Country Days

Hunting Rabbits with Ferrets.

Like many other domestic animals, the ferret has been domesticated for a very long time although the original reason for them being so is uncertain.  It is likely that the ferret was a domestication from the European polecat or even the Steppe polecat or a hybridization of the two.   DNA analysis suggests that the ferrets were domesticated around 2,500 years ago although it could have been as early as 1500BC due to what appear to be ferret remains that have been found.  The word “ferret” is derived from the Latin furittus which means “little thief” no doubt due to the ferrets penchant for secreting away small items.  Ferrets were probably used by the Romans for hunting.

Feral colonies of ferrets have established themselves in places like the Shetland Islands and New Zealand where there is no similar sized predators to worry the ferrets.    In 1877, farmers in New Zealand demanded that ferrets be introduced into the country to control the rabbit population. Five ferrets were imported in 1879, and in 1882–1883, 32 shipments of ferrets were made from London, totalling 1,217 animals. Only 678 landed, and 198 were sent from Melbourne Australia. On the voyage, the ferrets were mated with the European polecat, creating a number of  hybrids that were capable of surviving in the wild. In 1884 and 1886, close to 4,000 ferrets and ferret hybrids, 3,099 weasels and 137 stoats were turned loose.  Concern was raised that these animals would eventually prey on indigenous wildlife once rabbit populations dropped, and this is exactly what happened to New Zealand’s bird species which previously had had no mammalian predators.  In certain countries and some states in America it is illegal to keep a ferret due to their concerns about wildlife being affected if domesticated ferrets escape into the wild.  Today in the UK ferrets are widely accepted with many being kept as pets but their main role is still in the use of rabbit catching.  The varieties include the white albino ferret, the polecat ferret and the cross polecat ferret also known as a “sandy ferret” with the greyhound ferret being much larger.  The males are called “Hobs” and the females are called “Jills”.  The young under a year old are called “Kits” and a group of ferrets is called a “Business”

It was my brother Peter who first introduced me to ferreting.  He owned a couple of ferrets and used to take me poaching for rabbits when I was a youngster.  Gradually through his guidance I learned all about rabbiting with ferrets.  As time went on I began to keep ferrets myself and also learned how to make the purse nets used for ferreting.  Later on I made ride nets, gate nets and long nets.  Today it is much easier to buy such nets ready-made as there is quite a lot to choose from and the quality is excellent.  I well remember purchasing our very first “ferret finder” which is a collar worn by the ferrets with a small transmitter installed in it and a small box which was the receiver for picking up the signal sent out by the collar on the ferret.  This clever little invention completely did away with either waiting hours for a ferret to return that had killed underground or the huge amount of digging involved trying to get at the lost ferret by using a “liner” ferret.  Once we had the ferret finder getting ferrets back plus the rabbit it had killed took minutes and was certainly worth the original investment to buy one.

I used to make my own purse nets simply because the few that one could buy back then ready-made were expensive and very thin and flimsy things that used to get tangled very easily.  Mine were made from “upholsterers twine” that I used to get from a friend who worked in the furniture manufacturing industry.  It was natural white in colour, a lot thicker than the shop bought type, very strong and very easy to “knit” with.  The material also accepted a dye readily.  I got so good at making them I could make six one meter long purse nets in an evening after work easily.  I made my own needles and own gauge blocks from marine ply board and would knit my nets on a large hook in the wall whilst I watched the telly in an evening.

I started off by keeping ferrets in wooden cages like everyone else but I soon found out that this type of housing was not best suited for keeping  them.   I ended up housing my ferrets in a large cage that stood on a concrete floor with “ferret houses” at one end.  The area was about eight feet by four feet and around two feet six inches high.  The ferret houses were about twice the size of a shoe box and I had a couple of these at one end of the cage with waterproof sides and roofs.  The houses were lifted off the concrete floor by four inch legs that kept the house floors dry off the concrete and allowed for plenty of ventilation as well.  Access to the cage itself  was via a large door in the cage roof and the whole cage came to pieces via a pin system when I required to hose the floor out and attend to the bedding in the houses.  The size of the run gave the ferrets plenty of exercise when they were not out hunting and was big enough to put land drain pipes in when training the kits.  Drinking water came from simple drinking bottles of the type one purchases from the pet shops that were attached to the wire of the cage.  This proved to be a simple but very effective way of housing my ferrets.  I also knew other rabbit men that kept their ferrets in converted sheds where the ferrets would have free range of the whole shed floor but I always thought that this system had drawbacks especially in summer when the inside of a shed could get very hot.

Years ago when I was a young lad the rabbiting men in my area used to say ferrets should be fed on bread and milk supposedly because it stopped them killing down a rabbit warren.  That doctrine of course was absolute rubbish and if anything feeding ferrets that type of mush only encouraged the ferrets to kill at every opportunity to substitute their extremely poor diet!  Ferrets are carnivores that require flesh, fur, feather and bone to survive and remain in a healthy condition.  My ferrets were fed on a varied diet that included rabbit, hare, pheasant, partridge, duck or any other type of ground game that I caught.  Of course I still experienced the odd kill underground but it was a fairly rare occurrence.  Ferrets that are fed on a balanced natural diet are actually less likely to kill underground because their diet at home contains everything they require.  Their natural instinct is to hunt so they can be relied upon to do exactly that.

Although I was a pretty dyed in the wool poacher, we actually ended up doing most of our ferreting on land where we had permission to be.  In actual fact, one farmer used to telephone us if we failed to turn up at weekends as his pasture land was overrun with rabbits!  There were so many rabbits on his land we would enter a field at one end to watch the rabbits queuing up to get back down the huge warren at the other end of the field!  There were thousands of rabbits on his and his neighbour’s farms back then and some of the warrens took six ferrets and over 200 purse nets to work properly.  On many occasions we would also take a couple of ride nets to place top and bottom in the hedgerow to catch the rabbits that would invariably bolt out the holes we could not net simply because there were too many.   With large amounts of rabbits being present on farmland, grazing and crops can suffer very badly.  Grazing required for sheep and cattle can be ruined once farmland becomes overrun by rabbits whilst crops can be damaged severely causing huge losses to farmers profits.

Hunting rabbits with ferrets and purse nets is a relatively simple task provided one knows the ways of the rabbit.  One also obviously has to own good ferrets and quality purse nets as well.

Rabbits live underground for most of their daytime lives in what are often called “warrens” or “burrows”.  These are basically a system of tunnels with living chambers all inter connected with many entrances.  The more rabbits there are in a warren or burrow the more entrances there will be.  A lot of the entrances will easily be noticed as these will show clear signs of regular excavation going off with large amounts of freshly dug soil at their entrances.  Other entrances however are not really entrances at all but clever little escape holes which only the experienced rabbit hunter can spot.  We call these holes “bolt holes” because this is what they are, tiny holes often only three inches in diameter where the rabbits will slip out of when faced by danger underground.  If the rabbit hunter fails to cover these small holes with purse nets the chances are half a dozen rabbits will bolt from these holes so it’s important to locate all such exits before the hunt begins.

Not all rabbit warrens are inhabited even though they may look like they have residents in them below ground.  The reason why these types of warrens have been vacated could be one amongst many.  A stoat or weasel could have made several raids on a particular warren forcing the rabbits to take up residence in another warren nearby.   Myxomatosis  could have taken its toll whereby the rabbits in a particular warren could have just simply died out.  Old disused warrens will have cobwebs and debris in the entrance holes so there is little point slipping a ferret into these.   Inhabited warrens will look fresh and show visible signs of activity with clean entrance holes and plenty of well worn tracks and sign.

Once it is established that a particular warren probably has rabbits living in it the first thing to do is place a purse net over each hole that is clearly visible.  Once that is done the rabbit catcher will then search for all the bolt holes and place a purse net over all these as well.  A purse net is a net with a metal ring top and bottom with a cord running through the outside, much the same as a “purse”.   The cord has a wooden peg at one end so that once a purse net is placed over a rabbit hole the peg is stuck in the ground.  When the rabbit bolts out of the hole it flies straight into the purse net which closes around the rabbit like a purse as it runs head long into it.  Care needs to be taken to be as quiet as possible when setting all the nets.  Thumping about with heavy feet only serves to encourage the rabbits below to stay put and face the ferret so the quieter one is the better the hunt.

Once all the holes have been located and each has a purse net set covering them, it’s time to put the ferret into the warren.   An experienced working ferret will begin its work the moment it is slipped past one of the nets set.  Once the ferret is down the hole and out of sight it won’t be long before you hear and feel the thumping coming from the ground below.  This is the rabbits “thumping” with their back feet signalling to the other rabbits that danger is present within the warren.  You will also hear and feel the rabbits running through the maze of tunnels as they are pursued by the ferret.  Then by surprise a rabbit will bolt from a hole and become captured in the purse net.  The rabbit catchers speed now comes into play as the rabbit in the net requires dispatching and a new net placing over the hole it bolted from.  More often than not several rabbits will bolt from the same hole.  When rabbiting with my brother we had a simple system whereby we would throw the netted rabbit to either one of us whilst the other placed a fresh net over the hole.  This process took seconds and always ensured a new net was set as quickly as possible after a rabbit had bolted.  A good working ferret will seek out all the rabbits below ground and bolt them all into the waiting purse nets.  You will know when the warren is empty because the ferret will refuse to re- enter the warren signalling that that particular hunt is over .  All the nets are then picked up and another warren is selected where the process is repeated.

Rabbits can be paunched in the field (gutted) then “hocked” for ease of carrying.  Paunched rabbits are a lot lighter to so we always endeavoured to do this at the first opportunity.  If the weather is cold we would do this straight away but if he weather is warm with a chance of blow flies being about we would wait and paunch the rabbits once the hunting was over for the day.  Rabbits are simply hocked by cutting behind the back heal of the hind leg and slipping the other back leg through the cut.  They can then be carried on a pole or in special slings which go over the shoulders which is the easiest way of carrying rabbits.

