No of clubs in England and Wales : 27
Ireland : Coursing is governed by the Irish Coursing Club and the rules differ slightly, as the hares are gathered before the meet and released from a man-made tunnel into the coursing field when needed. This is known as “park coursing”.
Season: September 15th-March 10th
Usual start: Any time after 9.00 am.
Hare coursing, as opposed to other forms of blood sports involving hounds, is not a pack event. Only two dogs are involved on any one “course” and the area involved in the chase is usually enclosed. The hounds hunt by sight. According to the NCC (The National Coursing Club, the governing body) coursing does not claim to control hare numbers, but conserves them by ensuring that some grounds regularly coursed are not shot over outside the season. However, in most coursing areas hare shoots, to reduce numbers, does take place.
Greyhounds are the most popular dogs used in coursing and the NCC has a standard set of rules drawn up to regulate the proceedings. Greyhounds may be trained by using dummy hares or live hares in competition with another hound in open country. Several reports have been heard of live captive hares and rabbits being used, and also cats. Greyhounds used in greyhound racing may be trained at course meetings and retired hounds from racing may finish their lives in coursing surroundings. Other hounds used are Whippets, Saluki, Deerhounds, Borzois, Afghans, Lurchers.
The average days spent coursing in a year amount to 120 days for greyhounds and 25 days for whippets, saluki and deerhounds.
This is the person who “slips” (releases) the two hounds onto the selected hare. He uses a special attachment provided with twin collars which enables him to release the dogs simultaneously. He will judge whether the hare is fit enough to be coursed (i.e. strong and without “balled up” (clay clogged) feet), if it is found to be “lacking” then he will wait for the next hare. He is registered and trained by the NCC.
Mounted on a horse, for better visibility, he awards points to greyhounds according to their ability.
A gang of people, using white flags on poles, who form three sides of a box and drive wild hares towards the coursing field. At large meets such as Altcar, they may be controlled by a system of walkie-talkies. They take advice from the local game keeper as to the normal feed paths taken by hares, as they say that a hare will not be driven in a direction not normally followed. At Altcar, and possible other grounds, hares are kept in the area by placing feed in the surrounding fields. Beaters form in a different way for “walk-up” coursing. Beaters are usually paid for their services and the club may employ children. Other persons involved will be mentioned in the text.
LAYOUT OF THE COURSING AREA
The field used for the actual chase is normally grass or unploughed, and is, ideally surrounded by a hedge or ditch and ridge. Hounds hunt by sight and should lose the hare when it passes through the hedge – this is not always the case and both animals have been known to disappear over the horizon. The coursing club may get permission to build a “sough” (an artificial shelter, usually dug into a bank or hedgerow) into which the hare can escape. This may be necessary in more open country, such as the Fens where shelter is not guaranteed. Spectators, bookies and owners stand outside the coursing field. The only persons allowed in this area are the Judge and the Slipper (on larger courses maybe also the owners of the two coursing dogs and possibly four pickers-up). The pickers-up are there to make sure the hare is dead if it gets caught by the dogs. Silence and static positions should be maintained by the onlookers, and under NCC rules, the hare must not be headed back into the field (not always upheld).
A TYPICAL DAY’S STATIC COURSING
The programme for each club is sent out about a month before the season starts, so that the owners may enter their dogs. Entry fees may vary, but obviously the more prestigious the event the higher up the scale the fee. The entry money goes towards the prize money.
Names of entered dogs are drawn from a hat to pair them for each course. A knockout competition then takes place for the final pair. The first dog listed in each pair wears a red collar and stands to the left in the “slips” (as the collar is known), the owner standing to the left of the field. The other dog wears a white collar and he and his owner stand to the right. The slipper will position himself in the shelter of a wall or hedge or, as at Altcar, a specially constructed hay or wooden shed. A number of beaters, anything from 30-120 will form a beating line some 1-3 miles away from the coursing arena and will drive hares with the wind towards the coursing field. This will take up to 45 minutes. As the beating line approaches the coursing field, the centre of the line will remain straight whilst the flanks will curve forward to form a funnel through which hares can be channelled onto the coursing field. As the hare enters the field the slippers will judge its suitability to be coursed and , satisfied, will let it run up to 80 – 100 metres ahead of him and then release the dogs.
The object is not to kill the hare, but to test the hounds against each other, and points are awarded accordingly. As the hare runs it will turn sharply to evade the jaws of the hounds, and because greyhounds are faster than the hare, they will overshoot and will have to double back. Some dogs have a smaller turning point than others, but some may make up by being faster on the straight. As the hounds twist and turn after the hare points are awarded thus:
1/2 – 3 points for the lead dog at the first turn
1 point for the dog that leads the hare beyond 90
1/2 point for the dog that turns the hare less than 90
1/2 – 1 point for the kill (although not the object of the exercise, but points are awarded in special circumstances)
The judge will indicate the winners by raising the appropriate coloured handkerchief (i.e. red or white). Other colour used – blue indicates a “bye” meaning that a dog has been withdrawn), therefore, raising a blue and red means white has been withdrawn and that red is the winner of the bye, and vice versa. Yellow means that a tie has occurred and that the dogs will have to run again later. Some dogs are not capable of running a second course and normally no dog runs more than three times in one day. The judge’s actions are duplicated by a Flag Steward, thus passing the message onto spectators. When all the hares have been beaten through and there are still courses to be run, a new area may be chosen. If insufficient hares are to be found to complete the card, the prize money is awarded between the heat winners, unless the match takes place over a few days.
