30 August 2014

'Squatters'

A rabbit squats in the beam of the hunters lamp.

A well schooled lurcher should go out to the spot light created by the lamp whether it can see the rabbit or not.
 Once picked up the lurcher should carry its catch back to your hand.
‘Squatters’ is the name given by night time hunters to the rabbits which choose to squat down when the beam of the hunters lamp illuminates them. They don't do this because the lamp is blinding them; it is a natural freeze response. The rabbits natural instincts tell it to stay still to avoid detection. In many cases it works and the rabbit is overlooked. During the night when illuminated with a lamp the rabbits eyes glow red in the beam which gives them away. Many novice and unskilled lampers make the big mistake of walking their dogs as close up to the squatting rabbit as they can. When they get close the rabbit inevitably jumps up and the dog pursues it by reflex with the lamper illuminating its escape path. The dog has learnt nothing here. I've seen some shocking antics over the years from lurcher men doing this when lamping. One man once told me that “Practice would make perfect” as he insisted on walking out to squatting rabbits which his dog kept failing to see and then missing when the rabbit finally did jump up. Practice only makes perfect if you are practicing the right things! Otherwise practice simply makes permanent. To keep doing the same thing and expecting different results is madness {A.Einstien}
It is the dog’s job to go up to the squatting rabbit on its own. When the lamper walks the dog up to the rabbit himself he is simply teaching it NOT to look down the beam and NOT to go down the beam itself. The late Harold Wyman in his excellent book 'The Great Game' describes perfectly how a lurcher should work the lamp and squatters {page 95 - 96}. This Welsh poacher certainly knew his trade. The lamper should illuminate a squatting rabbit by holding his lamp as high as possible creating a downward spot of light on the rabbit. A correctly schooled lurcher should then trot out or run {depending on how it is bred} towards this beam of light. It's very unlikely that even the tallest of lurchers will always see every squatting rabbit, especially on rough ground. Remember how much lower your dog’s eyes are to yours. Try putting your eyes at the same height as your dogs and see what you see. Despite the nonsense that a certain prolific field sports author used to  say about lurchers not using their noses at night, a good one will. Yes it is right that a lurcher shouldn't hunt on with its nose after missing a rabbit but it will certainly use it to pinpoint a tightly squatting rabbit it might not be able to see, thus helping it zero in. Remember you should be hunting with the wind in your face and ideally the rabbit’s sanctuary behind you. Once the lurcher reaches the spot of light it will in most cases be rewarded by the rabbit jumping up {positive reinforcement} and hopefully running back towards you the lamper providing you have correctly positioned yourself against the fence / hedge / wood. If the rabbit sits really tight and the dog can’t see it this is when you will see a good dog use its nose to pin point its prey before striking. Once a dog has been correctly conditioned that the spot of light is likely to hold a rabbit it will go out remarkable distances to it whether it can see the rabbit or not. My own dogs always know when I raise my lamp high and form a spot of light out in the field that a rabbit is there awaiting them. In brief, you teach your dog to go to the spot of light so in never matters whether it has seen the squatting rabbit or not.

A dog is best conditioned alone and there will be some moments when trainees go steaming off into the night or tread on squatters whilst looking elsewhere. If you persevere and work on short distances of around twenty yards or so first it doesn’t take long for them to cotton on and start going out further. Remember to always have the wind in your face. If your dog doesn't pick the rabbit up from its seat and it jumps up, your dog should be pursuing it towards you providing you positioned yourself correctly. If you rock your lamp beam making a strobe type effect it will often knock the rabbit out of its stride and help the dog make its catch.

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If you like your hunting books here's a new one you may be interested in. It's a hard back consisting of 216  pages  It contains 105 photographs many of which are action shots {101 colour & 4 black & white}. 
It is a factual collection of my recent hunting adventures and exploits that I'm sure you'll enjoy. There is plenty of lurcher and terrier work, plus ferrets and even a bit of hawking. Whilst it isn't in any way a 'how to do it' manual there are plenty of useful tips to be found within its pages.

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Harefield Books, 83 Ducie St, Manchester. M1 2JQ.
Make cheques payable to 'Harefield Books' {allow for cheque clearance time if paying by this method}

Don't forget to let me know if you'd like your copy signed or signed with a personal message.

