Harecoursing with dogs

Coursing hares with dogs is a game that was invented many years ago. It was cruel by design and cruel by calculation. The dogs, greyhounds or lurchers, were bred for the speed that might produce a quick kill but the hare was given a start to prolong the contest. Hares were coursed by organised clubs from September to March.

The hares were driven one at a time on to a coursing field by lines of carefully controlled beaters. Two dogs were then released simultaneously by a man known as a "slipper" to chase them. The “thrill” of coursing lay in watching the contest between the stamina and agility of the hare versus the speed of the dogs. A mounted judge galloped across the field to observe and judge the coursing. Points were awarded to the dogs for catching up with the hare and making her turn. When the hare made a mistake and was caught she could be ragged by a single dog or subjected to a tug of war between two dogs. She often could be heard screaming pitifully in pain and terror until killed by a supporter.

The hare - a living rope in this gruesome tug-of-war

Here is a video showing hare coursing. It was filmed at the meeting of the Kimberley Coursing Club at Somerleyton, Suffolk on Monday February 19th 1990 by an undercover Animal Cruelty Investigation Group investigator posing as a hare coursing supporter. The hare can clearly be heard squealing with pain when caught - proving that there was no swift kill here:-

The Cup Final event for the hare coursing world was the annual Waterloo Cup held over three days near Great Altcar to the north of Liverpool. This was usually at the end of February and early in March. Here is a link to film of the 1991 event taken on February 28th 1991 by an undercover Animal Cruelty Investigation Group investigator posing as a hare coursing supporter:-

The Burns Inquiry arranged post mortems of twelve coursed hares. Eight were female. Of these, five were pregnant, three of which were lactating. Two of the pregnant hares were assessed as being in early pregnancy, two mid-term and one full term pregnant, with two large fully-haired foetuses.

The Burns Inquiry stated that harecoursing : “seriously compromises the welfare of the hare.”

Harecoursing was banned by the Hunting Act 2004.

With hare coursing now banned ALL hare coursing is illegal but before the 2004 Act there was already a great deal of illegal hare coursing. This was only illegal because it was done without the permission of the landowner - so it was trespass. The dogs used were lurchers and greyhounds. It was usually carried out as walk-up coursing and as such it was very similar to the legal walk-up hare coursing carried out by the small hare coursing clubs.

Illegal hare coursers, before the ban, were able to exert a great deal of pressure on landowners. Sometimes the police would catch a large gang of coursers but they would tell the police that they were on the land with the permission of the landowner - and when the police called on the farm to check it would take a brave landowner to deny this. The landowner had vulnerable barns and farm machinery and often worked alone and "accidents" could easily happen long after the police had left the scene.

Often the coursing gangs would ask the farmer for permission to course on his land. They would tell him that if he said 'no' it mattered nothing as they would course hares on his land anyway but if he said 'yes' they would course on fields when and where it suited him but most of all they would ensure that other hare coursing gangs kept away. Facing this some farmers very reluctantly gave permission. Sadly a few farmers took the view that their best solution was to shoot all the hares and thus remove the attraction. This sort of intimidation was rampant in rural areas before the Hunting Act 2004. Now that ALL hare coursing is illegal farmers cannot be intimidated into giving their permission - any more than they could be intimidated into allowing dog fighting or cock fighting in their barns.

Investigators for the Animal Cruelty Investigation Group played a leading role in exposing illegal hare coursing to public view. Some of their film has even been used in police training videos about illegal hare coursing. The Animal Cruelty Investigation Group welcomes the fact that police forces now work together to eradicate this cruelty.

Here is a short clip showing illegal hare coursing in 2001:-

Humane alternative

Coursing dogs can be tested without abusing hares. The scoring in live harecoursing was such that the first dog to reach the hare usually won. This is replicated in the humane alternative, dragcoursing, in which the first dog to the lure wins. There is no cruelty to hares and, because it is limited to chosen fields, less risk of injury to the dogs. It can also be staged throughout the year.

Clay pigeon shooting, once derided as a poor replacement for shooting live pigeons released from traps, now thrives whilst the latter was banned. Likewise humane hunting and coursing, with no animal quarry, could provide a real boost for the rural economy.