Sabbing a Fox Hunt
Many Masters of Foxhounds have previously been associated with beagles. Likewise much of their thinking surrounding the sabotage of a foxhunt can be related to the sabotage of hare hunting/beagling. Of course the behaviour of the quarry is somewhat different, as is the pace and distance covered. Nevertheless it is useful to look at the similarities and differences in the four areas which have been defined as rules.
THE GENERAL SCENTING RULES AS FOUND IN THE BEAGLING SECTION STILL STAND
SCENTING RULES - FOX
1. Scent comes from various glands over the foxes body.
2. As the fox tires the scent weakens.
3. Fox scent is pungent and musty and is easily recognisable to humans.
THE GENERAL HUNTSMAN'S RULES AS FOUND IN THE BEAGLING SECTION STILL STAND
HUNTSMAN'S RULES - FOX HUNTING
1. To encourage the hounds to hunt in the covert, the huntsman will use his voice.
2. The huntsman will rely much more on the whippers-in to give him the sighting of the fox than in the case of beagling/hare hunting.
3. The huntsman will use horn calls in much the same way as in beagling. Both horns and a tape of horn calls can be obtained from your local group.
4. Supporters will holloa when a fox is sighted to assist the huntsman to find the line, (to indicate a fox crossing the road, the supporters will shout 'tally-ho over').
QUARRY RULES - FOX
1. Foxes, like hares, will run the same line, but not with the same consistency as hares.
2. Foxes will lie up in hedgerows and kale fields.
3. Foxes tend to run downwind when they are being hunted.
4. It is harder to get a fox to move in cold windy weather.
5. Foxes will cross major obstacles such as rivers, railways, and busy roads whereas hares will not.
6. When tired a fox will attempt to go to ground.
HOUND RULES - FOX HOUNDS
1. Fox hounds vary from 22 to 25 inches at the shoulder.
2. The hounds are bred for stamina and scenting ability, not speed.
3. The terrain to be hunted will govern the breeding. What is required is the optimum balance between stamina and scenting ability.
4. After a kill, fox hounds can hunt onto a fresh fox immediately without any difficulty.
SAB TACTICS BEFORE THE MEET
A lot can be done to sabotage a fox hunt before it meets. To do this effectively bear the following things in mind.
1. A good working knowledge of the local hunt is necessary. Collect information from past hunting reports, hit reports etc.
2. Familiarisation with the area, the coverts to be drawn and positions of earths is particularly useful.
3. If pre-meeting, an early start to allow two or three hours before the meet is essential.
Pre-meet spraying coverts with anti-mate or garlic can cover scent. Spraying should be conducted at hound head height, with particular emphasis on gateways and bridleways. This will negate an area for scenting purposes but may not be enough to save the fox. If pre-meet spraying is used, it is strongly recommended that pre-beating takes place at the same time, because with spraying alone, the fox may still be in the covert. Pre-beating should be very organised and may take time to perfect. To carry out pre-beating form a line at the up-wind end of the covert and walk through the wood using whistles, horns and hunting calls in an imitation of the hunt. The line should beat right to the very end of the covert, as foxes are often loathe to leave. Care should be taken to keep the beating line straight. The area to be hunted should be beaten systematically in this fashion, covert after covert away from the meet. If only a small number of sabs are available, Rook scarers could be used to flush the woods. If timed to go off up until the time of the hunt they will ensure that flushed animals will not return. You must make sure that the rookies are set well above head height in evergreen trees, (to avoid fire risk), and away from footpaths and bridleways. Alternatively, in large woods you might try block spraying which involves spraying sections of the wood so that if hounds pick up the scent of a fox and the fox goes through a sprayed area the hounds will check and can then be called by the hunting horn or voice. A more complex method of spraying is for sabs to collect in the centre of the wood and walk out in different directions spraying as they go. One sab then sprays into the wood all around the perimeter. A good spray used thus could well save a fox and has the added advantage of requiring fewer sabs than the normal pre-beating tactic.
