Footage of stag hunt reveals blatant lawbreaking by Devon and Somerset Staghounds

The team at Wildlife Guardian recently posted brief but evocative footage of part of a stag hunt that took place on the 7th of March near the three-hundred-acre League Against Cruel Sports’ Baronsdown Sanctuary on Exmoor.

While the video isn’t as dramatic as some that have hit the internet this past ‘hunting season’, it encapsulates the arrogance and entitlement of hunts. In less than two minutes riders and support from the Devon and Somerset Staghounds (D&S) are seen casually committing numerous offences.

It also demonstrates how the presence of monitors deterred what would otherwise certainly have been the death of yet another deer inside Exmoor National Park.

The video is not graphic (the young Red Deer stag is extremely distressed but not harmed) and we’re grateful to Wildlife Guardian for permission to repost it here. Before we look in detail at the video, we do want to stress that thankfully the young stag is now safely inside the League’s sanctuary and has joined the herd of deer that live there.

However, that rather reassuring statement conceals the cruelty typical of the appalling group of individuals that make up the D&S and the desperation of a pursued animal. We’ve posted a series of articles by the Secret Monitor that give an inside view of stag and hind hunting, but talking about this hunt specifically North Dorset Hunt Sabs reported on their Facebook page:

“A witness to the run to freedom said the stag reached the road to find followers floundering around trying to stop him from crossing the road into safety. This stag was having none of that, even running along the road adjacent to Baronsdown until he found a gap and scrambled up the bank and launched himself over the fence into the sanctuary.”

North Dorset Hunt Sabs also has an excellent account of where this particular bunch of individuals met and which areas they hunted, but looking at the video numerous questions are immediately raised.



The Hunting Act and Deer

Why does stag hunting take place if the Hunting Act banned the hunting of wild mammals with dogs?

Firstly, it is legal to kill deer in certain circumstances. Wild deer are protected by the Deer Act 1991, but there are deer ‘open seasons’ – periods when deer can be lawfully ‘culled’. As we explain on our Protectors of the Wild page ‘Deer and the Law, it is illegal to use anything except legal firearms to cull deer thoughwhich is why hunts like the D&S carry firearms to make a final kill after they’ve chased a deer for miles (see  ‘The Secret Monitor. Want to trespass with a firearm on public land?’)

‘Open seasons’ are surprisingly extensive, especially for Red Deer. Mature stags can be killed from August 1st until the end of October, and young stags like this one from March to the end of April. Just in case the people who like nothing better than hunting deer get bored, the hind season neatly fills the gap and covers November 1 – March 31.

Individuals who hunt (or who follow the hunt) are turned on by the chase, though, so hunts take dogs with them. The video doesn’t show the hunt’s hounds, but they are off camera and it does show the huntsman shouting at them to ‘Hold up’. But if they aren’t allowed to hunt with hounds, how do they get away with this? Organised crime gangs like the D&S routinely exploit loopholes in the Hunting Act that says that a mammal can be ‘flushed’ out by a maximum of two hounds and shot, or shot to relieve suffering.

The Act was meant to show compassion to deer genuinely suffering BEFORE they are chased not suffering BECAUSE they are chased of course, but even so what about the ‘two hound’ limit? Hunts typically get around this by using dogs in relay. Two dogs chase a deer until they tire, and are simply replaced with two fresh dogs and so on.

Yes, it’s immoral, it’s a blatant sidestepping of the Hunting Act, it’s cruel and inexcusable, but this overt ‘bending of the law’ has been enough for the local police and National Park authorities to routinely turn a blind eye.


Traffic offences

While the police might be ‘confused’ by the Hunting Act or the Deer Act, surely they know a traffic offence when they see one? While the police weren’t present on this occasion, again monitors and sabs have witnessed similar incidents many times when they have been.

First off, the footage clearly shows the hunt deliberately using a red Land Rover to block a main road – on a bend! It is illegal to obstruct the road, and bloody reckless as well as illegal to simply stop a vehicle on a bend. Monitors and sabs repeatedly report that hunts and their supporters treat the roads like they own them and here is a prime example.

It is also illegal to drive deer with a vehicle except where there is no intention for them to be taken or killed (they can be moved to count them, or clear them from an area where they are causing damage or pose a threat to safety for example). This is clearly not the case here as quad bikes and supporters’ cars are being used to try to steer the young stag away from the sanctuary and back to where it can be chased again.


Illegal quad bike, Devon and Somerset Staghounds March 2024 (Wildlife Guardian)
Illegal quad bike, Devon and Somerset Staghounds March 2024 (Wildlife Guardian)


Talking of the quad bikes, they are subject to the same rules and regulations as any other vehicle on the road (see our Protectors of the Wild page ‘Quad Bikes and the Law‘ for details). A “road”, incidentally, is defined in section 142 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 as any length of highway or other road to which the public has access.

