Not being the most patient bloke in the world, I’d decided to take the new bitch out over the fields the minute I got back from South Wales from where I’d collected her. Having had to pull out from getting a bull cross earlier in the year due to family problems, I’d been on the look out for a new dog for a while and asked around a few of my mates if they knew of any terrier based lurchers for sale or of any litters that were due on the ground anytime soon. Something with a jacket was what I was after as I’ve recently become a convert to this type after keeping a Bearded Collie cross for nearly two years. Weather proofing is a real bonus and the longer hair covers a multitude of sins which is not to be sneezed at in this day and age. With this in mind my choice of breeding was getting narrower but fortunately for me a good mate of mine came up trumps and a nice first cross bitch landed in my lap and it was too good an opportunity to turn down.
As we strode over the fields with the dogs in front, the new arrival quickly made herself at home, running with the collie cross and even making herself known to the staffords, who she wasn’t intimidated by at all. The little black bitch and the collie cross have always been best friends but since Meg has arrived, the lurchers have tended to stick together although the black bitch does keep them in check every now and again. With the dogs all ahead of us, we made our way along a horse paddock that borders some large open fields that have been used for a beef herd earlier in the year and were currently empty, making a perfect playground for the dogs. It wasn’t the uncertainty of Meg’s stock breaking which made me feel easier at the absence of the cows, as this was spot on. It was more the fact that the cows were somewhat aggressive and had chased the dogs many times in the past and even had me up a tree on one occasion! With one less worry on my mind, we reached a narrow but deep stream that edged these fields and tracked it upstream towards a wood where I have been walking my dogs for the last dozen or so years.
With the season over and the cover getting higher by the day, the rabbit work has really dropped off now. The occasional call from the butcher to sort out the bunnies living in his garden is all the work we’ll see until the dark nights are in again. There’s always the odd chase over the fields and woods, but on the whole the days are quiet. It was one of these chance occurrences that saw a bunny get up right in front of me and with the two terriers and the collie cross busy drinking from the stream, the only dog sighted was Meg who was stood next to me due to her not liking water one little bit. Ten yards into its run, the rabbit was chased by Meg who was right on it for a further ten yards. This must have taken literally only a few seconds and my anticipation of a catch had brought a huge smile to my face. No sooner had I counted off that first catch (in my mind I was already thinking of the photo!) than Meg stopped running, turned to look at me and came jogging back, wagging her tail. Now I’m not the most experienced bloke in the world when it comes to lurchers, but I had a hunch that they weren’t supposed to do that! My mate who was with me didn’t know to console me or laugh, and I think it helped when I burst out laughing as he wasn’t slow in following me.
Being only 10 months, the bitch was still puppyish, as evidenced by the “chasing away” of the rabbit. Although this didn’t bother me too much, I’d be lying if I said the incident didn’t sit there at the back of my mind, coming to the surface every now and again when I had doubts about dogs, which is something that is frequent with me. Dogs occupy most of my thoughts from waking in the morning until my head hits the pillow at night. And even then, I frequently dream of hunting so it’s normal that doubts surface every so often. The bitch wasn’t going to be rushed whatever happened and as I stood there watching the other three dogs try in vain to eat up the ground between themselves and the fast disappearing rabbit, I stroked Meg’s head and promised to do right by her and bring her on properly.
I’d obviously got my work cut out with this one and being more used to terriers, I’d never really known a dog with low prey drive before. After speaking to my mates in Wales, I got some good advice and I was settled in for the long haul with this bitch. Progress was slow with her, but however little, she was heading in the right direction. Meg’s arrival had coincided with the retirement of the oldest dog, so the effective working pack had changed from being two terriers and a lurcher to being two lurchers and a terrier. She accompanied me on my rounds of the farms and to my great relief, didn’t bat an eyelid when I used the shotgun. The first signs of her progress came when I was shooting the crows and she raced ahead of the other two dogs and brought a crow straight to hand. Corvids are strictly off the menu with the black bitch and the other lucher; they simply will not pick them up, so it was a joy to see them brought back with minimum fuss. A magpie was the next retrieve and it was the same again, straight out, picked up and straight back. I don’t mind telling you I was straight on the phone to my mate telling him how she’d done.
During the week, I was taking all of the dogs down to a little spot near me with a shallow river running through it. As the days get warmer, the dogs relish the chance of a paddle or a swim in the permanently cold water of the stream. This spot also holds a healthy stock of rabbits, although the cover is heavy with elder, oak and sycamore covering the valley sides and thick bramble bushes making the going difficult for the dogs. These brambles are a haven for the bunnies and the collie cross is forever marking them, with the black bitch pushing them out for the chase. With the summer nights upon us, there are more and more rabbits sitting out away from the blackberries. They are never very far from safety though and I put this down to the proliferation of dog walkers who frequent this spot. Inevitably the dogs are running these rabbits and little by little, Meg started to come out of herself and join in the chase. I’m not sure whether this is due to her naturally coming of age and her hunting instinct waking up, or whether it’s a jealousy issue and that the desire of the other dogs has focused her more on the task at hand. Maybe a bit of both? Either way it didn’t bother me as the end result was that she was now chasing and her hunger to catch was plain to see. The cover I mentioned earlier does make catching the rabbits very hard and as I write this, she has yet to catch one there.
