Ferreting to Guns
Sheila Crompton takes us on two outings into the countryside to control rabbits on farmland with ferrets, lurchers and shotguns.
At the beginning of March I received a phone call froma chap called Paul. He quickly explained that he was looking for someone who went ferreting. He and his friend Steve needed to control rabbits for a farmer as they would soon make short work of his cereal crops. Paul mentioned shotguns but that didn't really register straight away. The ferreting season was more or less over until the autumn but as it was pest control I thought: 'OK, I'll give it a go'.
I left a message on Stuart's answer phone and he agreed to come along too. We arranged to meet up at the Three Arrows, just off the M60 on Sunday morning. Paul said it was about five minutes drive from where we would be working. I had a look at my OS map of Greater Manchester and was pleased to see that the Three Arrows was actually shown on the map!
I got up early to see to the ferrets before leaving home. I popped five of them into a cage in my van - Jean-Luc, who wouldn't be doing any work, Chattox and Edmund, two sandy hobs who had proved themselves to be an excellent working pair, plus Demdike and Little Joe, a poley jill and hob who are an excellent team. Bryn my brindle lurcher pup, was also included. I drove over to Atherton to pick up Stuart and his two albino ferrets.
We arrived at the Three Arrows at exactly 7.30 to find Paul and Steve waiting for us. We drove to a spot near Heaton Park Woods to work an overgrown bank on one side of a sunken track. On the other side of the track was a hedge and field.
Paul and Steve donned cartridge belts and slung their shotguns (in gun slips) over their shoulders and walked off down the track. Stuart went with them carrying the net bag, with Bryn trotting alongside him. I stayed by the van to put batteries in the locator collars. I checked that they were working OK before securing the caps with insulating tape.
We decided to use Stuart's albino hob and jill as my two sandy boys would be practically impossible to spot in the brambles etc covering the bank. Paul and Steve went into the field. Stuart climbed up the bank above the warren, leaving ema and Bryn down on the track. Both albinos were put down holes and Stuart and I retreated out of the line of fire. Paul and Steve had an excellent view of the bank and were able to direct us to where the ferrets were when they emerged from the bury.
Bryn stood by my side. Suddenly his ears pricked up and he looked intently towards a spot on the bank. The next second three shots rang out. Three rabbits had bolted at more or less the same time. We were directed towards where the rabbits were so that we could pick them up before the ferrets dragged them back underground. We carried on like this for the next twenty minutes or so, with the two 'guns' directing us to where the ferret was and then pointing out the location of the next hole to be investigated.
We moved on after we'd thinned out the rabbit population by ten. The next bury was in another bank but minus the undergrowth. Stuart put Big Lad in and we waited and waited. We failed to find him with the locator. Eventually, Stuart went back to the van to get the spade. I was given the intructions to try to tempt Big Lad out with a freshly shot rabbit. I started getting a signal from Big Lad's collar and he appeared but still out of reach. I managed to get him to grab hold of the rabbit and very carefully pulled the rabbit out of the hole with Big Lad still attached to it. I picked him up just as Stuart arrived with the spade. After that long wait we called it a morning.
We met up again on Easter Sunday, close to Tandle Hill Country Park, near Royton. I took Chattox and Edmund and Stuart was using his jill. I'd brought Striker along this time but I wasn't too sure how he'd take to the guns as fireworks turn him into a shivering wreck.
We blanked at the first bury and bagged a bolter at the second. Striker jumped at the bang but that was only in surprise. The next bury was also a dead loss. The small wood produced just one and that had myxy.
We moved on to a bury that was too close to a public footpath to use shotguns. We netted it up and Chattox and Edmund went to work. Striker trotted around watching - at least he hasn't got his mother's bad habbit of disturbing the nets once they've been set. We got one rabbit from this bury. My two sandy boys were enjoying themselves exploring the tunnels and it took them ages to come out.
On the way back to the vehicles we tried a smallish bury alongside the track and up with four bolters that all eluded the guns. If we'd used purse nets we would have caught them all... Oh well, we'd had a good morning out in the countryside. The ferrets and dog had all had a good run and that's what it is all about.