Our trail layers run across the countryside where we are hunting that day, dragging a scent-infused cloth behind them. Our pack of hounds then search for and follow the trail with their noses. The trail-layers know where they can and can’t go and lay several trails throughout the day ahead of the hounds. As the trails are laid some distance apart, the trail layers need to travel to the next area by quad bike and the hounds and the horses hack there. This part is known as hound exercise as they are not following a trail at this point and it may involve some road work.
The timescale for laying a trail before the hounds start to search and find the scent and the number of trails laid on any given day varies as it is dependent on a number of factors; terrain, wind, rain, air pressure, temperature and many other influences. We use an ethically sourced, quarry-based scent as hounds have traditionally been bred to follow this scent and they know what they are searching for.
How is trail-hunting different to drag hunting? Drag hunting is where the drag (scent) line is laid over a known route or line for the hounds to follow, incorporating a number of fences for the riders to jump. The riders will know the order of the fences and where they are going to start and finish, which will be at a set time. It is quite fast and appeals to riders who like to gallop and jump at speed and is generally over within a couple of hours.
Trail-hunting, which can last all day, is regarded as more of a hound-based activity where much of the emphasis is on watching the hounds work out where the scent has been laid in a way that simulates traditional hunting. Our huntsman will know which overall area the hunt is allowed access to on a specific day so will encourage the hounds to search for the trail within those parameters by using his voice and the hunting horn. Neither our huntsman nor his whipper-in (who helps the huntsman to control the hounds), know exactly where the trails have been laid, so the focus is on locating the laid scent using the hounds. Hounds will use their voices when they locate the scent and start to follow it – this sound is known as “the cry”. A good trail-layer will try to make the hounds work hard to locate the trail, just as they would have done when fox hunting and quite often hounds may follow it for a while but then lose it where the trail-layer lifted the scent before dropping it again.
If the hounds do lose the scent, our huntsman will encourage them to search again where it was lost – this is known as casting – and looks like the hounds are fanning out while all the time using their noses to seek the trail. This is of great interest to watch whether you are following on horse, on foot or watching from a car. Trail hunting generally allows for older riders and younger children on lead rein to join in as there are frequent stops while the hounds try and find the scent, jumping can always be avoided and it is of a slower pace.
What happens if hounds pick up the scent of a live fox? Foxes and other mammals naturally live in the countryside, so on occasion the hounds may pick up the scent. If this occurs, huntsman and other members of the hunt staff stop the hounds as soon as they are made aware that the hounds are no longer following a trail that has been laid. The Master stops the mounted followers and we wait until the hounds are called back and encouraged by the huntsman to pick up the (correct) trail again.
Why do people want to go trail-hunting?
There are many reasons why people want to go trail hunting either on horseback, on foot or following in a car. Most of us enjoy the freedom of being out in the countryside in its ever changing beauty. It’s intriguing watching the hounds “work” to pick up the trail and seeing the bond between the huntsman and his hounds is a joy. Those of us on horses are able to ride off road and access different parts of the countryside which wouldn’t necessarily be open to us if we weren’t following a pack of hounds. This is a real privilege.