What is Fox Hunting?
It is said the earliest attempt at fox hunting was in Norfolk, England in 1534 when a farmer used his dogs to chase away foxes, considered vermin and threats to rural livestock. But, society critics believed to hunt such “vermin” was beneath their dignity and most hunted deer up until the 1830’s.
Then came the Industrial Revolution with the advent of roads, rails and waterways that encroached upon hunt country and so the return of the fox as quarry began anew, since it doesn’t take as much land to hunt fox as it does deer. By the end of the 19th century the popularity of fox hunting soared as the rising middle-class made sure to elevate the status of “fox” hunting to ensure their social order!
In the last decade, particularly in Europe, the sport has been highly controversial; the huntsmen advocate pest control and conservation for rural areas and animal rights activists say it’s cruel and unneccessary. In the United States and Canada, registered hunts with the Masters of Foxhounds Association may not hunt with the intent to kill but purely for the thrill of the chase. And, as a rule, foxes are not pursued once they have ‘gone to ground.’ American fox hunters take conservation and stewardship of the land very seriously and look to maintain fox populations and habitats as much as possible.
Here’s a football analogy I once heard that puts the sport of fox hunting into perspective. Imagine the fox is the football, the hounds are the football players, the Master of Fox Hounds is the coach, the Whips are the referees and the hunt fields are the cheering fans.
Today, most American hunts will chase fox or coyote. Both will establish a home territory around their dens on which they hunt, primarily for rodents such as field mice or cottontail rabbits but coyotes, because of their size, can just as easily prey on larger animals such as sheep, goats or cows if their territory doesn’t have a big enough food supply. Rather than fall victim, foxes have an inherent sense of avoidance for the coyote and tend to set up camp outside a coyote’s territory.
There are specific breeds of hounds suitable for fox hunting such as the black and tan Penn Marydels used by Long Run Hounds of Simpsonville, Kentucky. Hounds are counted in two’s or couples with a suggested minimum for a regular hunt being 12 couple. During the peak summer months, most hunt clubs will “walk the hounds” on a regular basis in which riders will literally just walk their horses along with the pups to begin their training in the field. Cubbing season is the six weeks or so prior to formal hunting designed to further acclimate and train the young hounds and to condition both hounds and horses.
The Master of Fox Hounds is usually an accomplished horseperson who is adept at navigating the hunt country. They are in charge of the hunt organization and make decisions on where and when to hunt. They must also take a leadership role in fostering good relationships with the landowners and the community.
The Field constitutes all of the persons mounted on horseback following the hunt. There is usually a Jumping or 1st Field where tracts of land are separated by various natural fences and coops and a 2nd or Hilltopper Field where gates are utilized for ingress and egress. When hunts are hosting younger or new-to-the-sport guests, the Master will organize a 3rd Field that keeps a much slower pace.
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