So there’s the editor moaning to me about how there’s not enough lurcher articles and so I thought I’d better put pen to paper and shut him up – the moaning sod! Editor. [Moaning! Who, me?!!]
I’ve been involved heavily with running dogs since I was a ten year old, when I got my first lurcher. She was about as much use as a chocolate fire-guard, but we’ve all got to start somewhere. In fact, before I was ten I had done quite a bit of hunting with my father and uncle but I can’t actually remember catching much. It seemed that game to me then is what sex is to me now: loads of it about but I never seem to get any!
Anyway, back to the topic. I’ve seen some unusual and remarkable things when out with the lurchers. I remember one of the old brindle dogs running a hare into a huge 50 acre willow plantation, a real jungle of a place that was damn near impregnable and yet the lurcher came out carrying his hare. It leaves you wondering how on earth the dog made a catch? I was out one day with my Black Dog, we were beating a bit of cover through, mainly looking for roe. My cousin was beating this small wood that had always been very productive for us. I’ve been working this wood since the days of Scooby and I think he caught every deer he ran from here. I never realised what a feat it was until he died and I was then left trying to make a catch in the same location with a variety of running dogs, of both mine and friends, and it seemed the catch ratio plummeted to be something like one in ten. Some dogs just have it I guess, that certain little something that you can’t quite put your finger on and yet whatever it is they make filling the freezer look easy. So there I was, stood at the top of the field hid in front of a single, solitary hawthorn bush. My old ticker was pounding in my chest and the dog was on edge too. We both knew what was going to happen.
It’s funny but the deer arrived into view without me seeing them. The only indication I got was when the dog pulled on his collar. Four roe stood next to a fence that lead over to a railway line and a big wood. The fence was made from wire strands and so posed no problem whatsoever for the deer, they don’t bounce off when the fence is only three or four foot high. The quartet was stood listening, and hadn’t made a break for it and I was wondering if I should relax my grip on the dog’s collar or not. I thought about faint hearts and fair maidens and decided to give it a go. My dog flew down that field like he was propelled by nuclear fusion. By now the roe were all stood stationary looking at my dog thundering, like Shergar-on-steroids, towards them. He picked the first one and bore down, but when the dog was some ten yards away the roe, as casually as you like, bounced over the fence and into the wood. Without altering his stride, the Black Dog changed course and went for the second roe in line, this too did the same thing as the first, and vanishing into the wood. The dog then went onto the third, which was a big buck. This one didn’t try and jump the fence, instead this confident roe thought he’d outrun the dog and headed off away across the field and I watched as my Saluki lurcher gained ground with each and every stride. Closer and closer until the inevitable happened and I ran down to help him out as this buck was a bit of a fighter. All’s well that ends well. But how did the dog know not to follow those first two roe into the woodland? I’m sure practically all dogs would have stuck to that first deer, and yet my dog, on that particular day, didn’t. He weighed up the options and ended up grassing the game because of it. Obviously you can’t train a dog to do that and, it might have been a one off, but I was sure glad I was there to see it happen as I’d not known it before.
I was speaking to a mate of mine the other day and he was wondering what type of lurcher we’ll all have in the future. The way the trend’s going there’s going to be nothing left for the lurcher man in a couple of decades time. Since the late nineties the rabbits around here, and in many places nationwide, have plummeted until they’re almost an endangered species. Hares too have suffered, even in the space of the last five or six years I’ve seen them crash in many places where they were once very abundant. We’ve all got our own theories, but the fact is that we don’t know the cause. And why does the deer population seem to be going from strength to strength? Despite the deer having a much lower birth rate how can they expand so much when the rabbit and hare are fighting to survive? I wish I knew the answer. I said to my mate that I bet within two decades there’ll be hardly any lads at the rabbiting game as there simply won’t be any to go for. Twenty years ago the Dales were rammed to the rafter with rabbits. A man didn’t have to go far to get thirty odd, and bags of fifty were no big deal. Today there’s hundreds of square miles of Dales with scarcely a bunny to be seen. Will they ever bounce back? Unlikely.
I had a great season this year. Up until the Yuletide I’d had some great hunts. However, my dog, Sparky, had to have a month off with a wrist and pad problem and so the end of the season wasn’t too good. That’s the problem when you’ve only got one dog. If there’s an injury then you’re stuck, and there’s always the risk that you take a dog out before the injury has really healed. We’ve all done it, being impatient is all part and parcel of being human. My dog was sat on the sofa for a full month so when the time came to run him again he was as fat as a pig and unfit too. There’s no short cut to getting a lurcher back to fitness again, it’s just work, work and more work In my opinion.
As it happens I got asked if I’d line my Sparky to a bitch and so that’s what I did. I met the owners of Sparky’s half-sister in a shady car park and he did the deed with little fuss. I hope the bitch has took as maybe a pup from him would be the way to go. Maybe. Sparky’s only average if I’m honest. Sure I’ve photos of him working that make him look like the best thing since sliced bread. But, average is where I’d pigeon-hole him. If I had to pick a negative point I’d say that he could do with being just a tad faster. The bitch he lined is meant to be a fast type, so maybe the pups will have the best of both worlds. Again it’s all chance.
