A Guide to Drag Hunting
This usually starts in late September and finishes in March with The Field Trials. Meetings are held on Sundays, usually two or three weeks apart. They are held at various venues and drags are run over many different types of country from hilly arable to lowland pasture and more often than not, heavy plough. About eight lines are run at each meet.
This is made from Aniseed Oil and Vegetable Cooking Oil. The mixture normally used is one part of aniseed oil to twenty of cooking oil. It is sometimes useful to start the season with a slightly stronger mixture and work down to the 1:20 ratio but anything stronger than 1: 10 will drown those very sensitive noses. Hounds can be worked successfully on a mix of 1:40.
This is made from some old material, preferably natural fibre which retains the aniseed mixture, toweling is a good example. A strip of an old bath towel about eight inches wide and 36 inches long may be folded twice to make a pad say 4 inches by 18. A length of cord, orange nylon garden line is good, about 30 feet long is tied (securely!) around the middle of the pad. A loop may be tied in the other end to act as a handle or to go round the shoulder. The pad should be initially well wetted with the mixture and it is advisable to keep the pad in a plastic bag as the mixture tends to make things a bit sticky and oily. In use very little of the mixture needs to be added to the drag at any time. It usually takes some time for the drag to get to its best when good and dirty.
When out on muddy fields, the drag will usually pick up a fair amount of mud and this may be dislodged by dropping the drag in puddles or streams. This also appears to re-vitalise the aniseed mixture.
The Drag Line
This is the line taken by the drag layer and may be anything between one and three kilometers in length, It is normal to start the season with shorter lines and work up during the season as the hounds improve. For training much shorter lines may be used. The line will often be laid within the confines of a single field, but as hounds become more competent, efforts should be made to include routes through hedges and streams.
The line taken should not encourage the hounds to think that they are just out to run straight round a field. The intention is to emulate the movements of a live hare which will often change direction sharply. Hence it is advisable to include various changes of direction. It is also useful to pick the drag up now and again to break the line. This will cause the hounds to cast about and really work to find again. It is suggested that the drag may be carried for about 20 meters.
The line taken should preferably start off running into the wind and should finish about 50 meters downwind from the start point. The last 50 meters back to where the handlers have released their hounds can be covered while the main part of the line is being worked.
The hounds are released on the instruction of the Field-master, usually by a blast on a whistle or horn. Normally we release the hounds in two groups, the proven working hounds first and the novices when the first group have run about 30-40 meters. The natural tendency will be for the novices to follow the workers and thus, hopefully, get the message about what they are hunting.
A few people are always needed to "whip-in". They should be posted at various danger points around the area being dragged such as gateways and gaps in the hedges. Although beagles can be trained to hunt the drag line very well, we will always have the problem of those hounds who feel that the grass may well be greener, (or the plough muddier!), in the other field. There is also the possibility that a hare, rabbit or even a deer may be around and any of these may seem preferable to the hounds. Whippers-in are needed to encourage any wayward hounds back onto the line rather than to run off screaming at hounds that escape or berating them. Whips if carried are only used to "crack" and never to be used to strike a hound. Most hounds will respond to the sharp crack rather than to shouting. Whippers-in must never walk across the field thus crossing the drag line route.
As with any training, plenty of patience is required and for drag hunting a fair amount of physical effort is needed as well. Training must be carried out at home; it is no use going to a meet and expecting that your hound will know immediately what is expected of it. He will instinctively know about hunting but his only experience of aniseed will probably be from "doggy-chews". Pure aniseed oil is not always easy to obtain and is very expensive but a little goes a long way. Substitutes may be found such as aniseed sweets which can be boiled to produce a weak liquid to mix with cooking oil. Similarly the "doggychews" mentioned above may be boiled and the aniseed extracted. A friendly high street chemist may however be persuaded to provide some pure aniseed oil more because of their surprise at the reason for the requirement than from professional interest. Remember that 100 mls of pure aniseed will give a whole litre of the required mixture.
Initially training should be done in the garden away from distractions, but as your hound gets the idea of what is expected drags can be laid in local fields or parks. You may feel very silly running round a local park towing a length of cord with an old rag attached, it is surprising how many people will show an interest! In the garden, lay short lines for a start ending at a suitable point such as a tree or bush, beneath which some of the hounds favourite treats may be placed. Walk the hound along the line you have laid on a short lead, encouraging him to "find it" or some other suitable phrase. He will soon get the idea that by following this evil smelling line along the grass he will find the treats you have put at the end. Don't always finish at the same place as the clever little fellow will realise that there is a quicker way to get to the treats!
When you then take your hounds to a drag meet you will find the rewards of your efforts at home in the way that your hound will hunt as a member of a group. At the end of the season you will have a very good chance of being awarded one of the coveted Working Certificates at the Field Trials which are judged by two Masters of Hounds.
The Field Trials
The Field Trials are held at the end of the season, and offer the opportunity of presenting the hounds who have participated in drag hunting meets for the assessment of two invited Masters of Hounds. The judges, therefore, will have extensive experience of watching hounds hunting, and will be able to assess the manner in which our trencher fed hounds are capable of working. Hounds who really hunt always "give tongue" in pursuit of the quarry and this is one of the characteristics which the judges will seek. The music of hounds in the field is one of the most cheering sounds to the owners who usually may be heard to be ordering "stop barking In order to qualify for entry to the field trials, hounds must have taken part in a minimum number of drag hunting meets of The Beagle Club Working Section. Dog hounds must attend five such meets, bitch hounds must attend four meets. Hounds who have already been awarded a Working Certificate need only attend four meets during the season, but most people who have a proven hound will be seen at nearly every meet.
The Beagle Club Working Certificate is approved by The Kennel Club and is awarded to those hounds, which the judges at the field trials consider worthy. There are also several Beagle Club trophies to be won and the competition for the Best Working Hound is particularly keen. Every hound which participates in the trials is awarded a Working Hound Badge.
Drag hunting offers a fine outdoor alternative to the beagle owner to increase the enjoyment of having one or more of our fine little hounds. Many hounds which are successful in the show ring also attend meets but the number of weekends in the season is limited and clashes of dates unfortunately arise. As far as possible, meets are fixed to minimise these clashes particularly with championship (where CCs are on offer for beagles) and club open shows, but the availability of our hosts’ land during the season has to determine when we can visit them.
Hopefully your beagle is eager to get out and work for both his and your enjoyment. We look forward to seeing you.