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19th January 2016

Death Knell Sounded For Stag Hunting?

Run to exhaustion, alone, being savaged by hounds and shot - this is the reality of stag hunting before the Hunting Act and what we will return to if it gets repealed. Tiverton Stag Hounds, 26 February 1982. Photo courtesy of Mike Huskisson

During the late 1990’s, National Trust (NT) members expressed concerns  about stag hunting on NT properties. As a result of these concerns the NT commissioned and financed a study into the welfare implications of hunting with hounds.

The study was carried out by Professor Patrick Bateson, Professor of Ethology (animal behaviour) at the University of Cambridge, and his his assistant, Elizabeth L Bradshaw.

Bateson and Bradshaw conducted their study with the full and active co-operation of officials, staff and followers from two stag hunts: the Devon & Somerset Stag Hounds and the Quantock Stag Hounds.

Bateson and Bradshaw studied 64 red deer that were subjected to hunting with hounds. It was the first time ever that scientific and observational evidence of the state of red deer at their time of death had been taken. Blood and muscle samples obtained immediately after death were compared with similar samples from 50 non-hunted red deer that had been shot cleanly with rifles.

On March 11th 1997 Bateson and Bradshaw published a report, entitled Behavioral and Physiological Effects of Culling Red Deer. The National Trust responded by banning stag hunting on their properties the next day. It should be noted that the two hunts involved, and the Tiverton Stag Hounds, continued to hunt deer in their traditional way right up until the Hunting Act (2004) came in to force. Subsequently, exemptions under the Hunting Act permit a modified form of stag hunting to this day.

Bateson and Bradshaw open their Report with ‘Summary Comments’ as follows:

– When red deer (Cervus elaphus) were hunted by humans with hounds the average distance travelled was at least 19km.

– The effects on deer of long hunts were (i) depletion of carbohydrate resources for powering muscles, (ii) disruption of muscle tissue, and (iii) elevated secretion of B-endorphin. High concentrations of cortisol, typically associated with extreme physiological and psychological stress, were found.

– Taken together, the evidence suggests that red deer are not well-adapted by their evolutionary or individual history to cope with the level of activity imposed on them when hunted with hounds.

Bateson and Bradshaw finish their Report with a ‘Discussion’, which includes the following concluding comments:

– the exertion associated with hunting with hounds resulted in marked physiological disturbances of red deer, including muscle damage and pronounced intravascular haemolysis [rupture or destruction of red blood cells]. We do not believe that these changes merely occurred at the end of the hunts. The evidence suggests that haemolysis occurred early in the hunt, resulting perhaps from upsets in ionic balance, extreme plasma acidity or hyperthermia.

– Other evidence points to the cumulative effects of hunting: for instance, leakage of muscle enzymes into the bloodstream was greater in more excessive hunts.

– this study provides the first quantitative evidence that the physiological effects of hunts of even a relatively short distance and duration are severe, while longer hunts are characterised by signs of extreme exhaustion. Physiological changes of this nature are uncommon in both human and non-human athletes, and would not be expected to result from the typically short chases of red deer by wolves in natural conditions.

Patrick Bateson and Elizabeth L Bradshaw Behavioral and Physiological Effects of Culling Red Deer (full report):

Further reading:

THES, Deer Hunters Must Call Off The Dogs, 11 April 1997

© Joe Hashman

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9 Comments | Leave a comment

  • MaryAlice Pollard (@CornwallsVoice) says:
    Posted January 20, 2016 at 4:11 pm

    I wonder if this country isn’t going from bad to worse ….. our wildlife does not deserve such cruel disrespect by the powers who rule over us. Anyone who supports or takes part in this blood sport, well, I am running out of words to describe them.
    Scum is all I will call them for now.

    Reply to this comment >
    • Di crossey says:
      Posted May 22, 2016 at 8:06 pm

      Thankyou for saying exactly how I feel all hunting should be banned completely No Exemptions

      Reply to this comment >
    • Mark Carroll says:
      Posted February 11, 2017 at 8:05 pm

      Grow up love.

      Reply to this comment >
      • Sheila Jones says:
        Posted October 09, 2018 at 1:45 pm

        I’d suggest it’s you who needs to grow up, moron.

        Reply to this comment >
  • Valerie Byrd says:
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 9:56 am

    Why are people allowed to chase and kill OUR wildlife for there own bloodlust is totally unacceptable in my opinion and Millions of others .

    Reply to this comment >
  • Marnie says:
    Posted June 06, 2017 at 9:47 pm

    The Hunting Act 2004 needs to be tightened to ensure hunting with hounds is completely abolished and that those who break the law are convicted. Over 20 hounds PTS this year from one hunting pack in Henley-on-Thames due to TB

    Reply to this comment >
  • Ann Eccles says:
    Posted September 01, 2018 at 12:13 pm

    Ban ALL hunting of wildlife

    Reply to this comment >
  • Josephine Wilson says:
    Posted April 10, 2019 at 5:02 am

    The law is being blatantly broken in full view and protection of the police!
    Hunting wildlife is cruel and barbaric!
    It is against the law to hunt with dogs and yet it goes on. Why is this allowed? It seems there is one law for the type of people that hunt and another for the rest of us?

    Reply to this comment >
    • HoundsOff says:
      Posted April 15, 2019 at 2:32 pm

      No there isn’t, or rather there shouldn’t be. But the Hunting Act is a minefield to enforce and hunters are extremely devious in how they circumvent it. We are working with the police and other stakeholders to change this situation.

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