Dave Barham

Dave Barham stud­ies a ‘hole’ new way to con­trol rab­bits

Airgun World - - Contents -

Dave learns a new skill - the way to con­trol rab­bits when an air ri­fle just isn’t the one

Some­times there are just too many rab­bits to con­trol with an air ri­fle, and that’s when it’s good to know a pro­fes­sional ferret han­dler. I’m lucky to have some good friends with per­mis­sions, and I of­ten get in­vited to shoot for a day or two. Mick ‘Shiny’ Ball, is one of th­ese good friends, and he has many hectares of land that he has per­mis­sion to man­age. He called me one evening to see if I fan­cied a day fer­ret­ing rab­bits on a new per­mis­sion he’d picked up just 35 miles away from my house. He told me that the place in ques­tion is a static car­a­van park, and it had a re­ally bad rab­bit prob­lem and the place was closed for a month, with no res­i­dents on site.

BUZZING

We’d soon set a date and Mick had de­cided to do a recce the week be­fore to suss things out. At about 6pm on the day of Mick’s first trip I re­ceived a call and I could tell he was re­ally buzzing.

“Dave, you won’t be­lieve it, mate,” he said ex­cit­edly. I only man­aged to do half the hedgerow to­day and I ended up with 31 rab­bits, all big­guns! I’ll be hav­ing an­other crack at them, soon, but there should be plenty left for when you get down here.”

The day on my first proper fer­ret­ing trip fi­nally ar­rived and we ar­ranged to meet at the car­a­van. I was re­ally ex­cited, but I also knew

“net­ted them all so the rab­bit will be div­ing straight into our trap”

that Mick had cleared this par­tic­u­lar war­ren quite well dur­ing the pre­vi­ous ten days.

FEISTY FER­RETS

Un­til now, I’d only ever been fer­ret­ing once, and that was sim­ply to stand there with a 12-bore shot­gun in or­der to in­ter­cept any es­capees that slipped the nets. I re­ally wasn’t too sure how it all worked, so I was re­ally ea­ger to learn the ins and outs from a good friend who has been do­ing it for years.

“Now then, Dave – what’s the first rule of fer­ret­ing?” said Mick.

“Erm, don’t let them bite you?” I replied – I re­ally didn’t have a clue.

“Ah, no mate. Th­ese fer­rets won’t bite you, they’re re­ally tame. I bred them. No, the first rule of fer­ret­ing is ‘back net­ting’,” he explained.

‘Back net­ting?’ I thought. ‘What the hell is that?’ It soon be­came ap­par­ent and Mick showed me ex­actly what his plans were.

“Back net­ting is es­sen­tial, Dave. We’re go­ing to place purse nets all along this sec­tion of hedgerow, but we’re also go­ing to put nets over all the vis­i­ble holes on top of the path and behind it,” said Mick.

“If any of the rab­bits slip the nets in front of us, the like­li­hood is that they will run along the top of the path or straight over the back of it and dive down an­other hole, but we’ll have al­ready net­ted them all, so the rab­bit will be div­ing straight into our trap,” he explained.

That made per­fect sense to me, and as we be­gan set­ting out the nets I be­gan to un­der­stand ex­actly how it was all go­ing to go down.

SET­TING THE NETS

Mick uses purse nets that mea­sure be­tween 3 and 4ft long when stretched tight. They have a me­tal ring at each end, one of which has a length of twine and a wooden peg at­tached to se­cure it to the ground.

The trick is to lay the me­tal ring with­out the peg into the base of the hole you want to net, then open the net out and peg it so the me­tal ring is just above the top of the hole.

They’re de­signed in such a way that when a rab­bit hits the net from either di­rec­tion, run­ning out of the hole or back down it, the rab­bit gets pushed to one end of the net whilst the back of the net tight­ens up and closes, trap­ping it in­side.

It took us a good cou­ple of hours to walk and net the hedgerow, path and the back of

the mound. We’d ac­tu­ally run out of nets as we made our way back to the car, hav­ing set out 60 of them!

FERRET TIME

Mick al­ways takes four fer­rets for a day’s work. He explained to me how im­por­tant it is not to work them too hard, and to give them a rest every now and then. He also told me that it’s es­sen­tial not to feed them too much the evening be­fore, and just give them a small break­fast to keep their blood su­gar up.

The last thing you want is to have fer­rets with full stom­achs. If you put them down an empty war­ren, they’re likely to curl up and go to sleep – rather like we do af­ter a big Sun­day lunch! No, you want the fer­rets to be hun­gry for it, but not starv­ing.

We’d set the nets and were ready to rock. The next job was to fit the fer­rets with their elec­tronic col­lars. Th­ese are es­sen­tial pieces of kit. They emit a sig­nal that is picked up by a hand­held unit. Should a ferret either get stuck down a hole or, as is of­ten the case, back a rab­bit up against the mud and just sit there fight­ing with it, you need to be able to lo­cate the ferret and dig it out.

