Under pressure from the British Labor Party majority and, increasingly, animal rights activists, the institution of fox-hunting appears to be living on borrowed time in the Sceptered Isle. Urban pressure on habitat also has a good deal to do with its decline in Britain.
But fox-hunt fans, fear not. The hounds have come to a colony near you.
The Sunday Times of London has published a lengthy article on fox-hunting in the United States, using as its protagonist one David Downing, formerly of Worcestershire, England, and now master of a hunt in the Shenandoah Valley with the Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop.
Mr. Downing and his family moved to the United States in 1998 after his family began to suffer verbal abuse from opponents of fox-hunting. Let's put it in his words: "I thought, 'Stuff this.' " So he packed up his family and his foxhounds, including two of his favorites, Gossip and Gorgeous, and headed off to America.
Should fox-hunting disappear in Britain, along with it will go the tradition of dressing up in scarlet coats and the customary offering of port before the steeple-chasing hunt. Fox-hunting was first imported to this continent by British colonists in 1650, and the first organized hunt was held in 1747 by Lord Fairfax, an English landowner who introduced George Washington to the joys of hunting, such as they might be.
Mr. Downing says of his new habitat, "Suddenly we were somewhere where you could ride for 25 miles and not see a single car. And our standard of living has shot up," even to the extent of central heating.
Fox-hunting can be found in 35 states, particularly in eastern deciduous forests that give good coverage to foxes. Coyotes are the prey of choice in the western plains. One difference is that American hunters will chase the fox to ground, but not kill it. One fox-hunter said, "I don't think our hounds even know how to kill a fox."
That may fend off animal-rights activists, for a time. In Britain foxes are considered vermin, much as some people view the growing deer herds in the Midwest. But where fox-hunting implied a certain culture and class of living in Britain, it is not widely understood in the cities, and hunting is not as established a male ritual as it is here.
British expatriates are angered by the Tony Blair government, which they say has destroyed part of their heritage. In fact, a group of hunters, including some Americans, plan to stand up for hunters' rights.
Imagine it: a man on horseback riding through the countryside to warn fellow Britons: "Those red-coated sods are coming."