Working Jack Russells in South Africa

(Obituary of Eddie Chapman written by Dave Harcombe at the end of this article)

A couple of years ago, I was offered the chance, while in South Africa, to spend a week or so with one of their well known terrier men, who exclusively used Jack Russells. Not being one to miss an opportunity to see how the other half lived, I accepted, even though it was to be an endless drive across country, in stifling heat, to get there. They said it was their winter. God help them in the summer!

The journey was made extremely enjoyable despite the heat, for I was being driven by one of the nicest people I have ever come across in the terrier world, Frank Joubert, who, sadly, is no longer with us. I shall never forget him.

We arrived at Des Krugers house late in the evening and were made very welcome by Des and his family. Des is one of those guys that, though extremely modest, has that sort of look in his eye, which I always associate with old time diggers and the like, so we hit it off immediately.

‘We have to start early,’ he said, ‘as it still gets a bit hot here in the middle of the day’, so an early start it was and the first stop was a sort of game reserve that apparently had everything. We loaded up the terriers, or what was left of them for he had only two, or almost two! A three legged dog and a one eyed bitch! Both were under twelve inches and smooth coated with lots of scars in odd places.

‘You don’t keep many then’ I said, trying not to sound sarcastic.

‘Well I try to keep a fairish team as there is quite a bit of work for them around here,’ he replied, ‘but I have had a bit of bad luck this last year and have lost a few.’

‘How many is a few’ I asked.

‘Well, this time last year I had eighteen,’ he said casually, ‘they have gone down a bit.’

‘How the hell did you lose that many?’ I asked.

‘Oh, we have some pretty dangerous animals using the earths around these parts.’ He wasn’t kidding, as I soon discovered!

A one hour drive found us at a large farmyard and after Des had spoken to the farmer we went through a couple of gates in a high game fence and literally belted off across some flat open country towards a small mound in the distance. ‘There is a meerkat earth in that mound,’ he said, pointing towards it, ‘let’s see if we can catch them unawares.’ Fifty yards or so from the mound, he hit the brakes at about ninety miles an hour and we skidded to a halt with meerkats flying in all directions and even as we skidded, both terriers shot out of the windows and raced after the nearest one in an effort to catch it before it disappeared down a hole. Well, they did after they stopped rolling in the dust! One cat was a bit far out and there was quite a chase before it made it to a hole with Des’ lurcher right behind it.

‘Never caught one like that’ he said, ‘but it helps to wind the terriers up a bit, don’t you think?’

‘Oh yes, I’m sure it helps’ I said, ‘that is, if they are still conscious after their crash landing!’

I remember thinking, this chap has got to be ‘touched’.

Another hour’s drive and two burly farmers took us in their truck, at a somewhat slower pace into some wild looking country where they had a secluded valley which they swore was full of earths which held all sorts of rodents. Rodents! They must have been kidding! The first earth, in the distance, had something resting on it which looked distinctly like a crocodile! From where I stood it looked at least ten feet long and as we approached the earth, which looked like a fair sized badger set, this monster disappeared into it. Without a second thought, Des let out the two terriers and they plunged into the nearest hole. No bleepers.

‘We will have to listen for them’ said Des, but, as you can imagine, I was a little bit reluctant to put my ear to the ground, let alone down a hole to listen as it gets a bit hard to hear with your head is in a crock’s mouth, don’t you think? However, the earth was so deep we couldn’t hear a damn thing, probably a good job too, and in the end both terriers came out, luckily, unharmed. I asked Des what it was and he replied, casually like, ‘Oh, some sort of lizard, I suppose.’

Lunch preparations get under way

Lunch preparations get under way

A bit further on we came to a two hole place on some flat ground but the holes were big enough for a sheep to go in which made me wonder why the chap bothered with under twelve inch terriers as the place was just made for a Pit Bull or something of the sort and we were probably going to need one by the size of the tracks leading in there. I asked Des what it could be and he said he wasn’t sure and as he again slipped the two terriers, I walked slowly away, backwards. In seconds there came from the hole the strangest sound I ever heard. To describe it I would say that it sounded like an industrial vacuum cleaner with part of the motor loose, a sort of whirring, clattering noise. ‘Porcupine’ said Des and began to call out the terriers who had just started to bay. Well, fair play to them, and luckily too, they came straight back out, the dog already having been well and truly ‘quilled’ in the face. Yes, porcupine quills, about eight inches long right through his cheeks! Des quickly removed them and we set off again.

