There is no imminent prospect of a parliamentary vote on repealing the hunting ban, a Cabinet minister has signalled.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson appeared to rule out bringing the issue before the Commons next year.
Paterson, a keen supporter of country sports including hunting, told the Daily Telegraph: "There's only a point having a vote if you're going to win.
"At the moment, it would not be my proposal to bring forward a vote we were going to lose. There needs to be more work done on Members of Parliament."
He went on: "It is our clear intention to have a free vote but we need to choose an appropriate moment."
The comments emerged as an estimated 300 Boxing Day hunts gather up and down the country for the busiest day of the season - despite the ban on hunting with dogs that was passed under Labour in 2005.
Campaigners say enforcing the restriction wastes police time, and suggest some officers turn a blind eye to breaches of the law.
But David Cameron has been accused of dragging his heels over acting on the coalition agreement promise of a free vote on overturning the ban.
Many Tories would support repeal, but most Labour and the Liberal Democrats are still in favour of the ban.
A recent poll has shown most people are in favour of keeping fox hunting illegal
Shadow Environment Secretary Mary McCreagh said in a statement on Boxing Day: "Most people back Labour's ban on hunting wild animals with dogs and accept there is no place for animal cruelty in a civilised society.
"People are worried about their incomes falling, prices rising and losing their jobs, yet this out of touch Tory-led Government wants to bring back hunting.
"After the recent high profile conviction of members of the Prime Minister’s hunt, I hope that hunts will respect the law this year.”
David Cameron's former hunt, the Heythrop Hunt, pleaded guilty to hunting foxes in the Cotswolds this month.
A recent Ipsos Mori poll fund that despite a concerted campaign by the Countryside Alliance, most are still supportive of the ban.
It found that 76% are against fox hunting being legalised, rising to 81% for deer hunting and 83% for hare coursing, based on a survey of 1,943 people.
The executive chairman of the Countryside Alliance, Sir Barney White-Spunner, said he believed the ban would eventually be lifted, although he accepted it was not an immediate priority for the Government.
"I think in due time it will change," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
"We know when the act came in that it took a huge amount of parliamentary time, more time than debates over Iraq and we know that actually if you are going to go for some form of repeal then it would probably take another huge amount of time at a time when the Government and parliament has got other priorities.
"I think people are absolutely sensible and mature about that but I am absolutely confident the Act will be repealed. In the meantime, the country people trust the Prime Minister will deliver what he can."
He also condemned the RSPCA for bringing prosecutions against David Cameron's local hunt - the Heythrop Hunt in Oxfordshire - accusing it of adopting an "extreme animal rights agenda".
"We look at the huge amount of money - £330,000 - that they poured into that court case against two middle-aged countrymen who couldn't possibly afford those sort of legal fees, and you just think this is the wreck of a once great organisation," he said.
However Joe Duckworth of the League Against Cruel Sports said they would be stepping up their campaign against hunts which broke the law.
"We have invested £1 million in recruiting new professional investigators who are out in the field, many of them
ex-police officers, and we have quadrupled the number we have out there, in the field, trying to catch these people hunting illegally," he told the Today programme.
Patty Allen, joint master of Croome and West Warwickshire Hunt, said there were more important bills for MPs to debate.
"I think the reform of the NHS, issues of childcare and child protection, and getting our troops back from Afghanistan are far more important matters for our MPs," she said.
Mrs Allen, a dairy farmer's daughter who has been joint master since 1979, said: "The Government has promised to try and repeal the ban on hunting, and try and make the time for it, and we accept that.
"But there's more important issues than the repeal of the hunting ban right now, and also - what a waste of money it would be at the moment to put something together."
The Croome hunt, which uses drag hunting on Boxing Day, will see about 30 riders setting out from the rural town of Pershore in Worcestershire at 11am, today, with plenty of supporters predicted to be out in the streets waving them off.
Mrs Allen said: "I think all hunts' memberships are healthy at the moment and as healthy as they were before the ban.
"We continue to drag hunt, we flush using the golden eagle and we exercise the hounds, and people in the country like to see us out.
"The demographic of people who come hunting has changed as well. It isn't run by the lord of the manor any more."
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