This is the solution to end stag hunting forever

Stag hunting is possibly the UK’s most gruesome blood sport. When the Hunting Act came into force in 2005, stag hunters evaded the ban by using different loopholes in the law to their fox hunting friends. Protect the Wild argues that in order to end stag hunting once and for all, we need a complete change in the law. And we need your help to make it happen.

Most people are probably more familiar with fox hunters in red coats on horses, surrounded by a large pack of hounds. But stag hunters are quite different, using a variety of transport methods to murder stags, including quad bikes, motorbikes and on horseback. The vehicles are stationed on high land, while a huntsman and hounds will pick up a scent. The field riders follow on behind.

Stag hunting is very well-coordinated, making it near-impossible for the stag to escape. The people in vehicles, with their binoculars and hand-held radios, ensure that he is pushed into the open and has nowhere to hide. A number of hunters carry guns, and when the stag is exhausted from an hours-long chase, he collapses. He is then shot by a gun-carrier, his throat is slit, and his body is divided up as different trophy parts.

Hunting Act loopholes

Fox hunters usually use the trail hunting loophole to get away with murdering foxes. Stag hunters, meanwhile, use a number of different loopholes in the Hunting Act legislation. While they sometimes use the trail hunting smokescreen, they also rely on the ‘flushing to guns’ smokescreen too. When hunting with dogs became illegal, stag hunts reduced their pack of hounds to two – at least in theory – and compensated for this by using 4X4s, quad bikes and motorbikes. According to the law, an animal can be ‘flushed’ out by up to two dogs and shot to protect crops, or to relieve him/her of suffering. The animal can also be killed in the name of research.

Protect the Wild spoke to Somerset Wildlife Crime’s Bobbie Armstrong, who has spent many years monitoring stag hunting in the southwest of England. She said that the staghound packs are “using any exemption they can get away with”. She said:

“They will utilise whatever excuse they need to after the event in order to provide themselves with an alibi.”

We asked her about the excuses the notorious Quantock Staghounds use to get away with murder time and time again. The pack hunts on the Quantock Hills in Somerset, which are owned by various land owners such as the National Trust and Forestry Commission. She said:

“The Quantock Staghounds bodge together various excuses for hunting, one being trail hunting, the other being flushing to guns to relieve suffering of a casualty. They chop and change to see what fits their story that day. They, to my knowledge, have never tried to go down the route of using the observation and research exemption. So they claim that they trail hunt unless there is a casualty that needs to be dispatched, in which case they’ll use two dogs to flush to guns.”


Quantock Stag Hounds load murdered stag onto quad bike
Quantock Stag Hounds load murdered stag onto quad bike. Photo via North Dorset Hunt Sabs

But they’re not really using two dogs…

Hunting Act legislation clearly states that if a pack is using an exemption, that

“the stalking or flushing out does not involve the use of more than two dogs.”

But Bobbie has pointed out that staghound packs use more than two dogs. She said:

“They can use a group of hounds called tufters – usually six or seven – to find a deer. Searching for a deer doesn’t come under actual hunting. When the tufters have found the deer, they should be called off and they then lay on two hounds. If they are feeling brave, they’ll allow the six or seven hounds they’ve used as tufters to hunt the deer.

But even though they may only have two hounds on that stag, they are relaying the hounds. That means when two get tired they are replacing them with a fresh two. Obviously if they were flushing to guns, why would two hounds get tired? They wouldn’t. The Quantock Staghounds are using more than two hounds, and the Tiverton Staghounds are using a full pack and getting away with it.

The Devon and Somerset Staghounds are the only pack, to my knowledge, which rely on the observation and research exemption of the Hunting Act.”


exhausted deer hunted by quantock stag hounds
This stag was hunted down by Quantock Stag Hounds in November 2021. Photo by Somerset Wildlife Crime

Landowner permission

Bobbie has pointed out that in order to hunt under these exemptions, packs need land owner permission. She stated:

“It doesn’t matter which exemption they are claiming to be hunting under, first and foremost they require permission from the land owner. When we got the Quantock Staghounds in court, it was because we had caught them hunting a stag over Trendle Ring, which was National Trust land.”

The National Trust has made it clear that it doesn’t licence any stag pack to be on its land for any purpose.

“In court, the Quantock Staghounds claimed that they were trail hunting for the initial part of the day. However, during an unspecified time during the morning’s hunting, the huntsman and whip said they were called away to deal with a deer that had become entangled in some fencing, and therefore were nowhere near the scene of the illegal hunting that took place. What heroes! So they claimed the trail hunting loophole and also the exemption of the rescue of a believed-injured mammal.”

But in this case, these claims of exemptions were irrelevant. The Quantock Staghounds couldn’t use them as an excuse because they were on National Trust land. They did not have landowner consent, and therefore no exemptions can apply. Bobbie said:

“So land owner consent is a big issue: it does all rest on that in many respects.”

Zero consequences

This article has summarised how Hunting Act legislation is designed to help stag hunters get away with murder, perhaps even more so than their fox hunting counterparts. All these loopholes and exemptions also give the police the perfect excuse for inaction. Avon and Somerset Police are mostly useless, despite so much photo and video evidence – as well as eyewitness accounts – showing that illegal hunting is taking place. It is all too ready to take the stag packs at their word.

Bobbie said:

“So far there have been no consequences. All the footage that is being pumped out hasn’t made a blind bit of difference. There was a sharp intake of breath last season, with them panicking a bit, thinking that certain footage was coming out and that they were going to face questioning. But they haven’t. Ultimately all they’re worried about is land owner permission and prosecutions. But there’s no prosecutions.”

We need an urgent change in the law

The main way that we’re going to tackle illegal hunting is by scrapping the Hunting Act and changing the law completely. Protect the Wild has commissioned lawyers at Advocates for Animals to write the proposed Hunting of Mammals Bill. If this law was implemented by the government, it would shut down stag hunting forever.

In the proposed legislation, all loopholes are taken out. Under this Bill, police forces would have no choice but to crack down on stag packs. Our new law states that “a person commits an offence if the person intentionally or recklessly hunts a wild mammal using a dog.” An individual would also be committing a crime if they are trail hunting – that is, saying that they are following an artificially-laid trail. There would be no two-dog exemption for flushing to guns, and there would also be no exemption for recovering an injured animal. Finally, the observation and research loophole would be taken out, too.

The Bill would give law enforcement officers extensive powers to stop and search a suspected hunter, their vehicle and home. It would also enable police to seize electronic devices, which are useful for providing key evidence in court cases.

Importantly, the proposed legislation would ensure that directors, secretaries and managers of companies or organisations can be prosecuted for illegal hunting, not just individual hunters on the ground. If a court were to secure a conviction under the Act, a person’s dog or horse could then be seized. Furthermore, the court could disqualify a person from owning/keeping animals, as well as working with them or transporting them.

A multi-faceted approach

While most animal welfare organisations are calling for the Hunting Act to be strengthened, Protect the Wild argues that any amendment of the current law will not go far enough in protecting our wildlife. We believe that a black and white new law is needed in order to shut down stag hunting forever.

Campaigning at the Tory government to implement such a law is just one approach we are taking at Protect the Wild. It is also important to ensure that pro-wildlife politicians get into power. On top of this, we can also put pressure on land owners to withdraw support for hunting by banning blood sports from taking place on their land. After all, which land owner wants a reputation for allowing the gruesome murder and slicing up of stags? We need your help in making the Hunting of Mammals Bill a reality. Sign our petition, calling for a proper hunting ban, here.

Read the Hunting of Mammals Bill in full here.