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.
Condition is of course the most important thing with small beagles, and does not always get the attention it deserves from young masters. I must refer you to what I have already written on the subject in the chapter dealing with the foxhound, and remind you that if you wish your beagles to run well, they must be fit. When you see a hare get up in front of a small pack of beagles and leave them behind at every stride, the idea of them catching her seems absurd. The only chance they have of succeeding is by being in such hard condition that they wear the hare down, and by having such good noses that they practically never stop. A slow hound that is always on the line gives a hare very little time to get her wind, and if you can only keep her going, you will soon tire her out.
The bicycle will be found an excellent means of exercising hounds and getting them fit, but you neve ought to take them fast when the roads are dusty, and at all times six miles an hour is quite fast enough. Have them out as often and as long as you can in the summer. If you can manage it, a twenty-five mile walk once a week is a splendid thing for the hounds, and will harden their feet.
If you intend hunting the beagles yourself, you must not neglect your own condition, and a five-mile run once or twice a week during the summer will make running in the winter a pleasure instead of a weary toil. Unless the huntsman is an extraordinary runner, he should never spurt or try to compete with his field, and always manage to have something in reserve, so that he can take hounds quickly to a halloa or lift them to view a beaten hare. This is the time of day that a huntsman to beagles should be ready to exert himself, and unless he is a good stayer, it is then he will be found wanting. Whilst the pack are fresh at the beginning of the day they may be left practically to themselves, and in fact that is the best plan for several reasons ; but at the end of a hard and tiring run, after there have been perhaps half a dozen changes and after four hours' continuous running, the hare gets tired and there seems a chance of a kill. The huntsman must then be ready to take advantage of every opportunity he sees of getting nearer to his hare, and must press his hounds on. A kill at the end of a really hard day is of great benefit to hounds, and the reverse when you fail. You may be tired out, leg-weary and hungry, but you must persevere, and your reward will come the next time you hunt. To do these things you must be in good condition, full of hard muscle and in fair wind.
Having made the pack and yourself fit, you will begin to think of a hunt, and when the corn is all cut the desire will become strong. With small hounds it is advisable to begin early whilst the hares are weak, and you can thus get the pack well blooded before your regular season commences. Everything, however, must depend on the wishes of the people over whose land you hunt, and if they do not object you can have your first morning at the end of September. There is no reason you should not begin a month earlier if the landowners and occupiers are willing, but when once you commence you must go on hunting at least one day a week.
In some countries and with some packs it is the rule to begin the regular season on the first of October, but we do not commence until November. Whatever date you fix on for making a start, you ought to have at least a fortnight or three weeks' rehearsal to get your hounds under proper command. I am not referring to the man who hunts only on his own land and for his own amusement—he can please himself; but the man who has to depend on others for the hare he finds and the ground he runs over, is to a certain extent a public servant. He should fix the date for opening the season, the days he intends hunting, and the hour for meeting, which should be that most convenient to the majority of his supporters. The preliminary days the master has only to consider himself and his hounds, without a thought as to the pleasure of his field. The first two or three mornings he goes out, let him start as soon as it is light, and hunt the hare to her form by her previous night's wanderings. There should be no halloaing, and he should have two attentive whips to administer punishment when required. When he has killed a hare, let him return to kennel at once.
The whole future season depends on the manner in which these preliminary days are conducted : when the pack have been well blooded, have gained confidence in themselves and their huntsman, are free from riot and are under proper control, then you may look forward to a time when you will enjoy the fruits of your labours.
Although I do not think a hound often finds a hare unless it is in the morning, I believe in letting them try, and they should always be made to draw for themselves. They then depend more on their own powers, and are not always staring about for a halloa. Try what you think the most likely part of the field with the pack, and let the beaters work the uncertain portions. Beaters sometimes go on in front of hounds to put a hare up, but you should not allow this, and if you think one has been drawn over they can walk behind you. No one should be before hounds at any time. Hounds that always have their hare found for them get very slack and are of little use in a run when she lies down. Encourage them to draw in front of you, and do not rate a hound because he feathers on some scent which you think is not a hare. Remember he commits no fault unless he actually opens on a line which you have proof yourself is not that of a hare. Sometimes at the beginning of the season, or when your pack is rather wild, it is advisable for some one to put the hare away, and you can lay them on when she is out of sight. This must be done very quietly without any halloaing, and if it looks a fair scenting-day you may give the hare two minutes' start, when you can walk quietly up to the spot where the finder is holding up his cap, and encourage them to put their heads down.