The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Fox-hunting

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FOX-HUNTING, the chase of the fox with horses and hounds, as a recreation. This sport arose in England with the Restoration, when changes in customs and agricultural conditions caused the disappearance of falconry, and has become surrounded by codes of social usage and of legal enactments. It flourished most in the south-central counties of England, and in Ireland, and some of the principal organizations or “hunts” as the Belvoir, Quorn, Pytchley and Cottesmore, were founded early in the 17th century. A “hunt” is an association for the promotion and regular practice of the sport in a certain district. It acquires a pack or several packs of fox-hounds (q.v.), kennels and perhaps a club-house, is directed by a “master of foxhounds,” and served by paid employees, the principal of whom are the “huntsman” who arranges and leads the sport for the day, and the “whippers-in,” who see that the dogs work properly. These officials, and the sportsmen themselves wear “pink” (that is scarlet) coats when in the field. The expenses are paid theoretically by annual subscriptions, eked out by casual subscriptions for temporary privileges, but usually they must be supplemented by a patron, — probably the “M. F. H.,” who has inherited the dignity and its responsibilities from ancestors who founded the hunt. Anyone may join in the chase, and at Melton Mowbray and other famous “meets” large numbers of outsiders are often present. In these districts foxes are carefully preserved, and the abode and habits of each family of them are studied with reference to the autumnal and winter sport. At the appointed time the hunters, men and women, mounted and accompanied by a pack of from 25 to 40 hounds, are led by the huntsman toward the place where he expects to “find” a fox. There the dogs are loosed, and range about searching for the scent-traces in the air or on the ground left by the recent passage of the animal. When one finds a trail he gives tongue, the others come to his aid and the pack dash away following the scent. With a bugle-signal or cry of “Gone away!” the hunt follows as straight and fast as possible, keeping to roads, lanes and gates where possible, but jumping fence and riding over grain-fields and meadows where needful, the hunt paying such damages as follow. This requires a horse of great speed and leaping power, and has developed the English thoroughbred hunter. When anyone catches sight of the fox he shouts “View! halloa!”; and the ambition of all riders is to keep close to the racing animals and be on the spot, or “in at the death,” when the fox is seized. It is then the duty of the huntsman, or the nearest rider, to save the body of the fox from the dogs, cut off its “brush” (tail), “pads” (feet), and “mask” (head) to be given as trophies to the foremost riders. The remainder of the fox is cut up and given to the dogs on the spot. Instead of running “straight away” and leading a long chase the fox will often take refuge in a drain or other hole, unless it has been “stopped.” This is called “going to earth,” and he must then be ousted by the aid of a fox-terrier.

Fox-hunting has been carried wherever Englishmen have settled, but has found few parts of the world favorable to it. In some countries as on the North American prairies, in California, and also in Argentina, similar methods are adapted to the chase of other animals, as wolves or kangaroos. In the southern and eastern United States, however, where foxes abound, true fox-hunting has flourished ever since colonial days, when each man brought his own hound or hounds to the assembly; and is still pursued by several established clubs in Virginia, Maryland and southern Pennsylvania, where the nature of the country and the agricultural habits of the people favor it. These clubs employ a modified form of hound better adapted to the faster and rougher work required of it than would be the English breed. A special strain, the Magnes hound, has been fostered by the Maryland clubs, the foremost of which is the Elkridge. More nearly conforming to the English models is the establishment and hunting of the Meadowbrook Hunt, on Long Island, N. Y., where, in a level open country, largely occupied by extensive estates and within easy reach of New York, the sport has flourished since about 1876, and is likely to be long maintained. The serious conditions of the great world war, and development of the feeling that it is not altogether manly for a crowd of human beings to chase to the death one small timid animal, have led to a decline in the “sport.”

An extensive literature has grown up about this subject, and many thousands of titles would be required for its bibliography. A good general view may be obtained by reading the volumes devoted to the sport in the English ‘Badminton Library’ and in the American ‘Sportsman's Library.’ Consult also ‘Encyclopædia of Sport’ (1897).