USEFUL HINTS - BEFORE THE MEET
1. Search for blocked earths, and if they are blocked up, then remove the blockage. Make a note of the earths for future reference.
2. Secure gates in the area (this will cause the hunt considerable inconvenience and delay).
3. In doubtful weather conditions, ring the local papers and tell them that the hunt has cancelled, if it is a pub meet ring the pub and tell them also. This can lose the hunt support and create confusion.
SAB TACTICS - AT THE MEET
1. If you have contacted the press, hold a banner demo. Otherwise, it is better to act as followers, mingling with and chatting to supporters. This way you can find out which way the hunt are likely to be going. If you are known to the hunt stay clear of the meet, and just have one person at the meet to see which direction the hunt moves off in.
2. Spray your hand with Antimate and pat the hounds, rubbing it into their coats (do not go near the head). The hounds are very friendly and love to be made a fuss of.
3. If several sabs are present, split forces and cover all the roads leading away from the meet. As the hounds move off, spray the road side with Antimate. (Never spray the hounds directly, always spray well in front of them, out of sight of the supporters if possible ).
4. When acting as a supporter, remember to remove identity badges and use the correct terminology (e.g. hounds not dogs, and charlie not fox).
5. Have your cars and vehicles ready to move off quickly or you may get blocked in by supporters or the police.
SAB TACTICS - DURING THE MEET
If pre-meet tactics have gone well, sab tactics during the hunt can be minimised, thus reducing confrontation and aggravation. It is important not to call hounds out of pre-beaten woods, as it is to the sabs advantage to leave hounds in as long as possible.
As in beagling, there are two parts to the hunt: Part 1 concerns the finding of the quarry. Part 2 concerns the tracking and killing of the quarry.
DEALING WITH PART 1 - THE SEARCH
The principles of drawing a fox are generally similar to those found in hare hunting, that is to cast the hounds. From the meet the hunt will make its way to the first draw (usually a wood but it can be a scrub or hedgerow). The huntsman will position point riders (whippers-in or a trusted member of the field) at a point where they will be able to view the fox as it makes its escape. The hounds will then be put into the wood and encouraged with horn and voice to cast themselves through it in search of a fox. The mounted field are positioned where the fox is not wanted or expected to run. If the fox is seen leaving the covert the point rider or any other observer allows it unimpeded escape and then gives out a 'holloa' to announce its departure and indicates its line with a raised handkerchief or cap pointing in that direction.
If the hounds are not already following a fox the huntsman will encourage them with horn or voice to answer the holloa and find the scent. If all goes well they will follow the scent to the conclusion of the hunt.
If, however, they lose the fox the procedure will be repeated, either in the same or a different wood. The positioning of sabs is of the utmost importance. When hounds are drawing try to call them out of the covert by using horn or voice from behind or the side. If possible try to call them back into an area which has already been drawn. On no account call them forward or make any noise at the down-wind end of the covert which is being drawn, or you may head the fox back into the hounds. In large woodland it is helpful to listen for the direction in which the huntsman is drawing the pack. Usually during the course of the day a fox will be put up and you must employ the part 2 tactics, remembering that far greater distances may be covered than in beagling, and a degree of mobility may be essential.
DEALING WITH PART 2 - THE CHASE
Once on the line of the fox the hunt itself may last anything from a few minutes to a few hours depending on the strength and skill of the fox, the skill and speed of the hounds and their huntsman, the efficiency of the earth-stopper, the nature of the terrain and most importantly the scenting conditions.
If the scenting conditions are favourable the hounds should hold the line of the fox wherever it goes, if not the hunt will be slow and the hounds may lose the scent (or 'check' as the hunters call it), many times before finally they lose or kill the fox. If the hounds check the huntsman will cast the hounds in an arc around the point at which they lost the scent until they rediscover it or until it is certain that nothing more will be made of it.
The fox will eventually either be killed by the hounds, go to ground or escape and is given best. Hunts prefer a long chase followed by a kill above ground, rather than a quick kill or a short chase, or a short chase followed by a long dig out.
