Drag hunting and hunting with bloodhounds is a sport in which a pack of hounds follow either an artificially laid scent or the scent of a human over a predetermined route. Most draghound and bloodhound packs are registered with the Masters of Draghounds and Bloodhounds Association (MDBA).
Drag hunting, or draghunting, originally developed in the UK in the early 1800s as a means of testing the speed and agility of hounds by laying a scent trail over a specified distance. This, in turn, encouraged the practice of following the hounds on horseback. In the UK, there are currently thirteen draghound packs - comprising mainly English foxhounds - registered with the MDBA.
The "quarry" of the draghounds is a "drag", which is normally a piece of absorbent material to which the scent is applied and laid across the ground by a rider or a runner. Scent is repeatedly applied to the drag en route, and a variety of scents are currently used by the different drag hunts. Most of the scents used incorporate human or animal urine of some origin mixed with aniseed, while others consist of a chemical crystal mixed with water and oil.
A drag hunt is similar in nature to a fast cross-country ride and takes place over a predetermined course, or line, and is designed for fast rides over designated jumps and obstacles. The "line layer" or "drag man" will set off about ten to thirty minutes before the hunt and at the end of the line, which could be a distance of three to six miles, the drag will then be lifted so that the hunt can stop to rest before setting off again a short while later. In general, between three and eight lines would be laid during the day covering a distance of ten to twenty miles. The lines would be laid according to a route agreed in advance with the landowners. The route need not be known by the followers although the huntsman and field master would have an idea of the proposed course. As there are no long periods spent "casting" or looking for live quarry, drag hunts usually last about three hours.
Bloodhound packs hunt human scent and follow the scent of a runner or the "clean boot". The way the hunt is organised is virtually identical to that of a drag hunt although it is usually slower and less ground is covered. There may be two or three runners out during the hunting day. There are currently thirteen bloodhound packs registered with the MDBA.
Drag hunting and hunting the clean boot existed long before the passing of the Hunting Act 2004, and is fundamentally different to trail hunting.
Sandhurst College & Royal Military Academy Drag Hunts is one of the oldest drag hunts in the country. The Staff College Drag Hunt was established in 1869 as a private pack which drag hunted twice a week in the area surrounding Camberley. It was later joined by the RMA Sandhurst and thus the Staff College and RMA SC & RMAS Drag Hunt was formed, which celebrated its 145th year in 2014.
The first point-to-point was held in 1887, with the finish on the lawns in front of Staff College. The then Adjutant-General said that he considered the drag to be a most important part of the curriculum and that the chances of a good staff job were slim unless you rode hard with the drag!
What is drag hunting?
There are two ways to lay a scent. Firstly, bloodhounds have an amazing ability to follow a scent and will simply track a human - this is known as "hunting the clean boot". Secondly, a runner is used to lay a scent about 20 minutes in advance of the hunt. A chemical crystal, mixed with water and oil, is used. The runner simply dips a cloth in the scent mixture and drags it along the ground behind them. The scent is repulsive to humans, but the hounds are trained on this scent and it prevents hounds from chasing foxes or deer should they cross their path.
What is the difference between drag hunts that use foxhounds and those that use bloodhounds?
Drag hunts use a variety of hounds, including foxhounds and bloodhounds. Bloodhounds track a human runner while others are trained to follow a chemical scent.
Who is in charge during a drag hunt?
There is a field master who leads the riders, a huntsman and several whippers-in who are in control of the hounds. Hunt staff wear traditional red coats and other traditional, hunt associated, attire.
Who is drag hunting suitable for?
Drag hunting involves jumping. There is no lower age limit, and if a child or teenager is capable of safely handling a sharp gallop and some cross-country jumping, then they will be welcomed. However, some days are more strenuous than others, so it's worth contacting the hunt secretary to decide on a day that suits your ability. Contrary to popular belief, drag hunting is conducted at a sensible pace, and the routes are planned with loops and checks to ensure it is not simply a mad dash in a straight line across the country. They usually have a second field master out to show the way for novices and first-timers. A day's drag hunting often consists of three or four lines of approximately two miles each. There will often be between 30 and 50 fences to jump during the day. Horses and riders usually need to be fitter and should have carried out sufficient fitness preparation to ensure that the day does not unnecessarily exert either of you.
How many hounds are there?
The Staff College and RMAS Drag Hunt uses eight couple (pairs); other drag hunts use up to 15. The packs are smaller than those used for fox hunts, which usually use 17 couple.
How are the hounds trained to follow the scent?
In the same ways that fox hunters train their hounds on fox scent, drag hunts train their hounds on synthetic scents. It’s in the dogs nature to pick up and follow a scent, and it's up to those responsible for their training to use a scent other than fox urine, which is used by the "blood hunters".
What happens if the dogs pick up the scent of a fox or deer?
Hounds are trained on synthetic scents and therefore do not chase foxes or deer.
What sort of horse do you need?
Most drag hunters have their own horses, although some hunts may be able to put you in touch with riding schools that can hire your mount for the day. Horses and riders must be comfortable jumping fences of up to around 4ft, although, the field master will warn you about compulsory fences before each line and give you the opportunity to avoid them.
How is a drag hunting day usually structured?
The day is often divided into three or four lines. The hunt meets and then often hacks to the start of the first line. On the signal from the master, the hounds are unleashed. Once they are moving, the hunt follows a prearranged course, with built or natural fences, for up to a few miles. At the end of the line, there is often a pause to allow the riders to retrench, followed by a short hack to the start of the next line.
What drag hunting etiquette should I know about?
First and foremost: stay behind the field master. Overtaking him is a serious offence and could put the hounds in danger.
This is a Clean Boot Hunt where a runner is used and the hounds follow a human scent.