The Secret Monitor

The Secret Monitor: Dishing the dirt on stag hunting

Damaging stories from inside hunting, shooting, and the badger cull have been circulating for years. Everything from breaking the law to assaults or harassment of monitors and the public and a police force seemingly happy to ‘look the other way’.

But there is always someone watching, always someone listening. The Secret Monitor.

In the first post of an occasional series, the Secret Monitor is in the west of England.


Stag hunting has a long and bloody history in the United Kingdom. Confined to the west country now, it is perhaps the most abhorrent and depraved practice of the hunting community in the whole of the U.K. Even within hunting circles it has long been referred to as ‘a blood sport too far’. Pro-hunt individuals confess that it is the hunting communities’ Achilles heel. Imagine just how bad stag hunting has to be for even die-hard bloodsport enthusiasts to squirm when they think about it…

The exemption-riddled Hunting Act 2004 has changed nothing as far as stag hunts are concerned, and today’s stag hunting is nothing more than the bastard child of stag hunting of old. Groups like the Quantock Stag Hounds and the Devon and Somerset Stag Hounds might make ludicrous claims of mercy killings and herd management, but anyone who has witnessed what these people get up to when the ‘red mist’ descends, sees their faces contort as blood frenzy takes over, understands it for precisely what it is: the depraved past time of those who see themselves as entitled. Entitled to break the law. Entitled to inflict suffering for fun. Entitled to kill.

Such is this ‘entitlement’ mindset, incidentally, the Secret Monitor was told that a master at the Devon and Somerset Stag Hounds recently informed local landowners that when they are hunting they will ‘..go anywhere they like, and do whatever they like’. This odious arrogance only further alienates the blood junkies from what is essentially a very small community. Land access is one thing that is key to the survival of stag hunting. Without land, stag hunting will die. It will fade into the history books, to be looked back on as a shameful and embarrassing plague of the South West’s past.


To round out the picture a little, the two aforementioned packs are not the only ones hunting deer. The notorious Tiverton Stag Hounds are a particularly feral group. Their former huntsman, John Norrish, described by the Daily Mail as a ‘whisky-swilling grandfather with an eye for young women’, was convicted in 2012 of raping a guest as he gave her a lift home following a ball. And who can forget the family dog Pippa, savagely mauled in her own garden by the Tiverton Stag Hounds in 2006. A border terrier cross, Pippa was killed and her owner Catherine Hodgson, a magistrate of the North Devon bench, suffered nasty injuries in her attempt to protect her. The hunt took the usual stance of trying to buy the family’s silence: their solicitors offered compensation to the tune of £1000, but tried to insist the money would only be paid if the family kept quiet. Catherine was incensed by the offer of hush money and told the hunt that she had a ‘duty to inform the police’. The huntsman responsible for the hounds that day was not convicted for the incident after the judge at Exeter Crown Court who heard the case, Jeremy Griggs, bizarrely stated that ‘Dogs will be dogs’. Maybe in the circles he moved in packs of hounds egged on by hunters routinely savage pet dogs to death, but the good judge is retired now so we will never know…


Two more packs hunt with buckhounds, smaller dogs than staghounds and used to hunt Roe Deer: the Cheldon Buckhounds and the Exe Valley Buckhounds. There was another regional pack, the New Forest Buckhounds, but they folded following a four-year targeted campaign by monitors who secured a vast collection of footage which depicted horrendous cruelty, including a child holding a buck’s head underwater until he was drowned! The video was aired on breakfast television across the country. The hunt could never weather the publicity storm this caused and folded on the 28th July 1997, marking the end of a 1000-year history of stag hunting in the New Forest.

Prior to this incident, by the way, the savagery of this hunt had been so extreme that an early day motion was tabled by the U.K. Parliament on the 28th March 1995, calling for an immediate suspension of hunting by the New Forest Buckhounds. The signatories urged independent monitoring of the buckhounds due to the absolute failures of the Forestry Commission to hold the hunt to the terms of their license in the forest. And here’s the twist: the child filmed drowning the buck by monitors was the son of the Forestry Commission Keeper at the time. It’s a job which the New Forest Trust noteswas often handed down from father to son, which was a good way to make sure that knowledge about the Forest was passed from one generation of keepers to the next“. He must have been so proud of his little lad, eh…


Today the Quantock Hills – an AONB or area of Outstanding Natural Beauty nonetheless! – are home to the notorious Quantock Stag Hounds (QSH). Kennelled at West Bagborough this hunt has two previous convictions for illegal hunting, and two further cases brought against them which failed in court (though in the last case, the magistrate in summing up confirmed that he considered the hunting to have been illegal but that the huntsman could not be identified at the scene). The magistrate went on to state that the field (other riders and members of the hunt) were clearly the guilty party but were not the individuals being charged with the offence.

