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

. (page 8 of 22)
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 8 of 22)
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because it knocked up the hounds. If this was the
case with a good pack, such as we know to have
hunted Exmoor, how much more hopeless it must
have been with the slow packs of old days !

The first difference that strikes one is that a hind is
not as a rule harboured. An old yeld, or barren hind.
may occasionally lie away by herself, but as a rule
hinds lie, if not altogether, at all events so close that
they are almost sure to herd together when roused,
even though they may separate after a time and
break covert in small groups, or even singly, and


then it would be impossible to tell which was the
hind that had been harboured ; moreover any full-
grown hind — that is, three years old and upwards —
is suitable for hunting, so that the prime cause for
harbouring, namely, the necessity of selecting the
best deer, is absent in hind-hunting. Some local
farmer is sure to be able to tell the huntsman where-
abouts the hinds are lying, and that is really all that
is wanted. The only thing to be done is to
rouse the herd, break it up, and lay the pack on the
first full grown hind that goes away alone, or only
accompanied by her calf. At first sight this would
seem to involve much risk of chopping the calf. But
in practice this is not so ; the hind has never gone
far before she makes her calf lie down in some bush
■or ditch, where it lies still even though hounds run
within a yard of it. It may be one of the protective
provisions of Nature that a calf in such circum-
stances has no scent. Certain it is that though the
pack is laid on day after day close after hinds,
regardless of their calves, it is an extremely rare
thing for hounds to chop a calf, and usually when a
poor innocent comes to grief it is later on in the run
when the pack comes accidentally across a calf
whose dam has not stowed him safely away. The
€alf by the middle of November, when hind-hunting
begins, is quite able to feed and take care of itself,
though it would probably continue to run with its
mother till a new little brother arrived on the scene.
The existence of the calf has, however, a very


strong influence on the run of a hind and causes her,
especially early in the season, to keep ringing round
to the same country where she left it and her other
companions, hoping no doubt in her mind that by
transferring the pursuit to one of her sisters she may
be left free to go quietly away and see to the well-
being of her offspring. This desire, which is so
strong in the first weeks of the season, wears off
somewhat later on, as the calves get older and
stronger, and then it is that hinds begin to run
straight, and some of those wild, exciting gallops
take place which make the lucky participators
declare, especially if they have got their secon^
horses at the right moment, that there is no com-
parison between the runs afforded by a hind and a

On January ist, 1905, hounds met at Challacombe
and found a herd in Longstone Bog, at 10.55, ^^^
moor being dry for the time of year and in capital
galloping order, but carrying a breast-high scent.
Hounds raced almost in view back to Swincombe
Rocks and round under them to Pinkworthy, where
a single hind separated and hounds settled on her
line. The hind turned northwards on to Lynton
Common and sped away, by the well-known line of
the " Lower Crossings," over Cheriton Ridge and
acoss the Brendon road by Dry Bridges, and right
on to the Deer Park. This was the luckiest line the
hind could have taken, for there was a burning
scent, and it would have been next to impossible for



horses to have lived with hounds if they had crossed
all the bad ground. As it was, horses were so blown
at Badgworthy that the Acting Master, Mr. Greig,
and the huntsmen w'ere thankful for their second
horses. Hounds never checked a moment and raced
straight away to Mill Hill, down Hawkcombe, and
came to a first check by Porlock Church. The
hind had jumped the big churchyard wall, about 8ft.
high, into the narrow church lane, which brought
her out into the centre of the village. Hounds were
soon on her line and raced her down the road to
West Porlock, when she turned across the vale and
went to sea just before hounds exactly at twelve
o clock, one hour and five minutes from the start.

From Swincombe to Porlock Church is a I2-|
mile point, to which must be added for the turn
from Longstone to Swincombe, and from Porlock
to the sea about two miles. This makes 14^
miles in sixty-five minutes, without allowing for
other additions. It would be hard to find a gallop
to beat this for pace, and it was small wonder that
none but the fresh horses from Badgworthy were
actually with hounds when they came to Porlock,
though a few cast up afterwards.

