Funny ain’t it, how quick times passes by, before you know it you look back on the last ten years and wonder where it’s just vanished to. As I write this I’ve got a 1950’s music compilation playing on YouTube and the old one-eyed terrier bitch sat snoring by my side as only an ancient canine can. Going on the thick end of thirteen years, Cody’s not getting any younger but she’s been there and done that and was a handy dog in her time, giving me some great sport and some even greater memories. When I got Cody I only wanted a dog to stay to ground until dug to in a proper manner, then my real education began but it took a couple more years before I realised the direction in which I wanted to head with the little dogs. In the space of ten years it’s quite amazing how many lads come and go in the dog world, it’s a hard game to stay in I guess, especially if you’ve got family commitments and suchlike. It’s easy to be critical but I suppose we all see things from our own point of view and not from others, but I can’t ever imagine a life without working dogs.
This summer I bred a litter from my chocolate bitch to a rough coated black dog, resulting in six pups that have all gone to good lads. Two went to a couple of lads in Ireland, so the feedback will be interesting, if they work that is. I didn’t keep one out of that litter, but I will probably get a pup on next year. They were all legally docked and micro-chipped just so as I was within the law. Of course, a vet doing a dock is no different from me or you doing it, but these days it’s illegal to perform this quick and easy manoeuvre ourselves. Such silly legislation is laughable, but the law’s the law. Now I’m not exactly a model citizen but some things just aren’t worth the risk. You get a knock on the door and you’ve a litter of docked pups there with no certification then you’re looking at a dog ban as a minimum. I just can’t afford to take the risk.
The thing with pups is that it’s two years before you have any idea if the mating’s been a success or not and even then it’s only a rough idea. They can’t all make it; it’s simply not possible for them all to make the grade, not if they’re being worked properly, to a high standard. At least from what I’ve seen anyway. Quite a few years ago we were in a bit of a corner with regards pups of the family we keep, but after a few swift and fortuitous matings we’re in a much healthier position and there’s a couple of dozen pups out there in the right hands of lads that will work them properly and won’t get swayed by the ‘green queens’ that can lure many men from the path of the righteous.
I was just thinking the other day how when I was a young lad I wished there were less dog lads in my area, but today I’ve got a totally different mind-set. I wish there were more lads starting up in the game. For the last couple of years I’ve taken a few young lads out and introduced them to the delights of country pursuits, be it fishing, shooting or dogs, it’s all the same, it’s all hunting in some form. The youth of today are the future of hunting and some thought needs to be given on trying to pass the baton forward. They need educating how to conduct themselves in the field and, most of all, have respect for their quarry. It’s a bit of a dilemma as you have got to be a bit careful as we’ve all had lads go behind our back onto our own land, but then again it’s a great feeling to see lads coming through the ranks and seeing them progress into good hunting men.
Another thing that’s changed unbelievably is technology. Obviously some of these innovations are a boon for the terrierman such as the modern locators. It’s no secret that I’m a Bellman and Flint fan. A great product that I’ve nothing but praise for. Just think back to those unreliable, highly-emotional, Deben collars with their thin cheapo leather collar and there’s simply no comparison. When Bellman and Flint came on the scene I really believe that terrier work took another step forwards and suddenly no earth was too deep for the collar. Not that anyone goes looking for silly depths but it happens! I sometimes wonder what the outcome would have been when we had that 20 footer in blue ash to Panda, or that 17 footer to Womble if we’d had the old box and collar. Probably not the same result?
Then on the other side of the coin there’s the mobile phones and surveillance cameras cropping up here, there and everywhere. Today’s terrier work is a different kettle of fish and it pays to think ahead. Mobile phones get a lot of lads into trouble and what needs to be remembered is that a lot of these new phones store the GPS location as well as time and date when a photo is taken. I would always recommend that anyone who likes taking photographs takes them on a digital camera and stores them on an external hard drive at a non-hunting friend’s house. Better to be safe than sorry, like the old saying goes “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst”.
