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 7 of 22)
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OF THE TAKING OF THE STAG. 95

in the forests of France. Lord Graves, however, was
of opuiion when he was Master that Exmoor stags
went down the wind.

A wind right astern is not so noticeable as a wind
meeting one in a run, and therefore does not impress
itself so clearly on one's mind, but the writer fails to
recall any big run right down a strong gale. There
probably have been many such, but the wind was not
a point to attract special attention.

On the other hand, we have all seen hounds run
their hardest, both after stag and hind, dead in the
-teeth of the storm when the wildest of gales were
sweeping over the hills, and the deluges which fell
upon us seemed verily to realise Lindsay Gordon's
description, " Sharp spikes of rain and splinters of
hail." Lucky is the man then who is clad in three-
ply Melton or has a real mackintosh coat. The thin
ventilated things that fold up and go in the pocket,
or in a little bag on the saddle, are useless on those
occasions. The rain drives through them like a
sieve. Few who were out will forget the weather on
the Dunster day in 1905. How the storm howled
over the hills, and how the rain pursued its course
almost parallel with the ground in blinding torrents !
Yet a big stag, after going away down wind, swung
round and treated us to a gallop of the best by way
of Treborough Common, Lype, and Dunkery to
Horner, right in the teeth of the gale the whole way.

When Lord Ebrinorton was Master there was an
awful day of wind and rain on the Quantocks in



96 THE RED DEER OF EX MOOR.

October. It was the day when two Hfeboats were
lost with all hands off Southport. The storm was so
bad that a deer broke over the Stowey Road between
the Master and the present writer, who were stationed
not three hundred yards apart, without being seen,
and it was not till a tufter (old Romulus) came up on
his line that anyone knew a deer had gone away, and
it was only by slotting him on the Stowey Road that
the Master could tell it was a good stag. This stag
led us the whole length of the Ouantock Hills in the
face of the storm, and crossing the Beacon above St.
Andries it was a difficulty to keep a horse on his legs.

These were extreme cases, but many of the biggest
runs will be found to have been up wind. A secure
shelter, water that he knows, and, above all, fresh
deer are the factors which in all probability have
most to do in determining which way a deer will go.

Going up the wind must presumably give some
slight advantage to the hounds^ especially when scent
is bad, but when there is a fair hunting scent it is so
lasting, and lies so long, that it is doubtful if the
direction of the wind has any appreciable effect as
far as hounds are concerned.

The effect of the wind upon the existence of scent
is quite another question, and upon this point opinions
differ, but most people are agreed that any wind is
better than no wind, and that due south or due north
winds are less favourable to sport than any others.

One of the greatest enemies to staghunting on
Exmoor is fog. It does not often assail us in the



OF THE TAKING OF THE STAG. 97

autumn, but in the winter it is fairly frequent.
Occasionally there is foggy weather even in August
and September, which greatly spoils sport. It is
impossible to hunt when it is what the villagers
call " dark out over." Unless the deer is viewed
away it is not safe to lay the pack on. No one would
know what was being hunted. Moreover, hounds
would run right away from the best of riders on the
open, and probably half the field would spend the
night on the moor, if the fog lasted all day. There is
nothing for it but to wait till the fog lifts, but if it
does not clear by one or two o'clock hounds generally
go home.

Once, after waiting at Yarnor Moor Lodge till a
few minutes past one, the fog rolled up like a curtain.
Arthur Heal had his tufters out in a moment, found
a stag in Smallacombe, and in less than half an hour
a large field were galloping for all they were worth
across the moor, a very fast run ending in a kill at
Stentaway Bridge. One well-known member of the
hunt had a narrow escape that day from what might
have been a nasty accident — his horse came down,
and his foot was fast in the stirrup. Luckily his foot
pulled out of his boot, and away went the horse with
the boot in the stirrup, leaving his owner painfully
running after him in his stocking foot.

'' Is that the hunted deer?" is a question which is
frequently asked in the middle of a run, when a deer
is seen to break from a covert where a change was
probable, with the natural corollary, " To halloa, or

H



98 THE RED DEER OF EXMOOR.

not to halloa. That is the question." The answer
is, " Don't, unless you are quite sure."

