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Drag hunting (also spelled draghunting) is a form of hunting with hounds, and dates to the early 19th century. A pack of hounds (usually foxhounds or beagles) hunt a scent that has been laid (dragged) over a course with a defined beginning and end, before the day's hunting. The scent, usually a combination of aniseed oils and possibly animal meats or urine, is dragged along the terrain for distances usually of 10 or more miles.
Drag hunting emphasises the thrill of riding at speed in a natural environment, and tends to follow a relatively straightforward course, allowing for considerable speed, over well-marked obstacles designed or selected with the safety of horse and rider in mind.
A hunt is divided into "legs". Each leg is "scented" just prior to the huntsman casting the hounds, who find the scent and hunt it. At the end of a leg, the hounds are held in check whilst the next leg is scented. Some hunts have human runners carry the scent, some use a quad and drag a scented rag tied to a rope and some apply the scent to the hooves of a lead horse who will go on ahead.
Drag hunting is related to but distinct from trail hunting.
Trail hunting rose to prominence in England after the Hunting Act 2004 banned the hunting of mammals using hounds, with some exemptions. Like drag hunting, trail hunting involves the use of an artificially laid scent, usually fox, hare or rabbit based, to provide hounds with a path to follow. Unlike drag hunting, however, the path set for the hounds in trail hunting is designed to simulate the path that would be taken by a fox or hare attempting to evade the hounds. The path will shift and double-back on itself unpredictably, pass over natural and artificial obstacles, and cross a variety of terrain.
Trail hunting emphasises hound work, exercising and developing the ability of a pack of scent hounds to identify and pursue a prey animal, and the ability of the horse and rider to follow the pack.
Foxhound packs still carry out legal forms of fox control since the passage of the Hunting Act. To avoid confusion between the activities carried out by foxhound and draghounds, to indicate the difference between trail and drag hunting, and to satisfy fears that trail hunting could be used by some as a cover for illegal hunting, the Masters of the Draghounds and Bloodhounds Association in the UK has vigorously asserted its rights to the term "drag hunting" or "draghunting". The Masters of the Foxhounds Association, and Association of Masters of Harriers & Beagles have complied with their wishes, and generally uses the term "trail hunting" for the legal activities of its members.
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