The Secret Monitor

The Secret Monitor. Want to trespass with a firearm on public land? Join a stag hunt…

Damaging stories from inside hunting, shooting, and the badger cull have been circulating for years, and there are always new ones waiting to be told. There is always someone watching, always someone listening. The Secret Monitor.

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

Stag hunting has a long and bloody history. 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…


Before we get into this post, it may be worth a quick refresher on Firearms and the Law (courtesy of Protect the Wild’s ‘Protectors’ page) because we’re going to be talking a lot about firearms:

  • Firearms (in general terms a rifle, pistol or any other kind of smaller, handheld gun) are regulated in the UK by the Firearms Act 1968. The Policing and Crime Act 2017 inserted section 55A in to the 1968 Act, allowing the Secretary of State to issue guidance to chief officers of police as to the exercise of their functions under, or in connection with, the 1968 Act.


  • Those who wish to own a gun must obtain a license from the police.


  • The police conduct several checks to ensure the applicant has good reason to own a gun, is fit to own a gun, and can safely own the gun. A home visit must always be carried out before granting a certificate to a first-time applicant.


  • Firearms license holders are required to follow license conditions specified by the police. These including conditions relating to the safe keeping of their guns.



  • Having or using a firearm while trespassing is considered to be armed trespass, a serious offence. The trespasser may be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale (£2500) or to both.


  • The police should always be called when someone is seen or found without permission on land (or in a building) with a firearm. The burden of proof is on the trespasser to prove that they have a good reason to be on the land carrying a gun.


Want to trespass on public land with a firearm? Join a stag hunt…

The Quantock Stag Hounds would have you believe that they reluctantly undertake the hunting of deer with dogs, and only do so due to their love of wildlife and their deep concern for the health of the herd. Kind of like how a serial killer might use the argument of killing people to control an expanding human population.

The Quantock Hills are open access land, but it’s not just being used by recreational visitors, it’s also home to the Quantock Stag Hounds (QSH) who use the hills to hunt and kill Red Deer.

Under the previous huntsman – Richard Down – the two convictions for illegal hunting by the QSH made him the first huntsman convicted twice under the Hunting Act 2004. You would have thought that this would be enough to bring some sense to an individual, to see the error of their ways and cause them to pay attention to the law. Not so with stag hunters. They not only consider themselves to be above the law but have proven themselves to be so many times. The pitiful sentences for these two convictions did nothing to deter the QSH from carrying on their blood fest: a further two court cases were brought against this hunt and the same huntsman.

The Secret Monitor has never witnessed any lawful hunting from this hunt. The Quantock Stag Hounds, twice convicted for illegal hunting, the first in October 2007 and the second in November 2010, hunt Red Deer with dogs and in their undertaking of this brutal bloodsport they carry and use a number of firearms.

Yes, it is a largely unknown fact that on any hunting day, whilst most people are visiting the Quantock Hills for recreational purposes like cycling, hiking and pony trekking, they are doing so at significant risk to their own safety.

There are guns, and lots of them.

If it weren’t enough for these killers to be galloping across open access land, from one end of an SSSI to the other, illegally using dogs to chase deer until they collapse from exhaustion, they do it with a gun strapped to the saddle of their horses.

And in case you need a further reality check, they even deploy a motorbike rider, Julian Peaster, who rides his motorbike and carries his firearm mounted onto the body of his bike!



An armed Julian Peaster of the QSH on the Dog Pound track


Peaster’s favourite place to lurk is on the Dog Pound track which is on National Trust land. The NT doesn’t allow stag hunting, so this is armed trespass, a serious offence which should always be acted upon by the police. Despite this, it appears that the infamous Avon and Somerset Constabulary still struggle to catch Peaster in the act.

Never fear, monitors are happy to assist with that.

Plenty of reports have been made about Peaster and his bike, of course, yet there is always a reason why the police fail to investigate the complaints. Unofficially, officers have confided to monitors that Peaster’s bike and firearm are of deep concern to them. Not just because of the high likelihood that the firearm is loaded, but because of the potential for an accident to occur. If he were to be incapacitated (these are rough surfaces he speeds around on), the firearm is now free to fall into the hands of anyone passing by.

It is impossible to understand how this is allowed to carry on. Officers in their individual capacities can see the risks and the dangers, but it would appear this carries no weight with those further up the chain of command at Avon and Somerset Police.

Or to understand how Chris Gibbons, QSH master of the Slate Quarries, is licenced to carry a shortened-barrelled shotgun (see the image below), what you might know as a sawn-off shotgun. Yep, just like the ones used by criminals in bank robberies and such.

‘Short Firearms’, as the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 describes them, were prohibited and added to Section 5 alongside machine guns, mortar bombs, hand grenades and such. This applies even to registered firearms dealers. Without a valid firearm certificate for a ‘short firearm’ possession, purchase or acquisition of a Section 5 firearm, the penalties are – 10 years imprisonment and for manufacture, sale or transfer – life imprisonment.

