“The structure of most hunts is surprisingly democratic… the Hunt Committee appoints the Mastership, and it has the power to dismiss Masters if they prove unsatisfactory”.
The Committee – elected by subscribers (paid up members of the hunt), responsible for the overall policy of the hunt organisers of fundraising events like the annual hunt ball and appointers of the master/s of the hunt. They also deal with paying hunt servant wages, buying food for the hounds, maintaining the hunt premises and equipment and paying for any damage don to non-hunt property. Most hunts have ultimate authority vested in the Hunt Chairman and Committee
Hunt Secretary – responsible for calling committee meetings, liaising with the masters, collecting subscriptions and dealing with financial issues relating to the hunt, including the payment of the wages – the key person in the management and day-to-day running of the hunt
Master – ultimately responsible for overall management and conduct of the hunt, often there are joint-masters to share the responsibility. Also responsible for liaising with farmers and other landowners for permission to meet and use land – different masters will often have different areas which they are responsible for. Hunt servants act on their orders
Field Master – The field master is in charge of the field (those people who follow on horseback) and their function is to stop the field over-running the hounds or hindering the hounds while they work, preventing the field going to areas where access has been refused and minimising damage to crops and fences. The masters are directly responsible to the hunt committee
Huntsman – may be a master of the hunt or a professional huntsman, he is a paid hunt servant who has responsibility for controlling the hounds during the day, assisted by the whippers-in. The huntsman is usually the only one to use a hunting horn (though some packs we go to have whippers-in with hunting horns, ‘just in case’).
Kennel Huntsman – responsible for the hounds in kennels, for feeding and exercising them, etc. A professional huntsman is his / her own kennel huntsman but if the master hunts the hounds the hounds themselves a kennel huntsman is employed – normally they are also the whipper-in
Whippers-in – hunt servants who assist the huntsman in controlling the hounds and also looking after the hounds in the kennels. They keep count of the hounds out hunting, keeping them away from roads, railways and ‘whipping them back’ when they give chase to someone they’re not supposed to and helping to gather up hounds that have become separated from the pack
The Field – mounted followers who pay to ride out with the hunt – they must stay behind the Field Master for the day and tend not to be involved in hunting activity more than being a spectator
Foot and Car Followers – follow on foot or by car, motorbike or bike. They pay a daily cap to the hunt so that they can follow and watch
Terriermen – terriermen are so called because they have terriers (and spades, nets, locators) with them who can locate a fox who has ‘gone to ground’, often to be dug-out and shot, flushed to be hunted again or occasionally thrown to the hounds. They would be employed by the hunt and often stop / block earths and setts prior to the start of the hunt
In most cases the hounds, the hunt kennels, stables and probably cottages for the staff belong to the hunt. The exceptions are mainly family packs, such as the Duke of Beaufort’s Hunt, where the hounds belong to the current head of the family.
The ‘Hunting Year’ starts on May 1st when any new masters or hunt staff begin their duties – the new Mastership are appointed or the existing ones start the next 12 months in office. The Summer is usually a busy time for the hunt when they might go to puppy shows, hound shows and so on. The actual hunting part of the year tends to be determined by the harvest.
Autumn Hunting / Cubbing / Cub-hunting – this begins in many parts of the country around the end of August and continues until the main season. Meets will be early in the morning or late in the afternoon to evening so it is cool enough that scent will not evaporate and will take place several times a week. Hunts will usually finish by midday during Autumn Hunting
The Main Season – the official start of the season for foxhunting is at the beginning of November – the Ross Harriers hunt usually have their opening meet around the 2nd week of October. Meets will usually happen around 11am, later if there is frost and ice on the ground or it is very foggy… The Boxing Day meet is a big event, the meet held publicly. The end of the season differs across the country – in our area hunts will pack up at various times during March
During the main season, which begins around the start of November, most hunts will meet around 11am and can carry on until dark. Some hunts will change horses about halfway through the day so that horses aren’t overworked. The Masters of a hunt make decisions about where to hunt, when to pack up and so on, getting permission from farmers and other landowners and the meets will have been arranged by them.
Mounted hunt followers might hack (ride) to the meets or drive there. Where they un-box the horses isn’t always at or next to the meet.
A Master will usually make announcements at the beginning of the meet, thanking landowners and the hosts of a meet and briefly explaining the day. Food and drink is often served by the hosts, some riders (and even hunt staff) occasionally having a little too much to drink before setting off! The hunt secretary is often about, taking a Cap from followers for the day.
The Hunting Day
The general ‘running order’ for a hunt is:
quarry —> hounds —> huntsman —> masters —> supporters
The huntsman will be assisted by whippers-in who help to keep hounds under control, away from roads and railways and stop them if they ‘riot’ (i.e. chase someone they’re not supposed to). The Masters keep an eye on everything, the Field Master being in charge of the mounted support (called ‘The Field’). The Masters organise the hunt and talk to landowners, getting permission for the hunt to go on land and so on and the Field Master is responsible for ensuring the Field stick to where they are supposed to be and leads the group.
Followers can also come out on foot or in cars, on bikes or motorbikes. Someone in a ratcatcher (tweed jacket) with a white armband is someone whose responsibility is to ensure gates are shut.
Riders should put a green ribbon on the tail of their horse if they are a young or inexperienced horse. A red ribbon shows that the horse might kick.