I usually spend much of the summer months walking the dogs, two or three at a time but this year, for various reasons, I didn’t do so much. I like to walk the dogs, it’s not only a nice break from the kennel for them, it also helps to keep me reasonably fit, or for what passes for fit today! So when the season started I wondered how I would cope. I soon found out! The first couple of meets were not to demanding. As is usual in our area we started quietly although at one meet we had to double with an evening call to a farm where seventeen ducks had been slaughtered and foxy had started to make inroads into the ducks bought to replace the deceased! Are ducks ground nesting game birds? Probably not but you can bet your life a few pheasants had also paid the price to make it all legal and above board! We managed to get two but I don’t think that ended the matter.
Anyway, a blustery Saturday morning on the hills and the work came thick and fast. It had been humid with a bit of drizzle when I left home and so I took my lightweight coat which is OK in occasional showers without being completely waterproof and I was soon regretting it for it can be an entirely different day a few miles away on the mountain. It was wet and windy, cold rain driven by a cutting wind and I spent as much time as I could sat in the van. I had checked an earth or two in the valley but with hounds going well had soon moved up for a better view.
There seemed to be plenty of foxes in the forest below and it was a good sight to see one fox break out to the hill and make off through the sheep while hounds were occupied on others. It looked like a decent vixen, away she went without stopping to look behind and when it seemed that hounds were about to hit off her line, they veered on to another part of the hill where they soon marked to ground across the valley from where we stood.
Down one hill and up the other side, no shelter and a steep climb but worth it and as the entrance was fairly wide we tried the Border bitch Katie, and she was soon pushing through tight tubes as best she could. She’s keen enough and has a very good nose but her size is against her and soon she could go no further so she had to be dug out and changed for Pipe’s young bitch Trudy, a much better build for the job. She’s not done much but she’s very keen and very promising and soon she had pushed right up to her quarry about another ten yards away and we opened to her with two foxes in front of her. The wind and rain had never eased and the job ended with plenty of mud about and Pipe digging in his shirt sleeves. Sooner him than me!
I wasn’t disappointed with Kate, I know she will be too big for most fox work and will only do well where she can push on and old foxy doesn’t get himself into those situations very often. The young bitch is so keen it’s just a shame she isn’t smaller but there’s nothing to be done about that. So then it was the journey in reverse, down the mountain from the mark and up the opposite side back to the van. I was blowing a bit and had begun to wonder how I’d cope this season.
After a cup of tea and a few sandwiches I recovered a bit and the hounds were still going well in the woods below until foxy broke out and away across the opposite hill making for a bigger forest patch across another valley. That can mean the end of the day for that particular forest is pretty demanding and so we drove around to try to keep in touch. As we got there word came over the CB that foxy had taken a turn around the woods and then headed back to where he had started and the hounds were still with him. By the time we got back to where we had started they were marking to ground. Those who had seen the fox claimed him to be quite a size. Alpha male dog fox this, and not one to go quietly.
We parked as close as we could and started a slightly uphill walk following the course of a stream, swollen by the heavy rain. Across the stream and a climb to the mark under the trees where the ground was already muddy and slippery and steeply sloping. I had a lot of trouble getting up there. Two steps forward, one step sliding back sometimes crawling on hands and knees. I finally made it to the mark but it had not been easy. Old age is a bugger! In fact I had found it very difficult and had told Pipey to go on and not wait for me to get there. But he waited and I wasn’t all that far behind, struggling all the way. But once the terrier is in and moving through the bury the adrenalin kicks in and nothing else matters. It was Bones’ turn this time and she eventually found him a fair way from the entrance; great, two feet if that! That’s quite enough when it’s raining and the dig is on a slippery slope and the fox can be heard growling and striking at a determined terrier. I got the gun ready for the breakthrough as Pipey cleared away loose soil. And opened up to nothing! No terrier, no fox! The terrier was soon visible to the left of the dig but of foxy there was no sign. And he had been there just a few seconds earlier. The tube, after a quick look with the torch, proved to be a stop end and no other tube, off to the side, could be seen. He surely could not have passed the terrier, obviously he had to be in there somewhere but all we could find was a mouse hole off the main tube. No fox in there. But we just let Rags take a look and she soon told us that he certainly was in there. That was her job done! I didn’t want her charging into a tight stop end where this mighty customer waited so, getting Bones back on the job, she was allowed to finish what she started.
Rags is a bitch that looks after herself and rarely gets bitten and that suits both her and me. She doesn’t have the strongest foreface and usually just bays well up in foxy’s face but wound up as she was just then I had visions which I didn’t like. If things were going to get rough then let Bony deal with it! Not my little favourite Rags!
When we opened to Bones it looked as if the fox was dead. He was on his side, eyes closed with his tongue hanging out. But then he opened an eye. And it wasn’t his tongue, he had hold of the narrow leather collar and, fortunately for Bones, the end of that was hanging from his jaws. He had his grip and, as foxes are likely to do, he held on to it. It could be said that he was ‘pretending to be dead’ but that is not the case. A fox under pressure or shock will often go into what is called a cataleptic fit, they look dead but they ain’t, it’s only temporary, they soon come out of it. A hundred years ago people often feared the possibility of being buried alive when in such a fit for it can/could last for days, even months in humans and due to stories of live burials in some novels of the time, many a coffin was fitted with a device that allowed it’s occupant to pull on a cord and ring a bell if they suddenly ‘revived’ while awaiting burial! I suppose the medico of today can tell the difference but in those days they preferred to take no chances! Anyway, foxy didn’t have to appear dead for long for the pistol soon granted him the true state. It was too wet and too muddy to take any pictures.
