Adam re­flects on the chang­ing face of a once pop­u­lar win­ter sport: hare shoot­ing

Sporting Shooter - - Contents -

Thirty or so years ago, hare shoots were ma­jor events in the cal­en­dar. I played roles from fre­quent mi­nor walk-on to very oc­ca­sional cen­tre-stage star­dom – de­pend­ing on venue, cir­cum­stances and a chunk of luck – but, just like the ver­min shoots that once pulled in equally large num­bers later in the spring, such days seem to have lost their at­trac­tion. A ma­jor rea­son is that hare num­bers have dwin­dled, though not through over-shoot­ing.

That’s not to say the shoots are en­tirely a thing of the past. Some, I know, are still held, if only to limit the op­tions for vis­its from the free spir­its of the cours­ing fra­ter­nity, but many have changed from the large-scale so­cial get to­geth­ers of the 1960s to the 80s that I re­mem­ber, to com­mer­cially sold days for smaller teams of Guns. One shoot where I once joined the an­nual cull, for ex­am­ple, now reg­u­larly sells one or two days to a team of eight Guns from Bel­gium who thin out a cou­ple of dozen ‘sallys’ and en­joy what, for them, is ex­cep­tional sport, while the farmer in­volved makes a nice lit­tle earner on the side.

But back in the day, as I say, hare shoots were ea­gerly awaited events, usu­ally held in Fe­bru­ary and early March. The theme was as much so­cial as pest con­trol, with keep­ers tak­ing the chance to un­wind af­ter the end of the sea­son, along with beaters pleased for the chance to carry a gun in­stead of a stick. And this too shows how chang­ing at­ti­tudes have af­fected the scene that I re­mem­ber. Then, most cock shoots were smaller af­fairs, en­tirely re­stricted to ‘cocks only’ and with a lengthy ‘lunch’ in the lo­cal as part of the day, so while no­body would deny that such days were big oc­ca­sions, the later hare shoots were what most beaters looked for­ward to. To­day, what’s on of­fer at the end of the sea­son is a full day or even two or three days’ shoot­ing both cocks and hens – and that is what mo­ti­vates a fair per­cent­age of beaters who spend most of the win­ter tap­ping bushes.

What­ever, back in the days I’m talk­ing about, the mag­net was the huge num­bers of hares that could be ac­counted for at venues like Laver­stoke in Hamp­shire and Six Mile Bot­tom in Cam­bridgeshire and many a long stretch of farm­land be­tween. Then hare num­bers be­gan to dwin­dle, ini­tially due to the se­vere ef­fects of paraquat-based her­bi­cides such as Gramox­one (since banned) on lev­eret num­bers, but more re­cently from the increasing pres­sure cre­ated by the dra­matic rise in buz­zard num­bers. These once lazy scav­engers are now more than happy to lunch off a young hare, whose only pro­tec­tion is to stay mo­tion­less and thus all too eas­ily fall prey to the pin­point vi­sion of these large rap­tors. Worse still, I can’t help but feel sure that red kites, whose num­bers are also rock­et­ing and are cur­rently scav­engers, will fol­low in their wing­beats be­fore

‘The dairy farmer whose herd grazed the grass­land knew there were hares about, but as to how many, he had no idea’

Brown hares are recog­nis­able by their golden-brown colour, pale belly and white tail

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