This kind of run is, of course, quite exceptional,
and the morte is rarely sounded over a hind before
hounds have been hunting her, or her companions,
for many hours. Though they begin hunting at ten
o'clock without waiting a moment for late comers, it is
more often than not that the short winter afternoon


is waning before hounds have set up their deer,
and frequently they have to leave a deer they know
to be dead beat in the coverts beside the Horner or
the Bade solely for want of daylight.

As is usual when a herd of stags has to be
separated on the forest, so in hind hunting tufting
begins with a stronger body of tufters than would
ordinarily be used for a stag, eight, or even ten,
couple being often taken out, the intention being to
insure that if the herd before hounds should break
up — and it is a frequent thing to have twenty or even
more hinds before hounds — there may be enough
tufters available to press any hind which may be
singled out, and go right on and hunt her if neces-
sary. Whenever practicable, all the tufters are
stopped, and the pack laid on as in staghunting,
and the best runs are undoubtedly obtained in this
way, but it is frequently impossible to do so without
letting the hind join other deer, or get an undue
start, so they are allowed to run on, and it is left to
the smartness of the whip to bring up the pack when
and how he can, generally at the first ch(^ck. The
stopping of such tufters as can be stopped, and
transferring them to the right line, frequently entails
spme of the quickest, smartest work to be seen in
the whole season.

On February 28th, 1903, hounds met at Brendon
Two Gates, and a small field, who had journeyed
far to that wildest and bleakest spot on the whole
moor, were lucky enough to enjoy the best and

I 2


straightest run which a hnid has given for many a
long year past. Seven couple of hounds were sent
to the Deer Park to act as a relav if needful, while
the rest were taken westwards to Challacombe
Common. A herd of twenty-five hinds were lying in
the soft ground near Chapman's Barrows ; they
jumped up at once on the approach of hounds, and
raced away through a downpour of rain to Sadler's
Stone, where two hinds separated from the herd
and went over " The Chains." The pack was
stopped from the herd, and transferred to the line
of the two hinds, soon disappearing over the
impassable swamps of Winnaw'ay. Riders kept on
the sound going below, and crossing Cheriton Ridge
had the satisfaction of seeing the pack swinging
towards them and heading straight for Brendon
Two Gates. The scent was good, and the deer
only just in front of hounds as they came down to
Badgworthy. Here the hinds separated and the
pack divided, a few hounds running a deer which
went down the water, and was eventually killed at
Oare, Mr. Greig, who was acting Field Master, and
Sidney being with them, thus missing the great
gallop which those with the larger body of the pack
were enjoying ; but this is frequently the fate of the
whip, and even at times of the Master when hunting
several hinds. Meantime Mr. Sanders, with the body
of the pack and the relay, was speeding across the
Deer Park and Stowford for Blackbarrow, Luccott
Moor, and Nutscale. Heavy storms drifted over the


hills continually, and to a slight extent diminished
scent, but hounds ran fast till they came to the stream
below Nutscale. Working down as far as Black
Ball, they ran the line up on to Pool Plain, and down
again to water under Luccott. It looked as if this
gallant hind must be killed in Horner, but she went
on down the water past East Water Foot to Horner
Mill stream, which she left, and was viewed making her
way up Parsonage Side to Webber's Post. From
here she ran over Dunkery, and turned down to
Anniscombe and Span Gate Gorse. Hounds had
now run many miles, and very few riders were with
them as this old hind broke away over the enclosed
country between Wootton Courtenay and Timbers-
combe, coming to the Avill Brook below the village.
From here she beat down the water past Knowle and
Avill with hounds close to her. Below Avill Farm she
turned up on to Grabhurst, but after running a ring
round the ruined tower on Conegar, she dashed down
the hill with the pack at her haunches into Dunster
town, where she was pulled down right against the
gates of Dunster Castle at 3.5 p.m. The time when
she was first found was not taken, which was
unfortunate, for it was a really great run. The actual
point to point distance is eighteen miles — a distance
rarely exceeded by these or any other hounds. To
this a good deal would have to be added for the bend
made to the Deer Park, for the sinuous course of the
Horner Valley from Nutscale to Horner Mill and the
visit to Dunkery, and in addition something by no


means small for the difference between the flat of
the map and the distance travelled up and down in
crossing the valleys. The head of this gallant hind
is a treasured trophy in the possession of Mr. W.
Evans, of Minehead, who was one of the small but
happy band who saw the run from find to finish.

