Most people Know me through field sports and most people when they think of me, think of me either with Pass It On Young Sports or through my pest control or shooting sports, I was asked recently in a radio interview what was my favorite field sports discipline, in a heart beat I said traditional ferreting with purse net long net ferret and dog.
Although I do love all forms of field sports weather hunting fishing or shooting or flying birds of prey, my passion runs deep for traditional ferreting, those of you who have purchased any of my famous hunting books or game cookery books will know this, my passion began way back in the depths of time when I was a mere 2 years old and the day I caught my first rabbit in a purse net.
Alas to hear that story and many more hilarious tales you will have to buy my books over at The Out Post Shop (www.theoutpostshop.co.uk) for all the money goes to the kids organization that is Pass it On Young Sports (www.pass-it-on-young-sports.org.uk) and helps secure and inspire the future of all our respective field sports and conservation for they walk hand in hand, so go buy my books and do your bit for field sports and conservation of the future.
As you can see I have been out in the field for well over 4 decades now, in all that time my passion for hunting the Drummers (rabbits) with my beloved Pugs (ferrets) has never dwindled, just a few days ago one young sport asked me why I don’t need an alarm to wake up for a days ferreting or indeed any field sport.
I just laughed and said the lord has blessed me with a body clock that is in tune with the seasons so when its time to be up I am up, its quite funny really as I am always awake 15 minutes before any alarm, my feet always hit the floor bang on the button of the alarm, I have always been this way, it drove my Dad crazy as a boy, there I would be in the pitch dark at at 5am shaking him to get up saying ferreting daylight is burning, I am no different now for the night before a ferreting day or indeed a hunting fishing day etc I sleep lightly.
I will tell you of a couple of forays just recently with my ole Dad and JTs Dad Kevin and a couple of hmmmmmmm young apprentices, lol well not so young Nik and Bruce are the apprentices I speak of, picture this its an ice cold early December morning, a white glimmering frost, white crisp and hard as those days of my childhood when we had proper winters, we stepped out of the cars on this new rabbit control contract I have on.
The ice cold of the frost hitting our noses just as we breath in and that cold air hitting our lungs. the nip of of ice cold pinches our ears as I say oh yes I am alive, for me a day like this with family and muckers really is the pinnacle of what I call heaven.
This was to be a proper old school ferreting day using purse net long net and ferret, my ole black lab Brook was there too, she also loves ferreting and marks the warrens to say the Coney (rabbit) was home, just like the 6 generations of her blood line that has owned me before her she never tells a lie and is always bang on the money, that dog lives to work she loves her life you can see it in her face and eyes, although she is a very serious dog none of that messing about nonsense a job must be done correctly in here eye just like her grandmother Hollie that one, any dog that joins us must behave or will be put in its place sharpish if we have any messing about, like my friends young lurcher he got the sharp side of her when he tried to interfere with the rabbits she was guarding, a mistake that young dog never forgot I telle.
The first warren is on a small bank of earth, that had been piled up there from the footings of the toilet block on the camp site we had to do today, they put the earth on the top of an existing rabbit warren thinking this would stop the rabbits coming in, oh how wrong can you be as all you did was create the perfect surrounding for the rabbits to build a pent house apartment, well rabbits doing what they do best dug and extended their original home that was already a substantial warren, into a mega warren, then for the next 5 years filled it with lots of young rabbits and bred like no tomorrow.
Now the farm along side of the camp site grew wheat and barley and rape, he was losing about 30% of his crop to rabbit damage and a further 30% to wood pigeon damage, I will tell you of the momentous pigeon shoots we have had there in another article but for now we will stay with the ferreting, as you can see he was a little aggrieved about the vermin on his farm that was literally eating him out of house and home.
The lads went about netting up this mega warren, it was like watching a well oiled machine go to work in almost complete silence, I set about running the long nets out as the lads lay the purse nets, I then joined in and laid some purse nets too after laying the long nets and stop nets, a thumbs up said all the nets were laid so lets have a coffee at the truck and let the warren quiet down a little before we start ferreting it, we did not want to chance a lay up.
Back at the car the boys had a jovial banter as boys do, I telle there is nothing like ferreting with your family and muckers, my heart beat from my chest wishing my own children still wanted to come ferreting but alas they no longer have an interest in field sports, my hope is one day they will return to it or my daughters marry some good ole country boys and the grand children get inspired into it, then my job will start again to inspire and educate the old school way with another generation of Collins Clan.
We walked back to the warren as Dad says check for any back netters and look for bolt holes, telling Nik and Bruce grab the rabbit not the net and if a rabbit shows at the net look away or it wont bolt, right there he gave the lads the same lessons he gave me over 4 decades earlier, he has not stopped reminding me since, usually saying I have taught you all you know just not all I know, I swear he tells me this every time we hunt together, I will miss the day he no longer says it and can no longer come out hunting as the years are fast growing on him and each year his hair gets whiter as does Kevin’s.