‘A bit dodgy them things,’ he said, ‘if a dog gets one in the eye it can go right through its brain, I lost several like that recently.’ Apparently, and I saw it later in my visit, these porcupines quiver like crazy and all the quills vibrate and clatter against each other, creating one hell of a noise, a sort of warning to intruders but the trouble was that the terriers just seem to get excited by it and almost always get quilled.

By now it was starting to warm up and the last place we tried was a nice looking spot and looked more like a normal fox earth but with slightly larger entrances.

‘Could be a jackal in here’ said Des.

‘Oh that’s good,’ I said, ‘I want to see what they are like to pick up. Just like a fox aren’t they?’ I enquired.

‘Well its a bit dodgy,’ said Des, ‘with all the rabies and that, don’t like to handle them myself.’

There were fresh marks on the entrances so it looked good and the terriers were loosed again and within seconds could be heard baying nicely. We listened around and, after some time, located them several yards from the entrance where they were baying well and it didn’t sound too deep. Just as well, for the ground was hard as iron.

‘Don’t it ever rain in these parts’ I said, as I jumped on the spade and bounced off again.

‘Not this year,’ said Des, ‘but what do you want to dig for, it might bolt with a bit of luck, and then we can shoot it.’

Looking around, I got the idea for the farmers were unloading their armoury from the truck and between them, they had enough weapons to start a world war. We had a few drinks while we waited but nothing bolted so we decided we would have to dig though it was, by now, really hot. Out came some picks and a big bar which could only be used with any effect by the biggest of the farmers, they loosed the soil and I shovelled it out and after half an hour we had gone down about two feet. Being just about drained due to the heat, we listened and the action seemed to have moved on a bit but we carried on for they had not gone very far. The bar broke through and I cleared out all the soft soil to listen. They seemed to be just up the tube so we knocked down the rest of the trench bottom until it was level with the bottom of the tube and I lay on the ground with my head into the trench and looked up the hole with the aid of a torch. The two terriers were stood there, side by side, baying very steadily and I noted at the time just how steady these two were, no diving and darting forward, not mixing it, just a steady continuous bay, bay, bay.

As they were about six feet on, Des told me to call them out so I filled the back hole ready, to see if the quarry would bolt out. I don’t think I could have dug any further in that heat.

‘You guys ready with the guns?’ I said, but I needn’t have worried; they were both Rambo look-alikes by that time and I was just wondering where it was best for me to hide when the shooting started.

Des called to the terriers and, like magic, they came back immediately and he picked them up and took them over to the truck. We stood there, with baited breath, watching the trench, but nothing showed and after five or six minutes I suggested Des take a look with the torch.

‘No, its all right,’ he said, ‘you have a look.’

‘Des,’ I said, ‘what’s in there, is it a jackal, or what?’

‘Don’t know,’ he said with a grin, ‘could be anything, you will never know unless you look, will you.’

‘Go on Des, have a look.’

‘No, no, it’s all right, you have a look.’

Well, I thought, these three are ‘having me on’ so I took the torch and, with Des holding my boots to pull me back, sharpish, if I shouted, I got him to lower me into the tunnel and was surprised to see that whatever it was, it had moved on again. We entered the terriers once more and this time they went out of sight and I couldn’t hear a sound. Des and I started to listen about while the farmers still waited for a bolt and after a few minutes, scratching below the ground gave us a mark, though it was faint, it did not sound too far below the surface. The terriers seemed to be about six feet away from the quarry and I figured out that whatever it was, it would soon dig its way out to the surface. We decided to trench after the terriers as they did not seem deep and we had only been at it for about five minutes when a loud shot from one of the farmers’s guns made us spin around to see what had happened. For a few minutes, nothing could be seen through the cloud of dust then, as it cleared, a hole in the ground revealed the spot where the animal had dug out, to be blasted immediately as he did so. I opened the hole and cleared to what remained of the head and, taking hold, was hauled out by the rest of the lads. We had taken a large animal, the size of an Alsation, a member of the hyena family so they said, and the terriers, coming through, ragged the carcass in fury. The shot would have dropped an elephant I think and, judging by the size of the teeth, we had accounted for a pretty dangerous predator.

