The use of scenthounds to track prey dates back to Assyrian, Babylonian, and ancient Egyptian times, and was known as venery.
Many Greek- and Roman-influenced countries have long traditions of hunting with hounds. Hunting with Agassaei hounds was popular in Celtic Britain, even before the Romans arrived, introducing the Castorian and Fulpine hound breeds which they used to hunt.Norman hunting traditions were brought to Britain when William the Conqueror arrived, along with the Gascon and Talbot hounds.
Foxes were referred to as beasts of the chase by medieval times, along with the red deer (hart & hind), martens, and roes, but the earliest known attempt to hunt a fox with hounds was in Norfolk, England, in 1534, where farmers began chasing foxes down with their dogs for the purpose of pest control.
The last wolf in England was killed in the early 16th century during the reign of Henry VII, leaving the English fox with no threat from larger predators. The first use of packs specifically trained to hunt foxes was in the late 1600s, with the oldest fox hunt being, probably, the Bilsdale in Yorkshire.
By the end of the seventeenth century, deer hunting was in decline. The Inclosure Acts brought fences to separate formerly open land into many smaller fields, deer forests were being cut down, and arable land was increasing.
With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, people began to move out of the country and into towns and cities to find work. Roads, railway lines, and canals all split hunting countries, but at the same time they made hunting accessible to more people.
Shotguns were improved during the nineteenth century and the shooting of gamebirds became more popular. Fox hunting developed further in the eighteenth century when Hugo Meynell developed breeds of hound and horse to address the new geography of rural England.
In Germany, hunting with hounds (which tended to be deer or boar hunting) was first banned on the initiative of Hermann Göring on 3 July 1934.
In 1939, the ban was extended to cover Austria after Germany’s annexation of the country. Bernd Ergert, the director of Germany’s hunting museum in Munich, said of the ban, “The aristocrats were understandably furious, but they could do nothing about the ban given the totalitarian nature of the regime.”
According to the Masters of Foxhounds Association of America, Englishman Robert Brooke was the first man to import hunting hounds to what is now the United States, bringing his pack of foxhounds to Maryland in 1650, along with his horses. Also around this time, numbers of European red foxes were introduced into the Eastern seaboard of North America for hunting.
The first organised hunt for the benefit of a group (rather than a single patron) was started by Thomas, sixth Lord Fairfax in 1747. In the United States, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both kept packs of fox hounds before and after the American Revolutionary War.
In Australia, the European red fox was introduced solely for the purpose of fox hunting in 1855. Native animal populations have been very badly affected, with the extinction of at least 10 species attributed to the spread of foxes.
Fox hunting with hounds is mainly practised in the east of Australia. In the state of Victoria there are thirteen hunts, with more than 1000 members between them.
Fox hunting with hounds results in around 650 foxes being killed annually in Victoria,compared with over 90,000 shot over a similar period in response to a State government bounty.
The Adelaide Hunt Club traces its origins to 1840, just a few years after the colonization of South Australia.