Finally the golden wheat has been chopped and after some baking hot weather thick, dark clouds answered the prayers of lurcher men up and down the country. Overnight, temperatures were slashed by an incredible 13 degrees and a full 24 hours of solid drizzle ensured our faithful four legged friends would be out in the fields once again. Haven’t we had a brilliant summer? It must be one of the best growing seasons in memory, with the farmers having plenty of silage cuts. I’ve whiled away the summer by salmon fishing on the peat-coloured spate rivers, with some degree of success, but the rod is a poor substitute for a slip lead.
It’s evening as I write this, I’m waiting for the night to draw in as I fancy an all-nighter, but I’ve had the pooch out all morning so I will make a decision later when I give him a walk to see if he is stiff or not. Even after all these years I still get excited at the start of the season. It doesn’t seem like two minutes ago when I was a youngster trying hard to nobble a few bunnies with my dog, and early season always gave me the best opportunity. The bag was never large, but it didn’t matter, it was all about getting out with the dog. I’d love to know how many miles I walked back then in search of the humble bunny. One night my cousin and I were having a mouch in the first few nights of September. He was running his dad’s dog, Jim, and I had Rocky. We got the grand bag of nine rabbits that night after about 15 miles of walking. I couldn’t do it these days! But the icing on the cake happened on the way back home when we let our dogs off on the local golf course, not expecting anything. Both dogs vanished and we never thought anything about it until out in the darkness a hare squealed. It’s fair to say we were both extremely giddy at this spawny catch, and I’m sure we told anyone who would listen about this unlucky hare for months after. That happened on a night when the lamp worked, however in the early days many a night was ruined by bad wiring. My early equipment was a hotch-potch of insulation tape, switches and tired wiring, but the main problem was the early dry cell batteries. I had a massive, heavy Deben one that weighed as much as an adult rhino and it was forever blowing the fuse, and in those days I didn’t understand about the silver foil trick so I had a nightmare. I should have just wired the lamp straight to the infernal thing, but amateur electrics wasn’t my forte’ back in those days. Come to think of it they aren’t nowadays either.
Lamping was incredibly popular back then, and during the late 80’s and early 90’s the whole of my area was lamped to death. I often saw others lamping, as most of us locals would be treading on each others toes on the first windy night of the season. It was in the late 80’s when I first tried my hand at an all-nighter, and how refreshing it was. Taking the tiredness out of the equation it was great once past midnight and suddenly the whole world turned its lights off and slept. Today the roads are busy all night long, but in those days you just didn’t see a car on the country roads. There’s plenty about my childhood I try to forget, but those nights out with just me and my over-walked dog were something I hope I’ll remember forever. Today, all these years later, I still enjoy the all-nighters and while I consider that my dogs have stepped up a league from back then I couldn’t go out and catch six rabbits in a session today! Not local to me anyway.
There was something romantic about it all in those days, the nights were black and all I can remember is them being as windy as hell. Before I got a proper dog my Uncle took me out onto a great little spot five miles from home and it was so black I could barely manage to follow him. His dog, Jim, was running and we probably got a few bunnies that night, I can’t remember the bag but I can remember the blackness. I used to also accompany him onto what was, back then, a very prestigious shooting estate. It was full of rabbits at the time, and to avoid walking on the road we had to approach the fields from a wood. This place was covered in rhododendrons and visibility was extremely poor. We’d slide down the steep bankings on the fallen leaves until the ground flattened out and then it was a case of walking in the pitch black to where the wall had tumbled down a bit. Then we entered paradise. As a boy I simply couldn’t comprehend how my Uncle knew his way in the total darkness. A few years later and I was doing the self-same route on my own. Just like most animals, I had learned off an elder. There was no such thing as Lightforce in those days, they were years away. Instead everyone wanted the Lucas headlamps. This item of kit was probably the most over-rated thing in existence. Their yellow beam was very poor by today’s standards, but at the time if you had one of those you really thought you were the bee’s knee’s.
