Hare-hunting and Harriers

Hare-hunting and Harriers

Chapter XVIII - Sport with Basset Hounds

Hunting with bassets a new feature - Bassets unknown in England before 1875  -  A very old Continental breed - Sir Everett Millais and the Earl of Onslow sponsors in this country - Rise of the basset - Different varieties - Colours - How used on the Continent - Hare-hunting bassets - Different packs, The Walhampton - Messrs, Heseltine - Their success with these hounds - Captain Heseltine's ccount of basset hounds and hunting - Statistics - Some fine runs - Patience required for this pursuit - Points of the basset

Hunting with basset hounds is a comparatively new feature in British field sports. It dates back little farther than fourteen or fifteen years, and, in fact, may be said not to have been really established on a businesslike footing until the Messrs. Heseltine began to hunt regularly in the year 1891. It is not a sport which, for various reasons, is ever likely to oust beagles or harriers from their ancient popularity.  In the first place, bassets are much more difficult to get hold of and more expensive to buy. In the second place, although they have wonderful noses and are most determined workers, they are, from their very conformation, exceedingly slow, and take several hours, usually from two to three, sometimes even more, to wear down their quarry. This style of hunting, although to the chosen few who love hound work before anything else most interesting to watch, is, to the average modem sportsman, inclined to be tedious, and most men would, therefore, prefer to take their pleasure with a faster type of hound. Still, bassets have come to stay ; they are now growing far more numerous than they were a dozen years ago ; many fanciers have become greatly attached to them ; there are a Basset Club and a Stud Book, and each season, among the list of packs of hounds hunting in these islands, there are to be found two or three packs of these bizarre-looking, but wonderfully handsome, hounds.

Before the year 1875, the basset hound was practically unknown in England. He had flourished for ages upon the Continent, chiefly in France and Belgium, as well as, to a lesser extent, in Austria and Germany, where he had been employed for various purposes connected with sport. But in England, prior to that year, the Earl of Onslow was, I believe, the only person who had ever kept bassets in this country. Lord Onslow had, in fact, a kennel of these hounds before the late Sir Everett Millais, who was, next to him, the earliest introducer of them, appeared on the scene. These had been presented to Lord Onslow by the Comte Tournon de Montmelas. In 1875 Sir Everett (then Mr.) Millais first exhibited one of these hounds, the celebrated " Model," which is still often referred to as a typical hound of this curious breed. The basset became quickly a fashion. Sir Everett Millais did much to encourage fanciers, and even wrote a monograph on the new importation,* and before very long — by the year 1883 — this hound had acquired so much of fame and repute as to demand a Club of its own, as well as a place in the Kennel Club Stud Book. Since that time, the march of the basset has, among connoisseurs who can afford the luxury of a new and somewhat expensive fashion, been a triumphant one. In 1883 there were but ten entries of these hounds in the Kennel Club Stud Book, In 1896 there were no less than ninety bassets entered at the Kennel Club Show.

Yet, although the basset has thus achieved a not inconsiderable triumph in a comparatively short period, he is still a somewhat scarce commodity, caviare to the general public. A certain number have seen him on the show benches, or walking abroad with his master ; few have watched him at work in the hunting-field. In appearance, the basset hound looks somewhat like a handsome foxhound — with long ears, deepish flews, and a somewhat old-fashioned type of head — set on extremely squat legs, the fore-legs, especially, being much bent inwards. As to the conformation of the legs, they give, at first, the impression of this hound having some kinship with dachshunds and the old English turnspit. But, as a matter of fact, they are totally distinct. The dachshund is a terrier, while the basset is a pure hound of very ancient descent.

