The yellowing stubble field extends from the edge of the old wood right over to the estate track far beyond. In the early morning sun, each minor depression is betrayed by the wisps of mist hanging on in the colder shadows. I shuffle on elbows, cradling the rifle butt, cheek perched on wood, and view transferred into the magnified black crosshairs. They rest on the curved golden rear quarters before sweeping across the dew-soaked flank and onto the unblinking eye. With a moderated thwack, puss is dead on the tramline.
Let me whisper, my name is Richard Hardy and I have an admission to make: I shoot hares. Actually, I shoot quite a lot of brown hares. And I eat them.
Hares in my locality are thriving, due to a combination of modern cropping regimes with winter cover directly drilled in the stubbles and extensive game cover crops plus vigorous predator control on nearby commercial shoots. This has resulted in a population explosion over the past few years. However, this is not all good news for the charismatic lepus. When I was a young whipper-in, our tremendously wise old master of beagles was often heard to say, “a hare’s greatest enemy is too many hares”. Historically, populations tend to follow a cycle of rapid growth followed by a crash. In these modern, lawless times the attention of illegal hare coursers often brings violence and a whole host of other crimes to farm and village alike when there is a visible excess of hares.
Of course, this situation is not found nationwide. Indeed, in many areas of the land the hare is doing remarkably badly, a rarely seen exotic that even contemplation of shooting would be quite rightly considered a heinous crime against biodiversity – and herein lies the first and most acute lesson of these sporting minor quarries. Local population levels and local knowledge are absolutely critical in all understanding, something that the cold, dead hand of Westminster legislation, often proposed by well-heeled animal rights organizations and pressed by celebrity agitators, is wholly incapable of taking into account.
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August 05, 2020