Well, for once, they were spot on the old weather forecasters; here we we are on a Thursday night in December and ‘Storm Caroline’ has arrived in her infancy stages but still strong enough to swirl the leaves around as though they were in a mini tornado. We have had plenty of rain before hand to soften the ground and all looks just right to give the old lad a couple of slips on the lamp.
My old mate hadn’t done much recently due to a niggling shoulder injury he sustained early in the season, so a quick trip local would be just what the vet ordered. I had given him some decent road work and we had done plenty of mooching with a young lad, well I say young lad, he was 30 recently so half my age. Alan has 2 tidy lurchers who are pretty handy animals, although due to work commitments, they have no real mileage on their clocks, but he is keen to get some work into his them this winter as they had a good end to last season and plenty of mooching through the summer. We’d already had a number of day sessions, and he had been out a few times on the lamp. But like my old lad, the older of his 2 bitches had also sustained a shoulder injury early on and she had missed over 6 weeks.
Slip as his older bitch is called is 4 years old and is bred from Hancock lines, and quite different looking to other lurchers I have seen from that line, that said I have not seen a great number. She is a really nice long, sleek bitch, an unusual blue, fawn colour, and although a smooth looking coat, it is a nice thick coat. She is very quick with terrific early pace, which she has demonstrated twice this season when taking cock pheasants from out of their flight, which I know plenty of lurchers do, but she still shows that electric pace when on a mission. That pace has worked against her on occasions early on, when on the back of fur, as she has often over shot her prey by some distance. Another major factor would be she never really got out as much as she probably should have done in her first full season, but she has great ability and prey drive to go with her pace and is making up for lost time. She has turned into a terrific all rounder who hunts up really well and Alan is going to line her with my old lad when she comes into season, so hopefully I can keep the bloodline from my lad going.
His younger 3 year old bitch would certainly be classed in the ‘pedigree unknown’ ranks, as he tells me, a black, smooth coated bitch who is smaller, and more compact than her working companion, a powerful type, she is no slouch herself. We had some nice catches with her when she was out on her own while Slip was on the mend. No big bags, but some real good sport and the dogs kept themselves in food.
Alan has started to see some good work from his dogs now they are getting out more often, which is the essence of a working dog. It takes me back to when I was doing 3 shifts on the coal face and then having to get out with the dogs in between, but still wouldn’t have had it any other way. If not out coursing or lamping it would be road work with the greyhounds and the odd hand slip while getting them ready for the track. The tracks have all but gone so the lurchers are the only running dogs now. I will try and get out regular with Alan and his bitches over the next few weeks and I will get pen to paper and let you know how things go. It will still keep me active as my old lad can’t handle too much now so it has come at at good time really.
Back to my little session with my old lad, and hoping to get a couple of runs in him and see how the shoulder is when put under some pressure. The weather was as good as you could get with Storm Caroline blowing, no snow as yet but plenty in the air. The lamp was charged, and the old lad knows exactly what’s going on as soon as you pick up the lamp, as does Tess, the old Russell bitch, but then sulks when she can’t come, or slinks back to sit with the Misses if the weather looks a bit dodgy… ‘working terrier’, as if! It’s only 5 minutes drive from home to the local permission and it has been some very rewarding land over the last 50 odd years, never really changing that much. Good rich grazing land with the big field behind it usually alternating with Maize and other crops but with a nice thick hawthorn hedge splitting it down the middle, so good for the old bunnies to get cover. During the worst winter months the main field usually holds sheep which have come down from the Welsh hills, so we always do these early season before they are brought down. The rest of the year it is all milkers and sectioned off with electric fencing, so we have plenty of grass land to go at. This land is so handy for schooling saplings as it is nice even ground and not far to travel and, more importantly, it holds decent numbers, and we can get some fur in their mouths early doors before the young rabbits get lamp shy. So all togged up from the elements, slip lead on and into the car for the short drive to the permission.
That Caroline certainly had a real cold chill in her wind as I got out of the motor, she nearly took the bloody door of its hinges! Those were the days in the old vans we used to get about in, when the hinges would drop and you had to lift the door up to shut it, that’s if it ever shut properly at all and you could usually see daylight through the floor. They were never the best for courting in either, as the great smell of Brut (‘Splash it on all over Henry’) was over taken by the smell of the other 4 legged ‘brutes’ that occupied the back, after getting up cosy with old foxy…, a smell to die for! You could never satisfy some girls, the aftershave I am talking about, by the way!!
So over the 5 bar gate and into our first field with Caroline straight in our face, boy did she make my snout run, talk about silver sleeve and that was just a quick half hour out in it. I flicked the lamp on and moved it slowly to my left as I felt Jack put some tension on the slip, and sure enough not 30 metres away 2 rabbits were sat low but not far enough out for a slip, one reared up and made for sanctuary straight away, while the other just ambled in the same direction and vanished into the black hedge, which did not go down too well with the old lad, but patience is a virtue and he would get his chance. That chance came with the next flick of the lamp, when we homed in on another decent size bunny sitting a nice distance out, no certainty but a fair slip and an even chance. We made 3 or 4 paces towards our target, which Jack had picked up and again was ready to go. The next step saw the rabbit switch from a relaxed grazer into a fleeing beast, and out into the field away from the hedge and if he was going for cover across the field he had some 200 yards to reach safety and it’s then you feel confident of one in the bag. Jack homed in on it like he had never been away, but on the first turn the old rabbit thought better of heading across the open ground and did a full about turn leaving the old lad trying to grip the damp grass and stop himself over shooting too far, but the very greasy surface saw him sliding on his side with legs thrashing at fresh air. Needless to say that was enough for the bunny to make it home without any further problems. The fact that the old lad was a so keen after his lack of proper work, was my reason for him over shooting so badly, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. But my main concern was how he moved as he made his way back from the hedge, where he had seen the bunny enter, and to my relief he was looking sound, although he now had a dark green strip down one side of his fawn coat.
