There are three types of pack that hunt the hare by scent. In England and Wales the brown hare is hunted. The blue, or mountain hare occurs in hill country and a variety of this hare is hunted in Ireland.
No.of packs in England, Scotland and Wales: 25
Season: End of August-March
Usual Start: 11.30 a.m.
Hunting takes place from horseback and the structure is basically the same as a fox hunt, (some packs of harriers also hunt foxes) and is carried out at a faster pace than beagling.
Harriers take their name from the type of hound used, a harrier hound will stand between 18-22 inches at the shoulder.
No. of packs in England, Scotland and Wales: 90
Usual Start: Between 11.30 a.m – 2.00 p.m.
The hunt takes place on foot.
They are smaller than foxhounds and harriers, standing under 16 inches. They tend to have friendly and endearing faces but are very independent.
No. of packs in England, Scotland and Wales: 8
Usual Start: Anywhere between 11.30 a.m.-2.00 p.m.
The hunt takes place on foot
Bassets, despite their ungainly appearance, are quite quick over the ground and are reckoned to have superior scenting abilities. They may look funny when in cry, but don’t be fooled – they do catch hares.
OFFICIALS AND SERVANTS
The Master (or Joint-Master), Huntsman and Whipper-In fulfill the same roles as in fox hunting. The uniform is similar although green jackets are favoured the most by hunt staff, however, blue, black, fawn or red may be worn. Riding hats or peaked caps and jodhpurs are standard attire, but on beagle and basset hunts, training shoes and hockey boots take the place of riding boots.
Hares do not “go to ground” as such, but if they take shelter in the roots of a tree, drain or other such places of cover, they may be flushed out, given “law” (head start) and re-hunted. However, The Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles states that if a hare “goes to ground it must be left or “if it is considered advisable to kill it, it must be retrieved and destroyed immediately before given to the hounds”.
No fence menders or earth stoppers are needed, although they may be employed by a harrier hunt.
The “meet” takes place at a pub, village green or other suitable and easily accessible place. Hare hunting does not provoke the same glamorous aura as fox hunting, and beagling is often referred to as ” the poor man’s fox hunting”. Supporters usually follow on foot, as the view from a car will only be sporadic. The hunt may travel for miles over vast areas of open land, crossed only by tracks, ploughed land, grass, root crops (such as kale and sprouts) and woods.
The huntsman will perform in much the same way as in a fox hunt, (casting is wide with harriers), and the hounds prefer silence during this period. The hounds may follow a “drag” (scent left by hares) before the hare is spotted, they might sight the hare (although it must be quite close as hounds hunt by smell), or they may be “halloa’ed” onto the hare. Because the huntsman works close to the hounds, false halloas from sabs may be ignored and usually only serve to act as a means of raising hounds heads.
The brown coat of the hare enables it to blend with the ground, and a hare may lie in a “form” or “couch” (a shallow scrape in the ground) until a hound is practically on top of it. The hare uses the scrape almost as a starting block by pushing its hind legs against the back and shooting out. Hares are reluctant to venture onto fresh ground or ground they do not know, so this may account for some hares travelling in a wide circle.
When hounds are on the scent of a hare, the huntsman will encourage them with voice and horn. A hare will react to being chased in much the same way as a fox, using flocks of sheep, herds of cows, manure etc to spoil the scent. Other means of avoiding being caught are – jinking (a sharp right-angled leap to the side) which may be followed by “clapping” (a quick flattening of the body to the ground), doubling back on its tracks and then jinking. It may also be aided by the intervention of a fox or deer, which is very tempting for the hounds. When the pack loses the scent, the huntsman will cast the hounds again, and both whippers-in and foot followers will be looking for the hare to break. To indicate the hunted hare, they will usually remain silent, but raise their hat or arm and point in the direction taken by the hare using the other arm. If the hounds can’t find the scent, the huntsman may take them over to the signaller.
