Author Archive for J Darcy

Running Dog Ramblings

So there’s the editor moaning to me about how there’s not enough lurcher articles and so I thought I’d better put pen to paper and shut him up – the moaning sod! Editor. [Moaning! Who, me?!!]

I’ve been involved heavily with running dogs since I was a ten year old, when I got my first lurcher. She was about as much use as a chocolate fire-guard, but we’ve all got to start somewhere. In fact, before I was ten I had done quite a bit of hunting with my father and uncle but I can’t actually remember catching much. It seemed that game to me then is what sex is to me now: loads of it about but I never seem to get any!

Anyway, back to the topic. I’ve seen some unusual and remarkable things when out with the lurchers. I remember one of the old brindle dogs running a hare into a huge 50 acre willow plantation, a real jungle of a place that was damn near impregnable and yet the lurcher came out carrying his hare. It leaves you wondering how on earth the dog made a catch? I was out one day with my Black Dog, we were beating a bit of cover through, mainly looking for roe. My cousin was beating this small wood that had always been very productive for us. I’ve been working this wood since the days of Scooby and I think he caught every deer he ran from here. I never realised what a feat it was until he died and I was then left trying to make a catch in the same location with a variety of running dogs, of both mine and friends, and it seemed the catch ratio plummeted to be something like one in ten. Some dogs just have it I guess, that certain little something that you can’t quite put your finger on and yet whatever it is they make filling the freezer look easy. So there I was, stood at the top of the field hid in front of a single, solitary hawthorn bush. My old ticker was pounding in my chest and the dog was on edge too. We both knew what was going to happen.

Diesel makes an unusual catch

Diesel makes an unusual catch

It’s funny but the deer arrived into view without me seeing them. The only indication I got was when the dog pulled on his collar. Four roe stood next to a fence that lead over to a railway line and a big wood. The fence was made from wire strands and so posed no problem whatsoever for the deer, they don’t bounce off when the fence is only three or four foot high. The quartet was stood listening, and hadn’t made a break for it and I was wondering if I should relax my grip on the dog’s collar or not. I thought about faint hearts and fair maidens and decided to give it a go. My dog flew down that field like he was propelled by nuclear fusion. By now the roe were all stood stationary looking at my dog thundering, like Shergar-on-steroids, towards them. He picked the first one and bore down, but when the dog was some ten yards away the roe, as casually as you like, bounced over the fence and into the wood. Without altering his stride, the Black Dog changed course and went for the second roe in line, this too did the same thing as the first, and vanishing into the wood. The dog then went onto the third, which was a big buck. This one didn’t try and jump the fence, instead this confident roe thought he’d outrun the dog and headed off away across the field and I watched as my Saluki lurcher gained ground with each and every stride. Closer and closer until the inevitable happened and I ran down to help him out as this buck was a bit of a fighter. All’s well that ends well. But how did the dog know not to follow those first two roe into the woodland? I’m sure practically all dogs would have stuck to that first deer, and yet my dog, on that particular day, didn’t. He weighed up the options and ended up grassing the game because of it. Obviously you can’t train a dog to do that and, it might have been a one off, but I was sure glad I was there to see it happen as I’d not known it before.

I was speaking to a mate of mine the other day and he was wondering what type of lurcher we’ll all have in the future. The way the trend’s going there’s going to be nothing left for the lurcher man in a couple of decades time. Since the late nineties the rabbits around here, and in many places nationwide, have plummeted until they’re almost an endangered species. Hares too have suffered, even in the space of the last five or six years I’ve seen them crash in many places where they were once very abundant. We’ve all got our own theories, but the fact is that we don’t know the cause. And why does the deer population seem to be going from strength to strength? Despite the deer having a much lower birth rate how can they expand so much when the rabbit and hare are fighting to survive? I wish I knew the answer. I said to my mate that I bet within two decades there’ll be hardly any lads at the rabbiting game as there simply won’t be any to go for. Twenty years ago the Dales were rammed to the rafter with rabbits. A man didn’t have to go far to get thirty odd, and bags of fifty were no big deal. Today there’s hundreds of square miles of Dales with scarcely a bunny to be seen. Will they ever bounce back? Unlikely.

Bulll cross

Bulll cross

I had a great season this year. Up until the Yuletide I’d had some great hunts. However, my dog, Sparky, had to have a month off with a wrist and pad problem and so the end of the season wasn’t too good. That’s the problem when you’ve only got one dog. If there’s an injury then you’re stuck, and there’s always the risk that you take a dog out before the injury has really healed. We’ve all done it, being impatient is all part and parcel of being human. My dog was sat on the sofa for a full month so when the time came to run him again he was as fat as a pig and unfit too. There’s no short cut to getting a lurcher back to fitness again, it’s just work, work and more work In my opinion.

