At the start of my mooch Poppy, the Teckel with the wondrous nose, started to snuffle along the burn. Every so often she would alter her course and go off at a right angle but never into the burn, so I assumed that whatever she was tracking was not a mink. It was unlikely to be a hare because the regularity with which the dogs are walked here would surely put them off and I hadn’t seen one in the area close to the house for over a year. At the moment there aren’t any rabbits in the immediate vicinity and I thought she may have been following the random meanderings of an old, wild pheasant. I followed her on one of her short deviations from her main track and found a scrap of frog. It may have been toad but unlikely because most wild animals are aware of a toad’s ability to make them foam at the mouth and vomit. That scarp of flesh was further added evidence and added weight to my original thought that it might have been a mink. I un-slung the shotgun that I am obliged to carry and loaded it. I was wrong. Mink love frogs and had no doubt eaten most of this one but it wasn’t a mink she was tracking.
She hunted in more or less a straight line but only very slowly and she couldn’t speak properly on the scent only whimper occasionally. The other dogs, Teckels and two lurchers, showed little interest even when she did manage one little yip and they busied themselves along the banks showing interest in other things that only dogs can detect.
We reached the end of the moor with Poppy still hunting diligently. She went under the gate that led into the huge newly sown barley field, across it, down the side of the rough grass and on into the next field. She was still going very slowly almost at her walking pace which, with only eight inch legs, is pretty slow. I was quite pleased with her tempo because it meant that I could keep up. There were numerous checks but she kept going more or less in the same direction and having no better place to go our little band followed.
We skirted the small grass meadow that sometimes holds a hare, keeping close to the hedges on three sides. At the beginning of the double hedge that leads towards a small cover that is dense with reeds and fallen pine trees, Poppy gave a couple of louder yips, increased her pace to a trot and the other dogs, Danny, a Teckel now with Chipper Smith, Archie a small Lurcher and Nellie a similarly small, elderly, pregnant Lurcher, exhibited a bit more interest.
Poppy spoke more urgently and the Teckels, along with Archie, broke from heel and raced away. Nellie possibly because of her stage of pregnancy, stayed at heel. The others soon overtook Poppy but checked when they realised they couldn’t own the scent. She trundled up and unerringly led them onwards.
We had got to within a hundred yards of the thick, little covert when they broke away again, I didn’t remonstrate with them because I was approaching the covert downwind and I wanted anything lurking within to hear the dogs and not me. With luck it would leave the cover and come away from the Teckels down the thick hedge. There I could position the Lurchers with the best chance of success. I didn’t want whatever was there to hear me bellowing at the dogs and leave by a different route.
They had barely entered when Danny spoke tentatively then, almost straight away, both Teckels started screaming and I was confident that I knew what it was that Poppy had dragged up to.
Archie did just what I didn’t want him to do and entered the thick cover like a spaniel. On foxes he excels and when hunting with bushing dogs he usually has enough savvy to stay outside. I don’t know how he does it but if he’s on his own he invariably comes out of a covert (unless the cover therein is very dense) right on a fox’s brush. The outcome is successful surprisingly often.
This little covert more often than not holds a fox and the cover, whilst really dense, is almost bramble free. The fallen trees, reeds and a large patch of what looks to me like an area of bamboo are about two feet high and offer protection against wind and rain. Nothing can enter this patch without making a racket so anything lying-up in it will be forewarned. It is in a clearing where the sun can get because four trees have fallen and the bamboo look-alike area is compact and warm. I can always hear the Teckels rattling through it even if they haven’t yet spoken and even with the strong wind I was still able to mark their progress by both voice and clatter. This time, because Archie was in their ‘assisting’, it sounded like a giant skiffle board was being scratched. What I also like about this place is that, so far, I haven’t found a deer in it.
Can’t foxes surprise you?
I fully expected this one to vacate his billet by exiting down one hedgerow or the other – actually there are three hedgerows along which they can leave – but this fox decided to leave by going right across a huge, open grass field.
It also had the opportunity to take the downwind escape route that they usually prefer but not this one; it fled into the teeth of a very strong, blustery wind.
So much for Archie’s savvy. Had he been in the field the fox would have had to travel a long way before it reached any sort of cover and he would have nailed it.
Because of my position, the contours of the land and even though I heard the change of note in the Teckels’ cry when they broke cover and hit the open, I only just spotted Danny’s little low-slung form disappearing over the grassy hill and first thought he was the fox.