The fields in the winter are small, a dozen or
perhaps a score ; but they are for the most part old
hands at the game, and are able and willing to bear
a helping hand when necessary.

In one respect the huntsman has a great advan-
tage which is denied to him in the autumn, the
leaves are off the oak scrub, and it is consequently
possible on such places as Hawkridge, Cloutsham,
and Wynne Corner to look down into the bare
coverts, and watch exactly what hounds, and
frequently the deer also, are doing.

The muteness of the pack, which is so frequent a
cause of complaint in the autumn, passes away to a
great extent with the hot weather, and hounds in
covert fling their tongues as merrily as foxhounds,
but when racing over the open they are certainly at
all times deficient in music.

Those who go out to hunt the hind must make up
their minds to face the weather, w^hich is frequently
very bad. Exmoor boasts a rainfall second only to
that on the Fells of Westmorland, and the rain is
not only heavy, but it comes with the force of an
Atlantic gale at its back. When one of these
storms is sweeping over the moor it is exceedingly


easy to lose hounds, as it is next to impossible to
see or hear anything, and many horses are very bad
to send along in the teeth of a storm. In staghunt-
ing there is always company, and there is, generally
some enterprising person who sees where hounds
turn, to the benefit of those behind him ; but in the
winter it is very different, one may often find oneself
alone, or almost alone, with two or three couple of
hounds racing hard and almost inaudible at a little
distance. To live with hounds under these circum-
stances is a far harder test of a rider's hunting
capacity, apart from mere riding, than anything he
is likely to meet with when following the stag.

Were it not for the strong tendency most hinds
have to come back to the place from whence they
started, the riders present at the death of a hind
would frequently be many less than they are at
present. When hounds have met at Cloutsham it is
the safest plan, if one is not actually with hounds,
to trot quietly back to Horner about two o'clock and
wait. The chances are very strong that one or more
hinds, more or less dead beat, and eventually the
hounds will come down the water. The same
plan may be equally efficacious at Haddon or

The Boxing-day meet at Cloutsham, in 1898, fairly
illustrated some of the difficulties commonly met
with in bad weather. As we rode over the wild
brown summit of Dunkery we realised the full truth
of the prophecies we had heard en route, that


" 'twould be a bit rough out over." "A bit rough "
does not adequately express it. Up to the level of
above 1500ft. it blew a smart gale, and the rain was
heavy, about that level the hills were shrouded in
mist, which, when we plunged into it, turned out to be
close heavy rain driven before a hurricane which was
almost enough to blow one out of the saddle. Push-
ing on we began to descend the north side, and as
w^e emerged from the mist came suddenly on the
Master and huntsman riding hard, while just below
them seven couple of hounds were flying forward
after a knot of deer, about ten in number, which
were just visible on the slope of the hill towards
Robin Howe. A hurried greeting having been
exchanged, and having learned that the pack was at
Cloutsham, but that they were " going right on," we
bustled the ponies along down the steep path, for
the horses we were to ride were waiting for us at the
farm. Before plunging into the combe, there was
time to notice that hounds were swinging round left-
handed, and coming back along the slope from
Webber's Post to Sweet Tree.

John Land opined " we should have to ride, as
hounds were running terrible keen," and so they
appeared to be as they went up Bagley Combe, and
bore away left-handed for the mist-covered wet ground
on Row Barrows. Three, four, five dark bodies
showed about 400 yards in front of hounds. Anthony
was close to the pack, while the rest of us toiled up
the steep, heathery slope at the best pace we could


