Coursing is the pursuit of game or other animals by dogs
Chiefly Greyhounds and other sight hounds— catching the prey by speed, running by sight and not by scent. Coursing was a common hunting technique, practiced both by the nobility, the landed and wealthy, as well as commoners with sight hounds and Lurchers. In its oldest recorded form in the Western world, as described by Arrian the sport was practiced by all levels of society, as remained the case until Carolingian hunting law (Forest Law) appropriated hunting grounds, or commons, for the king, the nobility and other land owners.
Animals coursed include hares, rabbits, foxes, deer of all sorts, antelope, gazelle, jackals, wolves. Jackrabbits and coyotes are the most common animals coursed in America. Competitive coursing in Ireland, the UK and Spain has two dogs running together. In America, generally speaking three dogs are run together.
History of coursing
Hare coursing is the pursuit of hares with greyhounds and other sight hounds, which chase the hare by sight and not by scent. It is a competitive sport in which dogs are tested on their ability to turn a hare, although it has a number of variations in its rules around the world. Informal coursing is often conducted to kill, either for betting or for food.
Coursing is a long established and common hunting technique, practiced historically with greyhounds or with lurchers, crosses of sight hounds and working breeds. The sport grew in popularity during the 19th century, but has since experienced a decline due in part to the introduction of greyhound racing.
Whether for sporting or hunting purposes, hare coursing was historically restricted to landowners and the nobility, who used sight hounds, the ownership of which was at certain historic times prohibited among the lower social classes. The oldest documented description of hare coursing is the work Kynegetikos (Greek), otherwise known as Cynegeticus (Latin), which was written by Arrian circa 180 AD. This volume, known from its first complete English translation as On Coursing 1831, by William Dansey, was considered by its original author as a necessary addition to the classic work of the same name Cynegeticus (On Hunting) – scent hunting – by Xenophon. Arrian felt compelled to describe the sight hunt and sight hounds because the Ancient Greeks only knew the scent hunt. It is from Arrian that the most famous quote on the sporting fairness of coursing originates "... true huntsmen do not take out their hounds to catch the creature, but for a trial of speed and a race, and they are satisfied if the hare manages to find something that will rescue her".
The competitive version of hare coursing was given definitive form when the first complete set of English rules was drawn up in the reign of Elizabeth I by Thomas Duke of Norfolk, providing for a head-start to be given to the hare and for the manner of awarding of points to judge the winning dog. The first modern coursing club was established at Swaffham in 1776, and the National Coursing Club was founded to regulate the sport in 1858. During the 1800s, coursing crossed the class divide, and reached its peak of popularity, with more than 150 coursing clubs in Britain, some attracting up to 80,000 people. By the late 19th century, hare coursing had become a predominantly working class sport.
Coursing declined during the 20th century, notably due to the development of urban greyhound racing in the 1920s, and there were less than 30 coursing clubs in the UK by 2000.
The oldest form of hare coursing simply involved two dogs chasing a hare, the winner being the dog that caught the hare; this could be for pest control, for food or for sport. In order to indulge in the practice, various cross breeds (under the generic term lurchers) were developed and, still today, such animals may be specifically bred for coursing. Informal coursing has long been closely associated with poaching, lacking the landowner's permission, and is often seen as a major problem by landowners and by the police. Clubs affiliated to the Association of Lurcher Clubs organized informal coursing with the landowner's permission, sometimes using a single Lurcher rather than a pair to chase a hare.
Modern hare coursing
is practiced using a number of sight hounds: mainly Greyhounds but also Borzois, Salukis, Whippets, and Deerhounds that are registered with a governing body such as the National Coursing Club or Kennel Club in Great Britain, the Irish Coursing Club or the National Open Field Coursing Association (NOFCA) in the US. Events are conducted through local coursing clubs which are regulated by their governing body. The objective of coursing is to test and judge the athletic ability of the dogs rather than to kill the hare.
Such hare coursing has a number of variations in how it is undertaken. Open coursing takes place in the open, and closed (or park or Irish style) coursing takes place in an enclosure with an escape route. Open coursing is either run as walked-up coursing, where a line of people walk through the countryside to flush out a hare, or as driven coursing (such as the Waterloo Cup), where hares are driven by beaters towards the coursing field. In each case, when a suitable hare appears, a person known as a slipper uses a slip with two collars to release two dogs at the same time, in pursuit of the hare which is given a head start (known as fair law), usually between 80–100 yards (70–90 metres).
