Fox Hunting has always been seen as a British activity during which highly trained dogs, as well as human hunters on horseback, pursue the red fox. Animal rights activists find the blood sport to be barbaric. However, its participants and proponents see it to be a traditional equestrian sport, as well as an important aspect of England’s aristocratic history. In fact, even though it does take place in several countries, its roots can be traced to the British.
Known as venery, the use of scent hounds to track prey dates way back to Assyrian, Babylonian, and also ancient Egyptian times. But, it was in England, using the Agassaei breed of dog, that fox hunting was really popular, taking place before the Romans even arrived.
Later, the Romans brought over the Castorian and Fulpine breed of hounds, as well as the brown hare and several species of deer to use as quarries. Wild boar was also known as a hunted animal.
Norman hunting traditions began when William the Conqueror arrived, using Gascon and Talbot hounds. In fact, the cry of tally-ho is the Norman equivalent to the French il est Haut, meaning he is up.
1534 marks the first known attempt at fox hunting, taking place in Norfolk, England. There, farmers used their dogs to chase foxes as a way of pest control.
It wasn’t until the 17th century that organized packs began to hunt hare and fox, while those used specifically for the sport of fox hunting weren’t used until the 18th century.
The Industrial Revolution saw people moving out of the country, instead of settling in towns and cities where they could find work. Even though roads, rails, and canals split up the hunting land, it made it more accessible to people who wanted to hunt. Also, the improvement of shotguns during the 19th century allowed for game shooting to gain popularity.
Even though it is viewed as a usually typical rural British sport, hunting using hounds does take place all over. Those hunts in the U.S., Canada, Ireland, and also India are considered to be, to some extent, a British Empire legacy. However, some do claim that the first pack that was used solely for fox hunting was in the United States.
Other countries, influenced by the Greeks and Romans, also have a tradition of fox hunting using hounds. For example, both France and Italy still have fox hunts. But, in countries such as Switzerland and Germany, fox hunting has been outlawed.
As of 2004, 170 registered packs found in the United States and Canada were included by the Masters of Foxhounds Association of America, as well as many more farmer, or non-recognized, packs.
When fox hunting is done in the United States, the pursued fox is often not caught. In fact, they are trained so they aren’t caught during the fox hunt.
During the late summer, young hounds are taken on hunts called cubbing, during which puppies are taught to hunts while the young foxes are taught to give chase. The proper season usually begins in early November.