The old veneurs were naturalists and wood craftsman who regarded their knowledge of the habitats of the quarry as important as the merits of their hounds. The old traditions of “venerie” have of later generations to a large extent been adapted to a love of the English countryside and though not generally acknowledged, hunting has done more than anything else to preserve the amenities of the English countryside. Hare hunting with packs of hounds was amongst the oldest field sports in Europe and the ancient Greek writers described that it long predated the traditional English sport of fox hunting. So harriers or foxhounds? It is a bit like your preferred tipple. But perhaps, don’t mix the grape with the grain.
To a lay person such as myself I can only admire those skilled enough to hunt hounds full stop! I have always loved foxhounds but finding myself in East Anglia some twenty years plus, I have had much fun watching hunting with harriers pre-ban. Some packs are dual registered with the Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles (AMHB) and the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA). Harriers by their very nature are quick, athletic and busy, and like children, take your eyes off them for one minute and they are up to mischief – of course the harrier hunts in a very different way to a foxhound and most suited to hunting the hare as they cast in a circle and hunt in the open, thereby giving those that like to enjoy hound work an opportunity to observe. Foxhounds art of scenting is quite different. You cannot compare the two. There are only eighteen packs of Stud Book Harriers in the country and some three hundred in the world. The relatively small number of true hare hunting hounds remaining in Britain classes them “Rare Breed Status”.
In East Anglia there is a high population of hares, positively associated with arable land. A wonderful knowledgeable retired Gamekeeper whose family are steeped in keepering for generations said that in the Ditchingham area near Bungay, Suffolk. A fox was not seen from 1920 – 1939. Foxes were just not about! The greater proportion of arable habitat in the country, surveys confirm, the greater number of hare sightings. The East has the highest percentage of arable approximately sixty per cent. In comparison hunts in the north, south and west regions have significantly less arable land by percentage at least half and lower. Winter wheat and other cereals which provide essential food and cover from predators create the habitat which the hare will thrive on compared to non-arable farming areas, such as pasture, uplands and woodlands. The density of cattle on pastureland has a negative effect on the hare densities most likely effected by the ingestion of larvae, that infect ruminant livestock; this results in poor body condition and poor fertility etc. Changes in agriculture can create a negative density. The AMHB encourages that hunts keep records of sightings of Brown hares (Lepus europaeus) seen throughout the day for conservation data.
Bred specifically for hunting the hare the harrier is one of the oldest of British breeds and said to be descended from the long extinct Talbots and St. Hubert Hounds. Each Hunting pack selecting breeding to suit their own purpose and going for its own optimum size, keeping the pack level at that particular size and type. Although through history an infusion of foxhound blood altered type which became much more up on the leg, with shorter ears and dead straight fronts. For out crossing to increase the gene pool and then breed back one would prefer going to a West Country Harrier. The West Country Harriers are light in type and colouring, often virtually all white with a very faint cream and lemon head-marking. The mounted vale packs breed a heavier stronger type of darker colour, more on the lines of a Foxhound in miniature, often hare-pied and tan and white, with much heavier bone. In the mounted packs the colours have a wide range, black and tan on a white ground, hare pied, badger pied and rarely blue-mottled. One Irish pack was entirely black and tan without white, of Harrier type and size with rather longer ears than the stud-book Harrier. Liver and white is not a hound colour.
The size also differs ranging from 19” at the shoulder to 22”.
At the Peterborough renamed “Festival of Hunting” always held in July at East of England Show ground. Some classes stipulate the Stud Book Harrier Dog Hounds must not exceed twenty two inches. Stud Book Harrier Bitch Hounds to not exceed twenty one inches and there is a Stud Book Harrier nineteen inch Bitch Class. There is no height limit for the West Country Harrier which as well as having their specific classes they show alongside the Stud Book Harrier.
Harrier confirmation – the head is longer and shallower both in stop and muzzle than the Foxhound and less square and blocky than the Beagle. The expression is gently refined when relaxed.
There is a slight stop; the lip is not over done. The throat and neck are clean without flews and the head shows no wrinkle. The neck is long, strong and graceful, running smoothly into well laid-back shoulders. The body deep, with adequate sprung ribs and slight lift over the loin, well ribbed back.
Legs straight and sound, elbows free from crook, the line from the shoulder to foot vertical without trace of bandiness at elbow or knee. Pasterns strong and straight, though capable of plenty of spring, ending in a neat oval foot; the hare-foot being preferred to the cat-foot in the mountains. Hindquarters very strong and muscular, the stern being carried in a nice sickle and fairly high. The coat is slightly coarser than the foxhound, and may be broken in some of the Welsh Harriers. The voice is high melodious note, and the note is that of a mellow tenor bell.