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Sport Hunting in Regency England

“When you have killed all your own birds, Mr Bingley,” said her mother, “I beg you will come here, and shoot as many as you please on Mr Bennet’s manor. I am sure he will be vastly happy to oblige you, and will save all the best of the covies for you.”
Pride and Prejudice

Nearly all of Jane Austen’s heroes are seen to hunt in some manner or other, though it is seen as sport for the gentry rather than the working classes or clergy. Captain Wentworth and Charles Musgrove hunt while in Somerset; Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley return to Netherfield to hunt, thus renewing their acquaintance with the Bennet Family; Mr. Willoughby and Sir John Middleton have an ongoing discussion about Willoughby’s Pointer (a hunting dog). The list could go on and on.

The traditional end of the London Season is the Glorious Twelfth of August, which marks the beginning of the shooting season. Society would retire to the country to shoot birds during the autumn and hunt foxes during the winter, before coming back to London again with the spring.

Since UK law says that the start of the season cannot begin on a Sunday, it is sometimes postponed to August 13. Opening day is one of the busiest days in the shooting season, with large amounts of game being shot. It is also a significant boost to the rural economy in moorland areas. The current legislation enshrining it is the Game Act 1831. It should be noted that not all game (as defined by the Game Act 1831) have the same start to their open seasons – most begin on September 1, with October 1 for Woodcock and Pheasant.

Hunting was formerly a royal sport, and to an extent still is, with many Kings and Queens being involved in hunting and shooting, including King Edward VII, King George V (who on 18 December 1913 shot over a thousand pheasants out of a total bag of 3937), King George VI and the present day Prince Phillip, although Queen Elizabeth II does not shoot. Shooting on the large estates of Scotland was particularly popular. This trend is generally attributed to the Victorians who were inspired by the romantic imagery of the Scottish Highlands.

Part of the reason sport hunting was considered a past time for the wealthy was the sheer space required to conduct a successful run. If one did not have the means to own or maintain a country estate or “Grouse Moor” in Scotland, their next best hope was to be invited to join a shooting party at the home of some acquaintance or other. Endless rounds of house parties were an expected part of fall and winter entertainment. Hunting on someone else’s land was considered poaching (theft), the the penalties for such activities were severe, sometimes resulting in deportation or even hanging.

Are you going near Camden Place? Because, if you are, I shall have no scruple in asking you to take my place, and give Anne your arm to her father’s door. She is rather done for this morning, and must not go so far without help, and I ought to be at that fellow’s in the Market Place. He promised me the sight of a capital gun he is just going to send off; said he would keep it unpacked to the last possible moment, that I might see it; and if I do not turn back now, I have no chance. By his description, a good deal like the second size double-barrel of mine, which you shot with one day round Winthrop.”
Persuasion

During the Regency, game birds were shot in different ways, though Driven Game shooting was popular on larger estates. Here, where beaters are employed to drive game towards a line of standing guns through woods and over moors or fields, dependent on the quarry and time of year. The total bag (number of birds shot) will be anywhere between 80 and 300, again dependent on quarry etc. The day will be very formal, and gamekeepers or a shoot captain will oversee proceedings. Pickers-up are also employed to make sure all shot game is collected. On such estates, large numbers of pheasants, partridge and duck, but not grouse, may be released to maintain numbers.

Shotguns (also known as a fowling piece or scattergun) were improved during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and game shooting became more popular. To protect the pheasants for the shooters, gamekeepers culled vermin such as foxes, magpies and birds of prey almost to extirpation in popular areas, and landowners improved their coverts and other habitats for game. Game Laws were relaxed in 1831 which meant anyone could obtain a permit to take rabbits, hares and gamebirds.

Fox Hunting
He told her of horses which he had bought for a trifle and sold for incredible sums; of racing matches, in which his judgment had infallibly foretold the winner; of shooting parties, in which he had killed more birds (though without having one good shot) than all his companions together; and described to her some famous day’s sport, with the fox-hounds, in which his foresight and skill in directing the dogs had repaired the mistakes of the most experienced huntsman, and in which the boldness of his riding, though it had never endangered his own life for a moment, had been constantly leading others into difficulties, which he calmly concluded had broken the necks of many.
Northanger Abbey

Fox hunting, or Riding to Hounds, as it was called, a sport most associated with Great Britain, was outlawed in 2005. This type of hunting was considered not only barbaric to the fox, but also caused considerable damage to area farmers as large groups of mounted hunters trampled field and forest in pursuit of their prey. The romantic image of scarlet clad hunters on horseback was actually a complicated hierarchy of huntsmen, hounds, their handlers (the Quorn) along with a variety of lookers on.

The earliest known attempt to hunt a fox with hounds was in Norfolk, in the East of England, in 1534, where farmers began chasing down foxes with their dogs as a form of pest control. Packs of hounds were first trained specifically to hunt foxes in the late 1600s, with the oldest such fox hunt likely to be the Bilsdale in Yorkshire. By the end of the seventeenth century, many organised packs were hunting both hare and fox.

Modern foxhunting is attributed to Hugo Meynell, Master of the Quorn Hunt between 1753 and 1800. Meynell was instrumental in the breeding of a new type of Fox hound. These faster dogs, allowed the hunt to begin later in the day, thus offering a broader appeal to the fashionable ladies and gentlemen who kept city hours, while in the country.

According to, Peculiar Privilege: A Social History of English Foxhunting, 1753-1885, November to March marked fox hunting season, starting after the fall of the leaf, when the fields lie fallow, and ending after the last frost, just before the first planting. The golden age for hunting in Leichesterchire is considered to be 1810 to 1830. During this time, there were as many as 300 hunters stabled in Melton Mowbray–with some gentlemen keeping up to 12 hunters. A gentleman could hunt six days a week with the Quorn, the Cottesmore, the Belvoir, and the Pytchley, and to do so would need at least two mounts every day to keep pace with the master and the pack of hounds.

Until the mid 1800’s (when the jumping pommel was invented for the side saddle) the sport of fox hunting remained purely masculine. Ladies were advised to “ride to the meet and home again to work up an appetite” and while many did choose to ride to the hunt, a few followed the hunt in their carriages, keeping to the roads and lanes rather than going cross-country. Grand picnics and “Hunt Balls” were often organized as a way of bringing a societal aspect to this otherwise male dominated sport.

Historical information from Wikipedia.com

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