This section is from the book "A History And Description Of The Modern Dogs Of Great Britain And Ireland. (Sporting Division)", by Rawdon Briggs Lee. Also available from Amazon: A History and Description of the Modern Dogs of Great Britain and Ireland: Sporting Division.
As this hound is neither more nor less than a foxhound under another name, but trained for a different purpose, I would rather he followed the latter than preceded him, though older associations and modern customs might entitle the so-called staghound, or buckhound, to the premier position.
He has been used, or, at any rate, a somewhat similar animal to him has long been used, for stag-hunting, and we are told by historians that, in the times of the Normans, villages were depopulated, and places for divine worship overthrown, in order that the nobles might have their parks in which to keep their deer. Woodstock, in Oxfordshire, was one of these, and, according to Stowe, the first of its kind in England. So great a hold had hunting on those whose position allowed them to enjoy the pastime, that Edward III., when at war with France, took with his army a pack of sixty couples of stag-hounds; and in the reign of Elizabeth a pack was kept at Simonsbath, Somersetshire, which hunted the red deer on the moor by the Bade, just as it is hunted to-day. But it is not my province here to enter into the ancient history of each variety of dog, and, so far as the staghound is concerned, I must be contented with thus briefly drawing attention to his ancient lineage.
Although some hundred years or so ago there was every appearance of a speedy decline of stag-hunting, owing to enclosures, high fencing, and similar sport to be obtained by other means, the retrograde movement was retarded. At the present time there are eighteen packs of staghounds in England and seven in Ireland, a considerable increase on what has previously been. Owing to the working of the Ground Game Act, which, in many parts of the country, has almost exterminated hares, those who followed the latter with harriers had to give up hunting or seek a fresh quarry. The latter was mostly done, and deer, "carted' or otherwise, have thus become a common chase. The chief packs which have so changed of late are Sir John Amory's, in Devonshire; the Oxenholme, Westmorland; and Mr. Allen-Jefferys', Somersetshire. Sport with the carted deer is pretty certain, as when one hind or stag will not run as she or he ought to do, another is speedily provided, which it is hoped will take a straighter line, affording the hounds an opportunity for hunting, and, what in modern times is unfortunately considered of more importance, give horses a chance to gallop and exhibit their jumping powers at the fences, or their amiability in the lanes or on the roads.
As a loyal subject, I ought to make some mention here of Her Majesty's Staghounds or Buckhounds, kept by the State, which, kennelled at Ascot, hunt the country round about, where the overworked city man seeks to regain his failing health by a gallop over a highly cultivated country. The Royal pack of forty couples, as at present constituted, may be said to date back to 1812, when the Goodwood foxhounds were presented to the Prince Regent, as they were faster than the old-fashioned, lemon-pied Southern hounds or talbots, the original constitution of the pack.
Of the original hounds, much has been written, and in 1895 Mr J. P. Hore published his "History of the Royal Buckhounds." Without quite agreeing with all the painstaking compiler tells us as to the antiquity of the hunt, there is no doubt buck-hunting was a Royal sport even as early as the time of Edward III. In Oueen Anne's time there were two packs, and when Elizabeth reigned, the hounds cost the national exchequer £164 6s. 7d. They cost more now. However, it would be out of place here to enter fully into the history of this Royal pack, and those who yearn after more knowledge of this kind can easily gain it from other sources. At the time I write, hounds are well matched and most uniform, the dogs standing about 24 inches, and the "ladies" 22½ inches at the shoulder.
The above measurements may be taken as about the standard heights of the staghound, though the Devon and Somerset, which hunt the wild deer on Exmoor and on the Quantock Hills, are rather larger. The rough country of coombes and thick gorse necessitates as big a hound as can be obtained, so 25 to 26 inches is the standard Mr. R. A. Sanders, the present master, seeks to acquire, and he uses entirely dog hounds, drafts from various foxhound kennels. Not more than one bitch has been in this pack for a dozen years or so, and no puppies are bred by the hunt.
There is no doubt that the chase of the wild red deer is glorious sport, and the genuine lover of hunting, one who likes to admire hounds work, and the cleverness of the horse, cannot do better than run down to Dulverton in the season, and see how the Devon and Somerset hounds can go. Long stern chases are common with them, and the forty minutes bursts in the Midlands after the fox, give place to three hours here behind a more noble quarry.
The pack consists of about thirty-four couples of hounds, a certain number of which are tufters. These are mostly old hounds, whose duty it is to find the deer, work out his line, and get him separated from the remainder of the herd; the full pack is then laid on, and so the hunt goes. The number of these tufters taken out depends upon the size and nature of the covert to be drawn, four couple of them being the usual complement. They are selected from the pack on duty for the day, because of their staunchness and eagerness in drawing, but especially for their voices and aptitude for giving tongue. A mute tufter is of course worse than useless, and, as a fact, "staghounds" have a great tendency to run mute.
In autumn, say from the 12th of August to through October, the stag is hunted, and at the end of the latter month hind hunting commences and continues to April, and as many as a hundred stags and hinds have been killed in one season.
The present pack dates actually from 1827 (though antiquarians may identify it with that at Simonsbath two hundred and thirty years earlier), and with slight exception, the Devon and Somerset have ever since shown the perfection of sport.