The History of Fox Hunting
Fox Hunting has always been seen as a British activity during which
highly trained dogs, as well as human hunters on horseback, pursue
the red fox. Animal rights activists find the ‘blood sport’ to be barbaric.
However, participants and proponents see it to be a traditional
equestrian sport, as well as an important aspect of England’s
aristocratic history. In fact, even though it does take place in several
countries, its roots can be traced to Britain.
Known as venery, the use of scent hounds to track prey dates way back
to Assyrian, Babylonian, and also ancient Egyptian times. But, it was in
England, using the Agassaei breed of dog, that fox hunting was really popular, taking place before the Romans even arrived.
Later, the Romans brought over the Castorian and Fulpine breed of hounds, as well as the brown hare and several species of deer to use as quarry. Wild boar was also known as a hunted animal.
Norman hunting traditions began when William the Conqueror arrived, using Gascon and Talbot hounds. In fact, the cry of ‘tally ho’ is the Norman equivalent to the French ‘il est haut,’ meaning 'he is up'.
1534 marks the first known attempt at fox hunting, taking place in Norfolk, England. There, farmers used their dogs to chase foxes as a way of pest control. It wasn’t until the 17th century that organized packs began to hunt hare and fox.
The Industrial Revolution saw people moving out of the country, instead settling in towns and cities where they could find work. Even though roads, rails, and canals split up the hunting land, it made it more accessible to people who wanted to hunt. Also, the improvement of shotguns during the 19th century allowed for game shooting to gain popularity.
Even though it is viewed as a usually typical rural British sport, hunting using hounds does take place all over the world. Those hunts in the U.S., Canada, Ireland, and also India are considered to be, to some extent, a British Empire legacy. However, some do claim that the first pack that was used solely for fox hunting was in the United States.
Other countries, influenced by the Greek and Romans, also have a tradition of fox hunting using hounds. For example, both France and Italy still have fox hunts. But, in countries such as Switzerland and Germany, fox hunting has been outlawed.
The controversy around fox hunting led to the passing of the Hunting Act 2004 in November of that year, after a free vote in the House of Commons, which made hunting with dogs unlawful in England and Wales from February 18, 2005.