INTRODUCTION - FOX HUNTING
Fox hunting with horses and hounds is a controversial topic. It's one that sparks strong feelings in people on both sides of the argument. It can be hard to find unbiased information about fox hunting without looking at news stories from across the pond. However, I think it's important to know how foxes are hunted before you make up your mind about whether or not this sport should be banned. Fox hunting was recently made illegal although it is an activity that is constantly on the fence as to whether it should be made legal or remain illegal. In this blog post, I will provide some basic facts about fox hunting. Then give my opinion on its ethics - so read on if you want to hear more!
WHAT IS FOX HUNTING
Fox hunting is a term that is generally used to describe fox hunting on horseback with hounds. Although there are different types of fox hunting. For example, hunting them with rifles which is normally done by one or two people discreetly and humanely. Fox hunting with hounds and horses however garners a lot more attention because of the way it is conducted. It can involve a lot of people, horses, hounds and vehicles which do not go un-noticed by people who are opposed to the idea.
The hounds are used to locate a foxes scent trail, the hounds will then bark when they have picked up a scent. The barking signals to the horsemen that a fox has been located and allows the horsemen to follow their noise on horseback. They then proceed to chase the fox, normally towards a line of guns which will shoot the fox if it comes close enough to do so.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF HUNTS
There are two different types of fox hunting in the UK, which we'll call "drag or trail" and "live." The drag hunt is a sport where hounds follow a scent (usually an artificial one) to find their prey. Live hunts involve following a live fox on horse back with a pack of dogs. Both methods typically use horses as well as dogs, with at least eight being used for each type. On average there's between 20-30 people involved on any given day - but this number can fluctuate depending on how large the pack is!
PROS AND CONS OF FOX HUNTING
WHY PEOPLE HUNT FOXES
As foxes are pests in the United Kingdom, farmers and other landowners will hire a hunting group to dispatch them. Hunting groups were normally paid per head of animal dispatched or an annual fee by the farmer. These hunts happen on private land with permission from the owner. The farmers want the foxes numbers to be controlled as they often will have livestock taken when they are young and vulnerable.
From my personnel experience I have found that livestock is particularly vulnerable from fox predation after a bout of myxomatosis has passed through the area. Myxomatosis is a disease that decimates the natural population of rabbits and is very common in the UK. As you can imagine, if one of the foxes natural food sources which is abundant one minute and then suddenly taken away from them the next. It will and does have an impact on the food chain, foxes often turn to livestock during this period.
THE HISTORY OF FOX HUNTING
Fox hunting started in the 16th century, when King Henry VIII set up a well-organized group of fox hunters to help him control the country’s growing population of wild and stray dogs. The sport then became an activity. Pursued by only those with enough money for horses and access to large forests capable of sustaining fox populations. Fox hunting was then banned in the UK in 2005 but has since been muted to be on the fence as to whether is should return or not. It is still a legal activity in many countries such as Northern Ireland, United States, Australia and many more.
WHAT TO BRING AND WEAR ON A HUNT
Although live fox hunting is now banned in the UK, "trail and drag" hunts do still exist. Therefore, if you want to take part in these I suggest the following items of clothing:
WHY IT'S CONTROVERSIAL AND WHY SOME PEOPLE OPPOSE IT
Fox hunting is controversial because the fox is pursued in the wild with dogs. Some people oppose it because they believe that this chase and subsequent killing of the fox for sport should be illegal due to cruelty. While others are pro-hunting and argue that hunting can help species conservation. By reducing populations that would otherwise not be controlled. Foxes in nowadays do not have any natural predators bar humans. Therefore, when populations are left alone they sky rocket due to favorable modern conditions.
Unfortunately for fox hunts their community has been affected by unethical practices by the few. Because of the nature of their hunt, as we have already discussed. It attracts a lot of attention and the focus has been on these unethical practices. These practices include, running foxes to ground and digging them up, followed by throwing the foxes to the awaiting pack of dogs. Other instances which have been seen by the public include throwing live fox cubs into a pen of dogs to train them on the correct scent! Obviously, these instances are completely unethical and have damaged their community badly.
WHAT THE LAW SAYS ABOUT FOX HUNTING IN THE UK
The ban of fox hunting with hounds comes under the "Hunting act 2004" legislation. This legislation bans the hunting of wild animals with dogs (foxes, deer, hare & mink among others). However, this legislation still allows the flushing of unidentified wild animals to be shot humanely. Also, it does not affect the ability for hunts to conducts "drag or trail" hunting with artificial scent! This legislation was enforced on the 18th of February 2005.
MY PERSONAL OPINION ON FOX HUNTING
Personally I have been involved with hunting and fishing my entire life. Although fox hunting has never been a practice that I have been brought up on. You get a good understanding what the people are like and what goes on on these hunts. I have however attended two hunts where foxes were flushed out towards a line of guns. One hunt was extremely professional. With a group of experienced hounds-men who were obviously shown the correct way. The other was a complete disaster which was completely unprofessional, so much so that my father and I both left. They had no control over their hounds which were taking off across land which they had no permission on. These two instances for me show why the practice is under the public eye.
When done correctly I have no problem with fox hunting. And for me correctly means flushing the foxes towards a line of very competent shooters. This also means that the hounds conducting the "flushing" are fully controlled by experienced hounds-men who do it for the right reasons. There are many myths in fox hunting, the first one being that the hounds catch an "exhausted fox that can no longer run". This is simply not true, a fox will never be caught by a hound. They are simply too clever, a fox will be well ahead of the pack of dogs and knows the ground much better. Often, the fox will never even know anything about its death. They are shot by a discreet line of guns that when done correctly the fox doesn't even know is there.
My problem arises with fox hunting like many others when unethical practices are used. Like I've mentioned before, digging earths up (foxes dens) or using fox pups as training for their pack of hounds. This isn't humane and is considered barbaric by many and rightly so. I feel sorry for the fox hunting community who carry out the practice completely ethically and humanly. But are let down by the few in their own community. And I can tell you this, nobody dislikes those individual groups more than the wider fox hunting community themselves.