Ferreting in the Frost
With Christmas just round the corner MICHAEL SANDERSON enjoys a seasonal day out with his top working ferret Millie.
My first day ferreting this year was that of the traditional ferreting scene, working on a winter's morning with a heavy frost on the ground.
Ferreting in the frost is probably everyone's preferred condition for working ferrets. A light snowfall is also much favoured as it gives the ferreter an added advantage. A covering of snow tells many tales of where the rabbits were and, more importantly, where they went. A snow covered hedge line is a complete log of where most of the rabbits are living and careful analysis of footprints and fresh droppings can often lead to more hefty bags as the most worthwhile sets are selected. It can also reveal the whereabouts of new sets that are restricted from view, maybe under dense privet hedge that does not die during winter months.
Once these new sets are discovered they can be cleared and worked making the rabbit controlling process more effective, keeping the farmer happy. The only drawback with hard frosty ground is the massive amplification of footsteps in the underground warrens that can often lead to rabbits being aware of your presence. A soft snow is better for absorbing the noise of treading feet.
When a severe frost is on the ground it is often extremely difficult to drive in net pegs. Wooden pegs are particularly awkward in this situation. Metal tent pegs often solve this problem as long as they are a quality peg. Cheaper pegs will eventually start to bend. It is often a good idea to have a set of each type to be prepared for any situation.
For those of you who work albino ferrets, extra care must be taken when ferreting in the snow. Albinos blend in very well with snow and can often slip the eye of anyone not paying attention!
Conditions on my chosen morning were perfect. A frost lay on the ground, sparkling like a carpet of crystals in the early morning sun. The wind was non-existant and the only sound was that of singing birds echoing in the air. Millie, my top working albino jill, emerged from her cosy nestbox shivering slightly in the cold, fresh, morning air, ready for her first ferreting trip for some months.
In the fields, the previously cleared sets were glazed with frost, with tell-tale signs of the rabbits' presence scattered over the open holes, frost stained orange showing that the set was being used. Ferreting single-handed, the larger sets were out of the question. However, more evidence of rabbit activity was apparent on the smaller sets so I was lucky. The ground was like rock so I removed my set of metal-pronged nets from the game bag and succeeded in driving them deep into the ground with ease.
The first set consisted of nine holes and nearby were signs that the bedding material had recently been scraped from the set. This was a good sign. I removed Millie from her carrying box where she lay, eager to be out. She sat still in my hand, not moving a muscle, then, when placed at the set entrance, darted down immediately. There were about three minutes of complete silence then suddenly the tell-tale thumping of a rabbit sent temors through the ground. As well as human footsteps from above the ground being amplified down into the hollow warrens, thumping from the sub-soil level can also be heard significantly more when the ground is hard. Sure enough, a rabbit bolted from the far end of the set. I placed my foot over the now uncovered and dispatched it. I removed my foot from the hole to re-net it and there was Millie sniffing the air before turning descending again. Another couple of minutes passed and a rabbit bolted from the same hole as before, immediately followed by another rabbit which tripped over the first rabbit, now caught in the purse net, regained its balance and sprinted towards the opposite hedge line. I ran over to sort out the rabbit in the net. I removed my foot from the hole to re-cover and to my surprise there was no Millie. She usually stands at the hole that a rabbit has previously bolted from but she was not there. I netted the hole ans was just about to stand back when another rabbit bolted a few yards away followed by Millie. She really is an amazing worker even though she has now turned seven years old.
When I could tell that she had finished her work I removed her from the set. My fingers had gone numb and handling the nets was becoming a little trickier! We moved on to work a further five sets and Millie accumulated another 12 rabbits.
I reached the end of the hedge line and moved on to another area, pleased with our bag so far. The new area was two fields away and there was a lot of obvious rabbit activity. By now, the sun's increased heat was beginning to thaw out the soil. I looked at my hands and they were covered in mud. The area was becoming quite slippery and extra care had to taken
After working another set, I decided to take the nets up and call it a day. We had taken 19 rabbits on our first morning ferreting in the frost and Millie had worked flawlessly.
There is nothing liek a cold morning out in the fields with the ferrets. The rabbit numbers have recently rocketed in my area. The land on which I ferret had isolated pockets of rabbits causing damage to particular spots. Since the summer, they have spread all over and are tearing the fields to pieces. If I hadn't been on my own the bag would have been bigger but remember tht the sport is about control rather than extermination
Good luck to you all this season. It would be great to hear some of your ferreting tales. I hope you enjoy your own trips out ferreting in the frost.