Autumn Hunting is the hunter’s prelude to the new season. Often referred to by Hunts as ‘gentle training’ and classified as ‘suitable for younger members’, meaning that children from the Pony Club can attend.
So what is Autumn Hunting?
Autumn Hunting or ‘Hound exercise’ as the Hunt’s now refer to it, was previously known, more honestly, as ‘cubbing’. Hunting takes place ‘when the harvest allows’. It generally runs throughout September and October will start from ‘first light’ around 6 am.
The “Meets” as the hunts refer to them are held early in the morning as the scent of the fox’s is fresh and easier for the young hounds to pick up.
Hounds are trained on the scent of fox urine, that quickly evaporates in the warmth of the sun. ‘Meets’ are sometimes held in the evening as well when the scent is again easier to pick up.
Hounds packs will be large, most of the hounds will be youngsters, trying to make the grade, but will include a few experienced hounds to lead the way. Hunt's claim “Hounds are ‘best-trained’ by killing lot’s of foxes”. “The hounds need to know to smell, look and taste ‘Charley”. Charley is a hunters name for the fox.
During September and October, Fox Cubs are preparing to leave their parents. Although these cubs resemble an adult in size, they are still babies and very curious and playful. During the day a Vixen will ‘hideout’ with her cubs undercover, often in thickets and copses.
Farmers and Gamekeepers are asked to let the Hunt know where the foxes are ‘hiding out’ Mounted hunt riders and people on foot will surround a thicket or copse; this is known as ‘holding up’. The vixen will be aware of the activity, but will not bolt because she has cubs. Anywhere a fox may live is referred to as a covert (pronounced with a silent ’t’) The hounds will be entered into the covert, often in complete silence from the hunt. The pack of 30 to 40 hounds will search for the foxes scent; if a cub tries to bolt the surrounding hunt will bang their saddles, crack their whips and shout ‘aye, aye, aye’ creating a cacophony of noise designed to scare the fox back into the waiting hounds. This is repeated until all the Fox family has been savaged in the jaws of the hounds.
Every so often, a very brave Fox will ‘bolt’ through “the wall of noise’ from the encircled hunt. These are known as ‘good foxes’ and are left to provide a ‘good-run’ in the full hunting season. This horrific scene is repeated as many times as possible with a hunt lasting three to four hours but in October they will hunt for up to six hours. These ‘Meets’ are held at up to four times each week, but not on Sundays.
Since the 2005 Hunting Act came into effect, hunts now refer to this a ‘Hound exercise’ claiming it is “just part of the process of preparing their horses, hounds and ‘the country’ for the coming hunting season that will start in early November. Hunts do not wear ‘hunting pinks’ whilst ‘cubbing’, with most riders wearing beige riding jodhpurs and Blue or black jackets and caps. Some hunts wear grey or tweed jackets.
Autumn Hunting is illegal under the 2005 Hunting Act. And yet, at the time of writing, 12 years after the ban, hunts are still training hounds on fox urine (where do they get that from?) leading to the inevitable‘accidents’ that frequently occur during most ‘meets’ during the hunting season. An ‘accident’ is when the hounds ‘accidentally’ chase and kill a live fox, whilst supposedly following a pre-laid scent whilst Trail Hunting.
Since the introduction of the Hunting Act, it is clear that many hunts have blatantly flouted the law and have continued to hunt foxes. Save Me believes this must change and wants to see a strengthening of the Hunting Act and Enforcement of the act and stronger sentencing.
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Cubbing as described in an extract from Fox Hunting by the late Duke of Beaufort, Master of Fox Hounds, published by David & Charles, 1980.
Early in the morning a Hunt of mounted riders quietly surrounds a thicket they know to contain a family of foxes. The female fox or vixen hears the movement but will not leave her cover as she has cubs to protect. The huntsmen surround the thicket, they slap their saddles, holler and shout to prevent the fox and her cubs leaving the thicket. They want to have their fun.
The hounds are sent in and the vixen comes out to protect her cubs, young fox cubs do not have the skills and knowledge of their parents, they are playful and trusting and unlikely to flee danger. Their inquisitive nature ensures they investigate anything new.
Autumn Hunting refers to the period formerly known as "cubbing". Traditionally, this was the time when the new entry of hounds learned how to hunt their quarry. Meets were held early in the morning and the field was present to help "hold up" covert (i.e. prevent a fox from leaving the area). The hunt's riders surround the covert and shout and holler and slap their saddles, young riders shout and laugh in order to keep the cubs in the covert so the entry hounds can be sent in.
The dress code is different from formal hunting dress and is often referred to as "rat catcher". "Ratcatcher" refers to the tweed jackets that are worn. During the hunting season, between 8,400 - 10,000 of these are cubs. These cubs will not reach 6 months of age.
The registered packs are estimated to kill some 21,000 - 25,000 foxes a year. About 40% of the foxes killed by the registered packs are killed in the autumn/cub hunting season. In Wales and other upland areas, a high proportion of foxes are dug out, using terriers and shot. Outside the registered packs, many more foxes are dug out and shot or are killed by people using lurchers or other "long dogs". Some of these activities are carried out by farmers, landowners, and gamekeepers.
"Never lose sight of the fact that one really well-beaten cub killed fair and square is worth half a dozen fresh ones killed the moment they are found without hounds having to set themselves to the task. It is essential that hounds should have their blood up and learn to be savage with their fox before he is killed."