A September Day On The Hills With The Ferrets

by Steven Carr

The recently formed Scottish Ferret Club hit upon the idea of a days ferreting for some of its younger members. The objective of the days course, organised by SFC secretary George Campbell, would be to introduce the younger members to the hunting aspect of ferret keeping. Letters were sent to members and the applications came flooding in.

Over the next week or so George was busy organising a venue, schedule, equipment and roping in voluntary supervisors for the course. A venue was found, courtesy of Phillip and Yvonne Jones and a date was fixed, Sunday the 26th of September. Supervisors for the day would be George Campbell, NFWS area co-ordinator John Allan, Martin Jones and myself. All of the supervisors were competent ferreters and came complete with their own equipment so the day was set.

The days leading up to the Sunday were pretty drizzly and there had been a couple of downpours so all involved were a bit apprehensive about the possibility of a washout. Come the Sunday, however, the skies cleared, the sun came out and we had a perfect day for ferreting.

It was a first for everyone involved so the initial arrival at the venue was taken up with introductions and hurried organisation. Our hosts for the day were exceptional and even provided a barn complete with large screen TV and video recorder to assist with visual demonstrations. The first half an hour seemed to be taken up with members, supervisors and a large collection of ferrets all getting introduced and acquainted with each other. We all eventually managed to get ourselves settled in the barn and it was time to carry on with the course. Members attending the course were Lachlan Archibald, Martin Jones, Peter Campbell, David Hepburn, Callum Jones, Ewan Jones, Robbie Jones, Martin Pitcairn, George McRobbie, Lauren Worrell and Tommy Worrell. Supervising the group were SFC secretary George Campbell, NFWS co-ordinator John Allan, Michael Clark and myself.

The course started with a couple of short videos demonstrating various styles of ferreting and these were then followed by some demonstrations on various subjects by George Campbell. These included the Health and Safety aspects of ferreting as well as use of nets, ferreting accessories, dispatching of the rabbit and everyone's favourite 'gutting' (yeuch!).

After the demonstrations we had time for a quick bite to eat then it was a case of getting ourselves equipped and heading out to the fields. The members were split into groups and, with a supervisor in tow, headed for the hills. There was certainly no shortage of rabbits with dozens spotted diving for cover as we approached. Each group picked a different section of hillside and the proper ferreting had begun.

The first thing I discussed with my group was how to look for signs that a burrow was in use. Spending time netting burrows only to find they are empty can be time consuming as well as frustrating so the group was taught to look for things like fresh scrapings, fresh droppings, fur caught on visible roots and well used rabbit runs. They were told that these were only indications and did not guarantee rabbits but could help in deciding which burrows to try first.

Next up was a demonstration on how to lay and peg a net properly to ensure that the rabbit is held securely upon hitting the net. Then, with all the nets set, it was time for the ferrets to do a little demonstrating of their own. It wasn't long before the underground commotion started and this gave an opportunity to demonstrate to the group how listening to movement underground can help to paint a picture of how the underground tunnels are laid out.

Whoosh, out pops a rabbit, interrupting my talk and prematurely moving me on to demonstrating what to do when the rabbit hits the net! After taking hold of the rabbit in the net I was just about to demonstrate how its important to cover the hole after removing the net when a rabbit comes flying out to demonstrate why!

With the hole now covered with another net, and a quicker reminder on how to dispatch a rabbit, we settled down and waited for another. With no more immediately forthcoming but still noises from underground activity it was time to explain that its important to keep as quiet as possible when ferreting or the rabbits will be reluctant to come out from the relative safety of their burrows. Obviously they'd been listening to me talking to the group and decided they didn't want to come out to hear any more!

This gave the opportunity to demonstrate the options open to you when rabbits refuse to bolt. After getting the group to listen carefully to the underground noises we could soon tell whether the rabbit was moving around the underground tunnels or whether it was staying in the same place.

Once we'd decided that it was no longer moving around the tunnels it was time to demonstrate the use of the electronic ferret finder. As the ferret was already wearing its transmitter collar the ferret finder could be used to pin point the exact location of ferret and rabbit. Once this had been confirmed by the ferret finder a short dig soon had the rabbit in hand and the ferret back in its carrying box. With this burrow complete it was time to pick up all the nets and move on to the next set of holes.

The afternoon soon flew by and most of the group seemed reluctant to had back to the barn when the four o'clock deadline arrived. However, with parents waiting back at the farmhouse to collect members we had no choice but to pack our equipment and head back (although I don't think any of the groups made it back on time).

A quick head count back at the barn (both members and rabbits), some photo's for the album and it was time to call it a day. Yvonne Jones kindly handed out the SFC's 'ferreting to nets' certificates for the members and it was time to head home for a well-earned rest.

Everyone on the course seemed to have enjoyed a great day out and I'm sure that due to the success of this first day more will be organised in the future.

Should any Scottish based members fancy attending one of the courses then can I suggest getting in touch with the Scottish Ferret Club.

Steven Carr

(First published in NFWS News - #51 Autumn 1999)