Sickening scenes of stag hunting on Exmoor
Posted 8th August 2018
When I was young I used to like August. The school holidays were still on, it was generally warm and dry and the new football season was just kicking off. Nowadays, I am not so keen. The vibrance of early summer has gone and the grasses, trees and flowers are all looking a bit tired and listless, as if they are just waiting for the respite that autumn will bring.
But worse than that, on Exmoor, August means the ramping up of gamekeeping activities on the, the beginning of the next round of and the start of the fox, hare and seasons.
It only seems five minutes since the previous seasons ended. Now suddenly, every parked car is suspicious and every shout, yelp or blast of a horn could mean that one or other of the local hunts are chasing down a terrified animal and I need to be on my guard.
So when I saw a couple in a 4x4 vehicle gazing across the moor through binoculars as I drove across Exmoor on the way the to the League’s Cowley Wood sanctuary, alarm bells began to ring. They could, of course, just be innocent birdwatchers looking for a rarity, but this is Exmoor and the odds were stacked against it. Nevertheless, I had things to do and so I carried on my way.
A couple of hours later, I was on my return journey and as I approached the same area my heart sunk. Parked on the roadside were a couple of 4x4 vehicles and men were stood out on the verge looking through binoculars across the moor. The signs were ominous and I pulled over, but I could see or hear nothing other than a gamekeeper buzzing around on a quad bike attending to his partridge.
I continued on my way home, but as I rounded the next bend the road was lined with 4x4 vehicles. People with binoculars and two-way radios were out of their vehicles, waiting expectantly. As I drove past the atmosphere suddenly changed up a gear and the vehicles began moving off in the same direction as I was travelling.
Half a mile further on I pulled over again in a place where I had a good view and in my rear view mirror I could see that the cavalcade of 4x4 vehicles were stopping behind me. Scattered across the moor I now noticed horse riders dressed in tweed and it dawned on me that this was the Devon and Somerset Staghounds in full flow.
A saloon car drove in amongst the 4x4s and a middle-aged couple got out. For a moment I thought they were normal tourists, but then I saw that the man had a pair of binoculars hanging around his neck. The woman opened the back door of the car and a small child emerged. The woman stooped down by its side and encouraged the child to look across to where the hunt was taking place. It always sickens me when I see children being indoctrinated into accepting cruelty like this.
A ‘holloa’ went up somewhere out of sight, a kind of shout-cum-scream that hunt followers do to alert others that the hunted animal has been spotted, and seconds later a group of eight majestic stags came running over the moor just 100 metres away, led by a quite magnificent beast. They leapt some sheep fencing with incredible grace and for a second I felt exhilarated to witness such a marvellous spectacle. Then, just behind the stags, I could see three horse riders galloping furiously in pursuit and my joy turned to sadness and anger. The stags and their tormentors disappeared from view along a steep-sided valley. The hounds were clearly some distance behind, but I knew they would soon be brought forward to ensure the hunt continued.
My emotions were in turmoil. How could all these people be taking pleasure from watching these beautiful creatures being chased to exhaustion? The odds were against the stags and it was almost certain that one of them would end up dead, just to satisfy the bloodlust of a few people. I had seen enough for one day, but I knew the scene would be repeated day after day throughout the hunting season.
Sadly, League staff often witness hunts in progress like this but without detailed, visual evidence of several stages of the hunt, it’s difficult to secure prosecutions.