The Stag and the Huntsman: my most memorable photo

stag huntsman
A stag knocks a huntsman off his horse on Exmoor in Richard Austin's most memorable photo

ONE of the most memorable photographs I have ever taken was the day, on Exmoor, a stag tried to jump over a horse and rider.

It is one of the most talked about pictures I have taken and I have told the story hundreds of times to people in my local pub, but I suppose that’s my fault for having a copy hanging on the wall.

It was two weeks away from the end of hunting with dogs, parliament had voted and hunting with dogs was to be made illegal. As a freelance news photographer I was working on a possible book documenting the last few months of legal hunting.

I was with journalist and friend Martin Hesp and we were following the Devon and Somerset Stag Hounds with full permission of the hunt master and mistress. At the meet I was told by the hunt mistress that I could photograph everything and that they had nothing to hide. So, with a green light from the hunt mistress I was determined to photograph as much as I could without prejudice.

Not long into the hunt some of the riders became separated from the main pack and were waiting in the lane for the rest to arrive. I was standing in the back of a Toyota truck with Martin, looking right I could see a stag galloping down the field on the opposite side of the river.

This stag was not being hunted. I watched through the dense trees as the it gestured to jump into the river and swim across to our side of the water; it stopped, then trotted further down the river bank before he did jump in and swim across. It was then that I suddenly realised that it was a distinct possibility that the stag would make his way up through the wood and emerge onto the road exactly where the horses with riders and a few hounds were waiting. This was a long-shot but as it tuned out one that paid off.

By this time I had shouted to Martin to run as I needed to be closer than I was; we did run for a short distance but then instinct made me stop and raise my camera, and at that precise moment, the stag came through the hedge and immediately launched itself at the horse with the huntsman.

The pictures speak for themselves, the stag knocked the huntsman clean off his horse and hard down onto the road with the stag sliding off the horse also onto the road. The stag got up and ran off but the huntsman lay still, I really thought he was very seriously hurt until he opened one eye, looked at me and said: “Did you get that?”

I had photographed the whole sequence of events, with one image standing out as the best. The pictures published in news media all over Europe and beyond. People say it is very unlikely anyone will ever see such a sight ever again. But then, never say never!

Woodmead Halls

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