This section is from the book "Creatures Of The Night: A Book Of Wild Life In Western Britain", by Alfred W. Rees. Also available from Amazon: Creatures Of The Night: A Book Of Wild Life In Western Britain.
Unless hard pressed, a hare seldom leaves a field except by certain well-known openings in the hedgerow. Unlike the rabbit, she will not readily leap over any obstacle beneath which she can crawl; and whereas the " creep" of a rabbit through a gateway or a hedgerow is well-nigh invariably at right angles to the line of that gateway or hedgerow, the " creep " of a hare tends sideways and is sometimes slightly curved. To net hares successfully it is necessary to know their habits ; and the keeper, having served a lifelong apprenticeship in field-craft, was prepared for every emergency. His object at this time was not to kill the hares, but simply to educate them, to warn them thoroughly once for all against the wiles of their worst enemy, the poacher.
As Puss was busily feeding in the dewy clover, she heard the quick, continuous gallop of a dog. This time, however, she had not to deal with Juno, the setter, but with a trained lurcher, borrowed for the occasion from a keeper who had captured the animal during a poaching affray. The leveret, peeping over the grass-tops, saw the dog coming rapidly on. He was over and past her in an instant. As he turned, she started off straight towards an opening where some sheep had partly broken down the hedge. The lurcher closed in, and drove her thither at tremendous speed. She strained every nerve, and, gaining the ditch, blundered blindly through the gap, and fell, helpless and inert, entangled completely within the treacherous folds of the unseen net. Her piteous cries, tremulous, wailing, heartrending—similar to the cries of a suffering infant—were borne far and wide on the wind. The keeper soon reached the spot, and, placing his hand over her mouth to stop the cries, tenderly extricated the frightened creature from the treacherous meshes and allowed her to go free. For a few seconds, she lay in abject fright, panting and unable to move. Then, hearing the cries of another hare entangled in a bag-net some distance away, she bounded to her feet, and darted off—somewhere, anywhere, so long as she might leave the awful peril behind. Bewildered, but with every instinct assisting her in the desire for life, she ran along by the hedgerow, and, unexpectedly catching sight of a familiar gate, crouched and passed quickly through the "creep" beneath the lowest bar. But here, again, a net was spread; again the hare fell screaming and struggling into the meshes; and again the keeper released her. Exhausted by intense excitement and fear, she crawled into the " trash" in the ditch, and kept in hiding, not daring the risk of another capture. Luckily for Puss, the lurcher had already hunted the field in which she was now secreted, and so the timid creature remained undisturbed beneath the fern. When her wildly throbbing heart had been quieted by rest and solitude, she stole from her hiding place to nibble the clover at the side of the path. Towards dawn, she journeyed to a wide stretch of moorland on the opposite hills, and there made a new "form" on a rough bank that separated a reedy hollow from the undulating wilderness of heather and fern.
The leveret's adventures were destined to effect a considerable change in her habits. She was being roughly taught that to preserve her life she must be ever cautious and vigilant. Though danger threatened her by day and by night, she lived beyond the usual period of a hare's existence, partly because her early education was thorough and severe. Thus taught, she would pause for an instant at every gap and gateway before she passed through, and, if she found a net in her path, would turn aside, creep along by the hedge, and seek an exit at another place.
The perils to which she had been exposed created a feeling of intense restlessness, which harassed her throughout the winter months, and caused her to travel long distances, by the loneliest lanes and fields, to and from the moorland where now she had made her home. She remembered the scent of a human being since her experiences with the keeper, and, her powers of smell being wonderfully acute, was able to detect even the faintest signs which indicated that her dread enemy—man—had crossed her path. One night she smelt the touch of a hand on the grass-bents near her "form," and found also that the herbage had been moved aside. Though the scent was faint—the intruder having visited the spot soon after the leveret had set out in quest of food — the cautious creature forsook her lair, and spent the day in a sheltered retreat beside a heap of dry and withered leaves near the outskirts of a copse on the slope overlooking the moor.
Gradually she grew big and strong, becoming unusually fat as the autumn advanced, so that she would be able, if required, to withstand the rigour and the waste of a severe winter. Her coat was thick and beautifully soft, for protection against cold and damp. But while she increased in weight, she remained in hard condition because of her long journeys and frequent change of quarters.
It happened, however, that her first winter was helpful to the welfare of animal life in general. The heavy rains, it is true, greatly distressed the leveret. The nights were so dark, and the constant patter of the rain so interfered with even her highly trained powers of hearing, that, while the wet weather lasted, she seldom dared to leave the neighbourhood of her favourite resort, but crouched in the grass at the margin of the copse, and tried to obtain a meal as best she could from the sodden herbage.
Though on certain occasions Puss might have been discovered in hiding on the marsh, yet there, whenever possible, she chose a dry spot for her "seat." She loved, best of all, the undulating hills far above the river-mists, which, chilled at nightfall by an occasional frost, descended on the fields like crystal dust, and almost choked her if she chanced to pass within these wreathing drifts that brought discomfort and disease to man and beast alike.
But the want of exercise so affected her, that, when again the weather was fine and she ventured from her lair, she found herself unable to cover the usual distance of her nightly rambles. As the first cold glimmer of the dawn appeared in the south-eastern sky, she started back, in alarm at her fatigue, to complete the remaining mile of her journey home. Her weakness soon became apparent. Then, finding herself powerless to proceed, she turned reluctantly aside, and crouched, with Nature's mimicry for her protection, on the brown ploughland where the winter wheat was thrusting up its first green sprouts above the soil. But after a few days she was well and strong again. She suffered far less from the short, sharp frost that bound the countryside with its icy fetters, than from the rains. The frost scarcely interfered with her movements; indeed, it made exercise more than ever necessary. Forced to seek diligently for her food, she found it in a deserted stubble; there, when the sheep lay sleeping in the bright winter moonlight, she would squat beside them, nibbling the turnips scattered over the field as provender for the flock.