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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

The term is used in Britain only of the pursuit of a quarry with dogs, the killing of animals with a gun being described as *shooting (or stalking, when deer are shot with a rifle). And in practice it applies only to hounds which follow the trail by scent; hunting by sight with greyhounds, or *coursing, has developed into something closer to a sporting contest. Fox-hunting, particularly associated with Britain, is historically the most recent variety.

The hunting of deer was a royal pursuit from Anglo-Saxon times, with areas such as *Cannock Chase reserved for the purpose; in later centuries artificial hunting grounds such as *Richmond Park were enclosed for royal pleasure. Stag-hunting with horses and hounds is still practised in a few parts of Britain, most notably on Exmoor. The hunting of hares became popular in the 16C. For this the larger hounds, known as harriers, have usually been accompanied by hunters on horseback; beagles, considerably smaller, are followed on foot. Of the two, beagling is by now the more common.

Fox-hunting was first taken seriously as a sport in the second half of the 17C, particularly in the *Shires, and was made more exciting by the need to jump the fences which increasingly enclosed *common land. It rapidly became a favourite country pursuit, providing a fine spectacle with the red or scarlet coats of the huntsmen – which it has been the fashion to describe as 'pink' in hunting circles since at least the early 19C (by contrast the traditional colour for beagling is green).

The sport has also given rise to a wide range of paintings, prints, books and characters (*Jorrocks), songs (*D'ye ken John Peel), a boisterous social life (hunt balls), much hallowed jargon (the fox's tail has to be called a brush but the hound's is a stern) and a certain amount of ceremony – a rider at his first kill is likely to be given the fox's brush and others may be honoured with the animal's mask (its head) or pad (one of its feet). The most widely known custom, in which a newcomer to the kill was 'blooded' by having the fox's blood smeared on his face, is now rarely practised out of deference to modern sensibilities.

The hunting season starts on November 1 and continues until March. In recent decades a vigorous campaign against hunting in all its forms has been mounted by the *League Against Cruel Sports. The hunting of otters was banned by law in 1981. In 1992 a bill to ban the hunting of any mammal failed by only 12 votes to pass its second reading in the House of Commons. At the turn of the century the campaign for and against the abolition of hunting is passionately contested on both sides.

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