Fox hunting is the act of hunting foxes, typically with packs of dogs (hounds) followed by riders on horses. The practice is controversial and has been outlawed in some countries. Deemed by some to be a recreational sport or a method of controlling vermin, it is perceived by others to be a cruel and unnecessary act of barbarity imposed on a defenceless creature.

The dogs are specially bred and trained for the purpose. If the pack manages to pick up the scent of a fox, they will charge after it and the horses and riders follow. The horses may jump over any obstacles in their way. Indeed this is the origin of the term National Hunt for horseracing over jumps. The hunt continues until a fox is either found and killed by the hounds, or the fox goes to ground, or the riders give up. American fox hunters do not set out with the intention of killing their quarry and kills are rare. In Britain, however, the fox is widely regarded as vermin, and a fox that goes to ground will usually be dug out of its hole and killed.

A typical hunt is a ritualistic event. Riders wear traditional hunting costumes. The coats worn by hunting officials are often called "Pinks", a reference not to their color, which varies, but to an early tailor named Pink. The act of blooding began with King James I. This was a ceremony in which huntsmaster smeared the blood of the quarry onto the cheeks of a newly initiated hunt follower.

The earliest known attempt to hunt a fox with hounds was in Norfolk, England, in 1534, where farmers began chasing down foxes with their dogs. For the elite of society it was traditional to hunt deer, and it was deemed beneath their dignity to hunt vermin until around the 1830s and the onset of the Industrial Revolution. People began to move out of the country and into towns and cities to find work. Roads, rail and canals split hunting country. It became more convenient to hunt foxes rather than deer as hunting deer requires great areas of open land. By the late 19th century foxhunting was probably at its most popular.

Although viewed as a typically traditional British activity, hunting with hounds takes place all over the world. Hunts in the United States, Canada, and India are legacies of the British Empire. The USA has more than 150 fox hunts, regulated by the Masters of Foxhounds Association of America. Many other countries have their own long tradition of hunting foxes with hounds. France, Italy, and Ireland, for example, have thriving fox hunts. In Switzerland and Germany, where fox hunting was once extremely popular, the activity has been outlawed. In these countries hunt supporters have to some extent adopted drag hunting as their sport where a scented bag is dragged over the course.

Animal rights activists have long been incensed by the perceived cruelty of the activity; in addition to the suffering of the fox, it is alleged that many dogs are accidentally trampled and killed by the horses.

When Fox Hunting in the United States, one rarely ever catches the fox. In fact, much effort goes into training the foxes so that they do not get caught. Foxes that get caught these days are normally old or diseased (mainly the latter). In the summer of the year, the hunt take the young hounds out "cubbing". They teach the puppies to hunt while they are teaching the young foxes to give chase.

The Labour Party manifesto of 1997 contained a pledge to hold a free vote on whether fox hunting should be banned by law. The pledge was honoured through the government granting time to a private member's bill banning fox hunting that was introduced by Michael Foster, MP for Worcester. The bill was passed by the British House of Commons, but the measure was blocked by opposition in the House of Lords. The 2001 manifesto again contained a promise to have a Commons vote on the issue. Any bill in this parliament is certain to meet a similar fate, leading for calls for the government to use the Parliament Act to force through legislation on the issue. Since 1998 the Countryside Alliance has campaigned vigorously to defend the right to hunt, now that some forms of it is under a clear threat of becoming outlawed.

In February of 2002 the devolved Scottish Parliament voted by 83 to 36 to ban hunting with hounds. MSPs decided not to give compensation to those whose livelihoods or businesses might suffer as a result of the ban.

In July 2003, after many years of controversy, the United Kingdom parliament voted in favour of legislation to completely ban fox hunting, after the government withdrew its compromise motion which recommended regulation rather than an outright ban.


"The English country gentleman galloping after a fox - the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable." -- Oscar Wilde