Archibald Hamilton.

The red deer of Exmoor, with notes on those who hunted them, from Robert D'Auberville, 1070, to Robert Arthur Sanders, 1906 online

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Online LibraryArchibald HamiltonThe red deer of Exmoor, with notes on those who hunted them, from Robert D'Auberville, 1070, to Robert Arthur Sanders, 1906 → online text (page 6 of 22)
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other hounds are ahead. It. happened from a meet


at Cloutsham in October, 1905, that hounds ran
fairly fast through covert on a somewhat catchy
scent round by Pool Bridge and Bell Wood, and
came back into Horner on two or three lines. The
whole covert was alive with deer — it always is in
October — and affairs looked hopeless, when word
was brought that two tufters had slipped away with
the hunted stag across the vale by Luccombe to
Selworthy about half-an-hour before.

The pack was laid on at least three-quarters of an
hour behind them, and made very slow work of it
through Sir Thomas Acland's ilex woods, but
quickened up a bit as they ran to Tivington. The
stunted furze on Grabhurst reduced us to a walk —
and a slow one at that. In the Dunster Coverts we
picked up one of the tufters, and, running on by
Monkham Wood, came on the other working the
water which runs down to Roadwater. A long and
patient cast beside the stream was rewarded with a
fast ten minutes and a fighting kill by Chargot — a
big stag with one of the best heads of the season.
It was a beautifully patient bit of hound work lasting
for hours, and only wanted pace to have made it
perfect. It was about 11.30 when that stag was
found, and it was pitch dark as we crossed Lype
Common on our way home.



The hunt is up, the morn is bright and gay,

The fields are fragrant and the woods are green. —

Shakespeare {Titus Androiiicus).

When once the tufters are stopped the sooner the
pack is brought on the better, and it is now the
practice to signal for it, instead of the huntsman or
whip, as the case may be, galloping back to fetch it.
This saves much time and much unnecessary wear
and tear of horseflesh, a matter needing consideration
when hounds are running hard four days a week.

The moment the horn or whistle is heard and the
cry of " Gone away," the appearance of lassitude
and indifference which strikes a visitor as charac-
terising a Devon and Somerset field is at an end, and
everyone tears after the pack at top speed. There
is, indeed, more haste as a rule than there is any
necessity for. Huntsman and Master have to
change horses, and if riders have to pass any obstacle
like a hunting gate or an awkward crossing in a combe,
the Master always gives them a chance. If a rider
gets left at the start it is more or less his own fault
nine times out of ten, but when once hounds begin


to run on the open, on a day when there is a scent,
there is no time to hang about, for it takes the speed
of a really good horse to keep up with them. Much
has been written, and many have been the discus-
sions, as to the need for giving a stag plenty of
*'law" — plenty of time to make his point without
being unduly rattled. It is a difficult problem. It
stands to reason that to clap the pack on ten yards
behind a fat old stag will be to bustle him so fast at
first that he will be utterly blown, and collapse in a
very short time. But the necessity for giving law is
very greatly exaggerated, as stags on the forest fre-
quently run well for an hour or more when the tufters
have started close to them, and give a run with the
pack after that.

All a stag wants is a couple of minutes to stand
still, look about him, shake himself, and otherwise
attend to his creature comforts before settling down
to run. This his pace is always sufficient to gain for
him whenever he wants it, if he is given anything
like a fair chance. To a stag which has been roused
by tufters, and has been running in covert for some
time before facing the open, law is unnecessary.

The stopping of the tufters and the bringing on of
the pack always takes some time. The quickest lay
on is generally from Cloutsham, when a. stag found
in Sweet Tree goes away for the moor ; but even
then it may be doubted whether the interval between
stopping the tufters and laying on the pack is ever
less than ten minutes, which is considered ample law


























for a carted deer who has been shaken up in a van
for an hour or two. As a rule the start a stag gets is
nearly twenty minutes, and on occasion much more.

The idea that by giving a deer a long law he gets
a long start, and that consequently a better run is
likely to result, is not as a rule borne out by the facts,
though occasionally it may be so. A stag either
goes to look for a herd he knows of, or he loiters
about in the next combe, and only begins to run
when hounds are right on top of him. It has been
noticed times and again that some of the best runs
that have ever taken place have been after deer that
hung about at every opportunity and never got far
away from hounds.

