Complete Foxhunting Guide: Rules, Tradition, & Equipment

Strict rules and etiquette uphold the sport’s hundreds of years of tradition. In this guide, we’ll cover the rich history of fox hunting, the rules, and what you’ll need to get started.
Complete Foxhunting Guide: Rules, Tradition, & Equipment

During a fox hunt, a group of horses and riders pursue a fox or artificial scent over challenging terrain. Traditionally, the goal was to hunt and kill the fox, but modern-day fox hunting involves riders either chasing dummy foxes or calling off the hounds once they’ve caught up to the fox. Fox hunting is about the thrill and challenge of the chase, as well as the bonds formed with other fox hunters. 

Strict rules and etiquette uphold the sport’s hundreds of years of tradition. In this guide, we’ll cover the rich history of fox hunting, the rules, and what you’ll need to get started.

The history of fox hunting


Many ancient civilizations used hounds to track prey, but the tradition of training hounds to hunt foxes began in 1534 when an English farmer made the first attempt to catch a fox with farm dogs. To farmers, foxes that ate and burrowed in their crops were pests. Hunters became interested in foxes as prey in the 17th century, but it wasn’t until the 18th century that fox hunting developed into a sport.

In 1753, Hugo Meynell, deemed the father of modern fox hunting, started breeding hounds specifically for fox hunting. Because the hounds increased the efficiency of fox hunting, hunts could begin later in the day, and the sport gained traction with younger men. By the 18th century, fox hunting’s popularity soared due to the decrease in England’s deer population.

19th century

Upon the development of the Great British Railway in the 19th century, city dwellers gained easier access to rural land. This further popularized fox hunting in England among all, not just farmers and landowners.

20th century

The 20th century marked additional growth for the sport, followed by significant controversy. Before WWI, the sport became organized under the Master of Foxhounds Association (MFHA). A few decades later, several European countries placed a ban on fox hunting, but the tradition continued in the United Kingdom.

The sport was heavily debated in England on anti-cruelty grounds, but the UK Government did not get involved until 1999. Controversy within Parliament delayed the passing of the act that banned traditional fox hunting until 2004.

21st century

Fox hunting with hounds was banned in Scotland by 2002, and in England and Wales by 2005. However, the sport had already gained popularity in other parts of the world, and it remains popular in many countries today.

Despite bans in the UK, the controversy around fox hunting remains a lively debate. Many continue to fox hunt, arguing that the sport should be preserved as a British tradition. Others find ways to continue the tradition while respecting the ban. In many countries, fox hunting clubs have found alternative ways to enjoy the hunt without killing the fox. 

Is fox hunting illegal?

The laws surrounding fox hunting depend on the country. While fox hunting is still legal in several countries, it is banned in England, Scotland, and Wales, where it first began. Even so, fox hunting has continued illegally under the cover of trail hunting, or laying a scent for hounds to follow. While trail hunting is an accepted alternative to traditional fox hunting, some misuse it to hide illegal fox hunting practices.

Do fox hunts still happen?

There are several legal renditions of the sport that allow the fox hunting tradition to live on today. In the US and Canada, for example, fox hunting often involves hunting the large population of coyotes instead of foxes. Otherwise, trail hunting and chasing but not killing foxes are popular alternatives to traditional English fox hunting. There are over 100 MFHA-recognized hunts in North America.

Fox hunting rules

As tradition holds, you must be invited by the hunt master to participate in a hunt. Some fox hunting clubs allow members of the hunt to bring a guest, but this must be approved by the hunt master. The hunt master organizes the hunt and appoints a huntsman to control the hounds and whippers-in to help the huntsman. The staff appointed by the hunt master, the master, and the hounds have the right of way during a hunt and typically ride at the front.

Hunts usually last three to four hours, with several pursuits within that time. Here is what happens during a fox hunt:

  • The day starts with a meet where hunt followers meet up and greet the hunt master
  • The hunt begins when the hunt master directs the hounds to search for the quarry, which could be a fox, scent, or other prey
  • Hounds are trained to speak to indicate when they have found a scent to follow
  • When a staff member or follower sights a fox, he or she yells “tally-ho” to begin the chase
  • The chase continues until the pack reaches the quarry or loses the scent, at which point the hounds are called off by the huntsman
  • After a chase, the hounds are sent to find another scent to pursue
  • When the hunt ends, the host for the day holds a “hunt breakfast”, which is usually an afternoon meal

Fox hunting can be challenging for beginner riders and horses as they attempt to keep up and navigate rough terrain. Junior riders, riders with guests, and riders on green horses join the back of the pack to avoid getting in others’ way.

What do English fox hunters need?

Fox hunting attire

To maintain the rich fox hunting tradition, there are strict requirements for formal fox hunt attire. If you’re joining a hunt, this is what you should wear:

The required fox hunting attire may vary based on the club and the formality of the hunt. However, you should always avoid wearing a red coat on a hunt. Since the beginning of the sport, red coats have been reserved for hunt masters and other staff.

If you’d like to learn more about what to wear to a fox hunt, check out our beginner’s guide to fox hunting attire and etiquette.

Fox hunting equipment

While modern fox hunting does not require a gun or other traditional hunting equipment, there is some equipment you should bring to keep you, your horse, and those around you safe.

  • First aid kit. Fox hunting can be a dangerous sport. Horses ride close to one another at quick speeds and over rough terrain. Bring supplies such as gauze, bandages, and splints to tend to injured horses or riders.
  • Safety riding gear. You should wear gloves to protect you and help you grip. Although a safety air vest is not required, it is a good idea for beginners to wear one for protection.
  • Well-trained horse. Because there are hounds and other horses involved in a fox hunt, beginners should ride a well-trained horse. Green horses should only be used by experienced fox hunters.
  • Leg protectors. Protect your horse’s legs from other horses and from overreaching with boots that will not trap water and dirt. To maintain a professional look, match the boots to your horse’s coat as closely as possible.

With all the rules and tradition, fox hunting can be overwhelming for beginners. But with the right attire and equipment, you can focus on learning the ropes and keeping up with the pack knowing you’re properly dressed and prepared for a safe hunt. 

How to fox hunt

Because you must be invited to a hunt, fox hunting can be a difficult sport to get into. But if you’re interested in giving it a try, don’t let that stop you! Here are a few practical steps for getting started in fox hunting:

1. Ride rough trails with your horse

Fox hunting is very different from equestrian sports that take place in a show ring. Before you join a hunt, you and your horse must be comfortable riding on rough terrain. Find a trail available to the public, and practice until you feel you and your horse are ready to ride alongside other horses and riders.

2. Join a hunt

Reach out to other riders involved in fox hunting, and ask them about how to get started. You can also research nearby fox hunting clubs and reach out through their website to express interest. The season typically lasts from November to March, so the best time to reach out is early Fall.

3. Learn the rules and etiquette

If you’ve read this far, you’re halfway there! Each hunting club will follow some rules and etiquette more closely than others. The best way to learn is to talk to other members and participate in hunts. Before you know it, you’ll be yelling, “Tally-ho!”

4. Invite others

Once you get the hang of fox hunting, invite your friends! There is a big social aspect to fox hunting, and it’s a fun sport you’ll want to share with others. Just remember, you must ask permission before the day of the hunt, and you are responsible for your guests.

Join the hunt in style

If you’re looking to take up fox hunting, show up to the hunt in style! R.J. Classics is committed to providing high-quality riding attire that upholds rich tradition without looking outdated. Before your first hunt, shop our collection of riding attire for men and women to find the perfect fox hunting outfit.

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