There was no point in shouting for Archie and in fact he came out of the covert before I had gone through the gate into this large field with all the others. Nellie, being at heel and only 21” tall with hopefully a few puppies inside her, had no hope of seeing over the double hedge and joining the rest of them. In her condition I didn’t want her to anyway.
Away they went into the wind which, whilst not a rare occurrence, is not what a fox likes to do unless it’s making for a specific place, often an earth where it was born. If they can they really do prefer to travel downwind.
Archie was about twenty seconds behind but he also disappeared over the march but with his legs being twice as long as a diminutive Teckel would quickly catch up. He can and often does hunt an air or foot scent quite well but not of course, as accurately as a Teckel. I kept Nellie contently at heel.
I plodded on in their wake and because of the wind direction I could hear every note.
They went directly away from me and after approximately half-a mile they had crossed the lane and were soon on land where I had no permission, and because I was so far behind, their voices were fading.
Not still being in the first flush of youth (or even the first flush of middle age!) it took me some time to reach the stubble field on the edge of my ground. When I did, I could hear nothing.
Like a lot of fox hunts there is often a boring period and I’ll keep it short. I stood in the lane at the boundary for twenty minutes trying unsuccessfully to hear where the tiny pack had gone. Not that it would tell me the correct direction if I did manage to hear anything because my directional acumen is pretty well knackered. I watched Nellie’s ears but all they told me was that she couldn’t hear anything either.
From my hilltop I could see ten fields and traversed them with my binoculars but suspected they wouldn’t be in the open and that they had made for the massive lump of forestry a further half mile on.
I had only planned for a brief walk and only wore a light jacket and what with the stiff wind and the biting cold I was frozen to the core. I didn’t know who owned the forestry but decided to gain its shelter.
I gave a last futile shout just in case they were within earshot and was about to climb the gate when a pick-up drove slowly up the little-used lane and stopped.
“Lost a dog?” said the driver.
“Yes. I’ve lost a few actually.”
“I could hear you calling – what sort of dogs are they?”
Rather than explain the difference between a Teckel and Dachshund I said, “Sausage dogs – they’re chasing something and I think they’ve gone into that forestry block.”
He looked at Nellie, fairly fat with pups.
“Doesn’t she go with them?” he asked.
“When she’s not pregnant she does.” I said.
“She’s a lurcher isn’t she?”
“Yes, she’s part Bedlington terrier.” I replied.
“You live along the road don’t you?” he asked.
I confirmed that I did.
“I might be interested in a pup when she has them.” He said.
“Yeah, sure – she’s getting on but she’s still O.K.”
“Can she catch a fox?” he asked.
Now I wouldn’t normally tell a relative stranger what my dogs do or don’t catch but he seemed genuinely interested.
“She can but her kennelmate is even better. He’s the dog I put her to.” I told him, adding, “He’s gone into the Forestry block as well.”
“Go and have a look if you like.”
“Is that your land then?” I asked.
“Yeah, that and the fields round it.”
“Thanks.” I said and he drove off and I climbed the gate and crossed the stubble.
When I reached the woods it was heaven. I was out of the icy wind and it felt ten degrees warmer.
I still couldn’t hear anything and this is another boring bit.
I walked right through the big wood but saw and heard nothing so decided to retrace my steps and make for home hoping that they would join me on the way back, or come home of their own accord.
I re-crossed the lane and was back on familiar ground climbing a fence when Nellie ran diagonally across the small field we were in.
I looked towards where she was running but at first couldn’t see anything but then spotted a fox in the next but one field, a huge field of seventy acres. It hadn’t seen us and was loping along making for the covert where we had found the other fox.
Pregnant she might, be but she fairly ate up the ground, jumped the two walls and was suddenly in the same field as the fox. Because she had run diagonally she had cut it off and was about sixty yards from it before it spotted her. When it did, it put on a spurt but didn’t appear to be going flat out and Nellie closed with it.
The fox did that little feint and jink that they all seem to do when first approached by a fast closing long-dog and being hampered by her condition, she lost ground but after three or four turns she bowled it over downhill with both of them sliding on the wet grass and Nellie getting bitten on the snout before she got a throat hold and shook it repeatedly.