How long he has been bred in his present state it is impossible to say with anything like precision. By some authorities the basset, as found in France and Belgium, is placed in three classes :
  1. Bassets a jambes droites (or straight-legged bassets).
  2. Bassets a jambes demi-torses (with fore-legs half crooked).
  3. Bassets d jambes torses (with fore-legs wholly crooked).
To these, again, three variations of coat are assigned, smooth, rough, and half-rough. The rough-coated variety is, by the way, known as the Griffon-basset. The crooked-legged bassets are in most favour, and are regarded as the best representatives of their race. They show a finer type of hound head, with the long pendulous ears, and other points laid down as desirable in this kind of hound. Bassets run in all colours, foxhound colour, blue-mottle, lemon-and-white, hare-pie, black-and-tan, and whole red. Sir Everett Millais, who studied the type most closely, favoured the tri-coloured variety, that is, a hound with a tan head and a black-and-white body. This type is still much fancied. His well known hound, " Model," weighed forty-six pounds, and had the following measurements. Shoulder height, twelve inches ; length, from tip of nose to setting on of tail, thirty-two inches ; height from ground, between fore-feet, two and three-quarter inches. The texture of the coat is described as that of a hound, by which one understands the modern English foxhound.*

* For further information on the basset, the reader maybe referred to the works of Mr. Hugh Dalziel and Mr. Rawdon Lee on British dogs, and to Sir Everett Millais' book on this hound.

In La Vendee, Luxembourg, Alsace-Lorraine, and other parts, where coverts are extensive, the rough-coated basset seems to be most in favour, but this variety is, as a rule, much scarcer than the smooth-coated hound. The basset is an independent, determined kind of hound. He prefers to take nothing on trust, but, instead of giving tongue and joining in the cry of the other hounds, which have already owned the scent, likes to work out the line for himself and then raise his voice. He has an extraordinarily delicate sense of scent.

On the Continent this race was, apparently, used very largely for shooting purposes, hunting the country for different kinds of game, and driving it to the guns posted in various positions. In the Ardennes, a bigger breed seems to have been used for driving wolves, boar, and roe ; this is the rough-coated kind, previously referred to. But in various districts this useful hound was, and is, employed for aU kinds of sport, including badger, vermin, and even truffles. A good truffle-hound is, of course, a real treasure. The basset is a most courageous beast and takes readily to the chase of wolf, which ordinary hounds are said to be not very keen about. It is even stated that a well-bred basset will hunt a wolf single-handed, which, considering his inferior size, must be taken as evidence of very high mettle.

When these hounds were first used for hunting hare in this country, it was quickly discovered that, although they had wonderful noses and were infinitely persevering, they had certain drawbacks which required correction. They are inclined, as I have shown, to dwell too much on the line, and are somewhat too independent, and they are rather easily frightened by the whip. Still, within the last ten years they
The Walhampton Pack
The Walhamtopn Pack
have shown excellent sport. I find, from my " Field " lists of hounds, that in 1895-96 three packs of bassets were hunting, viz., the Walhampton, the Wintershill, and the Wolvercote. In the next season there were four, viz.. The Walhampton, the Wintershill, the Delapre, and Mr. Moss's.

In 1897-98 the Wintershill dropped out, and the Highworth were added to the other packs. In 1898-99 three packs remained hunting — the Walhampton, the Delapre, and the Highworth. In 1899-1900 the Walhampton apparently held the field alone, to be joined in 1900-01 by the Stoodleigh and the Knowlton. 1901-02 saw two packs again hunting — the ever-faithful Walhampton and Mr. E. H. M. Denny's, the latter hunting from Chiddingstone Castle, Kent — the Knowlton and the Stoodleigh having retired. The Knowlton, it is to be noted, were mastered and hunted by Miss Gladys Peto, to whom two sisters and a brother acted as whippers-in. During the season, 1902-03, the Walhampton and Mr. Denny's were joined by a new pack, the Reepham, hunting near Lincoln.

From these particulars it would seem that many people have tried hare-hunting with bassets for a short time, usually a season or two, and have then abandoned it. Whether they found that the sport was somewhat slow, or that these dwarf hounds required more time and patience in their education than they could afford to give them, it is beyond me to say. Probably both reasons led to their abandonment, after a brief trial. In some few instances, no doubt, the pack was started as a mere passing fad or fashion, the owner having acquired a few couples of these hounds and wishing to see how they would behave themselves in the field.

