HUNTING - Issues and Arguments

If you're going to take any part in the campaign against bloodsports it's useful to know the relative arguments as thoroughly as possible. Arguing with hunters is rarely productive, but as a sab you will want to explain to other people exactly why hunting should be stopped.

Foxhunting is primarily dealt with here, but I have mentioned other bloodsports briefly, as it is dangerous to assume the same arguments apply. A good booklet to read is "Wildlife Protection - The Case for the Abolition of Hunting and Snaring", available by mail order from the League Against Cruel Sports.

Killing animals is wrong

Why? To you and me this may seem obvious, but it isn't to others. In short (a) the animal is deprived of all the pleasures it would have enjoyed in the future: food, play, sunshine, sex etc, and (b) the animal undergoes mental and physical suffering when hunted. Hunters will sometimes try and deny this, but Zoologists agree that other animals feel pain. Don't forget about mental suffering either.

For a general argument against 'speciesm' see Chapter 1 of 'Animal Liberation' by Peter Singer (now in an updated 2nd edition).

The hunted animal can be chased for long distances by hunts, maybe for ten or more miles. Foxes are not suited for long distance running, and are built for speed not stamina. The opposite is true for hounds who are deliberately bred this way, so that the hunt can have a long chase. Hunters will claim that the fox dies from a 'quick nip in the back of the neck', but those who have seen kills (and sometimes recorded them on video), can tell you that the truth is somewhat different.

Some foxes 'go to ground'. In this situation, terriers are put into the hole, either to flush the fox out, to provide a longer chase, or to fight it until the terriermen dig down to it. A terrier is a formidable opponent for a fox. In one case in 1989, a cornered fox was so desperate to dig its way out of a hole in which it was being attacked by a terrier that it died with its lungs filled with earth. An underground fight like this can easily last for half an hour, and may even go on for two to three hours on occasions. All the time, the fox is fighting for its life. When the terriermen reach it, if it is one of the lucky ones it will be killed quickly by a bullet or by a spade.

Is hunting pest control?

This is the major myth that hunters use to excuse their activities.

The fox is not nearly the incredible menace to rural society it is sometimes made out to be. The MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food) regard the threat from a fox as 'negligible'. Scientific studies have shown that a fox may take dead or dying sheep, but a healthy sheep is easily a match for a fox. Sometimes foxes may get into sheds and take chickens, but if the shed was made reasonably secure this would not happen - and most chickens are kept in factory farms anyway. In the end, you are left with the farcical image of a fox with a crowbar.

Scientists such as Steven Harris and David Macdonald have disproved this. In studies carried out in Scotland, an absence of fox 'control' had no effect on the population, or on lamb mortality. From information gained during rabies control in Europe, it is known that to have anything other than a very short term effect on population, 70% of foxes need to killed. The reason for this is that fox populations are very stable, and adapt to the available food supply. As the death rate varies, more or less vixens will breed, maintaining the population at the level appropriate to the food supply.

Hunts tend to kill 2.5% of the local fox population a year. These are BFSS (British Field Sports Society) figures, so if anything are exaggerated. Plainly, hunts do not control foxes, even if there was the necessity.

Furthermore, this tiny drop is generally more than compensated for by the efforts hunts make to increase numbers: creating artificial earths, discouraging shooting and snaring, and importing foxes (e.g. Isle of Wight and Australia). Sheep carcasses have been know to have been left outside earths.

As far as hare hunting is concerned, hares are on the decline due to changes in modern farming methods. In East Anglia, the population level is possibly stable, but is no where near what it was. Hares are not pests anyway - and hare hunters will rarely, if ever, attempt to use this as argument.

Mink are not native to this country, but again, there is no evidence to suggest it is a pest. Remember that the people who go mink hunting are those who hunted the otter to the brink of extinction, and when otter hunting was banned turned to mink to satisfy their bloodlust. Mink hunts are also often condemned for vandalism to the river bank and the otter's habitat.

The situation with deer is more controversial, in the absence of any conclusive scientific studies. One thing is certain however, a well trained marksman can kill a deer instantly, whereas a deer hunted with hounds undergoes extreme suffering - a hound pack is unlikely to kill a deer unaided, usually there is a wait for the kill, while someone finds a gun. In Scotland, shooting is the only legal way to kill a deer, although untrained 'sportsman' pay some Highland estates for the pleasure of shooting deer in the annual cull. Another point of view, is that as man caused the mess that results in the so called 'overpopulation' of deer (and this is only 'overpopulation' by man's definition), man cannot be trusted to solve it, and so the killing of any deer should be banned. The species on the planet with the biggest overpopulation problem is not being culled after all.