If you are situated down-wind from the hunt you are well positioned to intercept ONCE THE FOX HAS PASSED. NEVER RUSH IN IF YOU ARE UNSURE OF THE WHEREABOUTS OF THE QUARRY, WAIT THEN ACT DECISIVELY.
If the fox is seen, spray Antimate behind it but out of sight of the huntsman if possible (as you might alert the hunt to a fox being present in the area). As scent will drift, spray a wide area behind the hunted animal, not just directly behind it. Spray into the air about 18 inches above ground level as well as on the ground itself, as scent is windborne. (if other sabs are available it can be useful for them to act as decoys and to be seen spraying areas where the fox has not been, in order to mislead the huntsman. Some huntsmen familiar with sab tactics will cast the hounds forward of where sabs have been spraying).
When hounds come up, try to stop them by rating, i.e. shouting in the same way as in beagling. If the pack breaks up or start hunting in a different direction, encourage them along a false line by using hunting calls. If fox and hounds disappear into the distance try to get mobile and reach a point where you can intervene again. If hounds lose the line of the hunted fox, they will then do a natural cast (i.e. without having to be told to do so). It is important for sabs to use this opportunity to try to gain control and to call them as far away as possible, but never call them from in front. If the huntsman regains control of the hounds he will do one of two things, either a) move forward to try to find the line again by casting the hounds, in which case make as much noise as possible to distract the hounds, or b) he will collect the hounds and go to another area to start hunting again, in which case the cycle begins again and so you must resort to part 1 tactics.
Horn blowing and calling the hounds is the most effective tactic to use. It is essential that you become proficient in both. The proper use of both will lead to the splitting of the pack and hopefully the taking away of the hounds altogether. To take the pack one person only should blow and call, thereby imitating the huntsman. To split the pack two horn blowers should operate at either side of the hounds. do not blow the horns at the same time).
When the huntsman is with his hounds, it will be almost impossible (depending on how good the huntsman is) to take the hounds away. The time to attempt it is when the huntsman is a distance from the pack and particularly when the hounds are actually hunting.
There are many calls the huntsman will use but basically sabs need know only two or three.
The most important is blowing staccato notes on the horn. This excites the hounds and will encourage them over to you. This sound is made by keeping the lips tightly together while darting the tongue between them, as if spitting paper from your lips. Interspersed with this call you should give a high pitched 'hoick' noise two or three times. This is made from the back of the throat.
To slow the pack down, blow long notes on the horn. This will also draw hounds out of a wood.
No other calls are really necessary, though knowing the gone to ground call from the huntsman is essential. These calls by horn and voice are available on a tape from your local group. It is especially important to learn the horn calls of your own huntsman and to imitate his calls, his voice and that of his whipper-in. Do not practice horn blowing while at a hunt.
DURING THE HUNT - HINTS
1. Pretend that you have seen a fox and 'holloa'. This will often bring the hunt and /or the hounds over. Then you have to either 'disappear', or misdirect the hunt.( NB see Warning number 1).
2. It you can't blow a horn, try calling the hounds to you with a sharp 'Yut', 'Yut-Yut', try 'C'mon' 'Yut, Yut-Yut'. There will be many local variations, so it is best to listen to the huntsman's call.
3. Hunts often lose hounds. If you see a stray take it to the local police station. Allowing a dog to stray onto a road is an offence.
4. Spray the near side of the hedge or any obstacle rather than the far side if a fox goes through the gap. (In this way if the hounds check, the huntsman is more likely to try casting on the nearside to relocate the scent).
5. If the hunt draw a covert with a road, railway, river or other obstacle at one end, they will enter the hounds at this end and flush away from the obstacle. Position yourself accordingly at the far end (do not block the foxes escape routes). If the fox breaks covert try to intercede between the fox and the hounds. Use sprays, horns, whistles and whips. Try to call the hounds away.
6. Don't let the hunt get away while you argue with the supporters or police. Always try to stick with the hounds (the hounds do the killing not the supporters/field).
7. Keep your O.S. maps with you - they can be invaluable if you get lost and can give an indication of where the hunt is likely to go. O.S. maps also show footpaths.