As it happens I got asked if I’d line my Sparky to a bitch and so that’s what I did. I met the owners of Sparky’s half-sister in a shady car park and he did the deed with little fuss. I hope the bitch has took as maybe a pup from him would be the way to go. Maybe. Sparky’s only average if I’m honest. Sure I’ve photos of him working that make him look like the best thing since sliced bread. But, average is where I’d pigeon-hole him. If I had to pick a negative point I’d say that he could do with being just a tad faster. The bitch he lined is meant to be a fast type, so maybe the pups will have the best of both worlds. Again it’s all chance.

Where have all the bull crosses gone? Ten year ago they were all over the place, teams of young men out all the time bang at it. Where are they all now? I don’t know many lads with decent bull lurchers any more. They all seemed to have vanished into the ether, jacked to retire on their laurels to talk about the ‘good old days’. It’s a shame. The wheaten cross too was the be-all and end-all ten or fifteen years ago but they too are conspicuous by their absence. Where are they all lads?

I had some bad news the other day. Young Danny’s dog, Diesel, died due to a perforated stomach lining. It was Danny’s first lurcher and you know what it’s like, that first one is awful special. Diesel was a great beginner’s dog, he had a go at most things and I took Danny out quite a bit with the dog and, to be fair, we caught a bit of tackle with him. I remember we were on a trip away to an island out in the sea somewhere and Diesel was on this hare. Now a hare isn’t exactly cannon fodder for a bull cross, but the brindle dog boxed this hare time and time again. The run seemed to go on forever and not actually cover any distance. Finally, when both dog and quarry were looking fatigued he struck with a lunge and made a catch. It was one of those runs that you won’t forget in a hurry for the simple reason that it happened right in front of us and for the amount of to-and-fro boxing. The next day we ended up losing Diesel in a huge swamp that was a couple of hundred acres in size – in the dark. But we found him again after a hell of a lot of searching. There’s nothing worse than losing a dog in a foreign land. I’ve been there and bought the T-shirt. I managed to take a hell of a lot of photos of Diesel so at least Danny will always have photos to accompany the memories of his handy all-rounder.

What a terrible, wet season we’ve had. I don’t want to sound like a moaner but it’s a miracle any wildlife survived the deluge at all. On boxing day we were out with the dogs and everything was in flood. I spotted a patch of grass, about twenty yards square with three hares sat on it, totally surrounded by flood water. I felt sorry for them, but I couldn’t do anything about it. The hares have got plenty to contend with without being flooded out too. Thankfully in my area there’s always been a few hares and their population isn’t declining as quickly as in other places. In fact this season I’ve seen hares in places that I’d not see for a couple of decades or more.

I was thinking about how good we all are these days at ensuring a running dog is in tip-top condition, how his feet are washed after being out and inspected to see if there’s any sore points. A far cry from yesteryear when the dog wasn’t hardly checked over and if he could put four feet on the ground then he was going out! When I was young a dog had to make his limp extremely obvious otherwise we were going hunting. Are we getting too soft and finicky with our dogs these days? It’s hard to say, but things sure do seem a lot different. Years ago I scarcely remember a lurcher being lame, or maybe I just didn’t give it much thought. Maybe the lurchers of old were a bit tougher and harder than what I keep today. That’s the thing with Saluki lurchers, if they’re injured, they’ll sure as hell let you know. In a way I suppose it’s handy, then you can start getting the problem sorted. I’ve a drawer in the kitchen with all my dog stuff in, and when Sparky hears the drawer being opened he skulks away. He knows the difference between that drawer and all the other ones! These days it’s rare to see a dog with toes splattered and deformed, but when I was young it seemed that most of the estate lurchers had twisted toes where they’d been broken and hadn’t been left to heel, they’d just been run and run and run. God, there’s nothing worse than seeing a good fast dog with feet that look like someone’s hit them with a hammer. Especially since the nails always seem to be extraordinarily long too. We were always taught about road walking and how it tightens the feet, but that’s a load of rubbish. One of the flattest footed lurchers I ever did see was road walked thousands of miles a year and it had no effect on the feet. The only benefit road walking has it that the dogs nails are kept short. These days I never do road work, but, obviously the dog is trotting on tarmac as I bike him early season, as we travel to the woods. Apart from that my dogs never get road walked. It’s my belief that either a dog’s born with good feet or it’s not and no amount of tarmac pounding is going to change it. And besides, who’s to say that a tight foot is better than a ‘splayed’ foot anyway? From what I’ve seen the tighter the foot the more injuries they seem to get. There’s no quick fix for a broken toe, I reckon that six weeks is the best you can hope for. Sparky broke his back toe the other year slap-bang in the middle of a very busy season. I was sick. Bone Radial helps get the callousing process going at full speed, but there’s no substitute for time. As it happens six weeks later and he was back in the fields but the season was coming to an end anyway.

