The Working Lurcher
How to work the lurcher
The versatility of the lurcher is unsurpassed being both a hunter and companion. Possessing the gentlest of nature the lurcher is also a hardy dog able to gallop across country without sustaining injury. Happy at the foot of his master or the tail of a hare.
The lurcher is a silent hunting dog used for hunting and running down game. Usually a cross between a greyhound ( sometimes a whippet or saluki) and other breeds. The lurcher is not a breed of dog but a type, produced by customising the greyhound to the specific needs of the lurcher owner.
Those involved with the lurcher are often called lurcherman and the sport they pursue lurcher work or lurchering. The type of lurcher used by individual lurchermen varies according to the species they hunt.
For instance a lurcherman who hunts rabbits on land where there is plenty of cover might very well opt for a bedlington whippet lurcher, while the lurcherman hunting the same land for fox could very well use a bedlington greyhound or an American pit bull terrier, lurcher.
Lurchermen who choose to hunt rabbits during the daytime often enlist the help of a ferret to chase rabbits from their subterranean refuge once their lurcher has marked, while those who run their dogs at night to rabbit, hare and fox use a powerful lamp. This practice is known as lamping.
Lurchers are also used to chase hares; a sport known as hare coursing. Many types of lurcher are used for hare coursing but amongst the most popular are the saluki greyhound, deerhound greyhound, three-quarter cross and lurcher to lurcher.
Yet another type of lurcher is the all-rounder. Almost any type of lurcher can be used such as the bedlington greyhound, collie greyhound and the whippet greyhound. The all-round lurcher is expected to hunt, jump, kill and carry game back to hand, in the same way as a spaniel or labrador would.
Whilst other dogs and hounds are strictly daytime hunters, the lurcher is most commonly seen working at night with the aid of a high powered spotlight. Although this may appear unusual to the unitiated, lamping is a method of hunting which is the most efficient way to catch the largely nocturnal quarry species.
Lamping is an activity which is conducted at night when the majority of the quarry is out in the fields, and therefore it is easier for the dog to catch greater numbers. The high powered spotlight, or lamp, is used to illuminate the individual quarry animal. The lurcher pursues the illuminated quarry. The use of the lamp is essential, in that it saves the dog’s energy and time by removing the need for the dog to hunt up by scent.
The lamping enthusiast will wait for a suitable night before venturing out. Lamping is not a method suitable for all weather and light conditions. A windless, moonlit night is virtually useless to the lamper. The best conditions are the darkest of nights, with a good wind blowing. The reason for this is that rabbits and other quarry will travel to feed further away from their warren, and the lamper may move upwind of the quarry without the wind carrying the warning of his scent toward the them. Wet conditions are usually of little consequence with the exception of heavy dew, for some reason, probably the rabbits preference for a dry underside, rabbits do not travel far in such conditions. In order to be successful, the hunter must know the quarry species, and it’s habits, well.
The equipment carried by the lamper will include some sort of bag, rucksack, or home made carrier, in which to carry the catch. The people who work lurchers either eat the catch, market it, or use it to supplement the diet of their dogs and ferrets. The lamper will also carry his lamp, which is powered by a battery. The lurcher is often held on a slip lead, although well trained, experienced dogs walk freely at their masters side until signaled to run.
The aim of keeping the wind blowing from the quarry toward him, the lamper will walk the area of his permission, illuminating any individual quarry animals and keeping them illuminated whilst his lurcher engages in pursuit. If a rabbit is caught, the lurcher will usually retrieve it, and the owner will promptly despatch it. The vast majority of runs are over in seconds, rather than minutes. The lamper will continue working his permission in this way until he has covered all of his ground, or until the dog is tired. He will also cut short his work, if he has caught enough for his pest control requirements.
There are many misconceptions about lamping. Some people believe that the lamp mesmerizes the rabbit. It is true that some rabbits, especially ones who have no previous experience of the lamp, will squat. But many of these run for their warren as soon as the dog approaches. Others think that lampers catch greater numbers because the light slows down or disables the quarry. The simple and honest explanation is that more rabbits and other quarry are out and active at night. The lamp simply makes them visible. This is why lamping is so effective as a form of pest control.
