There are six species of deer in the UK; Red, Roe, Fallow, Sika, Muntjac and Chinese Water deer, all are hunted to some degree reflecting their relative population either as a "sport" or culling for the purposes of population control. Closed seasons for deer vary by species.
The practice of declaring a closed season in England dates back to medieval times when it was called "fence month" and commonly lasted from June 10th to July 10th although the actual dates varied. It is illegal to use bows to hunt any wild animal in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
"Deer-stalking" is a widely used term by hunters to signify almost all forms of deer shooting, but classically, it refers to shooting red deer. In Britain, "deer hunting" has historically meant "the sporting pursuit of deer with scent-seeking or stag hounds" by hunters on horseback and foot.
In the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there were several packs of staghounds hunting "carted deer" in England. Carted deer were red deer kept in captivity for the sole purpose of being hunted. More recently, there are three packs of staghounds hunting wild red deer on or around Exmoor, offering their services to local farmers as population control. However, the practice of hunting with hounds, other than using two hounds to flush deer to be shot by waiting marksmen, is and has been illegal in the UK since 2005.
Back in 1997 Professor Patrick Bateson - one of the country's foremost animal behaviour experts - was asked by the National Trust to study whether hunted deer suffer. He concluded they did, especially in the final stages of the chase. As a result, the National Trust banned stag hunting on its land. Not surprisingly, Professor Bateson's work was challenged by hunt supporters who were enraged by the ban. Stung by the criticism, Professor Bateson has now reviewed his initial findings.
Professor Bateson states that having looked again at his observations, the deer become tired and start suffering as long as two and a half hours before the end of the chase. He states; "We could see just how well they could jump fences and whether they started to look tired....More often than not, it was taking more than 90 minutes and up to two and a half hours from when they are first observed [as suffering] to when they are killed.”
The hunting process:
Each stag hunt is different. The process presented here is an overview of a typical Stag hunt.
The “harbourer” chooses the deer to be hunted and then sets out on horseback with the 'tufters'. These are older, experienced staghounds. They rouse the deer and start the hunt. To begin, the stag easily outruns the hounds. Once the stag is separated from the herd and is being pursued alone, the job of the “harbourer” is done.
The rest of the pack are brought from the kennels to pursue the stag and other riders join in. In the end, the stag is often tired and will find water to “stay in”. This is called 'standing at bay'. The stag will be shot at close quarters although there have been numerous reported incidents of packs of hounds attacking the stag. The hounds are given the deer's innards as a 'prize'. The remaining carcass is kept for human consumption. Hunts can last from a couple of hours too much longer. Each occasion will be slightly different.
Not all hunts are 'successful' and sometimes the stag does get away, although the Hunt Masters claim this never happens. Research suggests that even if the animal escapes, it may die later due to injuries sustained during the hunt.