WHAT HAPPENS ON A FOXHUNT?
The Secret Date
During the hunting season (autumn to spring) the hunts go out at least twice a week. Most people need to know when the hunt is coming to their locality. There are a lot of people, animals and vehicles involved. These cause disruption, particularly on country lanes. Many locals would like to keep their pets inside because a pack of dogs on the loose is dangerous.
The hunts, however, refuse to let the locals know when they’re coming. You have to be part of their circle to find out the date and the location of the Meet. They want to keep their activities private. We can only speculate as to why.
The Hunts Prepare
Early on the day of the hunt, terrier men arrive in the secret location. These are men (sometimes masked) on dark-coloured quad bikes, often with mud obscuring the number plates. There is usually a box on the front and the back of the quad bike. In it, there will be a small terrier. Other paid hunt employees might also arrive.
Knowing where the badger setts are, these people are often here to block up the badgers’ holes. If the sett is active, they are burying the badgers, and their cubs, alive. They are doing this to make sure that the fox can’t hide in a badger hole. Sometimes, they leave one hole open. If a hunted fox runs into the hole, they can send in a terrier to keep them at bay, then they dig them out and either start the hunt off again, or throw the fox to the hounds.
The Hunt Arrives at The Meet
Towards mid-morning, a large number of horseboxes, 4X4s, horses, riders and hounds start to arrive at a pre-arranged place. Whoever is hosting (often a farm) has a table ready with drinks for the riders. A red coat is often seen taking a glass of red wine, or other alcoholic beverage, before a hunt.
The hounds are already loose, and they can be seen running about in between the 4X4s and out into the country lanes. The huntsman in charge of the hounds communicates with the hounds by voice or by his hunting horn.
The Meet doesn’t just involve riders, horses and hounds. A number of “hunt supporters” also show up. These are people who can’t or don’t ride, but they like to follow the hunt about, watching the kills from the road – often from a high point, with good visibility.
The Hunt Leaves
There are two groups of riders. Firstly, there are riders wearing red (or some other colour) coats. All the huntsmen wear the same colour coat, as a uniform. They are part of the hunt itself. Then there is another group – “the field”. These riders, often dressed in blue jackets, have paid to ride along with the hunt.
The people in the red (or other colour) coats and the hounds lead the field off. The hunt supporters climb back in their 4x4s and drive to high points, so they can see where the hunt goes. They drive about after the hunt, parking on the sides of lanes, getting out with binoculars.
If you happen to encounter a hunter on the road, he (or she) will often stop to raise their riding hat at you and they may wish you good morning. However, if you ran into the same person later on in the day, and you had your video camera out to film them chasing/killing/digging out a fox, their greeting would not be anywhere near as polite.
The Hunt Starts to Look for a Fox
The hunt will know where they intend to begin. They head for places where a fox is likely to be resting up for the day. This could be a copse, or a field with low bushes, or low vegetation. The huntsman sends the hounds in to begin to hunt for the scent of a fox.
Most of the riders stand about, watching.
A Fox is Flushed Out
When a fox is sighted, the huntsman alerts all the hounds with a particular note on his horn. Sometimes a hunt supporter will shout and point to the fox.
The fox runs; the hounds follow; the horses and riders follow.
The hunt wants to have a good chase. The last thing they want is for the hounds to catch the fox immediately, otherwise they don’t get to gallop about and leap over hedges. The field would ask for their money back. No one would have any fun.
The chase can go on for hours. Sometimes the hunts lose a fox and then find it again. Sometimes they don’t find it again.
The Fox is Killed
When the fox can no longer run, the hounds catch up. Dogs kill by tearing flesh. The fox dies by being torn limb from limb. It can take a while.
Up at the viewing point, the hunt supporters have got their binoculars trained on the spot where the fox is being killed. Many of them cheer and congratulate each other on the kill.
Clearing up the Body
Because what they have done is illegal, the hunts have to remove the evidence. The terriermen arrive, pick up the body and any parts of the body that have been torn away.
Doing it Again
One fox is never enough. Once they hunt has killed, they’ll start all over again.
The End of the Day
When the light starts to wane, the hunt packs up. The huntsman leads the wet, bloody hounds back to the original meet place. Everyone leaves.