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Rabbiting with Ferrets and Pointers

If time is pressing, you have dogs to exercise, ferrets to clean and exercise, rabbits to control, the days are short, and you only have Saturday to yourself you can find it gets complicated to manage.

Short Winter Days

One of the few disadvantages ofliving in the Scottish Borders is that during the Winter, days are short. With a German Shorthaired Pointer to exercise, pretty much the whole farm to work him on, but having to spend your days working in Edinburgh, the only problem to keeping the dog happy is having the time to work him properly.

The physical exercise is straightforward. With the use of flashing collars so that you can see exactly where they are, they can be allowed to run pretty much where they like. You can just walk down the centre of the field and cast them either side of you. Providing Jim’s bulls aren’t in that particular field.

That said, they are rabbit proof and whistle solid, ignore sheep and can becalled off of point if you are lucky – otherwise you have to walk up and drag them off!

But when you have a ferret or two in the mix, and it is only light between 7:45 and 15:30, it becomes more of a challenge! When we first moved in, I checked that I could keep the ferrets in the field behind the garden, and work my dogs where ever there weren’t sheep. Jim was relaxed about the ferrets, but understandably cautious about the dogs.

What I hadn’t quite appreciated though, is that his bulls would be in the field behind the house. Many a time when I was tidying up and feeding the ferrets at half past five I would hear a gentle sigh behind me, and his two year old black bull would be just behind. Always impeccably behaved though, for which I was grateful.

Which reminds me of a tale he was telling me a few weeks ago when the cows were in with the bulls, in separate fields of course. One of the bulls lifted a gate off its hinges, and got across the lane and started facing off with the other. Now if I had two bulls to sort out I would not have a clue where to start, so I asked Jim “what did you do?”. His reply was “I got off my (quad)bike and told him to ‘&$^k off!’ because he understands that”.

So I Took ThePointer Ferreting

Now if this seems the wrong thing to do, I figured that the ferrets and the dog got on well enough that we wouldn’t have any squabbles. I thought that exposure to exploding rabbits (in the running out of burrows sense, not the semtex one) would be a “Good Thing” for the dog’s steadiness as well. And it solved the dual exercise issue – I could run the dog as we crossed the fields to the woods and then work the ferrets before repeating the dog’s exercise on the way back.

What I hadn’t expected, and was initially delighted about, was that the dog would cotton on to what was happening. He would now make an effort to find burrows with rabbits in, even positioning himself quietly downwind. Then I would net the burrows, chuck the ferret down and grab the rabbits as they came out. The dog behaved pretty well, although he would make a slight whine in his throat that could really grate on the nerves if you let it.

The downside to this though, was when I worked him later, he would always point burrows that had rabbits in. This meant I had to teach him a new command for when we were not ferreting – “no ferrets!”. He learned this pretty quickly and even when he was solid on point he would happily come away from the burrow if I said it. The only time he wouldn’t I peered down the hole, and there was a rabbit, struggling to come out, with a stoat firmly clamped to it.

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