Following Christmas, for many countryside folk, comes the traditional Boxing Day meet – the biggest day of the year on the hunting calendar.

Image: © Fotolia/chris2766.
Image: © Fotolia/chris2766.

More than 10 years after the hunting ban, the debate over its repeal or amendment rages on. It became particularly topical again this year following a proposed vote in parliament, which was swiftly postponed following the actions of the SNP – but I won’t dwell on politics.

I recently took part in a fox hunting debate at veterinary school, involving students and professionals (representatives from the League Against Cruel Sports and the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management), and thought I’d share some of the points made.

I think a lot of the prejudice and misunderstanding surrounding fox hunting stems largely from inexperience.

This may be obvious, as those against hunting – known in the hunting and equestrian world as “antis” – are fairly unlikely to partake in something they disagree with, but also because those who have been hunting understand what goes on and so would not claim it is cruel, unnecessary or inefficient, as many antis do.

Season

Fox hunting takes place within a closed season, generally from mid-October to the beginning of March. This respects the breeding season of foxes, hence defenceless young fox cubs are never targeted using this method of wildlife management. The exception is “cubbing”, which takes place before the main hunting season, usually in September. The purpose of this is to train new hounds and disperse cubs, which are now fully grown, and only “cubs” in the same sense that the lamb chop on your plate at Easter is lamb, but in reality is 50kg of muscle that in life resembles a fully grown sheep.

Using hunting with dogs for wildlife management is a humane and natural method. The fox is hunted in its own territory, and so it is familiar with the terrain and able to use it’s evolutionary instinct to hide and keep ahead of the hounds. The exception is the diseased or maimed fox. Hunting is the only method of controlling fox population numbers that replicates natural selection in that fit and healthy foxes escape unharmed, and it is maimed and diseased foxes that succumb to death.

Culling of the diseased foxes is essential to managing a healthy fox population and protecting the local wildlife and domestic animals from conditions such as mange, leptospirosis and canine distemper, all of which the fox carries. Hunting with hounds selects for foxes with these conditions, which would otherwise succumb to a naturally drawn out death consisting of protracted pain, sepsis, starvation and hypothermia. Is the instant death that comes from hunting with hounds not kinder?

The majority of a hunt is spent with the hounds trying to pick up a scent. This business of foxes being dogged for hours on end to the point of exhaustion is simply not true. The hunt largely comprises the fox being ahead of the game and hiding from the hounds.

Hence the term “sly fox” has a solid foundation. This process is natural for both the hunting dogs and the quarry, and it is not the prolonged chase that the media would have you believe.

Finding the scent

A hunt consists of bursts of fast work across country interspersed with periods of time waiting about for the hounds to find the scent, which can be anything from 15 minutes up to an hour. Ultimately, either the fox escapes unharmed or death is instant due to the power and weight of the dog over the fox, and the resulting cervical dislocation or abdominal trauma.

Other methods of fox population control or culling involve shooting, trapping and poisoning. All of these are associated with a certain degree of wounding, resulting in suffering and drawn out death, whereas, the fox that is hunted with hounds either escapes unscathed or is killed instantly.

Another perceived problem of hunting is the destruction to farmland caused by reckless riding. Hunts always gain prior permission from landowners to use the land for hunting and exercise a great deal of control over the hounds to constrain them only to the fields and tracks they are permitted access to. Hunts up and down the country pride themselves on being part of the countryside community and so act with the utmost respect to their neighbours.

Fox hunting is often criticised as killing for sport. There is a large hunting community, including both riders and supporters alike. Do those who take their horses out hunting enjoy it? Of course they do, but the antis can’t sit there and accuse the riders, which includes young children and teenagers, of taking part to satisfy their bloodlust. No, people enjoy the social aspect and the thrill of galloping across land and jumping natural obstacles that are usually inaccessible to them.

This aspect of fox hunting is vitally important because it provides the funding for the hunt. Riders pay a fee to attend each hunt, which varies depending on factors such as age of the rider or the area being hunted over. It is this that provides the funding to keep and train the hounds, not the taxpayer. Fox hunts are self-sufficient due to this recreational aspect, and therefore provide an essentially “free” wildlife management service to the countryside community.

In summary, fox hunting is a self-sufficient, effective and natural method of controlling fox populations.

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Philip Wookey
Guest
1 year 2 months ago

Whoever wrote this, if a vet, should be struck off. Hunting with hounds is humane? That’s all we need to know about this imbecile. Humane? To be ripped apart by a pack of dogs? Humane? Clearly this clown is a hunt supporter, and most definitely a raving imbecile.

How can someone be so out of touch?

Over 80% of the UK population are against Fox Hunting. End of debate. Discussion over.

Eve
Guest
Eve
1 year 2 months ago

What a pretty picture you paint . . . “only diseased foxes”. . . “disperse cubs” . . . Utter rubbish! Foxes play an important role in nature, a far more natural role than dressing up in red coats and trampling across farmland and roads endangering people and pets as well as farm animals. Nature regulates foxes as with all of nature. I would like to know how the bagged fox, cubs in barns close to hunts and terrier men fit in with your “humane” argument. Maybe this is why 84% of the public disagree with you.

Sue Aldoud
Guest
Sue Aldoud
1 year 2 months ago

Fox hunting is an illegal activity. Fact. If you were involved in hunting you were complicit in that activity. Tradition is no excuse to continue an activity in a civilised world. Nature takes care of any need to reduce foxes, no intervention is needed from those who see it as ‘sport”. I am amazed that any vet would take any contrary view, and I would not trust their judgement to care for my animals, sadly.

