The article published in the Metro on Friday 1st December titled “Hang on…why are hunt saboteurs targeting drag hunts?” could not be more misleading. Deliberately or by error, it confuses three different activities.

There are three types of simulated hunting with dogs in the UK that should never be confused: trail hunting, drag hunting and clean boot hunting. One of them (trail hunting) is a cover for illegal hunting and the others are genuine activities. It is in the interest of illegal hunters to ensure people confuse them for each other, and unfortunately this is what this article has done.

The article incorrectly states that the recent footage of a woman whipping a hunt saboteur happened during a drag hunt, but it was in fact a trail hunt (East Sussex and Romney Marsh Hunt Club). It also states that drag hunts use bloodhounds when they do not (not once in the history of drag hunting have bloodhounds ever been used, they are only used in clean boot hunting); it says that there is a type of hound called “trail hounds” which simply do not, and have never, existed (drag hunts and trail hunts both use foxhounds).

Further, it claims that trail hunts use aniseed-based scent when only drag hunts use it; and it wrongly implies that hunt saboteurs interfere with drag hunting and clean boot hunting while they only involve themselves with trail hunting as only in trail hunting is wildlife is at risk.


Drag Hunting and Clean Boot Hunting

Drag hunting is a genuine activity, which has existed since the 1800s, in which a non-animal based scent is laid using a drag (hence the name) in areas unlikely to contain foxes or hares. A pack of foxhounds is then led to find it with the full knowledge of those who control them so they can be stopped if they deviate from the scent trail laid.

Clean boot hunting is also an old genuine activity, this time using bloodhounds, a different breed of dog, to follow the natural scent of a person running (not a drag), who is following a route also known by those controlling the hounds.

Most importantly, both activities do not cause harm to wildlife and are legal.


Trail Hunting

On the other hand, trail hunting was invented in 2004 as a response to the hunting ban when all 300+ hunts decided in defiance not to convert to drag hunting or clean boot hunting. It uses foxhounds to theoretically follow an animal-based scent (such as urine) laid in areas likely to contain foxes or hares (depending if the hounds have been trained to follow one or the other), and crucially without the knowledge of those controlling the hounds. This means that they cannot stop deviating hounds as they don’t know if they are following the artificial trail or a real animal. Trail hunting is an activity that constantly leads to wild mammals being chased and killed (which is against the law) in such a way that it is difficult to prosecute those responsible as they claim that it was an “accident”. This is why hunt saboteurs target trail hunts.


Scandalous Confusion

In addition to this confusion, which is scandalous if it was deliberate, the article also mentions a few things that seem fuelled by the mistruths perpetuated by the pro-hunt lobby. Firstly, describing the incident of the rider hitting the saboteur, it makes it look as if it was an aggressive act by the saboteur, when if you watch the entire video you will be able to see that it was defensive as the rider had been dangerously charging saboteurs with her horse.

Secondly, it also refers to balaclavas as if this is something that you only see on hunt saboteurs, but hunters, in particular terrier men (responsible for helping ‘dig out’ foxes who go to ground; and often now misleading called “countrymen”), also wear them during trail hunting.

The article continues by stating that under the Hunting Act 2004 you still can hunt foxes as long as you don’t kill them with the hounds, which is not true. There are exemptions in the act that allow shooting foxes under certain conditions but none of them allows hounds to chase them, or to use a pack of hounds if you intend to shoot the fox (you can only use one or two dogs). It also refers to “legal hunt monitors” when in fact the law makes no reference to this (and the article says the RSPCA monitors hunts which they don’t; they prosecute hunts from evidence that may be obtained by monitors from other organisations.)

It then states that trail hunting “was agreed with the hunt saboteurs”, which is preposterous as since it was invented in 2005 the saboteurs have continuously ‘sabbed’ trail hunts, as they realised it is a cover for illegal hunting. And finally it states that most trail hunts happen on National Trust land, when in fact the opposite is true. Only just about a fifth of the trail hunts used National Trust land last year (and probably fewer this year), and most only did it for just a few days during their hunting season.

These kinds of mistruths are dangerous, and unless they are corrected, they will continue to fester and grow, and will only serve to help those who continue breaking the law to get away with illegal hunting.