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.
Now we come to the consideration of the best type of hound to use, and here I hesitate to give advice. If you want a smart twenty minutes' gallop, you cannot do better than buy draft foxhounds, or you can get practically the same animal from some harrier kennels, but as this does not appear to me to be sport, I would rather not advise you any further.
In a moorland country where there is either high bracken or heather, I consider the old English harrier the most suitable hound to hunt the hare. Though their height is often over twenty-four inches, they are really not much faster than fifteen-inch beagles, but they can lumber along through the heather all day, whereas a small hound would soon get tired. Then they have a splendid deep note which can be heard a long distance—a very necessary qualification in a rough country where hounds are frequently out of sight. I am very sorry that there are not more packs of these hounds, and that there are signs of the few dying out, as I consider they are exactly the right stamp of large hound to hunt hares. They have no drive, have excellent scenting-powers, and will go on hunting all day.
I think perhaps the fault of getting harriers too fast very often arises from having too good horses in the first instance. If the master and huntsman were obliged to ride fourteen-hand cobs, that could jump well and only gallop moderately, they would soon be glad to reduce the standard of the pack. When a man has a beautiful blood horse, good enough to ride with the Quorn, he will always be wanting his harriers to go faster.
When a man aims at breeding a pack of hounds that will please the eye and also be satisfactory in their work, he will breed to the foxhound type, which is perfection of symmetry in a dog. The big, slow hound will show you very good sport, and perhaps give better results with hares than the quicker and smaller harrier, but you will never be pleased with him on the flags, if you have first learned to love the shape of the foxhound. These are the two sorts of hounds that you may use in hunting the hare.
My ideal of a harrier is a hound of about seventeen inches, and I would never have it exceed eighteen. If you are careful in the breeding and never keep a hound with a fault, a hare will not often escape you. When, however, you first commence, you will probably have to start with larger hounds, but the end you should always have in view is the reduction of your standard to as near seventeen inches as you can get it. Sixteen inches is, I consider, the smallest hound that it is advisable to ride to, as below that size they will have a continual fear of horses, which will interfere with their hunting.
When your pack has become perfect, you may leave them almost entirely alone, and should never try to cut off corners or lift them, unless it happens to be a very bad scenting-day. You must remember, if there is any scent at all, a harrier can always keep pace with the hare, and the less they are lifted the better they will hunt. If hounds are never allowed to puzzle out a line for themselves, they will get into the habit of looking for assistance always, and will fail you at a critical moment.
The best plan in starting a new pack is to buy drafts from well-known kennels that are parted with on account of size, and not from any particular defect, but no one ever parts with really good entered hounds unless they have some fault. Of course, if you have the opportunity of buying a whole pack, you may consider yourself very lucky, but these chances seldom occur at the moment they are wanted. In your first few seasons you must put up with bad legs and feet, if their owners have good noses to recommend them. The first essential in a harrier is nose, and you can forgive him being ugly if only he is good in his work. It is a safe rule never to buy a good-looking entered hound, for you may be certain he would not be sold if he was also reliable in his work.
The annual show at Peterborough has done much to improve the harrier's appearance, and it has brought the masters of different packs in touch with one another, so that they are able to benefit by an interchange of blood. The old hand is not likely to make the mistake of sacrificing working qualities for looks, but there is always a danger of beginners, in a laudable endeavour to secure the coveted honours on the flags, forgetting the real purpose for which they breed hounds. The foxhound show is always held on the previous day, and is attended by the majority of harrier men, who look on with envy at the perfection of form that makes them dissatisfied with their own packs and desirous of emulating it; but they should remember that though working qualities have always held first place, the outward appearance of the foxhound has taken many years to bring up to its present high standard. The harrier's looks were no doubt neglected, and we cannot now hope to build up a perfect animal in a day. Do not let us lose a fraction of that strong sense of smell in a hurried attempt to improve his appearance.
Besides the old English harrier I have already mentioned, there are still packs in different parts of the country that retain the characteristics of the ancient blood from which they are descended. Scattered about in various localities the Welsh harrier still exists, and is very nearly related to the foxhound of that country. Devonshire also claims a breed of her own, and in the southern counties are harriers that are undoubtedly descendants of what was called the southern hound. Then amongst the Cumberland folk there remain a few of the breed which were peculiar to the north. At the time when fox-hunting suddenly came into fashion, there was probably in the midlands a mixture of these different sorts, but the increasing popularity of the new sport drove the hare-hunter into out-of-the-way corners of England, where they still may be found.
I must confess that I am too much of a foxhunter myself to like seeing hounds potter along on a scent and hunt out the line inch by inch, but when I have passed my three-score years I think it might be pleasant to watch such a hunt from the back of a fat cob. It seems a pity to allow the hound and his particular mode of hunting to die out, as it suits the infirmities of old age. After sixty-five we can see little of a fast pack, whether they be harriers or foxhounds, and the old-fashioned harrier would then satisfy our wants. However, I am forgetting that it is the young man to whom I am talking, and he will like something rather quicker. By all means, then, get a pack of the foxhound type—good legs and feet, sloping shoulders and muscular quarters. If you are a good sportsman you will not get them too big, and will remember Somerville's lines at the head of this chapter—
. . . nor the timorous hare O'ermatched destroy. . . .