A Veggie and Pet Ferrets Go Rabbiting

by Sheila Crompton

Shortly after the first time I'd been ferreting I visited a local sports shop to enquire about a collar for a ferret. I was asked if I meant a muzzle. I explained what a collar was and pointed out that it fitting a muzzle onto a working ferret was a very bad practice! He was out of stock of 15' collars but arranged to have one posted direct to me. I bought a lock knife for legging and gutting, just a cheap Chinese import but with a bit of honing it would do the job.

I 'phoned Jack on the Friday evening but he said that he was giving it a miss that week as he was going down to Bristol to his daughters. It was probably just as well really because the collar which had been promised for Saturday morning didn't arrive until Monday!

The following Friday, the 9th November, I 'phoned Jack to how he was fixed for the Sunday, the days rabbiting was on. The evening saw me painting the outside of the ferret box, Saturday afternoon I fitted a carrying strap and Ron drilled some ventilation holes. I'd asked Ron to make me a priest which he duly did, materials used were part of a handle of a garden hoe, a length of copper tube and a lead sea fishing weight.

Sunday morning I filled a flask with coffee, made some sandwiches and added a bottle of water for the ferrets. A layer of absorbent litter was placed in the ferret box along with some shredded paper. I decided to take Kurt,a two year old castrated poley hob and a real softie! Jack and Stephen arrived at my home at 0740. Whilst we were travelling I fitted the batteries to the collar and wrapped insulating tape around the whole lot to prevent it unscrewing whilst Kurt was working.

The destination was again Upper Wharfedale but a couple of miles south of the previous place. Jack had thought about going to Hawes but as it was a good deal higher up we would be working in cloud. We all opted to wear waterproofs, mainly to protect us from the wind. We set off walking, I don't think I'm cut out for this fell walking caper - once again I was gasping for breath, at one point Jack and Stephen were out of sight but I reckon I'd see them when I reached the top of the rise, no sign of them only another rise, I reached the top and spotted the pair of them several hundred yards away. I caught up with them when Lucy, the whippet, marked a warren.

Three jills had been introduced and Jack and Stephen were netting some of the holes. Four rabbits were bolted two into the nets, one was caught by Lucy and one escaped. Stephen's jill was still a bit giddy and wanted to bounce around and attack the rabbits that had already been caught. Lucy then lost interest in the warren and we knew that there wasn't anyone else at home. We collected the ferrets and nets and followed Lucy to the next warren.

Several warrens later Jack says to me "Stick Kurt down this one!", I put the collar on Kurt and checked that it wouldn't come off and that it was working. I walked over to the hole that Lucy was marking and placed Kurt at the entrance. Kurt didn't hesitate but headed underground, I was feeling very apprehensive about the whole affair even though I knew that it was a natural instinct of a ferret to hunt. What made it worse was that we couldn't hear any noises from underground due to the wind. Lucy was staring patiently down the hole where Kurt had disappeared. After several minutes had passed with no sign of Kurt, he hadn't popped his head out of any of the other holes as the young jill had done. Jack commented as he swept the area with the ferret finder "Well he's getting on with the job". Kurt was located 10' from where he'd entered and he was stationary and as Jack put it just under the crust! Stephen brought the spade over and Jack commenced digging and broke through into the tube with the second spade-full of soil. - he lay down full length and felt up the tube. "I can feel a rabbit" he pulled hard and out popped a rabbit head first with Kurt clinging to the middle of its back. Kurt was persuaded to let go and given praise but he still looked rather disgusted because the rabbit had been taken away from him so he decided to go and look for another one.

Jack was just remarking that the trouble with using hobs was that they were too fast and strong and tend to kill rather than bolt the rabbits, the words were no sooner uttered when a rabbit bolted out of a hole and made a dash for it. Lucy was a bit slow off the mark and the rabbit reached the safety of another warren. Kurt appeared soon after probably wondering where the rabbit had got to, I could just imagine him saying 'Dozy dog'.