After a mornings “static” coursing, the club may switch to “walk-up” coursing in the afternoon, if it is felt that more hares will be found by this method or if the surrounding fields are not suitable for beating. Walk-up coursing is sometimes practised as a rule, rather than an exception, by “unofficial” coursing clubs – this is known as lurching. The layout now changes and a line of beaters, with the slipper and dogs in the centre, will walk over the fields putting-up hares in front of them. When a suitable hare is moving the line halts and the dogs are loosed. Points are awarded in the same way as in static coursing.
Only the judge is allowed in front of the line and if not enough beaters are there to form a line then spectators and owners will join in. The picker-ups also have to remain behind the slipper, so if a hare is caught they will have to run forward in order to kill it.
If a greyhound catches a hare, it will grab any part of the animal. Once it has hold it will not drop the hare and may run off with it. Both hounds may grasp the hare and the much disputed, but well documented, tug-of war will ensue. That the hare suffers cannot be disputed but “torn-to-shreds” is not the best way to describe the outcome. Internal injury is more likely and the screams of an injured or distressed hare resembles that of a human infant. We are told that a caught hare is despatched by a picker-up within three seconds, but this is by no means always the case. In a well-documented and much sneered at instance in 1975, a hare was screaming in the jaws of a hound for over two minutes before having it’s neck broken by a picker-up. (The event was filmed but labelled as rigged by bloodsports supporters who were shown the extract as part of the evidence against coursing in the House of Lords enquiry)
HARE COURSING TACTICS
Establish beforehand which are the coursing fields. Determine the areas and direction which hares are beaten in from and the likely location of the funnel (which is the area where the hares will be held before release into the coursing field). The funnel is normally always in the same place for each particular coursing field, as the beating will normally follow the same pattern. There are three main sab tactics:-
The beating of hares is a lot more difficult than pre-beating fox hunts. To have effect, the line has to cover the width of the area covered by the coursing beaters, which can be up to two miles. Taking into account wind direction and the location of the coursing field, use the beating line to drive hares down wind, outward and away from the coursing fields to a position which will make it difficult for them to return (i.e. over a road or stream or into a large patch of woodland. Obviously care must be taken when beating over roads to position sabs to control traffic). Clearly, large numbers of sabs are required for pre-beating. The best distance between sabs in the line is 10-120 yards. Sabs should wear bright clothing and have white flags or fertiliser bags. It is imperative that the line is kept straight as possible. It should continue at the pace of the slowest person. The use of CB’s and the use of appointed stewards to control groups of say, twenty sabs in the line will be helpful in ensuring that the line remains straight. Noise is all important, but it must be controlled. Too much noise can panic hares into running back through the beating line. Whistles and horns are recommended. Equally important is ensuring that the line goes to the very end of the pre-arranged destination. To do this successfully, the outside flanks should curve in until the only open gap gives access to the required destination. At this stage there will be a lot of hares in a panic ridden and confused state within the funnel. Movement of flags must be increased and the lines tightened up to ensure that hares attempts to break through the beating lines fail. If there is no suitable place to which the hares can be pushed into safety, then they must be beaten away from the coursing field and some sabs must remain to prevent them from returning to within the coursing range. This may be necessary anyway, as hares do not like to be on unfamiliar ground.
When pre-beating is finished, sabs should wait for the coursers first beat line to form up. Then sabs should form an opposing line between the coursing arena and the coursers beat. Sabs should then advance their beating lines toward the coursers beat. On approaching their line, the flanks should curve in to prevent hares from running around the sides and the sabs should pass right through the coursers line. This tactic needs to be repeated each time their beating line forms. In order to scare the hares back through the coursers beat, it is necessary to make more noise than them. Smoke flares and air-horns can be of assistance here in forcing hares to flee in the desired direction.
If the beaters are persistent, they will eventually succeed in bringing some hares to the coursing arena where they will be held up in a funnel or V shape at one end of the coursing field. Sabs must make every effort to break up this formation by breaking through the lines of beaters and panicking the hares into running in any direction. This can be done by charging through, but if this proves to be impossible, rockets can be fired over the formation to panic the hares out. If this is successful, the funnel formation will be ruined and beating will have to be resumed by the coursers. In this case resort to tactic two – Counter-beating. On no account should any attempt be made to run onto the coursing arena, as this will prove to be ineffective and you run the very real risk of attack by supporters and/or arrest.
Be on your guard against the coursers moving to a different area at lunch time. Also if you have been particularly successfully they may resort to rough or walk-up coursing, in which case they will split up and go across country in search of hares. In this event walk about 50 -60 metres in front of each group and put the hares up by making a lot of noise, so clearing them from the coursers path. As rough coursing is not official, you could encounter it at any time, even outside the usual season.
The meets are advertised by the National Coursing Club and a full list usually appears in the national “sporting” journals. A list of coursing club secretaries is available from your local sab group. Hare coursing meets have been known to be violent in the past, so think hard and plan well before attempting to organise one.