Not many volunteers to go down

Not many volunteers to go down

It was far too hot for any further sport and after a long, cool drink, we were early to bed for the next day we had a long drive to meet a man who, to me, resembled ‘Jungle Jim’. A three hour drive in the early morning brought us to a one street town right in the heart of Africa. We pulled up outside a bar and an hour later another truck arrived, driven by Jungle Jim, accompanied by a right tidy little sort of Jack Russell, a young bitch. We stayed in the bar for about an hour, telling lies and then we made tracks for this chap’s farm which was, apparently, about twice the size of Dorset!

It seemed that we had met Jungle Jim on his way back from some other African country where he goes about once a month with a fleet of artics to capture wild animals for release on his ‘farm’ where they are later tracked by game hunters. On these trips he would be accompanied by his devoted gang of natives, who he called his ‘boys’. I was told he had a whole tribe living on his place and it looked almost as though he owned them the way they treated him and instantly reacted to his every word. Anyway, they seemed to respect him, even love him, just the same. We also met another chap and his son who also had Jack Russells and, after a chat at the farm we loaded the big safari truck with terriers and lurchers and an Irish terrier and were off to the bush.

By this time it was already getting hot and I wasn’t looking forward to any hard digs and mentioned this fact and suggested that we should try some smallish earths first as the ground was rock hard.

‘Don’t worry about the digging,’ said Jim, ‘the six boys in the back will see to that as they always get to eat whatever we dig out, and the heat hardly affects them.’

This was real bush country with large ant hills everywhere and herds of different animals often dashing across our path. We just seemed to wander about for the first hour and, being dead flat and each tree looking identical to the next, I was wondering how the hell they found their way about as it all looked the same to me. We pulled up at a small earth and from the moment Jim pulled up, every dog and every human unloaded so, had there been anything in there it would have been absolute chaos. Luckily, it was empty and so were the next two but when we came to another of the ‘sheep holes’, every terrier and lurcher was in to ground with a rush. Porcupine, and the whirring sound came clearly from the hole. The boys began dragging the dogs out and soon a porcupine bolted to be easily killed by one of the boys as these huge things appear to have a very soft skull. Dogs were coming out with quills in all sorts of places and porcupines bolted everywhere with the boys accounting for them like men possessed, I didn’t twig it at the time, but they were really getting in the next week’s food supply, doing the shopping in a way, for they are supposed to be very acceptable meat.

When it was all over there were half a dozen porcupines in the back of the truck and if you think of them as some sort of hedgehog, forget it. They are really big. After de-quilling the dogs, which took some time, we were off again.

A herd of springbok passed and Jim dropped one with his rifle saying that it would do for our lunch. It was quickly gutted and later hung on a tree to bleed until mealtime. I had been hinting all along that I wanted to dig a jackal so Jim found us another sheep-sized hole but this time there were tracks entering which, said Des, were definitely Jackal.

I did not see them for myself as I was taking some badly needed refreshment at the time but I should have taken notice when he only let one terrier into the place. A bad mistake on my part. Des stationed two of the boys at the entrance, but nothing bolted and he said, ‘good tracks here Eddie, you can show us how to handle one after all, I was beginning to think we were not going to find one for you.’

I walked over to the entrance but, by now, all tracks had been disturbed and I could not make anything out of them. It was obvious that porcupine had opened the hole out at some time but the one eyed bitch could not be heard baying and, after listening for some time, and having a large Scotch at the bar, which had now been officially opened, I got hold of a torch and crawled into the earth to see what was going on. The hole, dropping slightly all the time, went straight for about thirty feet until I finally came to a corner which was too small for me to enter. I could now hear the bitch baying plainly, some way in, so I back peddled all the way out, got a rope from the truck, took it back in and then measured the distance on the surface, exactly to the turn off. By this time it was midday and far too hot for me to dig so I asked Jim if the boys would mind having a go.

