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History of American Foxhunting

Foxhunting has existed in North America since Colonial days and was enjoyed extensively by night hunters, farmers and landed gentry. The earliest record of the importation of hounds to this country was on June 30, 1650, when Robert Brooke arrived in Maryland with his family and hounds. By the early 1700's, foxhunting was increasing rapidly in Maryland, Virginia and probably other colonies. The earliest surviving record of American foxhunting in the modern manner, by what is now known as an organized hunt, maintained for the benefit of a group of foxhunters rather than for a single owner, is for the pack instituted by Thomas, Sixth Lord Fairfax in 1747 in northern Virginia. The Blue Ridge Hunt today hunts over much of his former territory. Much of what little is recorded about early hunting comes from letters written by Lord Fairfax and the diaries of George Washington. Washington, the first president of the United States, was an ardent foxhunter who owned his own pack of hounds. Washington's diaries are laced with frequent references to foxhunts near the nation’s capital.

On one occasion while congress was in session, hounds ran near the capital. Many congressmen ran outside to watch hounds and some jumped on their horses and joined the chase. The earliest established foxhound club was the Montreal Hunt in Canada 1826. In the United States, the Piedmont Foxhounds were established in Virginia in 1840. Both packs continue very successfully to this day.

Foggy RideThrough the years North American foxhunting has evolved its own distinct flavor which is noticeably different from the British. The most obvious difference is that in North America the emphasis is on the chase rather than the kill. In addition, the coyote, not the fox, is hunted by a very large number of Hunts. The coyote has increased by large numbers throughout the United States and Canada. It is bigger, stronger and faster than a fox. In Britain the goal is to kill the fox. Because there is no rabies in the British Isles, populations of fox are extremely high and fox are considered vermin. Farmers with sheep farms want the animal numbers controlled. In America this is not normally the case. A successful hunt ends when the fox is accounted for by entering a hole in the ground, called an earth. Once there, hounds are rewarded with praise from their huntsman. The fox gets away and is chased another day. When hounds do not account for a fox by chasing him to an earth, the vast majority of times hounds lose the scent of the fox and that ends the hunt. On many hunts scent isn't sufficient for hounds to run at all. They cannot run what they can't smell. Even these slow days are fun as the scenery is always beautiful, fellow foxhunters are enjoyable and watching the hounds as they attempt to find the quarry is pleasurable. That is not to say that foxhounds in America do not sometimes kill but it is always the exception. Fox populations in hunt country are exceptionally healthy due to natural selection.

In some parts of North America coyotes have become a nuisance and are destroying livestock. While this too is the exception, in those situations Hunts do attempt to kill the coyote with limited success.

For more history on Foxhunting read Chapter 1 from the Centennial View, "Tally-ho Back!" Foxhunting in North America and the MFHA, by Norman Fine (47 MB)

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