A day out with Teddy
by Dick Nutt
February, in this part of the world, brought very little good ferreting weather, and with many other things to do, there were no major outings for me. There was, however, something of a change in the middle of the month when, for a few days the wind dropped, it ceased raining and there was even some sunshine to cheer the snowdrops on their way.
Returning from an early trip to town (this is any place with more than two shops as far as I'm concerned) one morning, I'd stopped the car just over a mile from home to look at some burrows near the roadside edge of a small wood, where, on other occasions, I had seen a rabbit or two. Some holes on an ivy covered bank, well interlaced with tree roots and about five yards in from the lane's edge, showed all the signs of recent occupation. There was about twenty yard's depth of wood beyond the bank and then a wire strand fence with pasture beyond, while the odd pop-hole or two in the wood's floor showed the bank burrows ran into the wood, although there were no excavations in the pasture's edge beyond the fence.
As by now it was showing promise of a cold but sunny day, with about seven hours of daylight left, I called in at the farm and told Mr Andrews, from whom I have ferreting permission, where I'd be on his ground that day and then headed for home. The odd bit of ferreting that I do around the village is usually carried out with two or three jills, but, as this was going to be a short trip I decided to have a "hob day" and just take one of the boys. This one, I thought would be Teddy, so-called because Jean, whose ferret he really is reckoned that, as a kit, when she got him from Alan Bullock in Launceston, he looked just like one! Now, four years on, although you still have to speak to him with a Cornish accent, he is one lovely lad! A sharp headed, medium sandy; stoat like and with a cream bib, he has a winter weight of over 4lbs but is as quick as any jill. He rarely kills down and has never involved me in any lengthy digging, which to me is a great bonus.
While I'm quite aware there are those out there who like to work very small jills only and will claim all sorts of advantages for doing so, it's not a theory I subscribe to and all my mob get a turn, regardless of sex. age or weight.
A ferreting "no discrimination" policy!!
At home a battery was fitted to a transmitter collar, the sender unit taped up for protection and tested against the receiver, then nets, spade, slasher and other essentials stowed in the car. A flask of coffee, well laced with rum, for me, and some milk and water mix for Teddy completed the kit and he was brought in, collared up, snugged into a hay filled working box and we were ready for the off. Both of us, I think, were filled with that sense of excitement and anticipation that always goes with the prospect of a day's ferreting.
As I drove down the lanes to the spot we were going to work, a buzzard flew up from the trees on the right and circled around the field. "Yes, old son"' I thought, "that's three of us after rabbits this morning and I wish you well of it". Pheasants scratched about on the verges, like so many bantams in a barnyard, in the way they do as soon as the shooting season closes, just as if they had checked the calendar. There is a pure white cock bird who often shows himself in this spot, and, as I've seen him over the last couple of years, he must be very astute at escaping the attentions of both stoats and "Charlie".
In the next couple of months these lane verges would be a mass of primroses and celandines, and the fairly bare floor of the wood covered with a carpet of bluebells. By that time, on the A303, a mile away but out of sight, the early tourists with many towing their "grockle boxes" would be rushing like so many lemmings for the sea. It crossed my mind what a blessing it was they didn't know paradise lay just over the hedges, or for sure there'd be no primroses, bluebells and little else for that matter except rubbish.
Parking in a gateway about fifty yards from the little wood, I carried all the kit over to the bank where the burrows were, but left Teddy in his box in the car for the moment. All the main holes and every pop-hole I could find were netted up, and, with there being very little vegetation to clear, it was all done fairly quickly and quietly.
I now went back for Teddy, who looked as if he was settling down in the hay for a mid-morning nap, and carried him over to the bank, again checking the collar signal as I did so.
The net over the lowest hole was moved to one side and I let him have a good sniff around the vicinity of it. I will never push a ferret at a particular hole, as they usually know best as to whether or not it is worth entering! He decided soon enough that it was worth a look, cautiously went in and out of sight while I reset the net and settled down to listen. After some minutes he appeared briefly behind the net on a hole a couple of yards to my right, turned without trying to get past the net and went down again.
I'd begun to think that perhaps there was nothing at home, after all, and that Teddy was just having an underground stroll, when, without any audible warning, something hit one of the nets hard enough to almost tear the peg out of the ground.
The net had pursed beautifully and, as I grabbed it and held its contents down, I saw it contained a very large, and very disenchanted old buck. There were no signs of injuries on him, Teddy obviously hadn't made contact, and he must have taken off like a bat out of hell at the first sniff of ferret. His ears and face bore the scars of many a past fight, he had a pair of testes like two walnuts and was very definitely the local stud and general hard man!