Then the Lightforce’s finally arrived and I think every lurcherman in the world bought one. I’d like to say that these were a great improvement on the underpowered, unreliable dazzlers that went before them, but no. The Lightforce wires were also terrible and it soon dawned on many of us to rewire the connections in the handle to avoid problems. Once the wires had been sorted then they were amazing. I took an awful amount of gear with my Lightforce and they were a great lamp that didn’t seem to drain the battery too much. Even on an all-nighter you could get away with a couple of 6 amp/hr ones. In the last few years I’ve used the cordless Clulite PLR500, and it makes life so much easier. The lamp is as light as a feather, but it lasts all night. How they do it I don’t know, maybe it’s magic! All of my lamping photos are taken with this lamp. It’s an LED, not the usual bulb, so the light is whiter, and I know some lads say their dogs don’t run right with whiter light, but mine have never complained in the three seasons I’ve used the Clulite. At 45 quid a pop they’re as cheap as chips too.
In the days before the ban I really used to enjoy early mornings coursing the roe just as the corn was dropped. There’s not much that will beat a mature buck glowing in the light of a huge orange sun that’s climbing high. They were memorable and magical times if I’m honest. For months the roebucks had been hidden from prying eyes by the high crops and suddenly they were visible and vulnerable to a cunning running machine. I remember one morning spying a roe right out on a big stubble, stood under a solitary oak tree. I’d taken a few roe from that tree over the years so it wasn’t a big surprise to find one there. As luck would have it the roe walked to the other side of the tree from where me and my saluki lurcher stood, so it was time to make a silent approach. I changed the lead to ensure he was on the slip and started to walk up a rather convenient tramline that gave me a certain degree of silence. You know what it’s like trying to walk quietly through stubble; it’s normally impossible! Ever so slowly we crept forward, my dog had his ears up, eyes scanning from side to side. He knew from my body language that he was going to be busy very shortly.
At about forty yards I stopped, the wood was behind me and there was still a lump of stubble in front. Kneeling down I gave a couple of squeaks, which immediately made our roe come to my side of the tree to investigate. He moved his head from side to side, then up and down, trying to work out what this unusual and unfamiliar lump was on his territory. My dog was alert and calm, he was a veteran at daytime roe and he knew he didn’t need to do anything daft. It seemed like a long time but probably just thirty seconds when the roe decided to high-tail it away. As it happens we were crouched in the way of where he really wanted to go and so he headed away from us and I let my lurcher go. He was blisteringly fast up the stubble and soon Mr Roe had a big problem snapping at his butt. Fast jinking from side to side was tried but there wasn’t a roe born that could out-manouver that dog. It looked like it was game over, until the dog stumbled in a rut underfoot. This gave our roe a good chance of escape, though my faithful friend had already composed himself and was really putting the pedal to the metal in an attempt to reach the wood before this buck did. I love seeing a dog that can vary his speed depending on the situation and this canine was one such runner. He managed to get to the wood side of the buck and held his position.
They ran parallel with each other, the dog maintaining the exact same speed as the buck, not trying to make a catch or perform any heroics, just content to do just what he needed to do to stop this buck making the wood. After a few dozen yards of this the buck’s nerve broke and he headed back out onto the stubble field again. Every bound took him further and further toward the danger of the open space, and this dog intended to let him do just that. He never accelerated for a matter of seconds, giving his opponent enough rope to hang himself. The problem this buck had was that he had to get back to the wood, but he was running further and further away. However that wasn’t the buck’s only problem, for as soon as the saluki lurcher thought the deer had gotten far enough he dropped a gear and pushed forward at a rate of G’s. I watched the roe change course as the penny dropped, but it was far too late, one quick turn later and a canine jaw hit a cervine carpal. The roe went spinning like a top and before he’d slowed to a stop there was a predator on the wind-pipe and it was all over. There’s been many a drama played out on those stubbles, but that was a run where a clever dog, with pure coursing instinct, made a catch when many lurchers wouldn’t. He knew how to regulate his speed, understanding just exactly what he needed to do in order to be in a position to perform the coup’de gras’. That particular dog was a real favourite of mine and I was lucky enough to see him make some great catches and do some unusual things too. Of course, I couldn’t ‘train’ him to do things like that; he was born with the understanding.
I hope everyone has a good start to the season.