Something a little bit different....the only real link with stalking is that i will hope Bill will turn out to be a tracker for me when i start for deer....great little all round breed.
After what felt like weeks of wind, rain and cloud it was nice to hear the forecasters state we were in for a settled, sunny spell. Since the end of last year rats had become scarce on my permissions and I was hoping to be able to get out and have a good look about with the smoker and Bill. It would also give me a chance to practice my shooting without the wind and wet as factors that at best would put me off but at worst affect my shooting and then my confidence. My DSC1, deer stalking qualification has been booked for April, giving me time to brush up on the legislation needed to attain the certificate as well as to get some target practice in.
Without a cloud in the sky we set out towards the far end of the farm and a safe place to target shoot. I was hoping to wear Bill out somewhat with the walk down and at least give me enough time to concentrate on some shooting. I kept him close as we walked down, letting him take the lead and explore every now and again, but bringing him back to make sure it was me in charge of the hunt. In the past month or so I have noticed a change in his behaviour, he seems to have settled down a bit and can now sit still for a number of minutes, aware that these stops may not mean the end of his hunt. Perhaps the decline in the number of vermin on our permission has meant he has had to get used to uneventful trips out and increased his patience?
He failed to mark or show any interest in the embankment on the way down, although he did explore what I believe is a small shallow earth next to a land drain pipe on the bend of the ditch that marks the boundary of the land. This hollow has been dug out since last Autumn and it was in November when we came across it and Bilbo became interested in it. It is on a well worn path, that foxes use to travel in and out of my permission, and although Bill has stopped a number of times here to scent he has never marked strongly in this area.
After a quick visit, and a moment to survey the ditch itself Bill returned to the field and resumed his walk to heel. We walked to the far end of the land with nothing of note appearing. In the fields opposite, on the boundary of a local council playing field which is usually bouncing with rabbits, the odd rabbit sat in the fringes feeding and enjoying the spring sunshine. These would hopefully become targets in the near future.
Having let him have a run around I secured him to a nearby tree while I set up my targets. I was going to shoot at a range of 100m and was hoping to get groups of under four inches from a sitting position off my home made sticks. Bill sat down under budding branches to watch. Having shot my first few off the sticks I decided to try off my bi-pod. Within less than five minutes I had achieved two groups of under two inches. I was happy with that and the fact the Bill had once again settled quietly to watch. The only time he showed any anxiety was when I visited the targets to retrieve them and left him. He stood and I could hear a low whine briefly before he settled back down. Eventually he will gain more confidence and patience which will be needed if he is to become a tracking dog for me.
After a brisk walk back through the sun I dropped off my rifle and sticks at the car and got out the smoker and spade. We had a walk around the farm buildings, those that had withstood the weight of snow this winter and were left standing. The old wooden sheds had suffered badly and two of the large sheds had collapsed under the weight of snow. Plenty of sidings and roof sheets on the ground to encourage rats which may prove some sport when the clean up begins. Although to date Bill had not been interested in any of these timber mounds.
After a quick sweep of the buildings we arrived at a large mound of soil covered rubble, there were some rat runs that looked well used heading to and from the turkey pens. Bill marked a couple of holes in this mound and I smoked it heavily but as has always been the case with this area the rats have more than enough space and room to manoeuvre away from us undetected and digging here is near impossible.
Within a ten minute period we had travelled the around the usual rodent haunts and not had another mark. I had noticed the large chicken shed that had been overturned in the gales recently had been moved and re-sited in the field nearby. It had not been there long enough to have been colonised by any rats yet but the duck shed next to it hadn't come under Bill's scrutiny for a while. It is usually very wet and always smelled strongly of ammonia and never seemed popular with many rats.
Today when I opened the door I was pleasantly surprised to find the inside relatively dry and more than that there were a few bolt holes inside and out. Bilbo immediately started to mark in the nearest corner, digging furiously. I filled any hole that led outside along the bottom of the shed and then joined Bill inside to help dig. After a couple of minutes of digging it appeared the rat had fled this corner using one of many tunnels leading under the sawdust floor. Bill moved around scenting the remaining holes, showing an interest in most but marking positively at a point that was no more than a small poorly used gap next to the front wall. Rather than dig this time I decided to use the smoker to see if I could encourage the rats to leave their underground haven. As I started the engine up Bill shot behind me and I heard screaming , he had a large rat in his mouth. It must have emerged from the corner of our previous digging. Bill has become more confident in his killing of rats, less shaking and more decisive biting means that once a rat is in his mouth it is dispatched quickly and cleanly. He still does not like to give them up though...but I can live with that. Having hung the rodent up on a window sill Bill continued to move around the shed. I lifted some of the sawdust around the pipe to see if this might encourage any others out. As I stood back and waited I spotted movement from a nearby duck entrance. There coming round the corner of the shed was a large rat, seemingly oblivious to either me or Bill. I called him over from his marking and after a couple of calls he came to investigate. As I watched three rats came into the shed, Bill took after the second one, the first having reached a nearby hole, I chased the last one into a corner and as it turned and attacked my gloved hand Bilbo arrived to tackle mine as it jumped clear of my hand and straight into Bill's jaws.
I returned to the entryway but could find no body there, I was sure Bill had dealt with his rat before assisting me, I was sure I had heard the squeals of a rat being dispatched. Bilbo began marking, digging at one of the other holes in the shed so I moved the smoker around. I fired it up and after a few seconds I checked outside for any signs of smoke or rats. As I got to the far end of the shed, there outside on the grass in the sun were two rats. Both took off on seeing me but didnít venture back into the shed, rather they ran around the outside followed closely by me. I called Bill to alert him and by the time I rounded the corner of the shed he was following the first rat inside. I left him with that one, I could see the second one had stopped short of going back inside and was partially hidden by a feeder and board leaning against the side of the building. It saw me and took off in the direction it had come from along the outside of the building, with me in hot pursuit. It ignored holes back into the shed, I presume due to the smoke inside. Along the far side I caught it up and as I reached down to grab it it turned around and ran me back the other way. I never like to let Bill have all the fun after all. I chased it back towards the opening and it met Bilbo coming back out of the shed, and squeezed past him. Although surprised he turned on a sixpence and darted back inside. As I continued round the the door, I could hear squealing and as I entered I caught the final jump of the rat as it attempted to evade Bill and was taken neatly out of the air by him.
I collected the bodies, and checked the outside, I had noticed on my run past that smoke had started to come out of one of the holes in puffs and starts. A sure sign that there was at least one other rodent in residence and moving the smoke through the tunnels. I checked the area of the smoke and sure enough just visible from the entrance of a small hole I could see the whiskers, nose and face of another large rat behind a rusty fox trap at the base of the shed. Unfortunately for us time had run out, Bill couldnít get to this remaining rat and picking up time was fast approaching for my daughter at nursery school. Four rats in almost as many minutes was a good end to a nice mooch in the fields.