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.
An approaching storm will destroy scent, and when the squall has passed it will be as good as ever again. We know that the fermentation of milk is caused by a bacillus, and yet a thunderstorm will cause milk to turn sour in a few minutes. May not the scent be swallowed up by the numerous bacteria in the air, and may not the storm hasten that result in the same way it does with milk ? The writer of An Essay on Hunting (already referred to) has brought the suggestion into my mind, and I must therefore give him the credit. His chapter on scent should be read by those interested in the subject.
It is impossible to lav down fixed rules for any one's guidance in hunting, as one cannot foresee the circumstances that will arise or the events that have led up to a particular point; but there are certain general principles to work upon, and beyond these the beginner must use his own judgment. In making a cast, the huntsman, if there is no master, should first of all beg his field to stand still, and he should then proceed at a pace justified by the scent before the check. He should not go so fast that hounds cannot try as they go, and when one or two stop to feather, he should not allow his whip to drive them on. You may gallop hounds across a scent without them ever knowing it was there, and unless as a last resource you are casting to a point some distance away, it is a good rule never to take hounds off their noses. Always let the pack make their own cast first, unless they are doing it among the horses or where the people have been riding about, and then get them on clean ground at once. It is better not to cast too wide at first, as the greater the radius of your semi-circle, the longer it will take for you to make it. A forward cast is desirable, because if the fox has turned aside to avoid a man, or for some other reason, and he is one of the straight-necked sort, he is certain to resume his original direction. When hounds come to a drain or earth and seem inclined to stop, hold them forward, because if you do not hit the line again, you can always come back. A fox will often go into an earth and come out again, finding it too hot to be pleasant, and will also go through a drain, coming out at the other end. Therefore it behoves you to make your ground good forward, before you decide that your fox has stopped. When you do run to ground, get off your horse, stay some little time, and cheer your hounds to bay him. Of course, if you can get him out, do it by all means, and when you have had a fairly long run, see that he does not escape. Your field's desire for a kill has cooled down, and they will be for letting the fox get away, but you must think of your hounds and not attend to the cry for mercy.
Unless a huntsman rides up to his pack, he will often miss seeing the cause that made them check, and will consequently be at a disadvantage. There are a great many people who go out hunting who never know whether hounds have the scent or not, and if the huntsman is not there, they will press them far beyond where they have had the line. Those men whose ambition takes them into the front rank, ought to watch the leading hounds as carefully as the man who hunts them, and pull up at the slightest hesitation. If this were always done, we should enjoy many good runs which are now spoiled by the whole field galloping over the line, led on by the thoughtless man in front.
In making a cast I like to see the huntsman have his pack abreast and outside him, not following on at his heels, for his horse will destroy the scent as much as any other. They will soon learn to understand and obey a wave of the arm, and should work for you like a well-broken setter. Whips are too fond of hurrying the pack after the huntsman when he is casting, and they seem to think a hound ought to find the scent without ever stooping his head. When hounds are being cast, they should be spread out in open order, so that each has a piece of fresh ground to try on. A whip should use his own common sense, and when he sees a hound stopping behind the others, apparently busy puzzling something out, he should give him time to make certain. This latter remark applies only to the occasion when the huntsman is casting round to cross the scent, not to when he is holding them forward.
With a fair pack of hounds, a good scent and a straight fox, the work of a huntsman is comparatively light, but it is not often these conditions are met with on the same day. It is in the case of a failing scent, a fox that is a long way ahead, and over fields dotted with cattle, that the huntsman with genius comes to the front. The moderate man gets farther and farther behind his fox until he has to give it up, whilst a master of the craft is ever pushing on, until at last his skill and cunning reach a triumphant conclusion.
Amongst those who have not studied the subject, there has grown up an idea which is utterly opposed to the true principles of fox-hunting. The idea is that a fox should be hunted to death, which of course is quite wrong. A foxhound should never be allowed to hunt, when there is a chance of him running or of getting him nearer to his fox. This erroneous impression is not a thing of recent birth, but has been handed down by some old fox-hunter who began life by following the hare, and who could never forget his early training. This old fellow posed as an authority, and the false gospel he preached has disciples even to this day. To better define the two sports, we should speak of them as hare-hunting and fox-running. Slow hunting and the puzzling out of a line is very pretty to watch, but those who want to see it should go out with hare-hounds, and not wish to debase the foxhound's character. The principle of fox-hunting is to get away after your fox as quickly as you can, and to use every means in your power to keep near him. The huntsman should start off as soon as there is five or six couple on the line, and if he keeps his horn going, the rest will quickly catch him up. There are some men who like to wait till all the hounds are out of covert and then lay them on, but that to me savours too much of the old hare-hunter. The first man who understood the principles of fox-hunting, recognising the difference of the two pursuits, and recording it in his immortal work, was Peter Beckford. I will quote you a passage from his book to show that my ideas of the way the game should be played are in accordance with this great authority. He says : ' A pack of harriers will kill a cub, better perhaps than a pack of foxhounds ; but when foxes are strong they have not the method of getting on with the scent which foxhounds have, and generally tire themselves before the fox. To kill foxes when they are strong, hounds must run as well as hunt: besides, catching a fox by hard running is always preferred in the opinion of a fox-hunter.' Then he goes on to say that he considers fox-hunting ought to be a ' lively, animated, and eager pursuit'; and again, that ' eagerness and impetuosity are such essential parts of this diversion, that i am never more surprised than when i see a fox-hunter without them.' There are many other passages which i could quote, but every one who is interested in hunting should himself read the book. Beckford no doubt chronicled his own opinions and ideas, but they must have been shared by other well-known authorities of the period ; so that when we refer to the hare-hunting style as the method of hunting a fox in ancient days, we are making a mistake and casting a slur on our ancestors.