What about hare hunting?

Hare being pursued by hounds in a 2016 hare hunting event in England. Image courtesy of the Hare Preservation Trust. This blog is part of a series of blogs that feature excerpts of IFAW’s report Trail of Lies, which is the most comprehensive study to date examining the hunting with dogs debate and the practices hunters take to undermine the ban. –The eds.

It’s not all about foxes, you know?

When people read about the ban on hunting, most people assume that it only refers to foxhunting. In fact, the main body of the Hunting Act 2004 does not mention the term ‘fox’ even once (it uses the term  ‘wild mammals’ instead), but it does mention specifically hares, even in its sub-title: “An Act to make provision about hunting wild mammals with dogs; to prohibit hare coursing; and for connected purposes”. So, the Hunting Act 2004 specifically bans ‘hare coursing’, and it has been quite successful in stopping most organised hare coursing events (in 2009 IFAW was responsible of one of the first successful Hunting Act prosecutions of this bloodsport) such as the Waterloo Cup,  and in making the police to tackle hare poaching more effectively.

However, ‘hare coursing’ and ‘hare hunting’ are not the same thing, and unfortunately the Hunting Act has the same enforcement problems when applied to hare hunters as to fox hunters. In fact, when the hunting ban came into force, those hunts which used to hunt hares with harriers, beagles or bassets, chose the same defiant attitude as the foxhunts, and they also found the same way to hunt illegally and get away with it. Indeed, trail hunting, which we believe is actually a false alibi for illegal hunting, is today equally used by hunts that hunt foxes and hunts that hunt hares, so hares in England are still being illegally chased by hunts.

Read the following extract of the IFAW’s Trail of Lies report to learn more about this:

Section 5 the Hunting Act outlaws hare coursing, during which dogs such as greyhounds or lurchers pursue their quarry by sight rather than scent. The goal of hare coursing is not necessarily to capture and kill the hare, but rather it is a competition between two dogs to see which is better at chasing the hare.

In addition to organised hare coursing as a competition, there is also hare coursing as a form of poaching, where hares are simply hunted to death by poachers’ dogs on someone else’s land. Anti-poaching laws could be used to prosecute these hare coursers, but often the Hunting Act has been used instead, because it has higher penalties.

Hunting Act prosecutions against poachers are often successful because landowners normally testify that they did not give permission for the hunting to take place. When the landowner will not testify against the accused, as happens often in Hunting Act cases involving organised hunts (also known as ‘red coat hunting’), prosecutions are more difficult. This is why most prosecutions under the Act are against poachers. (…)

Trail hunting is not only confined to foxhunts. Hunts that traditionally hunted hares (such as beagle packs) also use it. The following is a description of trail hunting from the Derbyshire Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire Beagles website (DNSBeagles, ):

Although the traditional quarry of beagles was the hare, we hunt within the law by laying a trail to simulate the running pattern of a hare. This is a skilled job requiring considerable knowledge of the creature and its life style. It is inevitable that live hares will be disturbed during hunting because natural and laid trails are often in the same area. It is very important for the hare's sake not to interfere or call out if you see this happen, the hunt staff will deal with the situation and if they require help they will ask. The etiquette of hare hunting remains, whatever the time of day we start in the 'morning' and finish with 'good night'. The hunted hare (trail) is referred to as 'she' as opposed to a fox who is 'he'. The Hunt Staff and Hounds take precedence in the field and must always be given way to and if required helped with access through gates etc. If hounds are finding scent difficult you may see hunt staff or officials standing with their caps held high in the air to signify to the Huntsman the approximate whereabouts of the trail.

All these descriptions are consistent with the Countryside Alliance definition of trail hunting as an attempt to imitate or mock what now is illegal hunting. Indeed, this ’emulation‘, ’mocking‘ or ’simulation‘ interpretation is very often seen on the hunts’ websites. Here are a few more examples:

North Norfolk Harriers https://www.northnorfolkharriers.co.uk/ The Line - The scent left by the quarry. Hunting a unique scent: hunting an artificial line laid across natural country. Our intention will be to make this as realistic as possible so that it continues to be as unpredictable and thrilling as hunting a hare.


(…)Regarding the hunts that hunted hares before the ban (as with the beagle packs), it is not clear which scent they use in trail hunting today. It is possible that they also use hare/rabbit urine as it is also available commercially (Primetime, a). Indeed, at the beginning of the ban hunts officials were openly discussing the use of hare-base scent, as can be seen in this 2005 quote (Horse&Hound, 2005b):

Stephen Lambert of the Council of Hunting Associations says: “Trials on fox- and hare-based scent have not gone well enough yet and in the next month we’ll do more. The Americans have a good formula that we will try — it’s important not to get the scent too strong, which makes hounds wild, but it must make hounds speak. We expect to able to give advice by mid-February.”

However, the few current accounts from this type of hunt that describe the scent they use no longer mention hare-based scent. We have found one that mentions aniseed:

Stour Valley Beagles Beagling is about watching hounds follow a scent trail, in the company of friends. The Hunting Act of 2004 bans hunting wild mammals with dogs. Since then, the hunt has managed to continue using various methods, including hound exercise, laying artificial (aniseed) trails, and working under exemptions to the Act Nos 3,4&5


It is also possible that some of the hunts that hunt hares do not do trail hunting, but rely on exempt hunting (as there is an exemption that allows hunting injured hares) or simply say that they are now hunting rabbits (which are not protected by the Hunting Act 2004).(…)

Often trail layers are volunteers (not members of the hunt staff). In some cases the whipper-in may be the person taking this role. But this is rare, and may be limited to beagling as we have only seen evidence of this in a beagle pack. (…)  Here are some extracts from hunt websites that talk about trail layers:


Royal Agricultural College Beagles Since the ban in 2005, artificial scent is used and laid by a runner. Prior to this, the beagles hunted hare.
Old Berkeley Beagles https://www.oldberkeleybeagles.co.uk/ This is what we do: before we meet for a day’s hunting, one of the whips attaches a lure soaked with a smelly concoction that attracts the hounds, to a piece of rope. He runs with this over the fields and through the woods making a trail. To add interest only the whip knows where the trail has been laid. 


As you can see, trail hunting is equally used for fox hunting and hare hunting, and therefore the concerns of trail hunting being a false alibi for illegal hunting should be equally shared in both cases.

There are more than 80 registered hunts in England and Wales that hunt hares instead foxes, so this is not a small matter.

Hares deserve protection too, regardless if they are hunted by a poacher or by a red coat huntsman, so the police should be as eager to tackle improvised hare cursing as organised hare hunting. This is why there are organisations such as the Hare Preservation Trust that dedicate their work to protect them.

It is not only about foxes, and it is not only about poachers


England and Wales residents ask your PCC to ensure the Hunting Ban is properly enforced.


Post a comment


Senior Program Advisor
Senior Program Advisor
Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
IFAW Veterinarian
Katie Moore, Deputy Vice President, Conservation and Animal Welfare
Deputy Vice President, Conservation and Animal Welfare
Loïs Lelanchon, Animal Rescue Program Officer
Animal Rescue Program Officer
Shannon Walajtys
Manager, Animal Rescue-Disasters
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy