Fox hunts come to Whatcom County – without the fox

Riders with Fraser Valley Hunt in Langley, B.C. on April 7, 2011.
Riders with Fraser Valley Hunt in Langley, B.C. on April 7, 2011. ShaneKelleyPhotography.com

Rich in tradition and controversy, fox hunting has evolved here more into its sporting aspect, with several hunts continuing albeit with a more humane twist: No live foxes.

With a history that reaches back to the 1500s, when farmers in England and Wales hunted down the foxes that were stalking and killing their livestock, the sport still has a following in British Columbia.

Now a Canadian club has brought the sport to Whatcom County, with its first October hunt at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 1, at Clearbrook Lutheran Church, on the corner of Halverstick and Van Buren Road.

Fraser Valley Hunt, located just across the border in Aldergrove, B.C., is one of many hunt clubs that carry on fox hunting as a sport with “drag hunts.” Hounds follow an artificial scent laid from horseback, on foot or from a four-wheeler. No foxes are endangered, but horsemanship and camaraderie still count, club officials said.

“For the riding enthusiast, nothing can compare to galloping a fine horse, eager to meet his fences, across open country on a crisp fall morning with hounds in full cry,” according to the club’s website, fraservalleyhunt.com.

The club is hosting a series of five “drag hunts” in October on private property (with the permission of the landowners) in British Columbia, and near Lynden and Ferndale.

Though fox hunting isn’t uniformly legal around the world, there are 156 organized clubs in North America and Canada, and organized hunts exist in 37 states, according to the Masters of Foxhounds Association and Foundation.

I think the attraction for horsing people is it’s really fun to get out and about and gallop across the county in a non-competitive sport.

Carol Champion of Fraser Valley Hunt

The artificial scent used for the “drag,” which represents a live quarry, varies from hunt to hunt and club to club. The Fraser Valley club uses anise to lay down the scent, according to club master Carol Champion.

Dennis Foster, executive director of Foxhounds Association and Foundation for the U.S. and Canada, said the drag is strategically placed throughout the terrain to mimic the moves of an actual fox being hunted down. It can be laid on foot, by four-wheeler or by horse.

“Sometimes (the foxes) stop and hide and the hounds go over them and then they get up and go another way. Sometimes they go in a hole, sometimes any number of things (happen) and that’s what they try to do with the drag lure,” Foster said.

Anise, sometimes called aniseed, is added so that the hounds know they are only supposed to follow that particular scent and not go off chasing a bird or other scents they come across in the air or on the ground.

The scent can’t be too strong or too weak in order for the hounds to accurately follow the scent and act in a way that mimics a live hunt.

“The scent is a very big deal because the hounds give voice and if the drag is too strong, they won’t give voice and you want to simulate a live hunt, and in a live hunt there is usually a good cry and so there’s a fine line,” Foster said.

Champion believes that what draws people to the hunts are the “camaraderie and excitement” that the sport brings.

“I think the attraction for horsing people is it’s really fun to get out and about and gallop across the county in a noncompetitive sport. The horses like it,” Champion said.

“It’s not that taxing for ridership. We’re not jumping high jumps (and) the jumps are all optional. It’s very open that way and a lot of people get a lot of satisfaction out of the tradition of the hounds and watching the hounds work.”

Vanessa Thomas: 360-715-2289