Myxomatosis is a dreadful disease which in truth still keeps the numbers of rabbits down today in the UK although it’s not always present as some areas can remain free of this disease some seasons.  There is no doubt that rabbits can devastate farmland if left unchecked which is why there is legislation in place which forces landowners to keep rabbit populations under control.   An Order under Section One of the Pests Act 1954  declares England and Wales (except for the City of London, the Isles of Scilly and Skokholm Island) a Rabbit Clearance Area. In this area, every occupier of land is responsible for controlling wild rabbits on his/her land or for taking steps to prevent them causing damage. This is a continuing obligation.

However, rabbit hunting especially rabbit hunting with ferrets is in decline probably due to the fact that the general population no longer regard rabbit as a meat they want to eat which is sad because rabbit meat is tasty and is a very healthy because it is so low in fat.

 

 

The Poaching Practitioners and Country Days.

It Begins.

Since man first roamed the earth he has been a hunter gatherer first and foremost.  It mattered not where he hunted because in country days back then no one owned the land and he only took what he needed to survive.  Conservation is far from new because men learned how to be conservationists thousands of years before mans greed compelled him to start owning things that had been free for all in the first place. Poaching is a term derived from the early days of land ownership when land owners made laws to protect what they saw as theirs.  In England the poaching laws certainly date back to 1066 when William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings.  Since that time the laws on poaching have grown ever more complex as men have striven to claim wild creatures as their own.  The Game Act of 1671 in Charles 11 reign gave gamekeepers the power to enter houses to search for guns, nets and sporting dogs.  Those below the rank of esquire were not only banned from using such things, they were banned from owning them.  Should anyone be found using or possessing such equipment it was usually the landowner where the offense took place who meated out the punishments in court.   This gave rise to the phase in English history known as the “Squirearchy” where local Squires owned the land and dealt with poachers very harshly. This grossly partial and selfishly biased often corrupt defence of their own class interest wrecked the reputation of the rural justice system which tolled the first bells of the Squirearchy’s ultimate downfall.  Over many years throughout England a state of war existed between peasant and landowner where men were murdered, transported or executed for the sake of a pheasant or rabbit.  A particular vicious period of the war began in 1816 with the introduction of the “Night Poaching Act” which introduced a punishment of seven years transportation for just being armed with a net or stick with intent to take game and rabbits.  Then in 1828 a new Night Poaching Act was introduced where 14 years transportation was introduced for some poaching offenses. In 1825 Lord Suffield said in the House of Lords:- “The recipe to make a poacher will be found to contain a very few and simple ingredients which may be met with in every game county in England.  Search out (and you need not go far) a poor man with a large family, or a poor single man, having his natural sense of right and wrong….give him little more than a natural disinclination to go to work, let him exist in the midst of lands where the game is preserved, keep him cool in the winter , by allpoPoac him insufficient wages to purchase fuel ; let him feel hungry upon the small pittance of parish relief ; and if he be not a poacher it will only be by the blessing of God.                               

In the early days, cases of poaching were born out of desperation.  With large families to feed and game all around them it was either poach or starve.  Poached game was also bartered to gain other items of life’s necessities so an underground bartering system existed where people exchanged game for services rendered.   Over the years many clever and cunning methods for catching game were invented with just as many equally clever methods for smuggling game from one village to another.  The ploughman for example would know where the pheasant nests were to be found on the land where he worked.  He would watch these nests and the moment the birds began laying their eggs he would take just one egg from each nest because the game keepers would also be watching the nests.

The ploughman would take a small pale of milk with him to drink with his lunch but would only drink half.  To the rest he would crack the pheasant eggs and take them home for his wife to make a meal whilst avoiding detection if the keepers stopped him to search for stolen eggs.  Farm workers would become experts at throwing stones and sticks.  They became highly skilled at taking a rabbit from its “seat” (clump of grass) by either throwing a stone or knocking it over with a stick.  The harsher the penalties inflicted on peasants for poaching the more adept they became at taking game without getting caught.  The more the gentry tried to repress their workers, the more determined they became in the art of poaching. I was a poacher once myself, and these are our stories.

The Whole Truth And Nothing But The Truth.

When I was bound apprentice in famous Lincolnshire
Full well I served my master for more than seven years
Till I took up to poaching, as you shall quickly hear
Oh, ’tis my delight on a shiny night in the season of the year.

As me and my companions were setting of a snare
‘Twas then we spied the gamekeeper, for him we dld not care
Far we can wrestle and fight, my boys and jump out anywhere
Oh, ’tis my delight on a shiny night in the season of the year.

As me and my companions were setting four or five
And taking on ‘em up again, we caught a hare alive
We took a hare alive my boys, and through the woods did steer
Oh, ’tis my delight on a shiny night in the season of the year.

I threw him on my shoulder and then we trudged home
We took him to a neighbour’s house, and sold him for a crown
We sold him for a crown, my boys, but I did not tell you where
Oh, ’tis my delight on a shiny night in the season of the year.

Success to ev’ry gentleman that lives in Lincolnshire
Success to every poacher that wants to sell a hare
Bad luck to ev’ry gamekeeper that will not sell his deer
Oh, ’tis my delight on a shiny night in the season of the year.

The Keeper’s Comeuppance.

There was once a game keeper who had a reputation for catching poachers and like many of his kind, was no stranger to using violence to get his point across.  The butt of a gun or club end of a stick thrust in a man’s body where it would be felt the keenest seemed fair game to him, especially if he had his mates there to back him up.  In short he was a bully that reigned by fear not only against the local poaching fraternity but against anyone that stood in his way. At the time I was doing a fair bit of poaching with a friend of mine called Digger Johansson, an expert dog man and poacher who had lived with the Romany gypsies from time to time.  Digger had his own sense of fair play and would never take more than he needed for his requirements.  A few birds, rabbits or hares for the table with a few for sale perhaps but always maintaining he only took what he needed.

We had heard about this bullying character before so decided to keep this chap in mind and maybe pay his pheasants a visit sometime in the future when we went out for a few birds. Now let me say here and now just for the record, good poachers always do their level best to avoid confrontation simply because confrontation more often than not involves getting caught.  Appearances before the magistrates are always to be avoided so careful planning is required if poaching expeditions are to be successful.  So when bird nights are being considered one paid special attention to the game keeper’s movements.    Getting to know his movements in and around the coverts is crucial to the success of the adventure. Fortunately most game keepers are creatures of habit so will more often than not follow a regular routine.  Some amongst their number are also extremely idle and will only undertake the minimal amount of work when doing their jobs.

I once knew a head keeper that used to feed his pheasants from the seat of his 4×4!  He would drive through the coverts with a bucket in his lap throwing handfuls of corn out the open window as he drove slowly past the waiting birds.  He would even sound his horn as he entered the vicinity so the birds would know he was coming.  Many keepers have their own ways of attracting pheasants prior to feeding them in the mornings.  A keeper might whistle or shout in a particular way so the pheasants would become accustomed to his call.  The birds being very tame at this stage would run towards the sound knowing they were about to be fed.   Reared pheasants are no more than poultry with lesser brains before the shooting season begins and do not appear to get much brighter after being shot at either.  The unscrupulous poacher might wait in hiding for the keeper to feed his birds at dawn then wait until he is out of ear shot before beginning to imitate the feeding call so pheasants will come running.  That is not poaching, it’s a turkey shoot and was something we would never contemplate doing as there was no skill in it.

Word came to us that a fifteen year old lad had his cheek bone shattered when he received a nasty blow in his face from the butt of a shotgun.  His crime was to have been caught rabbiting with his ferret and the person who dished out this rough justice was our bullying game keeper.  The lad also had his ferret shot by one of the keeper’s accomplices.  Such is the way of it with some of these types and a gauntlet that many a poacher has had to run but a fifteen year old boy!?  No that type of thing is just plain wrong.  The lad, not wanting his strict father to find out he’d been poaching blamed his injury on a fall so once again the bully got away with his cowardly tactics.  For the sake of convenience I shall call this keeper “Sykes” after the bullying character in Dickens’s “Oliver Twist” as it seems an apt alias for the purpose of telling this story.

Enquiries were made as to the movements of Sykes in and around the pheasant coverts and amid his place of employment generally.  He worked on a country estate owned by a wealthy businessman who loved shooting.  Sykes was the head keeper with two other part timers helping out at certain times in the year.  The spring is always a busy time for game keepers as they turn their attentions to the rearing field and trapping up pheasants for captive breeding and egg laying.  Now a days egg hatching is done in electric incubators but in the old days game keepers would go on the scrounge around the farms and villages for broody hens to hatch their pheasant eggs under.  Once the eggs are hatched the chicks are reared on under heat lamps in sheds until they reach a certain size when they go out into the rearing field being housed in rearing pens.  There they are fed until they reach the size of poults when in late summer to early autumn the birds are moved out to the coverts and are put into releasing pens. Their wings are clipped to keep them inside the confines of the wire enclosures and the entrance tunnels to the pens are blocked.  As soon as the pheasants have grown large enough and got accustomed to their surroundings and reliant on the food given them,  the birds gain access to free range by opening up the release pen entrance tunnels.  The bird’s wing feathers grow back and are able to fly.  Game keeper activity in and around the vicinity of these release pens and coverts grows as the shooting season approaches.  Vermin such as foxes, stoats, weasels, rats, magpies and crows are trapped or shot to help maximise the pheasant’s mortality against predation in an effort to keep the pheasant numbers as high as possible.  The top priority for the keeper is to provide as many birds for the guns as possible whilst putting on a show of abundant birds for their masters.  Make no mistake, shooting is very big business with millions and millions of pounds involved so every keeper worth his salt strives to show their master they are doing their job properly.  