‘You just mark it out, and leave the rest to me.’ he replied.

I marked out a really big hole for I knew it would be at least ten feet deep, if not more. Jim then spoke to the boys in the local tongue which seemed to me to sound like ‘wunga-banga-jumy-langy’ but no sooner had he spoken than the boys had raced to the truck for tools and were digging away like good ’uns, probably only as they would have been able in such heat. I know I could not have done it.

Soon Jim was barbecuing the Springbok and I was having another Scotch before supervising the digging for I wanted the sides kept straight incase the hole began to taper to a smaller area as sometimes happens. I knew we would need plenty of room. As I watched, I smoked a cigarette and every time I put it to my lips, or flicked off the ash, the boys followed every movement then, when I flicked it away, almost finished, I almost caused a tribal war for they all wanted to get at it. When they sorted themselves out again, I offered my packet around at which Jim said that I should not have done so. He had already told them that I was ‘a great white hunter from England’, and this would be looked upon as a sign of weakness on my part! It just wasn’t done, he said.

That ground was dry as hell and those boys worked their butts off digging in tremendous heat for about three hours by which time we had eaten much of the springbok and I had drunk too much Scotch. Finally, the diggers broke through into the hole, right on the corner, at about twelve foot and after cleaning, dead level with the bottom, I got in and had a look with the torch. The hole went straight on to the bitch for about fifteen feet I guessed, for my torch only lit up about twelve feet, but she did not seem to be around another bend, at least, but we would have to tunnel in if we were to get the jackal. I climbed out and asked Jim to get the boys to tunnel on, following the hole and he spoke to the head boy, a huge strong man like a heavyweight boxer. The reply was not what we wanted. Even I knew that ‘Binka nacker-mumba-wanka!’ wasn’t positive.

‘Sorry, no tunnelling,’ said Jim ‘they don’t fancy it.’

I had another Scotch and asked Jim to use cigarettes as bribes but it was no good. It was cooler down there, so I began to tunnel myself with the boys behind to throw out the loose soil which was soft sand really and easy and, had I taken less Scotch I would have enjoyed it but I was soon suffering with sweat literally running down into my eyes. I was determined not to give up though, just to show them I wasn’t kidding about handling the jackal so I kept at it until I was too far in to throw the soil out to where the boys could clear it. I asked one of them to come further into the tunnel, but he shook his head and even Jim could not get him to change his mind. Eventually Frank came down to help me though he too was almost wetting himself in case the tunnel collapsed but after another hour I got right up to the little one eyed bitch and, fair play to her, she had kept up a steady bay all the time. Holding the torch in one hand, I took hold of her tail and drew her slowly back, still baying. As I did, a great head, like a rabid pit bull appeared around the corner and let out an almighty scream that had Frank and the boy out of the tunnel like a pair of bolting rabbits! I let the little bitch go, straight away, and she shot back in.

‘What the **** is that?’ I shouted down the tunnel, but only laughter came back. ‘Jim, Des, come and have a look at this, it’s ginormous.’ More laughter, so I crawled quickly out of the tunnel and, looking up at them all grinning down at me said, ‘Come on you ******* pass me down a gun, this is no jackal and well you know it. ‘No, no,’ said Jim, ‘no gun, I told these boys you could drag it out and you can’t let them down,’ and everyone laughed again.

‘Jim,’ I said, ‘there’s no way I can drag a thing as big as that out of a tunnel, now be fair, it could rip me to bits. Let’s have a gun and get it over with.’ But Jim only handed down another drink and insisted I at least try.