No way could I climb the dykes (walls) and the gates were all at the ‘wrong’ end of the fields and by the time I reached her the fox was long dead. She had stopped ragging it and was lying down, fat flanks heaving and panting rapidly from her exertions.
It was probably only one year old only but a biggish dog fox all the same.
“Good old girl.” I said and lay down with her. I too was knackered from my own efforts.
Suddenly Nellie lifted her head and looked hard in the direction from where the fox had come. Then she stood up and trotted a few yards that way.
What a sight!
There were the Teckels a field away but close together as if on couples and hunting hard towards us. They were not in full cry but speaking sporadically. Archie was loping along keeping pace with Poppy who was as usual leading.
I crouched down with the fox so they didn’t spot me immediately but when they crested the hill Archie saw me first, left the Teckels for dead and flew up to me.
Well, he didn’t fly up to me he flew up to the fox and started to rag it lifting its front half off the ground in his efforts. The Teckels continued to hunt the line until the last hundred yards or so and only then did they charge in to get a mouthful of dead fox. Well, Danny did and the others did, Poppy didn’t. She rarely rags a fox and to me it seems she lives for the hunt rather than the kill. After a final shake Archie, as is his wont, gave a few barks at the carcass. Ever since I’ve had him he does this whether it’s been shot, he’s killed it or another dog has.
What a result!
A successful conclusion like that makes up for the dozen or so unsuccessful times a fox is found by these miniature demons and gets away. If, like today, Archie or indeed Nellie is with them and the fox eludes the gun then a good percentage of them don’t.
Foxes are Archie’s forté but it was fat Nellie’s turn this time.
Just fifteen days later I almost had a repeat performance.
They clattered a fox round the selfsame covert that went away in the same direction but this time the wind was coming from its normal direction, the west, so they went downwind and it wasn’t long before I couldn’t hear them. I managed to keep Nellie at heel just in case there was an exact repeat and they hunted a fox back towards us but they didn’t. I spotted Archie coming back and when he got to me he reeked of fox and his head, neck and shoulders were coated with what I thought was mud from the gateways. After a long wait and no sign of the Teckels I decided they were well and truly lost so eventually walked home. Half a mile from the house, Poppy joined me smelling but not reeking of fox. After a quick cup of tea and a sandwich I drove back, dropped Ali off where I had last seen them and in case Danny was elsewhere, told her to walk back home calling Danny all the while.
It would take her about twenty minutes to get back so I waited just a quarter of an hour then drove home. From the kitchen window I could see Ali coming over the rough moore and Danny was in front of her.
“Well done,” I said “Where did you find him?”
“I didn’t, I’ve only just seen him. He joined me a few minutes ago – don’t know where he came from.”
I examined him and he also stank of fox and had soil ground into his snout and coat.
Bugger. He had been to ground. Not being able to dig anymore it was something I don’t want the Teckels doing but am resigned to it that they have done so at some time and will again.
It wasn’t until after I’d been talking to Chipper Smith, the rabbit man, on the phone that evening about something entirely different, that he agreed that as two of the dogs stank of fox and one dog, known to not be that interested in ragging a fox, smelled of fox that they had probably caught and killed it. If they had I didn’t have a clue whereabouts it happened.
Next morning I drove to where I’d seen Archie, looked round and decided that if I was a fox I’d go into the big wood at the corner. I’d hardly got fifty yards into it when I found a smashing five-hole earth on a bank. I had a good look and saw a myriad of foot marks on and around the spoil heaps that I recognised as belonging to my lot. It stank of fox and I could also see where Archie had, initially, tried to get to ground or at least marked strongly because there were strands of his fur on one of the roots that he had chewed in his frustration. However it stank more outside than it did down the holes but it wasn’t until I started to walk back to the car that I spotted a fox’s carcass that had been dragged into some light cover at the bottom of the bank. It was another dog fox and again less than a year old and more than likely a brother of the first fox.
It’s only supposition, but I reckon that they ran it to ground; Archie thrust his body as far down as he could but luckily backed out in time for one or maybe both Teckels to bolt it into Archie’s welcoming jaws.
I hope that it was only one of the Teckels that went to ground and it doesn’t make a habit of it. Ali’s a very good wife, kennel-maid, dog exerciser, (poor dog-namer) but weighs less than eight stone so I can’t see her shifting soil at a rate that would be acceptable to an old grump like me.
Time to get a new kennel maid I pondered?
“Ouch!” That hurt.
I must have spoken out loud.