This summer we’ve put in another artificial on a local spot that’s a bit of a magnet for foxes. 21 metres of nine-inch glazed pipe we used and I think it’s a real belter, complete with a fancy chimney to finish one of the entrances off; it will make a real sight when a fox bolts out through it. Our summer-soft hands were soon liberally illustrated with blisters and I found that getting cement in said blisters isn’t exactly a good idea either. But we got it done so it’s an investment for the future, another place to check for a fox when we’re having a blank day. We’ve put a drain in each year for a good while now, the last couple being made of brick only. Well, I’d forgotten how easy it is to put a pipe drain in, just so fast and simple when compared to lugging bricks around, all we’ve got to hope for now is that foxy finds it to his liking when the winter months arrive. Those cold days seem so far away now but they’ll be here before we know it. Suddenly the wet, cold summer will be forgotten and, no doubt, we’ll be moaning about the mild winter we’re having.
I’ve spent much of spring and summer travelling across the UK trying to trace the old lines of dogs back to their origin. It’s been a very interesting journey and, although there’s still much to investigate, I have managed to chat to many of the men who had possibly the first saluki greyhounds in the country. The pedigree’s have taken some working out and I’ve made a couple of mistakes with them but I think I’ve gone as far back as I can for now, documenting the most important matings along the way. Along the journey two names crop up again and again – Merlin and Eve, and I was lucky enough to speak to the boys around at that time and find out where those dogs originated from. The man who bred Eve, Russ, is very modest about his contribution to the lurcher world, but there’s not too many good coursing dogs in the country that don’t go back to those few pups bred in Russ’s back yard at the time. That’s some accolade. When Russ had the foresight to put his full saluki Prince over the bitch Gypsy way, way back in the late 70’s he started something off and the resulting pups went on to make a very big impact on the coursing scene. His story how it all came about makes for a great read.
I don’t have an adult lurcher at the moment, just a pup, so this early-season I’ve spent my time lamping with other lads, my ulterior motive being to try to get some good lamping photos but, let me tell you, it’s not easy. Sure, I’ve had the odd one or two over the last twenty years of trying but it’s only really been this year when things have really started moving, but even then I’m still not happy with them. Hare coursing photos weren’t too difficult, the deer coursing ones were always much, much harder, but these lamping photos can make a man reach for his Just for Men, myself included. After mingling about for forever and a day I’ve got a couple of action photos, but in the grand scheme of things they aren’t that good. The problem lies when you’re trying to get the dog and rabbit in the shot at the same time, close enough for the flash and with as little blur as possible. To cut a long story short; I hope to crack this conundrum before I die.
And while we’re on the subject of lamping, where are all the lampers gone? Around my area you’d be forever bumping into fellow night hunters on the local ground, but not today. It seems nowadays that daytime hunting is seeing a lot of popularity, a far cry from the days when I was learning the trade. In those days everything seemed geared toward nocturnal pursuits, so fresh, so exciting and I can remember the trips to North Yorkshire lamping. Hiding the motor in a barn and sneaking about with our terminally-dim Lucas headlamps, catching three rabbits then heading home like we were big time poachers! Of course it wasn’t about the end result but the adventure of it all. North Yorkshire in those days practically lit up at night with many teams of lads descending on its fertile rabbiting grounds once darkness cloaked the land. It was all pretty crazy really with lamps flashing all over the shop and tales of daring-do commonplace, usually loosely based on someone being chased and escaping the very long arm of the law. By the following morning this tale had been suitably embellished by the cunning escapee and he entered the realm of the local urban legends that seemed to abound at the time. Personally, as a youngster I couldn’t get enough of the stories, I really couldn’t. Whether they were a complete lie or not I drank them up eagerly. Facts are that today you could lamp those self-same fields and never get any hassle. Mint you, you’d not see any rabbits either!
I don’t know what the nationwide scenario is but around here rabbits and hares are on the decline whilst roe deer seem to be cropping up under every bloody hedgerow. How the deer population can explode and yet the rabbit population can retract is beyond me. It’s incredible where roe deer are found now, right into the urban areas as if they don’t really care about people. Ten years ago we accidentally dropped a buck on a local sports pitch and we were shocked as to where that deer had miraculously appeared from, but today nothing surprises me where roe are concerned!
This coming winter will probably be the last one that Cody will see, but she’s enjoyed herself along the way and I guess that’s what it’s all about. Hunting is branded deep in our souls, let’s keep hunting and enjoy ourselves along the journey that is life. Stay safe and happy hunting.