19th Mar 2012
Before the ban on hunting with hounds, abuse of wildlife in the name of sport was widespread and serious. Nowadays, although the abuse sadly still continues, I’ve detected a scaling down of the worst excesses when the hunting fraternity think they’re being watched.
For instance, reports from a Hunt in the south-east are typical; a pack of foxhounds is taken for a glorified dog walk on Saturdays but it’s in the week that hunting live quarry occurs. According to sources, they’ve even resorted to the formerly common practice of ‘bagging’ foxes. This means that a fox is captured beforehand and tipped out of a sack for the dogs to chase. Such an unfortunate fox was referred to as a Bagman. Often a Bagman would have his paws cut first. It made the scent stronger and easier for hounds to follow. A kill was assured, thus keeping the pack ‘in blood’ (meaning, familiar with and keen for the taste of fox).
I believe that the ban on hunting with hounds is a good thing even though the law is definitely not perfect. Some Hunts pack up and go home as soon as anyone they don’t trust pulls out a camera. Others move off to remote land which is difficult for outsiders to access. There are Hunts that carry on regardless but I promise you that what I see nowadays is far less free & easy compared with the couldn’t-give-a-damn attitude of the tally-ho brigade when hunting was still legal pre-February 2005. The Hunting Act is a radical step in the right direction which needs enforcing and reinforcing.
However, as long as the bloodsports community remains “ready for repeal” no one should be complacent.
News of a horrific incident filtered back to me recently on the rural grapevine;
A hunted fox had taken shelter in a hollow between some big tree roots. The hounds were unable to scratch him out and the hunters couldn’t dig him out either. So a noose was fashioned out of barbed wire, hooked around the terrified animal and used to drag him into the open. To save on bullets the live fox was thrown into the air and landed amid the scrum of hungry dogs. A landworker, not actually following the hunt, witnessed this. He’s too afraid to speak out in public for fear of losing his job.
An ex-plumber friend of mine became so incensed when he learnt the shocking truth behind hunting’s glossy façade that he infiltrated Westcountry stag hunts to document and film this so-called sport. Being hunted with hounds is horribly demanding for the deer.
This was the end of one stag hunt which the ex-plumber told me about; “An exhausted stag ran into a private garden. I was on foot and could see flashes of the huntsman’s red coat through a hedge. He had a gun and was looking for the stag to shoot it. All of a sudden, crashing through the hedge, came this stag. He ran for about 25 feet and stood in a clump of overgrown brambles. He was very tired at this stage and couldn’t really move much more. Half a dozen people suddenly appeared and somebody was shouting for the gun. Eventually the man with the gun turned up and the stag was shot. The stag dropped to the ground right in front of me.
“Then, after a second, it stood up again. Very, very slowly. Almost like a cat which has been in a deep sleep and is waking up, it arched its back and stretched its legs deliberately. I thought they’d have to shoot it again but they didn’t. Instead, the stag was led by hands on its antlers and body up a slope. Somebody actually said, ’Let it walk.’ And do you know why they did this?
“The reason they let it walk up and out was so they didn’t have to carry the body up the slope. When they got close to the road they crushed it to the ground again and shot it a second time.
“One of the men turned to me and said, ’That wasn’t right.’ I thought he had also been shocked by this incident, but that wasn’t what he meant. You see, there were anti-hunt monitors out that day with cameras who were nothing to do with me. The man said that he meant this sort of thing should be done carefully and out of sight.”
Legalising this kind of depraved cruelty would be the reality of repealing the Hunting Act. Don’t let anyone tell you different.
Posted by Joe Hashman
8th Mar 2012
I’ve a friend in her fifties and she once told me about her first experience of fox hunting.
The local Hunt was gathering in the farmyard opposite her home. The spectacle was one to see; all those dressed up riders, the sounds and smells of horses, hounds and gathered assembly. She was a girl and naturally curious.
My friend told me that after a long afternoon running around the countryside and getting plastered with mud, she found herself in a place close to home where the woods opened out into fields. An exhausted fox was afoot in broad daylight, struggling to climb the steep hill where, halfway up, she stood. My friend said she also saw the dozens of hounds which were in full cry right behind.
She witnessed this sinking fox being crushed, bitten to the ground and torn apart. My friend has been quietly but firmly anti-hunting ever since.
My introduction to bloodsports was different. My parents brought me up to care about the feelings of animals and, to cut a long story short, on Boxing Day 1982 I found myself in the middle of the countryside with a group of Hunt Saboteurs. We were challenging two blokes who, with spades and terriers, were about to flush a fox from a drain towards expectant riders and hounds from the waiting hunt.
Actually there were two foxes underground. In the scuffle which took place one popped out the other end and made a dash for freedom unseen by the terriermen. The other did break cover in full sight of the hounds. I was with about ten ‘sabs’ who physically put themselves inbetween the hunters and their quarry. We caused chaos and, amazingly, the fox did escape.
How we relate to animals is important to how we develop as a society in relation to our treatment of them. Once, I watched a mother at the end of a stag hunt in Somerset. She stood her toddler atop the neck of the fallen beast and clasped her child’s hands to the magnificent antlers, one on each like riding a motorbike. I thought that was an appalling lesson in disrespect for animals.
As parents we’re at pains to teach our children the importance of honesty. Yet arguments put forward by lovers of bloodsports are, I believe, fundamentally dishonest. Much pro-hunting propaganda is downright contradiction. It has always been so. I remember the days when foxhunters claimed to be controlling a dangerous pest (“The fox ate my chickens”) whilst simultaneously preserving their numbers (“England has the highest fox population in Europe”).
Nowadays, seven years after this cruel bloodsport was banned, the country sports lobby continue their cynical subterfuge. On the one hand they say the Hunting Act (2004) – which prohibits hunting with hounds – is rubbish and doesn’t work. On the other they claim that foxhunters and their like are, apparently, not arrogant criminals because up and down the country Hunts are operating within this Law.
I know what I think.
When hunting with hounds was prohibited seven years ago, what this political outcome represented was simply society recognising in itself that these forms of ritualised animal sacrifice for pleasure and entertainment are unacceptable.
This view is shared by most decent people. Despite the erection of obstacles which have been hard to fathom and overcome, in terms of prosecutions the Hunting Act (2004) has been far and away the most successful piece of wildlife protection legislation in recent decades. Where loopholes do exist there are compelling reasons to close them and reinforce the Act.
I believe that this is what we, as a civilised society, both need and want.
Posted by Joe Hashman