Perfect Conditions

The title of this article refers to lamping, with rabbits being the intended quarry. Whilst the pastime of lamping involves the use of modern artificial lights it does still require good old fashioned field craft if you are to be successful at it. You need to know where the rabbits will be feeding and the likely routes they will run. You must have the ability to move silently in the night using the wind to mask your scent. You need to be able to quietly cross fences or get through hedges in the darkness with your dog steadily at your side. In my view one of the most important parts of lamping field craft starts before you have even left your house. I refer to the knack of knowing the right or best weather conditions to venture out in. The weather plays a big influence on how your night will go. A glance at the many hunting forums on the internet suggests it has been forgotten by some and never learnt by others! There appears to be lots of keen lurcher folk who, if they are to be believed, appear to go lamping every single night of the year regardless of conditions? The very same people also frequently discuss another subject with great regularity; lamping lurchers that pick and choose their runs or don’t try. Could the two be linked? Most definitely!

Many lads will argue that if you get your dog out on the lamp every night of the year it will become better. This is not so. It’s like saying if you live by the sea you’ll be a good swimmer! Abraham Lincoln once famously said “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Wise words indeed. We all know people who rush blindly into tasks without any preparation. They go hammer and tongs all day (or in this case every night of the year) and still fail to do what they set out to accomplish. Likewise we know the more disciplined people who prepare themselves and accomplish the same task in half the time (having first sharpened their axe). Had Lincoln been a lamper his famous saying might have been “Give me a full season to train a lamping dog and I will spend just the suitable nights out in the field”. Such action would produce a better dog than one that suffered the repeated disappointments and frustrations that unsuitable nights tend to bring.

Training a lamping lurcher really is like this. You can waste a lot of time and damage the long term performance of your dog by persistently going on the wrong nights. Indeed, if you go every night you will be going on more unsuitable nights than suitable ones. I know this as I’ve done it, so speak from experience. Bad nights aren’t good for the moral of a lamper or his dog. Many years ago a lad used to regularly come lamping with me. He loved the game even though he didn’t have lurchers of his own. He always eagerly carried the catch or held whatever dog was awaiting its turn to run. The problem was he only liked to go on Friday or Saturday evenings as he was off work the following day. This is almost as foolhardy as going every night. You can’t stick to set nights any more than you can go every night. If you want success in the lamping field you must have the self-discipline to forget the still, bright and moonlit nights. You will ultimately have a much better dog by only taking it on suitable nights rather than every night or nights chosen because you are off work the next day. I applied some self-discipline of this very kind recently over the course of a week or so as the last of the October moon waned. Here’s what happened….

Lamped rabbit at top speed

Lamped rabbit at top speed

Friday, 17th October

The moon is on its last quarter and largely obscured by dark rain clouds. There’s a bit of wind; not strong but good enough, under normal circumstances, to tempt a long term lamping addict (33 continuous seasons now & still going strong) to try for his fix. Tonight I could only look to the heavens and dream as I was stood on a dimly lit railway platform awaiting a late train. I was off on a night out to meet up with an old friend who was home from America for a short holiday. Lamping would have to wait but it still doesn’t stop me looking at the weather. I’d walked out the night before when conditions were about the same. It was just to see what was about behind my house. I intentionally caught just one rabbit. I often do this with what I consider my few doorstep rabbits! It keeps the dog on her toes between proper sessions.

The weather forecasters were predicting a serious storm for next week. The moon phase would be better so I’d hold my nerve until then before venturing to my more favourable running grounds. Meanwhile, I can always do some bike work with the dog.

Sunday, 19th October

The moon is onto the waning crescent but once again is hidden by the gathering storm clouds. Old lampers notice these things. I’d made a phone call and arranged matters in the afternoon when the wind picked up. I had my fingers crossed that the wind would at least keep up or hopefully increase. The storm that the forecasters were warning of was now being described as an approaching hurricane but still hadn’t arrived here yet. Old lampers also notice such warnings. The wind was stronger tonight than a few days earlier making for better conditions. I set off to my favourite venue in a beautiful and wild part of North Wales at around 7p.m. An hour later I was opening a gate marked ‘Preifat’ (I wonder what that might translate as?) and off-roaded to my usual starting point. I saw plenty of rabbits in the headlights which is always a good sign. Had it been still and moonlit these rabbits would have been sat right by the fences and woods, if out at all.

The first rabbit of the evening was an interesting one. My bitch caught it against a sheep netting fence after some twisting and turning. In fact, it got itself three quarters through the fence and she somehow caught it by the back leg. I could see what had happened and was torn between seeing what she’d do or walking over to help. Last season when I was entering her I’ve no doubt she’d have let go of it and it would have escaped. I mentioned in an earlier article how as a novice she put a rabbit down to get a better grip only for it to disappear up a hole. Now as a more mature worker she wasn’t letting go. I kept the lamp on it and started walking over. I didn’t think she’d be able to pull it back through the fence as it was kicking wildly with its free leg, wriggling and squealing away. It was a fat bunny too! As I got within about ten yards of her she somehow did manage to pull it back through the fence, took a better grip and proudly trotted back to me with it. I was pleased with that. There were plenty of rabbits to run and I soon had a dozen in the game bag, all big plump ones. I could have carried on but didn’t for two reasons. Firstly, a dozen was all I wanted. I like to get a full season of sport on this ground. Secondly, the wind very suddenly dropped to nothing. It went completely still. This causes both rabbits and lampers to react differently.