When I got home, even though the day had been great, I was quite depressed. I was so exhausted that I thought I had come to the end of my digging days. (I call them that although I hardly ever actually dig myself!) I thought it was time to admit defeat and I was still done in the next day and even by Monday I hadn’t got much better and doubted I would be able to get to the next day’s meet. I knew that it would just about break my heart to never be at another dig but as I often say, nothing lasts forever. And then, when I woke up on Tuesday I felt great! Strange isn’t it. I felt better than I had for many months! I’m starting to believe in miracles! It was a good day, nothing special but the weather was perfect, a bright autumn day and it was good to be out.
And then at a meet two days later, late in the day we had a mark at eight feet in a field with a bank about twelve feet high from the lane below. The entrance holes were in the bank, one at the bottom another half way up and I was on my own so it was a bit tricky. I let Rags take a look and hoped for a bolt but it didn’t happen. It had been another great day to be out and about on the hill but now, with Rags too deep to be heard and a steady mark with very little movement at eight feet time just passed us by. Soon only the huntsman and myself were left there, the hounds had been taken away with still no sign of any movement from Rags. And then Cliff’s mobile phone rang. It was Pipey. He had just arrived home from work and wanted to know how we had got on. He thought Cliff was joking when he told him where we were and what was going on but when he realised the position he changed into his digging clothes, came straight over and started to dig. He’s not afraid of a good dig, in fact, I think he loves it and he can certainly shift the soil. To cut the story short, he opened to Rags in darkness, going down a steeply sloping tube almost on her head and just about drained. The vehicles were parked about two hundred yards away along the lane so I went back to get stronger torches taking the bitch with me while he entered young Trudy to go the last mile. Back at the van I gave Rags some water and thought she’d never stop drinking. Her mouth had been full of the sandy soil and she just lapped away until I dragged her from the bowl, not wanting her to have too much. By the time I got back Pipe had dug another three feet and the job was done. I got home at eight thirty, well pleased with the day. The season was beginning to feel like old times. I was hardly tired from walking about on the mountain and scrambling up and down the steep bank of the dig and spent a while cleaning up the clothes and equipment, feeding the dogs and enjoying watching the antics of the four five week old pups in the kennel. It had been too late and too dark to take any decent pictures though I would probably have given it a go if I hadn’t left my camera in the van!
And at the next meet, just a week after feeling I would have to give it all up, I saw a performance from a little bitch worthy of ranking her as something special. We arrived at a mark and Trudy was entered. In at an entrance and out of the earth just about ten feet away. Turn about and back through. When she had done this a few times we started to probe for a hidden hole with no luck. Then started to trench on, still no luck. Changed the young Trudy for the more experienced Twiggy and after doing the same as Trudy she wandered away into the heavy trash which, we knew, covered the many holes of a big bury. After waiting a while to see if she had come to a stop Pipey started to sweep the area with the box and then she went off the box. Which takes some doing using a Bellman & Flint system with a range of fifty metres or so.
He eventually managed to pick up a signal and we traced the bitch almost a hundred yards from us. She had worked her way through the tubes below ground and was baying steadily at about four feet with occasional scuffles as foxy tested her mettle. And so she got us a result when it hadn’t looked at all likely. I later tried to explain to a few followers just exactly what this little bitch had done but they didn’t seem impressed. I suppose you have to be a worker of terriers! In his book Eddie Chapman wrote that terriermen and their terriers rarely get the recognition they deserve – but who cares? We know and that’s all that matters.
And this had taken place at a bury which, many years ago witnessed what I called the best performance I have ever seen from a young terrier. The young dog’s name was Ritchie and I wrote about it in detail in my book Work Them Hard, Treat Them Like Heroes. This is how I rate my dogs. On their speed through the bury and their ability to find in even the most daunting of places combined with the single-minded prey drive to see the thing through to the end no matter what it takes. I told Pipey that he could be very proud of Twiggy but I needn’t have bothered for he already was proud of her, didn’t need me to tell him, and looks forward to the day when, further down the line, she whelps a litter.
I remember one of the first times we dug to her a few years back. It was a bad place, part of a farm rubbish dump where we encountered bits of rusty old corrugated iron, cast off antibiotic bottles and syringes, worn out gloves, broken glass and china, saws and various other tools, rotten wood etc. I expect most diggers have experienced such places. The young bitch worked hard and when it was all over and the fox had been shot she ragged it a bit, not a lot, and then flopped down beside it as if on guard, watching over it and giving it an occasional half hearted shake. Maybe she knows about their cataleptic fits! I took a photo of it but when I got home I realised the camera had been on the wrong setting and the pic was no good. It was to become her habit and she did it this day and this time I managed to get the photo. Not the best of shots because both her and the fox were the same colour as the fallen Autumn leaves but at least it’s better than the last time I tried!
I regard all this as proper fox control; it’s humane and sporting and effective. It keeps their population at an acceptable level and there is no danger of ever wiping them out completely. I’m proud of what we do and proud of the way we do it and regard the British war criminal and traitor Tony Blair and his like as complete fools for banning it. Thankfully they left a few loopholes so that we can carry on and remain within the law as long as there are pheasants and ground nesting birds which need protecting – and by so doing we also protect new born lambs and piglets and domestic fowl.
So after a great day which had ended up causing me doubt just a week earlier I can again look forward to the season. Doctor Hunt has hopefully worked his magic once again. Many thanks Doc! Maybe the old Arabs were right when they said that time spent hunting does not count in the years of a man.
A few days later at a dig, I needed my folding saw but it wasn’t in my bag. I thought I had left it on the bury so went back to look for it. I couldn’t find it. As I climbed over the last barbed wire fence on the way back to my van I managed to rip one of my best pair of trousers enough to ruin them. It would have been better to by a new saw, cheaper than a new pair of trousers!