SUBSTITUTES FOR HUNTING
[To the Editor of the SPECTATOR.]
Sra,—A visit to Exmoor for the spring staghunting brings it home that, whether one likes it tir not, the fact has to be faced that the hunting of a deer to death is not in con- sonance with the trend of our feelings to-day.
But it is all very well for those people to abuse hunting who have never had the opportunity or the inclination to ride to hounds. There are few who have had the chance of the experience who would not say that a gallop after hounds is one of the most thrilling things that life has to offer. One asks, therefore, whether there is any alternative form of the chase which can be organized without 'our having to stifle our humane feelings.
The drag-hunt, or the paper chase as practised in India, are not satisfactory substitutes. The pace is too hot for any but the hardest riders, because inevitably a drag becomes a sort of steeplechase, and it is over too soon. The require- ments of a hunt, as opposed to a gallop over a set course, seem to be : uncertainty of line to give scope for judgmient in riding, uncertainty of pace and the chance of a check to give a breather to the field, and uncertainty as to the finish to give zest to the pursuit. Can ingenuity devise any kind of trail that would, in part at any rate, meet these requirements ?
Riding to bloodhounds on a cold drag has been tried but has never become an established sport, although it may point the way. The simplest method would seem to be the release of an animal with strong homing instincts that would take its own line and leave a scent to be worked out. True, we should even then lose something of the interest of hound- work, but there would still be some skill in handling hounds, and from the riders' standpoint the requirements would be more or less fulfilled. The possibilities are illustrated by the authenticated case of a cur, anointed with aniseed, that, unknown to master and field, gave a glorious run to an Irish pack. But the quest for such an obliging species of quadruped is probably futile.
There remains the possibility of utilizing the cunning of a human quarry, who would endeavour under certain rules to lay a trail which would outwit the pursuers. For a start, at any rate, it should be more strenuous and require bolder riding than the ordinary hunt, in order to give it prestige. The innovation is probably less unlikely than it might appear. So rapid is the change of feeling once a sport is suppressed, that in a very short time the killing of the quarry would probably be looked upon as barbarous.
The idea could probably only be worked out by experi- ment, and the experiment could only be tried by some humanitarian enthusiast for hunting. It is not likely to be tried so long as the hunting of an animal is allowed by law and public opinion. But there is at least the probability that if hunting an animal were banned, some alternative form of chase might be adopted, especially if it had features which attracted the finest horsemen and was taken up by a few people of fashion.
Law follows public opinion, but public opinion also follows law. To a few of us, for instance, the shooting of a trapped pigeon was always abhorrent ; but not until it was pro- hibited by law a few years ago would a sportsman's paper have denounced it as disgusting and only fit for unsports- manlike foreigners.—! am, Sir, &c., LOVER OF RIDING.