The hunting horn
The Field|January 2022
A passionate American hunter has compiled a comprehensive reference on the instrument that punctuates a day’s hunting
GROSVENOR MERLE-SMITH

It has been said in many ways, probably since the dawn of time, that a bad day of hunting is better than a good day of almost anything else. I’ve said it myself, and more to the point there are almost as many reasons to foxhunt as there are foxhunters.

In today’s intense, complicated world, hunting gives one an opportunity to get out in the countryside and immerse oneself into something that has a way to make everything else seem less important than the experience at hand. It manages that in a million ways for as many different reasons… and that is magic.

Today, foxhunters love hearing a well blown hunting horn out in the hunt field, rolling out of the depths of some covert, the echo floating across the countryside. Throughout the history of hunting with hounds we have utilised some form of horn to communicate with both the hounds we are hunting and our fellow hunters, and as much as we enjoy hearing it, most foxhunters hardly know one end of the horn from the other. Even in the off season we look forward to the horn blowing competitions with almost as much excitement as a main hound show event, but for most of us the experience ends there. I’d like to introduce most of the fox-hunting world to what I find an overlooked, fascinating little detail that is an integral part of our sport: the horns we use.

For our purposes, and with only minimal exceptions, hunting horns can be divided into three categories. The first grouping would be natural animal horns, or an arcuate copy thereof. This is certainly from where this entire business evolved. From prehistoric times when hunters had limited ability to create any kind of horn form, animal horns were an ubiquitous wonderful solution.

The second category to be delineated would be generally larger, coiled metal instruments, such as those used in Europe today. Animal horns not only have a limited ability to play a musical tune but they are all essentially unique, each creating a unique instrument. As the science of metallurgy evolved, so did man’s ability to create larger, longer instruments and, with this technology, replicate a design either by casting or hammering parts out of sheet metal. Identical brass horns could be produced in numbers, with the capability of playing a range of notes and thus enabling multiple instruments to play tunes together.

Near the end of the 18th century, a number of things changed in England that sent the look and style of mounted hunting in a new direction. Farming practices were changing with the rise of the Industrial Revolution and common, open land was fenced to be more efficiently used through legislation known as the Enclosure Acts. As woodland gave way to open plough, speed was bred into the hounds, and with hounds spending more of their time in the open, the necessity for such varied horn communication lessened. More and more fences cut across the countryside and jumping those fences became more of a necessity to stay with hounds. Mounted foxhunting huntsmen started carrying smaller horns. These new small horns were not capable of playing melodic hunting tunes, as their typical range is only a few bending notes, but they were easier to handle riding fast across country. They were also less painful and much less expensive to fall on.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM THE FIELDView All

Stills going strong

Some of our finest whisky distilleries have been run by the same families for generations, their spirits as unique as their history

8 mins read
The Field
January 2022

Walking in our grandfathers' footsteps

There’s no better way to enjoy unspoilt countryside, companionship and testing birds than on a walked-up day – just how it used to be

8 mins read
The Field
January 2022

Scotland, Fleming's other secret agent

Much like an extra character, Scotland has had a starring role in many Bond films – but was 007 a Scot?

8 mins read
The Field
January 2022

Well I'll be blowed

Bagpipes, long associated with royal reveille and haggis, are hitting the right note in other areas

8 mins read
The Field
January 2022

The battle for birds

Part of the fun of a shoot day is letting your dog retrieve a few of your birds, says David Tomlinson, bemoaning the advent of the big picking-up packs

4 mins read
The Field
January 2022

Dreaming of the perfect pools

As your mind wanders while sat on the riverbank during a slow day, try conjuring up the perfect stretch of salmon water

7 mins read
The Field
January 2022

The hunting horn

A passionate American hunter has compiled a comprehensive reference on the instrument that punctuates a day’s hunting

8 mins read
The Field
January 2022

Strange encounters

While digital demons have upped the horror ante, medieval ghost stories still have the power to chill host stories have all but

8 mins read
The Field
January 2022

HOW TO… … plan for a year of sporting achievement

As the first page of the 2022 calendar is turned, here is our month-by-month guide to ticking off those sporting firsts

10 mins read
The Field
January 2022

Art in the field

Madeleine Bunbury is travelling the globe to find 80 subjects to fill her life-size canvases. Janet Menzies tries to think of 80 breeds

4 mins read
The Field
January 2022