Posts Tagged ‘Wilts & Infantry Beagles’

Beagling is often the forgotten about blood sport with fox  hunting making all the headlines. This week we have another guest blog entry for a sab who knows all about it.

Red Herrings

The dictionary defines a red herring as “something that misleads or distracts from a relevant or important issue”. The phrase was coined by social campaigner Williams Cobbett in 1803 after he sabotaged a hare hunt by dragging a kipper – a smoked herring – in front of the hounds. While today’s vegan hunt sabs won’t be adopting Cobbett’s tactic, his phrase perfectly describes the deceit that lies behind “trail hunting.”

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Beagling before and after 2005

Back in December, an eagle-eyed sab spotted an interesting item on eBay: a 2014-5 newsletter from the Wilts & Infantry Beagles who hunt MoD land on Salisbury Plain. The document provides a rare and disturbing insight into what goes on at hare hunts when sabs aren’t present. Before looking at it, let’s remind ourselves of what hare hunting used to look like and what the beaglers claim they do now.

Beagles and bassets are bred to hunt hares using stamina, not speed. They kill the hare by gradually wearing it down over an extended period of time. When a hare is found it will initially be much faster than the hounds; however, as the hunt progresses the beagles’ stamina will begin to give them an advantage as the hare tires. The hare will generally run in large circles (as it is reluctant to leave its home range) and the huntsman will become involved if hounds lose the scent or start to chase another hare. Eventually, the exhausted animal will be overwhelmed by the hounds and torn to pieces. Pre-ban beagling is therefore a dynamic, fast moving activity characterised by circular chases that can last anything between 30 minutes and three hours.

Since the Hunting Act beaglers claim to hunt artificial trails. The Countryside Alliance invented “trail hunting” as soon as the Act became law and have aggressively promoted it ever since. Their central claim – which they have repeated under oath in court – is that trail hunting is a legitimate, legal activity that happens to be completely indistinguishable from traditional hunting.

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The exception that proves the rule

The group that I sab with know hare hunting very well. We seek out beagle or basset packs whenever we can and some of us have significant experience of sabbing them pre-ban too. Of the many, many foot packs we have visited since 2005 the only time we have ever witnessed legal, non-lethal hunting was at the New Forest Beagles. The NFB operate in unique circumstances: they are subject to strict licensing conditions by the Forestry Commission and hunt in an area that is extremely popular with members of the public. Because of this they appear to have developed a form hound activity that is legal. We obviously don’t know what they do when we’re not there, but on those occasions we have attended we have not needed to intervene. They use a runner who jogs around spraying a substance – which they claim is Olbas Oil – as he goes. The key features of this activity are:

(a) It is very small in scale – the trail is sprayed for a few hundred yards at most.

(b) Each ‘hunt’ is therefore very short – certainly no more than a couple of minutes. The huntsman jogs along behind the hounds but plays no meaningful part in the proceedings.

(c) The route is generally linear or simply dictated by the terrain. No attempt is made to replicate the circular running patterns of hunted hares.

(d) The trail is sprayed in full view of the huntsman so he is aware of exactly where it has been laid.

(e) Hounds show minimal interest in the trail – there is very little ‘voice’ or ‘drive’. In fact, with the trail-layer often remaining in sight, hounds sometimes appear to be running towards him rather than following a scent.

(f) It is very stop-start: once hounds have run up to the trail layer the whole process has to begin again.

The Countryside Alliance would no doubt like to call this trail hunting, though it is actually a form of drag hunting. Whatever they call it, one thing is clear: it looks absolutely nothing like pre-ban beagling. This is because it is physically impossible to artificially reproduce the experience of hare (or fox) hunting. If it looks like real hunting, it’s because it is real hunting! This simple fact has eluded our stupid and corrupt police forces for the last twelve years.


The Wilts and Infantry Sprint of Shame

Anyone who has sabbed a beagle pack will be familiar with the “walk of shame” – the response by 99% of beagle packs when confronted with sabs. They pack up because trail hunting is a red herring and so there is literally nothing else for them to do. The Wilts & Infantry have developed their own version of this manoeuvre: the “sprint of shame”. They absolutely peg it as soon as we appear and then career off in their hound van at high speed! A look at The Season Past section of their newsletter explains why; about forty meets are described, all of which are nothing like NFB-style drag hunting and exactly like traditional beagling. Here is just a small selection:

(1) “After a warm welcome by the Collins family at Manor Farm, Codford hounds were quickly away on a good scent running fast from the valley onto the high ground with the Field totally enthralled as they ran several large circuits almost to the main road and back before a successful conclusion.”

(2) “A red letter day at Home Farm, Seend . . . hounds crossed the brook twice settling on a line and two big circuits around Great Thornham finally crossing the brook yet again heading to Bulkington stopping short of Manor Farm swinging back towards Pantry Bridge and back up the brook for a successful conclusion.”

(3) “Back to Rodmead . . . as Angus and Sarah hosted the largest Wednesday meet of the season. Putting in on the West side hounds were away almost immediately but on a tricky scent running under Little Knoll towards Newmead then back over the drive to lose touch in sheep foil. Drawing on they picked up on the Elm Farm side with two hard circuits and were duly rewarded.”

(4) “And so to the Closing Meet at Manor Farm, Stockton with Phylidda Stratton our hostess . . . Dry and hard underfoot with the wind still Easterly scent was uncertain however hounds ran outstandingly well after putting on the left of the track running away toward Sherrington Dairy and working back over the dry ground gathering pace running past the pheasant pens down the valley beyond up through Gilberts Cleeve then left handed for a successful conclusion.”


It all smells a bit fishy . . .

. . . to say the least. All of these hunts were long, fast, continuous pursuits over several miles across the challenging terrain of Salisbury Plain. They all also feature the characteristic circular patterns run by desperate hares. In hunt (1) the trail was supposedly laid by the “main road” – the very busy A303; in hunt (2) the trail appears to have been repeatedly put across a stream; while in hunt (3) it was laid through a flock of sheep. All the hunts also ended in a “successful conclusion”; what exactly does this mean in trail hunting? Countryside Alliance guidance clearly states that the huntsman “does not know exactly where the trails have been laid” so how does the Wilts & Infantry huntsman know when the trail has finished and that hounds have been “successful”?

The answer to all these questions, of course, is that the Wilts & Infantry Beagles are openly describing their cruelty and criminality in a document that they never imagined would enter the public domain.

Sab the bastards

In TV crime dramas the police eventually see through all the red herrings and arrest the real criminal. In real life it’s not so simple; twelve years on from the Hunting Act the police continue to dutifully believe everything they are told by the Countryside Alliance. Meanwhile, the heart-breaking cruelty revealed in the Wilts & Infantry newsletter – hares chased for miles until complete exhaustion – is repeated twice a week, six months a year by over sixty other beagle packs up and down the country.

There is literally only one way to stop them: we’ve got to get out there and sab the bastards!