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Fox Hunting With Hounds

Fox hunters  Mounted fox hunting with hounds is the sport of people who enjoy a frantic horseback gallop across country. The object is to chase a fox tracked and pursued by a pack of hounds. The riders gain more enjoyment on a fox hunt than on an ordinary foxless gallop because the fox may lead them anywhere to escape the hounds - along valleys, across streams, through hedges and over fences. If the hounds catch the fox, they, the huntsman or his assistants, kill him. People hunt foxes in many ways but this manner of hunting is the kind the public most often associate with the term 'fox hunting'.

Hunting with hounds stirs up widespread and angry controversy. Detractors say it is immoral to chase and kill animals for fun and sport. Supporters of fox hunting say they are helping farmers to control foxes. It seems as though an unbridgeable division between social classes and town and country lifestyles obstructs a resolution between fox supporters and fox hunters. In Britain, for example, fox hunters are portrayed as wealthy, privileged or land-owning upper class. Fox supporters are depicted as lower class townies with no understanding of country life. But these are stereotypes, extreme positions; most people fall somewhere in between.

The Characters

The Huntsman
The person who controls the hounds. He decides where to go and what to do, carries a hunting horn, and tries to stay with the pack of hounds as much as possible.

The Mounted Field
The mass of people (sometimes up to 50) galloping after the hounds and fox. These riders pay to take part in the hunt, may have little interest in hounds and foxes, but are interest in horses, galloping and socialising.

The Hounds
The dogs who run about to find and follow the scent left by a fox. A pack of hounds can number up to around 40 dogs. Some individuals are better than others at finding and following scent, so the combined talents of more hounds are better than few hounds. The hunt is contrived to last as long as possible by breeding hounds who are slower than foxes and superior in stamina.

The Fox
A hound towers above a fox, who is a lot smaller and roughly half the weight (about 6.5 kg / 14.5 lbs). A fox's scent lingers on the ground for some time, but a fox can make tracking it difficult for the hounds. He can take a course through odours that mask it, like running through a sheep flock or across ground with manure or mint. The fox gains time and distance from the hounds if they lose his scent and must find it again.

The Whippers-In
Two or three people who assist the huntsman by keeping the hounds together on the hunt, by rounding up stray or straggling hounds and by keeping a lookout for foxes.

The Terriermen
They block the entrances to earths (fox dens) the night before a hunt begins. Blocking forces all the foxes to lie up above ground on the day of the hunt. This makes it easier for the hounds to find them and prevents foxes seeking refuge during a chase. Terriermen also dig up foxes who somehow manage to find refuge below ground during a chase. They send down a terrier dog to corner the fox, then dig down to flush the fox into the open for the hunt to continue. Digging may take some time so the terriermen kill the fox if the hunt has moved on.

The Followers
The people who follow the hunt on foot or by car and may number several dozen. Anyone can follow a hunt for free or at nominal cost. Some followers are knowledgeable fox hunting enthusiasts and try to get in on the kill.

The Main Event

The Socialising
People, hounds and horses assemble for the hunt in the late morning at a pub, road junction or other suitable place. This is called the meet. After the socialising everyone moves off headed by the huntsman and hounds to find the scent of a fox. When not chasing foxes there are the coffee mornings, the annual hunt ball, a formal-dress party, and the annual point-to-point - a one-day race held in early summer.

The Chase
Once the hunters find a fox they pursue him for about 20 minutes on average and stop when the hounds lose the scent, they catch and kill the fox, or the fox hides somewhere and is dug up and killed by terriermen.

The Kill
If a fox cannot escape the hounds, they tear him apart. Before this happens the huntsman or an assistant try to save the fox to kill themselves. His tail is cut off as a souvenir.


Accounted for - euphemism for killing a fox; other euphemisms are bowled over, rolled over, brought to book, dealt with, and punished.

Anti - derogatory name fox hunters use describing anyone against fox hunting.

Bagman - a fox released from a sack, box or similar when required for a hunt, eg a fox the hunt has reared to hunt.

Brush - a fox's tail.

Chop - kill a fox before he has given the hunt a run.

Covert - vegetation like woodland or a thicket where a fox may shelter.

Cub hunting - the period of year when fox cubs are hunted.

Earth - a fox's den, especially below ground.

Foil - anything that obliterates the fox's scent, like manure a much used road or a stream.