command. Hounds swung to the right on the hill-
top, and, looking forward, we saw a young male deer
galloping hard back to Langcombe Head. Anthony
got to his hounds and stopped all but the leading
couple, and as there was no chance of getting to
them over the wet ground they were allowed to go
chiming merrily on their way to the coverts beyond
Stoke Pero. We were a party of five, and had five
couple of hounds with us as w^e plunged into the belt
of mist on the hill-top. We had come through it
before down wind, this time we struggled through it
up the wind. Hounds soon had a line near where
the hinds had turned away from the male deer, and
we were galloping once more. The ground on Dun-
kery is not the best of going, but there was no time
to think of that or to pick one's way, for in the
hurricane belt it was impossible to hear a sound of
any kind ; even the horn was inaudible about four
lengths off when down wind, so that if one let the
flying five couple in front get out of sight — a
matter, at the outside, of 250 yards — there was a
strong probability that one might never find them
again at all. Coming out of the fog into clear rain, w^e
could see to our disgust a couple of good stags
going away in front. Luckily they turned short, so
there was no difficulty in stopping hounds. Anthony
felt sure the hinds had gone on, so he cast forward
round Bincombe, and near the head of Anniscombe
we saw about twenty deer in a herd ; so hounds were
laid on close behind them, and away we went once


more over the worst of the stony ground down
towards Webber's Post, then short back to the left,
and all along the ridge of Dunkery, right back to the
wet ground. This was the best bit of the day, for
though we were within the hurricane belt most of the
time, the going is not so bad as in some parts. As
a hard rider expressed it, " There is some room here
for one's head between tire stones, " with luck."
Struggling through a belt of wet ground, we bore
away right-handed, and came back to Sweet Tree.
Here there was a momentary check, and we were
joined by half-a-dozen more riders. Four hinds went
one way and four another, hounds sticking closely to
the second lot. Away we went over Dunkery again,
into the hurricane belt and along the south slope
once more. Just as we came to the road we met
the hinds coming back, one of them lagging behind
and labouring a little.

"That's the one we've been after all the time,"
said Anthony, as he cheered hounds on, and once
again we were enveloped in the fog, hounds frying
forward faster, if anything, than before. Turning
short back by Row Barrows we once more had to
flounder through the edge of the soft ground and
sink the hill towards Sweet Tree, where we met our
hind coming back, having changed her companions
for four fresh stags. They disappeared into the
cloud on the hill-top, and it was not till we had
galloped a long way that we found we had missed
the hind and were running out to the forest, so


hounds were stopped. Back again to Sweet Tree,
where a Httle herd of six hinds could be seen standing
in the gorse bushes. We laid on, ran across Bagley
Combe and over vStoke Ridge as if for Stoke Pero,
but we soon swung round towards Dunkery once
more, crossing the worst part of the wet ground,
where no horse could follow the hounds ; in a
moment they were out of sight and hearing. We
pushed on, got below the hurricane level where we "
could see, but there was no sign of them ; cast back
throuo^h the foe; and down the hill till we could see
on the other side. There we gained tidings that
hounds had just run hard out of Sweet Tree pointing
to the forest, and that Mr. Evered was with them
and Sidney close up. Anthony galloped on, dis-
tanced the rest of us, and came up with his hounds
just in time to stop them off a stag ; but by good
fortune a hind was seen, what poor old Miles used
to call " quatted " in the heather close by. She
jumped up and went back towards the covert, rolling
and labouring in her gait, and Sinbad got a view. It
was a bad look-out for a beaten deer when Sinbad
got a view. From here it was a race back to Sweet
Tree and down the water. We pushed on past the
farm across the meet field as fast as we could go,
but hounds, running hard for blood, were before us,
so we galloped on down the Horner Water till we
caught sight of Farmer Adams's two labourers and
an artilleryman running beside the stream ; they
stopped short and plunged in just as we rode up, for


Sinbad had sprung at the deer, turned her, and the
next couple flying straight at her, rolled her over like
a fox. Anthony was off his horse in a mornent
and the " Whoo-whoop I " sounded after a hard,
exhausting run.