A thumbs up to say ferrets going down and that silence comes over the warren, its like watching TV you are so in to the film nothing else exists, no sound its muffled its in slow motion, as is when you look around the dogs ears moving left to right straining to hear the drums deep underground, all the lads with that look of a falcon ready to stoop, I look over at Dad as his fist goes up in the air, I know immediately what that means, its to say he can hear those Zulu drums of war as the battle has begun, the Pugs (ferrets) have made contact with the Drummers deep under ground.
Then as if in the blink of an eye the drums stop, you try to strain to hear as no other sound exists, almost immediately like a bullet from a gun or a cork from a bottle a rabbit hits the net deep in the bottom of the bank as another bolts out right behind it, a rookie mistake by Bruce he did not put his foot in the hole to stop others bolting a hard earned lesson never to be made again, a lost rabbit is either a blessing or a curse, a blessing as that could be good of breeding stock for next season or a curse as in the old days that was a quid lost.
No time to sit on our laurels as the lads had fresh nets down before Bruce had got to his feet, this was when all hell broke lose, we had rabbits in nets all over the warren it was like an explosion of rabbits, all the lads were dealing with rabbits as one slipped the net right across ole Brooks path, she turned it right into the long net that rabbit was going no where as I know that dog has a vice like grip that is as soft as velvet, we settle the warren back down, I looked around with a pride and passion that takes me back to that first rabbit I caught well over 40 years ago now, only one more rabbit bolted from an nu-netted hole in the bottom of the ditch, a hole that Bruce had missed as Dad said you can lay 99 nets, mis one hole the rabbit will find the hole with no net on every time, that rabbit knew what way was safe as he bolted straight along the hedge bottom showing us a clean set of heels, we agreed a good rabbit that good breeding stock for next seasons sport.
We did the next warren not 30 yards from the first one, it was an L shaped bit of hedge running along 2 dry ditches, Dad and Kevin being our senior supervisors stayed on the caravan side the easy side, Bruce and Nik took the ditch and I took the rough ground out side with the dog, ferrets in and almost on Que I had a rabbit in the net as another hit the net 12 feet away from me at the very same time, I could do nothing to get to it as I was dealing with the one I had trying to pass it to Kevin, Brook was tied up with another in a net and I was trying diving on the other, alas it kicked the net off and showed us a clean pair of heels.
Then we had rabbits in the ditch with Nik and Bruce, Dad wasdealing with one on the bank as Kevin helped me get my side under control, then disaster struck we had a lay up a kill deep under ground, it was the little silver gill I put down she had not showed since the first 2 rabbits bolted, I had heard some viking drums then a squeal.
All the other ferrets came up, noting else for it slip a collar onto son of Zorro my famous retrieving ferret, Zorro I trained to the whistle, from the time I had him that ferret had a good brain in his head, he would have been here this day but had not been looking too well so we left the old boy home and brought his son Blade instead, Blade just like his dad would bring a ball back to the whistle for a tit bit this also worked with rabbits well sometimes.
I will tell you more of Zorro the retrieving ferret again in another article, Blade true to form found the kill drove the gill off and stayed with it as per his job, the gill was picked up moments later then boxed covered in rabbit fur her little mits looked like she had winter mittens on so we knew a bunny was down there.
I located blade he was 5 feet down and none of us relished digging, I said lets see if he will do what his dad does, so I got to the nearest hole to his location and started whistling and tapping the side of the hole with my prodder or probe as some folk call it, after a few moments Dad says he is on the move keep whistling he is heading your way, bowl me over less than 5 minuets later he appears at the hole latched onto a now very dead rabbit, as soon as he saw me he let go as if to say come on then lets have my tit bit, yup a chip off the ole Zorro block that Hobb, I telle as all the lads cheered, Dad and Kevin could not believe it a retrieving ferret its not unheard of, I laughed and said to Dad are you sure you taught me all I know and gave a cheeky wink the boys all erupted into laughter.
We picked up all the nets and long nets etc cleared up peed out the rabbits and lay them all out to cool in the cold winter afternoon sun, we went to look at the next warren but this turned out to be another mega warren, we decided that would be it for today and come back another day, it was getting late and not wanting to chance a kill and end up doing moon light ferreting, we all went back to the trucks for some soup and talk about this awesome days ferreting old school stylie, the memories the banter, I telle muckers there is just nothing that beats ferreting in my book especially on a magical day as this bitter cold the sun shining spent with family and muckers, and when I say family I include the dogs and ferrets in that too.
Top pic fresh rabbits laid out too cool, next pic Nik being shown by Bruce how to prepare the rabbits for the table, next pic Nik and Bruce enjoying my home made rustic rabbit, bottom pic, home made rustic rabbit with lemon garlic and herbs with a garlic and coriander Nan bread and some home made egg fried rice, a wild feast fit for a king.
