Deer hunting is less well known than fox hunting, but while currently only three registered hunts chase red deer with hounds in England, this practice inflicts some of the greatest cruelty wild animals suffer at the hands of people.

On average, deer hunts – also known as stag hunts - last three hours, and cover 18km. League Against Cruel Sports investigators witness deer hunts on a regular basis around our sanctuary at Baronsdown, and have filmed deer fleeing onto our ‘safe’ land.

When staghunts have been challenged about their behaviour, they have claimed they were undertaking exempt hunting, as the Hunting Act 2004 has a list of exemptions where hunting with dogs are allowed. Currently the exemption the staghunts claim the most is that they are undertaking ‘research and observation’, despite the fact we believe this is just a cover for illegal hunting. A League investigation shows what this ‘research’ looks like.


The Cruelty of Deer Hunting

Professor Patrick Bateson, Britain’s pre-eminent animal behaviour scientist, published a study in 1997 on the welfare of hunted deer and the results shocked everyone, including him. Reflecting on his findings in The Times he wrote:

Red deer are not equipped with sweat glands in their bodies. They overheat when chased and their muscle fibre type is not adapted for endurance running(…) However, even these initial conclusions scarcely prepared me for the astonishing changes in the physiology of the hunted deer(…) In short, many of the physiological changes are seriously maladaptive and would not be expected to occur normally. The pattern of the data suggests that the hunted animals are extremely frightened as they try to escape.

The members of the Government’s Burns Inquiry committee agreed, stating: “There seems to be a large measure of agreement among the scientists that, at least during the last 20 minutes or so of the hunt, the deer is likely to suffer as glycogen depletion sets in”.


What happens in a deer hunt?

There are three registered stag hunting packs based in the south west of England which hunt the Red deer during deer hunting season. Roe deer are also hunted by at least two unregistered buckhound packs in the south west of England.

Deer are hunted on horseback using a pack of hounds. The length and duration of the hunt can vary considerably. The pursuit could last less than an hour or last all day. On average the overall time of the actual hunt is around 3 hours and a distance of 18km.

The pursuit of the deer itself consists of intermittent flights where the deer runs away from the hounds at speed, exerting itself maximally, until sufficient distance has been built up between it and the hounds after which the deer would slow down or even lie down. A series of these successive flights continues until the deer escapes or becomes exhausted. In the latter case the stag would then stop avoiding the hounds and would "stand at bay" where it would turn and face the hounds. Hinds also stop and may also hide by lying down in suitable cover.

The deer is then shot, usually with a shotgun, at close range. The carcass is then butchered and the entrails are given to the hounds. This is known as the 'carve up'. 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, and the rest of the body will be later skinned and butchered into joints which will be distributed to farmers and landowners over whose land the deer run.

The League believes that deer hunting inflicts severe cruelty on the chased animals, and that hunting continues in spite of the ban. The Hunting Act should be strengthened and the ‘research and observation’ exemption removed to prevent deer and stags being chased for sport.

Stag in a forest surrounded by autumn leaves


How can I help stop deer hunting?

  • Contact your MP and ask them to urge their party to keep and strengthen the deer (stag) hunting ban
  • Join one of our supporter groups to help us raise awareness that stag hunting still takes place
  • Share this page on your social media


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