Lamping hares is also occasionally conducted for pest control purposes only, in much the same way as for lamping rabbits. Although this practice is becoming much less popular as the growth in lurcher coursing increases. In respect of lamping foxes with a lurcher, the procedure is slightly different. The lamper will call or squeak to attract the foxes interest, as the fox moves sufficiently close to the lamper, which he does out of sheer curiosity, the lamper will signal the dog to pursue the fox. The run is usually very short, within perhaps fifty yards, when the fox will either escape or will be caught. Only Lurchers which have a natural aptitude for foxes are worked on this quarry, some lurchers show complete disinterest and are strictly ‘rabbit’ or ‘hare’ dogs.
Controlling agricultural pests at night can be very hard work, the rabbits are heavy to carry , the terrain is often rough, and many miles are sometimes walked for only a few rabbits. It is an activity which is done at night, sometimes in the early hours when the rest of the population is asleep. The people involved often pursue their interest in between the lampers employed working hours. And, of course, the unofficial but generally respected lamping season is from September/October to February/March (according to the landowners instructions). It is during the season when weather conditions can be at their most hostile. Lamping is, more often than not, extremely exhausting.
So what is the attraction ? It’s effectiveness as a method of pest control - certainly. But lampers mostly prefer to hunt this way because of a great love, enjoyment and pride at seeing the skill employed by their dogs at work. It is the pride and pleasure of seeing a dog be everything that he can be, and of him achieving everything that he can achieve, and of working with him in a strong and trusting partnership.
Ferreting is a daytime activity. It is done while the rabbit is residing in his burrow. Many lurchers are worked with ferrets to catch rabbits. Next to lamping, it is the most popular method of working lurchers. Lurchers are usually socialized with ferrets when they are young, and if this is done, the two always work well together. Ferreting does not always require the assistance of a dog, but it is much more effective with one, as the dog will ‘mark’ or indicate which rabbit burrows have residents. The lurcher is also on hand to help catch any escaping rabbits as they run out of their holes.
In terms of animal welfare, it is interesting to note that genetically, ferrets are the same animal as the wild polecat. Which in turn, is a member of the Musteliad family. This also includes weasels, stoats and badgers. With the exception of badgers, who dig rabbits out, especially young ones during the breeding season, when these predators hunt rabbits, they enter a rabbit hole in search of their next meal. If the rabbits are alert, and are warned by scent, sound or sight of the predator, they will usually run out of their warren in order to escape. In view of this, it is considered that ferreting is also an extremely natural method of controlling rabbits.
The process of ferreting differs only to the natural process of a wild mustelid hunting, in that the ferreter will usually cover the rabbit holes with nets, which are anchored with a small peg. The rabbit is then caught in the net as it ‘bolts’ away from the predator. Once a rabbit is in the net, the ferreter will promptly despatch it, by swiftly breaking the neck. Sometimes, ferreting is done without the aid of nets. This may often be because the holes are inaccessible, in these instances the dog waits for the rabbits to bolt. The dog is also essential when occasionally, the net does not succeed in catching the rabbit, or two rabbits may bolt simultaneously, in which case, the net will only hold the first bolting rabbit. The help of the lurcher is invaluable , as he is always ready to chase the escaping rabbit.
Sometimes, ferrets do succeed in catching a rabbit underground. The modern method of working with ferrets is to fit them with a small locator collar. Their underground location can then be very quickly identified, and the ferreter will dig down to the animals and despatch the rabbit very quickly.
Ferreting obviously requires much more equipment than lamping. The ferreter will usually have at least one ferret, and a purpose built box in which to carry it, a dog(s), a locator kit, a spade, sufficient nets for the size of rabbit warren being worked (this may be anything from half a dozen to over a hundred), occasionally a long net may be employed, a bag or rucksack to carry the rabbits, and suitable clothing. Ferreting is often best done on very frosty mornings, and there can be periods of long inactivity while the ferret searches for the rabbits underground. The ferreter can get very cold in these conditions and usually dresses warmly. Sometimes, burrows are in very difficult places, such as brambles or thick thorn hedges, and in these places the ferreter will usually wear thorn proof clothes.