Walhampton Pack - The kill
The Walhamton Pack - The Kill
The Walhampton pack, as will be seen, have alone remained constant, season after season, to the sport which they inaugurated in 1891. They have been invariably mastered and hunted by the Messrs. Heseltine, Mr. Christopher Heseltine acting as Master, and Captain Godfrey Heseltine having usually carried the horn, except during his absence on service in South Africa.

Captain Heseltine has been good enough to send me particulars of the pack and accounts of some of their best runs ; and the narrative seems to me so instructive, not only in reference to sport with bassets, but as regards hare-hunting generally, that I have thought well to print it, in its entirety. It will be noticed with what patience and care this pack has been trained and matured to a successful issue, and how disappointing, comparatively, were the first essays in hare-hunting during the season of 1890-91, when the hounds never killed a hare.

It will be noticed, too, how much more readily even bassets can kill hares early in the season, i.e., in September, October, and the early part of November, than later on when hares are so much stronger. This is a point that is often forgotten by young Masters of harriers and beagles.

Here, then, follows Captain Heseltine's account of the Walhampton Basset Hounds :

" (i) The first couple of basset hounds we ever possessed were given to us by Captain Peacock (late M.F.H. Hertfordshire, Isle of Wight, etc.), in 1890, and with four or five couples we used to chivey about, but in April 1891, we purchased 9|- couples from Mr. T. Cannon, Junr., of Danebury, and commenced hunting regularly in the season, 1891-2, and I have a record of every day's sport from then till now. We commenced hunting badger in the New Forest in July 1891, and had several good hunts, both by moonlight and in the early morning, but gave it up for hare-hunting in September, and have never hunted anything but hare since. In the seasons 1891-2, 1892-3, the hounds hunted during term time at Cambridge, having their kennels at Chesterton ; the remainder of the season they hunted in the New Forest, and around Lymington. Since 1892-3, with the exception of the season, 1900-1, they have been regularly hunted by the writer in the New Forest and the neighbourhood of Lymington. The hounds are the joint property of my brother and myself. My brother is the Master of the pack, and I have always hunted them, with the exception of Nov. 1894, when my brother hunted them. At the present moment (December 1903) kennels are being erected at Canterbury, where I hope to hunt them till the end of the season.

" We have had as many as fourteen couples of puppies at walk, but the last two seasons we have been particularly unfortunate in not being able to breed half that number, I do not think I got more than four couples of whelps. In March 1896, we purchased the whole of the late Major V. Ferguson's pack of basset hounds (15 couples), from which we made a good selection ; and in August 1896, Prince Henry of Pless presented us with the whole of his pack from Germany, consisting of about 10 couples. And at various times since then we have purchased small packs, with a view to selecting some 2 or 3 hounds to add to our pack.

" Here is a short summary of our hunting seasons, with the number of hounds in kennel at commencement of the season :

Season No. of
No. of
No. of
to hand
No. of Couples of
hounds in kennel
at commencement
of season
1890-1 No record kept; hunted with 5 couples of hounds, but never caught a hare.  
1891-2 47 2 9 10
1892-3 54 4 17 12
1893-4 42 3 11 14
1894-5 43 1 14 13½ 
  6½ brace of hares were killed this season in  27 hunting days. On fifteen days on which the hounds were taken out, they could do nothing at all owing to the frost-bound state of the ground; thus there were only 27 days in the whole season on which it was fit to hunt.  
1895-6 38 2 19 14½ 
1896-7 41 0 17 17½
1897-8 34 1 12 17
1898-9 32 (8 by-days) 0 16 17½
1899-0 20 1 4 13
  Hunting very irregularly ; I was hunting the dog pack of the New Forest Foxhounds as well until Jan. 1900, when we both went to the war.
1900-1 In 1900-1 these hounds did not hunt, owing to the South African War.
1901-2  24  2    8 19½  

" S. Walker has been the kennel huntsman and whipper-in since 1891. The following is a summary of hounds for this season :

Season 1902-03
DOGS No.  Total
Eight years old   
Five years old   
Four years old   
Three years old   
Two years old   
One year old  12 dogs
Eight years old   
Six years old   
Five years old   
Four years old   
Three years old   
Two years old   
One year old  24 bitches
  Total  36 hounds

" (2) The country in the New Forest is admirably suited to basset hounds, being moorland or large open woodland.