The inefficiency of Hunting

Hunting with hounds is deliberately inefficient as a method of killing, because it is about a perverted definition of 'good sport', not pest control. Hunts would use cubhunting tactics all season if they wanted to maximise kills; they don't.

Hunts often bolt foxes that have gone to earth - digging would be much more likely to end in a kill. Hounds are bred to be slow - and so may often lose their quarry. If hunts were serious about maximising kills they would use dogs fast enough to bring the hunted animal down quickly.

"Hunting is less cruel than other methods of fox control"

Another old chestnut from the bloodsport fraternity. Hunted foxes suffer a lot, and most significantly, hunting is not control anyway.

Fox conservation

The opposite of the control argument; some hunters maintain that the fox would be extremely rare or extinct without hunting. While hunts may encourage foxes, the fox population would survive perfectly well without them - the fox is very adaptable. Humans are unlikely to have a terminal effect on the species, but they do inflict great suffering on individual animals: that is where we come in.

"We don't kill many"
"The kill is not the important part of the hunt"
"Hunting is the only way to get an exciting ride"

These whines are heard from the kind of rider who isn't really into the killing side, and may even feel vaguely guilty about it.

"The fox has a sporting chance"

The fox has no chance to decide not to participate in this 'sport'.

"Hunting is an integral part of country life"
"Hunting is traditional"

Foxhunting has been going on since the 18th century, when there were no more wild boar to hunt, and a lot less deer. Hare hunting has been going for longer. None of this however has any bearing on the rights and wrongs of hunting. Wars have been taking place for long enough - would the hunters say that wars are good things to have once in a while?

Foxhunting can be very disruptive to rural life, as hunts rampage through villages, gardens and farmyards. Hounds may 'riot' going after any animal that has the misfortune to get in their way - for example hares, deer, pets and sheep.

"Antis are townies who misunderstand the ways of the country"

Anti-hunts campaigners have to know a lot about hunting to campaign against it effectively. Hunt saboteurs need to know how a hunt works to sab effectively. And many live in the country.

The last time I heard this, it turned out that the only experience and knowledge of hunting of the person concerned was standing in the village on Boxing Day watching the hunters gather for their mince pies etc. I knew far more than he did, and so do you, having read thus far.

Treatment of hounds

Hunters are fond of accusing sabs of mistreating hounds. In fact hounds suffer greatly at the hands of hunters. They are harshly disciplined; they will be whipped if they are really disobedient.

Very few foxhounds die of old age. A very small number may become minkhounds or draghounds in old age, and a very few probably become family pets; however, most are killed as soon as they become a little to slow for the pack, generally at 5-7 years of age.

Any really disobedient hound will be killed at any stage of its 'career'. Some hunting authorities, notably the Duke of Beaufort (see 'Foxhunting', by the said Duke), recommend breeding a large number of puppies and then killing all but those who prove to be the best hunting material.

Hunting very often involves taking hounds into danger. During the chase they are likely to be involved in road or rail accidents, or injure themselves in quarry or barbed wire fences. Many such incidents are reported every year, and have been recorded on film.

Hunters say that if hunting were abolished, the hounds would have to be put down. There would be no actual need for this; the ex-hunters would be wealthy enough to maintain the hounds for the rest of their natural lifetimes. If they killed them, it would be out of callous indifference, and not no choice. Hopefully anti-hunting legislation will include a requirement for hunts to make arrangements for their hounds before disbanding.

A similar argument is put forward in relation to horses - but people will still continue riding, whether they can go hunting or not.

Violence to animals and violence to people

It is no coincidence that those who arrange the nasty and premature deaths of foxes inflict harm on sabs.

Hunting and the law

Hunting has tradition and the support of very powerful people on its side. The influence of these people meant that hunting has been left untouched by legislation - the Protection of Animals Act only covers captive and domestic animals.

It is likely that the police would regard hunting as unlawful if it were a new activity. Surely, letting an excited pack of carnivorous animals career about the countryside, across roads and through villages, only partially under anyone's control, amounts to a breach of the peace?

"Hunting provides employment"

Hunting in Britain provides full-time employment for no more than 750 people, probably less (source -LACS - I think this figure refers to all hound sports). Spread over the whole country, this would hardly be a huge blow to the rural employment situation were hunting to be abolished, especially as (a) at least some hunts would become draghunts, and (b) all those riders who didn't want to draghunt would suddenly have a lot of disposable income with which to create new jobs elsewhere in the leisure sector of the economy.