Pages have been written in the old books to enable
one to recognise a beaten deer, and they are all true,
and for the most part unnecessary, for they simply
detail the ordinary signs of exhaustion in a large
animal. Anyone can tell that a stag which reels in
his gait, stops to blow with his head down, and then
goes on taking no notice of anything near him is a
beaten deer. What one wants to know is, which is
the hunted stag when, at the end of forty minutes,
two or three stags all break from one covert. This
is by no means easy. Experience teaches those who
are at the work continually, but it is next door to
impossible to set down on paper any fixed rules.
There are, however, a few things worth noticing.
When a stag has run half an hour or more he is sure
to be sweating somewhat ; in addition, he is sure to
have treated himself to a roll in the water ; hence his
coat will be wet, and probably muddy. This is not
infallible, as deer will often take a mud bath to keep
off the fiies. All one can say is that a deer with a
clean coat and every hair standing out separately is
sure to be a fresh deer.

A deer which has run some distance hangs his
tongue out a long way, in fact, as far as it will go.
A perfectly fresh deer does not do this, though he
may show the tip. But this, again, is not infallible,
for a stag on a hot day will put his tongue out after
he has gone a very short distance.



OF THE TAKING OF THE STAG. 99

One has frequently been told of hunted stags
foaming at the mouth, but the writer never saw more
than just a few flakes of foam, such as a horse half
in condition may throw. This would not be seen till
a stag had galloped some distance.

It is rarely that one gets a good look at a deer at
close quarters, and at three hundred yards minutiae
are not observable. The only test, then, is the
general action and behaviour of the deer. A fresh
deer will frequently be seen to stop and listen to his
foes, turning round to look before making up his
mind what to do. A hunted stag has tried all his
dodges in covert — he knows exactly what is behind
him, and he goes right away to the point he has fixed
in his mind. A fresh stag may be headed, but rarely
a hunted one.

If one can see the slot of a stag one can some-
times draw conclusions from it. With fatigue comes
want of elasticity, and the toes will be found much
wider apart : the pace will not be so long, and the
forelegs will be crossed more at each stride, while
the dew claws of the hind legs will frequently be seen
to have touched the ground.

When a stag, after a long run, is seen to attempt
to scale a steep hid in a direct line for the summit,
one may put him down as a beaten deer, and if there
is a considerable stream at the base of the hill one
may save one's horse by stopping at the bottom,
being fully assured that the stag will come back
again before long.

H 2



loo . THE RED DEER OF EX MOOR.

Water is the deer's refuge when he seeks to elude
his foes, and to the water he comes when he has only
strength left to fight for his life. In a strong stream,
where he can stand while the hounds must swim, he
has an immense advantage, and dealing powerful
blows both with feet and antlers can keep off the
boldest hounds ; but it is to the water also that
hounds owe their immunity from injury. They are
knocked over and frequently driven under water, but
the water yields and saves them from harm. It is on
dry land as a rule that fatal injuries are received.

When once a stag is at bay, humanity both to deer
and hounds demands that the closing scenes shall be
as short as may be, and every effort is made, both
by hunt servants and zealous members of the field — ■
often at considerable personal risk — to " handle '' the
deer so that the huntsman may deliver the coitf) de
grace. This is done skilfully and well : the main
arteries above the heart are severed, and insensi-
bility and death result in a very few moments.

A stag with the velvet on his antlers makes little
or no fight as a rule. He takes his stand gallantly
enough, sometimes striking with his feet and dealing
shrewd blows, but he always seems conscious that his
head is not yet in fighting order. A lash of a whip
thrown over an antler is sufficient to secure his head
for a moment, and enable willins: hands to reach the
antlers ; then all is soon over. As the season
advances stags increase in strength and ferocity,
and they will charge through and through the pack,




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OF THE TAKING OF THE STAG. loi

and have been known to pursue a hound, striking
and lunging at it. Then it is no easy task to handle
the stag, and none but the strongest and most
experienced should think of attempting it. When
once cast on his side a stag is, for so large an
animal, extremely easy to manage, as his antlers
give an immense leverage by which he can be held
down.

As a rule the stag is lassoed, both whip and hunts-
man carrying a stout, light hemp rope for the purpose.
The quickest death a stag can die is if the pack can
reach him in deep water, when they will drown him
directly. An exhausted deer dies in a moment if his
head goes under water.

In ancient times great precautions were taken at
the " pryse " of a stag. Generally one of the hunt
servants ran in behind and hamstrung him, or stabbed
him to the heart behind the shoulder with his sword,
receiving head and skin as his fee. If the head were
now the acknowledged perquisite of the first who
"handled'' the stag there would indeed be a wild
rush at the finish. As it is, the huntsman can always
rely on plenty of skilled assistance, though there are
f^w who would care to emulate the prowess of John
Selwyn, the keeper at Oatlands Park, as depicted on
his brass monument in the church at Walton. It is
recorded of him that on one of the occasions when
Queen Elizabeth went there to witness a hunt he
vaulted from his horse on to the back of the deer
and steered him with his drawn sword to where the



102 THE RED DEER OF EX MOOR.

Queen was, and then leaning forward, he stabbed
him to the heart so that he fell dead at the Queen's
feet.