It is possible to obtain a firearm certificate for one of these firearms but you have to have a very (very!) good reason indeed. It’s hard to imagine that galloping around an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and an SSSI to illegally hunt deer qualifies…




Gibbons’ delightful wife, a hereditary deer killer, carries the hunt pistol for the QSH. Handguns are the most tightly controlled firearm we have in the U.K. They were banned in 1997 following the 1996 Dunblane school shooting when 43-year-old Thomas Hamilton (using a gun bought on the ‘dark web’) shot dead 16 pupils and one teacher and injured 15 others before killing himself. In England applications to carry a Section 5 controlled firearm are determined by the Home Office on behalf of the Secretary of State.

It is no easy task to convince the authorities you have a lawful reason to carry a pistol. Even the likes of professional deer stalkers who have had military careers view pistols as an unnecessary liability:

“Having shot thousands of deer of all six species in the UK and attended hundreds of roadside humane dispatch callouts from the police, not once have I ever had a situation that required a pistol. When stalking, the rifle is always the preferred option at a close and sensible range without spooking the deer. On the roadside, a silenced folding .410 is by far the safest and (most) effective method. Pistols are not very accurate, very likely to ricochet, (especially with a miss which is likely!) and they’re easy to lose.” (The Stalking Directory Forum, August 2018).

“Easy to lose”. Now there’s a thing! Imagine this scenario unfolding. You allow your significant other to use your Section 5 firearm to kill a deer, (an offence which could land you 10 years in prison by the way), and in the blood frenzy at the kill and in the chaos of jumping on a stag and the race to be ‘the one’ to kill, the pistol is dropped into the water, sparking horror and panic and the biggest hunt the QSH has ever undertaken! Imagine that…

That is how seriously they take their firearm licences. That is how cavalier their attitude to guns. And that is the extent of their contempt for the law which binds the rest of society!

The Secret Monitor has learnt that hunt supporters just bring along their own gun, because, well, you never know!

In addition to the sawn-off shotguns and Smith and Wesson pistols that the hunt staff are carrying, there are at least TEN other guns out on the Quantock Hills.

It is no joke to refer to the Quantock Hills as ‘The Wild West’, because of the sheer number of firearms on the Quantock Hills.

In the way the rest of us might pack an extra layer, stag hunters pack a firearm and ammunition. So, the average goon, just skulking about on the hills, may or may not have a gun on them. Fact. Because of this, it’s not known precisely who is carrying a firearm, in which vehicles they are carried, and who is responsible for ensuring that best practices – and health and safety – are adhered to regarding transportation and storage.

These firearms are carried both on and off the public highway. They are also carried on open access land, and as previously mentioned they are carried during trespass both on National Trust and Forestry Commission land. Unsuspecting members of the public who are making use of the Quantock Hills are, in our opinion at risk on hunt days.

Here’s a true story. In September 2018 the QSH were hunting a stag in Cockercombe, which is Forestry Commission land where the QSH is not permitted to hunt. During part of the day there were two groups of students from Bridgewater and Taunton College in the area undertaking a tree identification study project. The group of students and their course leaders were unaware of the presence of firearms in the area. They had no idea that they had unwittingly wandered into the middle of a bloodsport with firearms likely to be discharged at any time. Due to the disregard of the QSH, the indifference of the Forestry Commission and the understandable ignorance of the tutors, the college was unable to make an informed risk assessment for their activity. It could have been catastrophic. The Secret Monitor was able to confirm that the course leader was questioned about the incident, and that the college decided to review their use of Forestry land on days when the hunt is in the area because of concerns for the safety of their students.

We’re talking about public access land, illegal hunting, and armed trespass here, remember…

In November 2018 the Chairman of the Quantock Stag Hounds was found sneaking about deep in a combe on the Quantock Hills. He had a short-barrelled shotgun concealed beneath his coat. During the encounter he made threats to ‘Get the troops in’ to ‘deal with you lot’.

And, yes, we’re still talking about public access land, illegal hunting, and armed trespass…


Horses, guns, and of course booze!

A large part of any hunting day is the meet, with sausage rolls and stirrup cups aplenty! Well, that’s the case for most hunts anyway. But the QSH have long since earned themselves the reputation of being the most unpalatable thugs in the county and because of this they achieve very few lawn meets. After all who on earth would want the likes of them clogging up their property, and more importantly, who would want to run the risk of being identified as having supported killing deer with such brutality?

The QSH are reduced to having to supply their own ‘liquid lunch’. They get through the day with hip flasks stuffed inside their jackets, one supporter told the Secret Monitor, ‘It keeps out the cold’.

Arrogance and alcohol (and firearms) are not a good mix. And if the QSH aren’t plied with alcohol at the start of the day, they certainly are by the end of it!