How long? Who could say ? It was just twenty
minutes past ten when we met hounds running on
our way to the meet, and it was nearly half past two
when we killed, and we had been running most of
the time, though it would be impossible to say that
hounds had been running this particular hind all the

The Master turned up just as we killed, he having
enjoyed an exciting run with two couple of hounds
by himself, pursuing a hind from Cloutsham over
Dunkery to Anniscombe, and back over Dunkery,
Nutscale, Luccott Moor, to Hawkcombe Head and
back — a better gallop than we had experienced.
The fact that he ran twice across what mav be
called the hurricane belt, close to where we were
running, without our seeing or hearing him, or he us,
speaks eloquently as to the state the hill-top was in.
It was indeed " a bit rough out over."

A hind will practise every artful trick known to a
stag, with perhaps even more cunning, but their
main resource is to "seek change"; hence the
persistency with which they stick to the coverts in
places where hinds are numerous, such as Haddon
and Hawkridge. This necessitates the utmost
vigilance on the part both of huntsman and whip,
















particularly the latter, to see that hounds do not
change on to the line of a young male deer. Hinds
seem to combine to drive a yearling away from them
to meet his fate ; when, therefore, in such circum-
stances a single deer goes away from a covert where
there are thought to be a good many hinds, it is of
the utmost importance that someone should get a
sufficiently near view of the deer to be able to warn
the huntsman in case it is a yearling. Any single
deer should be carefully scrutinised, as a half-beaten
hind will sometimes slip away alone after rousing the
other deer in the covert, and, if she does so
unnoticed, will either escape altogether or obtain a
very long start. This is, of course, the primary duty
of the whip, unless otherwise engaged, and on running
into a covert he would at once ride to a point from
which he may best be able to effect this ; but it is a
case where experienced members of the hunt may
render much valuable help. If hounds get away on
the line of a male deer it will probably save the life of
a hind, for, even if the mistake is found out after a
mile or two, by the time hounds have been brought
back the hind will in all probability have slipped
away, and, even if a line is recovered, no one can
possibly tell whether it is the line of the hunted hind
or not.

If hounds have the misfortune, as must inevitably
occur several times in a season (no matter how
smart the hunt servants may be) to run a young male
deer and pull him over, it is a great mistake to save


his life and subsequently turn him out. If by
any luck he can be secured before any of the hounds
have had hold of him, he would, of course, be saved ;
but as the bite of one of these powerful hounds is so
serious that though he may, and, unless badly torn,
probably will, recover, he is not likely to grow into a
strong, healthy stag whose presence is any advantage
to the herd and the sooner he is put out of his pain
the better.

Sport during the hind hunting season varies very
much from year to year, and depends mainly on two
things, the weather and the feed, of which the latter
is the most important. If the autumn keep has been
good, and there are plenty of roots, hinds face the
wintry weather in strong, hard condition, and if in
addition there happens to be a big crop of acorns
and beech nuts, so that they are well supplied with
hard dry food, they never seem to lose that condition.
The presence or absence of a plentiful supply of
acorns is doubtless one of the causes which lead deer
to lie in the neighbourhood of certain coverts in some
years, and to go elsewhere in others.

The weather has, of course, a strong influence on
the strength of the deer ; snow, which renders their
food hard to find, being their worst enemy. In a
severe winter, the boldness with which they will
enter stack-yards and help themselves, within a few^
yards of inhabited houses is surprising.

The changes which have taken place in the practice
of farming have, it is believed by many, contributed


not a little to the health and strength, and conse-
quently to the fertility, of the hinds. It may be true,
that at one time when corn was at what would now
be considered famine prices, there was more land
under corn than there is at present. The period of
harvest, however, was not appreciably longer, so that
there was not really more corn for the deer to eat,
while at this period, as far as the rough hill farms
are concerned, the turnip was an unknown crop,
and the deer are far more dependent on their turnips,
which are eaten later in the season, than they are
on their corn for their winter reserve of strength.
It is now the practice, as has been told elsewhere,
to bring almost the whole of the sheep into the
ingrounds for the winter, and consequently there
are fewer mouths to compete for the scanty herbage
on the moors and commons where the deer mostly
lie, than when the sheep were allowed to run out
for years and look after themselves.



" When the early dawn is stealing
O'er the moorland edge revealing
All the tender tints of morning ere she flushes into day."

Whyte Melville.

^' What part of the wild country which extends over

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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 8 of 22)