Back on the slip and Caroline was back in our faces and making my eyes run, and I wondered how, if at all, it effected the dog’s sight. Nevertheless we pushed on with my head held down slightly for a little protection as there was now some fine snow in with the wind and not too pleasant, it had that stinging effect. Next flick just showed the back end of a bunny move into the hedge, but as I slowly moved the lamp further out into the field I picked up 2 ruby eyes and this bunny was tight in the squat and looking as though it was getting smaller as we moved in its direction, usually a good sign that he was going nowhere at present. Those traits I had often seen in hares, the ones you were never sure if it was or wasn’t a squatter, but as you drew nearer the hare got smaller as it tightened up in its seat. This bunny was now tucked right in as I kept the beam on him and Jack could sense things were about too happen but I wasn’t sure he had homed in on the target. A few more paces and he let me know that he had clocked it and I let the leather of the slip lead pass through my fingers and he was off down the beam. I am pretty sure we could have walked right onto this squatter but I wanted to give the dog some work and thought he would benefit with a decent run, but Sod’s law the bunny sat tight and Jack took it out of its seat without breaking stride. He was a little slower retrieving but again I just felt he was enjoying being back in the groove, and he still retrieved it to hand alive, so it was despatched and we moved on.
We were well down the field now and the snow was getting heavier and making life difficult, more so for me but Jack was still up for it and raring to go. I flicked the lamp on again and lit up another 3 rabbits, all within 5 metres of each other but a good distance away. The beam through the thickening snow was throwing all sorts of little reflections back at me, so I knocked it off and made my way towards the bunnies. I made about 20 metres when I flicked the lamp back on and picked up the 3 rabbits who were now heading away from us towards the small cemetery at the far end of the field. This cemetery had been pestered for years with rabbits with many of my pals all complaining of the damage they had caused burrowing and taking the flowers that were freshly put onto loved ones’ graves. I can remember not too many years back when the local authority sent in their pest control guy to shift what he could, but they were still around in good numbers. More recently they had ring fenced it with ranch type fencing, with the added extra fine wire mesh netting along the bottom from the ground up to the first wooden bars, which would be about 2 feet high. This was a nice little bonus for me when lamping as I had taken many a rabbit that had failed to obstacle safely over this when under pressure from Jack. History was about to repeat itself as I singled out the wider of the 3 rabbits, giving Jack a little more ground to work in. Again the leather slipped between my fingers and big lad was off, it was a good, long slip but I was not too bothered about catching this one, I just wanted to give him a good blow out and knew whichever way the prey went Jack had some decent running distance to cover, and that was without any twist and turns that the bunny would put in to save his little butt. The snow was really bleaching in my face but I managed to keep the beam on the cony as the course hotted up. Jack put his first strike in and slid past a couple of metres and you could see him busting a gut to get back onto his prey as it headed straight down the beam towards me. He quickly made ground and was looking to have another snap at it but the rabbit virtually stopped dead and he flicked it over but had not made clean contact and off they went again. This rabbit was a good un and again it gave a jink and a turn to evade the old lad, and it was now heading towards the cemetery on full throttle. Jack again closed in as I did my best to keep the beam on things as they were now some distance from me but not far from the cemetery. Jack made the next strike count and picked the rabbit up by its arse end whilst sliding into the mesh along the bottom of the cemetery fencing, although on impact the rabbit slipped from his jaws and made off down the side of the fencing, with Jack back up at it. There was no escape under the mesh and if he hesitated that would certainly be curtains, so he had to head for the hedge, which was a good distance to cover and Jack was now back on its little scut. Another turn saw the rabbit have one last throw of the dice but Jack made no mistake this time, getting right over his prey and picking it up in the middle of its back, and headed straight back to me without having to adjust his grip. But fair play to that buck, he put up as good a run we have had on the lamp for a good while, and may well have eluded the big lad if the cemetery had not been so well protected. The snow was now turning into blizzard conditions and so difficult to see through it and Caroline was building up her force, so time to head back.
The stroll back was a little easier as we were now wind assisted with Caroline on our backs. Our walk back turned into a jog and as I rubbed the old lad down I could hear he had a fair old wheeze in his breathing which is unusual as he has always been a good clear winded dog, so just a little concern or maybe he needed the run and not as fit as I thought, or perhaps age has caught up with him?
The next morning we were snowed under and Caroline had left her mark, so I took the old lad for a stroll over the fields just to enjoy the snow and have a good roll in it and loosen him up. No such thing as within 10 minutes he was gone on the back of a fox he had found in some thick gorse cover and knowing the ground I knew where he would be and sure enough he was standing over the earth with the usual growling and grumbling voice he gave when foxy was in the vicinity. Perhaps another day old lad!
One thing is for sure, you can really tell as he ages, his nice loose, relaxed running style has become shorter, more choppy in his action and this season will be his last, the old lad will spend his days mooching about with me as when he fancies it.
Happy hunting and keep the faith.