To have a hunt there needs to be a quarry and one or more hunters. To have a good hunt there should be a find, a travelling hunt, maybe a check or two and a conclusion. The conclusion can be a kill on top, or a mark and a dig or a bolt. But it is surely not imperative to have a kill; others may argue.
Today, me and my little inexperienced pack comprising one 5 month-old lurcher pup, a 4 month-old Teckel pup, a year-old Teckel and a five year-old Teckel, had what was nearly the perfect miniature hunt.
Only yards from my door Amie, the one year old Teckel bitch spoke haltingly. The five-year old, Toby, looked up from fiddling about with a molehill and went to join her. On the way he shot sideways, sniffed about, spoke twice and started to hunt towards me at an angle. He was hunting hard and quite loudly. Amie, independent as ever continued to snuffle along the bank of the burn which after the recent storms was deep and flowing hard. She didn’t speak stridently but rather snuffled along making soft, whimpering noises.
“Mink.” I thought. “Probably from the night before.”
Mink scent lingers. The inexperienced Amie still spoke but was going in small circles and not moving far. The furthest she got was about ten yards and kept going back to where she first gave tongue. When reliable old Toby had started speaking and hunting hard I knew scent was comparatively fresh and not from the previous night. He ignores very old scent like he should.
Toby was hunting away from the burn which is not the natural path for a mink to take; they like to stay near water but I’ve had this before and that day it was a mink. He passed within ten yards of me crying like a banshee. I think his pitch was far lower than a banshee’s but as I’ve never heard a banshee I’m guessing. I saw not a thing. His fervent cries brought the lurcher pup, Bobby, followed by Lilley, his little friend the Teckel pup. Amie is the most independent Teckel I’ve ever had (liar) and I’m convinced she goes deaf when she’s hunting but she looked up, listened and raced towards us.
Toby continued to hunt with gusto but paradoxically was moving quite slowly. Bobby kept getting in his way. Little Lilley didn’t know what was going on but followed gamely through the thick, reedy grasses and tussocks. Amie arrived and immediately screamed. She did sound like a banshee. No, I haven’t heard one since I wrote the last paragraph so I still don’t know what a banshee sounds like but she makes an unearthly noise and puts me in mind of what I think a banshee would sound like so there.
Toby checked by a large tuffet and tried to get inside it but was hampered by the rest of the gang. He ran around the other side and started to speak and I still saw nothing. He spoke again and Amie joined him. She spoke as well but not with confidence. The two pups got in the way again. Suddenly Toby went away at a good clip, speaking well. Amie followed and let out her banshee howl (I know, I know). Bobby, being far quicker than a Teckel ran alongside Toby and bit him in play. Toby didn’t like that and bit him back harder. Bobby is at present a young thug and still wanted to play so he bit Toby’s ear. Talk about a hindrance. Toby didn’t like that one bit and drew blood from Bobby’s snout, Bobby stopped getting in the way but didn’t seem to notice the blood; bull breeding I suppose!
I watched as the two Teckels hunted steadily away with me still not knowing what was in front of them. Amie has as good a nose as Toby’s but at five years old his is more experienced. At a check he invariably found the line before she did. This was not a long distance hunt, it all happened within a hundred and fifty yards of me. In one place both Teckels were at fault for over a minute and I thought that their quarry, whatever it was, had beaten them but Toby cast himself a bit further and picked up a line. Both adult Teckels were put off by the youngsters time and time again. They persevered but had to hunt this line as if it were a stale one constantly going over ground that the pups had foiled. I knew it wasn’t stale so left them to it. Sure enough they sorted it out, picked up the pace and off they went again. This had to be a diminutive animal they were hunting or I would have seen it so it could still be a mink or what I call a minkette – a young mink.
They lost it again about twenty yards from the ruins of a bothy the walls of which had been reduced to a mere foot high through pilfering for repairing the dykes (dry-stone walls). Neither Teckel could hunt a yard in this area until Toby lifted his head, quested and following an air scent and directly to the ruined bothy. He thrust his snout into a crack and barked. Amie did the same and within seconds all four dogs were decidedly interested in the wrecked stonework. I tottered towards it and as I got there, Toby flushed something small and brown. I only saw it as a flash but the youngest member, Lilley spotted it and so did Amie. It darted out and darted back between the two young Teckels. I would have been surprised if the puppy, Lilley, had grabbed it but she did make the attempt. Amie also missed it and it got back to the safety of the stones. Lilley pushed her little snout into the stones. Amie dug and scratched at them barking furiously and this time it was Toby bullying his way to the front and shoving his snout under the rocks.
Bobby joined in the fun and danced over the ruins, tail wagging and play-biting the Teckels until he too scented something, stopped playing and pushed his own snout under a stone.
By now Toby’s nose was bloodied from the sharp stones but he continued to dig and scrape and push with his snout and move some quite hefty rocks. I rather ineffectively moved some small stones.
All of a sudden, interest peaked and all four dogs went frantic. Toby shoved large rocks aside that must have hurt him, Bobby jumped over everyone and dug anywhere and everywhere in the most haphazard fashion. Amie bit stones and I feared for her dentition and little Lilley, much more sensible than I would have thought, thrust herself between legs and under backs and was right where Toby indicated the action would come. Unfortunately for her at the last moment Amie lost patience with Bobby’s antics but bit Lilley instead so Lilley had backed off a bit when Toby made his last effort.
Toby was accurate in his marking and his persistence paid off. With a last big heave he shifted a rock and it bolted. Fittingly he was the one who caught it and crunched it instantly without bothering to shake it. I’m not a good photographer but I am pleased with this one. Weasels and stoats are lightning-quick and notoriously difficult to photograph on the move. The weasel can just be seen in Toby’s mouth.
Toby bit him on the face and Bobby danced away. Toby chased him and then seemed to forget where his weasel was. This gave Amie and Lilley the opportunity to grab it and start a tug-of-war but before they could skedaddle with it Toby was back. (I missed that shot). His mere presence was enough to make Amie drop it and Lilley was too fearful to snatch it back up. Toby stood guard over it and Lilley started to tantalise him barking and rushing trying to grab it. Toby is normally very tolerant of puppies but this time he chased Lilley for a few yards. This allowed Bobby his opportunity and he made his move.
Before the powers that be pounce and drag me away in chains for “hunting a mammal with a mammal” I had my little double, folding four-ten with me. Unlike in the rest of the U.K., up here in Scotland you can use as many dogs as you like to hunt a mammal but they must be used to “flush to the gun” so carrying one is imperative.
It was not quite ‘the perfect hunt’ because I have an avid admiration for these tiny mustelids. They are voracious, persistent and courageous hunters themselves and yes, I know they kill a high number of nestling birds, and voles. Had it been a rat I would have been happier.