On this particular morning ferreting, the mist obscured the stunning countryside. The sodden ground highlighted the freshness of the morning as I started to lay my nets. Soon every long-net I possess surrounded a hedge I planned to ferret. Virgin ground, this area had never seen a ferret before, so I was curious to find out how deep and long these workings went. I earn my corn among these roots, thorns and leaves, but how would the rabbits react to my ferret and, more importantly, how hard was the ground?
I scattered some purse-nets over the tasty-looking holes. My dog Bella was out but if I needed to change tactics I had the luxury of Millie as a back-up. Confidence was high as I collared up the ferrets. I had a job to do, so the self-imposed pressure was on, especially as Steve would be joining me later to show me how to smoke rabbit on a quick and easy DIY smoker.
Always one for a challenge, I took a bit of time prior to this visit to remove the ancient and rusty barbed wire that lay half hidden in the undergrowth — unfortunately it was still as sharp as it was the day it was laid. Paying respect to the new ground, I would work fewer ferrets than normal as I erred on the side of caution. My gut instinct wouldn’t allow me to get carried away and become lackadaisical in my approach. These warrens have the potential to be long and deep. Though this didn’t daunt me, digging in the predicted heat did. As the mist dissipated, the sun beamed down. I planned an early start and finish as I worry about the welfare of my dogs and ferrets in higher temperatures. Working hobs, I planned to do only a smash and grab — bag as many bunnies as possible quickly without the hardship of trying to excavate ferrets and rabbits in rock-solid ground.
Once my aromatic mustelids were entered they immediately upset the status quo. Rabbits started jumping like popcorn all over the place. Virgin territory is hard to find, so I enjoyed this rare luxury while it lasted. Marshalling the nets in with an air of confidence, Bella left nothing to chance. A rabbiting dog can always move quicker and quieter than any human. And for me, the days of gracefully dancing around a warren are coming to an end. Over the years my tactics have changed. Today, I cannot ferret without stop- and long-nets, which are essential.
The stop-nets dissecting the hedgerow caught the rabbits out, but the hedge trimmings provided a potential route of escape by snagging the bagging of the nets. Bella made sure they went nowhere except home with us. Being guided by my canine black statue was theatre in itself. Standing motionless, ears twitching to and fro, her demeanour spoke volumes. It was obvious where the action was, with her pressuring the bolting rabbits and marshalling them into nets until I hobbled across. Steve was happy. I had already harvested a sufficient number for his little smoking venture, so at least we wouldn’t go hungry.
How to smoke a rabbit
I paunched and skinned the rabbits prior to jointing. After removing the sinew from the loins that were to be smoked, the “home brew” smoker was assembled. This comprised a camping stove, a wok holder and a wok, with the inside of the wok covered with baking foil to prevent the rice, sugar and tea from burning its surface. A mesh tray was laid across the top. Half a mug of rice, three tablespoonfuls of brown sugar and a tablespoonful of loose tea were sprinkled on top of the foil. After placing the four loins on the wire tray, the lid was put back on, foil tucked up to prevent any smoke escaping, and then the stove went to work.
By the time we had drunk our brew (10 minutes later), the lid was removed. The smoke erupted theatrically to present some nicely browned, smoked rabbit. Perfect. I had a sandwich to revitalise me before heading back to the warren. It was then back to business.