A terrible case of déjà vu - stags caught in a vile human game of death
It was like a terrible case of déjà vu. I was driving home across Exmoor on Saturday afternoon and as I drove round the corner at Pinkery, I was confronted by two lines of 4x4 vehicles. I knew that the Devon and Somerset Staghounds had held their opening stag hunt meet the other side of Simonsbath earlier in the day, and by now the hunt had been on for three hours or more, so it must be coming towards its bloody end. Once again, I was filled with sadness and anger that all these people were here to witness the death of a magnificent stag.
Some people were out on the road verge looking eagerly through binoculars, but as I drove past there was a sudden flurry of activity as people hurried back to their vehicles and I was caught up in the cavalcade as they all set off in pursuit of their quarry. Horse riders came galloping out of the fields and joined the throng as it snaked slowly down the narrow road. The hunt whipper-in came cantering past on the wrong side of the road, followed by hunt supporters on quad bikes and motorbikes. The procession came to a halt outside the Exmoor Foxhounds kennels as horses were completely blocking our path, and two hounds were running around on the road. The whipper-in gathered up the hounds and took them down to the stream that runs below the road and we all moved slowly on.
Tourists in a camper van and a cyclist who had been forced to stop while chaos reigned, looked relieved as they finally escaped the madness. What must they have thought?
I was surprised to see a police car, a very rare sight on Exmoor, stopped by the roadside. Opposite, the bearded hunt master, David Greenwood, sat on horseback bellowing instructions at a group of hunt supporters on quad bikes who were partially blocking the road. They didn’t take any notice. They knew that the hunted stag was down in the valley below and by now he would be exhausted and he would take to the water in a last desperate effort to see off his torturers. They wanted to be there when a hunt official with a shotgun arrived and finally put the tormented stag out of its misery. They wanted to be able to brag to their mates that there were there when this beautiful beast was killed and then butchered for the entertainment of the gathered mob.
I pulled over on the roadside. The two hounds had re-found the line the stag had taken along the stream below me and they were barking excitedly; innocent victims in this vile human game of death. The huntsman and whipper-in were there to supervise as the hounds ran on out of sight into the next valley and we all moved on into Simonsbath. I waited there as hunt supporters drove past one way and then came back again. It was clear the stag had retraced his steps and there was no escape for him. The excitement of the hunt supporters was at fever pitch. I was completely helpless, there was nothing I could do and so I left the scene feeling totally depressed. At least I would see another day, unlike the poor stag.