An average hare weighs 8lbs and is therefore faster than a beagle, harrier or a basset, but the superior stamina of the hounds will, eventually, outstrip the hare. Despite this, runs of five miles and over may be experienced, the hunting of one hare may be as short as twenty minutes or as long as two and a half hours and over. Because of the speed of the pack, they may lose the huntsman and followers and disappear from view and may not be found for an hour or more. They may kill a hare or another animal out of sight – the corpse never being found. It is also known for hounds to “chop” the hare (killing the hare straight away without even a chase).
HARE HUNTING AND AN INTRODUCTION TO HUNT SABOTAGE
Hunting is a matter of death and sabbing a matter of life for the hunted animal, it is not in any sense a game. The hounds work as a team against the hare, the huntsman and whippers-in act as the managers, guides and coaches that produce a first class hound team. The fact that one hare is assailed by so many other elements means that natures laws are broken, and it is the sabs who must offer assistance to the hare. No longer then is it just animals hunting animals (arguably natural), but hounds and huntsman verses hare and saboteurs.
The important thing is to sab to the best of your ability without malice to the opposition. However, to do this well you must know the basic rules of hunt sabotage so that you can apply them in the field and try to get the advantage of your opponent, the huntsman. Remember that an animal’s life is at stake. Once you have mastered the principles of sabotaging the hound work of beagle packs, you will be able to cope better with fox hunting. Therefore we must turn to beagling and the beagling field as the classroom. The teachers must be the people who we oppose, because like it or not, they are the experts. However, by using their knowledge and experience against them, we can bring them down.
It is worth studying the general rules which govern hunting, and the specific rules governing hare hunting and fox hunting respectively.
Scenting rules for hares
Hares emit scent from between the toes.
Roads and other animals, including other hares and humans can confuse scent.
As the hare tires the scent weakens (beagles can sense this, and the old hounds will push up to the front of the pack for the kill).
Pregnant hares carry little scent.
The huntsman will always cast the hounds forward of the last contact with the line of the hunted animal. If there is no result, the hounds are presumed to have overrun the line, and the quarry is then still thought to be behind.
Huntsmen control hounds by voice and hunting horn, for instance if the huntsman calls “On-On-On”, he is encouraging the hounds to follow the line or encouraging the pack to follow the hounds which are giving voice. The hunting horn equivalent to On-On-On is three short notes (a tape of horn calls is available from your local group). A long winding call is to collect the hounds. Supporters will hold an arm aloft when a hare is sighted and point the direction, sometimes using a hat or handkerchief.
QUARRY RULES – HARES
[Right: Hare’s Tracks: Fore (left) Hind (right)]
Hares run in circles, starting off with a broad circuit, with the radius gradually decreasing as the animal tires.
Hares are creatures of habit and will run the same lines if possible.
Hares tend to run downwind when hunted.
A fresh hare found in hilly country will usually start off in front of the hounds by running uphill.
Hares are fond of sitting on unploughed arable land.
Hares try to lie up with their rumps towards the wind, in order to scent potential enemies from behind and to see from the side and the front.
Hares when young are vulnerable, therefore the mother spreads them out in different areas, and when going to feed them sets off in different directions, checking and double checking before going to her young.
Hares tend to run downwind when hunted.
A well hunted, tired hare tends to twist and turn.
Hares can leap considerable distances and they can also swim.
Hares are reluctant to venture onto fresh or unfamiliar ground and will often travel in a wide circle when they are hunted.
There tends to be two main categories of hunted hare:-
- Hares that run at the first smell of trouble. This hare will take off to another favourite cover and will wait to see what happens next. If it hears the hounds on its line, then it will be off again.
- Hares that wait underfoot. This hare will run to another place of concealment at great speed, on reaching it will sit tight hoping to be missed. With this type of hare when the hounds check, the hare may well be close at hand.
HOUND RULES – BEAGLES
Beagles vary in size from 14 to 16 inches at the shoulder. Packs are normally uniform in size.
The smaller the beagle the slower, but it is better for scenting.
