|An Introduction to Beagling|
Beagling is a form of hunting that does not involve any horses, the hounds being followed on foot, and is thus accessible to all. A pack of small hounds, consisting of beagles around 16 inches in height and up to 12 years in age, are used for beagling and are known as the ‘pack’. The hounds are taken out from a ‘meet’ to hunt in the surrounding ‘country’ and traditionally hunted the hare. However, since the enactment of the 2004 Hunting Act, the hunted ‘quarry’ has been a ‘trail’; an artificial scent. It is also legal to hunt rabbits so live quarry continues to be hunted. There are 60 packs of beagles in Britain, each occupying a distinct ‘hunt country’ of their own, which can vary greatly from one pack to the next.
Beagling is an enjoyable outdoor sport open to all. It takes place in the winter, officially from mid October to March and usually occurs on a Saturday afternoon and one afternoon in the week. It is ideally suited to anyone who enjoys being out in the British countryside, appreciates nature and is interested in working hounds. Beagling is an inexpensive sport and newcomers need no specific equipment other than warm and sturdy footwear and clothing. Whilst regular members are encouraged to contribute to the hunt by means of a regular subscription, visitors can enjoy a day’s sport for a ‘cap’ or day ticket of around £5. If you are lucky there may be a drink before hunting and a hearty tea to follow, but it is well to bring a little extra money if the meet is at a pub.
Structure of the Hunt
One of the advantages of beagling is that followers and visitors, known as ‘the field’, may be as active as they wish. It is not unknown for some followers to choose their meets on the basis of the best teas and most hospitable pubs! Hunt officials, however, work very hard to make everyday’s hunting a success, and a lot of work goes into arranging each meet long before it takes place. Most beagle packs are run by unpaid amateurs who are committed to the Hunt due to their love of the hounds and hunting. A number of packs also employ ‘professional’ staff as either a huntsman or kennel-huntsman, who has day-to day contact with the hounds and is responsible for the maintenance of the kennels in which they live.
Hunt officials are usually easily spotted out hunting by their somewhat odd but surprisingly functional uniform of green hunt coats, white breeches and hunting caps. Each hunt will have a number of joint masters, who are responsible for the day-to-day aspects of running the hunt and are expected to be members of the AMHB. One of the masters of a beagle pack is often also the huntsman, who is responsible for the hounds on a hunting day and will do his up-most to help them whenever he can. He will be assisted by a number of whippers-in and others not in uniform, known as whips, whose role is to be the eyes and the ears of the huntsman and aid him in ensuring a successful day.
The wider structure of beagle packs varies from one hunt to the next, but all are indebted to a large number of people beyond the uniformed officials of the masters and whippers-in. No hunt could function without the kindness, generosity and cooperation of farmers, landowners and ‘keepers, who permit hounds to hunt across their land at no cost. A secretary or master will have arranged meets with owners and tenants long before hunting takes place, whilst a similar official will collect cap and/or field money, as a contribution towards the cost of the day, at each meet. Further unsung heroes of a hunt are the fundraising team and puppy walkers, who bring on young hounds prior to their joining the pack and without who hunts would have no future.
Tips for a Hunting Day
All beagle packs will welcome newcomers to the sport, but it is important to remember that the master may initially be a little wary and perhaps request references as there remains a threat from animal right activists. It is often recommended not to take dogs out beagling at first, and it varies from one pack to another whether they are permitted. Newcomers to the sport should make themselves known to other members of the field and most will be happy to explain the day and pass on their knowledge of hunting. As with most sports, beagling and hunting in general have a number of peculiar rules and traditions, although all are much easier to understand than football’s offside rule!
At every meet hunt officials and followers will greet one another with “Good Morning” even if after 12pm, and similarly bid each other “Good Night” at the end of the day. Hounds are always counted in ‘couples’, so if you hear that there are ‘thirteen and a half out’ please do not worry that a two-legged, bottomless beagle might be being expected to hunt with the others! The huntsman will direct the hounds, and often the field, with the use of a hunting horn. Three short notes on the horn indicates that hounds are all present or ‘all on’, whilst the sound of ‘going home’ should be learnt quickly to avoid still being out, lost, in the countryside at 9pm! As a representative of the hunt it is important to close gates and respect livestock and crops.
Out hunting, always strive not to do anything than can hamper the work of the hounds, which should always be foremost in your mind. When the huntsman is drawing, try not walk near them with other people chatting. When hounds are running, it is a courtesy to follow the huntsman, not run ahead of him. When a huntsman stops suddenly, try to do likewise as he has most often stopped for a reason and not just to pick his nose! It will add interest to the day if you learn the various hunting terms and what to do when the huntsman shouts ‘’ware heel’, ‘’ware riot’ or ‘they’ve split’. You will be loved by the huntsman forever if you have some valuable information out hunting and make the effort to GO and tell him…
The Hunting Year
Beagling usually takes place only in the winter months, but the spring and summer are by no means without lots of beagling events. The highlight of the hunting summer is the Puppy Show, which takes place usually at the kennels. Although an invitation only event, most packs will welcome all their followers to meet that year’s puppies. They are known as the ‘new entry’ and will start hunting in the autumn later that year having come back from their ‘walk’. A number of summer hound shows are also run throughout the country and are an opportunity for hunt officials to see hounds from other packs and pass on gossip! The main hound shows are held at Peterborough, Harrogate, Ardingly, Honiton and Builth Wells, usually as part of an agricultural show.
For Hunt staff summer weekends will be taken up with hounds attending country shows, they may range from a local gymkhana to the hugely impressive county shows. They are an excellent opportunity for hounds, masters and some of the whips to meet and greet the general public, children in particular. The beagles are no threat to children, as parading at the shows provides ample opportunity to feast on proffered burgers and ice creams! Most hunts also run a number of fundraising events to keep their members and supporters entertained, ranging from hunt breakfasts, lunches, suppers and drinks parties to the more riotous annual hunt ball. What better reason is there to contact your local pack NOW?!
Kate Higgs MH