HIGH winds make animals edgy, probably because they can’t hear predators so well, but the high winds and steady rain were just what I needed for my first lamping trip in quite a while.
Finally the ground was soft enough to run a dog, the cloud cover was sufficient to mask the forecast moon, and the dogs prowled about, having seen the lamp go on charge despite my efforts to conceal it.
I have two dogs that are still capable of lamping, but the older one is less fit, being not long off her season.
Each year she takes longer to shake off the muscle-softening hormones and return to her sleek well-toned best, and she does not have many more working years ahead of her.
She has done me proud and I have plans for a gentler schedule in the future, for complete retirement does not suit this kind of dog.
The young dog is ready to run, though with a lot to learn before she is fit to lace the boots of her predecessors. She was therefore the one who would accompany me this night, though I was sorry to disappoint my old warrior.
The farm was quite a long drive away, up on the Downs though you would not have seen them for heavy rain even if it had been daylight.
I drove as far as I could and then we walked, the distant glow of the town scattered by wind and water. Presently with the wind in my face, I flicked on the lamp and what a beautiful sight lay ahead as the dog strained into her slip.
The fields were punctuated by feeding rabbits, ears flat to the rain, unaware of our presence, for they would have had little disturbance at night until now.
I chose my rabbit carefully: far out from cover, and away from other rabbits, and checked that the dog was sighted on the right one. Then we stalked up to it in the dark, and I slipped her when I judged we were fifty yards away.
A more experienced dog would be sent far sooner, but this was our first time this season, and I wanted everything on her side.
As she ran, another rabbit got up, and sin of sins, she came away from the rabbit in the beam and chased the other.
This is a novice’s error, but what can you expect with a novice dog?
I kept the second rabbit in the beam, seeing from the sides that other rabbits were running for cover.
This one did too: the young dog came back, tongue lolling, disappointed and confused. I have taught many a young dog, and was pleased that she had come straight back, for it is not unusual for such a dog to lose its sense completely and run around the whole field, sending all the rabbits to ground, before it returns. But she had not.
I stroked her face gently, put her back on the slip, and we walked on a way before I sent the beam around again.
Here there was nothing sitting out, but over the hill lay more land, and so we sneaked around the side until I could light up a small area without panicking a field full of rabbits.
Yes, here they were, feeding in the lee of the wind, nice and cosily.
And the dog went out true to the beam this time, the rabbit jinked and bought itself yards towards freedom, but the young dog had settled into her work now and was showing her class.
She can read her rabbit and block it from refuge, she can twist and turn, she is as swift as fate, and she strikes like a rattlesnake. She came trotting back with her mouth full of rabbit and her tail in the air.
While she was getting her breath back, I fitted the rabbit for easy carrying, and with dog at my side and the rain in my face, walked up the hedgerow a hundred yards and then shone the beam out again. It promised to be a good night.