Structure of a Hunt
Fox hunting is the most complex of all the bloodsports. To explain how the hunting of the fox is conducted, it is necessary to describe the role of the persons involved in the days "sport". Much of this description also applies to other forms of hunting.
The foxhound was originally bred to hunt deer and hares and despite years of intensive breeding they will still "riot" after these quarries. The foxhound stands normally between 22 - 25 inches at the shoulder. The hounds are not bred for speed but for their stamina and scenting ability, so although the fox runs much faster than the hounds, the hounds superior stamina will eventually enable it to kill its quarry. A much faster hound could be bred by crossing it with a racing type dog, but this would not be considered "sporting" and, after all, those who ride behind would not be too pleased if every fox was killed after only a minutes gallop!
A pack of hounds may number up to 40 (20 couple in hunting terms; hounds are always counted in pairs known as "couples"), and are made up of either all dogs, all bitches, or sometimes a mixed pack. Different hounds in a pack may have different scenting abilities - some better on grass, others on the the road etc. More hounds are kept in the kennels so the huntsman is able to choose which hounds will make up the pack on any given day. It also enables sick or injured hounds to be rested without lowering the number of the hunting pack.
Usually no feed is given to the hounds the day before the hunt
in order to heighten their sensibilities. Most hounds only have a
hunting life of six or seven years, they are then killed off, donated/sold
to a mink hunt or maybe used to breed from. It has been known for
slaughtered hounds to have been fed to their kennel mates.
They are the people who have to dig in their pockets at the end of the year and pay any outstanding hunt debts! Hunting is so costly that most hunts these days have joint masterships, where up to four people may share the title and overheads. Most Masters belong to the Master of Foxhounds Association, (MFHA) but this is by no means statutory. If they are a member of MFHA they are bound by the rules of the Association and can be disciplined by them. The Master is responsible for controlling the kennels, the season's programme, and for showing good sport and is directly answerable to:
The Hunt Committee
The committee are elected by the subscribers. The committee, in their turn, appoint the Master (all friends together). They are responsible for the "hunt country" and overall policy. They are also responsible for raising money to run the hunt, which includes the wages for hunt servants, food for the hounds, maintenance of the hunt premises and equipment, earth-stopping, damage to non-hunt property, repair to hunt jumps etc. The money raised comes from subs, caps, Hunt Supporters clubs, point-to-point races, sales and hunt races etc.
The huntsman hunts the hounds and is responsible for the welfare and the cleanliness of the kennels. They are usually professional, (i.e., they are paid wages), but sometimes the Master will hunt the hounds, in which case the professional in charge is known as the Kennel Huntsman who will usually act as first whipper-in. The Huntsman is assisted by :
The huntsman's right-hand man. Some hunts have more than one, they may be a professional or an amateur (not paid wages). Their job is to aid the huntsman, while hunting hounds, by keeping the pack together, collecting stray and straggling hounds, helping to sight the fox and keeping followers away from the hounds.
This unsavory character will "dig out", shoot or "bolt" the fox when it has gone to ground using terriers. Terrier men are recognisable by their flat caps, Landrovers and missing chromosomes! Many of them double as pest controllers, and have connections with badger digging (every convicted badger digger in the UK for the past 10 years has had some link with foxhunt terrier work).
The Earth Stopper
These people go out either late at night or early in the morning and block all the earths while the fox is above ground going about his business. They may do the blocking with earth, sticks and branches, plastic bags filled with stones, rabbit nets, wire mesh or oil drums. They are also known to block badger setts in the hunting area. They may be paid by the hunt, or just do it for the love of it.
The Fence Mender
This is the Landrover-roaming band of men employed by some hunts to make good all fences etc., ruined by the mounted follower.
The Mounted Field
These are the hunt followers who pay their subs or "cap" (money paid on the day), which varies from hunt to hunt, in order to have a good ride across the countryside. They rarely see a kill or the hounds working as they are kept in strict control, either by the Master or a person known as the Field Master, who may be the Joint Master or an elected member of the Committee. 90% of the field are there for the social side of hunting and are more interested in whether Rodney knows that Cynthia is having an affair with Guy, than whether the hounds have killed a fox! The majority seem to care little for the technicalities of hunting and are most likely to come out with cliched defences of hunting which they have learned parrot fashion. The field are kept well in the background while the hounds are "drawing" the "covert" and it is not until the hounds are well on the scent that they are permitted to follow on. If it is a slow day - scent wise - the huntsman may come in for a great deal of criticism for "not hunting his hounds properly"(!).
The Foot Followers
As the name implies, these hardy folk will follow the hunt on foot. They may even form their own club. They come in all shapes, sizes and ages. The older ones are a mine of information about the hunt country and ways of the hunted fox. If you want to know where the hunt will be in half an hour they are the ones to ask.
The Car Supporter
Car supporters are actually a completely different species, generally divided into three subspecies:- Mr Thermos Flask - He is out for a picnic with a difference. He can be seen leaning on his car, a thermos lid in one hand, a pair of binoculars in the other. His wife usually can be seen passing sandwiches out of the window with a bored expression on her face, and a traveling rug over her knees. He prefers to travel in convoy, following "holloas" rather than hounds. He thinks he knows all about hunting but is usually looking in the wrong direction. Mr Bored - He can be seen aimlessly driving about the lanes looking for the hunt, but not putting a lot of effort into it. He is mildly surprised when he finds them. Mr Heavy - He likes to travel in a gang, usually in a Landrover/pick-up. He is very boisterous. He prefers to attach himself to the Terrier man (he may be the Terrier Man!). A common exponent of the "foxes kill chickens, cows or babies" stories because he, of course, has actually seen them do this. There are of course exceptions to these categories, as every hunt will have its own idiosyncratic followers.
The Hunt Supporters Club
Most hunts have their own club, membership of which is made up of car and foot followers of the hunt. They will organise fund-raising events (including terrier shows) in order to support the hunt. They will also help in erecting and supervising fences at the point-to-point. Many publish their own newsletters.
Fixture List/Meet Card
The fixture list is drawn up before the season starts and is distributed to all subscribers. The hunt follows a similar agenda each season, but much relies on the crop rotation and fox distribution. It's possible to work out approximate dates and venues from old fixture lists (hence the importance of hit reports from past seasons).
A greater part of the hunt revenue comes from these events. The programme is organised and run by the hunt, in conjunction with the Jockey Club, and entries come from riders both inside and outside the hunt. It is a one-day event, usually in early summer. Most hunts have a permanent course which they may share with another to cut down costs. The event takes place over brush hurdles. Beagle packs have been known to organise human steeplechase courses for ebullient supporters.
The Hunt Ball
These usually take place at the end of the season, and represents a general party at which all levels of support from the hunt are in attendance. They are good for doing demos outside the venue and are notable for the large amount of damage usually caused by the participants. For a group of people who spend a good deal of time going on about sabs as "hooligans", they are notorious for their bad behaviour at their own social events.
The Pony Club
These are registered with the British Horse Society. Nearly every hunt country has its attendant pony club. Sometimes hunts will arrange a special meet for children belonging to these clubs, who are ripe for indoctrination. Check the meet cards for special children's meets. (Although not all pony clubs do have hunt connections).