I guessed he would be as tough as old boots, even well marinated, and as the ferrets weren't short of meat I decided he'd be more use to me going forth and doing lots of multiplying. Carrying him to the other side of the lane, and getting a well scratched wrist from his hind claws in the process, I told him to "Away and make more rabbits" and let him go, wondering if he would re-cross the lane and back-net himself. He didn't, but was off into the undergrowth like a shot. I thought I'd better not tell Mr Andrews about it as he probably would not understand my encouraging rabbits to breed on his ground for my future ferreting pleasure! Oh, well, now you've all learned my dark secret!
Teddy wasn't in sight, so I reset the net then listened and looked for a while, prior to switching on the locator and moving it in a sweeping pattern going into the wood. Eventually I got a signal from fairly close to the far edge of the wood, at about three feet down, that showed he was on the move and presumably OK.
A voice from the lane behind me, wishing me a good day made me turn around to see Mrs Titley, seated on one of her hunters having ridden, unheard by me, up the opposite verge from the direction of the village. I smiled, waved and then motioned that I wanted to keep as quiet as possible. As she had seen me out ferreting on previous occasions she understood straight away, waved and rode off, keeping to the grass.
Only a second or two after I had turned around and looked into the wood again, a rabbit shot out of a pop-hole close to the pasture and went into overdrive across the open ground heading for Dorset! Feeling sure it had not come out of a hole I had missed netting I walked over and, right enough, there was a net on it but moved enough to one side to allow the rabbit to get past. I suspected Teddy had stuck his nose out and moved the net some time before without my noticing, still, there is no point in cussing over a rabbit with luck on its side.
I walked back to the bank to collect the locator, just in time to see Teddy trying push past a net, so I gave him the "grub up" call, that all my lot know, and he stayed there for me to pick him up. He was fairly muddy and with lots of rabbit fleck between his claws which can be, but isn't always, a sign of his making contact as it could be the lining of an old "nursery chamber" in the burrow. As I was feeling the chill a bit by now, I carried him back to the car and gave him a drink prior to popping him into his box, while I sat in the car and enjoyed the contents of the flask, gradually feeling somewhat warmer. A sudden harsh chattering cry startled me out of my thoughts and a jay pitched into the tree not five yards from the car. I sat still and I watched it, admiring the effect of the rather watery sunlight on the pinks, blues and black of its plumage. It stayed on the branch for a while, raising and lowering its crest, as they do, before taking off again into the wood with that peculiar, darting, jinking style of flight. They must surely be the prettiest member of the crow family, and one of the shyest.
"Right then, Teddy", I said eventually, "Another half hour or one good rabbit, which ever comes first, then we are off home." Go on, admit it, you talk to your ferrets as well, I can't be the only daft one!
The next twenty or so minutes actually resulted in two being bolted and netted within a short time of each other, and with both being taken, I did not have the temptation to keep trying which so often results in a tired ferret taking time out for a long doze underground, the last thing one wants when a winter's afternoon is wearing on.
A good few hours? Brilliant I would say. Admittedly not in terms of the bag, which with four bolted, one released, one escaped and two taken would not satisfy some people, but which to me was not very important when compared with time spent in beautiful countryside with a great working partner who had behaved impeccably.
Back at home I cleaned Teddy's feet and gave him a good comb out with a fine tooth comb, although I would be checking him for any ticks over the next couple of days, then took him with me into the cosy warmth of the kitchen. Whilst I was hanging the used nets over the Rayburn's towel rail to dry out, he had found the cat's food dish and was tucking in heartily. She, needless to say, was not around.
I went outside to dress out the two rabbits, as I wanted to add their offal to Teddy's feed that night, and when I came back in he was as dead to the world as only a ferret can be, curled up in front of the Rayburn as if he owned the rug! He was left there while I washed, had a cup of tea, got the feed ready for the rest of the gang and generally put away and tidied up. When I finally picked him up to take him back to his more usual housing outside, he barely stirred.
Next morning I took one of the rabbits up to the farm for Mrs Andrews, thanked her but made no mention of the old buck I'd let go, and came away with a half pint of fresh Guernsey cream. Fair exchange, but not good for my cholesterol count!
Later in the day I met Mrs Titley, not on horseback this time, and she asked me how I'd got on. "By the way", she said, "When I saw you yesterday, what was it you were sprinkling on the ground in the wood?" The question totally floored me for a moment and them I realised she had watched me waving the receiver box about, just above the ground, and it must have looked exactly like I was doing what she thought. I explained about locators and their purpose. "Oh, yes", she said, "I've seen falconers whose birds have a little transmitter fixed on their tail feathers. Radio controlled predators, eh? Clever, that!"
Now, time of writing this, it is the second week in June and you can't see the bank, or into the little wood at all, for thick green growth everywhere. The bluebells have gone over and the trees make a close, green canopy over the lane. Yesterday I saw three young rabbits dart across the lane and into the wood, so perhaps it's the old buck who has been busy! Roll on autumn!