Give best - let the fox escape to be hunted another day.

Gone to ground - a fox trying to hide in a refuge.

Holla - a cry the hunters give when they sight a fox quarry.

A hunt - an organised group of fox hunters meeting regularly.

Hunt country - a hunt's territory recognised by other hunts.

Inblood - hounds who have recently killed a fox.

Jink - a sharp turn by a hunted fox to throw off pursuing hounds.

Law - a head start the hunt gives a fox before chasing him.

Mark - a place where a pursued fox is hiding.

Mask - a fox's face or head.

Mob - to surround a pursued fox before he can escape.

Ringing - a fox running in a circle such as around the periphery of his territory.

Riot - when the hounds hunt an animal other than the intended quarry.

Scarlet - the red hunting coat worn by fox hunters (incorrectly called pinks).

Tally ho - a cry hunters give when sighting a fox to chase.


Mounted fox hunts with dogs ride in Europe, Australia and the Americas. Several countries have fully or partially banned them. Fox hunting with dogs is now illegal in Britain by Act of Parliament (2003 in Scotland and 2004 in England).

Fox Hunting With Dogs In Britain
Fox hunting with hounds in Britain has been well established for over a century. Table 1 shows data for fox hunting with dogs in Britain in 2000 (from a number of sources).

Table 1: Fox hunting with dogs in Britain in 2000
Number of registered fox hunts
(ie societies)
Area hunted 160,000+ sq km
(about 2/3 of Britain)
Number of hunting days 20,000+
Number of meetings 15,000+
Number of followers on horse 50,000+
Number of followers by foot & car 110,000+
Annual attendance at all functions 1.3 million people

Fox Mortality In Britain

From Table 2 below you can see that people kill around 300,000 foxes each year in Britain, about equivalent to all the fox cubs born annually. Fox hunts kill about 20,000 foxes a year. The great majority of foxes are killed by motorists, snare setters and shooters. Thus foxes suffer a high mortality rate and fox hunters are only one of their troubles.

Table 2: Rough numbers of foxes killed annually in Britain
Adult population 200,000
Cub population 300,000
Causes of mortality:  
    Motorists 50,000 - 100,000
    Snare setters 50,000 - 100,000
    Shooters 50,000 - 100,000
    Terriermen &
    fox destruction clubs
    Mounted hunts with hounds:  
          Adult foxes 10,000 - 12,000
          Fox cubs 8,000 - 10,000
  Total mortality 190,000 - 340,000

Fox hunters claim they stop fox numbers becoming a plague. But highly cropped species tend to breed more prolifically than when they are left untouched. Foxes in Britain are highly cropped and breed prodigiously, so hunting them does not keep their population in check. Foxes survive in Britain because they are able to make up for their lost numbers in cubs. The natural life span of foxes is several years but their heavy death toll results in a very young population. Few foxes live beyond 18 months.


Chasing and killing foxes for sport does not treat pursued foxes with respect as sentient beings, as subjects of a life. Fox hunters treat foxes as objects of instrumental value (profitable), not as animals with intrinsic worth (valuable for themselves). They ignore any rights they might give foxes, such as a right to live a life and to live free from human interference. They withhold from foxes the right to live to an age they might otherwise achieve.

Fox hunting has hidden harmful offshoots that go beyond individual hunted foxes to the wider fox population to which fox hunters give no consideration. When one member of a mated pair is killed, the emotional bond that held them together is broken, surely resulting in the vulpine equivalent of the feeling of loss or grief in the surviving fox. The social relations of male-female pairs and families are constantly disrupted because individual members are continually killed. When hunters kill a territory-holding fox, other foxes fight to claim the vacant position and neighbouring resident territory-holders must skirmish to readjust their borders to accommodate the newcomer. All this is stressful for foxes.

Given that fox hunting with hounds is a sport and that morally good sports respect other beings and do not harm them, the morality of hunting with hounds is in grave doubt to say the least.

For & Against: argue your case

Fox Hunting is Good Sport
  • Claim: Fox hunting is a popular sport, a tradition and a way of life.

  • Claim: It is morally wrong to cause any animal unnecessary suffering, especially in the name of sport. Normal people would not tolerate little boys chasing and killing kittens for fun. No one should tolerate grownups doing the same to foxes.

  • Control
  • Claim: There are too many foxes so they need to be controlled.

