Close up on fox cub hunting
"A huntsman who knows his salt knows there is a vixen in a particular cover and that there are five cubs with her. He goes into the cover and soon the hounds pick up the vixen's scent and speak to her. They rattle around a bit. She'll try to warn them off and, when the going gets tough, put her cubs to what she considers safety underground, in the earth.
“She will then break cover to take the hounds away from the cubs… never mind that there are 50 frightful people out there making noises and shouting. She’ll run across the fields…The hounds will come out and chase her a bit.
“After a field or field and a half, the huntsman will call them back. Now they go to the earth where the cubs are and they dig them out. And they don’t kill one or two or three but every one of them, after which they congratulate themselves on a beautiful morning’s cubbing.” Former hunter Clifford Pellow.
Cub hunting takes place in the three months prior to the start of the official fox hunting season in November. The hunt gathers in the early morning when the foxes’ scent is strongest or, occasionally, in the evening before the sun sets. Mounted hunters and foot-followers surround the perimeter of a small wood, or covert, where foxes are known to reside. The earth is dug up and any cubs attempting to flee are driven back by the circle of hunters and supporters shouting and clapping their hands.
Trained to kill
A selection of young and older hounds are then sent into the wood to attack and kill the foxes and their cubs. Killing fox cubs is not a natural or instinctive trait in the young hounds, so the idea is for the more experienced dogs to ‘train’ them how to kill. The presence of older animals also familiarises the young with the huntsman’s calls, how to react to its use, and, most important, to learn the scent of the fox.
Because the young hounds are inexperienced, they may take several minutes to kill. It is not uncommon for the cubs to be dug out of their earth and thrown to them, thus encouraging their taste for fox blood.
Sometimes some cubs are allowed to escape. The aim is to disperse them over a wide area, thereby providing better ‘sport’ during the main hunting season. The reprieve also instils in the young cubs the idea that safety does not lie in going to ground, thereby providing more ‘fun’ for the hunt later in the year by encouraging animals to run rather than hide.
A fox family usually consists of one dog fox and one to three vixens, of whom only the dominant vixen produces a litter. When the cubbing season begins, the fox cubs are only four or five months old. Although they can feed independently they remain dependent on their family group to learn survival skills.
Many hunts create an artificially high fox population by providing artificial homes, or ‘earths’, in which vixens can rear their young. Artificial earths are man-made underground systems usually consisting of two entrances with a chamber in between for the foxes to live in. They ensure that there are cubs readily available in known locations for training young hounds to kill during the cubbing season. They are also useful to the hunt in providing plenty of foxes to hunt later in the season.
Pro-bloodsports organisations now encourage their supporters to refer to cubbing as ‘autumn hunting’. The practice claim the lives of up to 10,000 cubs each year.
- One way in which you can play an active role in protecting foxes and other wildlife is by supporting The Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA). The HSA has a policy of peaceful direct action, placing themselves between the hunters and the hunted. For information telephone 01273 622827 or visit the website at www.huntsabs.org.uk