Hare Hunting and Hare Coursing

What is hare hunting?

In the days before hunting was banned in England and Wales, one in three hunts was a hare hunt. Hare hunting is the lesser-known cousin of fox hunting and deer hunting. Despite the introduction on the Hunting Act 2004, when hunting with dogs was made illegal – most of these hunts still exist.

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

According to the Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles, there are still 71 hare hunts in existence, 55 Beagle foot packs, eight Basset foot packs and eight harrier horseback packs.

The hare hunting season runs from late August/early September until March. Hares are reluctant to leave their territory and don't venture onto new ground - as a result, hare hunting normally takes place in a limited area of the country, of no more than one or two square miles.

Unlike foxes, hares spend their lives above ground, so do not seek refuge underground when being hunted. Hares tend to run in circles around their territory by pursuing hounds, where after a chase of up to an hour, the exhausted hare is overwhelmed by the lead hounds and torn apart. If there is anything left, the huntsman sometimes cuts of the head (mask) and tail (scut) as trophies.

Watch this video if you want to know what hare hunting looks like:

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Is hare hunting legal?

No. Hare hunting with dogs was banned in England and Wales by the Hunting Act 2004. Hare hunting is therefore illegal.

The Act includes some examples of 'exempt' hunting some of which are exploited by the hunts to cover up their illegal hunting.

What is hare coursing?

Hare coursing with hare coursing dogs such as lurchers or greyhounds (or other fast, 'sight' hounds) involves the dogs competing 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 hare coursing 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. The Waterloo Cup ceased to continue, after the Hunting Act 2004, was put in place.

Coursing enthusiasts have claimed that 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. Witnesses have described hearing the hares screaming in pain, as they become part of a brutal tug of war between dogs.

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

What’s the difference between 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 - an activity involving 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 or through the abuse of the exemption in the Hunting Act 2004, which allows rabbits to be hunted).
  • Organised hare coursing – an activity where many dogs compete with each other in an event involving rules, referees and spectators, such as the famous Waterloo Cup event. This type of hare coursing has practically disappeared since 2009 after several high-profile prosecutions, and because the Hunting Act 2004 specifically ban spectator events such as this.
  • Hare poaching – this is the act of trespassing on private land to catch hares, perhaps for food or fun. Although the same type of dog 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 – this is 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?

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As the UK's leading animal charity working to make cruel sports a thing of the past, we're working to put an end to fox hunting, cubbing, snares, game shooting, trail hunting, greyhound racing, bullfighting, dog fighting, mink hunting, and more.

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