" The heather on the moor is not sufficiently high to stop these little hounds and invariably carries good scent. The country round Lymington is chiefly plough and banks. The country around Cambridge was chiefly plough, and fen-land, which latter suited the hounds very well, if it had not been for the dykes. Deep ditches or stone walls are a terrible hindrance to basset hounds.

" (3) In the New Forest, during the months of September, October, and early part of November, given a scent, the hounds can bring a hare to hand in 50 minutes to i hour 20 minutes. After the middle of November till the end of the season, I have scarcely ever hunted a hare to death in less than 2 hours and it has much more often been 3 or 4 hours ; it is very seldom that these hounds manage to kill a
hare before she is so beat that you can pick her up yourself.

" They are very slow to take any advantage ; sometimes they would rather throw their tongues than bite ; in many cases beagles or even terriers would have killed a hare which has absolutely escaped from
the jaws of the pack, because they are so slow to grasp the situation, or, more to the point, the hare.

" (4) I do not think that our kennel management differs in any degree from that of a pack of foxhounds, except that our hounds have biscuit with their meal during the hunting season, and that I only give
them the soup from the horse-flesh and none of the meat ; otherwise, the kennel management is the same. The floors of the lodging-houses are boarded with battens, 4 inches from the cement flooring, so that no hound can lie on the cement when shut in the lodging-house.

" (5) I beheve Major Croker and Mr. Miles B. Kennedy were two of the first ever to attempt hunting a hare with basset hounds, about 1886. There were no basset hounds in England prior to 1872, and Lord Onslow, the late Sir Everett Millais, and Mr. Krehl were three of their first admirers."

Six good days with the Walhampton Basset Hounds.
(From Capt. Heseltine's Diary.)

" On Saturday Sep. 24, 1892 (io| couples), met, 11-30, Hill Top Gate, Beaulieu. Found immediately a three-part grown leveret ; raced her for 25 mins., without a check, and killed her at Harley Pitts. Found No. 2 Harley Pitts, hounds ran away from us ; they ran straight to the Nodes, which they skirted, sinking the valley thro' King's Hat Enclosure, crossed the high road ; she jumped up close to Ipley River, and they
ran a circle by King's Hat Enclosure. She squatted off a track and we had a long check.

" We had been running i hr. 10 mins. and the point was nearly four miles ; a forest keeper poked her out, and 9 mins. later Radical rolled her over in the open in Dibden Bottom, running game to the very end.
Who- Whoop !

" On Wedy. March 8, 1892, a blazing hot summer day, met for a by-day, 1-30 p.m. at the Kennels, Chesterton, Cambridge. The ploughs raised a dust cloud, as hounds ran over them ; we found a hare at Chesterton at 2-30 P.M. and hunted her to death at 5-25 p.m.

A small jack hare.
" On Monday Sep. 17, 1894 (io| couples), met at Walhampton. Found on Warborne and ran her to ground ; had her out and turned her down in the forest ; she ran back to Warborne, and, after hunting her for 53 minutes, killed her.

" Found No. 2 on Warborne, and had 47 mins. without a check and killed her. Hounds rather tired, so sent Sam home for 2 couples left in kennel. Found No. 3 close to Bull Hill, ran her by Pilley Green, over
Ditton Farm, and thro' Sheffield Copse to the forest, where Sam joined us with two couples of fresh hounds, and we had an excellent hunt and killed our hare in the middle of Beaulieu Heath. Time i hour, 3 mins.

" On Friday, Nov. i, 1895, met, 10 o'clock, Hill Top Gate (13 couples). Found at 11-15 close to Harley Pitts ; they ran over the burnt ground and on to the cultivated land at Hythe Cross Roads down to Butts Ashe ; hounds were running hard and they packed like a flock of pigeons ; they never left her in covert and hunted her back to Hythe Cross Roads. Christopher viewed her away, leaving the Nodes on their left ; they sank the valley, but on rising the opposite hill, hounds were at fault on heather, burnt ground, but we viewed her making for Ipley.

