When I remember back to the days before I could drive, I longed for a set of wheels and had a mind swirling with great adventures that me and the lurcher would go on. By the time I was eighteen I was plain sick of walking to my hunting patch, the journey there seemed to drag a hell of a lot. With ferret and dog I was forever rooting about, here and there without much of a care. If I thought that there were rabbits to be had then I couldn’t resist, I was drawn and if the lurcher, Rocky, marked a warren then my cheap nylon nets would soon be set and ferret entered. By nightfall the countryside opened up even more but I was always limited by how far I could walk in a night, the main hunting patch was four miles away and whilst that might not sound far when you read it on paper, when you’re walking it three times a week, hunting for hours and then walking back it’s plenty far enough.
Back in my teenage years I would lamp hares as much as I could, though it has to be said that the lurcher I owned was about the slowest long-legged mongrel you’d ever be likely to come across so the hares we did catch were maybe very poor specimens to start with and they needed taking out of the gene pool. Deer were rarely seen on the lamp back then. I think I can only recall only ever seeing deer under the spotlight on two occasions up until I learnt to drive. They just weren’t around, though I wished they were for no creature on earth obsesses me like deer do.
By the time I took an apprenticeship I started trying to save for a car, but it’s hard when you’re 18 and you’ve got so much ‘stuff’ to buy with so little dollar. An apprentice’s wage wasn’t overly large, but in the end I managed to raise funds. That first car was a one litre Nova saloon in burgundy. It looked a proper grandad’s car, but I cared little, I now had the transport I’d dreamed about for so long. The funny thing is that I didn’t spread my wings at first, I simply hunted the same old places that I’d lamped for years, only now I drove there instead of walked. It took a little while before I started heading north and south with the lamp, though we did do a fair bit of hunting in the daytime out of our usual comfort zone. One such place was a little wood that I’d heard a rumour about. Back then I was mental on seeing a muntjac, it was simply one of those deer that I just wanted to see, never mind catch. Little did I know that I was going to go on to catch good numbers of them in the future, but then it seemed an impossibility.
At the time it was the early nineties and I was in conversation with a guy at the British Deer Society tent at one of the game fairs. In conversation it transpired that a friend of his had released thirteen muntjac in a small wood next to a village some time a go. I slyly wrote the name of the village down and the very next weekend we hit the A1 heading south to muntjac paradise. My cousin and I had two dogs with us in the car as well as a compound bow (God knows why?!) and another ‘spare’ lad to act as chief beater. Those muntys weren’t going to know what hit them. Or so we thought. This was back in the day before sat-navs and mobiles, and it was all map reading, but the over-loaded Nova soon rolled up in the village and we unloaded heading for the first wood.
The wood was a small square covert, but with some heavy patches of bramble and it was in this prickly cover that I’d expected to find the muntjac. It never dawned on me that released deer will often vanish for the horizon, for some reason I was convinced we were going to be falling over the damn things. I kept my dog, Rocky, on the slip and we let the brindle bitch, Kim, run loose while my cousin and his mate waded on top of the three-foot-high carpet of bramble. It was hopeless really and when I think back such an undertaking was just yet another crazy mad-cap scheme in a whole history of crazy schemes.
After a hell of a lot of prickles in our knees, scratches on our faces and bouncing over an acre of bramble a muntjac did flush, but only for a split second as it dashed through the long grass into the next impenetrable patch of blackberrys. As daft as it sounds, I was happy, over the moon in fact, to have at least seen one of these diminutive deer. We moved on to the next strip of woodland and things didn’t go quite as well, as Mr Gamekeeper came charging through the wood in his Land Rover with scant regard for anything that lay in his way. He jumped out, red faced, with a baseball bat and started going absolutely mental. So we made our excuses and left at that point, heading back North up the motorway, no venison in the boot, but we didn’t care, we’d just had our first taste of adventure and there was going to be a hell of a lot more to come.