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22 August 2014

Lurchers Working With Nets

I will explain why I don’t really like a ferreting lurcher to grab netted rabbits. Then I will tell you the best way to teach them not to do so.
Often when ferreting, rabbits can be bolting simultaneously. Rabbits can and do slip out of even the best set purse nets on occasion. If a rabbit is properly pursed up in a net, it should be safe until you reach it. There is no real reason for you to want your dog to get hold of it. I do expect and encourage a dog to bound over to netted rabbits; but not to grab them. There are two reasons for this.
The first reason the dog should bound over is in case a second rabbit bolts from the now uncovered hole. If a second rabbit does bolt then your dog is on hand and has it covered. However if your dog has been allowed to grab rabbits in nets it will have the netted rabbit in its mouth and not be covering the open hole or even paying attention to it. {I've seen this many times when watching others ferret} Any further bolters will slip away unnoticed. The second reason is if the netted rabbit does somehow slips out of the net before you can reach it the dog will be on hand to grab it.
A prolific field sports author once wrote that a dog can be trained to ignore netted rabbits by simply smacking it when it lunges at one. This is what is known as negative reinforcement and is not the best way to train dogs. It is certainly not something I’d recommend. Smacking a dog damages the bond between it and its handler. Also if the dog has the netted rabbit in its mouth at the time smacking it is very likely to discourage it from carrying to hand in the future.
Rather than punish a dog for incorrect behaviour it is far better to reward it for correct behaviour. This is called positive reinforcement and is very effective. When teaching a young dog initially keep a finger under its collar when a bolt is imminent to prevent it grabbing netted rabbits on early expeditions. Lead it to go over to safely netted rabbits and praise / reward it for not grabbing them {it can’t anyway as you still have your finger under its collar and are controlling the situation}. If one does slip from the now uncovered hole its better still as you can allow your dog to chase it.
A dog that doesn't grab safely netted rabbits but is on hand covering them looks very professional, is more efficient and is working in harmony with you like a partner. Once the dog understands what is correct behaviour the penny soon drops, especially if you are doing lots of ferreting with nets. Once netted rabbits have been despatched and untangled from the nets the dog can be allowed to have a sniff of them then. Once the dog knows its duty it won't be that interested in despatched rabbits. 
  My old lurcher bitch Moss covering a netted rabbit and the now unnetted hole it bolted from but not grabbing it.

17 August 2014

My First Lurcher

 I started ferreting way back in 1976 using the family collie type dog as my canine companion and occasionally a neighbours pet whippet. My first lurcher of my own was a Bedlington X whippet I bought in 1980. I've rooted out a few old pictures of him from over thirty years ago when he was a couple of years old. I bought him as a pup off a chap in Ramsbottom near Bury, via an advert in the Exchange & Mart {that's where lurchers were bought & sold in those days}. I named him Max and he grew to 20" tall. He was mainly a rabbiting and ferreting dog but did take feathered game and rats too. He also caught occasional hares; usually two or three per season. He could never catch a hare in a straight course as he wasn't fast enough but would catch them in cover, on rough ground many admittedly by accident. The first photo {yes its me} is from around 1982 and is on a farm in Tarbock, Merseyside where I used to have permission and spent much of my youth. The construction of a new Expressway in the 1990's sadly finished off the hares on this farm.
Max was good at hunting in water as we were always ratting along the local brooks. Pictures 3 & 4 show him catching a moorhen and swimming back with it.
The final picture is of a Bedington X Greyhound. It was taken up in the Highlands on some heather moorland when we were out fox denning. The young lad Rob was a trainee keeper / stalker and the lurcher belonged to another keeper friend and first class terrier and lurcher man.The dog was called Taffy and was very good. I saw it take lots of lamped rabbits, ferreted rabbits, blue hares and foxes. Having seen both first crosses work I could pass the opinion that Bedlingtons are better crossed with a greyhound rather than a whippet.....but I won't....and here's why ~

LURCHER CROSSES ARE LIKE A PAIR OF SHOES.
YOU MUST FIND ONE THAT FITS FOR YOU.
WHEN YOU DO PLEASE DON'T TRY TO MAKE ME WEAR YOUR SHOES!


10 August 2014

Our Friend With The Red Coat & The Bushy Tail.

A fox on the lamp. The appearance of a set of those big eyes never fails to excite me.
 He responds to my calls and comes in closer. I always found still nights best for calling foxes. Your call carries further and its harder for a circling fox to pick up your scent.
 A fox emerging at dusk at a well known den site which is in the bushes.
 In daytime stalking mode. This was a vixen with cubs to feed who regularly hunted in broad daylight.
 This vixen knows something isn't right but she can't scent me as the breeze is in my favour. Nor can she see me as I have a good background and am suitably camouflaged.
 The sand hole den site.
 Some well grown cubs playing in a freshly cut hay field.
 These cubs were from a nearby dry drain.

1 August 2014

Some Long Netting Action

A rabbit, at half speed, heading for the junction of two long nets set in the corner of the field.
 He's about to get the last surprise of his life.......
 Well and truly tangled in the deadly web.
 Here's one hitting the net at speed {above} and another about to hit it {below}



16 July 2014

My Latest Article in EDRD Magazine

Click on this link to read my latest article in the no 1 publication for working terriers and lurchers ~ 


24 June 2014

Old Black & White Coursing Memories From Altcar


I took most of these pictures in December 2000 at one of the smaller meetings held at Altcar. The October and November meetings had been cancelled due to bad weather so it was a rescheduled day. The venue was down Engine Lane about a mile from the more well known 'Withens' running ground. The slipper, Garry Kelly is in the shy watching an approaching hare. The flanker in background {one of several} helps funnel the hare in the right direction past the slipper.
White collar closes with the hare


As a course is underway the next entrants take their dogs to the shy. Note the beaters in the background. As soon as a hare entered the coursing field the beaters would all stop.




