This section is from the book "Hunting: A Manual of Fox, Hare, Stag & Otter Hunting", by J. Otho Paget. Also available from Amazon: Hunting: A Manual of Fox, Hare, Stag & Otter Hunting.
'A diff'rent hound for every diff'rent chase Select with judgment; nor the timorous hare O'ermatched destroy, but leave that vile offence To the mean, murd'ring, coursing crew, intent On blood and spoil. O blast their hopes, just Heaven ! ' somerville.
The chase of the hare is an honourable and ancient sport—in fact, I believe that animal was the first hunted by scent. Xenophon wrote on the subject, and there have been many treatises written since his day. When fox-hunting came into fashion, its exciting joys soon threw into the shade the more sober sport, and since then men have been wont to look down on the hare-hunter.
If you want to see hunting, to see every turn puzzled out, and to see the hounds' scenting-powers tried to their utmost, then go and have a day with harriers or beagles. The hare when not bustled out of her senses with too fast a hound will perform the most astonishing feats to save her life, and no one can predict what her next move will be.
In a country that is hunted by foxhounds a pack of harriers is out of place, as any one riding can have much better sport after a fox, and the farmer gets his land cut up quite enough with the legitimate hunt. 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. When a hare does make a good point, which is not often, she generally runs several rings round her home before eventually going away. I have heard it said that following harriers is a splendid opportunity for schooling a young horse, and I have no doubt it is an excellent plan; but unless the land belongs to or is occupied by the owner of the horse, it seems to me a very cool proceeding. The master should keep his eye on these people, and make them compensate the farmer handsomely for broken fences.
There are a great many different ways of hunting the hare, but with all respect for the opinions of others, I do not call it hunting to run her to death with twenty-two inch foxhounds. If you ride you must, of course, use a hound of a certain size—say not less than sixteen inches—but you ought to leave the pack almost entirely alone. The greatest charm of this sport is to watch the hound working, and if you are continually interfering you will fail to see not only many a clever ruse of the hare to escape, but also the qualities of the different hounds in making equally clever hits. Those who look on harriers merely as an excuse for a gallop, can have no liking for the sport itself, and should follow foxhounds instead.
The way I distinguish between the two sports is this : in fox-hunting the riding is an inseparable part of the whole amusement, and in hare-hunting it should be considered only as a means to enable a man to watch proceedings. There are people who are unfortunate enough to live in a country where no fox-hunting can be procured, and they may be forgiven for trying to simulate the joys of the greater sport by a base imitation, but the result is neither one thing nor the other, and they had much better content themselves with the sober delights of a legitimate hare-hunt.
In all hunting there should be slight odds in favour of the animal pursued—that is taking an average of the season and not any particular good or bad scenting-day. I should put the odds at three to one on the fox in an ordinary country with a good pack of hounds and a fair huntsman. This is a standard which I should like to see hare-hunters carry in their minds when they are making preparations for the pursuit of puss. A fox-hunter having the odds against him feels he has a right to take every advantage he can of the fox within certain bounds, but beyond these he will not pass if he is a good sportsman at heart.
With a smart pack of harriers of twenty inches that have nose as well as pace, I should put the odds at five to one against the hare. To balance things more evenly, you should not give hounds a view at the start, hardly any assistance at a check, and never lift them to a halloa.
You will have gathered from the foregoing remarks that hunting the hare with harriers bred from foxhounds is not a sport which I admire, and you will therefore forgive me not dwelling long on the subject. My argument is that if twelve-inch beagles can kill a hare in reasonable time, it is manifestly unfair to pursue her with a hound nearly twice the size. A good pack of harriers over eighteen inches, that have been carefully bred, ought never to miss killing their brace of hares every day they go out, but they must not string, and the proverbial sheet should always cover them. A scratch pack that have been collected from the rubbish of other kennels may occasionally chop a hare, but they will very seldom hunt her to death.
When it is almost a certainty that hounds will have one kill or more each day they hunt, it is impossible to feel that keenness for blood which is the spirit of hunting. No one who is really fond of hounds will rest content until he has his pack almost perfect, and I say that a perfect pack of harriers should kill every hare they find, so that a man after years of trouble and labour in breeding to a certain perfection, sees all his toil wasted in trying to accomplish an end which brings no satisfaction when attained.
Where there are no foxhounds hunting a certain district, there is always an opening for a pack of harriers, but nothing should be done until the landowners and the farmers have been consulted. The would-be master must remember that hunting is practically a public amusement, and in starting a new pack he has not to consider his own wishes, but those of the people living in the neighbourhood. If it is a district that has never been hunted before, he will meet with many difficulties to start with, and considerable opposition, but courtesy and tact should smooth this all away. He should persuade as many people as possible to come out and join his hunt, not sneak off for his own selfish amusement without letting any one know. On introducing hounds to a country that has never been hunted, the first thing a master has to do is to make himself popular and to get the inhabitants to take an interest in the sport. This done, and the harriers will soon become a recognised institution, deserving of every one's support.