Aardwolf – Proteles cristata

Right I thought, I will show you lot, so I said I needed to dig on a bit to make room for more dogs to go in and hold it until I got a grip and after more negotiations I got Frank to come back into the tunnel again and one of the lads down into the hole. I started working around the sides of the little bitch who was now starting to dart and dive at the thing then, when I had just about made enough room I shouted back for Frank to let another dog in. In seconds, another Jack Russell rushed in and literally dived in beside the little bitch, only to be grabbed firmly by the ‘thing’, then, as it held the dog, so the bitch tried to get alongside to get a hold herself. I dug frantically at both sides to make even more room but within seconds the dog got loose and both terriers started baying frantically, side by side. I continued to widen the hole and, when I had opened it a bit more, Frank let another dog in. Another rush, another comeuppance from ‘thing’ so I finished up with three in there baying and, watching the quarry snapping and snarling back, I knew it would be one hell of a job to get them to even grab it properly let alone hold it for me to try to drag it out. I sat there for a while and shone the torch into its eyes hoping to dazzle him so that the terriers had more chance and although they tried and one or the other would hold for a moment, they were soon beaten off due to the vastly superior jaw power and tremendous strength of the animal before them. A shout came down the hole. The head boy wanted to show the others that he was not afraid to go into the tunnel so he asked if he could have a look.

‘Make sure he brings a gun with him!’ I shouted back.

Cautiously, he came in, past Frank, but he did not stay long and a minute later I was told that the second lad also wanted a look so he, too, came crawling slowly in. All of a sudden, the ‘thing’ let out one of its blood curdling screams and that guy was out of the tunnel so fast that he knocked poor Frank flat as he passed over him and they reckoned he never touched the sides of that twelve foot hole as he came out of there. Well, what was I to do? The dogs were tiring and their quarry was beating them off as if it were a game so I tried to get my spade alongside to maybe use it as a lever to help the dogs but, as it saw the spade come past the terriers it dived forward, knocking the dogs out of the way like so many skittles. It bowled me over too and I shouted to Frank to look out. He made a scramble but he too was flattened as the animal went right over him and out into the big hole where one of the boys was still shovelling sand. They reckon he now holds the world record for a vertical leap from a standing position and they would not allow him near the hole again as they said he smelled terrible! They were all shouting down the hole and the ‘thing’ just turned about and dashed in again. I could see it coming as it passed over Frank, by this time, he was flat out with his hands over his head and I dived flat too as the terriers met it half way along the tunnel. They had no effect on it and it came running over me again, and so did the terriers, back into the block end. I gathered myself up as Frank made a quick exit from the tunnel and right out of the hole and I shouted for someone to bring three fresh terriers and take away the tired ones. Brave Frank was finally persuaded to do the honours and, after some manoeuvring I managed to swap the weary dogs for the fresh although, to be honest, except for the three legged dog, they were not much use.

At one point, as I was clearing away with the spade, it dived forward again and, more by luck than judgement I momentarily held it against the side and made a grab for it with my other hand. It lunged forward, just as I let the spade go and my hand went right into its mouth. Luckily, it just sort of closed its mouth and let go so I was able to get myself loose and hold it with both hands.

‘Frank, Frank,’ I shouted, ‘I’ve got it, come and get the terriers off.’

Frank was watching further along the tunnel and, seeing it come forward made himself scarce. So that was it, in pitch darkness, I held on for grim death with the three terriers all trying to help out but only succeeding in making matters worse in the enclosed space, with all five of us rolling desperately about. The next few minutes were pretty terrifying, as you can imagine but on the other hand, it was very exciting and I am glad that it happened for it was unique, something I shall never forget. This animal fought as if it were a tiger and somehow I fought back and to this day I just don’t know how I managed to hold on to it and drag it along that tunnel, wriggling along on my back with the awful screaming ringing in the enclosed space. It’s well known that in a scrape like this, superhuman strength can come to your assistance and a little guy I once worked with, a right weakling really, threw chaps twice his size about while in some kind of a fit. Finally, with my hands all numb, I came struggling, upside down, into the hole only to be met with roars of laughter though I kept shouting at Des that I daren’t let go in case it bit me. After a bit, Des dropped down into the hole and, grabbing it from my hands, threw it out of the hole, terriers and all, where it was accounted for, eventually.

‘Right,’ I said, ‘where are we going next?’ as if I had just started out but really I was just about ready to drop from exhaustion and the after effects of the Scotch.

‘There’s a party laid on back at the farm,’ said Jim, ‘and then we’ll go lamping later on.’ But that is another story and one day I just might tell it.

In the vast continent of Africa, men are still able to be men and to follow manly pursuits unhampered by the attentions of those who will not be happy until we are all one and the same, faceless and characterless.

