Taking my own hounds for a walk earlier this evening, I reflected
that next March it will be thirty years since I first went to a meet
of a pack of hounds. It was the penultimate meet of the 1976/7
season, and hounds met at The Crown Inn, Great Casterton. From the
meet we walked along what had once been the A1, turned left at
Tollbooth, and put hounds in to the right, before reaching Little
I can't remember much about the day, except for one incident. We
were standing on the lane, looking down on a bend in the river. The
hare had run the line of the bend, and hounds followed her line
exactly, without a thought of cutting the corner. Across the river
two horses kicked their heels, no doubt excited by the voices of
hounds. It was that moment that decided what would be my abiding
passion for the thirty years since, and I hope, many more to come.
After hunting we retired to a nearby transport cafe for our then
traditional tea of sausage chips and baked beans.
Nothing unusual about that, you might be thinking. Well the only
slightly unusual thing was that the pack that hunted that hare so
assiduously was a pack of basset hounds!
The basset hounds that hunted the hare that day were what you or I
would think of, when basset hounds are mentioned. Long of body, long
of ear, short of leg, and smooth of coat. Indeed these are what you
would see if you went to see a kennel of pedigree basset hounds.
Perhaps a bit lighter in weight, perhaps a bit fitter, but
essentially a pure bred basset hound, because in the UK that is what
we call them.
The basset hound originated in France, where its name comes from the
French "bas" meaning low. In France many hounds come in different
types, according to their height. So among Bleu de Gascoignes there
will be Grand Bleu de Gascoignes (tall ones) and Bassets Bleu de
Gascoigne (shorter ones).
Four of these breeds occur relatively frequently in the UK, the Bleu
de Gascoigne, the Griffon Vendeen, The Fauvre de Bretagne, and the
Artesian-Normand, for what we call a basset hound is fundamentally a
Of these types, three can be found hunting in the UK. Those packs
comprising hounds of a "pure bred" appearance hunt a hound of the
Artesian-Normand type. One pack has hounds of the Bleu de Gascoigne
type, and one the Griffon Vendeen. You will note that I have been
rather wary in referring to "Those packs comprising hounds of a
"pure bred" appearance" because when we talk about hunting with
basset hounds in the UK a complication creeps in, in the form of the
Whilst you might find all the other varieties of basset hounds at
dog shows, or as family pets, the English Basset is essentially a
hunting dog. It generally consists of a cross between a basset hound
and some longer legged type of hound, often a harrier or a beagle.
This cross may be some way back in the individual's pedigree, and
such hounds often breed true to type. In appearance they can vary
from pack to pack, but are generally longer in the leg and shorter
in the ear than the pure bred hound. Importantly they retain the
magnificent voice of the pure bred hound, and of course, the unique
Whilst some say that Shakespeare and Somerville mention basset
hounds in their writing, the fact of the matter is that the recorded
history of the basset hound in this country goes back to the last
decades of the 19th century, when a number of hounds were imported
by members of the nobility, or other prominent people.
In France the various basset breeds had been used in the "chasse a
tir", that is, for flushing game to guns. Being low, they were
ideally suited for working in thick cover, whilst their voices
enabled the guns to know where they were and which way they were
heading, and their relatively slow speed meant that they didn't get
there too quickly.
Once basset hounds began to be imported into this country, it was
only a matter of time before they began to be used for hunting in
the English fashion, what the French call "Chasse a Courre", that
is, with a pack of hounds, and in the case of the basset, followed
Situation in the UK today.
The governing body for hunting with basset hounds in the UK today is
the Masters of Basset Hounds Association (MBHA), not to be confused
with the Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles (AMHB).
There are currently 9 packs registered with the Association
including one in the United States and one in Spain. The most recent
pack to register joined the Association in 2006.
Along with the registration of packs and their countries, the
Association is responsible for producing a constitution and rules
for hunting, the stud book (a record of breeding), and also for
arranging the annual show, which this year (2006) took place at
Peterborough as part of the Festival of Hunting. As well as the
Association’s annual show, working bassets are also shown at Ragley
Hall. The Association also arranges kennel inspections to ensure
that hounds are being properly looked after.
Anyone wishing to contact the Association should contact the Hon.
Secretary, Don Peacock. (see below).
Hunting with Basset Hounds
Why hunt with Basset Hounds?
I suppose the obvious answer is, well why not! I suspect, however,
that the prospective hunter-with-bassets will want a little more
than that, bearing in mind that there are so many packs of other
varieties of hounds with which to hunt. Perhaps that is the first
reason, that basset packs are relatively rare, and in many cases a
special effort must be made to see them in action.
To the true aficionado of hunting, there is no hound to compare with
the basset. Remember that these are not small hounds, they are full
size hounds on short(er) legs, and thus they have a cry to rival
that of a much larger hound. There is little to compare with the
sound of a pack hunting through a wooded valley, the music echoing
from the sides and rising to the high ground on each side.
Bassets are also renowned for their deep scenting abilities, and
while many of us will thrill to the sight of a pack hunting in full
cry on a breast high scent, to my mind there is no more enthralling
picture than a pack of bassets working a cold line across wet plough
at a walking pace, first one hound taking the lead, then another,
until scent improves and they are away again.
To the beginner, perhaps the attraction is that bassets are a little
slower than other hounds. Note that I did not say slow, only slower!
Many seeing bassets hunting for the first time are surprised by the
turn of speed they show. Nevertheless it is easier to keep a pack of
bassets in view than, say, beagles, and this gives the newcomer more
of a chance to see hounds working at relatively close quarters.
How do I start?
