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What Is Fox Hunting?

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A young red fox, the favorite quarry of the hunt.

A young red fox, the favorite quarry of the hunt.

What Is a Fox Hunt?

"Fox hunting" might refer to any hunter pursuing a fox; however, fox hunting in the traditional sense describes a mounted hunt, relying on hounds to track the quarry. The sport is steeped in tradition and history and now thrives in several different countries despite ethical controversies.

The hunt is a social event that starts after the harvest and lasts until spring planting (the hunt follows the quarry, who respects no farmer's crops). It is a fast-paced ride through the woods, fields, water, mud, and over obstacles. The hunt is usually followed by people on foot or in cars.

A Quick Fox Hunt Vocabulary Lesson

Quarry: The quarry is the animal that is hunted.

The quarry is not always a fox, and depending on geographic location, it can be expanded to include any "vermin" available. In North America, this includes:

  • raccoons,
  • possums,
  • wolves,
  • coyotes,
  • bobcat,
  • gray fox, and
  • red fox.

Coyotes, gray fox, and red fox are by far the most common quarry.

Earth: refers to the quarry's den, or underground dwelling.

Horn: The horn is a copper tube about 8 inches long. It is used to signal the hounds.

Hunting dogs are a crucial part of a traditional fox chase.

Hunting dogs are a crucial part of a traditional fox chase.

A Brief History

Fox hunting owes its earliest roots to the Romans who, mounted in chariots pulled by horses, used hounds to track and chase their quarry. 1534 marks the earliest recorded fox hunt with the mounted huntsman, in Norfolk, England. At the time, England's red fox population abounded, and they were considered a nuisance animal, and dangerous to livestock.

However, it wasn't until the early 19th century that fox hunting developed into the proper, traditional sport we would recognize it as today. The sport had humbly originated as a practical solution to red fox overpopulation, but as faster, more suitable hounds were bred and men had more leisure time, it morphed into an official, social event.

As stags became increasingly rare, the aristocracy adopted the sport of fox hunting, and consequently, the hunt became associated with wealth and social exclusivity.

The sport became so popular that foxes needed to be imported from Europe. The tradition spread along with British Imperialism to countries such as Ireland, Australia, France, America, and Canada.

American Fox Hunting

  • In 1650, Robert Brook brought his family and his hounds to Maryland.
  • In 1730, the traditional red fox was brought to the colonies because they were considered a better sport than the native gray fox.
  • The earliest record of an organized hunt in North America was in 1747, in Northern Virginia.
  • George Washington was an avid fox hunter. He owned his own pack of hounds and often hunted around the capitol. Jefferson and Hamilton were also fox hunters.
  • Because the fox population in North America is controlled by rabies and other natural predators, North American fox hunting is about enjoying the chase, not killing the quarry. The dogs are praised when they follow the scent of the quarry to the earth.
  • In some parts of North America, the quarry is a coyote, which is considered a nuisance animal that destroys livestock. In some cases, the intention of the hunt is to kill the coyote, though it is difficult to catch the coyote.
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Read More From Skyaboveus

Doubling the Horn

Going Home

Fox Hunting Positions

Master (MFH) is in charge of the hounds and everything else regarding the hunt, both on the day of the hunt and day to day management of hounds and hunt business. There are often two Joint Masters, who split the responsibilities of master. The Master has the power to award colors to members of the hunt, and to carry the horn.

Staff Positions and Descriptions

The staff includes the huntsman, whippers-in, and the kennelman. Some are professional staff, and are paid for their responsibilities, others are honorary staff, and are unpaid.

The Kennelman cares for the hounds in the kennels.

The Huntsman controls the hounds. He gives the hounds signals and commands.

The Whippers-In assist the Huntsman with the hounds. They may circumvent the hounds before they follow a line across a highway, encourage the hounds toward the Huntsman, and keep them from straying or rioting. The whippers-in carry hunting whips to control the hounds from on horseback.

The Field Master is in charge of mounted followers.

The Field includes any followers other than the master and staff.

