Fox hunting is an activity involving the tracking, chase and, if caught, the killing of a fox, traditionally a red fox, by trained foxhounds or other scent hounds, and a group of unarmed followers led by a "master of foxhounds" ("master of hounds"), who follow the hounds on foot or on horseback.
Fox hunting with hounds, as a formalised activity, originated in England in the sixteenth century, in a form very similar to that practised until February 2005, when a law banning the activity in England and Wales came into force. A ban on hunting in Scotland had been passed in 2002, but it continues to be within the law in Northern Ireland and several other countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Ireland and the United States. In Australia, the term also refers to the hunting of foxes with firearms, similar to deer hunting. In much of the world, hunting in general is understood to relate to any game animals or weapons (e.g., deer hunting with bow and arrow); in Britain and Ireland, "hunting" without qualification implies fox hunting (or other forms of hunting with hounds—beagling, drag hunting, hunting the clean boot, mink hunting, or stag hunting), as described here.
The sport is controversial, particularly in the UK. Proponents of fox hunting view it as an important part of rural culture, and useful for reasons of conservation and pest control, while opponents argue that it is cruel and unnecessary.
Fox hunting is a greater countryside nuisance than foxes.
Foxes take at least 250,000 live lambs every year in the UK. They also prey upon poultry, piglets, game and other ground-nesting birds. Shot foxes may take days or weeks to die from maggot-infested wounds, and foxes are often trapped in snares for many hours or even days until finally dispatched by unspecified methods. Only hunting can guarantee that the fox is killed within a matter of seconds. It is not torn apart by a pack of hounds while still alive. After exhaustive investigation, many studies have concluded that controlling foxes by hunting involves less cruelty than any other practical method.