Visiting an estate for some sport? Don’t forget to fix some ferreting, says Pete Carr.
The blur of a departing rabbit across the sand dunes, the baleful look of the Scottish keeper – that was my first experience of ferreting rabbits in Scotland. It should be listed as an adrenaline sport along with white-water rafting and parachuting. No – forget white-water rafting. What could be more exciting than that whisper of a scuffle as the rabbit launches like the bolt from a crossbow out of its hole and you have to get up and on to it (safely) and preferably with a Boys’-Own shooter such as a .410?
Talk to the sporting agents and they will tell you of the glories of the estates they represent – the magnificent red stags, the whirring and famously expensive grouse and they will tempt you with the splash of salmon, too. But get there, ask the ghillie if he or she can fix it and one of your most unforgettable sporting outings will be ferreting.
“What could be more exciting than that whisper of a scuffle as the rabbit launches like the bolt from a crossbow out of its hole?”
Some have cottoned-on to the sport and offer it as part of their sporting package. You can experience the thrill of ferreting on a Highland estate set in the picturesque valley of the Feugh. In northeast Scotland, Country Ways Sportings provides this exciting and often unpredictable sport, accompanied by a knowledgeable and a ‘safe’ pair of hands in a gamekeeper and a team of eager ferrets. Outings last three to five hours, depending on light and conditions. Equipment and tuition can also be supplied at a small additional cost.
If that’s not enough you can make a day of it by combining ferreting with a guided tour of Finzean, a Deeside estate. After your morning out ferreting, relax over a picnic lunch before taking a tour through the estate, featuring a wealth of interesting flora and fauna and a rich heritage from various historic buildings, the agricultural calendar and family link with the Victorian landscape painter Joseph Farquharson. A friendly and knowledgeable guide will show you the farmlands that lie mostly in the Feugh valley and the excellent viewpoints from the north and south, where the whole estate can be surveyed. The view can take in the hilltops of Bennachie, Morven, Lochnagar and ships coming in to Aberdeen harbour.
Merrilees Fieldsports offers personal ranger services including deer stalking, game shooting and fishing for salmon and sea trout. Its shooting areas in Aberdeenshire and other locations offer some of the most spectacular scenery imaginable, with high rugged mountains, deep glens, coniferous and deciduous forest and mountain lochs and streams. Merrilees Fieldsports has offered its clients excellent sport over the years rabbiting with ferrets. Lamping is also available at night time with spotlight and .22 rimfire. Best times are from the beginning of October until the end of March. Between two and six guns can be catered for at any one time. When ferreting, bags of around 40 to 100 rabbits can be expected.
“Rabbits are understandably classed as vermin by most landowners due to the damage they can cause to growing crops, trees and saplings”
Rabbits are understandably classed as vermin by most landowners due to the damage they can cause to growing crops, trees and saplings. Their burrows can also be a subsidence hazard. They do, however, provide a variety of sporting opportunities. Although the arrival of myxomatosis in the 1950s wiped out an estimated 99% of the population, it is thought that rabbit levels are now back to those seen before the introduction of the disease, with a population in the region of 40 million. The hunting of rabbits is undertaken in many different ways in Scotland.
The use of domesticated ferrets to flush rabbits from their burrows, either to waiting guns or to be caught in nets, can provide some very exciting sport, providing high anticipation levels and a requirement for fast reactions from the sportsman as the rabbits bolt from their burrows.