Andrew Sallis: An inexact science; an enigmatic art *H&H VIP*

  • For lovers of hunting, its spontaneity is one of its most beguiling charms. The possibility that almost anything could happen at any time can prove challenging but never dull. The cocktail of ingredients that constitutes a day’s hunting is so variable — topography, weather and atmospheric conditions, type of farming, not to mention the huntsman’s mood — that each day should be a different adventure.

    A day’s hunting should have a narrative and tell a story. It is the drama of the best days, with their nuances and subtleties, not just thrills and spills, which forms the pub and dinner-party yarns, sometimes for years to come. After all, hunting is as inexact a science as enigmatic it is an art.

    Much of this depends on the relationship between the huntsman and his hounds — the “golden thread”. The multitude of golden hues between huntsmen is striking. Control and trust are inextricably linked, if not the same. A huntsman’s “control” should allow the hounds to trust him — and he to trust them — enough to work at an appropriate distance for their country or push forward at a check without waiting for his intervention.

    The practical manifestation of “hound control” alters across the country. The handiness of hounds necessary for producing good sport in a wild hill country, where they often have to hunt independently of their huntsmen, is different to the type of control required in some parts of lowland Britain where biddable hounds, able to be turned on a sixpence, are essential. But even in much of lowland Britain, as is proved week after week, it is perfectly possible to have first-class hunting.

    Hounds under control

    Throughout, hounds should ignore all riot (alternative quarry) and livestock. The sensationalism of those who protest fear over hounds attacking children upsets huntsmen profusely. They spend most of their summers parading at country shows and village fetes where their hounds are swamped by adoring young admirers. This takes nothing away from the surprise of hounds appearing unexpectedly. Our public image and responsibility are crucial and we hunt in a busy countryside.

    Our opponents are quick to accuse hounds of being “out of control” and “rampaging” when actually hunting. This is nonsense if there is a basic acceptance, even among most anti-hunt supporters who advocate post-ban trail-hunting, that there is a natural order to hunting: quarry (post-ban trail), hounds, huntsman, mounted field.

    In our beautiful countryside it is not always possible for the huntsman to be one stride behind the hounds. Huntsmen can’t always be certain that the trail, laid to simulate traditional hunting, hasn’t been blown by the wind or crossed inadvertently with a live fox which takes the hounds in an unintended direction. In such circumstances, hounds do not pose a threat; they are not out of control, just concentrating on doing what they are bred and trained to do: hunt, if not immediately with the huntsman.

    Mistakes happen too and foxes are caught, which just highlights the ridiculousness of the Hunting Act. Incursions into uncleared areas are always highly regrettable and mercifully rare. Masters and huntsmen should restore the situation promptly and preferably before social media mangles the truth.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 9 March 2017