A few days later I met Kevin on the farm next door to go and have a recce at the hill ground, and try to work out what warrens we were going to do next time, I was late getting there as I had gotten held up on some rat trapping jobs I was doing so did not get there until 12pm, we took 20 nets a spade the bleepers and a prouder with us and the ferrets and traveled light with intention of just doing some small open warrens, this was more of a look around and get the feel of the land rather than a serious ferreting session.
We did 3 warrens in total all within 30 yards of each other, we decided to net all 3 warrens up at the same time, although Brook only marked 2 of them to say bunny was home telling us one warren was empty, we netted it up anyway if a rabbit slipped the net we might get a back netter, the first warren we slipped another son of Zorro in one from this summers litter, a young ferret fresh out in the field for the very first time, a little 3 hole set perfect for starting a young ferret off on, he went down without a hesitation and was gone, mind you he comes from great working stock both his mother and father have literally bolted thousands of rabbits each, he was down quite a while, but being a young ferret and inexperienced he was either wandering around or had a fight on his hands if he had found a Coney at home.
Indeed that was the case as a rabbit bolted in a net right at Kevin’s feet, alas the net got tangled in some loose bramble and kicked the net off and was off in a flash, with a clean pair of heels shown as the ferret comes up to say er did you get that one, he then dived back to ground, a fresh net laid quick and that silence came over the warren again.
By golly this young ferret had a battle on his hand as the Viking war drums started that sounded so loud, Brook was stood almost on tip toes as her head went from side to side, I whispered to Kevin that’s a big buck rabbit I bet you, all of a sudden it hit the net on the highest hole on the hill, for a second it looked like it was flying but the peg held firm and strong pursing the net good and tight bringing the rabbit back to earth with a thud.
I was on that rabbit faster than Jason Robinson landing a winning try for England rugby, with safe hands Collins hands, for my Pappy always said us Collins boys have safe hands weather holding a rugby ball a gun or your woman or in this case a rabbit pursed nice and tight in my home made net, another thing us Collins boys pride ourselves on is our nets its a rare occasion a rabbit slips one of our home made nets I telle, the rabbits that got away are from shop bought nets not our famous Collins home made nets, in fact as I sit here typing I am also pegging up some of the nets Dads just made for our next outing over the Christmas period.
Back to the rabbit in the net, I was right it was huge buck rabbit, its ears torn and face scarred from fighting and one white blind eye, bugger me it was General Worms-Worth, those that have seen the film Watership down will know who I mean, those that have not look on you tube ahhhhhhhh dogs aren’t dangerous.
I dispatched him quickly and humanly, even Kevin said blimey that’s a big buck rabbit, Flint son of Zorro came to hand as if to say how did I do boss, proud as you can be young son of Zorro you fought a mighty battle against a worthy foe, hold your head up young ferret for your blood line salutes you.
We did the next warren Brook said was empty and she was right that dog never lied just like here grandmother ole Hollie, she was exactly the same, I miss those old dogs who owned me and have left paw prints burnt deep on my heart.
We moved on to the next warren, in actual fact this warren Brook herself found and marked one particular hole saying rabbit was at home, leaving all the nets down on the other warrens just in case any rabbits slipped the nets, we slipped 2 silver Gills and Flint in this one as it was quite a large warren.
I put Flint in the hole Brook insisted was hot, bowl me over side ways, I hardly had time to re lay the net as 3 rabbits hit the nets at the same time, Kevin was on one I had one tucked safe under my arm and one in hand, we dispatched them in the nets sharpish and had fresh nets down in the blink of an eye, remember this all happened in almost compete silence, a well oiled machine as you would expect from seasoned ferreters of the old school, all the ferrets came up so we thought that must be it as they showed at all the holes, apart from one the one I put flint down to start with, Brook stood there on point talking to me saying try the ferrets one more time, I put blade in with a locator collar on just in case as time was getting on in that very hole, almost immediately I heard the rumble of the drums and then nothing.
Oh bugger we have a kill, I turned to get the spade and the locator as the rabbit hit the net with the ferret right behind it, now this is were something funny happened, both Brook and I saw the rabbit hit the net at the same moment, both dived in to grab said rabbit in said net, the dog crossing my legs and tripping me up, I took off like superman, not forgetting this was on a steep hill as I gained height, with some quick turning in mid air I bounced off the hawthorn bush came down feet first with the rabbit still tightly pursed in my net in between my feet, I was growling like ole Brock the badger himself, but those Collins safe hands had him in hand in no time.
That dog never lies she was right there was one more in there and the other warren was barren, my Pappy always said with shooting and ferreting you must always have a good dog by your side, we finished with 5 quick rabbits and a bag load of memories, we are going back with a full team just before Christmas so look out for my next article on traditional ferreting the Old School way.
May I also take this opportunity to wish you all a very merry and happy and healthy Christmas and New Year.