Iraq - Hunting Fox With Dogs
It wasn’t a particularly auspicious start to the day, being woken by the police knocking on your door and the dogs weren’t too happy either judging by the noise they were making. They had arrived due to the trouble we’d had the night before with Iraqi immigrants vandalising cars in my road, including my own. I was under the impression that Muslim’s were not allowed to drink, but these blokes were hammered when they rampaged down my street, kicking door panels on random cars and smashing wing mirrors. My statement was taken over cups of coffee which I think the police needed as much as I did as they looked like they’d had a long night. Once the formalities were over I was left dwelling on why people who presumably had come here to escape persecution, would get blind drunk and attack property belonging to people they didn’t know in a land that gives them freedoms they would never have received in their mother country. These thoughts combined with the officers from CID had well and truly blown any cobwebs I might have had from my brain, so I decided to get my kit together and head out with the dogs before the day got too hot.
The last few days had been baking hot and the dogs had been spending most of their time lying around the kitchen floor as the lino proved to be the coolest part of the house. Fresh water had been lapped up as soon as it was put down and the dogs’ listlessness seemed to pervade the house as chores were put off due to the intense heat. I’d been out the day before and only managed a couple of wood pigeons and a squirrel with the air rifle before calling it a day. Accompanied by the farmer’s young son and a couple of his mates on their BMX’s, a record bag was never really on the cards. A head shot accounted for the squirrel and the cheers went up from the kids when it plummeted to the ground from the tall fir tree, which on reflection was the highlight of the day. As I was up earlier today, I decided to make more of a fist of it though and with this in mind, I loaded the dogs into the back of the car, grabbed a rifle and headed off to where I had set some snares earlier.
It was already hot and yet still early so it was on with the air conditioning in the car for the dogs and me. I usually wear an old army smock when I am out as the multitude of pockets makes it handy for carrying the vast amount of rubbish I take about with me. Most of this is never needed but I would rather be safe than sorry so I take as much as I can. Today was different though and the smock was ditched in favour of a t-shirt, which was already wet through perspiration.
On letting the dogs out of the car, they bounded straight over to the fence line to empty out and then made for the raspberry canes. The two Stafford’s are opportunists and will take any and every opportunity they can to grab a snack when it comes their way. Today’s menu was raspberries straight of the bushes and I must admit to joining them on this occasion. Judging from the faeces of the many foxes that abound here, they weren’t averse to eating them either, though cherry stones were more prolific. Moving across a freshly cut meadow, we reached the fence were I had tied a few snares only to find the one snare pulled and rabbit fur strewn all around. It seemed that the snare had done its job but old Charlie had beaten me to the prize. Oh well, another time maybe. I lifted the snares that hadn’t taken as I wasn’t coming back the next day and I don’t like leaving them down if no-one is going to check them. As we walked the length of the fence, I was keeping an eye on the stubble fields as there have been many times since the corn was cut that we’d see a fox or two trotting about. The dogs being creatures of habit, remember where they have chased foxes in the past and always check these places when we are back there, but neither them nor myself could see anything this time. Reaching the end of the fence, we walked past the spot where the black bitch had caught and killed a vixen the week before and the lurcher paused and sniffed the ground, only to walk on again once she’d satisfied herself of the scents on the ground. Crossing from grass heavy with dew, we moved through a tree line onto the dusty surface of a stubble field. The black bitch and lurcher were with me and the old male was making his way slowly into a pear orchard situated in the middle of the stubble field. Not 30 seconds after he entered the orchard, a fox got up and raced up the edge of the trees looking like he was going to head out over the stubble. Seeing him immediately, the black bitch and the lurcher were soon flat out after him. Turning them all, the fox doubled back on himself and managed to get to the tree line where I thought he’d make good his escape. I’d started to run at this point and before I got the trees, the old male and the lurcher had come back through the hedge and were greeting me. Thinking that the black bitch must still be chasing or looking for the fox, I went back to where they had left the corn field and called for her. When I got no response from the bitch, I decided to have a quick walk about to see if I could see her. It’s very difficult trying to find your dogs in orchards as the trees are planted in rows and you literally have to walk at right angles to the rows and look down each one in order to see anything. As it happened I didn’t have to walk far as the bitch was in the second or third row of trees, locked onto the fox! I placed my rifle on the floor and raced over to her, and her recently deceased quarry. She was ragging the carcass like it was going out of fashion and the other dogs just stood off and watched. Someone recently asked me if the other dogs don’t join in on the rag, but they never do. The old male has caught and killed a fair number of foxes over the years but if the bitch is there, he backs off as soon as she arrives. He’ll still catch, but he defers to her once she makes her presence felt. Acute jealousy combined with extreme dog aggression means the others stay out of her way when she is on the foxes.