Seeing as our enquiries were being made in the autumn prior to the shooting season starting, the pheasant coverts and woods were a hive of game keeper activity.  Taking some pheasants from under the keeper’s noses would not be easy, but as always was doable with the right approach. Sykes had a fondness for beer but better than that had a special fondness for the barmaid at the Dog and Duck pub where he liked to drink and play darts.  His social life was fairly limited but predictable as we could pin him down to a couple of evenings when he liked to go to the pub which was always on Friday and Saturday nights.  We learned that the coverts and woods were supposedly being watched by the part timers at weekends whilst Sykes was in the pub.  Or at least that’s what Sykes thought.  The reality however was one of them had a new girlfriend in the town ten miles away so was keen on spending time with her at the weekend.  The other would merely apply scant cover by having a quick drive around the coverts and woods before going home early to his misses.

Our information led us to believe there would be no one keeping an eye on the woods and coverts after 8.00pm on Friday and Saturday nights.  It was apparent that a window of opportunity was beginning to emerge, one that we would be exploiting shortly. I made a visit to the coverts during the day to check for “bang guns”.  These are simple contraptions where a metal rod pushed vertically in the ground has a tube attached near the bottom to take a shotgun cartridge and a weight with a firing pin running up and down the rod above the cartridge.  At the top of the rod a hole is drilled to take a pin.  The weight is pushed up to the top of the rod and kept there by inserting the pin in the hole beneath the weight.  The pin has a thin nylon line attached which is strung across the ride in the wood close to where the pheasants roost.  Anyone entering the wood during the night trips the cord which pulls out the pin which sends the weight falling down onto the cartridge which fires it then BANG!!  Keepers are alerted and the poacher legs it.  Now days electronics have taken over but back then the bang gun was the standard anti- poaching deterrent.

I was very surprised to find there were no bang guns in use but would still check on the night for any set.  To be effective bang gun weights need to be around waist height to have enough force on dropping to fire the cartridge charge. An added advantage of this height is they would not get triggered by wandering foxes so cause endless false alarms. Knowing the keepers movements is one thing, matching them with the appropriate weather conditions conducive to taking pheasants at night is another.  Conditions had to match their activities on the night.  A couple more day time visits were made to the area and O/S Maps studied for footpaths, unseen tracks, vantage points for the keepers and vantage points for us.  It is a mistake to use open ground at night for travelling from wood to wood as keepers carry powerful lights and worse still, some had night sights but very few game keepers were equipped with those expensive items at the time.  

A Friday night was chosen so Friday’s were left open until the right weather conditions prevailed.  We were to park the car in the same pub where Sykes drank on the night for two reasons.  The car would not look out of place in a car park full of other vehicles and secondly we could check that Sykes was in the pub and out the way on the night. A warm west wind began to blow which brought in low cloud and rain on Wednesday but the forecast said the rain would stop by Thursday morning with a slight wind and low cloud remaining till Sunday.  A warm wind calms the roosting birds whilst offering some cover for our approaching footsteps.  In these conditions the low cloud makes the night look dark but in reality once your eyes get used to it, the light is actually quite good to see your way by but more importantly, the roosting pheasants are punctuated in the stark branches against the grey night sky.  The silenced 410 guns take care of any noise but it’s important to try and take the larger cock birds first because they tend to make a racket once disturbed.  The hen birds are no problem because they only give out a low whistle.  Dingle, a specially trained soft mouthed cross terrier would be picking up the fallen birds on the night.  She would miss nothing that fell down onto the woodland floor.  So with all things considered, checked and double checked, we were good to go. The car approached the village and pulled over in the lane about a mile out next to a five bar gate.

The lane was quiet so I got out with Dingle and a pair of folding single barrel 410 shotguns complete with silencers then Digger drove off the second we were out.  Dingle scurried under the gate and I leapt over the top.  A warm breeze blew in my face as I quickly walked up the side of the hedge a hundred yards or so before stopping to wait.  Down in the village Digger parked the car in the pub car park and saw Sykes land rover parked up near the door.  He peered in through the pub windows and saw Sykes at the bar talking to the bar maid.  Digger left the car park and briskly walked up the lane leading out of the village.   Digger joined me at the side of the hedgerow in the field and after a brief chat we made our way towards the first wood about two miles away.   We would travel along the edge of the fields keeping close to a series of thick hedge rows.

It was 7.30pm in the winter so we knew the birds would be nice and settled by the time we reached them. We arrived at the first wood which happened to be the largest on the estate just after 8.00pm.  The breeze had picked up and was rattling through the tree tops nicely which would easily hide the sound of our footsteps.  A barn owl took off from her fence post perch at the edge of the field flying down the side of the wood like a silent white ghost.  The entrance to the ride was well worn by the keeper’s land rover and we could see the stark branches wafting in the breeze against the grey night sky.  Thirty yards in we could see the first roosting pheasants clustered about in the trees.  Dingle had also spotted the birds and began to mark them in her usual manner by standing perfectly still with her ears pricked staring upwards in their direction.  This was her game so knew what was expected of her. Safety catches off Digger took the first bird then I took the next a split second later whilst Dingle held her ground at the side of us both.  We took two more apiece then waited a while before re loading then took two more.    

We carried on taking birds until we had walked up perhaps twenty more yards into the ride.  “That’s enough from this wood I reckon” whispered Digger.  Dingle was put to work and she scurried about in the darkness picking up the pheasants one by one bringing them back to Diggers feet.  She missed nothing and any birds that got hung up in the branches where she could not reach them were simply marked by her sitting beneath until one of us came to take it down.  Dingle was trained for this work from being a pup by Digger and they were both masters of the game.   36 pheasants down and accounted for in just over 25 minutes, a good start.  The birds were braced and slung over our shoulders in the dark.  We left the wood and walked down the side of a hedgerow on towards the next covert.  Along the way we stopped at a large ash tree where I climbed up to hang the pheasants well out of reach from any passing foxes that might be about.  The birds would stay there until we picked them up on our way back. Our next covert was a large spinney that nestled along the side of an irrigation pond.  Being the type of night it was, warm with a good breeze and low cloud we were pretty sure the ducks would be out in the fields foraging well away from the pond.  Putting ducks up off water is not recommended if roosting birds are close by as it tends to spook the pheasants.  The spinney was mostly deciduous but had a row of conifers along the back northern edge presumably planted to offer protection from the prevailing north winds.   We would not be looking for pheasants amongst the greenery as it’s a waste of time.  You need to be able to see your birds then shoot them quickly otherwise you run the risk of putting the lot up into the night sky with an accompanying row that any keeper would hear if he was about.  Most of the pheasants were tucked up on the west side of the covert towards the lake.

We took 16 brace from that spinney and Dingle did her job perfectly once again picking up all the birds shot.  We could have taken a lot more birds if we had wanted but time was running out.  We needed to get back to the car before the locals began leaving the pub as it would spoil our plan if we were late.  So sharing the braced birds we set off back towards the ash tree and the birds left hanging there.   The strong breeze stayed about the same with the going under foot good and fairly dry.  A dry night is always welcome especially if one has to travel across new plough.  The trick with roughly ploughed fields is to walk on top of the furrow not in between them.  The top of the furrow dries out a lot quicker than the bottom so walking across the tops won’t see wet mud hanging on your boots.  Oh yes, “never” wear wellington boots for poaching as they are practically useless for this sort of work.  You cannot walk fast enough in them and they make a lot of noise.  Back in the day we used to wear Australian Bush Boots purchased from the Army and Navy stores.  Those boots used to come past the ankle and up the calf which I’m guessing was meant to afford some protection from snake bite in Australia?  No such worries in England from snake bite but the high boot when laced up did offer very good support particularly against ankle sprains if one should slip going over rough ground.  Good footwear is vitally important for country pursuits and especially important for poaching. We reached the ash tree and I climbed up and took down the hanging pheasants.

In the large wood a field away we could hear a couple of tawny owls screeching out their eerie calls and in the distance a dog fox was calling out into the breezy night for a mate.  The dog fox has a rough sounding bark whilst the vixen’s call is shrill and high pitched not unlike the sound of a crying infant.   We did not go on further towards the large wood where we started as that would be a mistake.  Far better to make a detour avoiding the wood in case we had been rumbled and a reception party was waiting for us there.  Keepers will use the tracks for travelling from wood to covert so are best avoided.   We travelled around the wood using the cover of the hedgerows until we reached a field with a gate going into the lane that led towards the village.  Digger marked the gate by tying a handkerchief to the top rail so he would know the right gate when driving back in the dark.  He pulled out a dog lead from his jacket pocket.  Dingle was to walk back to the car with Digger because a chap walking a dog towards the village would not arouse suspicion from anyone driving up the lane past him late at night. Digger and Dingle arrived back at the pub with plenty of cars still parked there.  Sykes’s land rover was still parked in the same place so it was fairly obvious that the bullying game keeper also did more than his fair share of drinking and driving!   Digger drove out the pub car park with no one the wiser and headed up the lane towards the gate where I was waiting.  I saw the headlights coming up the lane so made ready with the birds and guns.  Digger pulled up and got out the car with the engine still running and opened up the car boot.  I passed the guns and birds over the gate to Digger who put them straight in the boot of the car.  We were loaded and gone in 30 seconds.  Two miles up the road we stopped in a secluded lay by where we took off our coats, over trousers and boots changing into casual attire.   Now we had one last call to make before going home. Sykes’s boss, a wealthy businessman lived on the estate in a large manor house further up the road just outside the next village.   Like a lot of self-made business men he was obviously no fool but also did not suffer fools gladly.  We doubted this chap knew much about the bullying exploits of his head keeper or could have perhaps cared less if he did, but what we did know was this chap loved his shooting.  Thirty four brace of pheasants neatly arranged across the bonnet of a Bentley made for a pretty sight even in the dim light of the night.  And the large note Digger pinned to the manor house front doors explained the generous gift we left for him.