  • The First Flight stays close to the action and follows the hounds wherever possible.
  • The Second Field, or the Hilltoppers, are mounted huntsmen who do not plan to jump or gallop along with the main hunt. They follow the hunt to strategic vantage points to watch the main highlights of the hunt. Riders who choose to stay with the hilltoppers may be young or inexperienced riders, or have a young or inexperienced horse, or they simply want to enjoy the excitement of the hunt without hurtling around the countryside!
  • The Third Field, or car followers, are those following the hunt on vehicles.

The Secretary collects the capping fee from non-members.

Cub Hunting, also known as Autumn Hunting, is an informal, pre-season hunt. The purpose is to condition the dogs and the horses, as well as to train young puppies and to "teach" the young foxes, or cubs, to run from the pack.

Wearing the Appropriate and Traditional Clothing

Fox hunters are proud of the practicality of their clothing, for example, the stock tie can be used as an emergency bandage for a horse, human, or hound.

Proper attire depends mainly on the season and the position the rider holds in the hunt. During the pre-season cub-hunts, the riders dress informally. For the formal fox hunting season, the riders dress in formal attire. I have simplified the following description; there are many more guidelines concerning gender and other nuances of dress.

If you consult several sources, you'll notice that there is no set single, agreed-upon attire. There are general guidelines that are acceptable at all hunts, but you should always consult the hunt master for specific guidelines.

Informal Attire

During the cub hunting season, everyone dresses in informal attire; there is no distinction between the field and the staff.

  • Riders wear a Ratcatcher-- a wool, tweed, linen jacket. The jacket may be earth tones (brown or green), and subtle plaid, checks, or herringbone patterns are acceptable. The jacket should have three buttons, which must remain buttoned during the hunt.
  • Beneath the jacket, riders wear turtlenecks or shirts/blouses of pastel color. Subtle patterning is acceptable.
  • Breeches may be beige, buff, rust, or canary.
  • Brown field boots or black dress boots are appropriate.
  • Traditionally, gloves were supposed to be brown, and sometimes white, but now, in modern-day hunting, black gloves are allowed.

Formal Attire

Livery: formal attire of the professional staff. Varies from hunt to hunt, but is basically the same as wearing colors with other slight nuances.

Colors: "Colors" are an honor awarded by the Master to a dedicated hunt member. Once the rider has earned his or her colors, he or she is allowed to wear the regular uniform (see below), or the scarlet coat with the hunt's color on the collar. When wearing the scarlet coat, it is appropriate to wear white breeches, and the combination of the white breeches and scarlet coat is known as "pink." Members of the hunt who have been awarded their colors also wear black dress boots with a brown leather top-- no laces.

Uniform: formal attire for members of the field:

  • plain black, oxford, or navy hunting jacket with plain black buttons
  • beige or buff breeches
  • plain black leather dress boots with no laces
  • properly tied plain white or cream stock tie with single horizontal plain gold safety pin
  • black velvet cap (helmet).


Any rider 16 or under is considered a junior. During both the cub hunting season and the formal hunting season, juniors wear a tweed jacket, paddock boots, and jodhpurs.


Plain, unadorned tack is appropriate for the hunt. It should be made of brown leather, with no synthetic materials. White or natural sheepskin fitted saddle pads, no square, adorned, or patterned saddle pads. Running martingales are not appropriate, although standing martingales and breastplates are allowed.

Horse Presentation

The horse should be clean and clipped. For very formal events such as Opening Day or the Blessing of the Hounds, neat braids are required, otherwise, they are optional.

These members of the hunt are wearing the traditional pinks.

These members of the hunt are wearing the traditional pinks.

"The true point of riding to hounds was (and is) to watch the hounds work. Those who galloped wildly or jumped unnecessarily were termed “larkers”—an insult—and disdained by the serious hunters." —Word wenches, fox hunt

Hounds in Full Cry

“ ’Unting is all that’s worth living for—all time is lost wot is not spent in ‘unting—it is like the air we breathe—if we have it not we die—it’s the sport of kings, the image of war without its guilt, and only five-and-twenty percent of its danger.” —Surtees; Handley Cross (1843)

There is heated debate about the morality of fox hunting, and in some countries, the sport is banned because it is seen as unethical. In England, when the sport became popular, the fox was a nuisance animal that stole livestock from farmers, and people wanted them hunted. Now, it seems that the fox attracts more sympathy from the general public.