  • All quads used on the road must be suitable to do so and must be an approved model to show that they meet all of the necessary standards (if a quad bike has not been approved but meets road safety standards, an owner can apply for ‘type approval’.)
  • To be used on the road quad bikes must also be registered, taxed and if older than three years old have an MOT.
  • Quad bikes being used on the road must have front and rear licence plates (plates don’t need to be ‘clean’ but must be legible and easily read by police officers).
  • A quad bike can only carry passengers if it is designed to do so and has the right number of seats.

From 00:28 of the video two quad bikes are being used to illegally drive the stag, one is illegally carrying a passenger, and neither appears to have front license plates (this is especially clear in footage from 01:38). As the quads drive past from 00:42 both quads have illegally illegible rear plates and one of the quads appears to have a non-functioning brake light.

The drivers don’t seem to even care they’re on film. Why do these people think they can behave like this? The answer undoubtedly lies in how often they do it and how infrequently the police do anything about it.

Animal Welfare Act 2006

Under Section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act a person commits an offence if:

(a) an act of his, or a failure of his to act, causes an animal to suffer,

(b) he knew, or ought reasonably to have known, that the act, or failure to act, would have that effect or be likely to do so,

(c) the animal is a protected animal, and

(d) the suffering is unnecessary.

Section 4 goes on to list a number of ‘considerations’ that are relevant “when determining for the purposes of this section whether suffering is unnecessary” and include whether the suffering could reasonably have been avoided or reduced and whether the conduct which caused the suffering was for a legitimate purpose.

We’re not lawyers, but there is no way on earth that it was ‘necessary’ for the hunt to terrify this animal in the way it did, and as hunting in this way is illegal neither can they say it was for ‘a legitimate purpose’.

We argue that yet again a Staghound pack has broken the law by causing unnecessary suffering to an animal.



Stag hunts are notorious for going onto private property to turn deer back towards the riders and support. Many locals have a well-founded fear of intimidation and harassment from hunts if they complain, and as trespass is a civil matter the police are largely not interested (though we think trespassing with dogs or vehicles should always be considered ‘aggravated trespass’ which is a criminal matter).

Barsonsdown has been owned by the League Against Cruel Sports since 1959. Prominent signs stating it is a sanctuary and private property are everywhere. The public can only visit by appointment and they do not allow the hunt on their land. Yet as the support and quad bikes gather like vultures opposite the entrance (at the point where the young stag has just gone), a member of the hunt comes strolling out onto the road. He has clearly gone in to look for the stag and assess how easily it could be turned around.

This is perhaps bordering on poaching, though the video doesn’t provide evidence of that. Poaching is essentially trespassing by an individual or group of individuals with the intent to take or kill wild animals without the owner or the occupier’s permission.

What can we do about that? Monitors and sabs routinely submit reports to the police when they witness incidents like these. Unfortunately the police routinely don’t respond. Perhaps they will if enough of us send a report in now.



Stag and Hind Hunting must be ended

To quote the Secret Monitor in ‘Dishing the dirt on stag hunting’

The exemption-riddled Hunting Act 2004 has changed nothing as far as stag hunts are concerned. 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 pastime of those who see themselves as entitled. Entitled to break the law. Entitled to inflict suffering for fun. Entitled to kill.

They are absolutely correct. This is a depraved pastime that has nothing whatsoever to do with ‘deer management’ and all to do with cruelty and blood.

Last year Protect the Wild commissioned lawyers at Advocates for Animals to help develop new legislation – The Hunting of Mammals Bill. Our new Bill is far more than just an update of the Hunting Act 2004. Among other things, it closes all loopholes such as trail hunting; it adds a reckless clause by making it a crime to ‘intentionally or recklessly’ hunt a wild mammal with a dog; and it makes it a crime for a landowner to ‘assist’ a hunt by ‘knowingly causing or permitting’ a hunting crime to take place on their land. The Bill removes the loopholes and exemptions that hunts use.

  • Now is the time to work for a proper ban on hunting! Sign our petition for a proper ban on all hunting with hounds. More than 85,000 people have taken action so far. Help us to get to 100,000 signatures. Add your name here.


Protectors of the Wild Deer and the Law

  • For more information about the laws that should protect deer please see our Protectors of the Wild page ‘Deer and the Law.


Many thanks to Wildlife Guardian for permission to repost their video and for commenting on a draft of this post. Images are screenshots from the video. Wildlife Guardian is an anti-hunt group with vast experience of campaigning to highlight cruel sports. They have their own professionally trained investigation team, and their volunteers were attending hunting long before the Hunting Act 2004.