6 Strange (Sometimes Illegal) Realities Of Fox Hunting
Fox hunting is one of the most iconic images of the British: There's just something undeniably posh about dressing up in a fancy red suit and mounting a horse to ride out and fuck up some unsuspecting wildlife. But many of you probably thought it was a relic of an older time, before foxes conquered the Internet. We sat down with Derek, a former fox hunter in modern-day Southeastern England. Like 45,000 other Britons, he sees fox hunting as a part of his heritage. But he also admits that ...
Fox Hunting Is Brutal
In England, many people see foxes the same way Americans see raccoons -- as pests. The sport of fox hunting evolved out of the practical need to eradicate foxes before they could kill our chickens or scatter our trash through the streets. While drop-kicking raccoons never developed into a celebrated American tradition, a certain type of fox hunting became the ultimate rich British person's sport.
Normal hunters seek to kill their animals as quickly as possible, because that guarantees the animal the least amount of pain (and makes for the tastiest meat). But foxes aren't hunted for meat, and speed isn't exactly the goal: This is about ceremony. The fox never dies instantly. The hounds often get to it first. Today it's illegal for dogs to make the kill (they can only be there to drive the fox to an awaiting hawk. Yes, there are hawks.), but the dogs are chasing the fox, and it is notoriously hard to explain the law to dogs. Once I was one of the first to get there and arrived just in time to see the pack going in an eight-way tug-of-war with the body. Sometimes when you get to the fox, only pieces remain.
This movie would have been 30 childhood-scarring-seconds long if it took place in England.
Even when we get to the fox intact, it's often cornered and sometimes really injured. We're often arm's length away when we perform the coup de grace. That's when it suddenly turns into a Tarantino film -- you shoot it and blood spurts everywhere. For some reason, a lot of people are surprised that blood spatter is a consequence of a short-range shotgun blast.
Yes, this is the U.K.'s most posh and gentlemanly of sports.
Each hunt begins with our old song of tradition.
It Comes In Many Varieties
In England, the "traditional" hunt is most popular, the one where you go out on horses and you're sporting red jackets. Everyone follows the "master," who directs us by horn to the fox. Hounds (and/or hawks!) can accompany you. And while most fox hunts look roughly like that, there are a number of legal varieties.
Take lamping, for instance. Lamping is night hunting without dogs, but instead of night-vision goggles, you shoot in the dark with spotlights. There was a scene in Crocodile Dundee where some Australian rednecks were doing this with Kangaroos. Replace their cars with horses, their accents with something a bit sexier, and those kangaroos with foxes, and it's pretty much the same thing. It can get tense when the fox runs to more populated areas (for some reason spotlights and the sound of gunfire get people nervous), but it still happens.
Yes, nothing terrifying about this.
There is also hawk hunting. Since dogs can't kill the fox anymore, hunters who don't want to shoot it use hawks to kill it instead. Hawks have become a loophole in the law. To paraphrase Ian Malcolm, "People who want to kill stuff for fun find a way."
There are local variants outside the U.K. The U.S. and Canada have coyote hunts, and Australia hunts dingoes in similar ways, with way less pageantry. One older huntsman who grew up in British East Africa (Kenya) even told me that he'd hunted dead foxes in his youth. No, he wasn't a cross-species Ghostbuster: See, Kenya doesn't have wild foxes. But the British colonial overlords still wanted to get their hunt on, so they'd fly dead foxes in from England. Since dead foxes don't run very well, they'd hand the carcass over to the fastest kid in town. Once the dogs got the scent he'd start sprinting until either treed by the dogs or caught by the hunters. Ideally, he'd then dangle the dead fox and the hunters would shoot at it. This didn't happen often, but it was seen as an occasional "treat." The runner wasn't hurt or anything, but I challenge you to find anything that looks more outwardly racist than a bunch of well-dressed white dudes chasing a black man with dogs:
It's Easy To Break The Law
Some of the ways we kill foxes sound like something out of a Saw movie. Torn apart by dogs, head explosion, starvation by snare, clubbing to death. How do we get away with this in England, America's elderly wet-blanket parent? Well, most kills are totally legal (death by dogs is still A-OK in Ireland and Northern Ireland) thanks to foxes being classified as vermin.
