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Thursday, 16 September, 1999, 16:52 GMT 17:52 UK
How the hunt works
The hunt is a highly organised affair
The organisation of the hunt in the UK is not simply a matter of a few horse enthusiasts getting together at a weekend to dress up and chase foxes.

It is a highly organised activity where each of the individual hunts owns property, stables and kennels, has employees, and an army of voluntary helpers and subscribers, administered by a trust.

Scent of fox is "drawn" in a covert
Typically, the hunt committee owns the hounds, horses, coverts - a copse or cluster of trees and undergrowth in an open field - and other assets of the hunt, and is responsible for its finances.

Members of the committee are elected by subscribers, and will organise fundraising events, including the annual hunt ball. They also appoint the master of the hunt.

The master has the ultimate responsibility for settling any outstanding debts of the hunt. For this reason, there are often joint masters of a hunt.

Each joint master tends to be responsible for an aspect of the hunt and an area of the "country" - the hunt's word for the area in which it rides - and he or she will liaise with farmers in that area.

For extracts from the Masters of the Foxhounds Association Rules, click here.

The field master of the day - often the joint master for the area where the day's hunt is taking place - is responsible for the conduct of the day's hunting.

He or she decides where to look for foxes - or to "draw" - and what to do if the fox goes to ground.

The huntsman - who may be a joint master or a professional - has responsibility for handling the hounds and for carrying out the day's hunting as required by the field master.

He is assisted by whippers-in, who help the huntsman look after the hounds in the kennels. When hunting, he helps to keep the hounds together, keeping count of them and relocating any that get separated from the pack.

At the start of the hunt, the whippers-in and selected followers will also help to spot the fox once is has left cover.

Mounted followers are required to stay at the rear of the field master. They can pay fees of between 25 and 70 to take part.

Those following by foot or by car are told not to get in the way of the fox. They may be asked to pay a daily "cap" of 1 or 2 towards the costs of the hunt.

Hunt etiquette dictates that farmers' crops, livestock, fences and hedges must be respected, and all gates closed immediately after a group of followers has gone through.

Those opposed to the hunt - including Countryside Protection, an organisation of country dwellers against the hunt - argue that the activity of riders, followers and hounds results in a lot of damage.

The terrierman, sometimes with up to two assistants, is often called upon to locate and destroy a fox which has gone to ground. This involves sending a terrier into the fox's earth, or whatever hole it has bolted into, then sometimes digging it out. It is then shot.

Hunt staff, or servants - generally the huntsman, whippers in, and kennelmen - may be amateurs who are paid very little - but many receive a salary and live in tied accommodation. Quite often an amateur huntsman is supported by a professional huntsman, known as a kennel huntsman.

Joint masters are not paid, and many grooms are paid but only work part-time. The terriermen and country maintenance team are often part-time.

Autumn hunting (or cubbing, as it is called by hunt opponents) can start early in the morning, with meets taking place several times a week at about 6am.

From the start of the main November season, meets tend to happen later to make the most of the daylight.

Typically, the "meet" will take place in a pub car park, or communal area, although they can happen on private land, which is known as a lawn meet.

The hounds will then be taken to the first covert so that, encouraged by huntsman's horns and cries, they can find a scent and either flush out the fox, or pick up the trail of one that has recently left the area.

Earths in the covert may have been blocked the night before by an employee or member of the hunt.

Whippers-in and selected followers will be positioned to spot the fox, and will alert the rest of the hunt with traditional cries once they have done so.

The hounds out of the covert, the huntsman will signal to the master using the horn and the field follows them.

The fox is fast - but the dogs and riders have more stamina
If the scent is lost, the huntsman will "cast" in an arc to try to relocate it. Sometimes the scent of two foxes cross and the huntsman must decide which is the hunted fox.

Hounds are bred for their stamina, as well as speed, so the fox eventually tires and will try to go to earth.

Huntsmen say that once the fox has been caught above ground, the top dog of the pack will administer a sharp nip to the back of its neck, killing it outright.

Animal welfare groups insist that the fox is ripped limb from limb and disembowelled.

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