My Day's Ferreting
MICHAEL SANDERSON, whose hob Logun is reigning British Supreme Champion, owns albino jill Millie, the best working ferret in his area of North East England, Michael, 16, shares the thrill of a day's ferreting with Ferrets First readers.
I WOKE bright and early looking forward to a day's ferreting on nearby land. The rabbits on here are known to be stubborn and not easy to bolt from their warrens. In situations like this, a good ferret that knows the job well is needed. Luckily, I am the proud owner of the best working ferret in the area.
Six-year-old Millie knows every trick in the trade when it comes to ferreting. After a good breakfast, it was time to wake her for work. Millie popped her head from the nestbox and sat by the door. I keep nine ferrets, and unlike most of her easily excitable friends, Millie is very calm. She gave a big yawn and I picked her out from the hutch. She climbed staight on to my shoulder and we walked to the ferreting box. I placed her in and secured the latch.
The night before, I had thoroughly checked my purse nets and other equipment to make sure there was no damage to spoil the day out. One piece of equipment I don't use use with Millie is a ferret locator. Many people use this to dig out their ferrets if a rabbit is dispatched underground or if a ferret traps a group of rabbits in a dead end tunnel. If Millie kills a rabbit underground, she pulls it to the surface.
When I arrived at the fields with Ken and Dave, the conditions were perfect, with very little wind to spook the rabbits and prevent them bolting. The set we chose to work first was in the centre of a cluster of pine trees and consisted of 14 individual holes. Most were open and easily accessible but a few were under low branches. We netted the holes, driving the peg into the ground before opening the net and covering the opening. This took about ten minutes and then we began with one of Dave's ferrets. We lifted a net to one side and placed the hob in the hole. Although reluctant at first, he descended.
We took up positions round the warren but time passed, nothing happened, and we decided to try Millie. She was asleep in the hay in her ferreting box but a quick whistle woke her. Without looking back, she descended into the ground, sniffing the air.
I am always amazed to see such a tame animal take on its natural instincts so quickly. Almost immediately, the first rabbit bolted beside me, followed by Millie. I dispatched the rabbit quickly and without pain. Millie looked up at me sniffing the air, then quickly returned to the darkness of the warren. I put my foot over the unetted hole while untangling my first catch. No sooner was the net replaced than another rabbit bolted on the other side, with Millie directly behind.
Some ferrets simply walk round the tunnels exploring but Millie works hard to push each rabbit towards the surface, forcing them to bolt. She now had all the rabbits on the move and the ground beneath us began to tremble and thud. Suspense was high. We knew a rabbit would bolt any minute but where was anyone's guess. This is the thrill tht so many people love about traditional country pastime - the waiting and suspense immediately followed by the sudden rush of adrenaline is an exiciting and unpredictable sport no one tires of.
The adrenaline was certainly rushing in me, Dave and Ken as Millie bolted more and more rabbits, always right behind them. She seemed to be working backwards and forwards as each rabbit bolted from teh opposite end of the warren from the previous one.
I felt the ground shake suddenly under me and rabbit sprang from the nearest hole. Millie's head appeared and then she turned back before resurfacing and exiting the hole.
If Millie leaves the set, you can be sure there are no more rabbits below so I returned Millie to her box. Her working skills had so far netted a bag of eight rabbits which, in this area, is almost unheard of. Millie is a true professional working ferret who can quickly and efficiently control a small rabbit population better than any other method I can think of.
Dave, Ken and I were very happy with Millie's work so far and moved on in search of other warrens. All were empty except a last set of 16 holes where Millie and Dave's ferret pushed hard to bolt two more rabbits. This warren was particularly deep so there were no trembling thuds to warn us of a rabbit below - but this just added to the suspense.
With a final bag of ten rabbits, we called it a day. Even if we had an empty bag, none of us would have been particularly bothered. It was a day out in the open air taking part in the sport we love. As for the rabbits, Millie and her hutch-mates feasted that day on freshly caught rabbit. Some people cook the rabbit for themselves, and it is a delicious meat, but I give most of it to my ferrets. It is their natural diet.
The drive to ban hunting with hounds means that it probably won't be long before hunting with ferrets is under the spotlight. Because of this, I intend to make the most of ferreting and whatever happens to this fascinating sport, we must never forget the reason why the ferret is here today
Working is the ferret's long history and background - long may it last.
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