The first time I ever ventured to Lincolnshire on a night’s lamping was a major revelation and I think that night had the biggest effect of my lamping career. The whole county was wall-to-wall with game. That night we saw hundreds upon hundreds of pairs of eyes, of all colours and all heights and what a night we had. As per usual I was the one driving home, it was 6a.m. and we’d just hit the motorway. By now I was driving an Escort Estate and everyone was asleep, men and dogs alike. Except me. Throughout the whole two and a half hour drive home all I could think about was getting back down there. It was one of those places that was so addictive it took over my life for a few years. Lincolnshire then turned into a stepping stone for going further south, to Cambridgeshire or across country to Bedfordshire. Even Norfolk sometimes if the fancy took us. Diesel was cheap back then and we didn’t have a care in the world. The only thing I tried to have was a safe parking spot, that was always in the front of my mind as it sure was a long walk home! And, as daft as it sounds, I wasn’t in the breakdown recovery services or anything like that. I couldn’t imagine doing such journeys these days with no breakdown cover, it doesn’t bear thinking about. The escort wasn’t overly road-worthy either as I was always a tight sod when it came to tyres and other essentials. In all honesty, back then the car was lucky if it had a spare. I remember going to a mate’s house in that Escort, down the motorway an hour or so. I’m chugging along and the car’s making awful noises and bouncing about a bit. My technique in those days for any vehicle noise was to turn the radio up and pretend it never happened. So after a colourful journey I pulled into my mate’s driveway and I happened to mention the noises to him. He looked at the tyre and found there were dozens of patches of steel wires sticking out of it. Oops. The best of all, I didn’t have a jack or a wheel brace. So my mate got those and we couldn’t even get the wheel off it was rusted on so badly. We’d actually planned on going over to France in the car, but we decided it’d be best if we went in my friend’s Jeep instead. It might cost a little bit more fuel money but we’d get there and back alive. Before we left we sprayed the seized nuts with WD40 and I said a few prayers. Three days later we arrived home and after a hell of a lot of jumping on the wheel brace we finally loosened off the nuts. Right, spare wheel out of the boot. Only trouble is, when I get the spare it’s little better than the tyre we’d taken off! I made it home in once piece, though I have no idea as to how. Ahh, the carefree attitude of youth!
Thursday nights used to be one of my favourite lamping times. I would finish my shift in the factory at 9.15p.m. and within five minutes I’d be back home to have a cup of coffee and check the lamp and battery before one of the lads would arrive. At the time our superior at work was a great guy and he didn’t care too much if we needed to nip out of work to buy tools, so I used to have to buy tools every Thursday afternoon and, of course, find myself in WHSmiths picking a new map, for the night’s adventures. By the time my shift had ended I’d poured over the map and made a plan for nightfall. It was all exciting stuff. There was a hell of a lot of RedBull drunk in those days, and I have to say that those nights exploring new territory were some of the very best I’ve ever had, in terms of quarry and enjoyment. At the time I was doing all the driving, my main lamping partner couldn’t legally drive so I used to be permanently behind the wheel, which was great when we were heading off south, but at 7a.m. the next morning when rush hour traffic’s building up and the dogs and the passenger are all asleep and I’m struggling to keep my eyes open, it’s a bit much for one man.
By the time this is in print I will have started lamping, just going local at first as the lurcher isn’t fit enough for anything else. I’m waiting for the weather to change before I can start biking the dog; it’s a method I think works well. Building things up until he’s being kept fit by work and work alone. At the moment though we’re all enjoying the sunshine, the lurcher is a proper sun worshipper, and he deserves his rest because soon enough it’s going to be action stations and this season he’s going to have a big workload.
A couple of months ago I took my friend’s bitch, Mia, up to Romeo to be lined. She’s got a belly like a space hopper now, so she looks like there s a few in her. They should be decent pups and I might just have a look at them, maybe something to watch out for in the winter of 2016. by then Sparky will be six years old and maybe he’ll need a bit of back-up to see him through the winter. We’ll see.
Best of luck for the season everyone.