One of coursing's & indeed the countrysides biggest supporters; the late Clarissa Dickson Wright. A former barrister, business woman and TV celebrity chef. She was a colourful character who always spoke up in our defence
Coursing was a great example of natural selection. The strongest and fittest hares survived and went on to breed thus enhancing the species. Very few very killed. When a hare was caught the nearest steward would ensure a clean kill. Here's a steward running in to do this.
This was was taken at Lydiate, you can identify it by the church in the background. The second day of the Waterloo Cup used to be ran at Lydiate and it was known for its long courses. The ground could be driven either way, the shy being moved accordingly.
This one is on the fields to the West of the estate between Engine Lane and the Formby by-pass. You can see the Tesco supermarket {where can't you see one!} in the top left of the picture and the industrial estate to the right.



6 April 2014

Learning The Ropes 2

Here's my young lurcher bitch learning to work with a long net whilst ferreting in the top picture. She picked it up quite quickly without once getting tangled in it which is a first for one of my dogs! The action shots are a ferreted rabbit that slipped a net and avoided the long net. That's where a lurcher comes in.
The long net in this picture is a curious one. It was given to me by a Welsh golfer. I used to regularly ferret on this particular golf course until the night vision shooters wiped out everything. A golfer approached me one day and asked if I'd like some old nets he no longer used. I replied "Yes please".
The following week when I turned up he'd left a bag with the green keeper. I was expecting some old purse nets but in it was this beautifully hand knitted long net. What's unusual about it is that it has a second ply of netting which is almost web like attached to the main netting which really does tangle the rabbits up.



Marking an inhabited warren.

4 December 2013

Learning The Ropes

Here's my current trainee lurcher bitch sitting down whilst I net up a nice open warren.

8 March 2013

Not Many Left....


We've only got a few of these left now. You can buy one by clicking here & scrolling down ~  lurchers-terriers-ferrets.co.uk

The book is not a how to do it type manual, nor are there any rabbit recipes! It's all hunting tales from when I started out as a young boy right up to the ban. There are plenty of useful tips to be found within it too. This book very nearly didn't see the light of day. I'm sure it was cursed. I just managed to collect them from the printers only days before they went into liquidation. It was a very close shave as I'd had to pay them up front. Then a couple of years later we had a pointless tax investigation over it. It was clearly instigated by someone with scant knowledge of the self publishing of hunting books as there is little money in it! It's my old bitch Tawny on the front cover closing in on a mountain hare high up in the hills of the far north of Scotland. Yes she did catch it too.

The best read for terrier & lurcher enthusiasts

Add caption
I write regular articles and submit pictures for Dave Harcombe's great magazine which gave me my first opportunity at writing. If you are into workers then this is the magazine for you. All of the contributors are genuine work dog men and women. It's a monthly publication and is available by mail order only. The format has recently been updated to include more colour pictures too. Here is the link to the official website -
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3 March 2013

The Last Waterloo Cup

Here's an old picture from the last Waterloo Cup with the judge on horseback right up close to the action. It was taken on the 1st day at 'The Withens'. The other picture was also taken there. I went to my 1st ever cup when I was seventeen {1981} and was hooked. I had no transport or anyone to take me back then so I got the first 78 bus into Liverpool city centre, jumped a train to Formby and started to walk in the direction of Altcar with my thumb out. Luckily I got a lift off a gentleman from Chester who turned out to be the official vet, Mr McWilliam and I got in for free! I never missed a cup after that and also used to attend the smaller meetings held earlier in the season. Incidentally since the ban there are sadly nothing like the number of hares on Altcar anymore. Contrary to the opinion of opponents of coursing few hares were killed at coursing meetings. Hare populations thrived under the protection they received on coursing estates.

Fell hound x Greyhound

My friends bred this bitch and a few others like it for their own use {pre ban}. Some people questioned whether they were genuine 1st crosses as all were very racy animals. They were and what some people forget is that many fell hounds actually carry greyhound blood in them. In fact the hounds my friends kept that ran with their terrier pack actually had patches of brindle colouration on them. Yes the first crosses did take hares regularly though I believe lacked a gear when on the huge fields of the Lancashire mosses. As would be expected they were deadly on foxes. No they didn't use their tongue when in pursuit. I am surprised this cross isn't more popular. There are a few tales in my book about some of the great hunts we had with this little pack of hounds, terriers and lurchers.

2 March 2013

Enjoying The Winter Sun

I took this first picture on a bitterly cold winters day. It was around midday and the weak winter sun was warming this little spot at the foot of a Broad Leaved Lime tree. There's a good population of foxes on this particular piece of land but it is rare to find one below ground even on the very coldest of days. In fact you've more chance of finding one sat up this tree. They often scramble up into the tangle of thin shoot like branches around the trunk. I have painful memories of this place for it was where Tawny caught her first fox after my terrier bolted it from the bramble beds. She let go of it a little too soon due to her inexperience as I was trying to get a safe hold on it. This resulted in it biting through my welly into my foot and refusing to let go. This ended the day with a trip to A & E for a tetanus injection! The farmer still laughs about it now. The second picture was taken on the pony field behind my house. It was a vixen out hunting in the day to feed her cubs.