What does Hunting with Bloodhounds Involve?
That is probably the most common question I am asked, and there is no short answer. So I am putting as much detail as I can think of in this article, to help people either fathom the mystery of why I do it, or why they may want to do it.

Hunting with Bloodhounds, Foxhounds or Draghounds.
Bloodhounds hunt the unadulterated scent of a man or woman - this is often referred to as "hunting the clean boot." Foxhounds hunt a "trail" which usually consists of an animal based, artificially made and applied scent. Draghounds, similar to foxhounds, hunt an artificially made and applied scent, but not animal based. Foxhounds and Draghounds use foxhounds to hunt their drag lines/trails. Bloodhound packs use cross bred bloodhounds, because the pure bred bloodhound is considered too slow and not agile enough to cope with hunting over long distances, in front of horses. Pure bred bloodhounds also tend to have conformational weaknesses that would reduce the longevity of a hound's hunting life. Our bloodhounds have, in the main, foxhound crosses in them, but there are one or two with otterhound blood in them. Staghounds and French Hounds are also sometimes used as suitable outcrosses. Generally speaking, I find breeding the hybrid bloodhound to other hybrid bloodhounds will move the type of hound more and more towards a foxhound type; so we tend to re-introduce some pure bloodhound blood every third generation or so. Most people start hunting with bloodhounds because they enjoy the ride but, over time, many people also discover the joy of watching these hounds work, and become fascinated by the different talents shown by individual hounds.

The Bloodhounds Quarry
The men or women the bloodhounds hunt are known as "Quarry". On the right you will see our Quarry Captain (the man who organises and co-ordinates other Quarries) Nick Hudson. The Quarry will be running completely clean of any artificial scents. The hounds will hunt one or both of two available scents. Firstly, they will preferably be hunting the human scent that the Quarry leaves behind as he runs. In certain weather conditions, this will have evaporated or been blown away by the wind. In these circumstances the hounds will hunt the "ground scent." Where the Quarry has run, he will have broken the surface of the ground and crushed various plants in the process. This ground will smell different to the unbroken ground either side, so the hounds will use this if no human scent is available. In Nick's hand you can see he is carrying a piece of paper. This is the map and notes he will use to follow the route agreed with the landowner/farmer. Within this agreed route, there is usually some freedom for the Quarry to ad lib and carry out maneuvers to try and outwit the hounds. This will include making sharp turns, doubling back, making circles, going through foil (ground that is smellier than the surrounding area e.g. a muck pile) or going through water. The Quarries aim is to get to the end of the hunt before the hounds catch him. If he runs in a dead straight line, the latter scenario is less likely than if he carries out a successful maneuver to fool the hounds. The huntsman's aim is to catch the Quarry 200 yards or so before the finish!
What to wear out hunting.
Many people worry about not having the "right" clothing to come hunting. Hunting with bloodhounds is not a fashion parade! If people already have the traditional hunt dress, then we would expect them to wear it. However, we do not expect people who hunt irregularly to go out and buy special hunting clothes. On the right, the first picture shows the Hunt Uniform, worn only by Masters and Hunt Staff. You should give these people right of way at all times. Five buttons on the front of a Hunt Uniform signifies the person is a member of the "Hunt Staff." That is to say he/she is directly involved with the handling of the hounds. Four buttons on the Hunt Uniform signifies that person is a Master, who may or may not be involved in the handling of the hounds. The Formal Dress on the right is worn by anyone who wants to wear it after the Opening Meet. You will see it has the correct number of three buttons on the front of the coat. In this case she is wearing the "Hunt Buttons," engraved with "SDB" and these may only be worn by someone who has been awarded them by the Masters. Gentlemen wear black coats, whereas ladies wear black or blue coats.The people with hunt buttons will have a good knowledge of the workings of the hunt, and will be happy to help newcomers where possible. Finally we have "Ratcatcher." This sounds like a derogatory term but it is not. It is the traditional dress for training meets, but is also perfectly acceptable during the formal season, i.e. after the Opening meet. Gentlemen visitors who possess scarlet hunting coats are perfectly welcome to wear them. If you have neither Formal Dress nor Ratcatcher, we are very happy for you to come out in as near as you can get to either. The wearing of riding hats is compulsory, and we are quite happy for people to wear body protectors etc. If you are still in doubt, talk to the Hon. Hunt Secretary. The plaiting of horses manes and tales is left to your personal choice, but it is incorrect to plait for training meets.