The chased hare will then run at 40–45 km/h (24–26 mph) and the course will last around 35–40 seconds over a third of a mile (0.5 km). The greyhounds which pursue the hare will, being faster, start to catch up with it. Since the greyhounds are much bigger than the hare, and much less agile, they find it hard to follow the hare's sharp turns, which it makes as the greyhounds threaten to reach it. This agility gives the hare an important and often crucial advantage as it seeks, usually successfully, to escape. Under National Coursing Club rules, the dogs are awarded points on how many times they can turn the hare, and how closely they follow the hare's course. The contest between the greyhounds is judged from horseback and the winning greyhound will proceed to the next round of a knock-out tournament. The 2003 UK coursing season ran from 1 October to 28 February.
Variations in Irish coursing
Hare coursing is popular in the Republic of Ireland, with the national meeting in Clonmel, County Tipperary, being the most important event in the coursing calendar, attracting 10,000 spectators, and claimed by its organizers to be worth up to €16 million for the local economy. There are around 70 formal coursing clubs in the Republic and two in Northern Ireland, together holding 80–85 meetings per year.
There are several differences between the rules of coursing in Great Britain (where it is regulated by the National Coursing Club) and Irish coursing which has been organized by Irish Coursing Club since 1916. Because hares are not plentiful in all parts of the island of Ireland, mainly due to modern agricultural practices, coursing clubs are licensed by the Irish Government to net 70–75 hares for their events. The hares are then transported in boxes to the coursing venue where they are kept for up to eight weeks and trained to be coursed.
Instead of being coursed on open land, the Irish form is run in a secure enclosure over a set distance. Since 1993, Irish Coursing Club rules have made it compulsory for the greyhounds to be muzzled while they chase the hare. After the coursing event, the hares are transported back to where they were netted and re-released into the wild. Reports by Government wardens, published under freedom of information legislation, state that hares have sometimes been coursed more than once at the same event.
Whereas the British form of coursing is run with dogs winning points for their running and turning of the hare, the Irish form is run on the basis that the first dog to turn the hare wins This is denoted by either a red flag or a white flag, indicating the colours of the respective dogs' collars.
Variations in the United States
Greyhounds were introduced to America to help farmers control jackrabbits and organized coursing meets were taking place in the United States in the 19th century, by 1886 according to Gulf Coast Greyhounds. Open field coursing of jackrabbits, which are members of the hare family, now takes place in a number of states in Western America, including California, Montana and Wyoming, and is said by the North American Coursing Association to take place also in Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. It takes place with up to four dogs chasing the hare.
The legality of coursing across the United States is unclear. Animal Place, a California-based animal rights group which opposes coursing, claims that the activity is legal in California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming but illegal in Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Vermont and Wisconsin. The pro-coursing campaign, Stop2110 says that open field coursing is legal in all US states with a huntable population of jackrabbits. Washington state lists jackrabbits as a protected species, due to an unusually low population for a western state, and bans all forms of hunting them.
During the 2006–07 coursing season, the leading United States coursing body, the National Open Field Coursing Association, registered 480 dogs of various breeds, and oversaw 83 coursing events. Its quarry is the Black-tailed Jackrabbit. Coursing of White-tailed Jackrabbits is organized by a smaller body, the North American Coursing Association.
According to the UK Government review, the Burns Inquiry, hare coursing also takes place in Pakistan, Portugal and Spain. Pakistan has officially prohibited the use of dogs or hawks for coursing unless a special license is issued for carrying out such activity although, according to some reports, hare coursing is still practiced and popular. Hare coursing in Portugal is run in both forms: open (Prova de Galgos a Campo), and closed (park) coursing where it is known as lebre a corricão. Hare coursing in Portugal may only be legally undertaken with two dogs and operates under the same ethos as coursing in Britain and the United States. In Spain, the hare coursing is open coursing, and the areas where the activity takes place includes the Medina area. Coursing has long been undertaken in Spain, where Spanish galgos rather than greyhounds are used. These dogs have a precarious life after their coursing careers, with the World Society for the Protection of Animals suggesting that many tens of thousands die cruelly each year. Hare coursing is illegal in most European countries and in Australia, where it had a long history from 1867 until it was banned in 1985 following a long decline in popularity.