W3C Aspects of Fell Hunting 4 HOUNDS


In the late 1980s Chris Ogilvie then of the Coniston Foxhounds wrote a series of articles for Hounds Magazine entitled “Aspects of Fell Hunting”. Almost 30 years have gone by and thanks to the kindness and generosity of Michael Sager I have the full set with permission to use them. Chris has also given his permission.

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I hesitate to touch on this vexed and sensitive area, but as it is central to the lifeblood of fell hunting, it perhaps deserves more than a passing mention. Essentially a hound man, I will leave the technical details of terrier work to be expounded by experts, but it might be of interest to examine some of the issues involved in so far as they affect a huntsman’s decisions.

Unlike a mounted huntsman, whose preoccupation is to keep the day moving, the fell-huntsman often welcomes a chance to allow himself and the field to catch up, to marshal his forces and re-appraise the situation. Earth-stopping therefore is not usually carried out in the fells, nor would it really be practicable. The hill fox seems to have a somewhat wider range than his arable cousin, and it would be impossible to cover all the earths and drains over such a wide area, quite apart from the myriad cracks and rock falls where a hard pressed fox can take refuge.

In sheep farming country, we are not usually inclined to give a fox best after running him to ground. The kill is important, not only to the farmers, but for everyone who follows as well. Without the exhilaration of riding to hounds, the science of the hunt and its ultimate conclusion play a greater part in making the physical effort and specialised field craft worthwhile. For all our high minded sentiments about hound-work and fair play, there is no doubt that everyone likes to see hounds claim their reward. Like fly-fishing, fell hunting is just difficult enough to make catching a fox a source of satisfaction, and losing one after a long run disappointing, sometimes bitterly so. One of the moral arguments levelled against hunting is that it brutalises the participants, but on the contrary, the fluctuations of nature and the fathomless vagaries of scent can teach us all to accept defeat with grace and success with due modesty.

I find a commonly held view among the general public is that rampaging across the countryside in pursuit of the uneatable is all very jolly, but earth stopping and terrier work are unkind. Most foxhunters would consider that this underrates the whole scene, but even so it is not an unreasonable point of view, and at least you can have a civilised discussion with such people. Dedicated hunters make up as tiny a minority of the population as hard-core antis, and in-between lays the mass of the British electorate, most of whom could not give a jot one way or the other. But they do have a vote, and are susceptible to all manner of propaganda. Procedure at a hole, therefore in a busy National Park is a good chance to demonstrate to one and all that we are not a load of mindless barbarians, but thoughtful and responsible guardians of our country heritage.


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