If you fancy a days hunting with basset hounds, you really have
a) As you've already located Liam's Hunting Directory you can go on
the Forum and contact Big Ears, Chuckles or Growler who are all
involved with hunting with basset hounds.
b) Contact Don Peacock via Big Ears, Chuckles or Growler as above.
c) Get hold of a copy of Baily's Hunting Directory, locate your
nearest pack and contact them directly.
What happens during a days hunting with basset hounds?
Again, the short answer is, much the same as with any other pack of
hounds. If you are a newcomer to hunting that may not be much help,
so I'll give you a brief run down on the days proceedings beginning
with the meet.
As it's name suggests, this is where those who are going to attend
the hunt get together. At worst the place of meeting might be a
patch of muddy ground, indistinguishable from many, many others.
Nevertheless at the appointed hour, people appear as if by magic, at
the correct place. Rather better is a meet at a pub., where you can
partake of the liquid refreshment of your choice and make use of the
facilities. If you're very lucky it might be a lawn meet, that is a
meet at someone's home, and suitable refreshments will be provide
for free! It is traditional at the meet to wish people a "Good
morning" even if the meet should be at 5:00 pm! At the time set on
the card (the calendar of meets) the huntsman may well blow a short
blast on his horn as a sign that hounds are about to move off, and
the days sport will begin.
Since February of 2005 all hunting has taken place under the terms
of the Hunting Act 2004, and you will find that each pack has found
it's own way of continuing to hunt under it's constraints. There are
three fundamental ways in which basset hounds can hunt legally:
a) They can hunt an artificial trail. This will often be laid by a
runner dragging a hare which has previously been shot, for this
b) They can hunt rabbits.
c) They are allowed to hunt an hare which has been injured, for
example during a recent shoot.
A specific pack may restrict itself to one of these methods, or it
might vary them according to the circumstances. There are other ways
of hunting under the law, being practised by other packs of hounds,
but not, to my knowledge, by bassets.
Whichever method of hunting under the law is followed, it will be
arranged so as to resemble a "proper" days hunting as closely as
possible. The huntsman, assisted by a number of uniformed
whippers-in will draw the country, that is walk the hounds through
it, looking for the trail or quarry, whichever applies to this
particular pack on the day. Once the hounds find the scent they will
hunt it until they either reach the end of the trail, lose the scent
of the quarry, or catch it.
In the case of a rabbit the hunt may be relatively short before it
goes to ground, but some rabbits can run a surprising distance above
ground. An injured hare may well run in large circles like any other
hare, making viewing easy, especially where there may be a suitable
hill on which to stand. A trail will usually be similarly laid to
approximate, as closely as possible, the line that a hare would
It is extremely important that members of the field, that is those
following the hunt, do not interfere in the proceedings in any way
whatsoever. If you suspect, for example, that hounds are hunting an
uninjured hare, you should simply notify a member of the uniformed
hunt staff, and leave them to deal with the situation.
Finally the days hunting will end. This might be because the trails
laid have been exhausted, all the available country has been hunted,
or it is late and too dark to hunt. At this point the huntsman will
blow the haunting "Going Home" and the field will wend their weary
way home. Again if you are lucky you might be entertained to tea in
the home of a local follower. Alternatively you may have the
opportunity to discuss the day gathered around the hound trailer, or
over a well earned pint in the local pub..
There are only three things you need to remember. First of all,
whatever time you leave, you wish people "Good night". Secondly, you
thank the huntsman. Lastly, going home before hounds without a very
good reason is unacceptable.
What does it cost?
Or as a Yorkshireman would say "'Ow much?" The good news is that
hunting with basset hounds is relatively inexpensive. The
subscription (membership fee) is likely to be much less than that
you would pay to join a golf club, and the cap (the cost of a days
hunting) compares favourably with the price of a ticket to a league
What special clothing and equipment will I need?
Once again, the good news is possibly none at all. Basset hounds are
followed on foot, and only hunt staff wear a uniform, so all you
need is the sort of clothing you would take for an afternoon walking
in the country. From being very young, my son laid down two
a) Never go hunting without a waterproof, and
b) Never go hunting without a full change of clothes, including
These rules have proved their worth on numerous occasions over the
Everyone who hunts will have their own favourite breed of hound, and
it is, of course, possible to have good days and bad days, with any
variety of hound. It should be no surprise to you, that my favourite
breed of hound is the Basset Hound, and I hope that what I have
written above will convince you that your experience of hunting will
not be complete until you have enjoyed a day out with one of the
packs of Basset Hounds hunting in this country.
There is only one book wholly devoted to hunting with Bassets in the
UK, and that is “A Bother of Bassets” by Dr. Brian Wilson, published
by Denny Publishing, in 2004. Despite it’s occasional flaws (and
what book containing such a wide range of facts would not have
them), and what to me is a rather difficult chapter on genetics,
this book is essential reading, and Dr. Wilson is to be commended on
Beyond that, there are many books on Basset Hounds, and many of
those include a section on the hunting hound. Probably one of the
better ones in recent times is Marianne Nixon’s “The Basset Hound”
published by tfh Kingdom in 1999, and including a chapter on the
hunting basset by Mr. Michael Errey M.H. If you want to go back a
bit further I would recommend “The Basset Hound Handbook” by Douglas
Appleton (The Doglover’s Library 1960), and “The Basset Hound” by
George Johnston (Popular Dogs 1968), which contains a section by
There is, of course, a vast selection of books covering hunting in
general, hunting the hare, and hounds. I only intend to mention one
of these, “Fox & Hare in Leicestershire” by Eric Morrison (Eyre &
Spottiswoode 1954). Eric Morrison was the originator of the English
Basset, and his book thus rightly belongs here.
I should like to thank my fellow basset enthusiasts Chuckles and
Growler for reading and commenting constructively on this item. Any
mistakes – blame them!