Where have all the bull crosses gone? Ten year ago they were all over the place, teams of young men out all the time bang at it. Where are they all now? I don’t know many lads with decent bull lurchers any more. They all seemed to have vanished into the ether, jacked to retire on their laurels to talk about the ‘good old days’. It’s a shame. The wheaten cross too was the be-all and end-all ten or fifteen years ago but they too are conspicuous by their absence. Where are they all lads?
I had some bad news the other day. Young Danny’s dog, Diesel, died due to a perforated stomach lining. It was Danny’s first lurcher and you know what it’s like, that first one is awful special. Diesel was a great beginner’s dog, he had a go at most things and I took Danny out quite a bit with the dog and, to be fair, we caught a bit of tackle with him. I remember we were on a trip away to an island out in the sea somewhere and Diesel was on this hare. Now a hare isn’t exactly cannon fodder for a bull cross, but the brindle dog boxed this hare time and time again. The run seemed to go on forever and not actually cover any distance. Finally, when both dog and quarry were looking fatigued he struck with a lunge and made a catch. It was one of those runs that you won’t forget in a hurry for the simple reason that it happened right in front of us and for the amount of to-and-fro boxing. The next day we ended up losing Diesel in a huge swamp that was a couple of hundred acres in size – in the dark. But we found him again after a hell of a lot of searching. There’s nothing worse than losing a dog in a foreign land. I’ve been there and bought the T-shirt. I managed to take a hell of a lot of photos of Diesel so at least Danny will always have photos to accompany the memories of his handy all-rounder.
What a terrible, wet season we’ve had. I don’t want to sound like a moaner but it’s a miracle any wildlife survived the deluge at all. On boxing day we were out with the dogs and everything was in flood. I spotted a patch of grass, about twenty yards square with three hares sat on it, totally surrounded by flood water. I felt sorry for them, but I couldn’t do anything about it. The hares have got plenty to contend with without being flooded out too. Thankfully in my area there’s always been a few hares and their population isn’t declining as quickly as in other places. In fact this season I’ve seen hares in places that I’d not see for a couple of decades or more.
I was thinking about how good we all are these days at ensuring a running dog is in tip-top condition, how his feet are washed after being out and inspected to see if there’s any sore points. A far cry from yesteryear when the dog wasn’t hardly checked over and if he could put four feet on the ground then he was going out! When I was young a dog had to make his limp extremely obvious otherwise we were going hunting. Are we getting too soft and finicky with our dogs these days? It’s hard to say, but things sure do seem a lot different. Years ago I scarcely remember a lurcher being lame, or maybe I just didn’t give it much thought. Maybe the lurchers of old were a bit tougher and harder than what I keep today. That’s the thing with Saluki lurchers, if they’re injured, they’ll sure as hell let you know. In a way I suppose it’s handy, then you can start getting the problem sorted. I’ve a drawer in the kitchen with all my dog stuff in, and when Sparky hears the drawer being opened he skulks away. He knows the difference between that drawer and all the other ones! These days it’s rare to see a dog with toes splattered and deformed, but when I was young it seemed that most of the estate lurchers had twisted toes where they’d been broken and hadn’t been left to heel, they’d just been run and run and run. God, there’s nothing worse than seeing a good fast dog with feet that look like someone’s hit them with a hammer. Especially since the nails always seem to be extraordinarily long too. We were always taught about road walking and how it tightens the feet, but that’s a load of rubbish. One of the flattest footed lurchers I ever did see was road walked thousands of miles a year and it had no effect on the feet. The only benefit road walking has it that the dogs nails are kept short. These days I never do road work, but, obviously the dog is trotting on tarmac as I bike him early season, as we travel to the woods. Apart from that my dogs never get road walked. It’s my belief that either a dog’s born with good feet or it’s not and no amount of tarmac pounding is going to change it. And besides, who’s to say that a tight foot is better than a ‘splayed’ foot anyway? From what I’ve seen the tighter the foot the more injuries they seem to get. There’s no quick fix for a broken toe, I reckon that six weeks is the best you can hope for. Sparky broke his back toe the other year slap-bang in the middle of a very busy season. I was sick. Bone Radial helps get the callousing process going at full speed, but there’s no substitute for time. As it happens six weeks later and he was back in the fields but the season was coming to an end anyway.
By the time this article hits the magazine the season will be well and truly over for me. I’ve done quite a bit more hunting in out of the way places, just leaving my dog to hunt up on his own and I’ve had some great sport. I managed to get lost in the fog up on the moors, which was a bit scary. I normally wouldn’t have ventured out in such conditions, but we’d drove a hell of a way to get there and it’s always worth a gander. An uphill hike that took the thick end of an hour and we were out on the heather, and the visibility was a couple of hundred yards, which isn’t that bad. However, before long the fog tightened it’s grip and soon we were down to forty yards and I lost my bearings. Up on the heather lands there’s no land marks, not signs, no paths. Nothing. After stumbling about for a while I bumped into a tree that I’d never seen before. So I knew I hadn’t a clue where we were. As it happens we had a mega hike until we found a stream, then followed the stream down into the valley where I left my mate and the dogs while I jogged back down the road a few miles for the motor. That was one of those day when I should have turned the alarm off and gone back to bed! But I suppose it’s all good fun and all part of the rich tapestry that is hunting.