Deer management or a jolly good wheeze?

Travelling along the narrow roads of the Exe valley in the small hours of Monday morning, I turned a corner to see a horse and rider in the road barely visible in the darkness. Luckily swerving in time, I passed a man in drab hunting attire on his way to the Devon and Somerset Staghounds’ first meet of the season at Haddon, Exmoor.

Joining my colleague Graham at 6am we found the hunt assembling and completely taking over Haddon Hill Car Park, which is managed by the Exmoor National Park Authority.

Shortly afterwards, the hunt left the meet in semi-darkness followed by a long line of cars, quad bikes, and motorbikes.

The hunt then proceeded to cast their two hounds through the nearby coverts, spooking not only the local livestock, but also young deer who we filmed frantically trying to escape the area. We got ahead of the hunt and in a field, we spotted the most magnificent red deer stag among the hinds and calves.

This stag could be classed as a record size stag, with probably a West country record size pair of antlers still in velvet. Usually, deer with such antlers are only found in park situations and the cynic in me would think that this stag was brought in for the purpose of hunting, which is not unheard of.

The stag was split from the herd by followers and then chaos ensued with manically grinning riders and supporters tearing after this beautiful animal.

The Hunting Act 2004 prohibits the hunting of deer with dogs; however, the stag hunting community have a few exemptions up their sleeve, which enables them to bend the rules and still kill deer over a prolonged period.

Why on earth people would get pleasure from this is beyond me as just seeing this magnificent animal was a privilege for me.

Stag hunting is as far from humane deer management as you can get. This stag could have been accounted for in the field by a skilled marksman if it had been injured. Instead, it was pushed away from the safety of the herd and then had to run the gauntlet of riders, hounds, and baying supporters on every road for four-and-a-half hours.

Do not believe any of their bunkum about finding and dispatching injured deer or killing them for ‘science and observation’ reasons. This is purely a blood “sport” for a very small amount of people. Admittedly although the road was lined with watchers on this particular meet, as there are only three registered staghound packs in the UK, it wasn’t much for the most prestigious of them all on their first meet of the season.

In fact, we saw just as many thoroughly enjoying the healthy and harmless water sports at Wimbleball Lake that morning, probably oblivious to the early morning horrors in the hills next to them.

This is a barbaric and almost mediaeval sport for a minority who love to watch a beautiful deer run to exhaustion until it is a wreck of a once majestic creature. If it is lucky then it is shot quickly to end this humiliation.

Anyone who has seen an exhausted and beaten deer tongue hanging out and frothing at the mouth waiting to be shot will know this “sport” is not carried out by people who love and respect deer.

As the hunting fraternity have threatened to shoot all of the red deer in the West country should their sport be stopped completely, this shows the kind of people we are dealing with. Only last year League investigators filmed the same hunt whipping a deer to stop it getting to safety. The film and pictures from that day rightly received international coverage and condemnation.

We need to tighten up the Hunting Act, remove the exemptions for stag hunts and stop this self-indulgent barbarity once and for all.

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