In those days money was scarce and rabbits were plentiful so
every rabbit in the net brought much needed money into the house
and food on the table. I sometimes think I missed a part of the
sport when I was a youth because many a time the rabbit ended
up in the bag by fair as well as foul means. What I can tell you
is that if one is hunting for the pot a lot has to be learned
in a very short time.
I can well remember my first tasks with ferrets my Dad kept, was
feeding, cleaning and handling them regularly. These tasks were
assigned to me before I had even reached the school starting age
of five. Later I was taken on ferreting expeditions as ferret
carrier, game carrier and net sorter. It was, as it seems I was
serving my apprenticeship. For me any job was acceptable so long
as I could follow the proceedings.
One important job I took part in paunching and hanging the rabbits
in pairs after each days hunting. We lived in a house, which had
a thatched roof, and the rabbits were hung on spikes or nails,
which were driven into the walls just under the eaves. The "game
dealer" as we called him came twice a week. He also bought
hens and eggs and during the years many a different breed of bird
or animal ended up in his van.
He gave my Dad a higher price for undamaged carcasses so naturally
my Dad preferred to net rabbits and hares rather than shoot them.
I used to watch the game dealer inspect each carcass and he would
pass on the money to whoever was in the house at the time. Even
now when I look back I can see the trust people had in each other.
Not once did my Dad ever question the price that was paid for
Obviously then the art of netting and snaring was high on Dad's
list of priorities and I can remember us sitting around the fire
at night initially watching him and then in turn him teaching
me how to make the nets and snares we used. The tales that he
and his friends told around the big fireplace were totally believed
at that time by a youthful me, on reflection now I would take
them with a "pinch of salt".
I can well remember one of the most disappointing days of my
young life. My Dad carried his ferrets in a canvas bag which had
eyelets and a pull cord to close the top. We were crossing a river
which he jumped over first and told me to toss him the ferrets.
The pull cord got tangled with my fingers and the ferrets ended
up in the river. The river banks were quite steep so without hesitation
he jumped in after them. When he scrambled out onto the bank he
sent me home. For me a terrible day but when I got over the shock
I realised he had to come home also for a change of clothing.
Dad was fairly strict and every ferreting day was taken very seriously
and each task had to be carried out correctly, but how I looked
forward to Saturdays and Sundays.
The years rolled on and shooting became more popular as prices
for game dwindled away and all I could think about was having
a gun of my own. When out with my Dad I can remember pestering
him to let me shoot his gun. His words were 'In time when you
learn to handle one safely'. As in ferreting he taught me well,
and at seventeen I obtained my firearms permit and bought my first
My first outing will never be forgotten. I was a man, a hunting
man. Ferrets were still a big part of my life, but what troubled
me most was the terrible conditions in which some were kept and
treated. Few people understood this brave little animal and were
very wary of them because of their rat-like appearance and snake-like
movements. Many times I sat and thought how I could promote this
By good fate a gentleman named Albert Titterington and his team
organised a Game Fair at Clandeboye I thought this is the place
to promote the ferret. When I contacted him he passed my name
on to the late Jack Hamilton of the Ulster Game and Wildfowl.
We met before the fair and arrangements were made. Gordon McCloud
and Tony Kent gave me a pen to use and incidentally I still use
this same pen today. Me and my ferrets were on our way.
That first day at the fair was magic to me. Meeting people liking
shooting and ferrets. It all passed so quickly.
A couple of years later a ferret man of great renown from England
called Fred Taylor attended Clandeboye. I had read his column
in the Shooting Times and looked forward to meeting him. Our meeting
was a great success and later he wrote an article in the magazine
complimenting the fair management and of course my ferrets.
Over the years I've had terrific times and met many people and
friends and obtained some good hunting invites. Including some
to judge ferrets at fairs in England and Scotland, and then there
was the parties and barbecues that took place on the Game Fair
evenings. All unforgettable.
There were also the jokes and happenings such as one girl was
bitten on the nose another on the ear and a certain spaniel man
on the chin (sorry Hugh), also one of my ferrets got into Andy
McCleans duck pen and was imitating a jockey with one of his mallard.
Most serious was a chap who stole a ferret out of my pen and made
off up the site with me in hot pursuit. A good friend warned me
if I touched him I'd be in trouble so I took his shoes off and
threw them into the nearby river. That day was the wettest game
fair day ever and to see that chap scurrying off in his sock soles
through inches of mud was very satisfying.
I often wonder where all the years have gone, but I know the
ferret population has benefited immensely through our work and
promotion. A lot of people understand them more.
I've had a very rewarding and hunting life with many outstanding
events but the biggest thrill of all was when I was presented
with the William Brownlow Memorial Trophy at Ballywalter Park
two years ago for my contribution to field sports Public Relations,
once again thanks to my ferrets.
From my earliest introduction to ferrets until now, span sixty
years and I certainly have a lot of people to thank. There was
my father who has passed on. My wife Kathleen who supported me
through thick and thin and who has also passed away, and my four
daughters without whose help I wouldn't have survived. My brother
George who kept my animals safe when we went on holidays or Game
Fairs, my partner Margaret who is a tower of strength and to the
many, many friends who helped and guided me through all those
years and last but not least to Albert and his past and present
teams who have enabled me to promote my favourite animal, The