Hunting the Clean Boot

Learning terms that are unique to breeds that are not our own is one of the joys of the diversity of purebred dogs. One of these terms is Hunting the Clean Boot, a British reference to the sport of using Bloodhounds to follow natural human scent. Unlike a draghunt which uses an artificial prelaid scent, Bloodhounds have to work the scent of a human quarry,  a fell runner or a marathon runner who goes out hours before the hunt to leaves a scent behind.

In some cases, huntsman will introduce their hounds to the actual runner at the outset of a hunt so the dogs can register his or her scent. The runner is given around a 20-minute head start. After the first hunt, the Quarry Master will take the “quarry” to the next starting  point when hounds cast themselves on again. Whenever the scent ends, the hounds will “check,” and then it’s the
Huntsman’s job to “lift” the hounds and move them to the field from where the runner has begun the next stage of the hunt. The hounds will draw that field and work out the next line. By this time, the quarry is usually hard pressed and has to be very quick to avoid being caught. In a day’s hunting this is repeated a number of times, and by the end of the day, the hounds can have covered up to 20 miles. The pack is allowed to “catch” the quarry, and typically, the runner must “endure” the joy (and slobber) of affectionate Bloodhounds delighted to have accomplished their mission.

Hunting the clean boot is a landowner, farm-friendly sport. The exact route is agreed upon in advance with farmers and landlords over whose land the hunt crosses, and fields with new crops or populated with breeding stock can be avoided.

“Farm friendly.” We love that a pack of Bloodhounds still engaged in the sport is named, “The Farmers Bloodhounds.” Though the video below is a few years old, it illustrates the “clean boot hunt.” If you love Bloodhounds, you’ll enjoy this!

In 2016, author and fell-runner, Richard Askwith, wrote a piece for Countryfile magazine about what it was like to be the runner in such a hunt – or, put another way, “the spine-tingling sensation of being chased over wild terrain in Northamptonshire by a pack of baying Bloodhounds – for fun.” The article from where the artwork at the top appeared can be read here.

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