I was walking back to the vehicle now anyway but was still flicking the lamp on here and there. The rabbits were now hearing our approach as we had no wind to mask our footfalls. Those I was seeing were sat up on the alert and just out of range. Others were already making their retreat to safety. I left them for another night rather than frustrate my bitch and make them lamp shy.

When you lose the wind and rabbits start to behave like this it causes over keen novice lampers to do three things:

  1. They become more anxious as suitable slips decline. Such feelings transmit to the dog who is usually straining on his slip getting more keyed up.
  1. They start to leave their lamp on longer as they search harder. Those who use filters on their lamps are even worse and start to scan searchlight style in the misguided belief that the rabbit can’t see their coloured light. This behaviour helps make the rabbits jumpier and ultimately lamp shy.
  1. Finally in desperation, they slip the dog on an unsuitable rabbit which is either too far away to get on terms with or too close to home. The rabbit escapes. The more attempts at unsuitable rabbits make for a more frustrated and dispirited dog. Such rabbits are better left for another night when conditions are better.

I loaded my dozen rabbits, dog and tackle into the vehicle and headed for home. The dog had finished on a high rather than being frustrated by jumpy rabbits. More importantly she was left wanting more.

 

Tuesday, 21st October

The moon is on the very last bit of the waning crescent as it approaches the ‘new moon’ stage when none of it is visible in the night sky. Hurricane ‘Gonzalo’ (who thinks these names up?) had finally arrived with a vengeance. All day long in work I prayed it wouldn’t drop. My prayers were answered. I made the phone call to arrange things around tea time. The keeper in turn lets his neighbours know I am on. I took another modest bag of a dozen rabbits just as I did on the previous session. The difference this time is I could have carried on as the conditions remained perfect. I admit I was tempted and if I didn’t have to be up so early the next day… who knows…? As I said, I’m not out to break any records or wipe them out but rather take a regular harvest throughout the season whilst keeping them under control. My freezers are also still near full with the fruits of our harvest time long-netting as described in ED-RD no. 266.

Wednesday, 22nd and Thursday 23rd are both good nights for the moon phase. Friday, 24th is even better as it’s the new moon meaning none of it is visible in the night sky. Perfect conditions then? Sadly not as all three nights were perfectly still with little or no wind. To make matters worse, on the Friday the whole sky was full of white stratocumulus clouds making it very light. Despite there being no moon it was almost as bad as a full moon. I knew a drive in Wales would be pointless without the lamper’s greatest ally; the wind, and even harder with the white sky. It would simply frustrate the dog. I did some fitness work with her, trotting alongside the bike instead.

Saturday, 25th October

And there’s still no moon showing in the night sky. Tomorrow we should start to see the first crescent of the waxing new moon. Tonight it’s dark, wet with just enough wind to tempt me out again for an hour or two. I headed back to my Welsh ground but covered some different smaller fields that hadn’t been done before this season. If you can work your ground in a rotational way it helps. I’ve no doubt there would have been rabbits on the fields I’d done previously but I left them be. A rabbit doesn’t have to be chased on the lamp to become lamp shy. The flashing light, scent of dog and human and the squealing of captured rabbits all teach rabbits that light means danger.

No room for the dog!

No room for the dog!

The wind picked up as the night progressed and I was rewarded with a great session. I caught my dozen  rabbits on this first flank of these smaller boundary fields and was faced with the dilemma of venturing further on. I hadn’t been out long and my bitch was fresh and keen. I’m saving the very best fields here for later in the season so decided against heading for them. The wind direction was wrong too, meaning I’d have had to make a big detour to proceed. Instead I headed back for the vehicle via some other boundary fields I seldom work.

The wind was right and the night was young so I succumbed to temptation!

I was pleasantly surprised to find lots of rabbits feeding on these fields which haven’t always been the most plentiful. I couldn’t resist running some and before long I was on my way to my second dozen. As I reached the last field before the vehicle I had a respectable twenty-three rabbits hung in two pick-up spots on the fence line. As I neared the vehicle I spied a final rabbit. It squatted when the lamp went on it. Hazel trotted out to my spot of light but missed her strike. The rabbit was up and running and luckily was coming in my direction. It jinked and caused the dog to overshoot. Had it slipped through the sheep fence at that moment it may just have escaped. Instead it dived into a single clump of stunted gorse, bounced off and was caught in mid-air to become number 24!

Awaiting the perfect conditions had made for a great night for me.

We all view our lamping differently and have different methods for the varying terrains we run. Everyone is of course entitled to lamp as they please but I do hope any young lampers reading this may realise that you don’t have to go out every night to make your dog good. We aren’t all lucky enough to have the ground to take record bags on either but you can still make a good dog on modest bags. Remember, don’t frustrate your dog with unsuitable slips on unsuitable nights and always finish on a winning note.