There has been considerable good news recently about hare coursers being caught by the police and cases prepared for court. Some have been in Scotland (Lothians and Tayside) while most have been in England and Wales, particularly Lincolnshire. I am giving a talk tonight to Forfar and Strathmore Farmers and no doubt many of the questions will be in relation to hare coursing. I thought therefore that the time was right for a wee story from one of my books – Wildlife Detective – relating to hare coursing.
Three men had been caught hare coursing near Comrie in Perthshire, and some of the evidence against them was in relation to two x three-hour films they had taken on their cine-camera of some of the chases. This is the tale from the book:
I watched the film on one of the cameras, which ran for about three hours. It was non-stop hare coursing. It was a great insight into how these guys operate and of the proportion of the hares coursed that are caught. I could see that they just parked their car at the roadside once they had spotted a hare in a field and jumped the fence to begin the chase. Normally someone was left with the car – usually the person filming – and there was one amusing incident when the driver must have jumped out without setting the handbrake and the car started to run back down a hill. It would have been funny even without sound but with the sound it was hilarious. The cameraman had to remedy the situation. His language was choice and for a while, when the camera was swinging on a loop on his wrist, I was looking at an inverted world swaying like a pendulum. I could see the upside down car several yards in front of the camera as he chased after it. It came to a sudden stop and I secretly hoped it had banged into something extremely solid. That seemed likely as his tone changed from being panicky to being solemn and lugubrious. This also tended to indicate that he was the owner of the car. After a few minutes my world was righted and I could at last see what was happening in the field. The distraction had caused the ace cameraman to miss all of the action and the victors – or otherwise – were making their way back across the field to the car. I hope their luck in the field equalled that of the pal they had left in charge of the car.
The success rate of this group seemed to be about 50%. Some of the chases were short and the hare escaped into cover, where it was lost to the dogs. Greyhounds rely on hunting by sight, which is the opposite of gundogs that hunt by scent. On some of the chases the hare and the dogs would disappear over a skyline, to the chagrin of all involved including the cameraman. The end result of these chases was unknown. What I found surprising was that as soon as a dog caught the hare the camera was switched off. It was evident that they were not interested in the killing of the hare; simply that it had been caught. All of the hares put a huge effort into escaping, jinking back and forth across the field and turning far more quickly than could the pursuing dogs. It seemed an unfair and unequal challenge when three dogs were set on a hare and the outcome seemed inevitable, yet very occasionally a hare would manage to outrun this pack and make good its escape.
The escape in some cases may only have been temporary as I was once handed a dead hare by a gamekeeper who had found it in a field just after hare coursers had been in the adjoining field. The hare was in perfect condition with not a mark on it; an otherwise healthy hare had it not been dead! I had no way of confirming it but I am sure that hare died from the stress of being coursed by dogs over a long distance. I had the hare skinned and examined later by a veterinary pathologist who was of the same view. This particular group, all of them travellers, were clearly training up the next generation of hare coursers as they often had kids with them on their exploits. The kids were at least as enthusiastic as their mentors, shouting encouragement to the dogs that were closing in on a hare to, ‘Kill it. Kill it.’ When the dogs did ‘kill it’ no-one went over to pick up the hare to take it with them either to make a hare stew or to feed the dogs. The hare was left wherever it had been dropped by the dogs, yet in court the plea to the sheriff is always, ‘We were just out for a hare for the pot your Honour. We’ve a big family to feed.’
One of this group was caught the following month, again in Perthshire, this time coursing a hare with two dogs. The same person was caught coursing hares three further times in Angus, with a mixture of other friends or family in tow. It could be said that he did not have a good year, especially if he had been the cameraman the day the car came to life of its own accord. He and the others received a combination of fines and community service for these offences. As was to be expected they shared out the convictions, some pleading guilty and the others entering a plea of not guilty that was accepted by the court, then reversing the pleas for the next case. That way no-one built up too many convictions and no-one was jailed. Justice was manipulated but I suppose the end result wasn’t too bad.
They just can’t seem to give up coursing. Two years later, at the end of 2006, members of that group have a further two cases awaiting trial. Between then and the following spring we had eight hare coursing cases where we managed to charge at least one person. That wasn’t a bad start to our hare coursing operation, Operation Lepus, but no-one had yet gone to prison and no dogs had been forfeited by the court. I was determined that we would do better.
See Wildlife Detective and other books on this blog. If you would like a signed copy contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org