“PAYMENT IN PART FOR A FIFTEEN YEAR OLD BOYS BROKEN CHEEK BONE INFLICTED UPON HIM BY SYKES YOUR HEAD KEEPER.  THESE BIRDS OF YOURS WERE TAKEN WHILST SYKES WAS DRINKING ALL NIGHT IN THE DOG AND DUCK PUB THIS VERY NIGHT.”                                                                                                                                        

Fully grown pheasants in the wild are not owned outright by anyone.  It only becomes a poaching offense if a person “takes” game off land that is owned by someone else without their permission.  Even though the pheasants were shot, they had not been removed from the land.  Not one single empty cartridge was left behind.   Only footprints and the paw prints from one very clever little dog. We heard that Sykes moved on not long after that.  His boss kept a close eye on his employee since that night and did not like what he saw.  A new chap filled the head keeper’s boots and was doing quite well the last we heard.   We never went back.

The Poachers Pot Filler.

Way back in the days when getting caught poaching could result in transportation, or worse, those seeking to feed their families had to be very careful.  Owning a gun or “sporting” type dog was out of the question because owning such things meant you were breaking the harsh laws on poaching.  Would be poachers had to resort to cunning methods of taking ground game but as many would find out to their cost, it was to be the simplest methods that would often prove to be the most effective.    And there can be no more effective way of catching ground game and game birds than employing the use of the snare.  They can be hid about one’s person easily or hidden out in the countryside until they are required.  In their various forms they can catch rabbits, hares, pheasants and partridges if set properly.  Indeed I have always held the view that almost any animal or bird can be snared. Man has used snares for thousands of years and was probably one of the first traps that he invented.  In skilled hands the snare is an extremely efficient devise.  I once fed myself for an entire winter on ground game that I caught in snares which is testament to the snares ability when it comes to keeping the cooking pot full.  The snares used for catching rabbits and hares are made from twisted brass wire with brass eyelets which ensures the snare runs smoothly.

A rot proof cord is attached to the snare at one end whilst the other end of the cord an anchor peg is attached.  The snare for rabbits and hares is held in place by a “teeler” which is a split peg and both the anchor peg and teeler are made from ash cut from any hedgerow that is whittled into shape with a pocket knife.  Pegs and teelers need to be whittled when still green then “seasoned” which means hanging them in a dry place for about a year.  (Rule of thumb for seasoning is to allow one year per inch thickness of green wood)  Wood becomes hard once seasoned and ash is traditionally used for making the shafts for tools as it resists splitting.  Prior to hanging your pegs and teelers for seasoning drill holes in the pegs for attaching the snare cords and cut slots in the teelers to take the snares.  Don’t forget to “nock” the top of the slot in the teeler as this will help set the snare in it.  (See photograph) Snares for catching birds such as pheasants and partridges are made from a different material as twisted brass wire is not suitable.

Nylon was not invented until 1938 so prior to nylon being available various materials were used.  Twisted horse hair, saddler or cobblers thread and other “yarns” would be suitable.  I always used to use nylon line of the type that is used in the shoe manufacturing industry as it is perfect for bird snares being very strong but supple.  Bird snares come in various shapes and sizes depending on what type of bird is being trapped.  For a pheasant one could use either a “cluster” snare which is a set of four snares tied to a central peg for use in a baited hole or dust bath situation or a single snare for use in a “run” or place where the pheasant passes through regularly.  Partridges can be snared very easily with a set of four in a dust bath situation.

Rabbits were first introduced into Britain by the Romans and not the Normans according to archaeological remains.  Today it is claimed that Britain’s estimated 40 million rabbits cost the economy more than £260 million pounds a year via damage to crops and infrastructure.  Attempts to control the rabbit have been largely futile. For instance, a viral disease (myxomatosis) naturally existing in certain South American cottontails was found to be lethal to European rabbits. The virus was introduced to the Australian population during the early 1950s, and although the initial wave of infection killed nearly all rabbits in Australia (99 percent), subsequent waves proved to be less effective, as the rabbits quickly developed immunity and the virus became less virulent. On-going research in Australia continues to seek methods for controlling the rabbit population.  Myxomatosis was also used here to control the increasing rabbit population but rabbits in the UK are also growing immune to the condition as well.  Game keepers and land owners traditional methods for the control of rabbits used to involve ferreting, long netting and snaring but now days resort to shooting them at night with rifles in the glare of powerful lamps as the the most popular and practiced method of control.

There is little demand for rabbit meat in the UK today which is odd seeing as rabbit meat is virtually fat free and high in protein. Rabbits follow regular routes to and from their feeding grounds and these rabbit highways are called “runs”.  To the trained eye these are well worn tracks in meadows and fields where the rabbit moves along in a series of hops or leaps.  Very often it’s easy to see the places along the run where the rabbit hops from one worn patch to another leaving a tuft of untouched grass in between.  It’s along these runs where the snare is set.

When the rabbits first come out from their burrows towards evening they remain very cautious staying close to the burrow whilst they nervously listen and sniff the air for any signs of danger.  Gradually the rabbits will settle down and want to move out to the feeding grounds that will be further out from their burrows in the adjacent fields and they will use these runs for travelling.  It’s in these runs that the snares are set because rabbits are more likely to be caught there.  The place to set the snare is directly after the tuft of grass in between the worn patches as they hop from on worn patch to another.  About 2 inches into the worn patch is about right so the rabbit leaps into the snare.  The snare loop needs to be around 5 inches in diameter and set with the teeler peg so the bottom of the loop is about 4 inches off the ground.  (About the width of a man’s hand) When setting snares for rabbits first decide where in the runs you will be placing them.  I used to set two per run if the run was long enough.   Push the ash peg in then drive the peg down with the heel of your boot but leave an inch sticking out because when you retrieve the snare hopefully with a rabbit in it you will use your heel again to gently loosen the peg so you can pull it out.  Once the peg is driven in put the snare in the teeler then set the snare by holding the teeler before pushing it in the ground to set the snare (see photograph)   As is always the case with poaching/hunting activity you need to be setting your snares when the weather conditions are right.

Avoid moon lit nights as they are practically useless.  Very dark nights are also useless as well which might seem odd.  Poachers call these very dark nights “dead nights” because wild creatures don’t venture out far during these conditions.  For most poaching/hunting activity go for the traditional overcast nights with low cloud especially if there is a warm breeze blowing.  Rabbits like dry feet so will venture far out from their burrows in these conditions.  Snares are best set in the last hour of daylight.  The golden rule with snaring is to “NEVER” leave your snares past midnight before you go back to take them in and certainly “NEVER” leave them until daylight next day.  During the course of the night all self-respecting foxes will visit the rabbit burrows and populations within their hunting range.  If you are lucky the rabbit will have run into your snare and will have been killed quickly and quietly.  If not it’s likely that the rabbit will make a noise that is like a dinner gong to any fox that might  be within ear shot so all you’ll have left of your snared rabbit come day break is its head!  Checking the snares before midnight cuts down on this happening.

Leaving the snares till daybreak the next day involves other predators taking advantage especially magpies and crows who will help themselves to a free rabbit meal once they are down from their roosts at dawn. Hares are an entirely different matter and require a different approach to that required for snaring rabbits.  Whilst hares undoubtedly use recognisable runs, they are not as reliable as the rabbit in its preference for doing so.  Hares tend to go where they please most of the time and the only regularity to their movements involves moving from field to field and the “forms” that they use for resting in.  The “form” is a hollow in the ground where the hare rests and sleeps and could be sited anywhere where the hare feels comfortable.  It could either be a hollow scrape in a field set with crops or in one that has been freshly ploughed, or perhaps a hollow in grass either out in a meadow or beneath a hedgerow.  Once you find a regularly used form you will notice there is a regular “run” that the hare uses to enter it.  You will also notice that other hares use the same form and will also use the same run to enter it.  Another regular run that the hare will use is in the places where it enters and leaves a field.

Unlike rabbits runs these  will not be straight but will appear like a zig zag where the hare leaps from side to side.  The best hare run of all is the run that goes under a five barred gate from one field to another.  Hares like gateways for entering and leaving a field as they afford the extra security of seeing any threats posed far more clearly than they are in a smaller gap in the hedgerow where a predator like a fox might be hiding. I have always felt a lot of disquiet about snaring hares so stopped doing it years ago.  A hare will make a load racket once caught that attracts the attention of every fox and game keeper in the parish so is best avoided.  Plus there are far better ways of taking  hares and these will be explained in other poaching practices later on.

Pheasants must be the most stupid birds in the English countryside.  They are extremely easy to catch using a wide variety of methods and the only reason that they have been prized by poachers in years gone by has been the price they once commanded.  Years ago when I used to poach pheasants we could get perhaps £5 per brace in a time when one could have a night out in the pub, buy 20 cigarettes and have change for chips on the way home all for three quid!  So it was worth running the keepers gauntlet to take pheasants back then.  Now a days pheasants are practically worthless once they have been shot and the reason for this is the sheer numbers of pheasants that get shot each year.   Shooting has become a massive business with shooters paying huge sums of money for their sport.  This has meant that country estates and farms have either increased their pheasant rearing programmes or have diversified into pheasant rearing and shooting which resulted in the number of pheasants available from shooting has far outnumbered the demand.  I can buy pheasants locally for as little as a pound a brace.   A box of Ely 410 “furlong” shells will cost around £6.25 for 25 so that’s 25p a cartridge.  A brace of bids will cost at least 50p to shoot so with the same brace only being worth a pound the brace of birds is only worth 50p because it’s already cost you 50p to shoot them.  Economically pheasant poaching makes no sense unless of course one is doing it just for the pot.  Then again with pheasant prices being so low why bother poaching them when one can buy them so cheaply?