Mr. Basset, in 1888, drew Beara Wood with the
pack, and roused a big stag with three on top on
each side. Half the pack were out of covert
absolutely on his haunches, coursing him in view
over the first field. Hounds were stopped and got
together and let go again on Whitfield Down, and
we sat down to ride, for there was a breast-high
scent. The huntsman, Arthur Heal, led, followed
by four ladies, the Duchess of Hamilton, the Hon.
Mrs. T. Fitzwilliam and her sister, Miss Kinglake
(now Mrs. W. A. Harford), and Mrs. Bellew, and
close behind them half a dozen men, while after that
the field was tailed out for miles. Hounds ran on
without a check over Exe Plain across Badgworthy,
and right away to Horner, and as the leading horse-
men topped each ridge on the moor there was the



stag, with hounds not far behind him, on the ridge
in front, and an ever-increasing interval between the
leading horseman and the tail hound. This gallant
stag stood to bay where a fender runs across Horner
Stream, just above the Mill, in one hour and forty
minutes from the find, the distance being nineteen
miles. Fourteen sorely blown horses were gathered
round, and it was a good ten minutes before another
horse came up. He was a fighting stag who knocked
hounds about a good deal, and that veteran stag-
hunter, Sir William Karslake, who had gone well up
throughout, had a narrow escape from injury in a
gallant attempt to capture him. This deer certainly
did not have more than five or six minutes' law.

Another remarkable instance of how a deer that
seems inclined to hang about can go when bustled is
afforded by the great Hawkridge run to Glenthorne,
September 14th, 1899 The stag was pressed
sharply bv the tufters, but the moment they w^ere
stopped he went down to the Barle and soiled,
trotted leisurely over Ash way Ham, soiled again,
went on to Tarr Steps, following the water some way,
and in the covert above Tarr Steps lay fast till
hounds were right up to him. Even then, though
scent w^as of the best, he did not seem in a hurry, for
he went up to Lord's Plantation, looking for other
deer, but, finding none, he went away, only just in
front of hounds, over Withypool Common, and soiled
in the big pool by Sherdon Hutch.

He only left the water when hounds were close to


him, and though he made a rather cunning double at
the top end of Cornham Brake, and ran down the
little watercourse till he was clear of the covert
before he broke away for Dure Down, he did not get
three minutes' start, and from that point to the Cleeve
above Lynmouth it was a race the whole way. We
had a check here which must have lasted five-and-
twenty minutes, and had to hunt the water for some
way up from Waters' Meet and lead our weary horses
up a heart-breaking path to Countisbury Common,
and even then the stag was reported only about ten
minutes ahead of us, so that he must have taken
matters very easily in the Lyn Valley. From Coun-
tisbury he ran the cliff path to Glenthorne, where he
was killed, only nine horses being at the finish.

In riding to staghounds on Exmoor, or in any of
the wild country round, it is impossible for anyone to
keep as close to hounds when they run fast as he
would wish to do ; but it is still necessary to keep
command of hounds, and be ready to get to them in
an instant. Sidne) Tucker, the present huntsman,
a light weight, a bold horseman, and with an
unequalled knowledge of the ground, seems to be
able to go almost everywhere his hounds can go, a
feat not lightly to be attempted by the uninitiated,
and yet all the while he is looking ahead for what is
his chief source of difficulty — fresh deer. So long
as the pack are running well over the open it is all
plain sailing ; but there are favourite haunts of the
deer, and one or other of these a hunted stag rarely

G 2


fails to visit, and in such spots as Clannacombe,
Woodcock Combe, or Bincombe rarely fails to put up
a substitute. Then, and not till then, the huntsman
is wanted. He will watch the rising ground opposite
to see if he can see the fresh deer — hinds in all
probability — and will gallop on to get a look up and
down the water in the valley. Then will be the time
to notice whether the same hound brings the line out
of the little combe who was leading when they ran
in. The hunted stag may have lain down — he may
have gone on in company with the fresh deer, or he
may have soiled in the river and gone down stream,
landing again lower down to turn out more fresh
deer. Such are the problems which present them-
selves to the huntsman at every turn, and he has to
make up his mind quickly, for an eager field is already
arriving on the spot — a field of whom a large portion
will only partly appreciate the difficulty ; and another
portion is desperately afraid of being left behind, and
so is doubly keen to get forward at a check.

