Rabbits. Rabbits are one of those animals that seem to fall into most peoples idea of ‘good’. Bright Eyes and fluffy tails. Well not for many landowners who use their land for a variety of industries. They are a menace and their notoriously fast producing can overun areas without control.
However landowners that are prepared to allow people other than guns to come and be part of a controlled cull day are few and far between, so I was extremely lucky to be invited by Dan Higgs (Higgscroft Gundogs) onto a rabbit day in kent today.
Now today was a ‘special’ day on the M25. It decided to celebrate me going on said rabbit shoot by having one of the longest junction closures in its history. But by way of good luck and the mighty Sat Nav we made it in good time (which is a miracle in itself). Friends will know I am always late. Last. later than late. So to arrive somewhere and have to call the organiser to ask directions because I was PATENTLY in the wrong place because NOONE was there… to be told, no you are in the RIGHT place, just have arrived FIRST, made me get a urgent need to go drive round the block a few times! I was immediately into unfamiliar territory and that feeling would last all day
So 7 pickers up and several beaters, the keeper and 8 guns set off onto the unbelievable flat land of Kent. The terrain was rough, course thistles, thick long grass, dried out dykes, stingers, areas of gorse….and MILLIONS of rabbit holes…. They were everywhere. You could only picture the scene below ground, a network of tunnels. Not currently being at my most ultimate bodyweight at the moment (I change like the seasons….grin) I did worry about crashing through and landing on some rabbit equivalent of Blue Water or something…. but luckily it didn’t happen. These bunnies dig DEEP!
The day was Walked up. The folks there to pick up were all experienced handlers but, some, like me, didn’t have a lot of rabbit experience. Or some who were incrediably experienced, but had their young dogs. i kind of sat in the middle. My dog is just over 2, but we both had little rabbit experience (well almost none really…I’d watched Watership Down as a child… Bondy doesn’t watch Television).
We walked on……
The line – The Terrain
The other end of the line….
The fantastic thing about this day was you picked and chose what you sent your dog for. Noone was running the line in terms of who was sent for what. It was all about being realistic about your own abilities and having manners. A few times two dogs from opposite ends were sent but good humour prevailed and a dry hunt for one of the two was heralded with cries of ‘It’ll do her good!’
As the day progressed you could see some dogs rising and rising to the test. The steadiness needed has to be seen to be believed. Rabbits flushing literally under your feet. Maybe three foot from you. Turning back and running between you and your dog. Rabbits behind. Rabbits infront. The guns were to be hugely admired because all their shots were sporting, they were extremely safe (something that worried me senseless!) and we couldn’t of had a better day and learning experience if we tried.
My fear was that Bondy would bowl out to his first rabbit, hunt and stand over it saying ‘what IS this???’ but no, his first rabbit didn’t take much thinking about. ‘Walk on!’ said the Keeper. ‘Flush’ Went the rabbit infront of my nearest gun. ‘Bang’ said the Gun. ‘Game over’ said the rabbit. ‘Bondy!!’ said I. ‘marked it leave it to me!’ Said he. ‘Hunt, hunt, PICK’ said the Meercat. ‘Good boy said I! BEST boy infact!’.
And on it went. Field after field. Area after area. The adrenaline was amazing. There were few wounded rabbits but dispatching fast was the name of the game. Some handlers swapped dogs between fields but with Fish with a seriously heavy case of cold tail and Tom with a lady to court today it was all about Bondy for me.
I’m not going to pretend it went like a textbook. Training is not really meant to is it? I can honestly say that 10 or 12 retrieves down we decided to get a bit brave. Bondy was getting tired and a tired young dog is not a thinking dog. I sent him on his first only lightly wounded rabbit. (its a bit wierd to call it a ‘runner’…. have you SEEN all rabbits go???’) He took a great line, he flushed it, he chased it down, he picked it, he started to come back….. then it started to thrash and move in his mouth and make some rather unnerving noises. As any gentleman would he apologised profusely for obviously picking something LIVE and spat it out and stared at it. ;-0 I encouraged him to pick it up and he started to hunt for ‘whatever i obviously wanted him to pick!’ He patently didn’t think it was something still all very live and kicking Some helpful hands shoved me out there pronto, and I encouraged him vocally, and he picked it again and brought it in fine…. but all the time giving me the slight ‘you nutter, this is patently in the bloom of good health Mother!’ look. That will be something to cement for another day Mr Bond as we ran out of runners at that very late point in the day to try and replicate it….
This report is long. I have worked dogs for 16 or 17 years and never had this experience before. I was extremely lucky. The bag was 181. The dog was exhausted. I was elated (and exhausted!)!
Thank you Dan! Thank you guns and beaters and keeper.
Good lad! The obligatory ‘posed’ picture for the website