Countrymans Diary

Rabbits & Romanies

Rabbits & Romanies

Its early October of 2013, and I have had a long summer season, running Pass It On Young Sports. I was feeling stale, and although I have some fantastic hunting/fishing and shooting on my doorstep, I don’t really have any of what I call a proper countrymen of the old school to hunt with. I have plenty of good boys who know how to shoot and fish but lack traditional countrymen of the old school.   When I say old school I mean Terrier-men running dog’s, men and ferreters as locally to me proper country boys, are few and far between, or “those that are here let’s just say they don’t stick to law abiding activities,” and I will not go down those roads. I know as a kid all us village boys would try and take a rabbit or something from the wrong side of the hedge, and usually got caught with a thick ear, and our Dads finding out was enough to stop us doing it again, however I will not take any chances it’s not worth it and brings the good name of all field-sports into disrepute.   So when my Ole Mucker, Bucks Moocher gave me a call and invited me up to Buckinghamshire for a weekend, of proper old school rabbit and vermin control, I grabbed it with both hands. I telle all that week I was as excited as a ferret faced with a rat I couldn’t sleep I was off my food, and that’s damn near un heard of, and I was well bloody excited and counted down the hours until Friday morning came.   I arrived at my ole muckers place to be greeted by the pack of Terriers all who know me, and well let’s just say I got well and truly mugged by them. Good ole Ger was there and although a young man in his early 20s, he is one of the only good ole boys I have hunted with that I give the title a proper countryman of the old school. Ger comes from a long line of traditional hunters who although can use a rod and a gun, like the best of them he prefers traditional hunting methods like dogs, ferrets or catapults, I telle he is deadly with a catapult.   After a quick cup of tea we headed up to his woods to check on his birds and hoppers etc. We had with us the tenacious pack of Terriers, and some lead shot he makes himself, just for the catapults. As soon as we go into the wood, hunting mode was on, and blow me over he bagged a squirrel right off the top of a hopper. Next came my turn as a woodpigeon landed not 20 yards above me, and let’s just say I still got it, as thwack it dropped to the ground and I had to rescue my tea from the terriers, who were on it faster than a peregrine on a stoop.   Ger says “Ere you still got it in you then ole fella.” (cheeky sod) I was as proud as punch and gave a little wink to the heavens to say well Pap’s you taught me well. No time to waste as we had to get back, as we were going lamping with some other great countrymen. A group of Romany Gypsies, that I have the pleasure nay honour to call friends. Now don’t get Romany Gypsies muddled up with what some call Pikeys they are not. A Romany Gypsy is an honourable breed, and you won’t find a more pure gentleman than a Romany, but be warned they make brilliant friends who would do anything for a friend or family, and I telle you would not want one as an enemy. I love hunting with these good ole boys there is nothing they don’t know of the traditional ways, of the old world of proper hunting, and the women Wow! What can I say they can cook a feast fit for a king out of next to nothing. I grew up knowing many a Romany and that’s one thing my Pappy always taught me, if you had to fill the pot or need your corner fighting there is none better than an honourable Romany to be stood next to you.   We met up with the Bucks Boy as I call them, this really was a family outing with three generations of the clan out, as well as Ger and myself. Wow! I first set eyes on the running dogs, and that’s one thing I am passionate about are running dogs. You know I was transported back 20 years as soon as I saw, a simply stunning little bitch called Sally, who was the exact double of my old dog Gyp, and immediately I felt like I was back home again, hunting with family and knew my Pappy was walking beside me in spirit.   Next was a cracking dog I have hunted with before, a beautiful black bitch called Jet, who was well named as she went off like a rocket, and caught rabbit after rabbit every time I have seen her hunt. Next Ger got Sally’s daughter out, a rough coated white bitch called Flynn. Simply stunning and I knew all I heard of this dog was to be true and could not wait to see her hunt.   Next was a dog that I simply fell in love with, called Lexie, and just one look I was almost getting my wallet out and offering to buy the this magnificent bitch. The muscle tone, the walk, the head, shoulders and back ahhhhhhh man, that was a running dog of my dreams, and I simply could not wait to see her on the slip after a bunny. I think my excitement was noticeable as we loaded up the trucks, to head to a farm that has a major rabbit problem. This farmer was a rare farmer who loves traditional field sports, and not a fan of the gun, he loves to see the dogs and traditional ferreting done on his land and who himself had a couple of fine (long) dogs.   We got to the first field and about a hundred yards out were a group of rabbits feeding happily in the lamp light. This is where a good running dogman knows his stuff, as I watched one of the boys move forward with Lexie, he got within thirty yards and slipped the dog onto the rabbit, with pin point precision. The rabbit bolted for the safety of the hedge, but the dog was on it faster than I could blink, turning it to the open field, as it tried to give chase across the open paddock. Lexie exploded with speed, and I swear that dog had flames coming from her hocks, as she scooped up the bunny and brought it back to hand with a mouth as soft as velvet. I think the smile on my Ole Muckers face said it all, as he humanely dispatched the rabbit and put it in the bag. In fact he dispatched it so fast if you would have blinked you would have missed it, like I say proper country boys.   The next couple of fields were not so productive, although there were some great runs from Ger with Flynn, and my other ole mucker with Jet. The rabbits got to the safety of the hedge before the dogs could really get onto them and turn them out in the open. Then Sally had her go and Wow! Just like my ole dog Gyp, she not only had speed she had brains as she ran the beam, reading what the rabbit was going to do, side stepped cutting its escape off, scooping the rabbit up and was back in a flash with her prize…   The rest of the night went on much the same, with all the dogs getting in some great runs, and catching most times and I saw some great dogmanship, that night with some amazing dogs that re ignited my passion for these amazing athletes (the dogs). It’s was awesome to see some great dogman at work who are keeping the running dog tradition alive, and doing it properly within the law.   