Often the BFSS quote much larger figures than 750, but they include jobs which will still exist when hunting is abolished (people will still be riding horses, and require the associated services and equipment).

In any case, employment is never enough to justify immoral practices.

"Hunting is natural"

Would-be BFSS intellectual, Ian Coghill, claims that we are biologically equipped to be hunters, with all the necessary teeth, enzymes, and instincts - BUT not everything we are mentally and physically equipped to do is a morally acceptable pastime.

Hunters also speak of the inevitability of death and suffering in the biological world. This is never though to be an excuse for murder and rape (humans are a part of the biological world too), so why should it apply to hunting? Neither can hunting be seen as a natural activity for hounds. Hounds are painstakingly bred and trained to hunt.

Furthermore, no pack animal will chase an animal the size of a fox for the length of time a hound pack chases a fox. It simply would not provide anywhere near enough food for the pack.

The environment

Landowners derive no income from hunting with hounds which could be channelled into conservation, and so would be no less financially capable of doing it in the absence of hunting.

Sometimes they will say that landowners retain woodland for hunting. A survey by Cobham Resources Consultants, commissioned and published in 1983 by a pro-bloodsports group stated that creating fox coverts was the "least significant motive" for landowners retaining or planting woodland.

Also, the 'guardians of our countryside' have made a poor job of it. Look at the bare expanses of fields with their lack of hedgerows, around East Anglia, as one example. Another example is that about half of the ancient natural/semi-natural woodland Britain has disappeared since the 1940s.

It is often argued in the case of the grouse moors, that the fees paid by shooters maintain the grouse moorland. However it is worth pointing out that (a) tourism has a far greater economic significance in these areas, and (b) the grouse moors are not a true natural environment, and would largely disappear if nature was simply left alone for a change.

The influence of the hunters has failed to stop development in the countryside - e.g. roads, urban sprawl. Hunts are relatively weedy to take on powerful economic forces such as these. The obvious solution is genuine conservation measures, now.

Hunting with hounds has few significant detrimental environmental effects, however it is worth mentioning the disturbance of badger setts through earth stopping and digging out, and the obvious impact of a convoy of hunt vehicles polluting its way through the countryside. Most coverts are drawn to infrequently to have a significant effect on the wildlife there; however wildlife trusts may make sure of this by banning hunting on their land.

Hunters' hypocrisy

You will have noticed that a common thread of hypocrisy runs through many of the pronouncements of the hunting community. They mistreat their hounds, while posing as animal lovers and accusing sabs of hurting their animals. The are violent, but claim to be the victims of intimidation and assault; and so on ad nauseam.

"Meat eaters should not oppose hunting"

Hunters like to criticise the hypocrisy of anti-hunting people who eat meat, wear leather or whatever (though I have still to meet a non-vegetarian saboteur). There is an element of truth in this, however it is still no defence of hunting to point out the cruelty and suffering other animals go through.

"Anti-bloodsports campaigners are motivated by class hatred"

Bloodsports are not the prerogative of the wealthy. Hare coursing still exists, and is to a large extent, a working class sport. Even a foxhunt consists of a wide spectrum of people. You have to be rich to be able to afford to ride with the hunt, but not to be a terrierman, a foot follower or a supporter. These people are not just the puppets of the aristocrats: they are enthusiastic participants in the hunts.

People opposed to hunting come from all backgrounds.

"Cubhunting usefully disperses the foxes in autumn"

A rare and rather desperate defence of cubbing. Cubbing does indeed scare young foxes away from their birthplace, leaving the fox population more evenly distributed across the countryside. However, the foxes would move of their own accord, a couple of months later. Cubbing does nothing of lasting significance in this respect. The fox population is quite capable of spreading itself across the countryside on its own. Cubbing must, however, traumatise the adolescent foxes which are forced away from home before they are ready to leave.

Spreading of disease

Disease may be picked up by hounds, and spread wherever they go. Also, killing a fox means that another fox may move into that area to replace it. This means that there is more mobility in the population than there would otherwise be, and therefore a greater potential for the spreading of disease.

Hunting and individual choice

"So you don't believe in personal freedom" said the same guy who had accused me of being an 'ignorant townie'. This argument is fundamentally flawed - who would suggest we have the freedom to take the lives of other humans? Who would say we have the freedom to mutilate a pet dog? Similarly, all animals should be regarded as sensitive living beings who deserve respect and consideration.

This document was cobbled together by Tim Spencer, and bears an uncanny resemblance to a previous document that the author got when he started in this anti-bloodsports business. Please circulate - this is strictly anti-copyright!