New Ground

You know what it’s like when you walk out over new land, never sure of what’s going to happen, where or if the sport will be there or not. It was as I put my boots on, sat on the back of my van, that I obtained this new piece of hunting ground through the summer, and I had been waiting for the grass to be cut and the sheep moved then, as the farmer had told me, it was all mine, at least until he moved his next lot of lambs out come spring.
It wasn’t as hilly as most of my land and the prospect of getting a run on some flat, easy going was foremost on my mind. The fields were short with a small banking running down one side, which also held a few trees and a bit of bramble; across on the other side was the lane, separated by a ditch and three strands of barbed wire, the old type not the new stuff with the barbs closer together, just to make sure you or your dog doesn’t get through without ripping its back out.

I thought I’d head across the first field and see if we could get a run towards the banking. There was plenty of scent about and as Berry cast about working in front of me I just took my time, looking around and taking it all in, letting her get on with it. It wasn’t long before she lifted one out of a patch of rough grass and it narrowly made its escape into a hole under one of the trees that had a bit of cover around it. It turned out to be a bit of a mare, to put it mildly, to get it netted up as thorns constantly ripped at my hands as I pegged up, I was glad to get the last one down as I crawled about on my belly. I thought to myself that Berry can do the holding in the net if any were to bolt alongside this old hawthorn hedge that seemed to have stood the test of time over the years. The ferret was soon entered and I stood back waiting for the fun to begin, and it didn’t take long before the first one bagged itself up in the net and Berry secured it whilst I dropped another net over the hole. No sooner had I necked it and put it down out came number two from the same hole. It’s surprising how often this happens, it must have been a proven escape hole in the past but not today as once more Berry held the catch as I quickly renetted.

Netting up in an old hawthorn hedgerow

Netting up in an old hawthorn hedgerow

I know that a lot of lads don’t like their dog to touch a netted rabbit but there’s a case for both sides of the coin. I can hold Berry off with a word if required and she’s also gentle with the netted ones, which helps, it would be a very different story if she was smashing them up
in the net and bursting them. Yes, I have seen it happen; dogs shaking the living daylights out of a pursed up rabbit, ripping the net from the floor and crunching for all they were worth as my
old mucker Ray used to say. There’s ferreting dogs and dogs that go ferreting!

After a quite spell I was just going to start to pull my nets up when a third shot out, right next to me, luckily in a thornless patch. This too was soon despatched and after the ferret showed a couple of times she was removed and we moved on.
I’d only walked a hundred yards when Berry took off back to where we had just come from as a rabbit dropped into the warren, from where I wasn’t really sure, but I decided to go back and drop the ferret in and leave all but one hole unnetted – the hole that had produced 2 of the three I’d just taken – and let Berry have a chase. After about ten minutes and not a sound to be heard I was doubting the wisdom, or lack of it, at my decision to ferret this rabbit when out it shot. I would love to say into the only net that I had down but, no, it came from a previously unused hole and as luck would have it, Berry was in the right place and picked it cleanly upon its exit. I was well chuffed with myself and the way the morning was going on this new found land.

The very ‘upset’ ferret

The very ‘upset’ ferret

As I walked along the border line I could see used shotgun cartridges littering the floor, so somebody else was taking the rabbit population down, luckily for me, however, there was still a few to go at.
I was about to turn around and walk the field when Berry showed signs of interest about thirty yards into the field, she was going from hole to hole as if not sure which one to settle at. By the time I’d got there she was marking a small hole away from the rest, in fact, I wasn’t sure if it was connected to the main warren or just a one holer. There were only seven or eight holes so it was easily netted up and I dropped the ferret in the hole that she marked. It seemed to rumble around the whole field such was the noise below and virtually to a second, two more hit the nets followed by a very upset ferret. I think she may have been trampled in the rush to get out! Still it was making a good morning but the land was now nearly at its border with the ditch.

As I walked back down the opposite side Berry cast on in front and a couple of rabbits must have got spooked as they shot under the fence and into the ditch and a bit of cover that was next to the road – I should say lane as it wasn’t a well used piece of tarmac, just a country lane used by the local farmers. I climbed over and could see Berry had found the warren which sat just above the water line. There were only a few holes to net up and we would be away. The lane seemed devoid of any traffic so I popped the ferret in and held Berry close to my leg on the opposite side of the water. Suddenly, I thought I heard a bump and as I looked to my side a horse and rider were coming down the lane. “Great!” I thought, this was all I needed, but being unsure of who the natives were I thought it best to introduce myself. As she stopped to see what I was up to, it turned out that she stabled her horse further up the lane and went on to tell me there were plenty of rabbit at the back of the horse paddock at the stables. Now, I had one eye on her for she was quite pretty and one eye and ear on the warren with the ferret in just in front of her. I politely suggested she moved a little further down the lane because if a rabbit bolted and Berry or me jumped forward it may cause her horse to bolt and take her off into the wilderness, however, after all the talking I thought it unlikely that a bolt would happen and the chances of a kill down were high on the cards. Then, bang on cue, one hits the water, still in the net and another bolts road side and is bouncing up and down on the lane held by a very sturdy peg and net. I necked them as quickly as I could as I was still unsure as to the horse rider’s thoughts on the killing of rabbits on a public highway. The ferret followed and was soon boxed up and the nets lifted. “Don’t forget to ask at the stables” she shouted as she continued on her way, not showing any concern one way or the other.

Once back at the van I gave Berry a drink and I had a coffee from the flask while I loaded all the gear back in. It was good to be out on a day like this, the day had gone well and nothing had gone wrong for a change. I drove up to the farm with the stables and asked for permission to do a bit of rabbiting around the stables and mentioned the fact that I had been asked to come up by the young lady on the horse, but he was having none of it, he liked a walk around at night with the gun and seemed a little put out that I had been on his neighbour’s land doing a bit of ferreting. “No problem” I said, and went on my way.

First and last catch

First and last catch

I called at the farm whose land I’d been on and thanked him and offered him a couple of rabbits but he didn’t want any this time, but maybe next time. Upon leaving I gave him a card with my details on and contact number and said I would be back in a couple of weeks if that was OK with him. A few days latter I received an email asking me not to go back in the future as his sporting farmer neighbour had spoken to him about the rabbiting and wished to have it for himself and his son to shoot over! Oh how I wished I had not gone to the trouble of asking to hunt his land and making him aware of my presence, I could still have had that nice piece of land to work over. I returned his message saying that I was always available should the need arise in the future and he required rabbits removing, knowing fine well that that it was unlikely to occur, but what else can you do when your boots let water in?!

May all your hares have big ears.