarly, they say that the animal rarely endures hours of torment and pursuit by hounds, and research by Oxford University shows that the fox is normally killed after only an average of 17 minutes of chase. They further argue that, while hunting with dogs may cause suffering, controlling fox numbers by other means is even more cruel. Depending on the skill of the shooter, the type of firearm used, the availability of good shooting positions and luck, shooting foxes can cause either an instant kill, or lengthy periods of agony for wounded animals which can die of the trauma within hours, or of secondary infection over a period of days or weeks. Research from wildlife hospitals, however, indicates that it is not uncommon for foxes with shot wounds to survive. Hunt supporters further say that it is a matter of humanity to kill foxes rather than allow them to suffer malnourishment and mange.
Other methods include the use of snares, trapping and poisoning, all of which also cause considerable distress to the animals concerned, and may affect other species. This was considered in the Burns Inquiry (paras 6.60–11), whose tentative conclusion was that lamping using rifles fitted with telescopic sights, if carried out properly and in appropriate circumstances, had fewer adverse welfare implications than hunting. The committee believed that lamping was not possible without vehicular access, and hence said that the welfare of foxes in upland areas could be affected adversely by a ban on hunting with hounds, unless dogs could be used to flush foxes from cover (as is permitted in the Hunting Act 2004).
Some opponents of hunting criticise the fact that the animal suffering in fox hunting takes place for sport, citing either that this makes such suffering unnecessary and therefore cruel, or else that killing or causing suffering for sport is immoral. The Court of Appeal, in considering the British Hunting Act determined that the legislative aim of the Hunting Act was "a composite one of preventing or reducing unnecessary suffering to wild mammals, overlaid by a moral viewpoint that causing suffering to animals for sport is unethical."
Anti-hunting campaigners also criticised UK hunts of which the Burns Inquiry estimated that fox hunts put down around 3,000 hounds, and the hare hunts who killed around 900 hounds per year, in each case after the dogs' working life had come to an end.
Hunt saboteurs frequently trespass to monitor or disrupt the hunt, and this is referred to in their 'tactics' manuals, although many hunt monitors choose not to do so whilst they observe the hunts in progress. In the United Kingdom, attempts to disrupt hunts fall under the criminal offence of aggravated trespass, rather than being considered as civil trespass which the hunts may be guilty of.
Hunt supporters previously claimed that, in the event of a ban, hunts would not be able to convert and that many hounds would have to be put down.
In the UK, supporters of fox hunting regard it as a distinctive part of British culture generally, the basis of traditional crafts and a key part of social life in rural areas, an activity and spectacle enjoyed not only by the riders but also by others such as the unmounted pack which may follow along on foot, bicycle or 4x4. They see the social aspects of hunting as reflecting the demographics of the area; the Home Counties packs, for example, are very different from those in North Wales and Cumbria, where the hunts are very much the activity of farmers and the working class. The Banwen Miners Hunt has been used as an example, founded in a small Welsh mining village, although its membership now is by no means limited to miners, with a cosmopolitan make up.
Oscar Wilde, in his 1893 play A Woman of No Importance, once famously referred to "the English country gentleman galloping after a fox" as "the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable. Even before the time of Wilde, much of the criticism of fox hunting has been couched in terms of social class. They argue that while more "working class" blood sports such as cock fighting and badger baiting were long ago outlawed, fox hunting persists, although this argument can be countered with the fact that hare coursing, a more 'working class' sport was outlawed simultaneously to fox hunting with hounds in the UK. Philosopher Roger Scruton believes that the analogy with cock fighting and badger baiting is unfair because these sports were more cruel and did not involve any element of pest control.
John Leech had a series of "Mr. Briggs" cartoons in Punch during the 1850s, which illustrated class issues. More recently the British anarchist group Class War has argued explicitly for disruption of fox hunts on class warfare grounds and even published a book The Rich at Play examining the subject. Other groups with similar aims, such as 'Revolutions per minute' have also published papers which disparage fox hunting on the basis of the social class of its participants.
Polls in the UK have shown that the UK public equally divided as to whether or not hunt objectors hold their views based primarily on class grounds. Some people point to evidence of class bias in the voting patterns in the British House of Commons during voting on the hunting bill 2000-2001, with traditionally working class Labour forcing legislation through against the votes of normally middle and upper class Conservative members.
There have also been several musical artists who have used fox hunting, with both Ray Noble and George Formby recording Tan Tan Tivvy Tally Ho!, a comic song about fox hunting, in 1932 and 1938 respectively. More recently Dizzee Rascal used the concept of a fox-hunt for his video of Sirens, showing a stylised urban hunt.