Pheasants in a keepers covert are easy to snare.  You can snare them in the nearby hedgerows where they go through from wood to field or field to field.  Just look for the places where they hop into a low branch when going through the hedge as these low down branches will have a covering of mud on them.  A snare placed about 12 inches above the low branch will catch one every time.  Or dig a shallow hole about 6 inches deep by 4 inches across.  Half fill the hole with wheat and raisins then place a snare about 2 inches above the hole around 4 inches in diameter.  The pheasant will put its head down in the hole to get at the wheat and raisins then will catch its neck feathers in the snare as it lifts its head out.  It’s ridiculously easy and there is very little skill involved.

Partridges can be snared very easily even though they have open range to fields going where they please.  Snaring partridges revolves around the poacher knowing the partridge’s habits.  Partridges roost on the ground and a covey of partridges will always roost in the same place in the same field depending on weather conditions.  This actually means that generations of a partridge covey (family) will have used the same fields for a great many years always using the same places in the same fields.  When the weather is dry and bright, the whole covey will go to the same location in the morning for a dust bath.  These dust baths can be twenty to forty feet in length and are mostly found in hedge bottoms where the soil is fine and sandy.  The dust bath is a series of round depressions in the sandy soil.  In and around these depressions you will see partridge feathers and droppings scattered about.  The depressions are made by the birds flapping their wings taking in the dust and sand which cleans their plumage.

The whole covey of perhaps twenty birds will use these dust baths regularly when the weather conditions are right.  During the winter month’s dry periods with bright sunshine in the mornings are best as the covey tends to go for a dust bath as soon as the sun is high enough to offer warmth. Partridge snares come as a gang of four with each snare amongst the group being fixed to a single peg (Ash).   Take an ash peg; a little bit bigger than the pegs used for teelers, a half inch in diameter by 6 inches long is about right.  Make the snares out of nylon line but it has to be fairly strong.  50lb breaking strain is about right.  Make an eyelet out of copper wire for the line to run through which will form the loop of the snare.  At the other end nearest the peg tie a fisherman’s swivel as this will stop the snare from twisting and tangling.   With four such snares tied to a central peg thump the peg in the middle of the dusty depression with a stone until the peg is right in.  Now arrange the four snares about 3 inches in diameter around the depression.  Weigh the snares down with small pebbles (no bigger than a small finger nail) then lightly cover them all with dust and soil whilst still keeping the basic shape of the depression.  Set the sets of snares according to the size of the dust bath.  In a twenty depression bath I would set 10 sets of snares covering half the dust bath.

The birds will mostly get caught by the legs which is why you need the swivels but sometimes the birds get caught by the neck. Successful partridge snaring is 100% reliant on observation.  I used to set my snares at night once the birds had gone to their roosts then make sure I was in place at dawn the other side of the field to watch for the covey going towards the dust bath.  Once the birds had gone to the bath and began getting caught I would walk around the field to take the birds.  Partridges left in snares for just a short while fall prey to magpies, crows, stoats and weasels.  Magpies are perhaps the worst culprits as they will be upon the caught birds within minutes if they are about and magpies nearly always take the plump breast meat first!Snaring has become a dying art in England today.

The shrinking English countryside and even more shrinking interest in country ways could be to blame.  The perpetual food conveyances which are the supermarkets have dulled our hunting instincts.  The best many can hope for is to hunt for a bargain burger amongst the freezers in Sainsbury’s.  It would actually take very little for the food manufacturing industry to come to a grinding halt where the supermarket shelves would be stripped bare in hours.  What then?  Would you know how to catch something to eat?

 

A Good Pocket Knife.

Years ago when I was a lad, it was common for young boys to own pen knives.  In fact, it was also common for parents and relatives to make gifts of pen knives for birthdays and Christmas.   It used to be a familiar sight to see displays of various pen knives for sale in all types of shops.  A very common knife was the “Sheffield” that had the shape of a “shield” inlaid in the handle.   Sadly escalating knife crime over the years has put paid to this tradition and there are now laws in place that restrict knife ownership and the carrying of knives in public places.  Having said that, there is no doubt that a good pocket knife is pretty much an essential tool for most countrymen.  The basic rule to remember when buying a pocket knife for legitimate use is to purchase one with a blade 3 inches or less and that the blade does not “lock” if you are likely to carry it within a public place.   I own various pocket knives and all have blades below 3 inches long.  I have never seen the purpose for owning a knife with a longer blade for hunting/fishing/shooting purposes in the UK.So what is a “good” pocket knife?  Firstly any knife that looks great and feels right in your hand will prove to be pretty useless if the blade does not stay sharp.  So the first thing is to select a knife with a proven track record for quality blades.  A top end blade such as CPM S30V  is a steel alloy developed by Crucible but aside from that, you basically have Stainless Steel,  Carbon Steel and High Carbon Stainless Steel to choose from plus “Damascus” steel for those that want their knife blades to look “pretty”.  Incidentally Damascus steel comes from Syria but probably originated in India or Sri Lanka.  The Japanese used Damascus steel to make their Samurai swords and the Germans used Damascus steel in World War 2.  Stainless is easier to sharpen and is resistant to rust.  Carbon Steel is harder than stainless and keeps its edge longer but is harder than stainless to sharpen and will rust in wet conditions.

High Carbon Stainless Steel is a compromise of the two so it makes sense to look for knives with this type of blade. The choice of pocket knives that are available is huge so there is no point in me attempting to go through the range here.  Even so, there are certain pointers to look for in a good knife.  A good knife will feel right in your hand and its a good idea to go for the “gripper” shaped handle as it wont slip in your hand.  The pocket knife should be engineered properly with no shakes or shudders when opening the blade.  Legally you are not allowed to carry a locking type knife in public places but for a hunting/shooting/fishing situation a “none” locking type knife (folding knife) is not advisable simply because these can cause serious injury if the blade folds back on your hand or fingers whilst using it.  I was once shaping the head of a walking stick that I had cut out of a hedgerow whilst using a none locking folding knife when the blade folded back on my finger.  The cut was so deep it almost cut the end off my index finger and the wound required a few stitches and three weeks off work whilst it healed up!  So its a locking blade every time for me for use in country/outdoor pursuits in none public places. When choosing a knife always think about the tasks you are likely to need it for before making your choice.  For almost all of my requirements I find that a small pocket knife with a locking blade below 3 inches is all I need.

A Warning To Poachers.

This brass plaque is on the door at Tremedda farm in the village of Zennor in Cornwall England.  It reads; TAKE NOTICE THAT AS FROM TODAYS DATE POACHERS SHALL BE SHOT ON FIRST SIGHT AND IF PRACTICABLE QUESTIONED AFTERWARDS. BY ORDER J.R. BRAMBLE HEAD GAMEKEEPER TO HIS GRACE THE DUKE OF GUMBY 1ST NOVEMBER 1868. In fairness to the origin of the sign it appears that no record of a Duke of Gumby exists and furthermore, the exact same plaque has been turning up for years right across the world in English speaking countries, and many not so, from Australia to America.  The exact origins or date of manufacture of the plaque is not known but it appears to have been a curiosity made for the landowner/property owner market years ago.  The original purchasers would have either regarded it’s purchase and subsequent display as a joke or intended warning to trespassers of the day.

 Lurchers and Longdogs.

Back in the day I used to keep “running dogs” which are also known as lurcher’s and long dogs.  These types of dogs have been kept by poachers for hundreds of years.  A lurcher is basically a cross between a pedigree dog and a not so pedigree one.  A long dog is a cross between pedigree dogs.  For example a cross between a greyhound/deerhound or a greyhound/whippet would be a long dog whilst a lurcher could involve crossing a greyhound with a none pedigree dog such as a cattle drover’s dog or a none pedigree collie type dog.  Long dogs are bred for speed whilst a good lurcher is bred for cunning and speed which is why the gypsies always kept lurchers.

There is absolutely no doubt that lurchers and long dogs are probably the most consistent pot filler there is.  A well trained running dog is capable of catching twenty rabbits in one nights hunting easily especially so if the dog is trained to work with the “lamp”.  Lamping is the term used for hunting rabbits and hares at night whilst using a powerful lamp to assist.  Basically the field is swept with a powerful lamp to see if there are any rabbits or hares out feeding.  If there are any out in the field the trained dog will see the quarry and will be let out of slips (off the leash) to run out and catch a particular rabbit or hare and bring it back to its owner.  Whilst this all sounds fairly simple there is actually quite a lot to training a dog for this type of work and it all starts with selecting the right type of dog.  The term “slips” merely means the dog in question is held by a leash.  A simple slip would be a length of rope or leather that went through a collar so that the handler would hold both ends.  When the dog is “slipped” one end of the leash is let go so the dog pulls away and is free.  One could also purchase expensive “slip leads” with quick release pins such as the “Waterloo” slip lead.  The use of this type of leash effectively means the dog is running without a collar which is preferable so that it does not run the risk of getting caught up in a hedgerow by its collar.

In 2004 the Hunting Act came into law which banned the hunting of hares with dogs.  Rabbits can still be hunted with dogs but no more than two dogs at a time can be used. Gypsies in particular always kept running dogs around their camps.  Not only did they make good guard dogs they were also capable of keeping the cooking pot full of fresh meat.  Poachers also have a long history of keeping such dogs especially from the early part of the nineteenth century when the Game Reform Act of 1831 changed the law and repealed the 27 previous acts.  So with the harsh laws on poaching repealed and with England entering a new age of recreational shooting due to the advances made in modern firearms it became possible for the working man to keep “sporting dogs”.  He would still have to run the landowner and game keeper gauntlets but he now had a formidable ally for keeping his family fed.  The day of the lurcher had arrived.

