Trail hunting is not drag hunting

A hound from a drag hunt with the ‘drag’ in its mouth after the pack successfully tracked its scent.

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.

People keep confusing trail hunting with drag hunting, and it is time to set the record straight. The following extracts are from the Trail of Lies report can do that:

Drag hunting and hunting with bloodhounds [also known as hunting the clean boot] are sports in which a pack of hounds follow either a manmade artificially laid scent or the scent of a human over a pre-determined route. (…)  The 'quarry' of the draghounds is a 'drag'. This is normally a piece of absorbent material to which the scent is applied and laid across the ground by a rider or a runner.(…)

A hunt is divided into ‘legs’, and each leg is ‘scented’ just prior to the huntsman casting the hounds, which find the scent and hunt it. At the end of a leg, the hounds are held in check while the next leg is scented. A variety of scents are used by the different drag hunts. Some scents used incorporate aniseed while others consist of a chemical crystal mixed with water and oil.

A drag hunt is similar in nature to a fast cross country ride and takes place over a predetermined course or line and is designed for fast rides over designated jumps and obstacles. The 'line layer' or 'drag man' will set off ahead of the hunt (perhaps half an hour depending of the length of the line). At the end of the line, which could be a distance of two to three miles, the drag will be then lifted so that the hunt can stop to rest before setting off again a short while later (MDBA, 2000).  (…)

Bloodhound packs hunt human scent and follow the scent of a runner or the 'clean boot'. The way the hunt is organised is virtually identical to that of a drag hunt although it is usually slower and less ground is covered. There may be two or three runners out during the hunting day. When the bloodhounds catch their ’quarry‘ they receive a food reward and much praise to ensure they will remain keen to follow the scent next time. (…)

Trail Hunting is a modern concept. It was invented in 2004 by the hunting fraternity as a response to the enactment of the Hunting Act 2004. (…)

The first time that the hunting fraternity came up with a description of trail hunting was with the publication of the Countryside Alliance Hunting Handbook (CountrysideAlliance, 2005) in October 2005, six months after the first hunting season under the ban had ended.  (…) It is clear from this document that the hunting fraternity, via the Countryside Alliance, considers the following to be the case:

  • trail hunting and drag hunting are not the same activity
  • trail hunting is a ‘simulation’ 
  • trail hunting is a ‘temporary’ activity which is a response to the hunting ban, as opposed to a new ‘sport’ invented that may survive if the ban is repealed.
  • the huntsman may not know where the trail is laid.

Whether the activity may be enjoyable or not to those participating, or whether it actually works in terms of being a sport of skill, seems secondary to the notion of appearing to resemble pre-ban hunting as much as possible. It is important to notice that the emphasis of the activity is to pretend to be doing something else, and that this something else is currently a crime.

We can also see that the notion that the huntsman may not know where the trail is laid already appears in this early description. This clearly sets trail hunting apart from drag hunting, and removes one of the most important safeguards that drag hunts have to avoid ‘accidental’ chases of live quarry.  (…)

But soon the reports from hunt monitors suggested that hunts were breaking the law. And as more details were discovered about trail hunting (including the fact that hunts were using fox urine as scent) the idea that trail hunting was not a safe and law abiding concept started to emerge.(…)

During the second hunting season after the enactment of the ban, when evidence of wild mammals being chased by the hounds emerged, the combination of ’trail hunting ‘ + ’accident‘ started to become ‘standard’. It has continued to the present day. (…) However, the international press and the general public still kept confusing trail hunting with drag hunting, and the well-established legal cruelty-free nature of the latter had an effect on the perception of the former.(…)

The following table shows the many differences between trail hunting and drag hunting:

Drag hunting Trail Hunting
Created in the early 1800s Created in 2005
Objective is to practice a sport using hounds to search for a scent without the pursuit or killing of wild animals Objective is to make an activity look as similar as possible to hunting before the ban
Long-lasting sport Considered a temporary activity only undertaken while there is a hunting ban
Specific rules created by the MDBA No written rules
Non-animal based scents Animal-based scents
Hounds trained not to follow live quarry Hounds still trained to follow live quarry (trained with purported ‘accidents’ and reportedly also with cub hunting*)
Hounds taken to search for the scent in areas where a live quarry presence is unlikely Hounds taken to search for the scent in areas where live quarry presence is likely 
Does not use areas, meets and fields where pre-ban foxhunting took place Uses the same areas, meets and fields where pre-ban foxhunting took place
Huntsman and whipper-in always know where the scent was laid Huntsman and whipper-in deliberately do not know where the scent was laid
Focus is on the riders following the hounds, who are encouraged to find the scent quickly Focus is on the hounds searching for a scent (no matter how long it takes to find) rather than encouraging them to find it at the start so riders can join the pursuit
Scent laid only around 20 minutes earlier than casting the hounds to find it No documented time limit on how much earlier the scent may be laid before casting the hounds to find it 
No terriermen present and no need for terriermen** Terriermen follow the hunt and still pursue foxes underground 
Hounds always kept under close control so no ‘accidents’ with chasing of live prey  Hounds left unsupervised for longer periods, which increases likelihood of ‘accidents’ with chasing and/or killing of live prey


So here you have it. No excuse to get confused now.


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