Photograph by Lucy-Ann Huskisson


“In the end she burst her heart just in front of hounds.

The brown hare (Lepus europaeus) has been a guest of Britain for over 2000 years. Originally introduced as a food source it was also for many years exploited for entertainment. It was tormented and hunted to death with packs of dogs for sport. This pastime was banned by the Hunting Act 2004.

It is hard to imagine a game more cowardly than hunting hares with packs of dogs, nor one more calculated to cause offence. Were it to be proposed as a new pastime it would surely never be allowed.

The 1911 Protection of Animals Act, if interpreted in common parlance, would have banned this cruelty long before the Hunting Act of 2004. Scandalously, a specific exemption barred “wild animals” from being construed as “animals” within the meaning of this Act.

This type of hare hunting was pursued with glee by a tiny number of followers, but they could and did kill a lot of hares. In the 1937-38 season, with Ronnie Wallace as Master, the Eton College Beagles killed 75 brace of hares (150) and 3 foxes in 104 days hunting.

For most people today the killing of animals requires justification. Doing so simply for fun is no justification. Hares were hunted with packs of dogs not for food, not as pest control, but simply for entertainment. Such callousness would be bad enough were hares common. That they are now, by any account, locally rare is particularly outrageous.

The hunt

Hares were hunted by packs of beagles and bassets (followed on foot) and by harriers (followed on horseback). These games were cruel by design and cruel by calculation. The hounds were bred not for the speed that might produce a quick kill but rather for the stamina that guaranteed the lengthy chase the supporters sought. This feature was emphasised in a hunting magazine:-

“It is probably better to have a good hunt of an hour or 90 minutes, rather than over match the hare and pull her down in 20 min.” (Horse and Hound. November 7, 1980)

Hares were hunted from late August to March, a period that encompassed their main breeding season in early Spring. Hares can breed throughout the year and it was by no means uncommon for hunts to kill pregnant hares or leverets. A report in The Eton College Hunt by M.F. Berry and C.F. Lloyd mentions a leveret being killed on October 22nd (page 130).

This was bullying of the worst kind. In Britain, with our traditional sympathy for the victim and loathing for the bully, hunt enthusiasts quickly appreciated that for their pastime to prosper no feelings should be shown for the quarry. This was put succinctly some years ago:-

“In hunting, whether it be of fox or hare, every follower should identify himself with hounds’ aims and give his entire sympathy to them. If he allows himself to sympathise with the hare, his pleasure in the chase will be neutralised and he might as well go home at once.” (The Art Of Beagling. Captain J. Otho Paget. Pub. H.F. & G. Witherby. 1931. Page 217)

Whilst there was no formal leveret hunting to match the cubhunting prelude to foxhunting there was still the notion of training the hounds on more vulnerable quarry:-

With small hounds it is advisable to begin early whilst the hares are weak, and you can thus get the pack well blooded before your regular season commences.” (Hunting by J. Otho Paget. Pub. J.M. Dent & Co. 1900. Page 251-252)

Hare hunters often claimed that they were only interested in the chase, not the kill. Their whoops of glee when their hounds caught a hare proved otherwise.

Hunting authors have confirmed the place of the kill as the climax to the day:-

More than half the pleasure of beagling is being able to run with the pack, and though you may not kill quite as many hares with small hounds, you have the enjoyment of seeing all the hunting, and when you do kill your satisfaction is complete.” (Hunting by J. Otho Paget. Pub. J.M. Dent & Co. 1900. Page 247)

Not so wild hares

Like fox hunters, hare hunters knew a few tricks to enhance their fun at the expense of their quarry. From the earliest days hunting literature is sprinkled with references to bagged hares:-

“Wyndham Lewis’s Harriers at Brean, 1862-63 Season.

“This pack of harriers met on MR. SPERRINGS land at BREAN on Friday. As this was the first regular meet of the season, there was a good field, forty horsemen were present..........The captured hare was then let loose, and afforded some excellent sport, leading the hounds at a rattling pace towards the railway, and then turned off to the right through brake and briar. After a splendid run this hare was killed.”” (Cardiff Times 14.11.1862 p.5 quoted in Master of Hounds. Fred, Vida & John Holley. Pub. V.A. Holley. 1987. Page 154)

In the years running up to the hunting ban the bagging of hares became like the bagging of foxes. The only certainty was that it would not be written about! Hares were boxed more than bagged. They were commonly netted and transported about the country in small wooden crates by hunting enthusiasts for later hunting. This caused suffering to the transported hares and spread disease amongst the hare population.

The kill

Nearly every hare killed by hounds was caught above ground. Hunting literature only occasionally referred to exhausted hunted hares finding some kind of refuge:-

Once in A.E. Parker’s season (1882) a hare went to ground in a rabbit hole and took a considerable time to unearth.” (The Eton College Hunt by M.F. Berry and C.M. Floyd. Pub. Collins 1968. Page 53)

Hunted hares were run to complete exhaustion and for the individual hare the effect on their body was devastating:-

It is a very difficult matter to distinguish a run hare in dry weather-the only sign then is a thin look, and when very tired, an arched back. You must not forget that a good hare will make a last effort when quite beat, and will spurt for two hundred yards as fast as when she started, though at the end of that distance she may not be able to move.” (Hunting by J. Otho Paget. Pub. J.M. Dent & Co. 1900. Page 261)

Some hunt accounts were even more graphic:-

The best run the Beagles had during his Mastership was in the region of Dorney, where they ran a hare for an hour and five minutes, covering more than six miles. In the end she burst her heart just in front of hounds.” (The Eton College Hunt by M.F. Berry and C.M. Floyd. Pub. Collins 1968. Page 21)

At the end of the hunt the exhausted hare was overwhelmed by the pack and dismembered. Hunted hares could also die in other ways:-

In 1912 there was a very good hunt, which ended with the hare swimming out and drowning in a reservoir at Staines.” (The Eton College Hunt by M.F. Berry and C.M. Floyd. Pub. Collins 1968. Page 80)

The 2000 Lord Burns Hunting Inquiry pronounced the not too astonishing view that harehunting: “seriously compromises the welfare of the hare.”