Up in the fog

Up in the fog

By the time this article hits the magazine the season will be well and truly over for me. I’ve done quite a bit more hunting in out of the way places, just leaving my dog to hunt up on his own and I’ve had some great sport. I managed to get lost in the fog up on the moors, which was a bit scary. I normally wouldn’t have ventured out in such conditions, but we’d drove a hell of a way to get there and it’s always worth a gander. An uphill hike that took the thick end of an hour and we were out on the heather, and the visibility was a couple of hundred yards, which isn’t that bad. However, before long the fog tightened it’s grip and soon we were down to forty yards and I lost my bearings. Up on the heather lands there’s no land marks, not signs, no paths. Nothing. After stumbling about for a while I bumped into a tree that I’d never seen before. So I knew I hadn’t a clue where we were. As it happens we had a mega hike until we found a stream, then followed the stream down into the valley where I left my mate and the dogs while I jogged back down the road a few miles for the motor. That was one of those day when I should have turned the alarm off and gone back to bed! But I suppose it’s all good fun and all part of the rich tapestry that is hunting.

Lurchering About

When I remember back to the days before I could drive, I longed for a set of wheels and had a mind swirling with great adventures that me and the lurcher would go on. By the time I was eighteen I was plain sick of walking to my hunting patch, the journey there seemed to drag a hell of a lot. With ferret and dog I was forever rooting about, here and there without much of a care. If I thought that there were rabbits to be had then I couldn’t resist, I was drawn and if the lurcher, Rocky, marked a warren then my cheap nylon nets would soon be set and ferret entered. By nightfall the countryside opened up even more but I was always limited by how far I could walk in a night, the main hunting patch was four miles away and whilst that might not sound far when you read it on paper, when you’re walking it three times a week, hunting for hours and then walking back it’s plenty far enough.

Photo 1

Back in my teenage years I would lamp hares as much as I could, though it has to be said that the lurcher I owned was about the slowest long-legged mongrel you’d ever be likely to come across so the hares we did catch were maybe very poor specimens to start with and they needed taking out of the gene pool. Deer were rarely seen on the lamp back then. I think I can only recall only ever seeing deer under the spotlight on two occasions up until I learnt to drive. They just weren’t around, though I wished they were for no creature on earth obsesses me like deer do.

By the time I took an apprenticeship I started trying to save for a car, but it’s hard when you’re 18 and you’ve got so much ‘stuff’ to buy with so little dollar. An apprentice’s wage wasn’t overly large, but in the end I managed to raise funds. That first car was a one litre Nova saloon in burgundy. It looked a proper grandad’s car, but I cared little, I now had the transport I’d dreamed about for so long. The funny thing is that I didn’t spread my wings at first, I simply hunted the same old places that I’d lamped for years, only now I drove there instead of walked. It took a little while before I started heading north and south with the lamp, though we did do a fair bit of hunting in the daytime out of our usual comfort zone. One such place was a little wood that I’d heard a rumour about. Back then I was mental on seeing a muntjac, it was simply one of those deer that I just wanted to see, never mind catch. Little did I know that I was going to go on to catch good numbers of them in the future, but then it seemed an impossibility.

Sparky

Sparky

At the time it was the early nineties and I was in conversation with a guy at the British Deer Society tent at one of the game fairs. In conversation it transpired that a friend of his had released thirteen muntjac in a small wood next to a village some time a go. I slyly wrote the name of the village down and the very next weekend we hit the A1 heading south to muntjac paradise. My cousin and I had two dogs with us in the car as well as a compound bow (God knows why?!) and another ‘spare’ lad to act as chief beater. Those muntys weren’t going to know what hit them. Or so we thought. This was back in the day before sat-navs and mobiles, and it was all map reading, but the over-loaded Nova soon rolled up in the village and we unloaded heading for the first wood.

The wood was a small square covert, but with some heavy patches of bramble and it was in this prickly cover that I’d expected to find the muntjac. It never dawned on me that released deer will often vanish for the horizon, for some reason I was convinced we were going to be falling over the damn things. I kept my dog, Rocky, on the slip and we let the brindle bitch, Kim, run loose while my cousin and his mate waded on top of the three-foot-high carpet of bramble. It was hopeless really and when I think back such an undertaking was just yet another crazy mad-cap scheme in a whole history of crazy schemes.

