In reply to Barbara Ashton and concerning my previous article, first of all could I say that if everyone who had ever ventured onto land with dogs where they did not have permission were to stop writing in to this magazine, it would most likely fold due to lack of input! Secondly, I, like some other contributors, have regularly pointed out the vast difference between poaching and countryside vandalism. Towards the end of my previous article I condemned those who not only mass trespassed in pursuit of hares but also caused damage and in some cases committed theft of farm machinery, diesel etc. It was such low-lifes who caused many of the problems running dog owners face today.
In some areas police will now stop and search vehicles which appear to be transporting running dogs of any kind. People innocently travelling to or from shows or greyhound tracks have been stopped and interrogated for no other reason than someone reporting ‘a greyhound or lurcher’ in the vehicle.
Mass trespass with dogs is not and never has been poaching in my opinion. The whole idea of poaching is to enter and exit the land without raising suspicion and if possible, without being seen at all. The golden rule is to leave no evidence behind so that the keepers have no proof of poaching taking place. I make no secret of the fact that I have poached game in the past. As a kid I poached for the pot and if I hadn’t there would have been even more days when we didn’t eat. I grew up on the outskirts of what was once one of England’s best sporting estates. My first experience of a gamekeeper was a whack across my back with a blackthorn stick while picking wild mushrooms. I would have been about thirteen at the time and I never forgot the experience. In response I poached that same estate at every opportunity. That incident taught me to be careful of where I went and it also taught me to leave no evidence of having been there so as not to walk into a trap the next time.
I will admit that I became addicted to poaching. I suppose the mix of excitement and the thought of outsmarting up to twelve full time keepers was part of this driving force. It eventually brought me some notoriety and if I ever get to finish the bloody book I keep trying to find time to write, the full story will be there for all to read. One night I arrived home after a particularly successful shift and sat down with a hot drink and switched on the TV. I used to do this to calm down enough to be able to sleep when I climbed into bed. Believe me, nothing makes your brain more awake than lone night poaching.
The early morning film playing was the story of Australian outlaw Ned Kelly. This was long before the one where Heath Ledger played the leading role so convincingly. This earlier version had the somewhat camp Mick Jagger playing the tough but victimised Kelly. (Talk about miscasting!) Anyway, I was about to change channel when a song played background music to a certain scene. It was entitled ‘Blame it on the Kelly’s’ and the lyrics told of how everything from one farmer’s hens going off lay to another’s teenage daughter getting pregnant being blamed on one or other of the Kelly clan.
I laughed at his because myself and my younger brother were blamed for every blank drive on shoot days, every partridge that flew in the wrong direction instead of going over the guns, and any gate left open was always put down to ‘the Sleighties!’ I was told this by local lads who went beating regularly.
I was taught the ‘country code’ at junior school and though I poached, I never damaged fences, left gates open or dropped litter in the countryside. I may have been guilty of poaching but not of vandalism. The estate keepers, however, were guilty of rural thuggery and again I could tell of many instances including a friend of mine being shot with a twelve bore while lamping rabbits! Of course you can’t tar every keeper with the same brush nor every poacher.
The deer mentioned by Barbara might well have been down to poachers but a collision with a motor vehicle could also cause such injuries. Anyone poaching with a firearm these days has to be very desperate or incredibly stupid because one mention of a gun will bring out the armed response unit and the possible outcome of that doesn’t bear thinking about.
On the same subject, I once walked onto the arable fields of the estate the day after a game shoot and my lurcher bitch put up a hare on a rough ploughed field. I knew immediately that there was something wrong with the hare and the old bitch caught it within fifty yards. When I picked up the hare it had both back hocks broken above the joint, one foot was held onto the leg by only a thin strip of skin. The wounds were still pretty fresh and when I later skinned it the animals back end was peppered with shot. Some irresponsible gun had taken a shot as the hare ran away. Either they didn’t have a dog or they were reluctant to let it chase after the wounded hare. The poor animal had been left to suffer and had the poacher and his dog not found it the suffering would have continued. There is no pleasant way to kill an animal and no shooter, be they poacher, keeper, stalker or whatever can ensure a clean kill every time. A sudden movement at the wrong moment in time and the bullet which would have hit a vital organ is lodged elsewhere in the deer’s anatomy. All anyone can do in such cases is to make sure that the animal is not left to suffer. All hunters, no matter which side of the hedge they hunt, should have respect and compassion for their quarry.
I’m a dog man, my dogs either catch or they miss and when they miss the quarry escapes unharmed. When they catch I make sure the end comes quickly even if it’s a rat. Please don’t equate me in the same bracket as the drug fuelled idiots who post their antics on various websites. I have kept running dogs for more than half a century and I have advised and helped more people than I can count. My phone rings at all hours and if it is a genuine dog man or woman with an injured canine of any breed I do my best to help.
I spent years promoting the working lurcher around the show circuits, explaining the training and working of my dogs and spent eighteen months producing the only lurcher training video on the market. I have spoken to dozens of youngsters who have successfully trained their own dogs using and following my methods. I feel that I am a true countryman, my land is littered with nest boxes for song birds. Pheasants feed beside my ponies on winter mornings and have become so tame that they follow me with the feed bucket. I don’t kill anything that I don’t either eat myself or use as dog food, apart from vermin.
Would I ever revert to poaching? Yes, if the need arises. Today in Rotherham town centre I see young men and women begging in shop doorways and on street corners. If I were in their situation I would much rather poach what I could sell or eat rather than beg for peoples’ sympathy. I have seen the British countryside from both sides of the hedge, and there are good and bad on both sides. If this leaves Barbara with a different opinion of me then so be it. I make no apologies or excuses. As the song says, ‘I am what I am.’
I enclose a report from a newspaper of about forty years ago which tells of an incident that happened to a friend of mine just for hunting rabbits.