The late Sir Emmerson Tennant, who hunted
Sambhur deer in Ceylon in the middle of the last
century, used a pack of small hounds with two or
three big savage dogs he called " seizers,"' who
sprang at the deer and held him, a needful pre-
caution when a man was usually single-handed. In
his interesting book he records how he had on some
occasions to receive a charge on the end of a big
hunting knife, luckily finding the weak spot in the
centre of the forehead, and splitting the skull.

Many deer take to the sea, when, if the weather
permits it, a boat from Porlock Weir, Minehead, or
Watchet will put forth and effect the capture. The
brothers Pollard and their assistants in their white
boat from Porlock Weir take many a deer in the
season, and heavy indeed must be the sea when these
gallant fishermen will decline to go out. A sovereign
for a stag and ten shillings for a hind is the fee, and
well it is earned, for it often entails several hours'
hard work for six men. Still, the Porlock Weir
boatmen are a race of true sportsmen, and they look
more at what they consider the sport than what they
get by it.

Between Porlock and Glenthorne the steep wooded
slope of the hills ends in a line of cliffs above the
rocky beach, but there are a good many places where
both deer, hounds, and men on foot can reach the



OF THE TAKING OF THE STAG. 103

seashore, though it must be confessed that boots and
breeches are badly adapted for climbing. Some-
times a stag will stand at bay among the rocks, and
often, if the sea is very rough, he will stand among
the breakers facing the shore, a position in which he
is very hard to capture, and one of great danger to
the hounds, for when the rollers are coming right in
from the open sea they keep the heavy rough shingle
where they break continually on the move, and
crushed toes and bruised joints are very likely to
result. Between Glenthorne and the Foreland the
hills slope down almost precipitously, with nothing
but short grass and loose stones, from a height of
about 900 feet to the top of the cliffs about 50 to
200 feet above the beach. A green path about
three feet wide at its widest and some two miles and
a half long runs along the face of the cliff — for the
whole may well be called cliff — about 500 feet above.
These cliffs are a very favourite place for deer to
make their last stand : they run through the Glen-
thorne Woods and find themselves on this precipitous
slope; thev are too exhausted to get up it, and,
pressed by hounds, they make their way to the edge
of the cliffs. There are places where they can get
down, and others where they cannot.

The most perilous position the pack can find itself
in is when some are on the face of the rock baying
the stag from above, others on the beach baying him
from below. The position is not a nice one for men or
hounds, for every time the stag moves he dislodges



104 THE RED DEER OF EXMOOR.

stones which rattle down among those below.
The writer remembers one occasion when a lot of
hounds were hurt and one killed in this wav, and the
gallantry with which Colonel Bonham ran in under
a shower of stones to rescue a hound that had been
knocked senseless.

Much admiration was expressed on that occasion

at the exploits of a stranger who ran about the face

of the cliff as if it was level ground, and we afterwards

found out he w^as a well-known member of the Alpine

Club. The stag's end in these cases is generally a

fall to the rocks below, resulting in instant death,

when the body is pulled up clear of the tideway and

left to be fetched afterwards, for there are only two

courses open to those who are on the shore, either to

plod over the rough, rocky beach to Glenthorne^ or

to scale the cliffs to the path above — no easy task,

even when the lasso, or a string of whip lashes tied

together, is available to steady one over the worst

places. The latter is some help, no doubt, but is not

to be relied on by welter-weights. To stumble over

the rocks to Glenthorne is a weary job, especially if,

as on the occasion mentioned above, an injured

hound has to be carried. Those 26-inch hounds

weigh more than anyone would think. The bearers

tried carrying him in pairs, but the hound is an

uncanny beast to handle in that way. Luckily a bit

of wreckage formed a rough litter, and they got along

better, but the tide was waist deep in places before

Glenthorne was reached by a very wet and weary band.




Kill at Porlock Weir,



OF THE TAKING OF THE STAG. 105

On one occasion a stag was drowned by the hounds
about a hundred yards from the beach near Rodney,
and Mr. George — there being no ladies present —
stripped and gallantly swum out to the body, which
was floating with the pack all round it, and towed it
in. He was presented with the head.

Glenthorne House is situated at the bottom of a
deep combe on a little bit of comparatively flat ground
100 feet above the sea, and twice deer have rushed
down on to the tennis lawn in front of the house, and
fallen over the cliff on to the beach below.