Lucy, on Jack's command had given up on the escapee and was investigating another warren. Stephen put his young jill down but she was still acting giddy and just wasn't concentrating on the job. Jack told me to put Kurt down a few seconds later a rabbit made a dash for pursued very closely by Lucy, however, it dived into another hole about 20' from where it had appeared. Jack and Stephen went over to work the other warren, Kurt was still underground and as far as I could tell still working. After what seemed ages but I guess it was something like five minutes I was beginning to wonder what Kurt was up to and tried using the locator, I sort of pinned it down to a small area and as far as I could tell Kurt wasn't moving. Jack strolled over and took the locator and waved it around a bit more and said "He's here, about 2' down." The spade was brought into use again. Kurt appeared during the digging operations - he probably came up to see what all the noise was about, plus he had probably lost interest in the rabbit once it was dead. When Jack finally broke through into the tube he reached in a found Kurt's kill.

I asked Jack his opinion of Kurt. All he said was "He gets on with the job!" It would appear that castration hasn't affected the way Kurt works, in fact, I reckon it has probably improved it as he concentrated on the rabbits not the jills! The fact that he lives indoors and is thoroughly spoilt and pampered has not in any way got rid of his natural instinct regarding rabbits.

I tried my hand at gutting a rabbit, I eventually managed to make the first incision and open up the abdomen, I tried to flick the guts out as Jack was doing but it’s a bit difficult when you’re trying to keep down the contents of your own stomach. It took me ages before I could gut a fish but they didn’t smell as bad as a rabbit!

The following Sunday it was Deanna Troi's turn. We still went to Upper Wharfedale but to a different spot. Jack assured me that the place was teeming with rabbits

Jack had a word with Richard, the farmer, before we started. Our attempts at rabbiting in the morning turned out to be a catalogue of disasters the worst of which was Stephen's poley jill being buried under a pile of stones from a collapsed dry stone wall. One of Jack's ferrets had trapped a rabbit in the wall and Jack had removed the rabbit and dispatched it. The rabbit was placed on the grass and Stephen's kit was making sure that it dead when much to our horror the wall suddenly collapsed burying the rabbit and the kit. I grabbed and hung onto one of the largest stones which seemed to be holding up most of the wall whilst Jack removed the ones underneath it, the rabbit was uncovered and thrown to one side, the remaining stone was a large flat one. I felt sick and could barely look when Jack went to remove it, I had a vision of a very dead ferret! Stephen started crying, a natural reaction from a twelve year old lad who thought he'd lost his pet. Jack told him to shut-up and not be a wimp. Jack raised the edge of the stone only to drop it again when the ferret bit him, the next time the stone was raised the ferret dashed out and hid in the wall chattering to herself. I told Stephen that she seemed to be OK and would someone please come and get her as I was having difficulty hanging onto the stone I was holding - if I let go of it she would have been buried again. Jack managed to get hold of her and give her a quick check over. I very thankfully let go of the stone only to have a few stones fall on my foot, fortunately I was wearing a pair of stout boots so no damage was done.

After that Jack decided that we should make our way back to the car for a bite to eat and drink. On the way back to the car Lucy marked a warren, Deanna Troi was put in - she wasn't quite as keen as Kurt had been but I just picked her up a couple of times to place her back at one of the entrances, she eventually got the idea and disappeared below ground. She kept popping her head out of various holes having a quick look round and then disappearing. We left her to it for about 10 minutes as she appeared to be working. Jack eventually introduced one of his experienced jills as Deanna didn't seem to be finding anyone at home. Still no sign of any rabbits, Jack was feeling pretty fed up by now, we'd been having trouble all morning as most of the rabbits just wouldn't bolt. I was quite happy about Deanna's performance, at least she did try and if an experienced jill couldn't produce anything a kit with 'L plates' didn't stand much chance! We eventually got a couple of rabbits from a nearby warren that Lucy had marked, Jack had to dig for both of them. I think we had around half-a-dozen rabbits by the time we got back to the car, three that Lucy had caught, one from the wall and the two that Jack had dug out, and one of Lucy's rabbits was showing signs of myxy.

We had a drink and sandwich and then Jack decided to try in the valley along the banks of the little stream. He hadn't been too keen on trying there first thing as he said that it was really tough going.

We did much better along the side of the stream, the rabbits seemed more inclined to bolt. We ended up with another six rabbits before we decided to call it a day, we wanted to get back to the car before the daylight went.

(First published in NFWS News - #37 May 1996)