Editors Postscript: What animal featured in Eddie’s African article that appeared in the first issue of Earth Dog-Running Dog, April 1992? Wild guesses poured in, ranging from a warthog to a giraffe (yes, a giraffe!), from a cape wild dog to a hyena. Somehow, in the editing (for some of Eddie’s comments were unprintable!) the animals identity was overlooked. So what was it? An aardwolf! About the size of a large lurcher though Eddie says it was as big as a lion! Must have been the whiskey!

Obituary
Eddie Chapman

Cover No.301

Eddie Chapman passed away on July 7th surrounded by his close family, daughter Louise and son Ed. He was 74 years of age.
A great character has departed the hunting stage and the scene of the working terrier, particularly his beloved Jack Russell breed. If ever a man mapped out his future then it was Eddie, and the future he saw before him was as a champion for his chosen terrier breed and a lifetime in hunt service. If a man can live exactly the life he chooses for all his years upon this earth then he will have achieved something special for few can claim to have done as much.

Eddie didn’t mind the hard work, the long hours, the total commitment which his way of life demanded. In fact, he enjoyed it and relished it and lived every moment to the full. He set out his goals in life as a young man, pursued his aims and met his targets and along the way he made, worldwide, a huge host of true friends and established his world famous Foxwarren kennel of pure bred, true breeding Jack Russells. And he did it with an open honesty for though hunt service may often mean subjecting your opinion and view to the will of others, he was always his own man and ever prepared to put forward that view and stand by his opinion.

For many years I had little contact with Eddie for our paths rarely crossed but we always kept in touch, more regularly over the last five or six years and he told me that he was working on his biography and would like me to put it all together and handle its publication. He mentioned that his original intention had been for someone to write it for him because he did not want to be involved in the publication but then, for personal reasons he decided to do it himself. He was more than capable of doing that. Who could have done it any better than the man himself? I told him that I would see to it. I also told him that I would write a foreword because I wanted his book to include details of his soldier father and the esteem he was held in at the village of his birth. His father won the Victoria Cross in the Second World War and if you read the citation, no one was ever more deserving of his country’s premier award for valour. He was truly a hero throughout his life and held in the highest regard by all who knew him and I told Eddie that in his own way, he was also a hero. And also held in the highest regard. For by then Eddie knew that his days were limited and I wanted him to have some idea of the way we admired him and all he had achieved with his life. For his achievements were not the achievements of great statesmen or premiers or politicians or establishment figures we look up to who, all too often turn out to be flawed and unworthy. No, Eddie achieved the pride and satisfaction of a job well done and in so doing he won the admiration and friendship of so many people.

He faced his last weeks, his last days, with wonderful fortitude and the last time I spoke to him he was even then writing and trying, in vain, to complete the last chapter of his book and he told me, quite cheerfully, that he had had a good life and had enjoyed it. Another sign of the heroism handed down from his magnificent father.

Eddie, like his father, was small in stature but a giant in his journey through life. I told Eddie that in his case, the apple fell very closely to the tree and I think that toward the end of his life, that pleased him. I owe it to him to make sure that his book, though lacking his final chapter, will be a fitting record of his life and a final tribute to the man.

David Harcombe

Plenty more hunting to do yet…

A wet Saturday afternoon, September 1st to be exact was to be the opener for the season. Come early September and I am usually up and away on a morning with the dogs and sometimes a ferret or two as well, but today, for some reason, I was at home for the early part of the day. My friend John rung me earlier in the morning and we had planned to take the dogs for a rake locally, with the intention of heading up onto the hill ground just to see what was about.

As the afternoon approached I pulled on my boots, grabbed my coat and loaded the young bitch into the van. As I drove through the village to collect John the light seemed to be fading, it was dull and wet but still quite warm and the rain, although light, collected on the windscreen very quickly again each time after the wipers flicked it off. I pulled up at the edge of the road and a few lads were outside a pub smoking and laughing. Another couple of lads came out of another pub and crossed into the bookmakers. I sat a minute almost lost in my own thoughts, considering life without a bit of hunting. As I pulled up at John’s a large black bull cross tore up the ground at the side of his house and jumped and pawed at the rear of my van to get in. He walked out, opened the rear door and she jumped up in and skidded up the back of the van, snorting and sniffing every corner before finally settling down as we made the short drive up to where we would set off.
The rain got heavier and the mist got thicker as our altitude increased. I knocked up the wiper speed and increased the fan to clear the windscreen as we turned off the side road and onto the long and winding track. The little van shook, bounced and rocked all along the track but never gave up! A credit to its now almost 300,000 miles. I parked up, pulled the handbrake up as far as it would allow and set the keys on the wheel below the arch.