Next to fresh deer, water is the greatest difficulty
a huntsman has to contend with, and it is in working
the water that he can sometimes show the highest
skill. Every hunted stag is certain sooner or later to
" soil " or come to water, if he can find any, but the
ways in which deer utilise the water to throw off pursuit
are many and various, depending much on whether
the stag is, to use the local expression, "properly
run up " or not. If he is, he probably blunders pain-
fully down the stream till he comes to some deep


water, and there either lies down or stands panting
till his enemies catch a view of him. It is the stag
who, without being blown or exhausted, has run just
enough to make him think it is time he dodged his
foes who gives the most trouble. If he can put up
fresh deer close to the water he is exceedingly likely
to go to the stream on the same line as the fresh
deer, who will probably have gone across, and go
down steam, leavino; the fresh deer to draw on the

A deer will usually follow a stream in the direction
in which it is going w'hen he takes to the v/ater, but
it is a favourite trick to go only a little way up or
down, land and run a ring on shore, and, coming to
the water again, go in the other direction. This
probably induces a long cast up or down stream. In
casting along the water side it is well to keep some
hounds on each side and some in the stream, for
scent may often be found on an overhanging bough
or on a stone.

Those who are riding by the water when hounds
are being cast along it should keep a vigilant eye on
all the dark corners under the bank, for a deer will
lie still with nothing but his nose above water, and
let hounds go close by him. Hinds are peculiarly
clever at this, and the time they can remain sub-
merged in an icy-cold stream is something extra-
ordinary. This stratagem, when restored to by
beaten deer, means, if unsuccessful, a kill in a few
minutes, as they rapidly become stiff in the water.


It is wonderful what a long way a deer will go down
the water without leaving a trace of scent, if there is
a strong stream running ; so if there is good ground
for supposing the deer to have gone down, it is never
safe to leave off casting till some obstacle, such as
poles across the stream, is reached, which will either
cause the deer to land or is likely to carry a scent if
he has gone over. The old hounds get very clever at
water work, and they will swim along by a pole,
trying for scent all the way. It is related of old
Sailor, in Lord Ebrington's mastership, that he
walked out along a pole to wind a splash on it, gave
tongue loudly, and then fell souse into the river.

Much can be learned from splashes, for a splash
on a stone may tell whether the deer has passed.
In casting in the water the whip, or a trusty helper,
should gallop on, watching the stream carefully all
the way, to try for a view or to note other signs.
He will notice splashes on stones before any fresh
ones can be made by hounds. He may notice fish
rising steadily in a flat pool, from which he may safely
infer the stag has not gone through it very recently.
A heron may be standing fishing — a fairly sure sign,
but not absolutely to be relied on, that the deer has
not gone there^ — -wild duck quietly swimming on the
stream is a much surer sign. With luck he may
come upon the stag himself, or the wet splashes on
the bank where he has shaken himself on quitting the

It is doubtful whether a hunted stag which has been


running twenty minutes or more ever, unless hounds
are actually close on him, crosses a watercourse
without availing himself of it in some way either to
refresh himself or to embarrass the pursuers. A roll
in a clear stream seems to put new life into him
'' when heated in the chase."

By the way, this hymn, " As pants the hart for
cooling streams," which used to be regularly sung in
every church in the district on the first Sunday in
the staghunting season, is a curious instance of the
way in which hunting allusions and expressions crept
into our best literature from the time of Chaucer
downwards. David knew nothing about the hart
being heated in the chase. He wrote, " Like as the
hart desireth the water brooks, so longeth my soul."
In a hot, arid country this would be " understanded
of the people," but hardly in England, so the words
"when heated in the chase " were inserted by Tate
and Brady in their version, published somewhere
about 1700. Staghunting was common in many
parts of England then, and the reverend poets lived
at Richmond, where at that time the Royal Buck-
hounds hunted regularly, and where they must often
have seen deer soil in the Thames and the Penn

That no watercourse is too small for a deer to use
was shown in the big run from the Punchbowl last
year, when the stag on Molland Common, coming at
right angles to the little water carrier, not more than
a foot wide and only an inch or two deep, which


supplies Lyshwell Farm, ran up it for about two
hundred yards before pursuing his original course.

