Hunting with Hounds
An Animal Rights Article from


The National Humane Education Society (NHES)
August 2010

Entertainment or Torture

For many, the sight of red-coated, black-hatted riders sitting astride their horses signals an afternoon of entertainment. To others, it signals torture. Riding to hounds began in the late 17th century in England originally as a way for farmers to protect their livestock from to predators, foxes in particular. Riders took to their saddles and, along with their dogs, hunted foxes to the death.

Eventually, this pest control management program for farmers turned into a ritualized activity of the British gentry, complete with appropriate riding gear. The hunt had become a social event. The tradition came across the Atlantic where it took hold in many parts of America, especially the Mid-Atlantic and New England states.


Today, in some parts of England, farmers still control foxes by hunting them on horseback; but instead of dogs, they use rifles to kill the fox. The tradition of hunting with hounds continues on for entertainment and is still practiced in many countries including the United States.

The Hunt

The hunt is often described in glorious terms by those who participate in the ritual; it is steeped in tradition and culture. Groups, called hunt clubs, form with rules and regulations about how the hunt will proceed. There are hunt masters who are in control of the events. Each person participating follows the club’s protocols.

The hunt begins with a blast from a trumpet or horn signaling to all to the hunt has started. The dogs are released. Riders and horses follow in swift pursuit. According to proponents of fox hunting, an actual chase lasts less than 20 minutes but the time out on the hunt can last for several hours and include multiple chases as the dogs find a lose the fox. Some hunt clubs do not purposefully kill the foxes. Once the fox has “gone to ground,” the chase ends. Other clubs do allow the fox to be killed; members say the fox dies instantaneously. Riders do not see that harm is done to the fox who escapes and believe that those killed swiftly do not suffer.

However, for the hapless fox or rabbit, rules don’t matter. They do not know if they are being hunted by a club that does not actively seek to kill them. How can they? They know only to run as fast as they can to evade the charging dogs, the blaring horn, and the horses and riders.

The Season and the Players

The hunt season is from early November through early May. Since fox cubs are born between January and May, many fox who are being hunted are pregnant and nursing females. If the nursing female is killed, her kits will die. Even if she survives, she may be injured or unable to return to her den. The result is the same—her kits die.

Rabbit and fox hunting typically uses scent hounds, especially those specifically bred for the job—foxhounds. Rarely are beagles used in fox hunting, but they are used a great deal in rabbit hunting. Terriers are sometimes used to help flush out the foxes who have gone to ground and kill them. Greyhounds are most often used for coursing animals such as hares and rabbits. The horses used in hunting must be agile as they have to jump fallen trees and steams. In addition, they must have great stamina to keep up with the hounds.

As with all animals, foxhounds do eventually retire from the hunt when they become too old to keep up or develop infirmities that keep them from participating. Due to the nature of their training and their living conditions, many of these dogs are not suitable to become companion animals, so the hunt clubs have them destroyed when they are no long useful as hunting dogs.

Return to Animal Rights Articles