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The Ward Union will be hunting this season, but within the law — that’s the message from Ireland’s only stag hunt, which was effectively banned by the Irish government in June (news, 8 July).

The Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2010 was passed in the Dáil (the lower house of the Irish parliament) on 29 June, by the narrow margin of 75 votes to 72.

It makes stag hunting with hounds illegal, but the Ward Union (pictured) thinks it has found ways around the regulations.

Hunt spokesman Ronan Griffin said: “We are testing methods that are within the law to find a style of hunting that suits us. We shall be ready by our opening meet on 29 October.”

The Act makes it illegal to hunt deer with two or more dogs on horseback, but not on foot.

The Ward Union, based in Dunshaughlin, West Meath, owns a herd of up to 140 deer.

Until the end of last season they acted as a “carted” stag hunt. A live adult stag was taken to the meet and pursued until caught, unhurt, and released.

They had to be licensed each season by the government. But environment secretary John Gormley, of the Green Party, was keen to see an end to the practice.

A spokesman for the Irish government said they thought the Ward Union would be drag hunting in the coming season, with a deer released to create a trail and recaptured before the hounds were released. But the Ward Union did not confirm this.

James Phelan of the Hunting Association of Ireland said they were in talks with the hunt and hope to find a way that will allow them to continue to meet.

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (21 October ’10)