Those who argue for fox hunting claim that the fox's death is quick and painless; those against it argue that it is often not a quick death, and that the chase itself is cruel.

In 2004, England passed a Hunting Ban, which prevented the use of dogs to kill the quarry. However, the hunt still goes on-- the dogs flush the fox out of the earth and a member of the hunt shoots it.

Is There An Alternative?

In America, drag hunting is commonplace. Instead of following the scent of a real fox, a member of the hunt drags a bag of fox urine along the ground before the hunt so that the hounds follow the scent and the hunt goes on with little chance of killing a fox.

There is always the possibility that the hounds begin to follow the scent of a real fox, but even still, it is unlikely that the hounds will actually kill it before it goes into the earth.

"To horse and away! To the heart of the fray! Fling care to the Devil for one merry day!" —W.H.Ogilvy

Where to Find a Group

In North America, a majority of hunts are run as a subscription or membership pack, similar to a golf club. A member pays a membership fee pays for the care of the hounds and other expenses. If you are interested in accompanying the hunt for a day, you can contact a local hunt and pay a cap fee. Look up a hunt near you.

Sometimes fox hunting appears like a neat, proper hack through the green countryside. This is not the case, especially in New England. It can be exciting for horses to gallop in a group and the terrain is varied.

Horse and rider must be brave, and if the following video doesn't convince you, I don't know what will! I know I wouldn't get my horse to go down that banking in the water like that. And I don't think I would want to finish up the rest of the hunt soaking wet either. These huntsmen are pretty hardcore.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Franziska from near cologne on June 02, 2018:

A very informative article that I liked to read. Since I myself go hunting, but in Germany, I love to hunt foxes, to watch them, to shoot them, to use them, to dress me with them.

Mazzy Bolero from the U.K. on May 04, 2013:

sgiguere, thanks for responding. I believe having the hounds follow a trail, a scented rag, is still legal in the U.K. and I would not object to that. If what you want is a pleasant day out riding through the countryside, why do you need an actual fox to rip apart? I don't know about the practice in the USA, but in Britain they certainly did rip the fox apart, in front of young children too. What did that teach them? Not only were foxes ripped apart but any cat or small dog that the pack managed to find, even in the owner's own yard. It wasn't controlling a predator as they actually bred and spread them in order to hunt them! Such a bloodthirsty activity does not belong in a civilised society.

Stephanie Giguere (author) from Worcester, MA on May 03, 2013:

George.B.-- I would be honored if you used my article! I think you have a fascinating point, and I couldn't agree more. Feel free to share your paper with me when it's finished.

George.B. on May 03, 2013:

This is a very interesting article. I was researching this topic (and related issues) for a history paper. After reading the comments, I am thinking I can also use this for a psychology project as well. (if you don't mind).

People's reactions to this subject are fascinating. I see that whereas they don't condone cruelty to an animal, they don't seem to mind publicly flaming you with cruel and puerile comments for presenting a scholarly article. Nor do they seem to think physically subjecting the hunters to torture is inhumane.

I thought you did a good job of noting that "blooding" was not done anymore, and that more and more sportsman are choosing to participate in events that don't even involve a live quarry. Not really fair to you that you are being punished for a tradition you did not invent.

Therefore, this entire presentation is an ideal example of the double standards and hypocrisy in the modern society. So with your permission, I would like to use this as part of my project, with full credits of course. I will use the link to this article since this site seems to pay you for readers?

just helen from Dartmoor UK on May 03, 2013:

My husband and I we out hiking the moors recently and accidentally came across an exhausted, dispirited hound from the local pack. He really was disoriented. No wonder he clung to us for help!

Apparently they are starved for at least a day so they are hungry for the fox.