Lurchers are bred for their work.  Such a dog has to be clever and possess the intelligence which will allow it to be trained effectively.  It has to be fast whilst having the stamina for the tasks required.  A good lurcher is faithful to its owner and family but highly suspicious of strangers making it a reliable guard dog.  Whilst capable of being fierce, the lurcher also has to be soft in the mouth so as not to crush and mark the game it will be catching and retrieving.  So giving thought to the breeding and the mix required is where it all begins. Years ago stock were driven overland to market simply because it was the only way to get them there.  Men were employed for this task by the landowners and farmers who wanted their animals taking to market.   These men were called “Drovers” a particularly hardy breed who would either walk or ride horses with the herds and flocks travelling along the drovers tracks up and down the country.  When taking vast herds of cattle to market, like Smithfield in London for example, they used a particular type of dog to assist them.  This breed was to become known as the “Smithfield” dog, a tall rough coated beast which is reputed to have been originally bred from a Belgium Cattle Dog.

Whatever the dog’s origins there is no doubt it was a very tough dog with bottomless stamina and a good deal of brains.  The Old English sheepdog is believed to have originated from the Smithfield dog.  This dogs attributes made the Smithfield a perfect ingredient to be added to the lurcher breeding melting pot.   Another “working” dog that was to be included in the lurcher breeding mix was the Border collie.  The border is perhaps one of the best loved dogs in Britain today and is a familiar sight in most rural areas especially where large numbers of sheep are raised. Old Hemp was the name of a collie born in 1893 and all pure bred Border collies alive today can trace their ancestral line back to this dog.  Border collies are reputed to be the most intelligent of all dogs and in 2011 one such dog was reported to have learned 1,022 words, and acts of command associated with these words.  The Border collie is hardy, tough, extremely clever, faithful to its owner and family whilst showing a very strong natural hunting ability not to mention its herding capabilities and instincts.  This makes the Border Collie another strong contender in the lurcher recipe.

All lurchers require speed so the first choice for creating the speed required in a lurcher has to go to the greyhound and the whippet.  There are other breeds which can and often do get thrown into the mix but the greyhound and whippet are reliable choices.  First crosses are normally not much use as they often come out as being too heavily boned so a second cross is mostly required.  A typical example of a second cross would be Collie x Greyhound x Greyhound.  This means a Collie has been crossed with a Greyhound and one of the resulting offspring, normally a bitch, is bred again with a greyhound.  This second generation of dogs will be lighter boned and bare a strong resemblance to the greyhound side of the breeding.  Hopefully this will produce the speed of the Greyhound and the stamina and brains from the Collie.  Accordingly, the second cross could be made with a large whippet which would bring the size of the lurcher down somewhat.  Dogs are measured in height by their “shoulder” height so when a dog is classified as being 24 inches at the shoulder that’s exactly what it measures.

The drover’s dog or Smithfield was originally supposed to have been bred with Greyhounds and many believe that the Norfolk lurchers are direct descendants of that line.  Either way the Norfolk type lurcher is a fine dog with a rough coat.  Deerhounds are also used in lurcher breeding as they obviously have a rough coat, bottomless stamina, and display very strong hunting tendencies.  Whilst there are many variations of the lurcher breeding formula the basic principle is to mix the working breeds stamina and brains with the speed of the running dog to end up with a clever dog capable of running and catching anything that gets up in front of it.  Incidentally the Smithfield dog was supposedly introduced to Australia way back in the colonial days but the type which is still around in Australia today probably bears little true resemblance to the original English Smithfield dog which has been extinct in England for a long time now.

Training a lurcher begins very early, way before it is ready to hunt because it has to learn various aspects of the “game” prior to being taken out to hunt.  It has to learn how to jump over fences and gates because jumping is far quicker than scrambling through when chasing its quarry.  It has to learn how to retrieve and be soft in the mouth when doing so.  The pup also needs to pick up “fur and feather” because it will be hunting rabbits and birds like pheasants, partridges and duck.  The youngster also has to learn what a lamp is and more importantly to learn how to use its beam like a human does for seeing things in the dark.  All these training exercises either begin in the dog run or near to home way before it ever sees a rabbit or bird.  There are of course many variations on how to train lurchers and long dogs.  The methods described here are mine so should not be taken as the final word on training these types of dogs for hunting. A few words about housing a working dog outside are prudent at this stage.

When I kept running dogs mine were housed outside with their livery inclusive of their kennels, dog run and feed room.  The kennels consisted of a 10×6 ft sized shed split into two living sections that housed two dogs in each section.  There would be raised benches with sides for the dogs to jump up on to lay out of droughts and these benches would have clean straw placed upon them for the dogs to rest and sleep on.  A good sized run for the dogs with permanent access was adjacent and connected to the kennels with a hard roof over it.  The feed room was situated off at the side with freezer, boiler for cooking, sink, worktops and power points installed making it similar to a small kitchen.   The kennels run and feed room had electric lighting plus a tap and hose for washing out the run and kennel.  There was also access to the mains sewers via a specially built manhole that was situated in the dog run.  Many would have chosen to have their running dogs live in the house as family pets but my dogs were considered working dogs so were kept outside in comfortable kennels but in a way that kept them hardy.  A dog that spends its time laying in front of a fire then stands shivering whilst out hunting makes for a miserable sight.  The dog that is housed in its own comfortable quarters outside remains a hardy beast that is fully capable of standing up to the rigors of hunting.

I would begin by training the pups to jump first because learning to jump is a forerunner to their retrieving training.  As soon as the pups were ready I would place a low obstacle in the middle of the run floor.  A piece of 4×2 is ideal for a start.  At feeding time I would make the pups come over the obstacle to get their food.  To begin with this would not seem apparent to the pups as they would merely waddle over the obstacle whilst I walked around the run holding their food in the air.  Gradually I would start to build up the obstacle as the weeks went by and pups grew larger.   Young pups will blunder over this type of obstacle as you raise it in stages over the weeks but persevere because what starts off as clumsy attempts to scramble over to get at their food transforms into graceful effortless leaps.  Don’t forget to make your obstacle solid because these are clever dogs and will just go underneath if it’s not made from a solid structure.  I used to have sheets of plywood cut at different heights for this training.  Three feet high is the highest you will require as this height is plenty for this type of training.  The objective is not to train them to jump as high as the highest five bar gate they might encounter because they actually have this ability when they are born naturally, the object is to teach them they “can” jump and the training is there to teach them that jumping is a natural act.

Once my pups had learned how to jump I would begin their retrieval training.  At this stage I would begin to add a whistle to the training methods because a whistle will form a very useful method of communication between you and your dog whilst you are both out hunting.  The only whistle I would recommend is the “Acme Silent Dog Whistle” which is not actually silent but a very high pitched one that the dog can hear very easily with its acute sense of hearing.  Lurcher pups have a natural talent for fetching things but at the start the training should revolve around a reward system.  The pup performs the task and he/she gets a reward.   For this work I used to use two types of “dummies”.  Both dummies were made from old towels rolled up one covered in a rabbits skin whilst the other had pheasant wings tied to it.  Fur and feather.  This training works around the pup associating the dummies with a reward and to begin with, the reward will be a small item such as a single piece of hound biscuit.  It’s a good idea to work with both types of dummies and not allow the pup to get used to just one type.

I used to start by throwing the dummy a few feet across the lawn but keep the pup on a leash. Let it see the dummy and see it being thrown.  Wait for it to land then walk the pup up to it but keep the dog on the leash.  Pick up the dummy yourself whilst making a fuss of the pup at the same time.  Make a point of showing the pup the dummy whilst offering a treat at the same time.  Repeat this a few times as the object here is to teach the pup association that the dummy means a treat.   Once I was happy the pup had learned the association I then began to throw the dummy but held back walking towards it to see if the pup tried to pull.  As soon as the pup pulls it is ready to fetch the dummy and hopefully bring it back.   Throw the dummy and let the dog off the leash when it lands.  The dog will rush up to the dummy but you won’t be there to give it a treat.  If all goes well the dog will associate the dummy with a treat so bring it to you.  If not keep repeating the original training until it brings back the dummy for reward.

Once the pup starts to bring back the dummy it’s important that it brings it back to hand.  To help achieve this never hold out the hand with the reward first because if you do the pup will quickly learn to drop the dummy knowing you have the reward in that hand.  Always take the dummy with the empty hand then offer the reward with the other.  I used to keep the reward hand down and only offer the reward once the dummy has been offered to the empty hand first.  As with everything involving dog training patience pays dividends.  When the dog goes to fetch the dummy give a couple of sharp short blasts on the whistle so it gets used to its sound.  The dog will learn to associate the sound of the whistle with you and that is what you are looking for.  Other working dogs such as gundogs work to the whistle for finding game that has been shot or game that is sought to be flushed for the gun.  The use of the whistle with a running dog is not for that purpose but for the purpose of the dog observing basic commands and knowing where you are in the dark.  It’s also a good idea to develop an individual sound or tone to your whistle at this stage so that the dog will recognise it as your own.  Something like a two short blasts on the whistle followed by a longer one is fairly typical and what I used to use. As soon as the pup starts to retrieve regularly outside go back inside the dog run to continue the retrieval training.  Now start to throw the dummies over the obstacle so the pup brings them back in its mouth whilst jumping back over.  Start with throwing a single dummy then increase to throwing both types at the same time as the training progresses.  Get the pup to fetch one to get its reward then go back over the obstacle to get the other for another treat.  After a while the pup will fetch the second dummy without any prompting from you.

