Something doesn’t smell right in trail hunting

Pack of beagles ‘on line’ following some scent during a hare hunt.This blog is part of a series of blogs that feature excerpts of IFAW’s report Trail of Lies, which is the most comprehensive study to date examining the hunting with dogs debate and the practices hunters take to undermine the ban. –The eds.

In England and Wales, which scent do packs of hunting hounds follow?

If they are bloodhounds they follow the scent of a human runner. If they belong to a drag hunt they follow either aniseed or a chemical crystal mixed with water and oil.

But what about hounds used in trail hunting?

The following is from Trail of Lies exposing the true nature of trail hunting:

“…According to the accounts of the trail hunters themselves, the scent normally used for trail hunting is mainly animal-based. Although there is little information on the exact composition of such scent, what seems consistent is that those used by the hunts that used to hunt foxes are fox-based scents. (…)

Although during the first years of the ban, hunts experimented with different types of fox-based scent, including the use of fox carcasses (Robinson, 2007) or the liquid produced after boiling them (BBC, 2007), soon one ingredient seemed to dominate: fox urine.  Fox urine is commercially available from the US, where it is used as a hunting masking agent or fox deterrent marking and is often obtained from fox farms for the fur industry (PredatorPee, a). 

Indeed, the website of the MFHA mentions the fox urine (MFHA, c):

“SCENT.  A trail is laid using a fox based scent – usually founded on fox urine. This is important because the aim is to keep the hounds focused on the scent of their historical quarry during the time of this ban.”


Regarding the hunts that hunted hares before the ban (as with the beagle packs), it is not clear which scent they use in trail hunting today. It is possible that they also use hare/rabbit urine as it is also available commercially (Primetime, a). Indeed, at the beginning of the ban hunts officials were openly discussing the use of hare-base scent, as can be seen in this 2005 quote (Horse&Hound, 2005b):

Stephen Lambert of the Council of Hunting Associations says: “Trials on fox- and hare-based scent have not gone well enough yet and in the next month we’ll do more. The Americans have a good formula that we will try — it’s important not to get the scent too strong, which makes hounds wild, but it must make hounds speak. We expect to able to give advice by mid-February.”

However, the few current accounts from this type of hunt that describe the scent they use no longer mention hare-based scent. (…)

So, is then fox [or hare] urine the right scent? We asked this question to forensic canine behaviourist Ian McParland already previously quoted in this report. He responded:

The scent of the live animal and that of its urine will undoubtedly carry many of the same chemical markers.  A red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is of the Order Carnivora and the Family Canidae. Canids urine scent markers are descriptors of their sex, reproductive status, species etc. It would be foolhardy to use fox urine and not expect the hounds to also follow live foxes.

We also asked Mr McParland the following question: If you were asked to design a new activity based on a pack of foxhounds (used to hunt foxes) finding and then following a scent trail laid in the British countryside in winter, while at the same time doing as much as reasonably possible to avoid such hounds chasing the trail of a live fox instead, which sort of scent would you choose, and why?  He replied:

“The scent would be an artificial one not normally found within the natural environment. It should have distinctly different odour characteristics to that of the fox in order to avoid confusion. The volatility of the scent should be such that the vapour pressure is sufficiently high at winter temperatures to allow the escape of scent molecules from a liquid to gaseous state (allowing for olfaction in the dog). It should not be so volatile that it carries too far and blankets an area rather than leaving a distinct trail.”

Therefore it seems that fox urine is the wrong scent for hounds to follow in real trail hunting conditions, but a good scent for hounds to confuse with real fox scent. In other words, fox scent is the perfect scent to use for a hunting activity designed to work primarily as an alibi against allegations of breaches of the Hunting Act 2004.

Our evidence of 10 years monitoring hunts suggest that most hunts do not even bother to pretend to lay any trail, but even if they did its seems that their choice of scent may reveal quite a bit about their real intentions.

Something doesn’t smell right.


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