Coakham Hunt’s greatest game pits bloodhounds against man

Six years after hunting with dogs was banned here, a pack of black-and-tan hounds is in full cry across this swath of semirural southern England, urged on by a huntsman and riders resplendent in fox-hunting habit. Somewhere up ahead is their quarry – limping slightly and straining every sinew to throw the hounds off the scent.

The Hunting Act, which became the law of this land in 2005 following months of protest and parliamentary debate, made it illegal to use dogs to hunt foxes. It also protects some other mammals, such as hare (but not rabbits), mice (but not rats) and mink (but not men).

Several pink-cheeked and puffing specimens of which are now scrambling through hedgerows of hawthorn and wild rose, plunging into icy irrigation channels and laboring across plowed fields that are sodden with just-thawed snow from Britain’s uncharacteristically cold winter.

This is a manhunt.

And although he started the day nursing a sore knee, 54-year-old Andy Kay and his fellow runners are putting up a fine chase, it has to be said, pausing occasionally to listen for the hounds in pursuit or to pull brambles from their hair. Despite the suction of the mud and the slight rasp that comes from inhaling frigid air, this fit crew of three men and two women, given a half-hour head start, is maintaining an exhilarating lead over the hounds, which begin to emit an eerie bay as they lollop purposefully along behind, noses to the ground — via

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