Burrows. Bolters and Shot Guns
When I was asked to write this article it actually coincided with a day out bolt shooting bunnies, with my Game Keeper mucker good ole Mick. You see when I write I don’t like to write about what we did twenty years ago, or this is how it should be done or even make the article a sort of advert for other peoples gear.
Now I like to write live articles about days out in the field and yes if I use something and it works or as I like to call it does what it says on the tin, then yes I will share it with you. But if it does not come up to the job in hand I won’t use it again.
I see so many writers now do their articles like an advert and then you just lose the ethos of the day you’re actually writing about, as all you end up with is a technical trip down the manufacturers memory lane as it were.
So for me I just simply say whether it does the job or not and if you want to take a look at some gear we demo then you can check out all that technical stuff later.
Right rant over let’s get on with the day in question as that’s what you want to read and what I want to write about.
Mick had come over to stay with me for a couple of day’s for some sport in my neck of the woods, and boy oh boy did we have some support from ratting with air rifle to Lamping foxes to rough shooting with shotguns over the dogs etc..
Then a call came in from one of his land owners I remember this as clear as today why you may ask? Well we had just gotten to my local village pub after a great days rough shooting and it was Micks round, Hmmmmmmm strange how something always happens when it’s Micks round whether it be a phone call or a call of nature.
The lady on the phone was actually very prominent landowner who owns a very large farm on the Wiltshire/Hampshire border. The farm is split between crops and horses but very expensive horses and what was the problem? Quite simply Rabbits.
The crops well rabbits do what rabbits do and start munching everything in sight also rabbits are no good around horses, as they dig perfect little holes that a horses hoof will go down and often break a horses leg or tear its tendons.
I know this only too well as one of mine went down one of these holes and tore its tendon in its back right leg near it’s hock, and eighteen months later and a lot of vet bills we could take her for a walk and not ride her that took two years. So as you can see rabbits and horses are not a great mix and well as the saying goes breed like rabbits and well the lady had a massive problem.
Now Mick is disabled and in a wheel chair struggles to deal with all this on his own and relies on friends to help him out. He does remarkably well considering he is stuck in the wheelchair. But as always we look at it all British Army style adapt and overcome and get him and his chair out in the field.
We have done all sorts from land rovers and literally driving him to his spot and setting him up with a trusty hound for retrieving his shot game, to strapping him and his chair to a quad bike and trailer and giving it some welly and getting him out there so he can still enjoy field sports.
We have not worked out a way to get him out wildfowling yet but a hover craft is one idea just watch this space, we will get him out there one way or another even if we have to get a helicopter to drop him in.
Anyway back to the pub Mick comes back to the table and after some ribbing he asks could the Woodspring Shooting Club Boys go over to help him and help out with a bunny problem? Now bear in mind this is Friday evening in North Somerset and he wanted us to drive two hours over Salisbury in Wiltshire on the Sunday morning and go ferreting and bolting bunnies to the shotgun in early June?
Well as always I was up for anything so count me in (but I was very hesitant at ferreting this time of year) but all the other lads dropped out, saying nooooo not that early on a Sunday morning all except my ole Mucker Mad Dog Martyn who like me was always up for anything day or night matters not its all about being out there.
So it was agreed we would leave my place early Sunday morning and go over and help Mick out with his rabbit problem. Although my gut feeling said are you mad ferreting early June with all those young rabbits about you will spend a day digging is what you will do.
I could even hear my Ole Pappies voice saying not sure we should do this son and in my mind’s eye I could see my Dad with that Churchill look and shaking his head no no no no.
But none the less we had to go do it and Mick assured me that they never have to dig the rabbits they always bolt. Hmmmmmm yeah right I have heard that before and ended up digging fifteen feet down to retrieve my ferret.
Well we packed the truck on the Saturday evening with all the ferreting gear, Mick says we won’t need the nets as we are bolt shooting but for me laying the purse nets is ferreting,
bolt shooting them although fun well just does not do it for me. I love to see them hit the purse nets and get on them like Jason Robinson lands an England try but hey it’s just my way.
Early Sunday morning and the alarm on my phone goes off but I was already away and making a cup of tea and a bacon sarnie, you see ferreting to me is simply the best field sport I love all field sports from ratting with terriers to running dogs to wild fowling and pigeon shooting to Lamping.
But for me ferreting especially with nets and a good running dog like a proper hunting whippet or a whippet cross and some good muckers or family, then man to me that’s my idea of heaven and I am always up before the alarm on a ferreting day.
Mick came in and said do I smell the coffee brewing, well silly question really there was a pot of tea and a pot of coffee freshly brewed with the smell of bacon cooking Ahhhhh now that’s what I call an alarm call.
