On Hunting, by Xenophon

VIII

The time to track hares is after a fall of snow deep enough to conceal the ground completely. As long as there are black patches intermixed, the hare will be hard to find. It is true that outside these the tracks will remain visible for a long time, when the snow comes down with a north wind blowing, because the snow does not melt immediately; but if the wind be mild with gleams of sunshine, they will not last long, because the snow is quickly thawed. When it snows steadily and without intermission there is nothing to be done; the tracks will be covered up. Nor, again, if there be a strong wind blowing, which will whirl and drift the snow about and obliterate the tracks. It will not do to take the hounds into the field in that case;1 since owing to excessive frost the snow will blister2 the feet and noses of the dogs and destroy the hare’s scent. Then is the time for the sportsman to take the haye nets and set off with a comrade up to the hills, and leave the cultivated lands behind; and when he has got upon the tracks to follow up the clue. If the tracks are much involved, and he follows them only to find himself back again ere along at the same place,3 he must make a series of circuits and sweep round the medley of tracks, till he finds out where they really lead.4

The hare makes many windings, being at a loss to find a resting-place, and at the same time she is accustomed to deal subtly5 in her method of progression, because her footsteps lead perpetually to her pursuit.

As soon as the track is clear,6 the huntsman will push on a little farther; and it will bring him either to some embowered spot7 or craggy bank; since gusts of wind will drift the snow beyond such spots, whereby a store of couching-places8 is reserved9; and that is what puss seeks.

If the tracks conduct the huntsman to this kind of covert he had better not approach too near, for fear the creature should move off. Let him make a circuit round; the chances are that she is there; and that will soon be clear; for if so, the tracks will not trend outwards from the place at any point.10

And now when it is clear that puss is there, there let her bide; she will not sir; let him set off and seek another, before the tracks are indistinct; being careful only to note the time of day; so that, in case he discovers others, there will be daylight enough for him to set up the nets.11 When the final moment has come, he will stretch the big haye nets round the first one and then the other victim (precisely as in the case of one of those black thawed patches above named), so as to enclose within the toils whatever the creature is resting on.12 As soon as the nets are posted, up he must go and start her. If she contrive to extricate herself from the nets,13 he must after her, following her tracks; and presently he will find himself at a second similar piece of ground (unless, as is not improbable, she smothers herself in the snow beforehand).14 Accordingly he must discover where she is and spread his toils once more; and, if she has energy still left, pursue the chase. Even without the nets, caught she will be, from sheer fatigue,15 owing to the depth of the snow, which balls itself under her shaggy feet and clings to her, a sheer dead weight.

1 Lit. “I say it is no use setting out with dogs to this chase.”

2 kaei. Cf. Arrian, xiv. 5.

3 Reading ekonta sc. ton kunegeten . . . or if ekonta, kuklous [sc. ta ikhne], transl. “if the tracks are involved, doubling on themselves and coming back eventually to the same place.”

4 Or, “where the end of the string is.”

5 tekhnazein. Cf. Ael. “N. A.” vi. 47, ap. Schneid. A fact for Uncle Remus.

6 “Discovered.”

7 “Thicket or overhanging crag.”

8 eunasima, “places well adapted for a form.”

9 Al. “many places suited for her form are left aside by puss, but this she seeks.”

10 L. Dind. emend. oudamoi, “the tracks will not pass in any direction outwards from such ground.”

11 Al. “to envelop the victims in the nets.”

12 Lit. “whatever the creature is in contact with inside.”

13 Cf. Aesch. “Prom.” 87, Poto tropo tesd’ ekkulisthesei tukhes.

14 Or, “if the creature is not first suffocated in the snow itself.”

15 See Pollux, v. 50. “She must presently be tired out in the heavy snow, which balls itself like a fatal clog clinging to the under part of her hairy feet.”

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 14:22