"A Gander Pull" by Frederic Remington Wikimedia Commons
Animal Cruelty

Fox-tossing, goose-pulling and rat-baiting: bloodsports through the ages

It’s not all fox-hunting, sometimes it comes down to a rat infestation or hating the French.

BLOODSPORT DISCUSSION THESE days tends to focus on fox-hunting, dog fighting, bullfighting and cockfighting.

These being the ones mostly practiced today, it stands to reason that they’re the best-known. However, there are a host of bloodsports that were once considered to be great sports.

Fox tossing

Fox tossing was popular around Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries and, like most bloodsports, was enjoyed by members of the aristocracy.

It involved the setting up of an arena, in which teams of two would stand around 20 feet apart, each holding one end of a sling or sheet.

Animals such as foxes would be released into the arena and, as they ran near a team’s sling, the object was to toss them into the air. The team with the highest throw would win.


The event was generally fatal for the animals, with heights of 7.5 metres recorded. At one event, at the home of a German noble, 647 foxes, 533 hares, 34 badgers and 21 wildcats were tossed and killed.

The Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold I is also reported to have joined in clubbing the injured animals to death.

The sport was dangerous for participants, with one 1919 book saying that wildcats were a particular nuisance.

“[Wildcats] do not give a pleasing kind of sport, for if they cannot bury their claws and teeth in the faces or legs of the tossers, they cling to the tossing-slings for dear life, and it is next to impossible to give one of these animals a skilful toss.”

Rat Baiting

Rat baiting only died out in the early 20th century and was particularly popular in Britain.

Its popularity was brought about by an 1835 act of Parliament that made it illegal to bait bears, bulls and other large animals.

The object of the sport was to bet on a dog catching rats in a small arena.

The dog that caught the most rats in a prescribed time, sometimes under a weight handicap, would win.

The sport would make a celebrity of a Bull and Terrier named Billy, who held a record of catching 100 rats within five and a half minutes.


The last public event took place in 1912, with Queen Victoria’s love of animals widely attributed to its decline and the more humane attitude towards dogs which was adopted.


This one comes from pure, old-fashioned national enmity.

The cock was, and still is, a symbol of France. And English people in the 17th and 18th century weren’t particularly keen on France.

And so the practice of tying a cock to a post and throwing specially weighted sticks at it until it was dead came into being.

Traditionally associated with Shrove Tuesday, a 1660 proclamation by leaders in Bristol that banned the practice on the day led to riots.

It eventually waned in popularity and died out in the 19th century.

Goose pulling

Goose pulling was big in the Netherlands, Belgium, England and America between the 17th and 19th centuries.

It involved hanging a goose from its legs by a rope about 10 feet in the air.

Competitors would ride a horse beneath the rope and try to rip the head from the goose. This was made more difficult by oiling the neck of the bird.

Whomever could take the head off the bird would become the “noble hero of the day”, according to a 1771 description.


Competitors usually got to keep the bird, or were given drinks. Most importantly, they got to show they were “real men”.

It is still seen on occasion in Belgium and the Netherlands, where a dead bird is substituted for the live one.


Read: Foxhounds killed after being hit by Iarnród Éireann train

Read: Investigation launched after family dog mauled to death by hunt hounds

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