MARTA Falco Ainley
Guest
MARTA Falco Ainley
1 year 2 months ago
I am very against fox hunting. Fox Hunters are not interested in any argument against this activity and their final word appears to be the ‘Control’ word. I suggest that if anyone wants to actually know more about the fox then they should read, ‘Running With The Fox’ by David Macdonald who is now the Head of zoology at Oxford Uni. Killing foxes with hounds is against the Law but Hunts say that they trail hunt but do not. they are hunting illegally and the police more or less support them. blocking setts before hunts continues, terrier men at hand… Read more »
elizabeth harrington
Guest
elizabeth harrington
1 year 2 months ago

Fox hunting is cruel and barbaric. It is totally outdated and unnecessary. Do people forget the ban? I feel fox hunting and all hunting attracts cruel, vile people in turn giving them the opportunity to chase and kill helpless, defenseless animals. Hunters do not care for any animal. Just look at the recent images of the poor dogs that supposedly did not make the grade! Well I for one will keep fighting to help save the fox, the hounds and the horses from this disgusting practice.

Pam Radford
Guest
Pam Radford
1 year 2 months ago
‘Foxes being dogged to exhaustion’ not true? I remember hearings on the radio a vet, yes a vet, who treated a fox that had been chased by the hunt and rescued. He said he’d never seen an animal in such a state of shock and terror, so much so that he said it would have died if he had not treated it. Please don’t pretend that hunting is either humane or effective in ‘controlling’ the fox population. If people enjoy following the hounds then they should be perfectly happy to drag hunt. It is the law. And the hounds should… Read more »
Diana Tuson
Guest
Diana Tuson
1 year 2 months ago

Foxhunting is ILLEGAL.

Penelope Mangold
Guest
Penelope Mangold
1 year 2 months ago

This article reads like a training manual for toeing the party line. Not one single word is an original idea. If you remove (by illegal hunting) foxes from their territory it doesn’t remain fox-free. Another dog fox will move in and raise the cubs. Hunting with dogs is, illegal, immoral and unnecessarily cruel and should remain banned. You sound as if you have been brainwashed.

kathy Green
Guest
kathy Green
1 year 2 months ago
If you think hunting is acceptable Jordan Sinclair, then I pity anyone who has you for a vet in the future and I would suggest you examine your conscience and ask yourself are you studying for the right job! Remember this!!! ‘I PROMISE above all that I will pursue the work of my profession with uprightness of conduct and that my constant endeavour will be to ensure the welfare of the animals committed to my care.’ And to tell us that hunts act with the utmost respect for their neighbours, how about the hounds running around busy A roads, in… Read more »
Richard Bowler
Guest
Richard Bowler
1 year 2 months ago

Why have you left out the role the terrier man plays in the hunt, e.g a healthy fox that has evaded the hounds, gone to ground, terriers then being sent underground to attack the fox while it is being dug out. Often the fox seeks refuge in a badger sett so another law is being broken. Active illegal hunting still continues today.

Patricia Betty
Guest
Patricia Betty
1 year 2 months ago
A very biased and inaccurate opinion piece, and if written by a vet shows not only a total lack of understanding and compassion for wildlife, but also paints an inaccurate and biased picture of the cruel sport of hunting. We ‘antis’ are in a much better position than anyone else to know the full horror of killing using a pack of dogs. Hunted foxes are chased, often for miles, and when they can run no more, they are torn apart as they try to fight for their lives. Dogs kill by biting, there is no ‘quick nip on the neck’… Read more »
Philomena
Guest
Philomena
1 year 2 months ago
Hunting doesn’t target defenceless cubs? Ever heard of ‘cubbing’ or what the hunting set have tried to re-brand ‘Autumn hunting’ which targets…defenceless cubs? Also…basic fact, when a fox is removed from an area, more will come into that area. As a pp pointed out, the role of the terriermen is to ‘dig out’ foxes that outran the hunt, but of course the bloodthirsty thugs can’t just tip their hats and move on, no, they use terriermen on quadbikes and terriers with tracking devices on their collars to dig the foxes out of the ground. Much research has shown time and… Read more »
GINA CHRONOWICZ
Guest
GINA CHRONOWICZ
1 year 2 months ago
I think someone wasn’t paying attention in class. (The fox) “… in reality is 50kg of muscle that in life resembles a fully grown sheep”. Really? I think there is some confusion between a fox (average 10kg) and an adult timber wolf (<50kg). There is nothing natural about hunting a fox with dogs. The fox is an apex predator, not a natural prey species. His job in the hierarchy is to be the one doing the chasing. There has been forensic examination of foxes killed by hounds which concluded that hunted foxes die in agony, but I daresay Mr Sinclair… Read more »
Patricia Betty
Guest
Patricia Betty
1 year 2 months ago
I would also like to add that foxes only live a couple of years in the wild which makes a mockery of the hunters claim that they only target the old or the sick. If hunting is a service to farmers why would they target old sick animals anyway, leaving strong fit foxes to raid livestock. Fox hounds have been known to tear into pregnant vixens, pulling them apart and leaving the tiny unborn cubs scattered on the grass. Imagine if we treated our dogs in this way, which vet would set a pack of hounds on a family dog… Read more »
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