Young hares targeted as new hunting season begins

A new hunting season is upon us, and as we recently reported, this starts in the late Summer and early Autumn months with hunting’s dirtiest secret: cubbing. 

But it isn’t just the fox hunts that are pitting their young hounds against young wild animals to get them ready for the main hunting season at this time of year: beagle and basset packs are doing it too, hunting juvenile hares called leverets.

The much persecuted brown hare. Image © T Pearce Wildlife

Despite being made illegal by the Hunting Act in 2005 and the declining hare population, there are around 45 beagle packs and 5 basset packs in the UK dedicated to hunting this majestic animal. These hunts are much more low-key than their fox hunting counterparts and generally get less public and police attention. 

Hunting takes place on foot rather than on horseback, and uses a pack of small beagle (or in some cases basset) hounds to search for a hare, and then to follow it’s scent. In a typical hunt, the hare will initially be much faster than the hounds but, as the chase goes on, the hounds’ greater stamina will wear the hare down. A hare will then likely be caught and killed.

A typical beagle pack, the Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire & Staffordshire Beagles, escorted by sabs. Picture: Manchester Hunt Sabs

Leveret hunting is not the spectacle that a day of hunting is in ‘the main season,’ with a far more practical purpose: to train young hounds to find, chase and kill hare, and to improve the fitness of the pack before the start of the season. 

As beagler W Lovell Hewitt described in ‘the Season Through’ chapter of his book, Hare Hunting:

“Until the season proper opens the hunting is for one purpose and one purpose only: the education of the young entry and the general discipline and fitness of the pack.”

“The essential is that the hare shall be a big leveret rather than an old one, and the place to look for her is in a strip of roots. If hounds go away with an old stager it is better to draw again for a young one as soon as they check. The next thing is to catch her.”

Sabs put an end to an early morning leveret hunt by the Severn Vale Beagles, early October 2021. Picture: Severn Vale Hunt Sabs

Hunting will take place in the early morning hours (soon after daybreak), or later in the afternoon – because this is when the scent is best for new hounds to follow, and because the countryside is quieter so their dirty secret is less likely to get any unwanted attention. Beagle and basset packs generally operate in open fields, or on moorland, as opposed to wooded areas like fox hunts. 

Hunt members may not be in their usual uniform, opting for less attention grabbing clothing. They will also be much fewer in number with only selected supporters invited, after all, they will be expected to be more ‘hands on’ than usual, helping to turn young hares back to hounds to ensure a kill.

What should I do if I see a suspected leveret hunt?

If it is safe to do so, filming the hunters will often be enough to stop them in their tracks. With Hunt Saboteurs increasingly focussing on hare hunts, it’s vital that you let the Hunt Saboteurs Association know as soon as possible. You can call anonymously on: 07443 148426

Hunting hares with dogs is illegal so, if you believe a crime is in progress, call the police straight away.

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