His poor face was scratched to bits. He was such a gentle, intelligent soul. I can't blame the dogs, as they are victims too.

I nearly got to speak to the Master of the Hunt, he was SO close. If I had managed to I would have said something along the lines that I hope he one day has to run run run for his life until he can run no more, knowing that eventually he will be torn limb from limb in agony and distress.

Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on May 03, 2013:

sgiguere - I don't usually say terribly negative things on HP, but that is the most awful logic or rationalization that I have ever heard. "....we do more terrifying and horrible things to other humans." That is the stand you want to take? That is your rationale for a sometimes cruel and completely unnecessary practice (sport)?

I will not call it a sport because it isn't!! Sport implies a reasonably balanced playing field, individuals or teams who have "voluntarily" agreed to the activity and have undertaken some kind of practice or training. How does any of that apply to an animal hunted by larger animals and a group of people??

Back to your affirmation of Sharkeye ---- So, it is acceptable to do harmful or cruel things, as long as someone else is doing something more harmful and cruel?" That is what every criminal, bully, wicked ruler, and cruel or mean-spirited person in the world says and uses as a justification, "somebody, somewhere is doing worse." What a terrible and non-existent morality that produces.

I can understand that you enjoyed the milder, cleaned up version of fox-hunting and I understand that it is at times necessary to control a species that is interfering with farming or livestock, but that was in the distant past.

The truth is that fox-hunting became a Blood Sport practiced by an arrogant upper class with too much time on their hands and no sympathy for other people and certainly not for animals. Is this really what you want to be defending?

Putting any animal in fear of its life and forcing it to run frantically for several hours until it is exhausted is terribly cruel, whether the animal survives or not. Please rethink your position.

Describing the practice (not a sport by any definition) is one thing and you did a great job at that, but "defending the practice" is really a questionable position to take and makes you appear selfish and callous.

Stephanie Giguere (author) from Worcester, MA on May 03, 2013:

Thanks Sharkeye11! I completely agree-- we do much more terrifying and horrible things to other humans. Thanks for the informed comment :)

just helen from Dartmoor UK on May 03, 2013:

It is not only the fox that suffers - the dogs get horribly maimed by the fox when it is fighting for its life. Their faces in particular are scratched to pieces and they can be blinded by the fox if the eyes are damaged.

And the humans? Are they too damaged? Not by physical attack, but psychologically and spiritually. Can anyone be at peace with themselves after participating in such barbaric, cruel behaviour?

Jayme Kinsey from Oklahoma on May 02, 2013:

Congrats on HOTD! This was a beautifully presented hub. Having been raised on a farm in a very remote wilderness area, I can totally relate to this tradition's formation. Battling predators is not easy.

Where I live now, they host coyote hunts to thin the population when they get so starved they become a threat to people. This winter, they didn't just prey on chickens, they actually attacked people.

I personally don't hunt, but I don't oppose it as long as it is regulated to prevent extinction of a species. I think it is strange that people are so violently opposed to hunting, yet so eager to harm other humans. Kudos for you for being bold enough to write on such a controversial topic, and in such an interesting manner. It is still an amazing, and exciting sounding sport, even with the "drag method" being used. (I've seen a lot of deer hunters that do similar methods too, just for the fun of running through the woods.)

Stephanie Giguere (author) from Worcester, MA on May 02, 2013:

Mazzy Bolero-- I'm sure there are a few recent cases of blooding, and not only do people dig the fox out of the earth, but they use terriers who are small enough to go in the ground and chase it out. What I'm really trying to say is that for a MAJORITY of fox hunters, especially in America, fox hunting IS simply a fun social event where people go out to ride their horse on the country side-- the hounds follow the scent of fox urine that a hunt member dragged that morning.

I don't think that you can condemn an entire sport because there are occasional archaic practices still being used. Perhaps the answer is to place certain restrictions on fox hunting, but don't condemn the whole sport, because for most, the sport is not about killing the animal. Trust me, I have an incredibly weak stomach and can't handle my own deceased aquarium fish, yet I have been fox hunting many times and have never even seen the fox, let alone seen one killed.

