Well I was about 10 years old the first time I held a ferret and that was it, I knew we were going to be lifelong friends. It was an uncle of mine that owned the ferrets and he was a well known poacher to the local gamekeepers and a good poacher at that.
He was a real nice guy and his regular bags of rabbits were a welcome addition to the table during the not so easy times making him a sort of hero to me.
It was on the first journey out with the ferrets that I really got that buzz, being in the company of a poacher, sneaking about on the local estate trying to avoid the keeper, I was scared but excited.
On that first day we managed to bring back 10 rabbits and a couple of pheasants, I will never forget the day it stays with me even now.
As I grew up I began to be more involved with ferreting, I started breeding ferrets and selling them, at one stage I had over 70 which took up a big portion of the back garden. It would be the start of a lifelong passion that has stayed with me until this day.
As the years went on I met more people that were like minded, I admit that most of the time we were poaching back then, but to us that was acceptable and exciting. Chris Seymour was one of the guys I travelled about with, he had some connections on the farming scene and acquired some legitimate ferreting for us. That was a bonus, we didn’t have to look over our shoulders all the time avoiding the chance of being shot by some of the keepers. Oh yes they shot at you regular, my mate Dave Liko still has lead shot embedded under his skin, it’s a party trick rolling the shot under the skin after a few beers.
Eventually I started to acquire more land that was good for rabbits and had began to think more about the implications of poaching, after all getting caught could result in the loss of my firearms. I started to knock on farm doors asking for permission and was really surprised at the results, some were really eager for my services. I found that the more land you have the more you get, it’s that simple, farmers talk to one another and pass on the good word if you do a good job.
About 3 years ago we decided to make a big change in our life, we sold our house in Sheffield and moved to Lincolnshire in a quiet rural location.
This was the biggest and best decision we had ever made, especially as the surrounding area is overrun with rabbits. It wasn’t long before I got some shooting and ferreting, albeit not fantastic but a foothold and something to expand on.
A chance of a lifetime came up when my wife got a job in the local co-op, she worked with a gamekeepers wife and he was after someone to control the rabbits on his patch. That resulted in 2000 acres and opened the door for many more farms and estates, which now probable extends to well over 12,000 acres.
My friends from Sheffield are regular visitors here now and we have some good days ferreting all within walking distance of where I live. On most days the bags exceed 30 with 50 a regular haul, that is a good days ferreting by any standards. I will give you some idea of what its like, the last session was Sunday 9th Jan, this is our day……….
Stevo, Danny and Carl turned up at mine from Sheffield all set for some action. I had been in touch with the keeper Steve on one of the farms who directed us to a irrigation lake that was surrounded by a banking riddled with rabbits. Its not the kind of work the keepers like ferreting, it takes too much of their time that’s better put to looking after the game shoots etc.
As we arrived the rabbit problem was apparent, the banking was just a mass of holes, too many holes really. We had brought about 60 purse nets that would normally be sufficient on most days but this could be well short today. We took along Stevo’s dog Tilly, a pure bred collie that was awesome at marking and would work the rough too, however she has just under two weeks before she has pups.
Immediately as she left the van she marked the first hole, what a good sign and things looked promising. We had 5 minutes to let her settle down after her 60 mile journey and we grabbed the flasks for a morning brew, looked like we might not get much chance for another. Tilly was so keen, she marked 6 out of 10 holes and that gave us enough enthusiasm to get straight into it. The first set had well over 60 holes, some of them went 9 to a square metre, you can imagine the scene. We netted what we thought, blocked some of the lesser used holes and took pot chance with the rest, nothing else we could do. We entered 9 ferrets, they were needed in such a big set and immediately got results. A good start to the morning and with some plump rabbits on the grass it was not in vain.
We moved down the banking taking more and more rabbits, the amount of holes were frightening and of course you guessed it we lost a few bolters due to not enough nets, we just call these “breeders for next year“. The further round we got the thicker the cover got, to the point that it was brambles up to our necks, these became a problem with the purse nets snagging and rabbits escaping, diving on them was not an option in such bad cover, we were already torn to shreds.
We don’t mind the odd day grafting in hard areas, you have to take the rough with the smooth and besides the keepers would probably find someone who would do it if we didn’t.
As we got to the end of the banking, we were all thorned up, ripped to shreds, gagging for a drink but smiling, a good hard days ferreting and not for the faint hearted.
We always drop the guts from the rabbits after every set and bury them to keep the meat clean and fresh, this we believe is the best way and we never leave the rabbits in direct sunlight.
I always like to take a picture of the bag at the end of the day, this I forward on to the farmer or keeper so they can see the results we had. This in my opinion is what everyone should do, it not only lets them keep a track on the rabbits removed but lets them know you are doing your job well.
My advice to anyone seeking ferreting permission, approach the farmer directly, don’t send letters or phone. Be polite, dress sensible don’t go looking like Rambo, you are asking to be let loose on their land, they need to be assured that you are not an idiot or a disrespectful person.
Don’t ask outright for shooting, get the ferreting first and when you have their confidence ask about shooting then, you know it makes sense!