" I lifted them and they hunted beautifully past King's Hat Enclosure, which they left on their left, up the high road, and across Ipley Farm, running parallel to Ipley River ; we reached the Decoy Farm, and viewed her ' tit-titupping ' on to the forest moor again ; she made a sharp double, and hounds were at fault, but I fresh found her on the river bank, where it runs below the L. & S.W.Ry. at the head of Mattey bog, and hounds being on excellent terms with her, hunted her to death, close to Deerleap Enclosure, at 2-20 P.M., nearly five miles as the crow flies, from Butts Ashe, after a slow but good hunting run of 3 hrs. 5 mins.

"On Jan. 31 (Friday), 1896, met at Shirley Holmes Station, 11 o'clock, a by-day. A cold, cloudy day, wind N.W. very slight. Immediately we began drawing just above Shirley Holmes, hounds began to puzzle out a line, but we never got on terms with our hare, and a road beat us. Time i hr. Found No. 2 at Marlpit Oak and had 30 mins. very fast by Set Thorns, Hincheslea, to Sway, where I think a man with a long
dog accounted for our hare.

"The hunt of the day was yet to come ; we found a hare at 3-30 p.m. at Boldre Grange, in a fallow field ; they ran fast to Batramsley Cross Roads, bearing left-handed through Mead End and Rope Hill, and
back to St. Austins to Boldre Grange, thro' the wood, and drove her out the bottom end of the covert. They swam the Lymington River below Heywood Mill, and scuttled best pace by Boldre Church ; I held them forward with a long cast up the road, until they hit it off at a gateway, and had to run but slowly over sheep-stained ground. In Sheffield Copse we fresh found her, and on the Forest scent began to improve ; bearing left-handed they hunted beautifully by Greenmore, and so to Stockley Cottage ; our hare had now run the road (Beaulieu and Brockenhurst), but Resolute, Stella, Minstrel, Dauntless and Coquette revelled in the enjoyment of an undeniable scent, as they hunted it down the road for over a mile. When nearly opposite the head of Hatchet Pond, Gaston's reassuring chime led us over the moor once more ; it was now almost dark, and by the time we were running round the head of Hatchet Pond it was dark ; but they were not to be denied ; they ran with increasing music, or was it the stillness of the evening which made the cry so sweet. They ran yet faster as they neared Blackwater bog ; I thought I saw her just in front of them, but it was so dark I could not be certain ; the pace meanwhile improved. From Hatchet I had run my very best and had only just succeeded in living with them ; no one was with me except a young farmer, who joined me at Sheffield Copse. Close to Pilley Green, I saw without a doubt a hump-backed spectre against the brighter light caused by the reflection of a pond in the heather ; so did Raglan and Gaston, and with a fresh chorus and crash of music six couples were straining for
her blood, and pulled her down in the middle of the pond at 5-45 P.M. The best hare-hunt I have ever seen in my life ; 2 hrs. 15 mins. and a big point.

"On Monday, Jan. 10, 1898, met, 11 o'clock, at Efford, Lymington, and found a hare close to Vidle Van Farm ; bearing right-handed, they crossed the Milford Road just below Keyhaven, and hunted slowly over 2 rivers, by the golf-links, and down to the sea, left-handed down the Stour beach, nearly to Hurst Castle, when up she jumped and immediately took to the sea. She swam nearly 500 yards before she turned back against the current and landed on the beach again, where hounds killed her. Time, something over an hour.

"All these days, which I have taken out of my hunting diary, have ended successfully with blood ; and there are many more, which I have enjoyed equally well, that have not, but I have not the time to write,
nor you the patience to read more.

"The day — Jan. 31, 1896 — is the best thing of its sort I have ever seen."

These most interesting notes prove very conclusively that hare-hunting with bassets can, if properly managed, yield very fine sport. The Walhampton Master is fortunate in being able to get puppies walked in his surrounding country. A puppy show is annually held, and, in addition to other prizes, since 1897 a Record Reign Challenge Cup, to be won twice before becoming the absolute property of any walker, has been established for the benefit of those undertaking the temporary care of young hounds. It remains to be said that the Walhampton bassets have been as successful on the show benches as they have in the field. Several of the present pack have been distinguished at the Kennel Club Show, Crystal Palace.