  • Claim: Nature regulates fox populations, mainly through food supply. Where a fox population out-grows its food supply fewer vixens breed, fewer cubs survive and the population declines. When food becomes abundant more vixens breed, there are more and larger litters and the population grows.

  • Moral Maintenance
  • Claim: Humans have radically altered the countryside over thousands of years, so have a moral responsibility to maintain it. By hunting with hounds we ensure foxes do not become too numerous and a serious pest.

  • Claim: Available food and fox territorial behaviour (which ensures foxes with territories get the most food) regulate fox numbers naturally. Hunting with hounds has little influence on fox numbers. Most foxes die on the roads or from shooting. Breeding quickly makes up for lost numbers.

  • Hunting Foxes is Natural
  • Claim: Hunting foxes with hounds is the most natural method of fox control because foxes are adapted to being hunted.

  • Claim: The only natural predators of adult foxes in Britain are wolves. People exterminated the last wolves in Britain over 300 years ago. So foxes have no natural predator and are not used to being chased.

  • Fox Hunting is Humane Control
  • Claim: Hunting foxes with hounds is humane, unlike alternative methods of killing them, because the fox is never left wounded or to die slowly. Either a fox is killed outright or a fox gets away unharmed.

  • Claim: Foxes escaping the hounds after a long chase may die from stress long after the hunt. A competent and trained shooter kills a fox instantly, or rapidly after that if the first shot wounds.

  • Foxes Enjoy It
  • Claim: Pursued foxes enjoy the chase because they often show little hurry to get away, often going in a circle even though they could go to ground.

  • Claim: Trying to interpret correctly what other people are doing or thinking is very difficult; almost impossible with wild animals. So your interpretation of fox behaviour is likely wrong.

  • Quickie Death
  • Claim: A hound kills a fox with a quick nip to the back of the neck. The fox dies instantly and does not suffer (although the hounds may then dismember the already dead fox).

  • Claim: Hounds do not kill quickly but bite and tear at the nearest parts of the fox they can get to. Death can take up to one or two minutes.

  • Some Foxes Always Escape
  • Claim: A hunt does not catch and kill all foxes. Many foxes escape to lead normal lives.

  • Claim: Hunted foxes my die even when they are not killed directly by a Hunt. Some foxes may be too exhausted to recover, subsequent lack of hunting success leads to a downward spiral of starvation, susceptibility to disease and an early death.

  • Good for Hounds
  • Claim: Fox hunting is good for hounds. Hounds enjoy the hunt and are well looked after. When their working life is over they are found good homes or humanely put down.

  • Claim: Hunts shoot hounds who do not like hunting, have no talent for it or are difficult to control. When hounds become too slow to keep up with the pack they are also shot and rarely given to homes. Hunts kill up to 10,000 hounds annually.

  • Injured Hounds & Horses
  • Claim: Hounds get injured or killed on busy roads and railway lines and horses are injured jumping barriers. Huntsmen abuse and whip their hounds to control them.

  • Claim: Most injuries to hounds and horses are slight and the risk of injury is no greater than greyhound racing for dogs or cross country eventing for horses.

  • Disturbance
  • Claim: Hunts hold up road and rail traffic disrupting and inconveniencing travellers, they trample crops, stamped and kill livestock, invade private property, injure or kill domestic pets and distress innocent parties.

  • Claim: Traffic on roads is sometimes briefly held up. Accidents happen but are rare. Grazing stock move out of the way. Fox hunting does not disturb non-target animals and most hunting is on private land.

  • Fox Health is Improved
  • Claim: Hunting foxes with hounds improves the fox population's health by removing the diseased, sick, weak and aged, because only the best foxes can escape the hounds, ensuring that the remaining foxes are strong and healthy.

  • Claim: Should diseased or weak foxes recover, they cannot pass on their genetic resistance to the fox population to improve it if hunts kill them. About half the foxes that hunts kill are cubs; they are not sick or old. Killing old foxes is ageism.

  • Banning One Bans the Lot
  • Claim: Banning fox hunting with hounds will inevitably lead to bans on shooting and fishing. Therefore we must retain and support fox hunting.

  • Claim: We must ban fox hunting with hounds. Shooting and fishing are completely separate issues, must be discussed on their own merits and addressed as politicians and the public see best.

  • Also see: Hunt Saboteurs Association

    © 2004 Roger Panaman All rights reserved