Drag Hunting in Ireland

The types of drag hunting practised in Ireland are as follows:

  1. Mounted on horseback following a laid scent known as "drag lines".
  2. Mounted on horseback following a human scent (Hunting the Clean Boot).
  3. Hound trailing.

Drag Lines Hunting

In Drag Lines Hunting, the pack of hounds follows a line of artificial scent made up of various substances and chemicals i.e. paraffin, aniseed and animal excreta, which is laid out in sections across the countryside by a person known as the Dragsman.

Mounted on horseback he lays out the draglines over the selected area to be hunted. This can be done up to half an hour before a meet.

Another version of this is to have the Dragman lay out the line as the hunt is underway. The first section of the hunt ends when the mounted field caught up with the Dragsman. From this another Dragsman can be chosen to drag out the next line and so on for rest of the day.

The drag is pulled along by the Dragsman in anything from a rabbit skin to a woollen casing with a string through the middle. The drag man can then pull it behind him on his trek along the line. A straight line is easier to follow than a twisting one with the best scenting surfaces includes grass, sand and earth.

The make up of the drag scent is usually animal urine or droppings to which paraffin is added as a fixative so that the scent won't evaporate. Aniseed is then added to provide strength.

The drag scent can be laid across the countryside taken into account the amount of jumping that is required and areas that are to be avoided. Breaks can be made so that the hounds have to check and find the scent again.

The route of the drag can ensure that the mounted field finishes up close to where they started.

Note: There are many versions of making up and setting out a drag scent. Whatever method is used the aim is to make the dragline as natural as possible and to make the hounds work.

Drag Lines Hunting is run on the same lines as a live hunt with some hunts doubling up as live quarry packs during the winter. The season for drag lines hunting is from October to March and the meets take place mainly at the weekends. The hounds used are drag hounds and are almost entirely of foxhound breeding. To ensure that foxhounds do not forget the training of fox scent recognition fox droppings are used in the drag scent.

The Quarry Used

The quarry of a drag hunt is the drag, a strong smelling lure for hounds in lieu of live game. Its quality is judged by four factors:

  1. That the odour of the drag is pleasing enough to the hounds for them to want to follow.
  2. That it is strong enough so that they are able to do so.
  3. That it lies breast high so that they can go at a good pace.
  4. That it lasts and does not evaporate before the hounds have been set onto it.

Packs in Ireland - 1998/1999

Total: 5
Republic of Ireland 5
Northern Ireland 0

Athgoe(Winter Hunt) - Drag Only
Bray (Winter Hunt) - Drag Only
Comeragh Mountain (Winter Hunt) - Drag Only
East Clare (Winter Hunt) - Drag Only
South Co. Dublin (Winter Hunt) - Drag Only

Note: Co. Clare Harriers, a registered foxhunt, hunts both live quarry and drag during the hunting season.

Hunting the Clean Boot

Hunting the Clean Boot involves the hunting of a person with blood hounds, not by the smell of anything he carries or wears, but by the human scent, his smell. The mounted field follows behind the pack.

The season for Hunting the Clean Boot falls between October to March and the meets take place at the weekends

Hounds used bloodhounds - supreme trackers and very affectionate animals.

Packs in Ireland - 1998/1999

Total: 2
Republic of Ireland 0
Northern Ireland 2

Down Farmers Bloodhounds (Co.Down) Holestone Farmers Bloodhounds (Co.Antrim)

Details: The human quarry sets off on foot on a route in the area that is being hunted. To test the hounds the line run covers as many natural obstacles as possible. Rivers can be crossed and banks run along in order to extend the skills of the scent sensitive bloodhounds.

The quarry is given up to an hour or so to get ahead of the pack. The bloodhounds are then given an article of clothing worn by the runner, i.e. socks to sniff. This sets up the scent.

Following the dogs is the mounted field who take advantage of the many obstacles that have to be jumped. The length of the run can vary on the terrain but it's usually five to seven miles.

At the end of a run the quarry waits for the hounds to find him. The "kill" involves hounds jumping up and licking the quarry.

After a short rest the runner goes off to start the second run and so on. Any number of runners can be used in a day's hunting.

The route of the drag can ensure that the mounted field finishes up close to where they started.

Hound Trailing

In Hound Trailing, an artificial scent is laid out over a course. Hounds are released in groups and the winner is the first hound to complete the course. Betting is an integral aspect of the activity.

Hound Trailing involves mainly harrier hunt club packs and the season runs from March to September with meets being held at the weekends.

Hounds used are either the Kerry Beagle, the Northern Irish Hound (used only for drag hunting) or the English Hound.

Main Areas Armagh, Clare, Cork, Kerry


The Northern Irish Hound is used only for drag hunting.

Packs who hunt live quarry during the winter months get involved in Hound Trailing as a means of keeping the hounds fit during the summer months.

There are a number of county organisations that regulate the activity of hound trailing.

Competitions are held by these organisations on a county level. This gives the activity a public profile with sponsorship involvement from the commercial sector.

Hound Trailing History

Hound trailing started in the remote countryside of Co. Kerry. During the winter, people hunted the hare on foot over mountain and bogs. During the summer they raced their hounds over the countryside following a runner towing a lump of horsemeat. It was a very localised affair and as communications improved it began to spread to neighbouring counties.

This lead to new breeds of dogs being used. Up to then the Kerry Beagle was the only dog breed used. The faster breeds like the Northern Irish Hound and the English Trail Hound soon outclassed the Kerry Beagle.

From this, two separate hound activities/"sports" emerged:

The use of horsemeat to set the trail came to an end when farmers objected to this practice. In its place aniseed was used. Its usage was another reason why two hound sports came into being, as aniseed will affect the hunting ability of a hound who is used to hunting live quarry.

Source: History of the Scarteen Hunt Co. Limerick Pages 30/31 (pub: 1989)

Irish Drag Hunting Organisations 1998-1999

There is no overall national organisation for Draghunting in Ireland. There are a number of county organisations who regulate and control the activity based around affiliated packs in their own county.

In respect of two Northern Ireland based packs hunting with bloodhounds they are affiliated to the Masters of Bloodhounds Association who regulate the sport of draghunting with bloodhounds on the British mainland.

The Cork City & County Harriers Association (Cork) Hound Trailing/Hunting
The Irish Trail Hounds Association (Cork) Hound Trailing
The East Cork Harriers Association (Cork) Hound Trailing
The Kerry Beagles Association (Kerry) Hound Trailing
The Clare Harriers Association (Clare) Hound Trailing
Northern Counties Drag Hunt Association (Cavan) Hound Trailing

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