The larger the beagle the faster, but can be more easily distracted from or overrun the line.
Beagles are purpose bred for the area. Small fields with many obstacles such as roads, hedges, plough etc, tend to favour the small beagle, because the hare will check many times to negotiate obstacles. Large open spaces, such as uplands with pasture holding easily recognised scent, favours the larger and faster beagle.
Small beagles tend to stay on the hunted line and not deviate to a fresh hare. Large beagles tend to change hares many times before finally running one down.
Towards the end of the hunt, the old hounds will come to the front of the pack.
Bassets hunt the same way as small beagles.
HARE HUNTING TACTICS
Try to arrive at the hunt early to familiarise yourself with the land around the meet, with special reference to roads and footpaths. Check the wind direction and try to ascertain the scenting conditions – the pace of the hunt will be relevant to the scenting conditions. Try to understand the type of beagle pack you are dealing with. Watch which direction the hunt moves off in.
There are two parts to a hunt, Part 1 concerns the finding of the quarry, Part 2 concerns the tracking and the killing of the quarry.
Part 1 – The Search
The huntsman usually casts the hounds with the wind at his back. He will often cast in a zig-zag fashion. The object here is to put up a hare or find a line. Positioning of the sabs is obviously very important. A downwind position generally will allow you to be able to intercept effectively (see next page). However, you must take care not to turn the hare back into the hounds.
If you are to close to the hounds and huntsman, then it is important to distract the hounds from their search by breaking the packs concentration. This can be done by talking to the hounds from a position just behind them. If close enough also try to distract the huntsman from his task by talking to him.
On no account, enlarge the pack by directly getting in front of, or along side the pack whilst they are drawing, or you will act as another hound. If you are on a road (always be aware of any vehicles in the area and slow down any passing vehicles) or footpath adjacent to the hounds, distract them by using noises such as whistling, shouting or horn blowing, (only if there are no hares between you and the hounds) Sooner or later a hare will be put up, but remember not to panic, there is often more time for action than is initially apparent.
Part 2 – The Chase
Keeping the various rules in mind, interception is the most important factor once the chase begins. Once the hunted hare has passed, spray the line it has just run with scent duller. Remember to take into account the wind’s effect on the scent and if possible spray out of sight of the huntsman (as you will be telling him a hare has just passed by). However, you can use a spray as a decoy in areas where you know there are no hares, this will probably fool the huntsman into thinking a hare has just passed by, and bring the pack over towards you to try and find the line of this false hare, but remember to keep up the pretence or the huntsman will know you were lying. If you see a hare run across the road, far better than any spray is the exhaust fumes from a vehicle. Driving over the point (revving your engine to produce more exhaust fumes) at which the hare crossed a few times will obliterate any scent.
Try to stop the hounds by “rating” them (i.e. shouting at them and calling “Leave It”, “Leave It”. Then encourage them to go off in a different direction away from the line of the hare.
If you can encourage them onto a false line or divert them, continue to encourage them to run on by the use of hunting calls by the horn or voice (use “On-On-On”) and always try to run with the pack.
Every attempt should be made to split the pack and keep them away from the hunt staff. A sharp clapping of the hands will imitate the whip and can be useful in pulling hounds up if this is required. Any individual hounds should be encouraged to hunt on in order to split the pack further.
If the huntsman succeeds in collecting the pack, he will then cast forward at the point where he last saw the hare. You should now resort back to Part 1, and it now becomes of greater importance to keep the heads of the hounds up by creating as much noise as possible. Try also to call the hounds away using the hunting horn. If the hunt succeeds in a kill, don’t give up. The hunt will carry on if there is time available to do so. Do your best to prevent them killing again.
Remember try to concentrate on the hunt and attempt to be aware of what is going on at all times. Then take the appropriate action efficiently. If you do lose the hunt remember that beagle and basset hunts often hunt in circles, so they are likely to return close to where you last saw them.
As harrier hunting is conducted mounted, it is best to refer to fox hunting tactics when sabbing this type of hunt.