After checking her over, I noticed the bitch had a couple more marks to add to her collection but she was never going to win any beauty competition anyway so no matter. All of the dogs were panting hard after that course and I let them sit in the shade of the tall hedge for a well earned rest. Instead of continuing on our usual route, we made a detour to where I know there is a leak in an irrigation pipe and I cleaned the bitches face up and all three dogs had a good drink. If I hadn’t had to drive home I might have been tempted to get in the muddy water of the puddle myself as the heat was taking its toll on all of us now. A few more raspberries were pilfered on the way back to the car and then once the dogs were loaded, we headed over to the ponds so that the dogs could get a good soak and a swim.
The whining started as soon as the dogs realised where they were and on opening the boot, they were all straight out and over to a little stream for a paddle. Once they’d finished their R & R, we were back on the case and off looking for more foxes. We’d passed through a field of dry, brown long grass the day before and the old dog had gone missing as he is liable to do on occasion. Sitting down in the shade with the lurcher, we waited for about two or three minutes before we could hear the grass moving about 20 yards away from us. What emerged wasn’t the dog, but a mangy fox with a whip tail racing away across the field in front of us. The lurcher saw this and was on her toes, closely followed by the dog with the bitch trailing behind him. Never having connected with a fox before, the lurcher soon made up the ground and to my amazement struck at the fox and bowled it clean over. My heart was racing and I was stood rooted to the spot as they fox got up and as the lurcher was turning, made it through a gap in the bottom of the chain link fence. Why is there always a handy gap precisely in the spot where you don’t want one? As the fence is a six footer, topped with three strands of barbed wire, I was happy to see the lurcher refuse to follow, but this didn’t deter the black bitch, who climbed her way over and between the wire to follow Charlie. I hate it when she does that but she never seems to get cut badly (touch wood) and it’s a symptom of her desire to hunt and this to me shows that her heart is in the right place. Returning within a few minutes, a sniff of the bitches face told me that she hadn’t connected.
With that little episode in mind, I thought we’d check this field again today and once more I was only waiting for the dog before we got started on checking the long grass. I needn’t have waited for him as judging from the yipping in the grass he was already there ahead of us. God save me from dogs that have their own agenda! The yipping signalled to me that he was onto a fox as there are certainly no rabbits up this neck of the woods. It also served to let the other two dogs know where he was and what he was doing and they sprinted over to the gate to join him. Disregarding the fence and barbed wire as she had done the day before, the black bitch was soon on the chase, whereas the lurcher rather sensibly waited for me to open the gate before she was off and hunting. I say hunting rather than chasing, as the other dogs were now out of sight and the lurcher put her nose to the ground and hunted up. The field immediately behind the gate was stubble, but once you were through the hedge bordering it, you entered a confusing patchwork of raspberry canes, cherry and apple orchards and small corn fields. By this time the lurcher had returned to me and I was secretly patting myself on the back for all the recall training I’d done with her. The dog appeared in the distance and he was clearly searching for me, so a whistle brought us to his attention and he made his way over. Now all we had to do was find the bitch! Again, walking at right angles to the avenues of raspberries proved successful and we soon caught site of her with something in her mouth. Running to get to her, I initially thought she’d caught a rabbit, but there were none over this side and it wasn’t until I was almost on top of her that I realised she had hold of a cub. The bald thighs were an indication of mange and I took the cub off the bitch straight away so as not to tempt fate. Usually it’s a pain to get a fox off her, but she was blowing so hard now, that she gave up her prize without a fight. As I carried the cub to the hedge line, the dogs followed me and slumped into the shade and the cool grass.