Not pest control

Most experts agree that hares cause little harm:-

Hares can only be considered a minor agricultural nuisance unless numbers are excessively high. Damage to cereal and grass crops is so low as generally not to be noticed by farmers. In rare instances, the damage might be more severe, particularly to crops such as peas, sugar beet and vines, but this is on a small scale and, in general farmers are not concerned by damage to crops caused by hares. Their impact on commercial forestry is negligible, and any reduction in growth of young conifers is generally quickly recouped.” (The brown hare in Britain by Stephen Harris and Graeme McLaren University of Bristol February 1998)

Whereas hares may cause little harm those who pursued them certainly could cause damage, particularly the mounted followers of harriers:-

A field of twenty with harriers will do more damage to fences and crops in one day on a farm than the foxhounds would in a whole season.” (Hunting by J. Otho Paget. Pub. J.M. Dent & Co. 1900. Page 233`)

Profile of a harehunter: Nick Herbert MP

Nicholas Le Quesne “Nick” Herbert

Born April 7th 1963

Nick Herbert was educated at Haileybury and Imperial Service College, Hertford Heath, Hertfordshire. This is an independent co-educational boarding school founded in 1862. It is one of the most expensive schools in the UK and the most expensive private school in Hertfordshire.

Nick Herbert then went to Magdalene College, Cambridge where he read law and land economy.

Nick Herbert was a Joint Master of the Trinity Foot Beagles (the Cambridge University pack) from 1984-1985.

In 1987 he formed the Newmarket Beagles together with Francis Burkitt, Mark Melvin, Roddy Edwards and James Shand. The pack was registered with the Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles for the 1987-88 season. Baily’s Hunting Directory 1997-1998 lists the pack as having 20 couple of beagles “the property of Mr Nick Herbert”.

Nick Herbert was Huntsman of these beagles from 1987 and Joint Master from 1989.

Baily’s Hunting Directory 1998-1999 had the pack listed as having 15 couple of beagles, the property of Mr Nick Herbert.

Baily’s Hunting Directory 1999-2000 had no listing for the Newmarket Beagles and there was no mention as to what had happened to them.

In 1990 Nick Herbert was appointed the director of public affairs at the British Field Sports Society and remained in that position for six years.

Nick Herbert joined Business for Sterling in 1998 as their chief executive where he helped launch the campaign against the Euro.

In 2000 Nick Herbert became a director of the think tank Reform.

In 2005 he was elected to Parliament for the West Sussex seat of Arundel and South Downs.

After the 2010 election David Cameron appointed Nick Herbert as Minister of State for Police and Criminal Justice. He held this office from 13th May 2010 to 4th September 2012.

Here is Nick Herbert talking in 1988 about his passion - harehunting:-

Note the quote in this following video clip from Nick Herbert, who years later and after the Hunting Ban, David Cameron appointed Policing Minister responsible for ensuring enforcement of the Hunting Ban.

Nick says: "We'll never grow out of hunting. It's something that will stay with us for the rest of our lives. It is an addiction....."

Humane alternative

Packs of dogs will readily hunt the scent of a trailed rag. For Eton College Beagles the annual end of season drag hunt was traditional for years. Aside from being humane there is none of the mayhem associated with harehunting as the route is controlled. Hares flee anywhere. Into gardens, over roads, railway lines etc. At such times the hunt frequently lost control of their dogs. Pets and livestock could be harassed or killed by rioting dogs.

It has been known for years that Draghunting could be enhanced to better simulate harehunting, with the guile of a man, rather than the terror of the hare, pitted against the Huntsman:-

My husband owned a pack of harriers and a pack of beagles and I was able to get him often to hunt them on drags, and have ridden with the harriers and run with the beagles. When a very fast, non-hunting run was wanted with the harriers, the drag was laid straight and continuously, and hounds ran fast, and riding was like a steeplechase, without a pause, except when any of us came a cropper! When a hunting run was required, we laid a catchy drag, twisting here and there, lifting the scent copying as near as possible the wily ways of Reynard. With the beagles we imitated a hare, who is a ringing, not straight-running, animal, lifting the scent, doubling back, and so on, and, in fact, we brought thus two competitors into the sport, i.e. the drag-layer versus the huntsman, and pitted their wiles and cunning against each other.” (Hunting authority Lady Florence Dixie quoted in The Case Against Hunting by E.W. Martin. Pub. Dennis Dobson 1959)

Hunting since the Hunting Act 2004

Beagles, bassets and harrier packs have continued hunting since the Hunting Act 2004 using various loopholes in the Act. Some hunts claim to be hunting rabbits, others claim to be trail-hunting with a trail being laid using rabbit scent, others claim to be hunting wounded hares left after a hare shoot and some hunts just claim to be out exercising their dogs. Because the dogs are just released into fields where there are hares inevitably some hares are hunted and some hare are killed. Some illegal hunting does take place.

This is the Waveney Harriers hunting a hare at Metfield, Suffolk on Saturday September 15th 2012. Suffolk police had a long look at this, interviewed the Joint Master of the hunt, consulted with the Crown Prosecution Service and decided not to prosecute.