Much of the debate over hunting with dogs focuses on foxes, yet hares, mink and deer are also traditionally hunted in a similar way. In fact, before the Hunting Act 2004 which bans hunting was passed, one third of hunts in Britain targeted brown hares with packs of beagles, basset hounds and harrier hounds. Hare coursing, where two sighthounds such as lurchers or greyhounds race to catch a single hare, was also banned by the Hunting Act.

According to the Hare Preservation Trust, the number of brown hares in the UK has declined by 80% since the late 1880s – that’s a devastating drop. While modern farming practices are thought to be the main cause of this decline, hare hunting and coursing also had an impact. A return to these cruel sports could see brown hares wiped out in many parts of Britain. The brown hare is listed as a conservation priority in the UK’s Biodiversity Action Plan, meaning we should be doing all we can to protect this vulnerable species.

There is nothing ‘natural’ about a hare being chased with a pack of dogs. Hares have evolved to sprint at high speeds for short periods to escape predators. They cannot match the stamina of hunting hounds who will continue the chase until the hare is exhausted and can run no more. When talking about hares being hunted with dogs, the Government’s Burns Report published in 2000 concluded that ‘this experience seriously compromises the welfare of the hare.’

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Hare hunting

Hares are hunted with packs of harriers, beagles or basssets, typically followed by the hunt on foot but there are packs which operate on horseback. When beagles are used, the activity is normally known as 'beagling'.

The hare hunting season runs from late August or early September until March. Hares are reluctant to leave their territory and don't venture onto new ground and as a result, hare hunting normally takes place in a limited area of the country, of not more than one or two miles square.

Hares spend their lives above ground so do not seek refuge underground like foxes or mink when being hunted. If the hare does not manage to escape the hounds it will eventually tire and the hounds, with their superior stamina, will catch up and kill the hare.

The chase can last up to 90 minutes before the hare is finally killed by the hounds.

Two hares on the grass

Hare coursing

The aim of hare coursing is for two hare coursing dogs (usually greyhounds or lurchers) to compete against each other in pursuit of a live hare. Bets are placed on which of the two dogs will be the quickest to turn and catch the hare. Before the ban some of these competitions were undertaken in very high profile events with many people in attendance, such as the famous Waterloo Cup,  the three-day event run annually at Great Altcar in Lancashire. This event has not happened since the ban was put in place as the Hunting Act also makes the participation or publicity of a hare coursing event an offence.

Coursing enthusiasts have claimed that caught hares die instantaneously from the bite of one dog. However, hares are often unsuccessfully grabbed several times by the dogs causing terrible injuries and stress. The hares are sometimes heard screaming in terror and pain as the dogs fight over them, as they may become a living rope in a brutal tug of war between the jaws of the dogs.

The government inquiry into hunting with dogs concluded in 2000: ‘It is clear, moreover, that if the dog or dogs catch the hare, they do not always kill it quickly.

Two hounds tearing apart a hare

Hare coursing and hare poaching

There has been a substantial increase in the number of reports of hare coursing in certain parts of the country, leading to concerns that this traditional ‘sport’ is having a revival. Hares also face the threat of poaching (not to mention hare hunting, as described above). To ensure the different threats to hares are dealt with appropriately, it is important to understand what each of them look like:

  • Hare hunting - the activities of beagle packs, harriers and basset packs in which hares are hunted by scent using a pack of scent hounds, controlled by people on foot or mounted (which in England and Wales continues illegally under the cover of ‘trail’ hunting cover or through the abuse of the exemption in the Hunting Act which allows rabbits to be hunted).
  • Organised hare coursing - involving many dogs competing with each other in a competition involving rules, referees and spectators, such as the famous Waterloo Cup event. This type of hare coursing has practically disappeared since 2009 after some high profile prosecutions and because the Hunting Act 2004 specifically bans even being an spectator of these events.
  • Hare poaching - trespassing on private land to catch hares, perhaps for food or fun. Although the same type of dogs hare coursers use are used to poach hares, this does not typically involve a competition between two dogs. Hare poaching is still quite common.
  • Improvised hare coursing/poaching – a mix of coursing and poaching, which involves trespassing to catch hares but is also a competition between dogs. This is less common but still exists.

How can I help stop hare hunting and hare coursing?

  • Contact your MP and ask them to urge their party to keep and strengthen the hare hunting and hare coursing ban
  • Share this page on your social media


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