Well in no time we had eaten and drunk our breakfast and had the car loaded with guns ammo and all the ferreting gear including my shovels, as I was sure we would need them and were on the way to pick Martyn up with our ferrets.
Martyn was sat on a ferret carry box outside his door step having a fag and a coffee when we got there I think he was excited too as he too loves ferreting. We loaded up the truck in record time and was on the road the atmosphere in my truck was pure electric as a proper day’s sport lay ahead of us but first that darn two hour drive.
As soon as we pulled up the lady who owned the farm was there saying thank god you are here we are running alive with rabbits. Indeed they were as soon as we pulled up some twenty something rabbits bolted towards their warrens across the flat as a golf course horse paddock.
My first thoughts were oh boy if only I had my two ole whippets here good ole Gyp and Blue these paddocks were perfect for them. I lost count how many bunnies those ole dogs put in the bag in such a place as this and those that have read my books will know of this infamous mother and daughter duo I sat there with a daft smile on my face remembering brilliant chases with them ole dogs.
I was awoken from my daydream by this lovely lady who produced two bright yellow purse nets. Some other lads had given it a go and did not fare very well and left some nets behind. Now that really gets my goat and to me proved these other lads were complete novices and had been taught wrong or had not been taught at all.
Now I know we have all lost nets over the years and it’s one thing that bugs the hell out of me I once spent an hour looking for a net as I was taught never to leave any equipment behind and leave an area how you found it.
There are several reasons for not leaving nets behind first they cost money to buy or if you make them like me they not only have a monetary worth but a sentimental value too. Also any livestock could pick them up and eat them or get trapped in them I have seen a horse eat one before from when a poacher left one behind also what if a rabbit or something else gets caught in one and dies a slow horrible death?
So when I count out twenty nets etc. I make damn sure I count the same amount back in blimey if I left anything like that behind as a kid growing up I would hear bells for a month and not be allowed back out on my own again.
So when this lady handed us these bright yellow nets that had been left on open holes in the middle of a paddock I said thank you their loss is my gain as I now use just such nets myself. I assured the lady of our professionalism and our approach would be of the highest of standards Mick also reassured her so all was good in the world.
The first warren was about a fifteen holer Mick and Martyn got ready with the shotguns but I just had to do it and put some nets down I can’t help myself had to be done. I agreed to let the boys shoot and I would work the ferrets and use my nets.
So thumbs up and ferrets down then as I have written before that deadly silence comes over the warren as we strain our ears to listen for the drums of war to start. That’s when the Pugs (ferrets) Make contact and do battle with the drummers (rabbits) deep underground and for this ole country boy as every time before I am transported back in time to when I was two years old and the first time I ever heard and felt those war drums.
Then there it was like my own heart beat drumming faster than a military drummer I thought my heart would literally beat from my chest as that sounds still to this day sends a ghostly shiver right down my back and right then and there I feel truly alive again.
The boys said I looked like a hawk about to stoop.
Then that silence that always seems to happen just before a bolt my senses were fully in tune almost like the ferrets deep underground had sent me a message get ready boss here comes the first one.
Then BANG like a bullet from a gun this big buck rabbit hit my purse net but the peg held good and strong and brought it crashing back to earth. I had it in hand despatched and another net laid in no time.
Now for me that’s ferreting and only many years of experience and making mistakes and learning from them teaches you that. But no time to sit and ponder as another bunny bolts from an un netted hole Mick was on it like a flash but it was down another hole before he could get a good bead on it and missed with one quick snap shot.
Oh bugger I thought he won’t bolt again and I was right he ran straight into my big polecat Hobb Ferret Sam and well as soon as I hear the squeal I knew we would be digging him out.
Nothing else for it get the bleeper (Deben mk1 ferret locator) out as Sam had a Mk1 transmitter collar on I bleeped him up in no time he was not deep only about a foot and a half down. Martyn unloaded his gun and started digging as I got my prodder out or probe as some call it out located the whole and had the rabbit and ferret in hand in no time at all like I say a well-oiled machine after years of ferreting together.
I did remark to Mick that if we had laid all the nets we would not have had to dig but as the day got on it became apparent that the bolt shooting was the better option with all the undergrowth.
We moved on to other warrens and the rabbits true to Micks word bolted good and strong and some great shots were had by us all especially Mick from that wheel chair he does shoot remarkably well from that thing I telle.
One warren stands out as we had two firsts from it? Well as we moved to this warren in a sparse hedge across a horse paddock we saw half a dozen (6) rabbit bolt down it and thought right lads that’s the one to do.
Nothing looked out of the ordinary just a normal rabbit warren so we get into position I popped my two big Hobb ferrets in as we needed big ferrets on these holes or the bunnies would give my little Gilles the run around in such a biggish warren.
