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What is clean boot

hunting?

Lamping is a loose term that covers a number of different activities. However, they all take place at night and they all result in the murder of wildlife in the British countryside.

fox hounds

When the New Forest Hounds announced its transformation from a foxhound to a bloodhound pack, South Hampshire Hunt Saboteurs welcomed the news. It told Protect the Wild at the time that the change was “a huge win”.

Bloodhound packs follow the scent of a human volunteer, not wildlife, and is also known as ‘hunting the clean boot’. Meanwhile, drag hunting offers a similar premise. Draghound packs are trained to follow an artificially laid scent and are usually made up of foxhounds. Both packs are gathered under the Master of Draghounds & Bloodhounds Association (MDBA).

The “huge win” of a foxhound pack converting into a bloodhound – or draghound – pack is that they don’t chase or kill wildlife. And the past few years has seen several such new packs form. But does this trend represent a cruelty-free future for the hunting industry?

 

THE GOOD

It’s easy to see how clean boot and drag hunting are kinder to wildlife. With no intention to chase and kill foxes, hares, deer, mink or otters most animals out in the field remain safe. These forms of hunting also plan their routes ahead of time.

As the Coakham Bloodhounds explain on its website, routes are mapped out with landowners and prepared well in advance. The Mid-Surrey Farmers Draghounds explains that it does the same. As a result, hunts are less likely to disturb wildlife habitats. This includes badger setts, which hunt terriermen may target if they believe a fox has gone to ground inside.

This mapping of routes is also safer for hounds, because the route can be directed away from roads or train lines. This prevents horrific scenes such as that witnessed by Peterborough Hunt Sabs in December 2018 when a car hit and killed a Fitzwilliam Hunt hound after the pack chased a fox across a dual carriageway.

There has been some public support by some sections of the anti-hunting movement, such as the Save Me Trust, for blood- and draghound hunts. But whilst the primary concern of anti-hunting activists – the hunting of foxes, hares and other mammals – is removed, blood- and draghound packs are still problematic.

ANIMAL WELFARE ISSUES

Contrary to occasional claims by the hunting industry that hunt monitoring and sabotage is driven by ‘class war’, the anti-hunting movement is universally motivated by compassion for other animals.

Following the New Forest Hounds news, South Hampshire Hunt Saboteurs told Protect the Wild it was concerned with the fate of the hunt’s previous pack of foxhounds:

“We heard that they were being drafted to other hunts but can’t be sure that some may have also been killed, as we’ve seen documented in other hunts.”

But that brings into question the fate of bloodhounds and draghounds no longer fit for hunting. At this point it’s publicly established that hunts will shoot undesirable foxhounds. But similar public evidence isn’t readily available for bloodhounds or draghounds. An article about the Nar Valley Bloodhounds mentioned that an eight-year-old hound still runs with the pack. This is older than most foxhounds, who are usually removed from their packs by the age of five or six.

Nonetheless, it is reasonable to assume that both blood- and draghounds will eventually become unfit for hunting whether due to age, injury or illness. It’s unlikely to keep many if any hounds at the kennels after this point, so something must happen to the creatures. It is difficult to find anything in the public domain about what exactly happens. Perhaps they are shot. Perhaps they are re-homed.

Protect the Wild contacted Coakham Bloodhounds and Mid-Surrey Farmers Draghounds asking about the future of hounds no longer able to hunt but never recieved a reply.

There is also the issue of horses. Blood- and draghound packs are usually mounted affairs, including the Border Beagle Hound Club – a bizarrely ‘Frankenstein’ mounted beagle pack that hunts a drag. Horses in these hunts are put through the same strains and dangers that other hunting horses are, including severe and fatal injuries.

IN SOLIDARITY

It’s also important not to forget that bloodhound and draghound packs are essentially part of the same community as wildlife hunts. The links between local packs vary, but the industries as a whole remain intimately entangled.

In one instance, the Berks and Bucks Draghounds share kennels with the Avon Vale Hunt. A 2020 Horse & Hound article illustrated how the draghound pack’s activities directly funded the Avon Vale Hunt. Meanwhile, Derby Hunt Saboteurs claimed in December 2021 that a master of the Four Shires Bloodhounds was “very vocal” with his support of ‘trail’ hunts in his position as a district councillor. And tributes to late huntsman Roger Clarke highlighted how this former master of foxhounds that set up the East Anglian Bloodhounds remained a stalwart lover of hunting foxes.

Should live quarry packs disappear entirely, such support would of course amount to little more than rhetoric. But today the bonds between the different industries run deep, and they see one another as kin. Bloodhound and draghound packs have gone so far as to explicitly state they do not see themselves as alternatives to fox hunts and their ilk.

A 1997 article by journalist Richard Askwith highlighted the concern that bloodhound packs had at the time with perceptions that they are an alternative. The piece emerged at a time when a previous hunting ban was touted by the Labour government, saying:

“People who hunt with bloodhounds are keen to attract new followers. But they are even keener that they should not be presented as an ‘alternative’ to fox-hunting. This is partly because many of them hunt foxes as well…

“‘Artificial’ hunts were never intended as a humane alternative to fox-hunting (although ethical considerations may account for some of their current popularity). They hunt with the co-operation of fox-hunters; and, as abolition looms, they are desperate not to lose that co-operation. Drag and bloodhound hunts operate over much larger ‘countries’ than quarry hunts, on land that is also used for quarry-hunting. The Farmers Bloodhounds, for example, hunt over land also reserved for 12 different fox hunts in central England. But, as Graham Tutton points out, ‘The reason the farmers don’t plough up all that grassland, or dig up all the hedges, is for the fox-hunting, not for the bloodhounds.’”

Although 25 years old, much of it still rings true. A source told Protect the Wild, for example, that the Nar Valley Bloodhounds in Norfolk share their meets with the West Norfolk Foxhounds.

Protect the Wild also asked Coakham Bloodhounds and Mid-Surrey Farmers Draghunt for their positions on what they do as an alternative to live quarry hunting but hadn’t received a response at the time of publishing.

 

ONE FUTURE

Bloodhounds and draghounds offer an enticing alternative for the anti-hunting crowd. It does away with the oppressive system of chasing and killing foxes, hares, deer and mink. And as a short-term goal, this may be an acceptable outcome. Every live quarry hunting pack that transitions to clean boot or drag hunting is one less pack for sabs and monitors to keep an eye on.

As a long-term strategy, though, wholesale conversion of live quarry packs seems undesirable and impossible. Undesirable because such packs still seem to present a wealth of concerns regarding the treatment and oppression of non-human animals; impossible because bloodhound and draghound packs appear too deeply bonded with the existence of live quarry packs.

While the transition of every pack of foxhounds, harriers or beagles into a clean boot or drag hunt is welcomed from an anti-hunting perspective, it ought to be understood as a brief respite. They don’t represent a cruelty-free future for hunting. And the undoing of the hunting industry will only come when all its kennels are shut down.