Early fox with JR

Early fox with JR

I don’t carry the keys with me when I am out as I have already experienced losing them completely already and would prefer not to do it again! I don’t worry about the van getting stolen as nobody in their right mind would steal it but it’s the hassle that it causes.
We crossed the stream and as I zipped up my jacket the lurchers stopped in the middle to drink before taking off and coursing each other across a large stretch of grass, in and out, twisting and turning while barking and snapping at each other. They were just letting of some steam and settled them down for the walk ahead.

As we set off on the bottom of the hill a snipe flushed, then another. I have always noticed when rough shooting that when Snipe are in numbers on a piece of ground, a shot will not flush them all at once like other birds, instead they will sit tight even after two or three shots until they are disturbed by either the oncoming gunner or a dog. On this particular day the dogs seemed to flush bird after bird and it was great to see them, they shot up with their familiar call and the lovely drum from their wings. A fantastic bird in a lovely setting, far from the pub and the bookmakers below. As we reached the top of the first hill I could feel it on my lungs, this ground would test anyone and is made all the more difficult by the thick heather. It didn’t take a wind from the lurchers as they raced ahead, my young bitch following the Bull cross and emulating her every move as she has done since she was a very young pup. This old bitch, Roxy, now long dead taught the little bitch to jump, and now was teaching her to hunt up, get ahead and find the quarry because it definitely wasn’t going to come to them.

7 weeks

7 weeks

We had nothing in mind on this particular day at all, in fact, we had just been out for a rake and hoped to maybe spot a bird or two and see what else was about. We reached the flat ground and stopped for a breather and take in the view. Not that far from home and we were on top of the world, we could see for miles, the little truck looking like a fly in the distance. We could see the estuary and the river snaking out into the sea. As we walked and talked about this and that the bull cross, who had been hunting out to our left, pulled back in and I saw John put the slip lead on her. Just as I was about to question why he nodded ahead and I looked across to see my young bitch with her nose tight to the ground and running hard, very obviously following a scent. She disappeared into a large reed bed and out the other side shot a fox. He was wasting no time, and the young bitch appeared from the reeds behind with her head now up and she was gaining ground quickly. We ran to keep up, the fox now going uphill, higher and higher with the bitch giving her all behind him. I could barely catch my breath as we ran, desperately hoping to catch a glimpse of the chase. My mind was racing as quick as my legs, this was the first time she had seen a fox, if she did manage to get up to it would the proverbial hit the fan? If I am honest I never intended her to be anymore than a rabbit dog, but if this didn’t go as I would have liked I would have been gutted. I lost the pair for what seemed like minutes and then spotted the bitch again a couple of hundred yards ahead. She was literally snapping at his brush as they went through another reed bed, in one side and out the other and straight over a crest and we lost them both.

By now my lungs were almost in my throat. I kept up the momentum until I reached the crest and cupped my hands above my eyes, searching for any sign of the pair. John and his bitch were just to my left and he too stood watching and scanning the horizon for any sign. I called to him to ask if he could see anything and as he replied I spotted a fawn tail circling in very thick heather ahead. Round and round it went, she appeared to be searching hard and I could see no sign of our old friend anywhere. After a couple of minutes she seemed to give up the search and as I shouted and whistled she made her way back through the heather a little slower than before, tail in the air and her sides heaving.
I was on one hand happy, she had put in the effort and hunted the fox hard across the hill for over half a mile, but on the other hand doubts crept into my head… had she let it go? Had she given up?
“Don’t worry,” John said, “time will tell, time will tell.”

