Ferreting in Country Tyrone

by Marty Patton

So there it was, a call to all ferreters and budding scribes to practice their literary skills by penning an article for the "Newsletter" on the working of their pride and joys to quarry. So here it is from a trio of County Tyrone lads and how it happens this side of the canal.

There is always a great rush to get into the season, something akin to 'duck fever' and so we can always be found in the early stages of August getting the gear ready to be full steam ahead with young Paul bleating the question of, "Are we for out in the morning lads?" Nevertheless we persist to September before any early morning forays are embarked upon.

There is nothing like the early rise on the first morning as you stroll along in the wet grass, a spade in one hand and a duo of seasoned ferrets who are well aware of the game in hand, unlike the youngsters who are snug in their court at home as they just don't have the bulk or power to stay against the local rabbits. We always give the jills a run out first and that's how it was this year as Paul, aged 15, but with a craft and wit that even Einstein would feel threatened by, Nicky and I loaded lightly with equipment for the rabbits are quick to bolt on the first as the foolish three-quarter grown or 'yungins' (youngsters) hit the nets with a strike that even a baseball star couldn't argue with.

We always hit the same area on the first of the season for the area holds such an abundance of rabbits that ground cover is sparse due to the sheer number of conies that infest this area, which is incidentally rented by a local sporting club who tolerate the attention of the local rabbiting fraternity on the basis of no dogs due to sheep worrying problems. Some readers may say that this is poaching but the access to hunt for conies in this area is based on 'the more the merrier' motif in the light sands and boulder clay mix and, anyhow sporting rights are not as zealously guarded here in the north as, I believe, the situation is in England.

Nets are set, 4ft purse nylon of course, at the location of a likely hole which usually consists of a minimum of thirty entrances up to usually seventy for, although many smaller sets do exist, it is these communes which usually hold the more mature rabbits and in heavier densities. So there we were, under the blazing sun, stripped to the waist and oblivious to the rays of the sun with the two ferrets in when two rabbits bolted at the base of the slope with not a net near them and, on investigation, the rabbits had bolted from a bolt hole amidst a stone cairn, which was impossible to net, only to run into a smaller set of holes near by and were rapidly followed by Paul with the net bag. On returning he announced that, "They won't do that again" and that, "not even Houdini could slip out of that hole." During this time another four rabbits had been evicted from the hole and had been captured and dispatched. Another rabbit erupted from the sanctuary of the burrow only to flick through the nets and to escape to pastures new. As for a reason, it was probably down to slackness on behalf of the setters (Nicky and myself). Paul set off to seek out to where he had fled with the words, "Don't start the smaller set until I return." A slight wait before a squeal from the burrow indicated that a rabbit had been nailed by a ferret, and on locating the hole nearest to the squeal it was only a simple matter of slipping a hand deftly into the hole and grabbing the softer fur of the two and tugging the beast to the surface and often at the same time retrieving a ferret adhering to the conies nape. The ferret was returned to the box and the rabbit was dispatched to the remarks of "I can see him in a curry."

The other ferret still at large soon appeared to the sound of the box lid and was quickly retired to the box and after gathering the equipment we moved to the next hole, the one that Paul had previously netted and who by now had returned from his scouting session to tell us that the rabbit had probably entered a drainage ditch which extended over a couple of hundred yards and would be better left to later in the season as it was a well known zone where rabbit litters could be found up until the end of October.

Paul slipped in a single jill who quickly evicted the two inhabitants from the previous hole plus another rabbit which was a bonus in respect of the hole size. With all the equipment gathered it was voted to call it a day as by now the sun was making it unbearable and a health hazard and any how nothing like a couple of rabbits to give you serious cramp in your hands. Eight rabbits is a minor bag but as we walked the two or so miles home we talked of days past and of the days to come and the smell of rabbit curry for this was where the day's catch was destined to wallow in.

Just a normal day and we moaned about the warm weather in preference to a duller more wintry cold. I've never been a man who seeks out large numbers of dead quarry and I was happy with the day's account and anyhow I have nothing to prove for by the end of that month and in a single morning along with Nicky and two of this year's young albino jills we bolted 52 rabbits and 7 rats of which six were accounted for but sure as they all say "sure ain't that another story."

(First published in NFWS News - #36 February 1996)