It works rather like a me­tal de­tec­tor, but with ra­dio waves on a set fre­quency, and as I found out later in the day, they re­ally work a treat!

IN­STANT AC­TION

We started the day at the fur­thest point along the hedgerow, work­ing our way back to­ward the cars. It was an area that Mick hadn’t quite got to dur­ing his pre­vi­ous two vis­its, so we didn’t know what to ex­pect.

As Mick put two of the fer­rets down the hole near­est to the field, it was a mat­ter of min­utes be­fore the first rab­bit bolted, straight into our wait­ing net. Mick was like a pan­ther, run­ning and leap­ing on top of the rab­bit to en­sure its cap­ture. It was hys­ter­i­cally funny to watch a 60-year-old bloke fly­ing through the air like Su­per­man.

As Mick un­tan­gled the rab­bit and dis­patched it, an­other rab­bit bolted from the same hole and along the hedgerow, down into an­other hole some 30 yards along. Of course, this hole had a net on it, and that rab­bit was also ours!

We gave it a fur­ther ten min­utes at this end, with no more ac­tion, col­lected the fer­rets once they’d got bored and come out of the war­ren, and then walked down a few yards to re­peat the process.

We had one rab­bit at this next war­ren, which slipped the net and ran straight up over the top of the path. While I waited there to see if any more rab­bits would emerge, or for the fer­rets to come out, Mick ran up over the path to see if the back­nets had done their job. He re­turned with an­other large rab­bit.

CAN YOU DIG IT

By now, the weather had taken a turn for the worse. It had been a lovely, crisp, sunny morn­ing, but as we hit mid­day, the sky turned black and it be­gan to snow! It was per­fect tim­ing. Mick put two more fer­rets down a hole and we stood there, mo­tion­less for what seemed like an hour. In fact, it was 15 min­utes, and whilst one of the fer­rets kept pop­ping up from one hole and down an­other, the other one was nowhere to be seen. It was time for Mick to break out the lo­ca­tor, and as the beeps be­came more fre­quent and higher pitched, we knew that the ferret was very close by.

“Here Dave, come and lis­ten to this, there’s a right old scrap go­ing on down here,” said Mick.

I wan­dered over to him, knelt down and put my ear to the ground. I could hear a rab­bit thump­ing away like a good ‘un. The ferret had ob­vi­ously got the rab­bit backed up against the wall, so it was time to break out the shovel.

It didn’t take as long as I thought it would to dig the ferret and rab­bit out. The key is to dig around the en­trance to the hole, work­ing your way back a bit at a time, then stop­ping and shov­ing your arm in the hole un­til you can grab the rab­bit. A few more goes with the shovel, and Mick had rab­bit num­ber three in the game bag.

Time was of the essence now, and as we worked our way slowly along the hedgerow we had less and less ac­tion as we ap­proached the area that Mick had done the pre­vi­ous week. We man­aged to flush two more rab­bits, one of which slipped the net, but search as we might, we couldn’t find it over the back of the foot­path.

THE WORST BIT

We ended the ses­sion with just five rab­bits, which would have taken for­ever to clear with an air ri­fle, as you can imag­ine – the wait­ing alone could have been all day with noth­ing to show.

Now came the worst part of the day, pack­ing up. We’d been on our feet, walk­ing up and down the hedgerow for the best part of seven hours straight. Now we had to walk the en­tire length again, pick­ing up the nets and wrap­ping them up neatly for next time.

I opted to take the front of the hedgerow, which ac­tu­ally had the most nets set, whilst Mick walked the foot­path above and the back of the mound. When we met up at the end, Mick had an­other rab­bit in his hand, taking the tally to six for the day. It was more than likely the rab­bit that had slipped the net ear­lier, which we couldn’t find.

The ra­dio col­lar shows its worth, as one of the fer­rets fails to come back up.

Mick pre­pares to fit one of the fer­rets with its ra­dio col­lar.

Luck­ily, this one didn’t take too much dig­ging. Ferret res­cued, and an­other rab­bit in the bag!

Mick uses long wooden pegs, which he makes him­self. They work bet­ter in soft/sandy ground, and they can also be sharp­ened reg­u­larly with­out mak­ing them too short.

The rab­bits had even chewed their way through pro­tec­tive mem­branes over the mound behind the foot­path!

The larger net is in place, held up with twigs.

Purse nets are ex­tremely ef­fec­tive when fer­ret­ing, and they’re re­ally easy to set out, too.

This is how you do it. Note how the top ring of the net is above the hole, pegged firmly into the ground, with the bot­tom ring set in­side the hole.

The end of the day – a very happy Mick, with five rab­bits in the bag and the war­ren cleared … or so we thought.

Th­ese were all large rab­bits, way big­ger than the fer­rets.

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