Hare of the dog

February 07, 2018

The Boss, as you know, is a constant disappointment to me - and keeps coming up with new ways of being disappointing.

The latest thing I've noticed is that he enjoys watching hares more than chasing them - which means he leaves the hard work up to me, when he could easily pick off one or two with his rifle.

Or even more. Lately we've been seeing up to six of them tearing around in the paddock, sometimes in file and other times all over the place.

The Boss reckons it's how the dominant male sorts out the other males ahead of breeding but my own view is that they are taunting us. Mocking us. Daring us to do something. Sometimes, he says, the female (called a Jill) will get up and belt the male (called a Jack) when she doesn't want his molesting attentions - a kind-of hare version of #MeToo.

Here's a video I found of the males chasing each other - this is pretty much what I am seeing every night and The Boss won't let me get in amongst it.

 Not that I can catch them anyway, except when they're three days old. The hare lives above ground all the time, unlike a rabbit, and has to live on his wits. The hares we see are descended from the European hares (Lepus Europaeus) bought out by much more loving dog owners in the 1870s so they could go coursing with their dogs.

Like the old poachers in the English countryside, they used these lanky big hounds called Lurchers - usually a sighting dog like a greyhound, crossed with something with a hunting instinct like mine. Well - and it hurts me to say this - they must be faster than me too, if they can catch an adult hare. The Boss says hares can run at more than 55kph.

That's probably why the lurchers couldn't catch all the hares and by 1900 they had spread from Phillip Island up through Victoria, New South Wales and into southern Queensland. They prefer temperate climes to the dry country, where rabbits adapted well - but rabbits can live underground during the heat of the day.

The Boss has pointed out these shallow nests in the grass, beside a log or in a hollow - called a form, where the hares breed. And I can smell them. The baby hares - called leverets - are born with hair on and their eyes open, and generally find their own hiding spot after three days.

They have to worry about foxes and eagles and The Boss says 40-60% of the leverets don't make it. He used to shoot a hare regularly - the back-straps and hind legs could do wonders for a terrine or a burger, he says - but now he worries that the population is struggling. 

I think he's become a secret admirer of the hare, which is another disappointment. I can see him watching them and he laughs when I put one up and give half-hearted chase - or don't even try, pretending I'm more interested in my ball.  He says they have their own constellation in the sky, called Lepus, and it's naturally right next to Orion, the hunter, and Canis Major, the dog.

In our neck of the woods, you can see Orion high in the summer sky - some people call it "The Saucepan" - and nearby is Sirius, the dog star, the brightest star in Canis Major. Lepus is more or less between the Hunter and the Dog, and out a bit. Here's how the stars in Lepus look like the hare:

I can't see the similarity myself. I'm not sure they deserve their own constellation either, particularly getting between the hunter and the dog. You'd think they're important. And they've got their own collective noun, The Boss says (as if I'm interested.)

"General," he says, "a bunch of dogs like you is just a pack. But a bunch of crows is a murder; a bunch of whales is a pod; a bunch of crocs is a float; and a bunch of hares is a drove. Can't you do better than a pack?"

So he's not satisfied with being disappointing. He has to take the mickey out of me as well. Woof!

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