Hunt Uniform

Formal Dress

Special equipment to carry.
Everyone should carry in their pocket a card with their name and address on, contact numbers for next of kin, and most importantly, any medical conditions you suffer from. Do not put this in your hat as your hat can only be removed by a paramedic or doctor. Also, do not assume because you are attending with someone who knows you, that this is not necessary. Your friend/relative may not be there when you have a fall. It is also useful to carry some baler twine and a penknife, to make a temporary repair to any fence you might accidentally damage. A mobile phone is a good idea, but this should be switched off during hunting unless there is a seriously important reason for having it on. Making non urgent phone calls in the Field is considered extremely discourteous. If you are carrying food/drink, this should obviously not be in a glass container.

The Meet
Meets before the "Opening Meet" are called "training meets" and these start as soon as the harvest is well under way. Because of the nature of harvesting, these meets are usually arranged at quite short notice and you need to keep a regular eye on the Meets/Events page to see when these have been arranged. Training meets are less formal than meets after the Opening Meet and the purpose of these meets is to train young hounds entering the pack, and improve the hunting fitness of all the hounds. Training meets are ideal for anyone who has not hunted before as the hunts are shorter and there is usually plenty of stubble, should a rider find him/herself in some difficulty. You will find there are people who will help you should you need it.

If you are attending a meet for the first time you are advised to do the following things. Firstly, contact the Hon. Hunt Secretary and discuss any worries you have with her. Secondly, make sure you know exactly where the meet is and where you can park. Thirdly, ensure that you have the correct "cap" money with you. You are advised to have third party insurance for any damage you or your horse may do whilst out hunting. You can achieve this very cheaply, if you want to, just by joining the Countryside Alliance (CA), as insurance whilst involved in hunting is included in the subscription. Joining the CA is not compulsory.

The time of the meet, is the time you should be on your horse at the meet. This is to give the Secretary time to collect the caps and also so that the Quarries get a chance to socialise with the riders before they have to set off running. When you get to the meet, introduce yourself to the Secretary and pay your cap immediately. Then introduce yourself to the Masters and feel free to ask them any questions you may have; but please ensure your horse does not get too near any hounds. A kick from your horse may injure a hound and it will certainly spoil your day. There will also be people with "SDB" buttons on their coats. These people may also be able to help you with any queries you may have. Remember, we want to ensure you have a good day, but we won't know of any concerns you may have unless you tell us.

If someone has been kind enough to lay on a "Lawn Meet" (i.e. with refreshments) each member of the Field should find out who put on the meet, and thank them.

Children hunting with us.
We are very happy to have children hunting with us, provided they are competent riders, or on lead reins. We like to think we are a very child friendly hunt, and we will do all we can to help the children out with us. However the responsibility for the child and his/her pony lies with the parents; even if you have asked someone else, prior to the meet, to look out for them. Please do not turn up at a meet and expect someone else to take charge of your children. Young children out for the first time really should be accompanied by a mounted adult. Explain to first time children how important it is to stay behind the Field Master, and that above all they must keep out of the hounds. Even if there is no adult to ride with them, there must be responsible adult there with the car followers, who can be contacted in an emergency.

