A few bloodhounds trotted across the country track one at a time. Yelps from the surrouding woods indicated more dogs were in the area.
Two men impeccably dressed in red coats, beige pants, black caps and riding boots and mounted on immaculately groomed horses halted nearby.
They looked about, trying to reconoiter, occasionally calling out to a hound or bolowing their hunting horns. A few more riders, similarly attired but in black coats, came tentatively up the trial.
A rag-tag band of five young people stood nearby, in sharp contrast to the smartly outfitted huntspeople. The two groups tried to ignore each other, which wasn't easy in the tight quarters.
Then suddenly a harried-looking fox jumped out of the underbrush from the direction the hounds had gone, dashed across the track and kept going.
Incredibly enough, not a single member of the hunt noticed the fox dart by less than 50 feet away. Not a single hound raised the alarm.
But some of the scruffy bunch noticed. Their eyebrows shot up but they tried to act as if nothing had happened. Their unoffical leader quietly gathered up his band and took them to where the fox had passed. Trying to stifle giggles, the five began spraying the trail with a chemical used to protect dogs in heat and an awful-smelling mixture of a five-syllable chemical, cleaning liquid and water.
The fox was never heard of again. The hunters looked at the busy sprayers with a mixture of disgust and puzzlement.
The Hunt Saboteurs Association had struck again.
It was still early in the day, but in three more hours of galloping across fields, rounding up 29 confused dogs, blowing horns, cursing hounds with stuffed-up noses, arguing with saboteurs, regrouping and dispersing, calming uncooperative horses, picking their way through heavy woods, taking care not to slip on the ice and just sitting around while hunt leaders pondered what to do next, the hunt would fail to come up with a single fox scent.
Why so much fuss over a mediumsized reddish animal that like anything or anyone else would prefer to go about its affairs in peace?
To begin with, it has a strong musky scent that's easy for bloodhounds to follow. It's a fast animal, faster than the hounds, and can run up to 10 miles if healthy. But it doesn't have the endurance of the dogs; sooner or later a good pack can run it down.
Hunt supporters and many farmers claim it's a pest, that it preys on fowl scuh as chickens and pheasants and can kill young or old cats. They say they breed like rats and have to be controlled.
Hunt opponents disagree, saying the killing of birds is outweighed by the beneficial effects of its kills of rats and mice. Furthermore, they claim much of the killing of farm animals is done by foxes injured or weakened during hunts.
They admit that nearly a day's running around by 20 people is a lot of work to save a fox. But they say hunting is the easiest form of cruelty to animals to combat legally, and brings about a lot of publicity.
Ronnie Lee, a member of the North London saboteurs and veteran of 140 hunts, said the group also opposes "factory Farming" and many forms of experiments on animals, but that they're virtually impossible to fight legally except through publicity campaigns.
Not that the group forsakes lobbying efforts in favor of rural confrontation. Pressure by the 3,000 dues-paying saboteurs, most of whom are vegetarians, and other ecology groups has prompted the Labor Party to add a ban on bloodsports to its platform. In addition, otter hunting has been outlawed in England and Wales and other hunting has been restricted.
The hunt saboteurs, from three groups in the general London area, huddled together at Bramfield's only intersection. They made introductions and exchanged recipes for "sab special," the scent-obliterating liquid that's their main weapon.
It wasn't long before the huntspeople and their hounds came up the road, then turned toward the village's only pub. Most of the saboteurs-to-be held their ground, but one dashed in front of the hounds to spray the road and a few others followed to get a closer look.
The hunters had the traditional stirrup cups of sherry in front of the pub without dismounting. Some cast wary eyes at their less impressive-looking rivals. But one of the joint masters of the Enfield Fox Hounds Chace, a British Broadcasting Corp. show-jumping commentator named Raymond Brooks-Wards, doffed his cap and smiled to two female adversaries.
Brooks-Ward and the women chatted amicably, the women trying to discover the hunt's plans and the hunts-man trying to find out how the saboteurs knew where the hunt would be helds.
Brooks-Ward said the turnout of 25 riders was below average because of icy conditions, and that the hunt would have to go slow. Noting the presence of an American, he said he'd hunted foxes with the Potomac Hunt in Potomac, Md. He said he found it virtually the same as English hunts.
Suddenly the hunters wer off. The country guerrillas scurried to take prearranged positions. One of the more experience hunt thwarters, leading a band off on the run, puffed: "We're just trying to make if fair for the fox - it was rather unfair the way it was."
Britain has slightly more than 200 active fox hunts; more than 100 saboteur groups have sprung up to give them battle. Mike Reily, a young working man who helps organize the North London cadre, said that from the July through March season up to 60 hunts a week will be dogged by fieldworkers.
Reilly and hunt supporters agree an average-size hunt (some have 200 or more riders) usually kills one fox a day if left to its own devices. Reilly said that in 26 times his group has been out this year, however, only three definited kills have been reported.
