Nikki Baker 
Chapter Three – Fox Hunting Today

The history of hunting obviously can help to explain where many preconceived perceptions and stereotypes originated.  In an article by Ward a good description of the participants of hunting is evident.  It suggests that due to the rising costs more people were needed to prolong the existence of fox hunting, so the ‘lower landed classes of nouveau riche and yeoman farmers’ (1999:389) took up hunting.  Their reasons for participating in this sport were however, because of ‘the perceived social status that participation [in fox hunting] conferred’ (Ward 1999:389) [see references] .  This article highlights more than a good participant profile, it emphasises the increase in population concerned with rural activities, demonstrating how it affects the rural areas in more than one way, especially focusing on the economic effects.  

The economic benefits of fox hunting have also been recognised as a valid reason for the participation in the Burns Inquiry.  It is possibly the largest piece of literature that concentrates on the issues of fox hunting in current times.  It attempts to take a non-biased view, neither supporting nor opposing fox hunting.  It aims to provide the facts and a background to hunting for all those with an interest in the sport.  Social, cultural and economic issues are examined in the report.  It provides the researcher with a variety of new reasons why people participate in hunting.  As originally hunting had utilitarian means (they killed the animals for food), the reasons provided in the report almost provide evidence that Elias’s theory of civilisation is an ongoing process.

It also highlights that fox hunting is also pursued by people as a way of managing the population of the fox.  It is believed by some to be a more humane way of controlling the population than shooting, snaring, trapping, poisoning and gassing.  Many people consider fox hunting to be a good economic provider to rural communities, not only in bringing people to an area, but providing many people with jobs.  It also helps to provide farmers with a free form of pest control.  This report also looks at other methods of hunting, the management and conservation of the habitat and the possibility of the implementation of a ban.  So would this possibility of a ban be just another development in the civilisation process?  Or would more violence erupt as a result of the illegal pursuit of fox hunting?  Would this then put a small end to this ever-progressing civilisation process?  If hunting was banned it seems unlikely that it would not continue illegally provoking more unrest among supporters and anti hunt protesters.  Civilisation surely includes the cooperation of both parties, and if a more civilised behaviour is where society is heading then the ability to agree to disagree on certain topics may be the only solution.  The civilisation process is an ongoing procedure, which will continue to develop; it may just take longer to overcome certain societal problems than others.

In recent years a number of organisations have been developed with an interest in countryside activities, some focusing particularly on supporting or even opposing hunting.  The Countryside Alliance has a specific interest in supporting those who hunt and has a website providing information and recent publications related to the subject.  Most of the publications are connected to the most recent campaign for a ban of hunting in England (and previously Scotland too), reviewing the opinions of various groups that have an interest in animal welfare, e.g. vets.  In connection with the Masters of Foxhounds Association, the Countryside Alliance Campaign for Hunting is attempting to keep alive the tradition of hunting throughout England and Wales (although a vote has occurred suggesting that fox hunting will continue under strict licensing laws).  The Masters of Foxhounds Association has issued information on why people follow hunting, and the first reason given is one that has not been considered by any other publications, that being ‘I go hunting because… I choose to’ ( 26/10/01).  Why should people not go hunting?  If society today is said to be more tolerant than previous times, then surely the leisure activities that are practised are the choice of the individual too.  This site also offers a brief description of other reasons that are obviously contested by animal rights groups, stating that it controls the population of the fox, provides areas with a social and cultural life, and that some jobs are dependent on it.  The enjoyment factor is also suggested, providing different areas, other than the kill that could be enjoyed by those who participate.  The tradition of hunting is often given as a reason to hunt, because it has been an activity pursued for generations.  However, this does not mean that everyone wants to continue this family tradition; sometimes cognitive dissonance is present within some of the younger members of the family. This can occur when personal beliefs may have to be to one side to satisfy someone else’s requirements and to prevent arguments between or amongst a group of people.  However this does not stop an argument within the person when attempting to reach the correct decision over who’s needs to satisfy.  In this case younger members are often torn between maintaining a ritual and opposing this to stand up for their own personal beliefs. 

The Burns Inquiry (Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Hunting with Dogs in England and Wales) into hunting was produced in order to provide both supporters and protesters with the facts about hunting.  Many people misinterpreted this Government document, as aiming to provide a solution to the argument that hunting is cruel.  However it is stated early in the introduction that it merely provides a ‘factual and analytical background to hunting’ (The Burns Inquiry 2000:1).  It demonstrates the social, cultural, economic and welfare issues involved in the discordant sport, as well as examining the alternative types of hunting.

‘Some like riding horses and are willing to pay subscriptions and daily charges to take part in the hunt…  Some like watching hounds work.  Some simply enjoy the social life and being out in the countryside.  Some do not actively take part but support hunting in various ways because they see it as part of the local community and as a traditional country pursuit…’

(The Burns Inquiry 2000:69).

Although it declares some of the motivations that are seen as more moral than others, it does also say that some followers do enjoy the kill, the less cruel area of hunting, stating ‘there are no doubt a few people mainly away from the public gaze and often illegally who hunt simply because they enjoy using their dogs to kill animals’ (The Burns Inquiry 2000:69).  The information that was gathered for this particular evidence was obtained from letters received from regular hunt followers.

This review has supplied an insight into why people hunt.  Not only looking at the personal motivations but also the sociological and psychological areas that are not observed on the surface.  It has considered the moral and social issues incorporated in many pieces of literature and presented the relevant facts that are needed to continue the investigation of the researcher; also providing new areas of thought and generating new ideas to further the areas of research.  It has given an insight into the world of hunting, allowing the researcher to investigate other ways of hunting and whether or not they would provide the same levels of satisfaction; looking at the truths not myths surrounding the sport.