What Is Trail Hunting

Since the inception of the Hunting Act 2004, many hunts wanting to retain their infrastructure as well as their hounds, members and activities, have been hunting within the law by changing their activities to Trail Hunting.

The aim of Trail Hunting is to simulate traditional hunting as practised before the Hunting Act came into force. During the Autumn and Winter months, packs of hounds and their followers (mounted and on foot) meet and go hunting - the general conduct of the day remains as it was prior to the Hunting Act and keeps the traditions and practises alive.

When Trail hunting, the huntsman sets off with the intention of finding and encouraging the hounds to hunt the laid trails using their noses. When the hounds find the scent and start to follow it, they will use their voices to produce a sound which is called “speaking”. This indicates to the huntsman and followers that the hounds have found a trail and are following it.

The hounds are encouraged and controlled by the Huntsman and Whipper In (helps the huntsman to control the hounds), in the same traditional methods of using the voice and the horn.

The Hunting day operates over land which the hunt has been invited to cross by the landowner, and the trails are laid along a route that might be taken by the traditional quarry, through hedgerows & woods, along ditches, across fields, in order to simulate the natural movement of the wild mammal as much as possible.

There is often more than one trail layer and the most common method of laying the trail is to drag a scent infected sock or cloth along the ground. Most packs use an ethically sourced, quarry-based scent which is laid from a horse, quad bike or on foot. The trail is not laid constantly, but is occasionally lifted for a distance and dropped again, thus allowing the hounds to cast (search for the scent if they lose it). The Huntsman and followers often do not know where any of the trails have been laid, so that the days hunting will mimic its realistic form.

The timescale for laying a trail before the hounds start to search for it varies considerably from one pack to the next and will be determined by the trail layers and the huntsman. The hounds' ability to hunt the trail depends on a number of different environmental factors such as the terrain, wind, rain, air pressure, temperature and many other influences, which is why hounds can sometimes hunt a trail easily with little encouragement, and other times will struggle to pick up the line of a trail at all.

It is highly likely that foxes, deer, hares, rabbits, birds and other forms of wildlife associated with the countryside, will be seen throughout the day. If the hounds pick up the scent of a live quarry, the huntsman and other members of hunt staff stop the hounds as soon as they are made aware that the hounds are no longer following a trail that has been laid.

Due to the persistent spurious allegations from our opponents that hunts are not Trail Hunting, the presence of Saboteurs trying to intentionally disrupt the legal activities, Hunts record and keep evidence of their Trail Laying and files are kept of the day’s activities.

As with traditional forms of hunting, people hunt for different reasons and follow in a variety of ways – either on horseback, on foot or following in a car. Some enjoy the freedom of being out in the fresh air, others like riding their horses, many go to watch hounds work while some followers simply delight in being able to access different parts of the countryside which wouldn’t necessarily be open to them if they weren’t out following a pack of hounds. There is a huge social element involved too.

Anyone is welcome to go Trail Hunting with their local pack of hounds and newcomers are always welcomed. Hunting is more popular than ever, with followers continuing to support the sport they love even after the Hunting Act came into force in 2005.

Trail Hunting replicates traditional hunting, so for those following (on horses and on foot), the day follows a similar pattern to that before the Hunting Act 2004 came into force. People still wear their traditional hunting dress, mounted followers are led by “field master” who keeps them in touch with the hounds and enables them to see the hounds searching for and following their trail.

In order to retain the heritage and traditions of hunting, very little has changed regarding where hounds meet, the dress and the hunting terminology used, so overall hunting scenes appear much the same as they have done for hundreds of years.