Sheep do not as a rule trouble the huntsman much
on the open moor — in fact, they frequently assist
him, for they pack together the moment they see a
deer, and afford an indication as to which way he has
gone. Although in an inclosed country they may
follow a deer across a field, they do not attempt to
follow one in the open for more than a few yards, so
that, even if hounds find them on the line, a cast
forw^ard will always put matters right.

With ponies the case is different. They also will
turn and watch a deer without following him ; but, if
he can find the ponies on the move, a stag has often
been seen to follow them. We had an instance of
this in 1903 with a stag which had run through
Woolhanger, and gone away upwards towards
Chapman's Barrows. The wTiter only beheld from
afar off, but some of those who were nearer affirmed
that the stag drove the ponies in front of him.

No one knows better than the hunted stag whether
there is a scent or whether there is none, and he
behaves accordingly. When hounds can only just
hunt the line at a slow pace the huntsman's task is
indeed a trying one, for the stag has then ample time
to go whither he is minded to look for other deer,
and to employ the thousand and one artifices of
which he is a master to delay the hounds, who, nine
times out of ten, are being pushed forward by an all
too eager field. It is on such occasions that the


stag treats us to an exhibition of cunning of the
highest order, and the huntsman shows us that
hounds can hunt as well as run. In the course of
the season 1905, hounds ran a stag from Horner at
a fair hunting pace, by way of Chettisford Water, to
Three Combes Foot and checked. They hit the line
beside the bank and fence which separates Lark-
barrow from Acmead, and ran it right up to the
Alderman's Barrow Road. Here the deer had turned
away and run parallel to the road nearly to Alder-
man's Barrow, where, after running a big figure of
eight, he doubled back on his tracks, and, clearing
the fence with a bound, went away to Swap Hill.
As luck would have it the field had crossed the fence
lower down to avoid the bad ground, and had ridden
on into the road ; consequently there were no horses
to foil the ground close behind hounds, which worked
out the figure of eight in faultless style, carried the
line back to the fence, and, to use the words of
Shakespeare, " picked the cold fault cleanly out."

They would never have carried it back through a
hundred horses, and much time would have been lost
in fruitless casts, even if the line had been recovered
at all.

When hounds are hunting slowly or casting in the
open, much harm can be done by the wings of the
field pushing forward, so that the field is like a half-
moon, A cast forward is, it is true, even more
generally successful with a stag than with a fox, but it
is just on these occosions, when hounds can only


hunt at a foot's pace, and when there cannot be any-
possible need for hurry, that a cunning stag will
break back or away to one side, and if the huntsman
finds it necessary to cast right or left handed he has
to do so through a crowd of horses.

A beaten stag will lie down or " quat " (the old and
still locally used term) just like a hare, and trust to
hounds overrunning him. Especially will he do this
after soiling, well knowing that if hounds miss mark-
ing where he left the stream they will probably work
the water for a long way. A patch of blackberry
bushes is a favourite place to quat in, and the stag
will sometimes reach the desired spot by a huge
sideways leap. A stag did this, and put hounds off
for half an hour or more close to Horner Mill many-
years ago, jumping right over Lord Ebrington, when
a hound at last pushed him out. On another occasion
hounds were running over the enclosed country
between Willet and Huish Champflower, a strongly-
enclosed district with big banks, each carrying a
high thick growth on the top. Hounds checked in
the middle of a field, and could make nothing of it.
They tried round for nearly an hour, and at last, as
they were being trotted across the same field where
they threw up, a hound began to feather on what was
obviously the heel line. He ran back to the fence
where hounds had come over, slowly climbed the
bank and pushed his way along the top, and there,
right on the top of the bank, amidst the thick growth,
was the stag. We raced him nearly down to Huish


Champflower, and killed him just as it got dark.
He must have run to the middle of the field, and
backed it on his own foil to the fence.