The object with two types of dummies teaches the dog association with textures and the difference between fur and feather so it feels comfortable with both.  Also two dummy’s increases the work load which has the advantage of giving the pup extra exercise.  It also helps to teach the dog to be soft mouthed simply because the more the dog picks up the  dummy the more it gets used to it and begins to realise they don’t have to grip so hard. With running dogs there isn’t any real full proof method of training them to be soft mouthed.  Repetition and experience will teach most dogs but even so there will always be some that will remain hard mouthed.  Once the pup is bringing back the dummies consistently by jumping over the obstacle in the run you will have completed the first stages of its jump and retrieval training.  Dog training is actually an on-going thing because just like humans, dogs get better at performing tasks the more they perform them and experience out in the field will be the final trainer.

Carry on with the retrieval training in open spaces so the pup gets used to performing the task in a natural environment.  As the training progresses start to replace the treats with praising rewards so the dog performs for fun and praise.  Even so watch for signs of boredom which will come in the form of not wanting to do the task after a few retrieves.   Don’t worry when this happens as it’s quite normal for a clever dog.  Just stop the training for the day and have some fun with the pup instead because another vital part in the dogs training is to form that special bond between owner and dog. It is worth mentioning at this stage a particular barbaric method for “supposedly” training dogs to be soft mouthed.  This involves wrapping “barbed wire” around a dummy!  NEVER EVER do this as the practise will not only injure the dog, but will probably put the dog off picking anything up!!  Some dogs remain hard mouthed all their lives and there is little that can be done to alter that.

Correct breeding and training from an early age mostly counter acts tendencies to become hard mouthed.   Leads obtainable from Black Dog Trading. Training for the lamp is best done away from the real thing in a controlled training environment to begin with.  Many a good dog has been ruined by their owners who have taken them out straight onto live quarry first.  This mostly results in the dogs being confused and highly excited when they see a dozen or so rabbits running around a field in the daytime.  Then even more confused when the rabbits disappear into the ground it is running on!!  Like all training it will take time and patience but the dog’s natural instinct to hunt will help the pup grasp what is required pretty quickly.  For this training you will need a lamp, a dummy attached to a long length of cord, a friend to assist and somewhere for the training at night.  Access to a meadow at night is perfect.

“Let the dog see the rabbit” is never so aptly described for this particular training because that’s exactly what it is, teaching the dog to see the rabbit but with the assistance of a lamp beam in the dark and a dummy instead of a live rabbit. I used to get a friend to walk out into the field and place the dummy out in the middle somewhere.  The dummy needs to be one with a rabbit skin simply because the dog will hunt fur during the night not feather.   Once the dummy has been placed the assistant needs to walk away to towards the edge of the field paying out the attached cord as he goes.  I would use the dog whistle to let my assistant know when to give a few soft tugs on the cord which would make the dummy move slowly across the ground.  Whilst this is happening I would illuminate the jerked dummy with my lamp whilst holding the dog in slips at my side.  It is quite normal to begin with to find the dog looking around everywhere but down the lamp beam at the dummy.

Don’t worry about this because sooner or later the dog will spot the dummy and begin to pull whilst being held in slips.  At this stage “NEVER” slip the dog to run down the beam to grab the jerked dummy!  Why?  This stage of the training is aimed at getting the dog to look in the beam of the lamp for its quarry and nothing more.  Once the dog pulls consistently in slips when the dummy is illuminated demonstrates the pup is using the light beam to see the dummy so that part of the training is complete.  Slipping the dog on the dummy now would simply ruin the next stage of the training which is to teach the dog to “retrieve” the dummy that it can see in the beam of the lamp.  It can’t retrieve a dummy that is tied to a length of cord, well not properly, and having the dummy tethered would only encourage “mouthing” of the dummy with no proper retrieval at this stage. The next stage in the lamping training is to get the dog to retrieve what it sees in the lamp beam.  The dog has already learned to retrieve a dummy during the day by you simply throwing it then slipping the dog once the dummy has settled.  Now we want the dog to retrieve the dummy it can see in the light beam.  The dummy needs to be moving because at this stage in its training a moving dummy is preferable.   The dummy will be moving as before via the assistant pulling a cord attached to the dummy but this time we need to be able to “detach” the cord from the dummy the moment the dog is slipped to pick it up.  For this I used to attach a 2 inch diameter ring to the dummy and to this ring I would tie the cord with a knot I call the “Overhand Knot with Loop” which is not the same as the overhand knot and loop.  “With” loop means I have added the loop as you can see from the photographs.  You probably won’t find this knot variation anywhere as I adapted it myself from other “Exploding Knots” that I know.  It is very simple to tie and works very well provided the cord is not tugged hard until the assistant requires the cord to be released from the dummy.  I have included tying this basic knot in four photographed stages.  The last stage for tying the knot is crucial because you pull the loop into the tight overhand knot so that the dummy can be dragged or moved with minimal force.  But when the cord is tugged hard the loop comes out the overhand knot which just leaves the knot which is easily pulled through the ring thus releasing the cord so the dog is able to retrieve the untethered dummy. So back in the field at night with everything the same as before, the assistant waits for your whistle command and begins to move the dummy whilst you light up the moving dummy with the lamp.  The dog sees the dummy so pulls in its slip.  This time you release the dog from slips and as the dog runs down to pick up the dummy the assistant gives one final hard tug that releases the cord.  The dog picks up the dummy and retrieves it back to your hand as you issue a whistling command.   Or that is what is “supposed” to happen.  Once again don’t worry if the dog does not perform this task first time because it will trust me especially if you have been following the other training methods I have already explained.  Your supreme ally when training a running dog is the dogs own natural ability and instinct to hunt.  These are not dogs which parade around at the side of high heels with pink ribbons in their heads, these are determined hunters.  Once the dog has mastered bringing the illuminated dummy back to hand it is time to consider the training so far and what the dog has learned.  It should now be capable of catching fur or feather either in the daylight hours or in the glare of a lamp beam.  Your dog can jump fences and hedges with ease whilst being capable of retrieving everything back to your hand.  It is still in the last stages of puppyhood and has learned much already.  Now onto playing the game properly.

The Lamping Set.

There is a wide variety of purpose made lamping equipment available for sale today together with a vast array of different types of dummies for training dogs.  In my day however we had to make our own as very little was available commercially.Back in the day we all used to make our own lamping sets simply because there was nothing else available.  There were never many others around that went out lamping with lurchers back then.  Our basic kit involved a motorbike battery, something to house the battery and something which it could be carried in, a lamp, and the cable that connected the lamp to the battery terminals.

Digger Johansson first introduced me to lamping and training running dogs and taught me a tremendous amount about the game and of course as time went by I added my own slants to the methods and the equipment we used at the time.  My battery was housed in a cut down plastic 5 litre container in case of acid spillage and that went inside an Army and Navy gas mask bag.  My lamps were a set of “Cibie” spot lamps which were perhaps the best and brightest lamps available at the time.  I made special handles for my lamps that were comfortable to hold with a simply on-off toggle type switch on the handles.  The connecting cable was made from “coiled” cable which retracted when not in use making the set very neat and tidy.  I also had a hook on the handle which hung on a ring attached to the battery bag strap so I could hang the lamp on my chest when travelling from one field to another or going over gates and stiles etc.  A fully charged battery would last an entire night provided the lamp was used properly.

Lighting the Way.

There is a right and wrong way of using a lamp for rabbiting at night.  If you switch a lamp on and keep it switched on while you are hunting rabbits in a field you won’t be catching many.  Firstly you will drain the battery pretty quickly and secondly keeping the lamp on gives the rabbits  ample opportunity of getting used to the light enabling most to make their escape back to their warren underground pretty quickly.  Having the lamp on constantly encourages the rabbits to start running around like headless chickens and that will just confuse the dog as it scrambles its brains trying to work out which one to run for first!This is the proper way.  Always try and work in a direction with any wind blowing towards you as the rabbits won’t be picking up your scent before you even enter the field.  Enter the field quickly but quietly.

Once in the field at its edge illuminate the field with a sweeping movement of the light beam going from right to left or vice versa.  Sweep the whole field then turn the light off.  You will be able to see the rabbits pretty easily during the first sweep because their eyes glow bright red in the dark.  (So do hares but badgers, foxes and cats glow bright white)  Switch the lamp on again and sweep the field but searching for a rabbit which is the closest and keep the lamp on this rabbit for several seconds or until the dog sees it. Switch the lamp off and begin to walk briskly towards the rabbit with the dog in slips.  After walking for a few seconds shine the light on the rabbit again then switch off the light and walk towards it some more.  Keep repeating this on-off-then walk towards method until you get closer where you feel the dog has a good chance of catching the rabbit.  If you lamp this way you will find a good percentage of the rabbits will remain as “sitters” not “runners” and it’s the sitting variety you want because they don’t tire the dog out.

Normally a rabbit will try and hide by lying as low as they can to the ground but getting its powerful back legs beneath it ready to flee if it feels it has been discovered.  The novice dog will spot the rabbit and will be keen to get slipped to catch it.  As you walk towards the rabbit with the light on and off the rabbit, if it decides to “sit” will sink closer to the ground.  By the time you have slipped the dog the rabbit will have got that low that the dog will rush up and probably go straight over it.  The dog will then start leaping about like a crazy gazelle looking for the rabbit whilst the rabbit gets more than a head start bolting off whilst the dog is looking the other way!  Don’t worry this is all part of the game and the price the novice dog has to pay at the start of its rabbiting career.  It won’t be long before the dog realises the rabbits are making a fool of it so will mend its ways learning how to spot these sitting rabbits.

Advanced Lamping.

