This month’s issue feature two articles
Concern for the Hare
written by Mark Brennan
I have been hearing from a lot of lads that the rabbit numbers are down, especially in the English countryside, but not so up north where I believe numbers are doing well. The Hare also seems to be low where once it was a common sight and a number of newspaper reports have mentioned a more virulent strain of myxomatosis and also a form of haemorrhaging similar to RHD2 in rabbits, though none have been confirmed. Maybe the cause for this – I cannot help but wonder – if this would have been the case where once hares were protected on large estates for coursing and where they were monitored for such outbreaks of disease, if this would have been so prevalent as it appears to be now? There was no mention also of the hare’s biggest killer, the fox, which takes large numbers of leverets and birds of prey which now enjoy protection, plus the fact that large numbers are shot, not just for sport but also to eradicate them from certain areas to stop illegal coursing and lamping. The true sportsman knows the need for protection and never over kills/hunts his quarry and is always dependent on the survival of this for his future and takes measures to protect it. It seems this policy has fallen from favour and a more robust one of eradication has not helped matters at this time in places where the hare was more common. I certainly hope for all concerned that the hare doesn’t slip from the British landscape where it has been so pivotal in the past.
My hunting partner has been holding the fort whilst I’m out of action and is realising that it can certainly be a long day out on your own with the travelling involved. It’s nice to have a chat on the long journey home, but a killer on your bill! It’s also given his dog Bridgett an opportunity to settle down and concentrate on her marking. She always marked but he didn’t always notice, whereas if Berry came along we both watched for her reaction as she was so bombproof in her ability to find in the deepest of warrens, sometimes from ten yards away, that it deflected from her and other dogs that were present on our trips out. Also it’s given him a bit more confidence in handling the ferrets which stems from a lot of biters in his ownership over the years. The two he has now belong to me and are a pleasure to handle and work. I will just reiterate that they belong to me and are only on loan at the present just in case he’s forgotten! And when they do come back I will be expecting the superb cage that he has made to accompany them back to my yard.
This season he bought a large bramble strimmer in order to get a flying start to the season and it has paid off giving him access to some good warrens early on in the season instead of waiting for the frost to kill the nettles and trash back. Some of the rabbits caught have been showing signs of myxi but not really bad. He’s not reported seeing bunnies dead in the fields so these could be ones that have built up an immunity to the virus over the years. I certainly hope so, as it’s a terrible way to die, I don’t even like to handle their poor, pus-filled bodies when I come across them even though I know I can’t catch it, I just don’t like it and will leave their bodies for the foxes/hawks to feed on. Plus, I’ve always been suspicious of transporting it from one place to another via myself or my ferrets.
Being laid up has given me plenty of reading time and I’ve been going back looking at some of my days and nights out over the years in my journal. I will be putting some of these in to my next article along with whatever else may come up along the way.
May all your hares have big ears!
These Dark Times
by Gordon Mason
You will always hear people say, in conversation, “yes, but the hunting ban doesn’t affect you” and the answer to that is “of course it does.” And if you think it doesn’t then you are a fool. A hunt terrierman, in particular, is under constant scrutiny and in my view, you do it right or not at all. We cannot afford to be complacent or think that no one cares, because our enemies are never far away and waiting for the money shot. Don’t get me wrong, I have done things in the past, when I really didn’t know any better, that I’m not proud of now, or really made a mess of the job at some point but the secret is to learn from any mistakes and to try not to repeat them. No one is perfect, especially when you are trying to bring to book a wild animal whose life is at stake.
All you can do is make the ending as quick and painless as possible and I count myself very fortunate at the moment because I have very good bitches that make life easy for me. They are clinical, not stupid, and know how to work the animal; pressure when needed and most of all, in control of the situation. It’s nice to break through at the finish and not have to worry about getting to the dog as quickly as possible before he gets hurt. I never have that problem these days and most of the time they just take hold as I break through, usually at the cheek, and just sit quietly, tail wagging, waiting for me to finish the job for them. I wind the lads up all the time saying “that’s text book stuff” – it seems to be a family trait and I’m not complaining. Of course, this doesn’t happen every time but I will say that it’s quite often the outcome and I know that it’s regular work, and plenty of it, that allows them to learn their trade.
I used to believe that the best dogs usually started off hard and learned respect for an opponent after a few hard battles but now I’m of a different opinion as many of mine will start quite sensibly, not at all crazy but not too wary of their quarry either. I have always respected game terriers but what is the definition of gameness? A dog which would try to kill their foe or fight to the death (even the hardest of dogs will have a sense of self preservation and realise that the game is up for they cannot work that way indefinitely)
I remember digging to Britt on a Christmas Eve a few years ago. I was trying some earths on a bank, looking for a partridge killer and I said to the lads who were with me that whatever happens they must not let him run up the bank to a little copse. For it held a massive place which was seriously deep. Britt could be a tough old boy when he wanted to be and I tried to avoid long jobs with him for it was not worth the hassle in such places. Anyway, Sod’s Law, or perhaps the lads had already started their Christmas celebrations and their concentration had suffered, but the first earth proved to be empty and guess what happened? Britt was heading up the bank L for leather and I knew just where he was going. The editor won’t print the words I said just then!
Away he went, out of sight but we found him with the bleeper and there he was, moving about for an hour before we had a steady mark at 3.6 metres. Nothing for it but to start digging and I remember feeling gutted because I knew that the dog was likely to take a lot of stick before we reached him. Anyway, the dig went well and when I broke through to him he was ragging a long dead carcass which he must have killed very quickly. Job done! And Britt with hardly a bite on him and when I drew both out, there behind them was another, very much alive. I believe the one in front had something wrong with it because it didn’t quite look right but I was really glad of the outcome. But the point I’m trying to make is that in my old age [Editor. What?!?!>!] I don’t enjoy digging to a dog that’s too rough with the quarry and likely to get badly hurt. For me anyway, those days are long gone and definitely over.
At the time of writing I feel that hunting faces its darkest hour. The mood seems to have changed from defiance to compliance and I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because many of our old stalwarts have gone from the game due to health and passing but the general attitude is not what it used to be. Some packs are even trying to distance themselves from terrier work though it is still a legal form of fox control and perhaps the day is not too far distant when the day of the full time terrierman will be over. There’s just not enough to do anymore to justify a full time terrierman.
The year 2018 has been a year of great change and I’ll be glad to see the back of it, just one thing after another and the most scentless Autumn I’ve ever known, at times almost boring. But at least it has bucked up in the last two weeks and I had a lovely dig with MO on a slippery pheasant killer in a massive place. It took her two hours to pin him down with the nets all set but he never once looked for a bolt. It was tipping down with rain but I wasn’t complaining as things were looking up. Let’s hope it all improves from here on. I have some lovely pups for next season so we are not done yet.
As it says on the contents page of our mag, Hunt Away! Never give in!