In 1884, after a very fast run from Culbone by way
of the Deer Park, a stag stood to bay against the
tennis net where Sovereign, who always ran at head,
dashed at him and drove him to the thin line of
bushes on the cliff's edge. Ere Arthur, who was
riding down the combe from the high land 1000 ft.
above as if he had a spare neck in each pocket,
could reach the spot they had disappeared, and
all he could do was to stop the rest of the pack.

The stag and Sovereign and two others lay dead
on the beach. While Arthur, Mr. Turner, Mr. Chorley,.
and another were standing looking at the stag some
ten minutes afterwards, there was a whimper and a
rattle of stones, and a puppy faithfully running the
line fell with a thud, luckily only just touching
Mr Chorley's shoulder, and lighted fully on the
body of the stag. He lay apparently dead, but in
a few minutes got up and lay down in the edge of
the sea. Within a month he was hunting again.



io6 THE RED DEER OE EXMOOR.

In 1 S99 the end of the big run from Hawkridge took
place on the same spot. The stag stood among the
bushes and drove back the hounds, but thev gradually
forced him back, and though the Master and another
just touched his antlers as he went over, they could
not hold him. and one hound on that occasion
shared his fate.

The swimming power of a stag is very great, and
the buovancv of his body is remarkable, for he
floats verv higrh in the water even when burdened
with a heavy pair of antlers.

It is a fine sight on a bright autumn day to see a
gallant stag swimming stoutly out to sea with
the pack close behind him, giving tongue merrily,
but it is an anxious time for the Master and hunts-
man. A prolonged swim in cold water, even though
sea water, is by no means good for hounds after a
long and arduous chase, and every effort is made to
call them back. The puppies are in the worst
danger, for they try to come straight in to the horn,
and as the tidewav in the Bristol Channel runs like a
mill-race thev sometimes reach the shore in a most
exhausted condition, while the older hounds, who
have been to sea before, do not attempt to fight the
current, but come ashore where they can. As a
rule the stoutest hounds turn back for the shore
after four or five hundred yards, probably because
they lose sight of the stag, which easilv swims away
from them. There was a most anxious time on
the beach below St. Andries in 1899. Hounds had



OF THE TAKING OF THE STAG. 107

run a stag down through the park and coursed him
across a stretch of tide beach, half mud, half sand,
and all entered the water together — indeed, it looked
for a moment as if they had actually pulled him down,
but he got away, and the whole pack were far out to
sea by the time riders reached the water's edge.
The tide was running up very fast, and stag and
hounds were in the full set of the current. A horse-
man had some time before started to Watchet for a
boat, and eager eyes were cast on the mouth of
Watchet harbour, four miles off, for the boat which
seemed as thoug^h it would never come. Stag: and
hounds were long out of sight from the beach, though
horsemen a mile up the coast on the cliffs could see
them. A few hounds came ashore and dragged
themselves wearily to the sound of the horn. One
hound could be seen straining towards a rock some
five hundred yards away. He reached it and lay
exhausted. Would the boat arrive in time to save
him ? The tide was lapping up round the rock and
the boat was still a speck in the distance. Then the
water gained and the brave hound struck out once
more for the shore, which he gained amid general
rejoicing. Then the boat arrived and soon picked up
a couple or so of struggling hounds, put them ashore,
and went on out of sight while we waited. It was
nearly two hours since the pack had gone to sea, and
it seemed hardly credible that any could still be
alive in the water. Then we saw the boat returninir
towing the dead stag and with a couple of hounds



io8 THE RED DEER OE EXMOOR.

just saved from a watery death, and one which had
been ahve when rescued but was dead when landed,
two hours and twenty minutes after they had taken
to the water. Men were on the look-out for hounds
for miles up the coast, and several were rescued,
cared for, and sent on their way ; but it was a very
stiff and woebegone-looking pack which followed
Anthony back to Bagborough that evening.

There have always been traditions that deer have
swum across to the Welsh coast, a distance of about
fifteen miles, and there is no reason to believe that a
tolerably fresh stag might not do so. In fact, there
can be no doubt that one stag actually did accomplish
this feat, for they had a red deer among the fallow
deer many years ago in the park at Dunraven Castle,
which is straight opposite Porlock Weir. They never
knew where he came from, and he remained some
years, being eventually destroyed because he bullied
the fallow deer. As there are no parks with red deer
anywhere within a very great distance of Dunraven,
it is hard to see where else the stag can have come
from if not from Exmoor.






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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 7 of 22)