Disturbing new video has been taken of a West Country hunt ritually carving up a stag that it had chased and then shot.

The footage shows the Devon and Somerset Staghounds who are currently flouting a ‘research and observation’ loophole in the Hunting Act to chase red deer with hounds.

Chris Luffingham, League Against Cruel Sports director of campaigns, said:
“Hunting red deer, Britain’s largest wild mammal, with packs of hounds is barbaric and regrettably still routinely going on in parts of Devon and Somerset, despite the 2004 ban.

“Stags and hinds continue to be pursued by dogs, sometimes for up to four hours or more, followed by hunters on horseback and supporters on quad bikes, and then shot and carved up as per the traditions of the hunt.

“Our polling indicates that 87 per cent of the British public are opposed to deer hunting and I think they would be horrified if they knew the details of the hunts’ activities and how many animals are suffering and dying.”

The carve-up

The carve up took place on Thursday, March 8 and was witnessed by Paul Tillsley, the League Against Cruel Sports head of conservation and education. He saw the deer run through the League’s Baronsdown sanctuary and then caught up with the hunt and managed to film the ritual carving of the stag by the hunt after the young stag had been killed. According to hunt traditions, the hooves known as 'slots' and the teeth are given out or sold as 'trophies' to hunt supporters. The heart is normally given to the landowners of the land where the stag was killed; the head with its antlers is given to the Masters of the hunt as a trophy.

A monitor from Somerset Wildlife Crime also witnessed the hunt in action that day and took video footage of a huntsman with a shotgun dismount and run up an embankment. The video shows a huntsman jump down from a horse with a shortened shotgun and scramble up an embankment to where a stag and another huntsman are pictured.

The scale of the problem

The League Against Cruel Sports has video footage, photos and figures indicating the cruelty and scale of deer hunting in Devon and Somerset still taking place 13 years after the hunting ban was introduced.

Three hunts – the Quantock Staghounds, Devon and Somerset Staghounds and Tiverton Staghounds – are estimated by our monitors on the ground, to be chasing and killing more than 200 red deer, Britain’s largest land mammal, every year.

According to research commissioned by Exmoor National Park in 2009, the Devon and Somerset Staghounds alone are responsible for the deaths of 185 deer each year.

From January 1 2017 to December 31 2017, there were 66 separate cases of illegal deer hunting reported by our monitors and calls from the public to our Animal Crimewatch line. From August 1, when the autumn (sic) Stag hunting starts, 2017, through to March 12, 2018, 61 cases of illegal deer hunting were reported.

The hunting of mature stags starts in early August and goes on through to late October. Hinds (possibly pregnant) are hunted from November through to February. Young stags are hunted March through April. The Tiverton Staghounds, and Quantock Staghounds hunt twice a week and the Devon and Somerset Staghounds hunt three times a week.

These three hunts will normally kill at least one stag each hunt but tend to take more than one hind during a hunt. The hunting of stags by the packs of hounds followed by huntsmen and supporters on horseback, quad bikes, four wheel drives and motor bikes, can go on for three to four hours before the deer is normally shot and then carved up for trophies.

Research and Observation

The Devon and Somerset Staghounds are using a ‘research and observation’ loophole which allows a hunt to operate providing it only uses two dogs and is furthering scientific knowledge. The hunts claim they are observing deer and providing notes to researchers.

Chris Luffingham, said:
“The Devon and Somerset Hunt are chasing and killing deer, even though it was banned in 2004. They claim to be undertaking ‘research' – in much the same way Japanese Whalers claim they are killing whales for research. The League believe the hunts are cynically exploiting a loophole in the law.”

The Quantock Staghounds

The Quantock Staghounds are hunting deer with packs of dogs in breach of the hunting ban:
Footage from September 2016 shows a large stag known locally as Red being chased by a pack of hounds on National Trust land. He made it to safety on a League Against Cruel Sports sanctuary. He has subsequently disappeared and feared to be dead.

The Tiverton Staghounds

The Tiverton Staghounds are also operating with packs of hounds in breach of the Hunting Act 2004. Photos passed to the League show staghounds on the dead body of a deer in a stream. On December 23, 2017, dogs from the Tiverton Staghounds chased and killed a female red deer which is pictured dead in the stream with the dogs on top of it - it has clearly been mauled. This was witnessed by a local resident and photographed by an observer. Members of the Tiverton Staghounds later turned up and retrieved the carcass. 

Chris Luffingham added:
“As a country we’re emphatically against the kind of trophy hunting that takes place in Africa and across the world, but we’re allowing something very similar to take place right here in our own countryside. Make no mistake, these hunts are not taking part in some kind of scientific deer cull to control numbers, they are doing it because they love the chase and the kill, and that’s despicable to right-minded people.

“The Hunting Act 2004 needs to be strengthened and custodial sentences introduced to deter these criminals from operating.”

The League is encouraging members of the public to sign their petition titled ‘stop the killing of animals by hunts in the UK’. Full details can be found here.

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Notes to Editors

For more information or interview requests please contact the League Against Cruel Sports Press Office on 01483 524250 (24hrs) or email [email protected] 

The League Against Cruel Sports is Britain's leading charity that works to stop animals being persecuted, abused and killed for sport. The League was instrumental in helping bring about the landmark Hunting Act. We carry out investigations to expose law-breaking and cruelty to animals and campaign for stronger animal protection laws and penalties. We work to change attitudes and behaviour through education and manage sanctuaries to protect wildlife. Find out more about our work at www.league.org.uk. Registered charity in England and Wales (no.1095234) and Scotland (no.SC045533).