The sun was really blazing down now and things were very hot and dusty on the ground. I pride myself on keeping my dogs very fit but the temperature was crippling and their sides were going in and out like bellows. After what I considered a decent period of time for rest, I moved the dogs off down a track towards the church which nestles at the corner of the property. Deciding to move off the track and walk through the darker shade of a cherry orchard; I made a few calls using the back of my hand to see if there were any other foxes about. Anyone who knows me will tell you how useless my fox call is, but you have to persevere! After about five minutes of walking, a fox crossed our path and through a hedge on to a stubble field. Crashing through the hedge to chase it, I called the dogs’ attention to it and they raced ahead. I’d like to think my call brought this fox in and in future recollections of this tale, I think I will say that my squeak was irresistible, but in reality it was probably coincidence. The dogs seemed to have lost the fox as they were desperately searching and running in circles. Gambling on the fox back tracking I headed in the opposite direction to where I’d seen him run and the gamble paid off. Netting is used to surround clumps of cherry trees in order to keep the ever present wood pigeons away and this fox was trying to push his way through the fine net, not understanding why he couldn’t get through. On seeing me, he turned and ran but it was too late for him. He made it through a hedge, closely followed by all three dogs and there he met his maker. No doubt buoyed up by yesterdays encounter, the lurcher grabbed the fox and within seconds, the old dog and the bitch were on him and that meant game over. The first fox and the cub were both males and this one turned out to be one too, although he was mange free unlike the cub. Again the bitch didn’t grumble when I took the cadaver off her, preferring to lie in the cool shade of the cherry trees. What worried me though was the fact that the old dog was lying on his side, puffing like a steam train. The heat had obviously got to him and despite the fact that the bitch had done all of the killing, and the fact that the lurcher has a heavy, thick coat, this old boy was knocked up because he generally runs about twice as far as they do as he covers that much ground. I’ve mentioned his good nose in a previous articles and this olfactory power certainly keeps him fit as he can’t resist a scent. Today however was another story and I was genuinely worried at this point. With the nearest pond being just less than half a mile away, my mission was to get him there and cool his body temperature down. Mates of mine in Australia had often told me of heat stroke in their dogs and it was due to their good advice that I knew the best course of action. Lifting the old boy to his feet, I was dismayed to see his legs buckle underneath him and added to this his expression was one of total bewilderment. Slinging my rifle over my shoulder, I lifted him up under my arm and set off for the water. After I’d gone about half way, the weight of the dog and rifle had gotten too much for me and on ditching the rifle, I hoisted the dog up with both arms, muttering promises about buying a sling for the rifle at the very next opportunity. Following behind me, the other two dogs looked in dire need of a drink too and it wasn’t long before they could slake their thirst. As soon as we were within about twenty yards of the ponds edge, the old dog started wriggling in anticipation and I laid him down in the shallows where he stood on shaky legs. Lying down completely, the lurcher only had her head above the water and the black bitch was sitting, drinking noisily. A few minutes passed before the dog managed to drink, but all the while I was scooping water up to douse his back with in an attempt to cool him down.
Sitting with my feet in the water, watching my dogs drink, I reflected on the mornings work and I was very proud of those mutts. They might not be the best dogs in terms of looks or style, but they do a job for me and for that I am eternally grateful. They certainly wouldn’t be the dogs that most people would think of when you sit down to mull over a pest control pack, but they get by and provide me with results and a great amount of satisfaction into the bargain. I am forever learning from them but not quite so grave a lesson as I did today. It’s at times like these that you realise just how much you value your dogs and I must admit that sitting on the side of that pond, watching the old boy climb shakily from the water, I did thank God that he was ok. Just as I was on the verge of being overly sentimental and mushy, the old sod was off and running after some bloody sea gulls! I nearly cried from laughing so hard!
All in all, it was a good mornings work and the farmer was well chuffed with the tails I presented him with.
I will just add that when I arrived back home, there was a team from CID knocking on doors asking about last nights Iraqi incident and also a SOCO (Scene of Crime Officer) hanging about. As I got out of the car and slung my rifle over my shoulder, I did draw a few quizzical looks from the police and one came towards me. I was expecting all sorts of questions about firearm certificates, why I had a knife on me, why are the dogs bleeding….you know the score, but this particular policeman simply moaned about how hard it was these days to get decent shooting permission and would I mind if he tagged along with me one day! I did crack a smile!