In addition to the packs I have before referred to, I believe that, here and there, a little hunting is attempted with a few couples of bassets ; these are probably not thought worth while including in the annual lists of hounds. That for the first season or two not much sport may be expected with a new pack has been demonstrated by Captain Heseltine's experiences. But with any new pack of hounds, whether in pursuit of fox, hare, or otter, the same difficulty must be experienced until the huntsman has learnt his craft. The late Rev. John Russell, the famous hunting parson of North Devon, has left on record the ill success of his first season or two with otter hounds. He got together a pack, but could do nothing with them. " I walked," he says, " three thousand miles without finding an otter ; and although I must have passed over scores, I might as well have searched for a moose deer." However, he presently got hold of a hound that understood the business, and by its means educated his scratch pack to proper hunting-pitch. In his next two seasons he tells us, he scored " five-and-thirty otters right off the reel".

Now, this is the experience of a man who had been entered to hunting from his earliest boyhood, and not of a raw hand, who had never seen hounds handled before. It is not surprising, bearing this precedent in mind, that Masters of basset hounds or beagles, who have hitherto had small experience of hunting hare, or of the management of hounds, should find themselves unable to show sport or obtain blood as often as they could wish. There is no royal road to hunting ; a man can only learn the business by long and sometimes rather painful experience, and by constant application and a steady determination to master the mysteries of a most difficult yet absorbing form of sport, at any cost of time and trouble. Just before I wrote this chapter, a gentleman sent to the Field the following letter, which, it seems to me, illustrates very well the points I have been discussing :

" Sir, — I have this season been hunting a small pack of basset hounds, and although we have had some excellent runs, and the hounds when on a good scent are absolutely impossible to stay with, our number of kills has been very small. I do not know much about beagles, but have one-and-a-half couple, which I hunt with the basset hounds, and they (the beagles) are not any faster than the bassets, and certainly do not stay as well. I see, however, every week in the papers accounts of kills by beagles in England, and I cannot understand why they should get into their hare so much oftener than we do. Is there very much difference in the English and Irish hares, for, if so, perhaps this would account for it ? Perhaps some of your readers, who are interested in foot-hunting, would be good enough to throw some light on the subject. I may add that the country I hunt in is mostly pasture, with very large fields and fences." (The Field, Feb. 14, 1903, p, 234)

It is, I think, almost certain, that this gentleman owed his lack of that crowning triumph and supreme test of a run — the kill — to the great and sufficient reason that he and his pack were probably not well practised in hare-hunting. If the same pack were hunted next season, it is almost certain that, after the experience they had thus painfully acquired, they would begin to kill hares. Even the Messrs. Heseltine did nothing in their first essays ; yet in the following season they began to get blood and so moved forward by degrees from success to success.

Bassets are proverbially poor catchers of a hare at the end of a run, and it is in the last phases of the chase, just when she is getting most beaten, that the hare practises all those wonderful tricks and stratagems which are found so puzzling even by practised huntsmen.  As to Irish and English hares, it may be stated with confidence that English hares are at least as stout as those of the Sister Island.  Most men who have hunted with both would be inclined to yield the English hare the superiority in this respect.

It is difficult to understand the writer's assertion that his beagles are no faster than bassets. Unless the beagles are very small indeed, it is, I think, the experience of most sportsmen who have tested the question that the average beagle is considerably faster than the short-legged, long, and heavy-bodied basset.

Before concluding this chapter, it may be not out of place to mention the value of the points of a basset hound, as now recognised for judging :
Head, skull, eyes, muzzle, and flews  15 
Ears  15 
Neck, dewlap, chest, and shoulders  10 
Fore-legs and feet  15 
Stern  10 
Back  10 
Colour and markings  15 
Coat and skin  10 
Basset character and symmetry

Hare Hunting and Harriers

Original title:
Hare-Hunting and Harriers; With Notices of Beagles and Basset Hounds

Bryden, Henry Anderson 1854-1937

1903 Grant Richards Ltd. Republished 2010 by Nabu Press

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