7 years

7 years

Looking back on my diary for that day I made a note of it and wrote below in brackets ‘(I doubt she would have done it much harm anyway)’.
After she got her tongue in we walked on while she trotted ahead right up to big wide kicked out earth at the bottom of a clump of reeds, the smell was undeniable and the young bitch stuck her head in and out, trying to make sense of the whole situation, she was a little over a year at the time and it’s strange to imagine she is approaching 7 as I write this.
It was only a few days after this I took the young bitch out to lamp a few rabbits locally. It was a little warm for my liking and the air a little too still. I collected John and he was alone tonight as his bitch had picked up an injury earlier in the week and wasn’t just right for running. We had no plan in particular in mind and just checked a few local rabbit spots. This particular September I remember well from looking back at my diary as the rabbits were booming locally. From the couple of spots we did we bagged a dozen rabbits in a very short space of time, which is good for round here. The further we walked the warmer and clammier it got and John suggested we head for higher ground where there is always a breeze and it might be a bit cooler.

We loaded back into the van and set off up a long old windy lane not too far from home, the ground stretching further than the lamp and I thought we were wasting our time as he waved and flicked the lamp across the inky blackness. The van creaked and bumped over the old lane and the exhaust caught on a stone here and there as we rumbled along barely getting out of second gear. John whispered “stop” under his breath and I turned the key, knocked off the lights and the van ground to a halt. He began calling and while doing so we both got out of the van; he had the lamp off and I got the bitch from the back and slipped a lead under her collar. She stood intently, ears blowing in the wind while John called, and I gave it the occasional flick of light but he wasn’t too keen, although he was edging slowly. I climbed through the ditch of reeds in the dark and made my way out onto the hill with the wind now really getting up. The fox was to my left, John was up on the lane to my right and he continued calling.
“Waste of time this carry on” I said to myself as I flicked the lamp on it again and he was sat looking back. He kept on calling and then started flicking his lamp near me.

Roxy, tough as old boots

Roxy, tough as old boots

“What the f*** is he at now” I said to myself as I kept on lighting the fox in front of me.
He was squeaking like a mad man and had his lamp on and kept shaking it near me and drawing it back up the hill. Then I realised there was a fox running down the hill to the right. I knocked my light out and squatted down. What a fool I am!
John kept squeaking and the fox was now coming at quite a pace, heading for another big clump of rushes directly to my right. I felt the little bitch tighten up on the slip and my heart was nearly coming through my chest. The fox went behind a dip and then I caught a quick glimpse of him heading straight into the reed bed. He came out the far side, I let him get clear of it, the bitch spotted him and I slipped her. He made for the reeds but she turned him out and he went straight up the hill like a rocket. About 6o yards in she struck him, the two bowling over in my beam, but he broke out of the scuffle and amazingly headed back straight towards me. I kept the light on him and the pair passed me no more than a few feet away. I thought all hope was gone as he headed for the lane. Over the ditch they splashed, through the stream and up onto the higher ground. I could hear the feet on the lane as I tried to scramble up the ditch to keep up. As I got onto the lane I could see John’s lamp on. “She has him” he called. When I reached them a few yards further on Fudge was tussling with the fox. He was literally pulling her up and down the lane as she held him by the throat. He broke free, got a few yards and stupidly dived into a large tractor tyre which was holding some covering on a pile of turf someone had stacked to dry. She ran up onto the tyre, managed to grab him again as he tried to get out, with another tussle up and down the lane, until she eventually got the better of her opponent.

Early fox with JR

Early fox with JR

She stood in the lane, totally exhausted, sides heaving and tongue out and when I put my hands on her I could feel her heart pounding through her whole body. I took a good look at the fox, he was an old dog, with scars on his muzzle and an old broken grey tooth. Maybe a few years earlier he would have put her in her place! She did well but she was lucky too, she isn’t a fox dog and a proper one would have made short work of the fox but it’s the heart and determination I admire, never giving up even when the odds aren’t in your favour, that’s all we can ask I suppose.
Noting it in my diary the next day, I noticed the brackets at the end of the earlier entry ‘(I doubt she would have done it much harm anyway)’ and laughed to myself. Some years have passed since that night, my bitch now, according to the showring, is a ‘Veteran’, the age requirement being 7 years old. That’s a bit early for a veteran I think, there’s plenty more hunting to do yet.