So ferrets in stand back with guns in hand ready to shoot the bolting bunnies indeed we did shoot two then all of a sudden a stoat bolted from the warren straight up a tree Martyn shouted squirrel Mick saw it and shouted stoat and shot it.
Well he did not want any of those around his birds did he? Then another strange thing happened Martyn shouts over I swear I just saw a cock pheasant disappear down one of the holes? Now I have bolted all sorts from rabbit warrens in the past from hedgehogs to stoats and weasels to rats even black rats and even a cat and a fox but never a pheasant?
Well we shot two more bunnies and one ferret came up so I boxed him but no Sam???? Oh bugger a kill best get the knocker box out and locate him as before. I only use the Deben Mk1 locator collars and knocker box in my opinion it’s the best one they ever made and I have dug literally of thousands of rabbits out with them and terriers when on fox duty so as my Pappy would say if it aint broke don’t fix it so why use anything else.
We had the ferret located in no time not a foot in a hole where Martyn swore he saw a cock pheasant dive down? Indeed it turns out he was right as I dove my hand down and pulled a very dead cock pheasant out with Sam still locked onto his head. Well that was a first for me and even Mick was stumped at that one.
After a bit of a coffee break and a bit of banter about the set we had just done on the boundary hedge we were about to move on when the new land owner from the next door farm came over and said lads you’re doing a grand job over on my neighbour’s land could you start doing mine?
Well for any countryman that right there is the best recommendation you can get and from that Mick had gained yet another permission and sport to be had a plenty. After many years of being involved in field sorts it’s those permissions that always mean the most in my book as you know you have earned them from a job well done. I think the smile from ear to ear like a Cheshire cat on the Micks face as this new land owner signed the permission forms said it all.
Well onto the next warren a massive warren in the side of a double bank it was well over two hundred plus holes and WOW was this place holding rabbits. But my gut feeling was on overdrive on this one as we had been lucky all day but this one so late in the day and with only three of us NOOOOOO it was too big and too late to tackle a big job like this and we never had enough bodies to help us not even a running dog.
Mick persuaded me it would be ok as he had never had any problems here before but I knew in my heart this was not a good idea all my years of knowledge told me so as I had done stuff like this before and ran into major problems digging ferrets out by torch light.
None the less we were here to do a job so chest out best foot forward and geed on with it. To start with Mick was right the rabbits were bolting like crazy as Jonathan Micks mate turned up and indeed he also pulled off some great shots too.
But then disaster struck two of my four ferrets came up but two were missing luckily I had a locator collar on each of them I had learnt my lesson in the past doing a warren like this and not putting locator collar on.
We boxed the other ferrets and Martyn and I started bleeping up but nothing and that was a worry as they are fifteen feet locator collar units and if I could not bleep them up then they were deeper than that and I did not relish a deep dig like that again been there done that got the tee shirt.
So after an hour or two bleeping up and calling them we still had nothing? I tried the old trick of splitting a rabbits guts open and blowing the scent down the whole the ferrets were last seen at usually that aroma will bring a ferret out in no time a bit like the old Bisto adverts from when I was a kid Ahhhhhhh Bisto. But nothing so I decided time was getting on and what I would do was steak down this rabbit with some baler twine tied to its back leg and to a nearby branch leave their ferret carry box there open and come back in an hour or so I have done this before as a last resort and its got me out of a jam so hay ho nothing to lose.
So off we went with our remaining ferrets and did some small warrens Martyn missed a rabbit three times so I picked the ferret up and said nope I am not chancing another kill you had three chanced and fluffed them.
So we decided to do a bit of flighting pigeon that were coming to the tree lines and that was fun for a bit. But my mind was on our ferrets still back at that other big warren so Mick and I left Martyn flight shooting the pigeons and headed back to the warren with a flask of coffee and see what else we could do.
Well talk about all the luck of the hunting gods being with us as we got back the rabbit had gone? Then Mick said look at the ferret carry box the baler twine still attached to the branch was sticking out the carry box. Well we did laugh as sat in the box all curled up with the rabbit were my two ferrets with a sleepy look on their faces all content and saying were ya bin boss.
Let’s just say I was as happy as a sand boy as losing gear really gets my goat but I would have been broken hearted to have lost my ferrets as with all my animals they are pets and members of my family before work mates and my Emilie would be so upset if I came home without any of them.
Later that day as the light dimmed we got the rifles and the lamps out and bagged even more bunnies on the lamps or with the amazing NS200 from Night Sight that gear is brilliant and does what it says on the tin.
All in all a brilliant day’s sport with top muckers on some great land in an area I had not hunted on since I was a young man and made some amazing memories.
But the only thing missing for me was my beloved whippets as if they were there we would have had a great many more rabbits in the bag both on the day and on the night with the lamp and wow some amazing memories of great chases too.
By The Ole Hedge Creeper (aka Rob Collins)