One notorious example followed a session at the ‘Antler Inn’ – the grubby little watering hole at the QSH kennels where the hunt and the hangers-on gather to perpetuate their law-breaking behaviour. A QSH supporter was so intoxicated with alcohol that he lost control of his truck and careered straight into a fence outside the QSH kennels. He was told he had to return and put the damage right. Of course, the main concern for the QSH was the damage to the fence, never mind the fact that this supporter drove the twenty miles home to Curry Rivel in this drunken state.

You see, they really DO consider themselves above the law.




Why is nothing been done?

Despite campaigners’ efforts to raise awareness about the potential risks involved with the presence of firearms on the Quantock Hills, the National Trust (NT), Forestry Commission (FC), and Avon and Somerset police have failed to take the matter seriously – and fail to provide adequate warnings or implement safety measures in the area.

In the opinion of the Secret Monitor and other activists, the use of firearms in an area frequented by recreational enthusiasts poses an awful risk.

When a stag is bayed, exhausted and is about to be shot, there is a lot of excitement and chaos. Anyone who has been up close at a kill will know it isn’t a calm and objective undertaking. It’s rushed and often bungled and frequently done in such a hurried fashion so as to avoid being filmed or caught. Understand that when the stag hunter’s blood is up the last thing they’re doing is carrying out a safety check or worrying about the health of the public.

Without prior warnings or any visible safety checks, innocent bystanders really could inadvertently find themselves caught up in the middle of a shootout.

And even if they are being ‘careful’, one incident involved a ricochet bullet sailing close past the head of a monitor! The sound of a round whistling past your head is a sobering experience. The lack of consideration for the general public or anyone else raises serious questions about the priorities of the NT, FC and the police.

Surely they wouldn’t knowingly put the safety of others at risk rather than inconvenience stag hunters who are running rampant with guns?

Campaigners have been proactive in notifying the NT, the FC, and Avon and Somerset Police about the potential lethality of the situation for years. Going back to 2019 a detailed report was sent to Sue Mountstevens, then Police and Crime Commissioner for Avon and Somerset. In the report, several concerns were raised relating to the activities of the Quantock Stag Hounds. In her reply she acknowledged that there is a lack of ‘analytical data’ across the force area relating to hunting and encouraged the reporting of any crime.

Mountstevens added ‘..a PCSO will be assigned to attend all events on the Quantock Hills as a visible presence to support the events and all parties involved’.

That went down like a bucket of sick with the local coppers who were quick to point out that the PCC had no business saying that. It is worth noting that Sue Mountstevens is no longer PCC for Avon and Somerset and the local uniform appears to offer little to no meaningful assistance over proactively addressing what in any other sense would be a serious public safety issue involving firearms.

Around the same time, Superintendent Mike Prior (then Area Commander for Somerset and now retired) was endeavouring to collate rural offending in key areas, and hunting was one of those areas. Following on from campaigners’ efforts in reporting incidents and informing the police of issues on an intelligence basis, Sgt. Daniel Bishop was said to have been reviewing a ‘problem-solving plan’ for the Quantock Hills and stated that the Police Community Support Officers would ‘form a visible presence moving forward, ensuring road traffic and public safety are monitored’.

What happened? Not to put too fine a point in it, absolutely bugger all.

It is very difficult to steer away from the all-too-tempting inclination to mention conspiracies around bent coppers, or funny handshakes. After all, why, after decades of solid work and reporting has nothing changed? Why does it look as though the Quantock Hills are a place where law and order don’t apply? If a gang in Bridgewater town centre tried to run down a special (a uniformed police officer), the force would respond aggressively in suppressing such behaviour. But on the Quantocks, the rural sergeant banned the special from self-deploying on hunt days, citing the officer’s personal ‘safety’ as his reasoning!

But then this was the same rural crime sergeant who once stated that rural extremism, namely the rise of veganism, was a force priority! No joke.



QSH rider with a drawn pistil while on horseback

The concerns of campaigners have been met with inadequate responses for too long.

 The police, NT and FC are all failing to address the urgency and gravity of the issues. A stonewall approach has been adopted by them, if you had to visualise their responses it would look something like a 5-year-old with their fingers in their ears and their eyes shut.

It is deeply concerning that the police, NT and FC, entities entrusted with the preservation and protection of public spaces, appear to have chosen to turn a blind eye to the safety risks posed by the use of firearms during stag hunts.

There is a madness and wilful criminality that runs rampant on the Quantock Hills and the authorities are not acting. Even if they don’t care about the deer, don’t they care about the people who enjoy using the area for wholesome and legal activities?

You do wonder, whether when their own children go out on school trips they give it a second thought as to whether they are safe or if they may end up in the middle of an area where guns are being discharged.

All the glossy tourist magazines, all the quaint little picture postcards of the striking landscape and the trees in their autumn colours, even the odd majestic red deer stag – not one showing the dark truth of the Quantock Hills. Not one showing the Quantock Stag Hounds: alcohol-fuelled, gun-wielding hunters brutally killing deer while the authorities look the other way…