Hunting humans for fun


Lifelong kennelman Jeremy Whaley’s hunting narrative shifts from tradition to innovation, prioritising the hounds’ skill over the hunt’s end

All images © Sharon T Photography

‘I was deeply anti-hunting,’ says Jeremy Whaley – not the conversation opener expected from a lifelong huntsman and hunt master.
‘But as a child I loved my pony, and I really loved dogs. At the yard where I kept my pony there were children who hunted, and I’d see them come back muddy and tired – but they always had that look in their eye that said they’d had the best day.

Jeremy Whaley of the South Downs Bloodhounds

‘Eventually they persuaded me to give it a try – and I was just fortunate that I was out with the huntsman Jim Bennett and the Old Berkeley pack. It was a spectacle! The horses, the chaps in their mustard coats … but most of all, I instantly recognised that one of these men had a magical – and I mean that literally – bond with all these dogs. They were all looking at the huntsman and listening to him, it was spellbinding. Then we moved off and I watched that man working all those dogs, off leads, running around barking … and yet, they were still under full control. I was hooked.
‘I was an academic and sporting failure – horses and hunting became my mental life saver.
‘Jim was a professional huntsman, and I was lucky enough to hunt regularly with him throughout the rest of my childhood and my early adult years. He taught me and showed me that it was hound work, and the relationship with his hounds, that was important to him, not killing foxes.

Megan James with Halo of the South Downs Bloodhounds

‘Just as, for a farmer, raising animals is a passion and the killing of those animals is merely a necessity for feeding humans. It was only ever about his love of hounds, never a passion to kill a fox. That was what set me on the path to 23 years hunting with foxhounds – like Jim, I loved the hounds, but I never enjoyed killing the fox. I was Master and Huntsman of The New Forest, then The Chiddingfold Leconfield and Cowdray, and then The Berwickshire Foxhounds in Scotland. Then the law changed and the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 came into force which, due to loopholes in the legislation, allowed an unlimited number of dogs to ‘flush foxes to guns’.
I’d not seen anything like it before, I couldn’t stomach it.
‘So I looked for alternatives. Drag, or trail, hunting is too artificial for me. There’s no challenge in what is effectively following a railway line of scent. Then I saw Nic Wheeler from Coakham Bloodhounds, one of the oldest bloodhound packs in the UK. I went out with them, loved it, and realised it was my answer.’
The hounds come too
Hunting humans with bloodhounds is referred to as hunting the clean boot.
‘It’s not fox hunting by another name. They’re completely different sports. Just as someone who’s good at squash may not enjoy tennis, clean boot hunting with bloodhounds is a sport in its own right, with its own skills and challenges,’ says Jeremy.

The South Downs Bloodhounds out

‘The point is, the hunting of most wild animals with hounds is illegal. It doesn’t matter if it was bad law – it is what it is, it is not going to change and, if we want hound sports to survive, we need to not only move on and hunt within the law, but do so in a way that seeks to impress and educate the average, tolerant, man, woman or any other of the myriad genders that currently exist on the Clapham omnibus.
‘I started the Borders Bloodhounds Hunt in 2002 – and the more I learned, the more I loved it.
Due to a change in circumstances I had to move back south, so I found a kennels to rent and brought the hounds with me. I started the South Downs Bloodhounds (SDB) in 2004, on an absolute shoestring budget!
‘One day we had 126 riders turn up we realised we really needed to set up a booking system! We usually average about 30 riders a hunt now, and most simply pay a cap to attend for the day.

Jeremy Whalen leading the South Downs Bloodhounds, accompanied by amateur whipper-in Amanda Pole
All images © Sharon T Photography

Tub hunting
We start in August with tub hunting (because the quarries are a bit tubby that early in the season …), and we do four or five hunts of around a mile each in a day to get the quarry, the hounds and the horses fit. We have the formal opening meet in the middle of October, and by then we will have three or four longer hunts of two to three miles; up to five miles if I can manage it.
‘The routes are mapped in advance, and I try to always vary them, even if we’ve been to the same place before. The hounds learn a route very quickly, so we always try and make each one different.
‘We’ll go anywhere – Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Somerset … we’ve just been up to Fife in Scotland! In fact, the Fife and the Lauderdale Hunts are both now converted to a bloodhound hunt.
‘Hunting human quarry with bloodhounds has all the vagaries of the proper chase – you can see them working the trail out. It’s not just a case of the quarry running as fast as they can along the route that’s given to them, it’s far more complex.

The South Downs Bloodhounds Quarries l-r: Liz Wheeler, Tom Hawthorne, Richard Taylor and Quarry Captain Nick Hudson

‘Last week we had six quarry out as a group, and really that’s too many. The hounds just flew without checking. Obviously there were some who enjoyed a fast ride, but for me it’s far better to make life difficult for the hounds. Just two quarries, and let the hounds struggle a little.
‘We used to hunt a policeman, he was really good. One time we came up into a really big stubble field and I knew the quarry should have gone half way down before turning right. But the hounds flew along confidently, shooting past where the quarry should have turned. We made it to the end of the field, and the hounds checked. I watched them casting about, and started to wonder if the quarry had got lost somehow. Then, just one individual hound, Subtle, started to move her way back up the line. I called the rest of the pack, and they followed her – half way back across the field they roared off in the right direction.
‘I spoke to the policeman afterwards, and he said he’d decided to cause us some problems – he ran all the way to the end of the field, doubled back to re-trace his own steps up the line, and then cut left across the field as planned. Brilliant!’

Jeremy Whaley, senior Master of the South Downs Bloodhounds, leading the way.

A hound is a hound
How big is the South Downs Bloodhounds pack?
‘I normally have 18 couple in kennels,’ says Jeremy. ‘And I take 12 to 13 couple to hunt.’
A pack of hounds is always counted in couples. Two hounds are a couple and one hound is one hound – unless he is with others, when he is, naturally, half a couple. It is traditional for a huntsman to take an odd number of hounds out for a day’s hunting, so he might take 20½ couple – or 41 hounds.

The South Downs Bloodhounds in full voice, ‘roaring off in the right direction’.

‘Everyone is welcome to join the South Downs Bloodhounds. Riders must book ahead via the website, but anyone is welcome to attend the meets on foot and follow, or to become quarry. The SDB hunt is renowned for being welcoming to newcomers and isn’t overly concerned about the ‘right’ hunting dress, or people understanding hunting terms. There are always hunt members to buddy up with, whether you’re riding for the first time, or watching on foot. You do not need references to join the SDB. Details are all published on the website, and Jeremy encourages anyone to come and experience it for themselves.
‘To be honest, we take the piss out of each other a lot. And that’s not accidental. We really want people who will come along, muck in and have fun. We’re not frightfully grand, and we’re not there to impress anyone. We’re just ordinary people who love our animals, enjoying our sport.’

The South Downs Bloodhounds pack

With thanks to equestrian photographer Sharon T Photography for the use of all images.


    • If you read the article you’ll understand it’s exactly as the title says. The bloodhounds chase human quarry, and only humans.


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