I am quite relieved that, even after many years of watching hunting, I have not become immune to the sheer brutality of the staghunts and the bloodlust of their supporters.

Thursday was an average sort of day. I was aware that the Devon and Somerset Staghounds were meeting at a local farm at 11 o’clock and so I was on high alert on the League’s Baronsdown wildlife sanctuary, just in case the hunt came our way.

Sure enough, at about midday hunt supporters’ vehicles started arriving on the road adjacent to Baronsdown and I knew that some unfortunate stag in the valley opposite would be forced to run for its life. Vehicles lined the roadside, their occupants desperate to get a glimpse of their tormented quarry.

Devon and Somerset Staghounds - photo taken by Paul Tillsley

After a while the entourage moved on down the hill, although several hunt supporters stayed up high to get a grandstand view of the action. The hunt had moved onto the Pixton Estate and, as is often the case, everything went quiet. Hunt supporters looked eagerly through binoculars at precisely nothing happening and at around 3:30pm horseboxes started arriving and some of the hunt supporters began drifting away.

Then it suddenly became apparent the hunted stag had been found again and horses, quad bikes and 4x4 vehicles raced off in pursuit. The commotion caused the stag to change direction and head down the Exe Valley. I saw the terrified animal as it ran alongside the A396 with hunt supporters pointing and shouting at it.

The stag sought temporary refuge in a conifer plantation, but the hounds were brought up and the stag was made to run again. As it made another dash for freedom the stag ran past me again, just metres away, with its eyes bulging in total terror. The stag again tried to hide, this time in an area of scrub, but he was seen, and the huntsman went in to move him on and continue the chase.

There were frantic shouts as the stag ran towards a disused railway bridge and a hunt gunman leapt up onto the bridge in an attempt to shoot it. Only last year, a hunted stag had jumped to its death onto the road below from the same bridge. The stag ran on and burst across the A396 down to the River Exe below. The huntsman was soon on the spot, encouraging the hounds to follow the scent. It was clear that the stag was heading back to Pixton Estate.

Then everything went quiet again. The remaining hunt supporters sat with their vehicles on the roads surrounding the estate, while the hunt searched again for the stag. Small children with their parents, climbed on the backs of vehicles, straining to get a view. Every so often a shout would go up to indicate the stag had been spotted and the hounds would start barking for a few seconds. The sound of hounds ‘speaking’ always sends shivers down my spine. One old supporter shouted, “Now they’ve got ‘im!” and I despaired that anyone could have so little empathy with a fellow being.

This continued for another hour and only the most diehard hunt supporters remained when finally, the hunt petered out. It was after 6pm and the hunt had been torturing this stag for over six hours. I don’t know what happened to the stag in the end, but I do know that it will have been totally traumatised and even if it did survive it may never recover.

Maybe it’s impossible to become desensitised to such cruelty, which is just as well really, as I never want to forget what the League is fighting for. Days like this remind me why the League Against Cruel Sports is so vital, and we will not rest until they only exist in the past where they belong.