After a hell of a lot of prickles in our knees, scratches on our faces and bouncing over an acre of bramble a muntjac did flush, but only for a split second as it dashed through the long grass into the next impenetrable patch of blackberrys. As daft as it sounds, I was happy, over the moon in fact, to have at least seen one of these diminutive deer. We moved on to the next strip of woodland and things didn’t go quite as well, as Mr Gamekeeper came charging through the wood in his Land Rover with scant regard for anything that lay in his way. He jumped out, red faced, with a baseball bat and started going absolutely mental. So we made our excuses and left at that point, heading back North up the motorway, no venison in the boot, but we didn’t care, we’d just had our first taste of adventure and there was going to be a hell of a lot more to come.

The first time I ever ventured to Lincolnshire on a night’s lamping was a major revelation and I think that night had the biggest effect of my lamping career. The whole county was wall-to-wall with game. That night we saw hundreds upon hundreds of pairs of eyes, of all colours and all heights and what a night we had. As per usual I was the one driving home, it was 6a.m. and we’d just hit the motorway. By now I was driving an Escort Estate and everyone was asleep, men and dogs alike. Except me. Throughout the whole two and a half hour drive home all I could think about was getting back down there. It was one of those places that was so addictive it took over my life for a few years. Lincolnshire then turned into a stepping stone for going further south, to Cambridgeshire or across country to Bedfordshire. Even Norfolk sometimes if the fancy took us. Diesel was cheap back then and we didn’t have a care in the world. The only thing I tried to have was a safe parking spot, that was always in the front of my mind as it sure was a long walk home! And, as daft as it sounds, I wasn’t in the breakdown recovery services or anything like that. I couldn’t imagine doing such journeys these days with no breakdown cover, it doesn’t bear thinking about. The escort wasn’t overly road-worthy either as I was always a tight sod when it came to tyres and other essentials. In all honesty, back then the car was lucky if it had a spare. I remember going to a mate’s house in that Escort, down the motorway an hour or so. I’m chugging along and the car’s making awful noises and bouncing about a bit. My technique in those days for any vehicle noise was to turn the radio up and pretend it never happened. So after a colourful journey I pulled into my mate’s driveway and I happened to mention the noises to him. He looked at the tyre and found there were dozens of patches of steel wires sticking out of it. Oops. The best of all, I didn’t have a jack or a wheel brace. So my mate got those and we couldn’t even get the wheel off it was rusted on so badly. We’d actually planned on going over to France in the car, but we decided it’d be best if we went in my friend’s Jeep instead. It might cost a little bit more fuel money but we’d get there and back alive. Before we left we sprayed the seized nuts with WD40 and I said a few prayers. Three days later we arrived home and after a hell of a lot of jumping on the wheel brace we finally loosened off the nuts. Right, spare wheel out of the boot. Only trouble is, when I get the spare it’s little better than the tyre we’d taken off! I made it home in once piece, though I have no idea as to how. Ahh, the carefree attitude of youth!

 Photo 3

Photo 3

Thursday nights used to be one of my favourite lamping times. I would finish my shift in the factory at 9.15p.m. and within five minutes I’d be back home to have a cup of coffee and check the lamp and battery before one of the lads would arrive. At the time our superior at work was a great guy and he didn’t care too much if we needed to nip out of work to buy tools, so I used to have to buy tools every Thursday afternoon and, of course, find myself in WHSmiths picking a new map, for the night’s adventures. By the time my shift had ended I’d poured over the map and made a plan for nightfall. It was all exciting stuff. There was a hell of a lot of RedBull drunk in those days, and I have to say that those nights exploring new territory were some of the very best I’ve ever had, in terms of quarry and enjoyment. At the time I was doing all the driving, my main lamping partner couldn’t legally drive so I used to be permanently behind the wheel, which was great when we were heading off south, but at 7a.m. the next morning when rush hour traffic’s building up and the dogs and the passenger are all asleep and I’m struggling to keep my eyes open, it’s a bit much for one man.

By the time this is in print I will have started lamping, just going local at first as the lurcher isn’t fit enough for anything else. I’m waiting for the weather to change before I can start biking the dog; it’s a method I think works well. Building things up until he’s being kept fit by work and work alone. At the moment though we’re all enjoying the sunshine, the lurcher is a proper sun worshipper, and he deserves his rest because soon enough it’s going to be action stations and this season he’s going to have a big workload.

A couple of months ago I took my friend’s bitch, Mia, up to Romeo to be lined. She’s got a belly like a space hopper now, so she looks like there s a few in her. They should be decent pups and I might just have a look at them, maybe something to watch out for in the winter of 2016. by then Sparky will be six years old and maybe he’ll need a bit of back-up to see him through the winter. We’ll see.

Best of luck for the season everyone.