Under the law, they are on the same level as rats and voles, so they are fair game. Even if a dog does kill the fox, the law has to prove that you fully intended for this to happen for there to be any consequences. Every hunt I've been on where the fox is killed by the dogs, the master has explained to the authorities that they didn't mean for it to happen. Sometimes they did, but "didn't mean for it to happen" are the magic words. Alternatively, if the fox gets clubbed to death, the clubber can always claim it was about to attack him. The excuses are only sometimes true, but they always work.
"Oh my, where did all these hunting dogs specifically trained
to murder foxes come from? Apologies, constable."
In fact, since the ban in the mid 2000s, nearly all prosecutions have been because of poaching -- something completely unrelated to ceremonial fox hunting. There are plenty of legal loopholes to keep people hunting. In fact, the loopholes only make it even more of a rich-person sport. Some anti-fox-hunting advocates stalk our hunts to try to report on us. I remember one time an activist actually called the cops after watching our dogs get a fox. If we'd meant for it to happen, we could've faced huge fines and prison time. Our master told them calmly, "The dogs got to it before we could, and by the time we got there, the fox was dead." And the cops left. No more questions, no other investigation. The loopholes are just that firm.
Hunts Go All Over Private And Public Property
We try to hunt on a large piece of property. That way no one interferes and we can be assured of a kill. However, nobody tells the fox this, so if it goes off property we still go after him, armed with vicious hunting dogs and guns. It happens at least a few times a hunt. While going onto other people's property to chase after an animal used to be legal, today it is not. We've had the police come out and tell us to get out of people's backyards. Sometimes citizens, horrified at seeing a hunting party come near their village, protect the fox and kick away the dogs. Imagine if a pack of 50 dogs and a dozen people with rifles just showed up right by your backyard looking around your bushes -- that's a reality for some Britons.
To be fair, an Englishman occupying land that doesn't belong to him is another time-honored tradition.
Traditional Fox Hunts Don't Help With Population Control
Some defenders of fox hunting tout it as effective pest control. You can argue whether or not the historic value of fox hunting outweighs the brutality. But, speaking as a fox hunter, the "population control" argument is bullshit. Even with 45,000 fox hunters, most foxes aren't killed by hunters: 50 percent of British foxes are killed by cars.
The silent killer.
I've had two fox hunts called on account of car. Some of the better fox-hunting areas are near busy roads, so many hunts end on the somber note that an automobile is a much more efficient killer than you are. Traditional fox hunting is just a sport. Many of the huntsmen say it's for the thrill of the chase. We maybe get our lone fox 50 percent of the time after a daylong affair. Roads are a far more efficient form of pest control.
The Debate Over Fox Hunting Has Not Been Productive
I cannot begin to explain how big of a deal this is in Britain. It's still a hot-button issue among the top ministers and has been constantly overshadowing issues such as the Euro, E.U., and what to do with Greece. PM David Cameron risked his career by helping out a friend who was arrested for illegally fox hunting.
Which is admittedly the most outright British-sounding political scandal of all time.
It's probably hard for you to understand why Britons would go through such effort to continue a practice that seems so awful. I don't know how to explain it, other than to say "culture." We had people join our hunts who didn't like hunting; they just didn't want to see an iconic part of British culture die out. It's like if America lost the college football game due to the number of player concussions, or if Australia couldn't play their national sport of glassing because there were too many nicked arteries.
Anti-hunting activists even risk criminal prosecution by stopping the hunts. This happened on one of my friend's hunts once -- some people really against fox hunting piled up trees to form a makeshift fence on their property after the fox passed by. A few of the dogs were injured when they tried to jump it, and the protesters were arrested.
"Honestly, half of it was just not wanting them to shit on our lawn."
What started as a debate over whether or not it was ethical to use dogs has blown up into an argument about the British way of life and contention between upper- and lower-class citizens as well as rural and city dwellers. It's a little like the gun debate in the United States: an argument that seems insanely simple to every country in the world, save the one that's hosting it.
Evan V. Symon is the interview finder guy and PE team member at Cracked. Have an awesome experience/job? Hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org! Derek would like to reiterate that he no longer participates in fox hunts.
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