This section is from the book "Hunting: A Manual of Fox, Hare, Stag & Otter Hunting", by J. Otho Paget. Also available from Amazon: Hunting: A Manual of Fox, Hare, Stag & Otter Hunting.
Pessimists tell us that fox-hunting will not last many years ; but as the number of people who hunt increases every season, I do not think we need pay much attention to this doleful view. It may be that this increasing popularity will necessitate the sport being carried on in a different manner, but I do not believe that time has yet arrived, and to anticipate it would be a mistake.
The relations between those who hunt and those who provide the land to be hunted over are occasionally rather strained, but I think things go fairly smoothly as a rule. Sometimes a thoughtless fool forgets that we hunt only by the courtesy of the farmer, and annoys him in some way or does some unnecessary damage ; but most men are fully alive to the privilege they enjoy and do all in their power to avoid friction.
I have heard it said that the farmer ought to encourage hunting because of the money that it brings into the country. The money thus spent may eventually help the sale of some product that the farmer grows ; but it is only one in twenty who feels the direct benefit, and the other nineteen may very likely see their farms more ridden over than the lucky one. You cannot expect a farmer or any other man to appreciate a benefit unless it comes direct, and it is easy to understand his irritation when his fences or crops are damaged. What advantage is it to Giles, who has a grass-farm across which hounds run every week, if his neighbour sells his oats to a hunting-man? Also, how can you expect the farmers to feel thankful because Mr. Croesus the millionaire spends two hundred a week amongst the local shopkeepers, and as much more in wages ? Of course, every one benefits indirectly, and the farmer amongst others ; but still the fact remains, that he sees the actual loss by damage and does not see the gain to himself. The question is really more national than local, and were hunting to be stopped to-morrow, the amount of money that would go abroad would be enormous—money which now is spent in England.
Now that we are on the topic of farmers, I will take the opportunity of making a few observations which I hope may help the beginner to avoid all friction with those who occupy the land. Farming, you must remember, in the best of times is never very remunerative, and the man who is losing money is apt to be irritable. Take every possible precaution not to give offence, and be always courteous in addressing those who are in any way connected with the land. It might be argued that no man with pretensions to be a gentleman would act otherwise, but unfortunately, in the heat and excitement of a run we sometimes do not study our speech. I have often seen an occupier of the land holding his gate open whilst men galloped through without turning their heads or murmuring a word of thanks, and amongst the crowd are generally many women. A man will often also curse the farmer who is standing on his own land because he does not get out of the way quick enough. The men who do these things have the most perfect manners in the ordinary moments of life, but hunting either drives them mad with excitement or makes them sick with funk, and in either case they know not what they do. Habit is everything ; and you who are just beginning your hunting career would do well to acquire a habit of controlling your speech in moments of excitement, and of returning thanks to those who do you the slightest service. If the man who holds the gate open for you is a labourer or a child, a small piece of silver or copper should always be in a handy pocket ready to fling them as you gallop through; but if there is not time for the coin, you can always say ' thank you.' These are the trifles on which much depends, and a close observance of such little things will avoid difficulties which, when they once arise, are not easily smoothed away again. If you happen to break a rail or a gate, and you can remember where it is, pay for it at once or get the carpenter of the village to mend it. Never let stock out into the road, and always close a gate. On your way home from hunting, you may perhaps meet some stock on the road that have evidently been let out by some follower of the hounds. You are quite certain it was not you, because you jumped in and out of that same road, and now, wanting to get home, feel inclined to pass by on the other side. Allow me to observe, it is your duty to turn that stock through the first gate you can find, and though it may not be their proper field, it will prevent them wandering miles away. The farmer or his man goes round his fields in the evening to count the stock, and if they are not there, you can imagine how annoying it must be to walk miles to find them. Cows have premature calves, cart-colts lame themselves, and sheep run headlong into pits. These are all things that may happen through your not exercising a little care. I may say here that, if you feel that you are the direct cause of any mishap to a farmer's property, you should at once take steps to repair the injury, and not leave it to be done by the hunt. Farmers appreciate acts of this kind, and it gives them confidence when they see you take the trouble to make good the damage you have done, without obliging them to put in a claim.
With regard to the different crops that it is possible to damage,1 I should say that new seeds are the most likely to be injured by being ridden over, then beans, tares, and last of all, wheat. Many people think that wheat is not hurt by horses trampling it down, and I am certain no harm is done to it in moderately dry weather ; but no farmer likes to see hoof-marks across a field that is newly sown, and we must study his feelings. Old turf does not suffer from being ridden over, except late in March when the ground is wet, and then the marks will never disappear all summer. If it is an early spring, masters would do well to stop hunting a week or two before the usual time, and make it up by beginning sooner the next season. The ground is generally very hard at the end of March, and then not much harm is done ; but if there should come a heavy rain, one day's hunting under these circumstances will cause more friction than a whole season. The beginning of April ought always to see the end of the season, whatever the weather may be, for the farmer wants to mend his gaps, roll his meadows, and set everything ready to grow when the summer comes.
1 Yes ! The damage done to both farmers' stock and crops by thoughtless persons is often considerable.—Eds.