The Perfect Miniature Hunt …Almost!

To have a hunt there needs to be a quarry and one or more hunters. To have a good hunt there should be a find, a travelling hunt, maybe a check or two and a conclusion. The conclusion can be a kill on top, or a mark and a dig or a bolt. But it is surely not imperative to have a kill; others may argue.
  
Today, me and my little inexperienced pack comprising one 5 month-old lurcher pup, a 4 month-old Teckel pup, a year-old Teckel and a five year-old Teckel, had what was nearly the perfect miniature hunt.

Bella, waiting patiently

Bella, waiting patiently


Only yards from my door Amie, the one year old Teckel bitch spoke haltingly. The five-year old, Toby, looked up from fiddling about with a molehill and went to join her. On the way he shot sideways, sniffed about, spoke twice and started to hunt towards me at an angle. He was hunting hard and quite loudly. Amie, independent as ever continued to snuffle along the bank of the burn which after the recent storms was deep and flowing hard. She didn’t speak stridently but rather snuffled along making soft, whimpering noises.
  “Mink.” I thought. “Probably from the night before.”
  Mink scent lingers. The inexperienced Amie still spoke but was going in small circles and not moving far. The furthest she got was about ten yards and kept going back to where she first gave tongue. When reliable old Toby had started speaking and hunting hard I knew scent was comparatively fresh and not from the previous night. He ignores very old scent like he should.
  Toby was hunting away from the burn which is not the natural path for a mink to take; they like to stay near water but I’ve had this before and that day it was a mink. He passed within ten yards of me crying like a banshee. I think his pitch was far lower than a banshee’s but as I’ve never heard a banshee I’m guessing. I saw not a thing. His fervent cries brought the lurcher pup, Bobby, followed by Lilley, his little friend the Teckel pup. Amie is the most independent Teckel I’ve ever had (liar) and I’m convinced she goes deaf when she’s hunting but she looked up, listened and raced towards us.
Listening for movement

Listening for movement


  Toby continued to hunt with gusto but paradoxically was moving quite slowly. Bobby kept getting in his way. Little Lilley didn’t know what was going on but followed gamely through the thick, reedy grasses and tussocks. Amie arrived and immediately screamed. She did sound like a banshee. No, I haven’t heard one since I wrote the last paragraph so I still don’t know what a banshee sounds like but she makes an unearthly noise and puts me in mind of what I think a banshee would sound like so there.
  Toby checked by a large tuffet and tried to get inside it but was hampered by the rest of the gang. He ran around the other side and started to speak and I still saw nothing. He spoke again and Amie joined him. She spoke as well but not with confidence. The two pups got in the way again. Suddenly Toby went away at a good clip, speaking well. Amie followed and let out her banshee howl (I know, I know). Bobby, being far quicker than a Teckel ran alongside Toby and bit him in play. Toby didn’t like that and bit him back harder. Bobby is at present a young thug and still wanted to play so he bit Toby’s ear. Talk about a hindrance. Toby didn’t like that one bit and drew blood from Bobby’s snout, Bobby stopped getting in the way but didn’t seem to notice the blood; bull breeding I suppose!
  
One of the babes

One of the babes


I watched as the two Teckels hunted steadily away with me still not knowing what was in front of them. Amie has as good a nose as Toby’s but at five years old his is more experienced. At a check he invariably found the line before she did. This was not a long distance hunt, it all happened within a hundred and fifty yards of me. In one place both Teckels were at fault for over a minute and I thought that their quarry, whatever it was, had beaten them but Toby cast himself a bit further and picked up a line. Both adult Teckels were put off by the youngsters time and time again. They persevered but had to hunt this line as if it were a stale one constantly going over ground that the pups had foiled. I knew it wasn’t stale so left them to it. Sure enough they sorted it out, picked up the pace and off they went again. This had to be a diminutive animal they were hunting or I would have seen it so it could still be a mink or what I call a minkette – a young mink.

  They lost it again about twenty yards from the ruins of a bothy the walls of which had been reduced to a mere foot high through pilfering for repairing the dykes (dry-stone walls). Neither Teckel could hunt a yard in this area until Toby lifted his head, quested and following an air scent and directly to the ruined bothy. He thrust his snout into a crack and barked. Amie did the same and within seconds all four dogs were decidedly interested in the wrecked stonework. I tottered towards it and as I got there, Toby flushed something small and brown. I only saw it as a flash but the youngest member, Lilley spotted it and so did Amie. It darted out and darted back between the two young Teckels. I would have been surprised if the puppy, Lilley, had grabbed it but she did make the attempt. Amie also missed it and it got back to the safety of the stones. Lilley pushed her little snout into the stones. Amie dug and scratched at them barking furiously and this time it was Toby bullying his way to the front and shoving his snout under the rocks.

A brace of rabbits

A brace of rabbits


 Bobby joined in the fun and danced over the ruins, tail wagging and play-biting the Teckels until he too scented something, stopped playing and pushed his own snout under a stone.
  