The loosely-organized "anti's" say their tactics are designed to harm no one - not rider, horse, hound nor protester. A tactics sheet prepared by the gourp's national headquarters - actually a post-office box backed up by volunteers - warms saboteurs-to-be against calling hounds across roads, railroad tracks or other dangerous areas.
The group also vows that it tries to keep to legal means, though members don't seem averse to creative trespassing. Police usually are on hand, giving protesters motivation to stay within the bounds of the law.
They don't always manage it, though. A newsletter announcing last year's annual convention said the June date was chosen so "hopefully all student exams will be over and all Hunt Saboteurs prisoners should be free by then." Two members of the group, fo r instance, were found guilty of damaging a hunt course and were fined a total of $400.
Foxhunting is an upper class sport - with a season's registration costing up to $800 and the daily hunt fee going up as high as $15, not to mention upkeep of horses - but the saboteurs say their opposition has nothing to do with this.
"We don't care about the class," Reilly said. Lee added that hunts with man-made trails are used in the country and could be used everywhere. "They can use the hounds and the horses and dress up without making an animal suffer."
A group of saboteurs, hot on the trial of the hunt, started crossing the side of a field. They spotted the riders, but the hunt changed directions and the followers on foot turned back.
A man strode angrily across the field, told the band they were trespassing and ordered them off the land - in the opposite direction of the hunt. After exchanging harsh words, the saboteurs turned back again; bu the time they reached the road the hunt had disppeared again.
Further down the road they turned off on a path on public land. Upon returning, they found the gate blocked by a surly hunt backer. They climbed over the fence.
A saboteur pulled out his horn and blew it. The man who had blocked the gate walked up angrilly.
"You'd better just put that away," he said, then made a motion to grab it. Just then a police car came around the corner. Everyone gathered around and one hunt supporter gave a reporter a shove, mistaking him for a saboteur. The police tried to calm everyone down.
Still further down the road, a group of saboteurs were in their van discussing a threat by a hunt supporter to break their windows if they used their hunting horn again. This dampened their enthusiasm for a while.
"They're against people with a little money having their day's sport," said the self-proclaimed hunt lover and unpaid hunt kennel worker as he glared at the saboteurs.
The man, a truck driver named Brian Colman, said the saboteurs are "sometimes fairly effective. in disrupting the hunt. He claimed members of the group are hypocrites, that their use of horns tempts the hounds into dangerous situtations. He claimed the saboteurs are paid $10 a day by university student organizations, a charge the saboteurs laugh at.
Another hunt backer, Jack Butcher, a pest control worker for a London borough, defended the hunt as part of "the old English way of life." He added, "We are recognized sport - so how can they come out illegally and disrupt the hounds?"
Butcher claimed the saboteurs' smelly liquids can kill forest animals, and that the "anti's" show a disregard for nature by trooping through the countryside killing plants.
Another joint master of the Enfield Chace, Clough Park, said the hunt opponents have "almost a complete misunderstanding of wildlife, how it behaves."
He said the saboteurs include "one or two genuine moralists" and some "quite charming people," but, "they have so many hangers-on, they're hooligans really."
Park, who claimed the saboteurs have little effect on the outcome of the hunt, said, "Some (hooligans) go to football matches and cause trouble there; some cause trouble here."
Sometimes the disagreements go beyound words or maneuvers in the country. Two Enfield Chase supporters were arrested earlier in the season and charged with attacking a saboteur and breaking the car windows of another. At a recent sporting round-up of rabbits in the north of England, a man was charged with kicking an anti-hunt demonstrator. The same day, 10 protesters were arrested when they dashed onto the hunt field to try to protect the rabbits.
Two "redcoats" galloped in irreuglar patterns across the field, trying to regain control of their hounds. They crakced whips and yelled at the dogs, but to little avail. A band of mounted hunter members stood nearby waiting for order to be restored.
A group of saboteurs blew their horns and mimicked the hunt officails' calls to the hounds. The hounds ran in wider and wider circles. A lone howl could be heard off in the woods from time to time.
"They don't hunt foxes anymore, they only hunt dogs," a saboteur commented.
A harried huntsman galloped by after a hound and yelled, "You're trepassing, you know. If I run you down it's your fault."
A few titters spread through the protesters.
Tally ho and all that," was the only verbal reply.
A few hours later the hunt officers decided to call it a day and set back slowly for the horse trailers.The 10 or so tired-looking members of the hunt still following trailed along down the road.
A police car got behind them to make sure no one passed endangering horses or riders.
he saboteurs, who had been in hot pursuit and now out-numbered the hunters, piled into a string of cars and broguht up the rear.
At the trailers, the hunter slowly started packing up, complaining all the while about their oppenents
The saboteurs, also tired - and hungry as no one had stopped to eat all day - chatted happily about stopped to eat all day - chatted happily about the bloodless day. A policeman kept the two parties apart, his supply of patience clearly up to the task.
And, almost certainly, off in the woods, familes of foxes sat around in their dens wondering what in the earth had been going on. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption; Picture, Hunt saboteurs being chased by mounted policeman. Photo by Neil Jones, Copyright (c) , Mercurry Press Agency Ltd.