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on May 02, 2013:

Well, we have advocates here in GA for deer hunting saying that it keeps a population of too many down. Hopefully that is the case here. I am not much into the hunting scene, I would have to be hard pressed to pull a trigger that would kill a doe-eyed critter.

Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on May 02, 2013:

Thank you Mazzy for weighing in. As an American, I couldn't speak to the UK and the practice there, but you can. It is nothing short of barbaric. It offends my moral sense that anyone would describe such activity as a fun day for all. Even if the fox is not killed, would any of us want to run non-stop scared to death, in fear of our lives, followed by a pack of large baying hounds. Again, thank you.

Marie Hurt from New Orleans, LA on May 02, 2013:

Well researched article. The little fox picture is so cute. Poor little foxes. Interesting to learn about the tradition.

Mazzy Bolero from the U.K. on May 02, 2013:

Oscar Wilde called it "the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible." As for blooding - dipping a rag in the pulsating entrails of a fox that has just been torn apart by the hounds and daubing the blood on small children's faces - that was still being done until recently. Even when the fox managed to go to ground, they would fetch shovels and dig it up and throw it to the hounds to be torn apart. They call this a sport. As for allowing the young dogs to "practise" on cubs - words fail me. The pack of hounds often tears pet dogs and cats apart if they can't find the fox. Yet it's presented as if this is just a harmless nice day out in the countryside, jolly good fun for all concerned, including the fox. Sorry - well researched and well presented work but this activity is barbaric.

Stephanie Giguere (author) from Worcester, MA on May 02, 2013:

Thank you all for your comments! I am glad that my Hub has inspired some conversation. I was actually planning on expanding the final section regarding the morality of fox hunting:

Here in the US, where I have had the experience of fox hunting, the fox is VERY RARELY killed. It is not the goal to kill the fox, but rather, to account for the fox (follow it to the earth, or the den). If the fox wanted to, it could simply run into the den at the beginning of the hunt, and the hunt would be over. However, that is not the case, and the fox often seems to tease the hounds. In other countries, it is more common to kill the fox, and even to find the fox's den and cover it so that it can't go into the earth and escape the hounds. I do believe this is somewhat cruel, however, the sport of modern fox hunting has many different forms, and is essentially a fun and social sport that is no longer focused on killing any cute little foxes.

If you read accounts of hunts just a century or less back, you may find some gruesome description of "blooding" and the honor of receiving the brush (fox's tail) or the pad (the fox's foot). Let me re-iterate-- this is simply not the case with modern fox hunting!

Thank you for reading!

whonunuwho from United States on May 02, 2013:

Ah, the fox hunt, representative of European attitudes of the "Colonies" and in the end, who was the lost puppy in the fray? An interesting work you have shared and well received. I am a wildlife artist and the fox, one of my favorite subjects of the wild things. So beautiful and wise as any creature dependent upon its wits. Thank you for sharing this fine work. whonu

traderjim on May 02, 2013:

I wonder whether fox hunting is only typical of England.

I’ve never heard of it in other places of the world.

Imogen French from Southwest England on May 02, 2013:

Hunting any animal for "sport" is, in my opinion, barbaric, and fox hunting is particularly cruel. The argument that it is done to control fox numbers is a little lame, really - does it really take a host of people on horseback and a large pack of hounds to kill one fox? If fox numbers are a problem and are threatening livestock, then culling by licensed shooting is a much better option.

I can see the excitement of dressing up and charging around the countryside on horseback but, like you point out, drag hunting serves this purpose just as well, without all the blood and cruelty. I think people that can be cruel to animals in this way are simply cruel natured.

Nevertheless, this was a well written and informative hub, which is bound to stir a few strong opinions! Congrats on HOTD :)

Kari on May 02, 2013:

Sport? Social event? Killing a living being and taking away its life means so little to some people.

And I agree with the people who say that the chase itself is cruel - stressing out animals should not be a thing of fun.

żaluzje on May 02, 2013:

great article, I did not know it was so interesting.