This is the clever bit and perhaps made especially clever because  you the dog trainer won’t have a hand in any of it.  This is where the rabbits teach the dog and the dog learns from the rabbits.  This is nature’s way in fact with the slight addition of the fool holding the lamp unaware what’s going off before his very eyes! Rabbits are absolute masters when it comes to survival.  They will not defend their young but flee knowing they are faster than most and particularly safe in the knowledge they can also outbreed their predators as well.  If the adults survive at the cost of their young, they simply breed more.  It’s a simple strategy that has resulted in them surviving in huge numbers against attack, pestilence and disease for thousands of years.  They do however have a strange tendency to stay rather than flee when faced with danger.  Perhaps they have worked out that man in particular is especially stupid so won’t notice them if they hide in a clump of grass until he passes by.  By the same token they probably think man’s dogs are equally as stupid as well seeing as the rabbit will display the same defence strategy when faced with a dog.  Whatever their reason, rabbits definitely show a preference for playing hide and seek when faced with danger.

The clever lurcher soon works out the rabbit’s stay put defense mechanism and learns how to exploit it.  The first thing you might notice is that your lurcher starts to trot up to the sitting rabbits instead of hurtling towards them like a steam train.  The clever dog has already worked out the sitting rabbit won’t be getting up to run just yet so why bother to exert itself too much?  The dog will also start to learn that some rabbits sit but will dash off the moment it hears or see’s the dog coming.  Normally the rabbit’s late dash for sanctuary comes too late but sometimes the rabbit gets away.  What tends to happen then as the dog gets more and more experienced is it will alter its own strategy to overcome the problem posed by the late dash for home.You will be out lamping rabbits with your dog and everything will be going as normal.  You will illuminate the field and take the rabbits in the normal way.  Then you will start to notice that once the dog gets slipped on a particular sitting rabbit, the dog will not run down the lamp beam but will disappear completely!

You on the other hand will continue to walk towards the sitting rabbit that might only be betraying its presence with a pair of red glowing eyes peering out from a thick tuft of grass.  You will get closer and closer turning the beam on and off until you are perhaps only 20 feet away from the sitting rabbit.  Then, out of the dark night with no warning what so ever your dog will pounce into the lamp beam and take the rabbit.  Your clever lurcher has now become a master at the game of catching rabbits.  But there’s more.  As time moves on you will notice your dog showing a distinct preference for taking sitting rabbits whilst showing a marked reluctance for chasing half way around the parish to catch one.  On a good lamping night when the conditions are perfect a good percentage of the rabbits lamped will sit instead of making a dash for it.  It is these sitting rabbits that your dog will want to catch because by now the dog has become extremely good at catching them.   You now have the perfect lamping dog, one that will be able to work the entire night long because it will never get out of breath.

Feathered Friends.

Not all lurchers take to hunting birds on the ground but by the same token many do.  It’s mostly a question of training and getting the dog associated with textures early on.  The feathered dummy gets the dog used to the texture and smell of feathers so is a vital part of the dogs early training.  Back in the day when I used to poach the really only reliable way to train the dog past the dummy training stages was to take the dog to the feathered game.  For pheasant that means either breeding your own or going into the wild where there are numerous pheasants around.  Obviously the most numerous amounts of pheasants are found in and around country estates that employ game keepers.  And that is the one place you are most likely to have your dog shot if it is seen catching pheasants!  Most lurcher men don’t bother taking birds with their dogs so avoid this part of the game.  I on the other hand always thought that having a dog willing and capable of taking game birds remained an essential part of owning a hunting dog like the lurcher.  For this part of hunting with lurchers I always stayed away from keepers beats simply because it was more trouble than it was worth.

Taking birds off land I had permission to be on or from land where no shooting took place was far more preferable.  Better still if you have permission on land that is adjacent to land with driven shooting because there is always a good supply of straying birds about.

The basic way to train a dog to take feather is to train it to pick up the feather dummy whilst it is a pup.  Then by giving the dog plenty of access to birds later on coupled with the dogs own natural instinct is often all it takes for the dog to start catching game birds.  Everything goes back to the dogs initial training because it is this training which lays the ground for everything that will follow naturally.  You dog learned to pick up fur and feather in the dummy stages and learned to retrieve both to your hand.  The natural progression is for the dog to catch fur and feather when it sees it in a natural environment then bring it back to you. The initial training merely gives the dog an insight of what is expected of it.  The rest comes naturally and requires little or no further training from its owner apart from the opportunity of repetition and experience.

The gypsy lurchers of old were especially adept at keeping the cooking pot full simply because they lived in the countryside all their lives having access to game every day.One final note of warning concerning lurchers trained to take birds.  We have become a nation hurtling towards obsession with wildlife.  For the most part this can only be a good thing especially if it means we learn the value of our wildlife and take forward thinking steps to preserve it “properly”.  However, the duck feeding fraternity on a Sunday afternoon does not take kindly to a rough haired lurcher bounding in on the bread chucking proceedings to take Jemima Puddle Duck quacking and squealing in front of the kids.  Also, laying chickens do have a certain appeal for the lurcher that is trained to take birds for his master so are best kept on a leash within these types of environments!

Creatures of the Night.

In the course of going lamping at night you will come across all sorts of other creatures out and about making their nocturnal living.  The barn owl quartering a meadow at night makes for a ghostly appearance and one I always welcome.  I would often sit down with the dog to watch the barn owl hunting and if I was lucky the owl would put on a show that would last quite a while.  Tawny owls punctuate the night with their screeching calls in faraway woods and hedgerows.  Woodcock and snipe would rise up from the meadows as we approached them feeding in the dark as would coveys of partridge that would burst up into the night sky in a flurry of beating wings.   Good lamping nights are also good duck flying nights so when lamping in the vicinity of rivers, lakes and farm ponds the sky would be filled with the whistling calls from teal and widgeon.  When duck shooting we used to make whistling calls for these types of ducks out of the brass bottoms of shotgun cartridges.  You simply knock the charge caps out from the centre of the cartridge with a nail then push the two ends together for a really good duck call.

Sometimes in the course of a nights lamping I would hear the last ditch squeals from a rabbit as it tried desperately to shake off a pursuing stoat.  The rabbit is four times the size of a stoat but the little stoat is a fierce and vicious hunter that will follow the scent of a rabbit for miles.  Going to ground is no defence as the stoat can follow the rabbit underground so the only chance a rabbit has is to hope the stoat will either give up or divert its hunt onto another creatures scent.  When the stoat is near the end of its hunt the rabbit will begin to squeal even though the stoat might be 25 yards or more behind.  It’s as if the rabbit knows it can’t get away so calls out its last will and testament into the night for other rabbits to bear witness.

The stoat will have to deal with its capture briskly and there will be little time to rest after the hunt.  The fox will have heard the rabbits cry so will be on its way towards the cause of the squealing already.  If the kill occurs near a rabbit warren the stoat will quickly drag the rabbit down a hole so the fox can’t get at it.  Then it can eat its fill and leave the rabbit underground to return for another meal later on. Foxes are masters of the night and the adults will know every square inch of the territory that they hunt across.  Like the rabbit, foxes are also masters of survival being surrounded by folklore which is steeped in history telling tales about their clever and cunning ways.

Ever the opportunist, the fox will never be far away from another creature’s kill or the hen house door that has been forgotten to be locked.  If a fox gains entry to a hen house at night it will often kill as many hens as it can.  It reacts to the hens confined terror with a murderous slaughter.  This behaviour has earned the fox its reputation for being the blood thirsty killer of poultry but it’s hardly surprising behaviour when one considers the sheer confusion that reigns when a fox enters a hen house at night.  Every hen in the house will be flapping and making for the door whilst the fox is equally confused amongst the beating wings and clouds of feathers all around it.  Foxes do not carry keys so the price for bad or forgetful husbandry is to loose ones laying hens if old Reynard pays you a visit.

Most town folk do not often realise that foxes are very close to their urban homes most of the time.  Foxes are great scavengers so will live and breed in towns and cities where the pickings are plentiful.  A downside to this modern day fox behaviour is that foxes will become a bigger problem than they are today in these urban environments.  Recently in February 2013 at the time of writing this particular piece, a fox entered a dwelling house in South East London and dragged a baby from its cot.  The fox bit the babies finger off and also inflicted bite puncture wounds to the baby’s face.  Luckily the baby’s mother beat the fox off and the infant’s finger was sewn back on in hospital but I have no doubt what so ever that if the mother had not been alerted the fox would have killed the infant.  Whilst a case like this is extremely rare it highlights a possible concern that urban foxes unlike their country counterparts loose the fear of humans far quicker due to their almost continual contact with them.

The badger is always around at night and it was quite normal to spot a few when I was out with the dog at night lamping.  Like the fox and cat,  badgers eyes glow white in the dark night and you can mostly tell the difference between a fox and a badger at a distance when you pick up their eyes in the lamp beam as because the fox will stare back at the lamp whilst the badger blinks its eyes a lot.  One might easily assume that the badger, which is supposedly known for being a shy creature, would be off at the very sight of the lamp and a human being with a dog fast approaching?  Don’t you believe it!  I could always walk right up to a badger at night and they show no fear of the dog either.  Badgers are apex predators and the only predator they need fear is man and the dogs they use to “bait” them.  I abhor badger baiting and would never harm one.  I am aware of the bovine tuberculosis connection between the badger and farmer’s livestock but have concerns about the full extent of this relationship.  As is always the case there are arguments in both the pro and con side of the bovine TB argument.  For myself I am a badger lover and I’m always amazed how tame they actually are once they accept you.  In years gone by I have sat amongst badgers that were playing and feeding all around me.  Yes they keep a respectful distance away but were never really bothered by my presence at all.  I am fortunate in where I live in the countryside there are a lot of badgers about very close to my home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming Soon… Hunting Rabbits With Ferrets.