8. Ideally it is best to have sabs in the field, plus sabs in vans so that the hit can proceed on various fronts. Also the mobile sabs will sometimes be in a better position to move everyone on to a better position.
9. It is quite possible for just two or three experienced people to successfully sab a hunt and save lives using the above tactics.
SITUATIONS YOU MAY ENCOUNTER AT A FOX HUNT
Digging out - If a fox goes to earth, the hunt may call up its terrier men to dig the fox out and kill it. The hounds may be moved on to continue hunting while this is taking place. If you feel you have a chance to save the fox that has gone to earth, do not follow on with the hounds, but take the following action. Sit in all of the open tunnels and refuse to move. If the fox has gone to earth near a public road or footpath, try to get a passer-by to stop, and explain to them what is going on, (the hunt are very touchy about killing foxes in public view). If within fifty meters of a public right of way, the hunt should technically not be allowed to use the humane killer. Try to find out if the owner has given permission for the dig-out (some land owners allow open hunting, but not digging out).
If you come across a digging out after it has started, you will notice that the terrier man will have put one or possibly two terriers into the earth at one tunnel, and he will have blocked the rest so that the fox cannot escape. They will then dig down to where he can hear the terrier barking, as this will be just in front of the fox. In this situation, search round for the blocked tunnels and open them by hand. Also make a lot of noise so that he cannot tell where the terrier is. Remember that in all events he will not give up without retrieving his terrier, so you may have to remain at the earth for a number of hours, but the longer he is delayed the more chance that he will not complete the dig out.
This is of course a potentially violent situation, and many terrier men are rural hooligans, so a good number of sabs are needed for most of the above tactics. If there are only a few of you, try to get the landowner to stop the digging out, or as stated above involve members of the public, the press or anyone with a camera.
Remember as it is illegal to dig badgers out it may just be possible to stop them, should a fox go to earth in a badger sett. This should be kept in mind if arguing with the landowner or police, on the validity of a dig-out. If the hunt block badger setts before hunting starts, try to take photographs then unblock them. Local nature groups will probably assist in preventing these setts from being blocked again.
Bolting - Similar to digging out but in this case the hounds and the huntsmen will remain a short distance from the earth and the earth will not be blocked up. Terriers will be inserted to flush the fox from the earth and as it comes out the terrier man will shout 'gone away' or something similar. This is the signal for the hounds to be put onto the fox again. In this case, once again the most successful tactic would be to sit on the earth tunnels to prevent the insertion of terriers. Failing this, when the fox goes away, use horns and calls to try and hold the hounds. This is very difficult as often the fox will be coming out under their noses. Try to lead the hounds away from the earth while the fox is being bolted, and make life uncomfortable for the huntsmen so that they will not want to stay around. Once again this is a potentially violent situation, so exercise care. Important - if you are sure that the fox is to be bolted, stamp the earth and make a lot of noise above the earth. This will keep the fox in, then if the hunt move off, tactics proceed as for a digging out. Be certain if the terrier men move off that they do not return later! In some cases (for instance if terriers need to be brought in from a distance), the terrier men may block all the entrances of the earth to keep the fox in until they return. If this happens, simply wait until they go and then unblock all the entrances as quietly as possible and then leave.
Blooding - The blood of the killed fox is smeared on the face of a child or newcomer witnessing their first kill. If possible take photographs.
Bagged Fox - Although rare it may happen when the hounds have not killed for some time. A live fox is 'acquired' and released from a bag or box in a field close to the hounds. A normal hunt will then ensue, but of course the fox will be at a distinct advantage and very disorientated. This practice is against the Masters of Foxhounds guide-lines and thus any strangers are likely to be excluded from this event. A photograph of this happening would have serious repercussions for fox hunting. If you should see this happen, contact the HSA immediately, inform local press and the national press. Steps would be taken by the HSA to bring charges against the hunt concerned before the Masters of Foxhounds Association, with a view to their suspension (naturally the bastards would stick together, but this would be an instance where maximum publicity and pressure would bring some dividends).