Guillaume Bude, or Budaens, who wrote in 1467,
when speaking of the ruses of a stag to get rid of
hounds, relates a story told him by the Grand Veneur
of Louis XII. when he was hunting with him about
six leagues from Paris. " The hounds, after hunting
steadily would not hunt forward or heel. It was as
if the stag had been bewitched and carried off into
the sky. Then the marvellous discovery was made
that the stag, jumping into a tangled thicket, had
landed on a high whitethorn and sunk into its
branches, and, not being able to disentangle himself,
was thus supported and hidden in mid air."

Deer show extraordinary cunning in picking ground
which will put hounds to the maximum of incon-
venience. Stony tracks which carry lit-tle or no scent,
and play the mischief with hounds' feet, have a
peculiar fascination for them, and the persistence
with which hinds will stick to the stony ground on
Dunkery and Croydon is w^onderful. The stunted
wind-clipped furze from 8 inches to a foot high
which abounds in some parts, notably on Grabhurst
and on some parts of the Quantocks, is a sore trial
to hounds, who can hardly get over it at all, and
puppies have been seen to lie down and yell ; but its
virtues are well known to the deer, who never fail to
go over as much of it as they can when any is near
their line.


Many years ago the Earl of Lovelace planted
Yarnor Moor with Scotch firs and larches, but the
wintet gales blowing straight from the Atlantic were
too much for them. Some have died and some
remain stunted bushes. There is hardly any notice-
able change in the last twenty-five years except in
the lower, more sheltered parts. The trees being
hardly higher than the heather in most places,
they form a most trying obstacle both to hounds and
horses. They are consequently greatly beloved of the
deer, who will beat backwards and forwards there for
hours till hounds are wearied out and almost incapable
of further effort. In dry, warm weather these old
stumps of trees exude resin — one can smell it as one
rides along ; and that may account in part for the fact
that, in the autumn staghunting season, this ground
never carries a scent, while in the winter hounds will
run across it as fast as the mechanical difficulties will
allow. Here it is that one may most clearly observe
the tricks that cunning deer can resort to, and the
utter contempt they have for hounds, horses, and
people \\\\Q\\ they know there is no scent.

To head or blanch a stag is one of those things
which is exceedingly easy to do when you do not mean
to, and almost impossible when you do.

A deer just emerging from covert, unless very hard
pressed, is easily blanched by people rushing towards
him, as a crowd of foot people often does. A woman
waving an apron has before now turned a stag. Only
a few years ago this happened. A woman ran to meet


a stag breaking away from one of the coverts near
Hole Water, and turned him back at once. A few
minutes afterwards he went up the hillside again, and
successfully passed through a cornfield where two
reaping machines were at work with their attendant
men and dogs, all of whom ran and made all the noise
they were capable of, but he had by that time made
up his mind where he was going, and nothing could
stop him.

It is next door to useless to ride at a deer to turn
him away from a line on which he has set his mind,
though one has seen a deer ridden off from joining a
herd. A single person riding ahead of the deer in
the direction he is going will probably divert him, as
his natural caution forbids him to follow anyone, but
all the shouting, whip-cracking, and galloping of a
hundred horsemen will not stop a stag going where
he has made up his mind to go.



Undaunted in the whirling flood

To face his foes the Champion stood,

While all around him wild for blood

They clamoured, sink or swim. — Whyte Melville.

A SUBJECT often discussed is as to the effect of the
wind on the run of a stag. The opinion of those who
have had most opportunities of judging is that it has
little or no effect on the direction a stag will take,
though its effect on scent is quite another matter.
It is also easily to be realised that on a still, breathless
day a heavy animal like a stag is easier exhausted
than when a cool breeze — Exmoor breezes always are
cool — is blowing in his nostrils. One can tell that
from the condition of one's horse after a gallop,
and, judging in the same way, it would seem probable
that against or across a light air is easier for a deer
than right before the wind.

This opinion is shared by the writer of the " Master
•of the Game," in contradiction to that expressed by
Gaston de Foix, whose work he was translating. It
may probably be the result of his experience on
Exmoor, as distinguished from that of Gaston de Foix

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Online LibraryArchibald HamiltonThe red deer of Exmoor, with notes on those who hunted them, from Robert D'Auberville, 1070, to Robert Arthur Sanders, 1906 → online text (page 6 of 22)