Jenn-Anne on May 02, 2013:

Just wanted to stop back by and clarify that the hunt I followed did not kill the foxes. They always called the hounds off if they got too close. If I ever saw a fox get killed I would have stopped participating. I can't speak for the actions of other hunt clubs, of course.

Comfort Babatola from Bonaire, GA, USA on May 02, 2013:

Interesting. I've heard and seen the hunts for other animals like rabbits, wild hogs etc. but not fox hunting, and especially not for sport.

This is as controversial as it gets, as there will be those who oppose this practice. I also find it a little disturbing.

But I'm sure there are guidelines in place for this sport. And I do hope it's done to bring a balance to the 'earth-mosphere' food chain. In which case, it will be okay. I mean, we kill countless mosquitoes every day in other to prevent people from dying of Malaria. Thus, preserving the human population.

Voted up and interesting, and congrats on the HOTD award!

MysticMoonlight on May 02, 2013:

This is a wonderfully written Hub, excellent job. I believe that hunting for sport is cruel and completely unnecessary. I realize that people do it to honor tradition, etc. but it's just hard for me to justify it. Are these animals that are being hunted harmful to livestock? Hunting for food is hard enough for the tenderhearted, like myself, so doing it for entertainment is like a slap to the face to me. My family hunts for food, yes, always with the respect of the animal in mind. We hunt ethically, no baiting, nothing chasing it down and cornering it, etc. and we are sure to honor the animal by not wasting it and by giving thanks to it for its sacrifice. We also strive to educate our children by teaching them to be ethically minded and by being an example for them to follow, if they so choose to hunt, not for sport but necessity, and include them in the prayer of thanks to the animal for its sacrifice. Hopefully, they no longer kill the animals that they chase/hunt? I do hope that's the case. Cruelty to anything for sport or tradition is sad and barbaric. Just my opinion, of course.

WindFire on May 02, 2013:

Fox hunting is not kind. I agree with phdast7; it is a cruel sport.

krunesh on May 02, 2013:

nice article

Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on May 02, 2013:

Congratulations on a well- written and put together Hub. However, this is a barbaric and cruel process, I find it very distressing that you casually and at length discuss the "fun and social" aspects of Fox Hunting, as well as the proper attire for this ignoble sport. But the section on the morality of the practice is by contrast very short. This was distasteful to say the least.

Cardisa, apparently, most of the time the fox is shot after being cornered by the dogs. A pathetic and arrogant way for wealthy people to obtain fresh air and exercise.

Carolee Samuda from Jamaica on May 02, 2013:

I was trying to find out what happened to the foxes or other animals after the hunt. My take on the matter is that, if you are killing or hunting for food then it's okay, but hunting/killing for fun is not. I wish I knew what happens to the poor animals after the hunt.

Congrats on HOTD, well deserved.

David Livermore from Bakersfield, California, United States on May 02, 2013:

Shouldn't use a cute fox picture for something so barbaric. It's a well written hub, but, it's just wrong.

SandCastles on May 02, 2013:

Fox Hunting is cruel.

Jenn-Anne on May 02, 2013:

Nice hub! Congrats on HOTD! I have ridden in hunts, been a Hilltopper and followed in cars. I never once saw a fox killed - they were pretty careful not to let that happen. They no longer hunt where I grew up, in part because people don't like it and in part because the open countryside is disappearing. On the one hand I understand, but part of me is sad to see it go.

Jared Miles from Australia on May 02, 2013:

In Tasmania, we hold mock fox hunts with aniseed trails, so in a fashion it's popular all over the world. A very educational Hub, thank you and voted up.

just helen from Dartmoor UK on May 02, 2013:

We live in South West England. Hunting is very popular here, but then so is the military.Enough said!

However, the hub was very informative and well put together, even though I find it a distasteful subject.

Charlie Cheesman from England on May 02, 2013:

I live in the southeast of England several if the hunts meet where I work I love to see them. Thanks nice hub

bradley brown from Harrow Middlesex on May 02, 2013:

Sorry i know foxes need to kept under control, but i am not keen on the hunt. nice read.

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