Hunting: Dave Barham goes ferreting
PUBLISHED: 11:30 11 April 2018 | UPDATED: 11:30 11 April 2018
Dave Barham studies a ‘hole’ new way to control rabbits
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.
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 that Mick had cleared this particular warren quite well during the previous ten days.
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!
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!
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.