This weekend marks the traditional start of the hare hunting season. This activity – known as beagling – is the hunting of hares by packs of beagle hounds. There are also a few packs of basset hounds that hunt hares.
Most packs will have been out for several weeks already, conducting pre-season hunting, but from late October they typically meet at 12:00 or 12:30.
What happens in beagling?
The hunt will meet at a farm, barn, or other remote location. Beagling is conducted on foot, so no horses or horseboxes will be present.
From the meet, the pack of small beagle hounds will be taken to open fields where the huntsman will ‘cast’ them – get them to spread out and try to find the scent of a hare.
Once a scent has been found – or a hare is roused – the hunt proper will begin. Initially, the hare will be much faster than the hounds and will easily outrun them. She will generally run in large circles as she is reluctant to leave the familiar landscape of her home range. However, the beagles are bred for stamina rather than speed and they will gradually wear her down over 30 to 60 minutes.
Hares are majestic animals, but a hunted hare is a truly pitiful sight – her ears laid flat in terror, her body dark with sweat and mud – as she is hunted to exhaustion.
What does a beagle hunt look like?
A pack of beagle hounds in open country is the most obvious indication. Don’t be surprised if there are only a few people present – beagling is a dying sport!
Traditionally, the hunt staff of a beagle pack wear green coats and conspicuous white britches. While some still wear this uniform, many hare hunters now prefer to blend into the countryside with green or brown outdoor wear.
There will be a scattering of hunt supporters following the chase, they will often have binoculars and a stick to lean on.
Beagling should not be confused with hare coursing. In coursing, lurchers or greyhounds are used to pursue hares by sight.
What should I do if I see a beagle pack?
If it is safe to do so, film the activity focussing on the hounds and hunt staff, who will be carrying a horn and whip. If you believe a crime is in progress, call the police.
You may be approached by the hunters trying to suggest they are ‘trail hunting’. They may even produce a rag on a string and start dragging it around in front of you. Do not be deceived: there is no such thing as trail hunting, though some hunts now carry fake trail-laying paraphernalia to deploy as a smokescreen when challenged by sabs, police, or members of the public.
Please also make a note of the time, a location (e.g. using an app such as what3words) and send this information to the HSA tip-off line on 07443 148 426.