Day Out With The Deerness

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Andy and I were just performing a perfect backfill; the spoil was heaped up above the level of the surrounding soil to allow for slight settling. The scene of the dig was then covered with handfuls of discarded sycamore leaves; all in all, we were pleased with our covert handywork. This was the first day of 2004 and we had just experienced a shallow, but memorable dig to our young bitch Womble. So far, this Xmas break had been one of the best ever, only the day before we had accomplished a successful beat, the Lurchers catching a brace of our intended quarry with no trouble at all. After this first dig of the season I doubted that it could get any better, but it did!

As we scanned behind us to ensure that we had not inadvertently left a torch or net lying on the ground my mobile began to vibrate under the many layers of clothes. On retrieving the said handset I found that it was Neil the Pretend Traveller on the other end. It quickly transpired that there was a couple of spare places available out with a pirate pack of hounds and would we like to go? Our all too predictable answer was, of course, “Yes”. The following morning we journeyed up the A1 with high hopes.

This pack is called the Deerness Foxhounds and there were about 10 couple of mixed hounds out with us today. Neil introduced me to a few lads and we saw a few familiar faces too. The hunt uniform was quite distinctive to say the least: A pair of sturdy fell boots, a frighteningly bald head sporting a couple of heavy gold earrings and a neck like a silverback mountain gorilla completed the huntsman’s attire. Needless to say, banter and general Mickey taking was the order of the day and we were kept laughing by the usual jokers.

Several lads with Lurchers and guns spread out over a long valley and the hounds were unleashed at the far end. Walkie-talkies were used to communicate and eavesdrop on each other. This modern equipment proved to be a boon as we were able to relay to others when a fox had risen. Unfortunate on this first valley only one fox was found and this evaded capture, seeking sanctuary of a massive forestry block. Undeterred, we moved onto the next place. Being a regular follower of hounds I was not too bothered, not every patch of cover will hold and you have got to take the rough with the smooth. Sandwiches were quickly demolished and much coffee was quaffed in an effort to keep hypothermia at bay. I don’t mind admitting that I was absolutely freezing; all the standing around had practically given my toes frostbite!

In the next bit of cover the hounds found the scent of a vulpine almost immediately. The canine voices grew in number and volume until the full pack was away in full cry, hot on the brush of old redskin. Such was the pressure these hounds were applying to Charlie that he only had two options: either go to ground or break cover. I was out with my camera today trying to get a good pic of Lurchers killing foxes. I had chosen my position the best I could but, as per usual, I was in the wrong place when the fox broke cover. A decent dog fox had tried to make a break for a distant wood, but Neil’s lurcher had other plans for it. Once the fox had committed himself to his line then Neil had slipped his Bull cross lurcher and, despite the hard ground, this muscular running dog had managed to make a good catch on the very edge of a sheep wire fence. The hounds had quickly caught their, now deceased, quarry up and both lurcher and hounds broke the carcase up. A great start. I realised that my hands were no longer numb from the intense cold. Its funny that a bit of action warms you up even though you may not have done anything. Perhaps it’s all in the mind? Neil’s dog had not been bitten at all and it was stood their as if to say “Right, where’s the next one”.

This dogs name is Gypo, but I call it “The Tapeworm” due to the fact that it was a mite thin when a young dog. We had a good laugh one day when the dog was only a juvenile. A big fox had been dug with a strong black dog, we let it bolt for the lurcher but the inexperienced dog managed to let it escape through its legs. It had done good for a young one, but obviously it needed the experience to become a better dog in tackling creatures that bite back. On the way home I kept saying to Neil

“The only way that dog will kill a fox is by giving it tapeworm, if we see any really malnourished foxes about we know they must have been in contact with your dog”! We had a good laugh about that and the name has stuck ever since!

Whilst the remains of the fox was buried the hounds were allowed to try back in the cover and it was not too long before the whole pack got on the scent of another red skinned deviant. Through the dense ground cover they pressurised the fox, never loosing it for a moment, even though plenty of deer abounded the pack ignored all the cervidae scent. Suddenly a brace of shots echoed down the valley and the crackling radio announced that the fox had expired.

I was impressed with the display of pure, unadulterated, venery that we had been privileged to witness. I have hunted with a good number of fox packs and have heard so many excuses as to why the hounds had lost the scent.