Many lurcher owners also work with their dogs during the day, simply by walking out with them and allowing them to freely hunt up and pursue quarry, (rabbits, hares and foxes.) Lurchers are always strongly discouraged from showing any interest in farm livestock, so this is not a worry for the lurcher owner or farmer. Sometimes a lurcher will hunt alone in this way, but at other times, especially if the land has lots of cover, the lurcher will hunt with another dog(s). If a number of dogs are hunted together, this is sometimes referred to as a ‘bobbery pack’, and a terrier or two often make up the number. The terriers, or smaller lurchers, are especially useful for flushing rabbits or foxes out from deep cover, such as brambles or gorse, the waiting lurchers are ready to pursue the exiting quarry. It can be very rewarding to watch dogs ‘teamwork’ in this way.
Lurcher coursing has two distinct forms, one is formally recognised as a ‘field sport’ by the Countryside Alliance, this is ‘double - handed’ coursing. The other is not a formally recognised ‘sport’, and this is called ‘single - handed’ coursing.
Double - Handed Coursing
In respect of double - handed coursing (two dogs), there is very little difference to greyhound coursing, except that lurchers are hunted instead of greyhounds. It is an activity which is conducted, as far as is applicable, under National Coursing Club Rules. The only real differences are that the hares are ‘walked’ up, that is those involved form a line across the field and walk across the field with the aim of disturbing any hares which may be there, and that the judge is mounted on horseback rather than the lurcher judge who is on foot, (due to financial constraints.) Any hares which may be disturbed are then, at the slipper’s discretion, coursed by the lurchers who are only released, or ‘slipped’, after the hare has gained sufficient head start, this is in accordance with the rules. Because lurcher coursing is conducted in this way, the hares suffer no disturbance prior to being coursed. The course itself may last slightly longer than with greyhound coursing, though this is not always so. The reason for this is that lurchers are very tenacious dogs, with slightly less initial speed than greyhounds, but considerably greater stamina. However, the course may still last little more than a minute longer than greyhound coursing.
Single - Handed Coursing
The purpose of single-handed hare coursing is to produce a Lurcher that is capable of coursing and catching a Hare on the Hare’s own ground by using its speed, stamina, turning ability and without the help of a second dog. In single-handed coursing, the long dog is used as the Hunter and the point is to catch the Hare. The use of a single dog is considered a more sporting exercise which insures that the strongest Hares escape and lest fit are culled. This method insures that natures own laws are observed and the fit survive to breed a stronger animal.
As in any Field sport or for that matter any field of endeavor, Lurcher owners are always trying to improve their dogs, both in terms of breeding and ability. The search for the ultimate single-handed Lurcher is part and parcel of the sport.
A typical days Lurcher Coursing.
A days coursing starts with a phone call to the Landowner, to who will have given permission prior to that day, inform him that a certain number of people will be coursing on his land on a certain day and to ensure that the Lurcher coursing will not clash with another field sport event at the same venue.
Many Lurcher coursers will travel many hundreds of miles for a days coursing. Only certain types of land are suitable for coursing, it must be flat and if possible free from hedges, wire and stones. The Fens of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire are ideal. Usually, the number of coursers is small, two or three, although some large events with greater numbers of Lurcher owners take place. The coursers will line up alongside a lane or edge of a field and will walk across the field, side by side about thirty yards apart. Each courser will have one or two Lurchers on what are known as "slip leads". Slip leads are quick release leads that enable the courser to release a dog immediately a Hare is viewed. When a Hare is sighted one dog only is released, this dog will then do its utmost to catch the Hare. Should a second hare be disturbed in the field during this time, no other dog will be released. At no time whatsoever is another dog released until the first dog returns to its handler, either with or without the Hare. After a course the line moves on until another Hare is viewed and a second dog is released. The morning progresses until either the dogs need rest or time is called for lunch. After lunch the afternoon carries on in much the same way, with maybe, a change of dogs. At the end of the day the catch is counted and reported to the Landowner. The Landowner may or may not keep the Hares to give to local people, if not they are taken home and the best are eaten, any old Hares are fed to the dogs, none are wasted.
Coursing with Lurchers is, and always has been, part of country life, it takes nothing away from the community but controls the indigenous Hare population and insures that as a species the Hare gets stronger and improves. The money spent in the community by Lurcher owners helps many local tradesmen survive. It brings many people that live in towns into the country and helps promote a better relationship between people from different walks of life.