Out Hunting with the Bloodhounds.
The meets during the formal season are at 12 noon and that is the time you should be on your horse and looking for the Secretary. The hounds will usually move off at 12.30 provided there has not been some delay with the Quarries or riders. Hounds are taken to the start of the first hunt (not correct to call it a line - that is a draghunting term) where hounds are laid on. Hounds frequently roar off very enthusiastically, even if they are not truly on the correct line (correct use of the term "line"). The Field Master will wait until the huntsman rides on with the hounds and blows his horn to signal some or all hounds are on the correct line. Only then will the Field (mounted followers) set off in pursuit. The hunts will be quite short at the training meets. Three to five hunts of up to a half a mile long. There will be a break between each hunt, while the Quarry is taken on to the next hunt. As the season progresses, each hunt will get longer and longer, ending up with hunts of usually around three miles long. The Field Master is there to set the pace of the front of the Field - he/she is not there to shepherd the Field as a flock of sheep. People who want to hunt at there own pace may do so, provided they stick to the route of the hunt. If you should not be able to see where the hunt has gone, you should make your way to the nearest public road or bridleway, over land you know the hunt has crossed. That may involve retracing your steps.

It is important that the front of the Field stay behind the Field Master, as he knows where he is permitted to ride. If you are being bolted with, don't worry, just keep to the headland, if it's an arable field, or circle the field if it's grass or stubble until you are back in control. Above all, keep away from the hounds. Sometimes the Field will be going round large arable fields on wide grass headlands.It is essential that the Field stay on these headlands and do not cut the corners. It is every riders duty to not only ensure they stay off the crops, but to also shout at anyone who they see straying from the headland. Sometimes the rider in front will shout "gate please," and it is the duty of the following riders to pass this message back. The last 4 riders through the gate must stop and shut it, even if there are more riders coming on, but are too far away to hear the command. The hunt's good reputation depends on riders following this code of conduct. Jumping is nearly always optional, but sometimes the non jumpers will have to deviate slightly to get round an obstacle. When this is necessary, someone is delegated to show the non jumping route. Masters and Hunt Staff have absolute priority at jumps, after that just make sure you pick a clear space. If you have a refusal, get out of the way quickly and go to the back of the Field before trying again.

It is frequently necessary to use public roads to get from the end of one hunt to the start of the next. It is essential the Field keep up on the roads, riding in pairs. Traffic behind the hunt must be waved on, when the Masters start the process, even if the car behind is a hunt follower. All riders must thank every car for passing the hunt slowly.

From time to time, people fall off - at some point in time that is the inevitable consequence of riding. 99% of these falls will happen without injury to horse or rider. When someone does fall, the Field needs to pay strict attention to the Field Master, if he/she has seen the incident, who will take control of the situation. This will generally follow the pattern of the entire Field coming to a halt and some people going to the aid of the faller. It is not helpful for the entire Field to then stay with the faller. Once sufficient people have been delegated to deal with the faller, usually about 4 with at least one mobile phone, and someone has been delegated to see if they can catch the horse without riding over crops, the rest of the Field should continue to follow the hunt. Of course if you have medical or veterinary qualifications, we hope you would volunteer to help. In most cases, the huntsman will stop the hounds if a) he is aware of the incident and b) it is practical to do so.

If you are unlucky enough to have a fall, pleased don't be embarrassed by it - even Masters of hounds fall off more frequently than they would like to admit!

At the end of the day.
Please remember that a number of people have put in a lot of hard work and expense to make your day with the bloodhounds as pleasurable as possible. Firstly the Quarries who have run all day, frequently in poor weather conditions. A thank you from each member of the Field will not make them feel any less tired and muddy, but it will make them feel appreciated. The Masters and Hunt Staff have also done much work before the day, and will do more clearing up afterwards, so a thank you there is always appreciated.

Of course our biggest debt of gratitude goes to our hosts the landowners and farmers. If they are there on the day, obviously the more thank yous they get, the more appreciated they will feel. But your biggest thank you will be to ride on their land with respect for their crops and fences. If you are unlucky enough to make a mistake, please tell a Master. He or she can then do something about it. Above all, we hope you have enjoyed your day with us.

If you would like to receive our ENews letter by email, pleased send an email to enews@SouthDownsBloodhounds.com with "subscribe" in the subject line. Please note we operate a strict privacy policy; email addresses are never passed on to any other organizations. New riders, and even regular hunters, are advised to check out our etiquette page, which is designed to make everyone's life easier out hunting.