“Too dry”

“Too wet”

“Too warm”…you name it… It seems that there is an excuse for every type of weather condition!

This pack needed no excuses today! I quizzed a few of the local patrons and it transpired that it was unusual for the hounds to loose a fox, expect in unforeseen circumstances such as Charlie reaching a massive forestry block or going over a major road. Perhaps, the high standard of hound work could be attributed to the huntsman, Davey Cowie. All day I had taken notice of how he is different from most huntsmen that I have observed. The hounds work for themselves, they are not called incessantly and the horn is not constantly being blown to “get them back”. Make no bones about it, the Deerness are one of the best packs I have seen. Incidentally the only other pack that I thought was exceptional was also a pirate pack. Perhaps there is something to be learnt there.

For the next 15 minutes all was quiet. There was only a mile or so of the densely wooded valley left to hunt and we thought that the day was nearly over. Fortunately we were proved wrong as the radio, once again, sprang into life announcing the terriermans holy grail: “One to ground”

A flighty journey in the four wheel drive and we rushed up a steep banking to find the hounds marking a four hole place. What a picture they made, their deep voices echoing as they marked strongly, their breath hanging in the air like a lung induced pea-souper. I made a collar up and checked that everything was ticking accordingly. All was well and so we entered a young, inexperinced rough coated, black bitch. Along with another lad we got our knocker boxes out and achieved a mark down the banking of about 3-foot. Then, horror of horrors, the collar made a painful whining sound before giving up the ghost completely. As I am sure you can imagine, we were a little worried, but as luck would have it, the bitch tried to pass the entrance again and we lifted her. A new collar was attired and fitting tightly to a little red bitch called Meg, that was owned by the terrier man, Stanner. Unfortunately Stanner had broken his shoulder in an accident and was hospitalised so Ben, the huntsman’s lad, was filling in instead. This little chestnut bitch flew to ground as if her life depended on it. After ten minutes she was still in the same place, the place that the black bitch had gone to. Only two foot deep but she was not baying as if she was up to her game. The large group of us deliberated what was occurring below and what to do for the best.

“Should we open up” was the question on everyone’s lips.

The bitch made the decision for us and she moved right up to her quarry at a depth of five foot. We had a listen and she was going hammer and tongs at her fox. Despite quite an audience there was only three or four of us that actually got some muck on the bank. As we started we found that the digging was not the easiest in the world, only trouble was that it got harder the deeper down we went. Layers of sandstone riddled the solid earth; the grafter was made to earn its keep, helping us to smash through the stubborn layers. With only a foot or so to go we could hear Meg plainly working her fox like a dream. Intermittently her steady baying would be accentuated with the sounds of her mixing it, probably this was down to the fox being a bit pushy as at this time of year their hormones can make them not a little aggressive.

“Clunk”… We hit a tier of solid, unyielding rock that made the bones in our arms vibrate. Though it was only four of five inches thick, this layer was impenetrable. A bar was quickly procured from the farmhouse and we began to defeat this hard-line substrate. Little by little we fragmented the rock with the bar and in the end we broke through. A swollen red muzzle poked out into the cold night air and we lifted the bitch. She had done three hours. I slithered down into the dig and, by light of a torch; I blocked off behind where the terrier was so that this fox couldn’t slip back into the earth. It was unusual in so much as there was barely any soil at all down there. As I looked around I found that the tube was made almost entirely out of sandstone slabs. This place was more akin to a rock pile that had been covered with soil. The little terrier had done well to negotiate such obstacles.

The fox was sat back in its chamber and due to its position Stanners Wheaton/greyhound, Murphy, was utilised to draw this potential lamb killer in order for us to despatch it humanely. Murphy did his task with fire and style. Of course, as you would expect, everyone’s eyes were focussed on the strong, game, running dog but the real hero of the day was the little red terrier to which all the last three hours could be attributed. It was her that had gone into the darkness and found her quarry, staying with it for three hours in tight, sandy and, quite frankly, inhospitable conditions. It was down to her stubborn gameness that we had gotten a dig.

A grand buffet with hot soup awaited us back at the local hostelry and soon we travelled back southwards with our minds brimming with great images that was had observed throughout the day. I would just like to thank Davey Cowie and his son Ben for showing us a great day’s sport. Long live hunting.

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