By now Toby’s nose was bloodied from the sharp stones but he continued to dig and scrape and push with his snout and move some quite hefty rocks. I rather ineffectively moved some small stones.
  All of a sudden, interest peaked and all four dogs went frantic. Toby shoved large rocks aside that must have hurt him, Bobby jumped over everyone and dug anywhere and everywhere in the most haphazard fashion. Amie bit stones and I feared for her dentition and little Lilley, much more sensible than I would have thought, thrust herself between legs and under backs and was right where Toby indicated the action would come. Unfortunately for her at the last moment Amie lost patience with Bobby’s antics but bit Lilley instead so Lilley had backed off a bit when Toby made his last effort.
The young teckels knew not to go near it but the clown Bobby pushed his luck

The young teckels knew not to go near it but the clown Bobby pushed his luck


  Toby was accurate in his marking and his persistence paid off. With a last big heave he shifted a rock and it bolted. Fittingly he was the one who caught it and crunched it instantly without bothering to shake it. I’m not a good photographer but I am pleased with this one. Weasels and stoats are lightning-quick and notoriously difficult to photograph on the move. The weasel can just be seen in Toby’s mouth.
The prudent teckels look on but Bobby gets a bit close to Toby’s tiny booty

The prudent teckels look on but Bobby gets a bit close to Toby’s tiny booty


  Toby bit him on the face and Bobby danced away. Toby chased him and then seemed to forget where his weasel was. This gave Amie and Lilley the opportunity to grab it and start a tug-of-war but before they could skedaddle with it Toby was back. (I missed that shot). His mere presence was enough to make Amie drop it and Lilley was too fearful to snatch it back up. Toby stood guard over it and Lilley started to tantalise him barking and rushing trying to grab it. Toby is normally very tolerant of puppies but this time he chased Lilley for a few yards. This allowed Bobby his opportunity and he made his move.
Bobby makes of with his minuscule prize

Bobby makes of with his minuscule prize


  Before the powers that be pounce and drag me away in chains for “hunting a mammal with a mammal” I had my little double, folding four-ten with me. Unlike in the rest of the U.K., up here in Scotland you can use as many dogs as you like to hunt a mammal but they must be used to “flush to the gun” so carrying one is imperative.

  It was not quite ‘the perfect hunt’ because I have an avid admiration for these tiny mustelids. They are voracious, persistent and courageous hunters themselves and yes, I know they kill a high number of nestling birds, and voles. Had it been a rat I would have been happier.

A Nose About

The recent cold spell that the weatherman had promised came and went in a thunderstorm of snow and rain, soon turning to just rain…, God, it’s been wet the past couple of days, but I was determined to get a mooch in no matter what.

Bella has been busy this past week both with lamping and ferreting and is looking a little stiff in the kennels as I type this up… mind you I know how she feels as I’m feeling a tad sore in the knees myself! I think the Christmas turkey had something to do with that, and the sweets, cake and whatever else was flying around at Christmas and I have piled on some pounds that I will need to shed if I am to get back to myself again.

I got up early and walked the crew and cleaned the pens that hardly ever dry up this time of year and made a trip to the shops to buy some much needed tripe and meal. The ferrets were all cleaned out and I put some shredded paper in their sleeping boxes for them to hunker down in. All the chores out of the way I boxed up a young jill and her mother and Bella and I hit the road pulling into a gateway that has not seen me in a while.

I first gained permission here after I released an ewe from some bramble, granted by a grateful farmer who thanked me with said permission. I don’t know if the old boy is still about or even runs the farm anymore but until someone stops me I will carry on safe in the knowledge – or is it ignorance – that I still carry favour.

Some soil kicked out of an earth a little ways off got my attention so we walked over and took a gander; a fox had obviously been in here at some point but Bella said ‘no’.

I have my eye on a few places like this and hope with a prolonged wet or cold spell one of these will hold and my terriers will be on, time will tell. My tykes have found plenty in cover this season, many preferring to lie out in heavy cover rather than holing up but I live in hope a few days will present a dig or two soon.

Bella, waiting patiently

Bella, waiting patiently

Bella became animated around a heap of dead wood and I could tell by her work that a rabbit had been sat out in this mess shortly before we came on the scene. Eventually she made her way over to a four-hole bury, some of which opened out from beneath some tree roots; not to be put off I netted up right away and entered both jills, the young polecat followed the old stager in and was soon working like a pro. Bella stood still and I watched her quivering with excitement, she is just about the finished article at ferreting. I’ve had better lampers, she just about holds her own but it’s at this game that she is best placed.

