THE fact is too often overlooked that a ready substitute for the savage chase of animals may be found in the drag hunt, a form of sport which preserves all that is valuable in the way exercise, while getting rid of one thing only—the cruelty to the tortured stag or fox or hare. As has been pointed out in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, a paper favourable to sport.
"There is little doubt that in time the drag-hunt will become the popular hunting pastime. For years it has been supported by the officers of the Guards, and, besides having the merit of disarming criticism on the part of the Humanitarian League, it can be enjoyed by thousands of sightseers, as it defines the tract of country over which the drag leads the hounds."
The attempts of some sporting writers to belittle the value of the drag have been very infelicitous. If they personally prefer a blood-sport to a bloodless pastime, let them say so—it is a matter on which we will take their word—but when they assert that a drag-hunt is not suitable for pedestrians, or for schoolboys, they only convict themselves of knowing as little about the practical as about the moral side of the controversy. The following statement was made by the late Lady Florence Dixie, who spoke with unquestionable authority:
"Drags can be fast run or slow run, according to the way they are laid. My husband owned a pack of harriers and a pack of beagles, and I was able to get him often to hunt them on drags, and have often ridden with the harriers and run with the beagles. When a very fast, non-hunting run was wanted with the harriers, the drag was laid straight and continuously, and hounds ran fast, and riding was like a steeplechase, without a pause, except when any of us became a cropper! When a hunting run was required, we laid a catchy drag, twisting here and there, lifting the scent, and copying as near as possible the wily ways of Reynard. With the beagles we imitated the hare, who is a ringing, not straight-running animal, lifting the scent, doubling back, and so on, and, in fact, we brought thus two competitors into the sport—i.e., the drag-layer verses the huntsman, and pitted their wiles and their cunning against each other. I may be accepted as an authority, as few have perhaps ridden in harder-fought hunting runs of all kinds than I—fox, stag, harrier, guanaco, ostrich, and suchlike—and I have had considerable experience with the beagles as well, on foot."
In face of the testimony, and of the fact recorded by Brinsley Richards, in his "Seven Years at Eton," that a drag was successfully used at Eton half a century ago, it is absurd to pretend that it could not be used there again; but if further proof be needed, it is, fortunately, available in the following letter from Mr. A. G. Grenfell, Headmaster of Mostyn House School, Parkgate, Cheshire. It will be seen that the idea, very commonly held, that the drag-hunt is suitable only for those following on horseback, and that it would too severely tax the energies of boys running on foot, is absolutely erroneous.
"On the subject of Beagle Drag-Hunting at Schools, I think you will be pleased to know that we have owned and run a pack of beagles at this school for the last ten years on the lines that you suggest, and with the greatest success. The drag affords any amount of healthy and interesting exercise without cruelty. Ours is just an ordinary preparatory school, with ten masters and ninety boys. Our hounds are twenty-three or twenty-four in number. The sport of following them is very popular with all of us, and it would be hard to devise an easier or better form of school variant to the ever-lasting football. Not only does drag-hunting keep boys from tiring of the regulation game, but it is to the wind and endurance these runs give us that we owe the fact that we seldom, if ever, lose a match against the boys of our own size and weight. The beauty of the drag-hunt is that you can pick your course, you can choose your jumps, you can regulate your checks and keep your field all together, and you can insure the maximum of sport and exercise."
Here, too, is the testimony of another headmaster of a preparatory school, Mr. F. H. Gresson, of The Grange, Crowborough.
"I can fully endorse all that Mr. Grenfell says with regard to the pleasure and amusement to be derived from a drag-hunt. I have kept a small pack of beagles and hunted a drag with them for the last five years with very successful results. In my opinion, it is a very suitable form of amusement for boys of the preparatory school age, as you can regulate the distance and the checks, and there is no fear of their getting overdone.
"As one who is very keen upon both fox-hunting and hare-hunting, I cannot pretend to say that a drag compares in any way with either. At the same time, however, I get a great amount of enjoyment out of it myself, in addition to the exercise, and I do not find it at all a dull sport."
We do not, of course, compare the drag-hunt with the stag-hunt, the hare-hunt, or any other blood-sport, in the sense of saying that it yields equal excitement; it lacks, no doubt, the thrill of the life-and-death struggle that is going on in front of the hounds. But for those who are aware that such excitement is cruel and morbid, the drag-hunt may be made to provide an excellent substitute for blood-sports, with plenty of exercise; and sportsmen who refuse such substitute merely give proof that their addiction to a barbarous practice is very strong.
Killing For Sport, 1914