The next day we got up and Ger cooked a mega fry up, and I telle that never touched the sides boys, all washed down with some proper builders tea, that had real colour to it, not that dish water I often get given or as my Pappy would say “last dip of the tea bag rubbish.” We headed up to his woods with the shotguns, to try and deal with some of the growing vermin problems, especially the tree rats (squirrels) that are plaguing my ole mucker’s woods. We took Gyp (the Jack Russell Terrier) and Jess (the mixed breed Terrier) with us for bushing out and locating the tree rats.   Ahhhhh man I loved mooching around my ole muckers woods, it took me back thirty-five years as it was just the same as my Pappy’s old Blue Bell wood, that I used to mooch around in, with my Pappy. It even had an allotment next to it, just like my Pappy’s old Blue Bell wood did. It was a mix of pines, oaks, ashes, and a lot of beech, and I found myself staring into the long forgotten past, and I found myself remembering times when I hunted with my Ole Webley Vulcan springer air rifle. Those that have read my books will know what I’m talking about.   I was brought back to earth with a bit of a bump, as not twenty feet away from me the strangest thing happened. All I can say is, we will call it a kamikaze squirrel as it literally jumped or fell from the tree, landing right on Jess, the terriers head. I think the dog must have been stunned as she stood there for a second and looked at the squirrel, which was now in some sort of snarling fighting mode, as if to say that’s not normal. Well Jess grabbed it and dispatched it in a shake or two, then Gyp the Jack Russell came bounding in and shook the very dead squirrel some more. Ger and I fell about laughing our heads off but we had to compose ourselves as the hunt was on. The dogs chased even more squirrels to the trees, and we had some great sport with them to, as well as doing a very important vermin control job.   The light was slowly going, and the pigeons started coming into roost. For a couple of hours we had some fantastic roost shooting, in the beech area of the wood, and if I say so myself both Ger and I, pulled some pretty good shots off on those flighting pigeons.   Next day we got up early and headed out ferreting, with purse, long nets and of course the ferrets. We were also meeting the Romany boys too, so I knew this would be a traditional ferreting day to remember. It was still dark when we got to the fishery that had a major rabbit problem, but I could see the beams of sunlight coming up in the East, over the far off distant hills. The mist that surrounded us made the light simply magical. I have actually got a set of photos that I simply called ferreters in the mist, I may share one or two with this article.   All the lads, even a five year old young moocher called Riley, went into ferreting mode. Setting out the long nets and laying the purse nets. All that could be seen were the hand signals from these boys as they gave the thumbs up, and the ferrets entered the rabbit warrens, all this was done with almost; complete silence. For me it was top drawer, as I was back out with some boys who knew how to ferret traditionally. Saying that over the last couple of years I have struggled with, ‘well let’s just say I have had to ferret with keyboard warriors,’ who’s knowledge would just fit on the back of a postage stamp.   The first rabbit to hit the net right next to a post and bounced off but got back netted in one of my purse nets then all hell broke loose as rabbits bolted from all over before we knew it, we had some nice fresh free range paddock chicken ready to go on the cooker with the bacon and field mushrooms we had picked that very morning. After finishing that hedge row it was time for breakfast and the smell of the bacon and bunny cooking and the kettle on the boil was a welcome sight as the lads discussed what hedge to do next. For me I was sat there with a daft smile with a bacon bunny sandwich and a mug of fresh tea hoping this day would not end.   We moved onto the next sets, and pushed the Terriers through the hedges. We had some real fun trying to catch some rabbits by hand, with these tenacious little dogs I can’t do the day justice with mere words, but I will say my soul is as full as my heart.   We did the next warren as the dogs had already marked it. It was in the corner of a hedge that joined another field, with a large drainage ditch running through it. So it was decided just to run some long nets out on this last set. As we slipped the ferrets in, I could feel the excitement and almost on cue, I heard the sound that makes all of us rabbiting men’s hearts race. It’s the sound of the Zulu drums of war, as the Pugs (ferrets) make contact with the drummers (rabbits) deep underground. I first heard it when I was just 2 years old and still to this day; it sends a shiver down my spine.   As the rabbits started to bolt, some getting away some hitting the nets, I looked around almost like it was in slow motion and I watched these good ole country boys go to work. And like a well-oiled machine in almost complete silence, but it was as loud as a marching band to this Ole Hedge Creeper. As I sit here and remember this and try to do the day justice with mere words I cannot help but smile. I also saw a young sport (by the name of Riley) prove his worth and show he really is a fine young sport man of the future, as he was on them rabbits faster than Johnny Wilkinson landing a winning try.   We cleared up and got the kettle going again, and whilst that was boiling, I set some targets up, using some old cartridge cases for my catapult (kindly given to me by my ole mucker Bucks Moocher). Now I am not bad with a catapult, but these Romany boys are masters and showed me how it should be done. Even young Riley was a dead shot bagging 3 out of 5 targets. We had our tea loaded up in the trucks and said fare well, and I headed back to Ger’s place. I then got up the next morning and headed back to my beloved Somerset.   My Final words of this amazing weekend, I got to hunt the way I was taught, as a boy using traditional methods. Nothing was wasted camaraderie and banter was second to none. I also got to spend time with some true country folk, with hearts made of pure gold, and salt of the earth. All who have forgotten more about traditional hunting and foraging than I will ever know; quite simply it was a pleasure nay and honour to be part of. Final words Cushdy my Chavvy. “Wonderful my friend” in Romani.   By Rob Collins AKA The Ole Hedge Creeper  

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