Her first catch was to come out of the blue and it wasn’t something I expected. I was just out for a walk to exercise the dogs and blow away my cobwebs after a hard day’s work, when I saw Meg jump up and take something out of a tree. I was actually on the phone to a friend of mine at the time and I quickly rang off when I saw Meg with a feral cat stuck to her head like a Davy Crockett hat! We have a number of these ferals on the farm and I’ve been encouraged to kill as many as I can. Nell once got one in an earth and the cat gave her tremendous stick and shredded her ears before she could despatch it. With this in mind, I looked in horror as Meg and the feral were locked. I’m sure you’ll agree a feral cat isn’t the best introduction to quarry that a lurcher can have, especially one with suspect prey drive. As it happened I needn’t have worried as Meg accounted for the moggy in double quick time and managed to come away with only the slightest of scratches. The cat was thrown on the midden as we made our way off the farm, only for Meg to race over and retrieve it for me! This she did three times before I had to put her on a lead and drag her away. I was smiling for days!
It must be something about cats as the following weekend she’d grabbed another. The ferals always make themselves a nuisance with the ground nesting birds and the farmer is always delighted when we’ve accounted for them over the years. This particular feral was digging in the soft, dry soil that you always find under mature stands of conifers. I’m not sure if it was hunting or relieving itself but it was the last thing it did as Meg was quickly upon it and that was the end of that. This kill really topped off a couple of weeks which had seen this bitch really come into her own when out hunting. She had metamorphosed into this dog that was hardly recognisable from the one I had originally brought back from Wales. I was absolutely delighted with her progress and although I had no doubts she would have come good eventually, it was such a shock to me as it was virtually an overnight occurrence. Her prey drive has to be seen to be believed now and she chases everything she sees on the farms, even birds when there’s nothing else about.
Nowhere was this change in attitude more in evidence than when we were down by the shallow river the other night. Again it was just a walk after work but this time a cub trotted out of some brambles as soon as we got out of the tree line. Meg and the old dog were unsighted, but Nell and the collie cross belted after it and were very close to it before the collie barked and the cub was off back to where he’d come from. Meg caught up with the others and cast around for some scent, but they were soon all back as seemingly the cub had made good his escape over the other side of the river. Carrying on with our original course, the dogs chased a few rabbits which they’d worked from the cover but there was nothing much doing. The other side of the river holds cattle and sheep and it’s not somewhere where I ever take the dogs, but with an inkling that the cub was still somewhere close, I took the little pack over there and had started a search.
This side of the valley is a lot steeper than the other side and the slopes are covered in knee high grass with the tops of the slopes dotted with elder, bramble and holly. The grass soaked through my trousers as far up as my thighs and the cheap wellies I was wearing made climbing the slope a very taxing affair. As I reached the top, there were lanes made in the tall cow parsley and to me it looked like badgers had made their home up here. There’s a wood I shoot and there are very similar roads trodden into the summer cover of cow parsley in there. No sooner had I noticed this, I heard some thumping and banging to my left. Nell was next to my leg so I grabbed her and ran to where the sound was coming from, using the trodden vegetation to make progress quicker. The thumping was now being drowned out by the collie crosses barks and as I reached the commotion, there was a 3 yard square area of long grass flattened down and in the centre was Meg and what looked to be a big dog fox and not the cub as I first thought. With Nell straining at the lead I’d had the good sense to put her on, I stood and looked about for the old boy but he was nowhere to be seen. I quietened the collie cross down whilst Meg just stood there holding the foxes head. I’m not sure how long she would have remained like that but the fox forced the issue when he managed to curl his hind legs up and get them under Meg’s collar. It was at this point that the fox bit Meg’s throat and then things changed dramatically! As soon as she felt pain, Meg lifted that fox up and killed him instantly by shaking him until he was limp. She switched from being content to hold to absolute rage in a split second and that was the end of old Charlie. With that, I let Nell go as she was screaming by now and they both had a good rag, although Meg did try and run off with the fox as she clearly didn’t like sharing. The scales said he was just shy of 18lb.
I walked off that hillside as proud as I’ve ever been of anything in my life. Meg was a few days past her first birthday and she’d surpassed anything I’d ever expected of her at this stage in her career. With the smell of fox heavy in the air, I stroked her neck and told her “good girl” over and over again as we re-crossed the river and headed back up the comparatively shallow gradient of the opposite side of the valley. It was a great end to the night and it was one I’ll never forget until my dying day. The young bitch had done me proud and I was on cloud nine all the way back home, with Meg sat in the passenger seat stinking the wife’s car up with the musky smell of Reynard!
Bring on the nasty weather!
Shortly after this article was written Meg lost her life whilst out doing what she loved, she was hunting a fox and collided with a plough sadly breaking her kneck…