Little more than a scratch pack, a gaggle of local farmers and landowners largely dominated by one family, the Quantock Stag Hounds have a litany of violent and cruel offences against deer to their name. Curiously the AONB website fails to mention any of that or to tell how a stag was beheaded on Kilve Beach and the body allowed to wash out to sea. You’ll be hard-pushed to find anything on the Exmoor National Park website, either, letting visitors to neighbouring Porlock know that if they’re in the right place at the right time they too could watch stags being chased off the cliffs and leaping to their deaths.

The Quantocks and Porlock. Image Google Maps

The QSH are perhaps one of the most hated packs locally due to their savage conduct, and it is perhaps no coincidence that Beth Gibbons, the wife of one of the Quantock’s Huntmasters, is none other than the daughter of the former huntsman of the New Forest Buckhounds. The Secret Monitor hears that Beth was in such – er ‘high spirits’ at a recent puppy show that whilst enjoying a ride on the back of a motorbike around the grounds her dress got caught in the wheel and was ripped straight off. Classy…

Stag hunters love to talk about ‘tradition’, and old hunting books offer an insight into the history of stag hunting. One particularly gruesome description of post-hunting day celebrations tells of a silver goblet being placed into the mouth of a decapitated stag and then passed around to be drunk from. Rumours abound that such a revolting act could well still take place at the ‘Antler Inn’, the small hovel at the Quantock kennels where hunt members gather and revel in the day’s hunting whilst the deer’s body hangs behind them like the set of a budget horror film.



As long ago as 1997 the Bateson Report presented scientific evidence that deer suffer immensely during stag hunts. The report’s findings revealed the extent of suffering experienced by these majestic creatures during pursuits, leading to widespread condemnation from animal welfare advocates and raising significant ethical questions. So how is all this still going on, you might ask? Doesn’t English law apply to the west country?

It’s a good question and the answer might lie in the number of blind eyes that seem to afflict the authorities down here. The Bateson Report moved the National Trust to ban the stag hunts from their land, followed a short time later by the Forestry Commission. Regrettably to this day neither organisation commit to proper enforcement of their ban. A recent case against the Quantock Stag Hounds, where a stag was hunted over National Trust Land at Trendle Ring, was filmed by monitors. No action was taken by the Trust. In defence of their staff’s inaction, the Secret Monitor heard that the Estate Manager for the National Trust claimed that staff had received death threats from stag hunters if they dared to intervene. This was challenged at a meeting with Nick Droy and Verity Burke of the National Trust: oddly neither claimed to have any knowledge of the threats vigorously used as a defence by their own Estate Manager for doing nothing. Go figure…


The tide is turning though. You can only ride roughshod over even hunt-supporting landowners for so long, and over the years there have been multiple incidents which have alienated even lifelong supporters of the stag hounds. The manhandling of deer just prior to a kill, for instance, has become commonplace (perhaps a hangover from the thuggish practices down in the New Forest?). Exhausted stags being jumped on by supporters is now almost an everyday occurrence. In the event of a kill being made in an area where the hunt has no permission to be, the Secret Monitor has been told that a conveniently broken leg, easily inflicted after a kill, will allow the stag hounds to utilise the Hunting Act’s ‘rescue of a wild mammal believed injured’ exemption to its fullest. In other words, to get themselves off the hook with landowners hunts portray themselves as noble guardians of the deer, only chasing the animal up and down hills for hours to prevent suffering! A previously healthy stag, hunted to exhaustion, killed, and then they break his leg to claim a mercy kill. The irony is sickening. In fact, the whole damn situation is sickening…

Which explains why there is no appetite among the local community to see stag hunting continue. Even those who were once deeply connected with the stag hunts are looking in horror at what hunts are doing and turning on them. Hunts are pouring fuel on their own dumpster fire and are losing access to land at an encouraging rate.  Their time is nearly up, and they know it.

The death rattle of stag hunting is reverberating through the towns and villages of the South-west, and that is one kill we will all be celebrating.

Until next time

The Secret Monitor


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