An Apprenticeship in Field Sports - Part 2
by Dick Nutt
The rabbits Wilf sold each week were taken either with a .22 rifle, his ferrets or by the conventional running snare or "wire", the method used depending on the area he was working at the time, the types of ground, and, of course, the time of year.
Although leg hold gin traps were in common use in those days, he had a passionate hatred of the things and would never resort to their use. If he found any set in the places we worked, they were unpegged and either flung into the river or, if we were in the area of the old lead mines, dropped down an abandoned shaft, all done to the accompaniment of some language I didn't at that time fully understand! I would at this point ask people who come across the modern equivalent, the legal Fenn trap, to leave well alone. These are not leg hold traps and are designed to kill instantly and humanely. They should not, however, be set in the open for what should be very obvious reasons.
There is no doubt that Wilf was, by the standards of that time, an enlightened ferret keeper, with well housed and properly flesh fed stock who were all handled twice daily, by him in the mornings and by me when I came from school at four o'clock.
My job, needless to say, was to clean the cages, see to their feed and make sure the drinking water was topped up, all to be done in about twenty minutes as I then had to get back to the farm to help with the evening milking. Some twenty Shorthorns, all to be hand milked in a ten stall shippen, buckets to be carried and washed, cooler and separator to keep an eye on, churns to be dragged and mucking out to be done. I suppose these days I would be called an exploited child, taken away by a social worker, and placed in a "caring" environment! Thank God they knew better then, as I was happy to do it and learnt values that have always kept in good stead.
As spring was coming on, with large numbers of baby rabbits below ground, it was not practical to use the ferrets so much and Wilf concentrated his efforts on teaching me to shoot. During the Great War he had been a sniper with the Green Howards and, in consequence, although he owned some shotguns, his first love was the rifle. Apart from this, cleanly headshot rabbits sold more readily than those with a large dose of No.6 shot inside them! He had two rifles, a .303 Lee Enfield that had been lined to .22 and fitted with a telescopic sight, far too big and heavy for a child to use, and a small pump-action .22, I think a Browning, with the barrel screwed for a silencer. This rifle had leaf rear sights for 50 and 100 yards and was a possible 5lbs! Plenty of practice ammunition was no problem, after all he wasn't a sergeant with the local Home Guard platoon for nothing . . . . !
In my subsequent twenty-three years in the Army I would often remember his teachings on safe weapon handling, and even now, 52 years on, can still almost feel the clip around the ear or the kick up the backside that would result from the breaking of even his most minor safety rules. Some of the lethal clowns one can find on many rough or driven shoots today could well benefit from one of Wilf's accurately applied clogs!