A brace of rabbits

A brace of rabbits

While waiting for the first bolt I started thinking about how she started out and where she is now. Bella is nigh on three years old and started like a lot of lurchers do, gangly, immature and puppyish. My terriers have an older matriarch to show them the ropes but my lurchers have no such teacher, days spent in the field with nature being the only education they receive. Her mark was messy at best, with her trying to get in up to her shoulders being the only sign a rabbit was in. I did worry about this less-than-subtle approach, wondering what the occupants thought of it but still they bolted once the ferret was on their backside. Eventually the mark changed for the better and now she was staring into the hole with her ears twitching like little flags in a breeze. Her nose has developed beyond belief, and to be honest I can’t remember owning a lurcher with a nose her equal, she is well behaved but then most of the collie type lurchers I’ve had were the same; biddable and a pleasure to be around, but that nose is astounding. Consequently, I work her off the lead for most of the time, the exception is when I lamp her, she does tend to run in on the beam when scanning the field for a pair of pink eyes, if allowed her head, so I keep her reigned in to give her the best possible chance of a strike when we are between the rabbit and its home. There is plenty of speed but that doesn’t always mean plenty of rabbits in the bag, a quick reflex helps though and she definitely has that. Bella still acts the fool however, and any puppies I bring on get the full workover before they reach the age when such antics are no longer tolerated.

Listening for movement

Listening for movement

A rustle of leaves told me a rabbit was in the net, only this one was half in and half out, but not to worry Bella had it under control before I knew anything about it. The dog lost interest in the bury after this and as I ran the old jill through once more I realised there was none left. Onwards we went and that nose was working hard again. She hesitated for a moment, for what, only God knows for I couldn’t see anything but then she rushed in on a pair of pheasants who were squatting in some long stuff, both took flight and landed in a tree above us. I thought they would have made a fine shot for a steady gun, but I am not that good a shot and I no longer carry a gun anyway. They both whistled off and Bella got back on line, a woodcock got up in front of me producing the customary dropping they always seem to cast every time they are put up. The dog came back to investigate the scent and was put forward a number of times as she kept going back to the spot where the woodcock had been. We get a lot of these birds around home, always in the woods so it didn’t surprise me when she pulled one out from the base of an old oak tree that had a bit of cover growing up around it…, well no, perhaps it did surprise me, I have never had a lurcher catch one of these birds before. Her hold was not a sure one and the bird flew out of the corner of her mouth leaving a few feathers behind. Now gunmen find these woodcock a challenge on account of their erratic flight and energy, so take feather trophies from the tail, I believe to stick in their hats as a sign of their prowess, I don’t know if the feathers in my dogs gob were these feather badges of superiority but there it is. Although we see these little birds quite a bit around woodland these days I bet not many lurcher owners can say their dogs catch many. Write in and let us know.

We moved off to a place that I recognised, it had a footpath alongside it which I remembered could be quite busy at certain times of the day so I would keep an eye on the horizon for people traffic. Pedestrians are not always on board with we countrymen and see us as relics from the past, best left to history. I’ve found you can never alter these people and their misguided views but I reserve the right to practice that which has been our life’s passion to the bitter end if it comes to that.

Bella gave a positive mark at a bury that had holes well spread over a fair stretch so I decided to net up every hole, some twenty in all, for I can bet my bottom dollar that if I didn’t a rabbit would surely exit out of one of these holes, and all for being lazy. Both jills were dropped and soon disappeared down adjacent holes.

One of the babes

One of the babes

I’m pleased with the crop of ferrets this year and may take another litter this summer. If it is one thing I do these days is learn by my mistakes and well remember a fine strain of ferret I had some years ago that were mostly sandy polecats, they were capital workers and I failed to continue the line and foolishly allowed them to die out. You see, by the time I considered to take a litter or two from the now aging jills it was too late and although I put a number of young hobs on them they never kindled and they slipped into extinction. I returned to the original breeder from where that line started, but was now out of the ferreting game and instead kept a loft of tumbler pigeons on the site of these once useful ferrets. There are ferrets and there are ferrets and these were good. The line I have today are also good, given to me by a friend, all the best things in life are gifts and I treasure them like pearls.

As I was netting up I noticed Bella was marking two holes in particular so I was fairly confident there would be two or more rabbits in residence, the jills were well into the bury by now and rumbling could be heard. Bella took up position and flew forward on a rabbit that just seemed to throw off the net like an old overcoat. My nets are heavy gauge nylon and sit and purse well when a rabbit hits them so I was at a loss. However, closer inspection gave the answer; the net had snagged on a small length of barbed wire. Bella ran it into cover and missed, I pushed the wire into the mud with the heal of my boot and replaced the net. Minutes passed and the ferrets were obviously getting the run around. A fox was moving off in the far end of the wood and wet and bedraggled with the incessant rain we’ve been having, it disappeared behind the tree line oblivious to our presence. Like I said the foxes this year seem reluctant to hole up out of the worst of the weather and brave the elements with defiant resolution. Number two out of here hit the net in perfect textbook fashion and Bella stood firm, safe in the knowledge it was going nowhere.

The rain had kicked up a notch and I packed it in for the day, two rabbits and some good old fashioned nose work, who could ask for more. I took the long route back to the car and thought that it looked a promising place and had lost none of its charm, so I will be back. The season is halfway through, it’s a long time coming but seems to go all the quicker.