Wednesday, 2 March 2016

The Heads Of The Valley Fox

A great article that was recently published in EDRD by Mart Carless

THE HEADS OF THE VALLEY FOX 

People that have experienced foxing may have gained this experience from going with friends that have carried  this activity out for many years. It means that they went with hounds, shooting packs,and bobberypacks. Then there are the keen terrier and lurcher men. Also the keen lamper and lurcher along with the lamping rifle men. However, the most exhausting,physical and draining approach has to be hunting the hill with lurchers. This is a very physical way of hunting foxes, which means you may walk for miles without even seeing a fox. Then on the other hand you may see and catch in minutes. There is only one thing guaranteed, that is, you will be tired,wet and hungry,but you will get fit and start to enjoy the walking and start to see your lurchers gain the skills that they need. Using this method ,to me,is more satisfying because you walk the mountain/hill,you choose the area you want to walk and hunt where there are water gullys rocks and cracks, heather and of coarse the wet rushbeds spread out all over the hill.
 The Heads of the Valleys area is located on the a465 and a4060 at Merthyr, where all the valleys coming up from the local town merge on the mountain areas like the  Aberdare,Hirwain,Penganddu, Trefil, Rassau, Llangynidr and the greater areas like the Brecon Beacons,Talybont and Crickhowell.  All these areas are splendid places to hunt and soak up the fantastic and breathtaking views.  I started hunting foxes with lurchers through a very good friend of mine, who I have known for years and is probably one of the best lurcher men in the Welsh Hills.  He has hunted the rush beds for over 40 years and started doing this way of hunting as a young boy, when gathering his fathers mountain ponies.  Barry is now 58 years old and still hunts in this way and has written off many a youngster, who thought they could hunt this way, but didn't like the hard walking and miles.
  Barry has also had, over his time, many large numbers of lurchers and different crosses, but I think his favourite cross / lurcher has to be the collie / greyhound first cross.  The collie cross gives the brain, stamina, colours and the greyhound gives the height, legs and speed.  The catching and killing is brought out in the young dogs when they gain all the experiences by running with the older dogs.  To actually watch and see these dogs hunting and finding scent and taking off on fresh scent, gives you new energy, after walking most of the day.  When they start to have scent they instantly change their movement and body language, and getting fresh scent puts them into another gear and instantly lets you know that there is a fox in the area.  The lurchers, after a season or two, also find any places where a fox may lay up, like holes in the hillside, banks, holes in the peat beds, and all the slits in the rocks.  By the lurchers knowing and learning where these places are, they save you a lot of time and energy walking, looking for these places, and if they do find a fox in one of these places, they all gather around and mark the fox in it's earth or hide.  The terrior is then used, if possible, to bolt the fox, but it is not always the case because these places in the cracks and stones can be very tight, so it is sometimes impossible to bolt the fox and he is left for another day or another place.
 Barrie digging to Queenie watched by Bob and Charlie

  After over 40 years of walking the hill, Barry knows most of the places to find a fox, and recently Barry and I have recorded all this information onto a local ordinance and survey map, along with every hole recorded, into a G.P.S.  By using this method you can get within 3 - 20 feet of the holes.  You might also be thinking after 40 years of walking the hill, you would know where the holes are exactly.  On a good clear day, yes you would go straight to the hole, or you would see the lurchers checking, yet everyday or season is never the same.  This is because through the year the hill changes in colour, cover growth, and of course the weather, giving you all the ailments that will confuse anyone on the hill.  In 1999/2000 Barry and I had 6 lurchers between us.   Barrie's 3 dogs were Bob, Charlie and Todd.  To watch these 3 lurchers at work would give any lurcher men great satisfaction.  Bob was now reaching 8 years old and was red in colour and looked like an old mongrel cross, but in fact he had some good breeding in him from previous dogs, owned and worked by Barrie.  Bob was at the time, the oldest dog, and was used to pass on the skills down the line to the younger lurchers.  Bob was a true marker and would hunt all day, and showed well when he found a fox.  Yet Bob was so steady that you would look away from him, to watch the younger dogs and check their progress.  This was then the time that old Bob would do his act, and he would slip away and find good scent, hunt fresh scent up, and yap on the fresh scent or sight of a close fox.  His yapping would then draw your attention, along with the other dogs.  Once you heard the yap from Bob, this would only mean one thing, that Bob had definitely found his fox.  The course was now on, after hunting the rush beds.  The other lurchers were also hunting, but may have been down in the centre of a gully, or on the opposite side, all hunting out from you at about 100 - 200 yards in front of you, and all hunting into the wind.  The reason for hunting into the wind was of course, for the dogs to scent the fox first and not the fox scenting the dogs.  Also, there was the fact that the fox would hear any sound from half a mile away, if the wind carried it.  This is why all the lurchers have to hunt out 100/200 yards in front of you, into the wind.  Barrie would then be walking the bottom of the rush gutter, watching every dogs movement and listening for the dogs yap.  I would then be on top of the gully, looking down onto the dogs and Barrie would be watching the opposite bank, checking that the fox didn't slip away.  There would be no talking between Barrie and myself all through the day, other than if we both spotted something.  This would then happen very quietly over the radios that we carried.  Right, the course is on, and Bob has found his fox and he is away and the fox is off.  Depending on the time of year, the fox would know where to go, but if he was a young fox, he perhaps would take the wrong option, and instead of trying to make ground between himself and Bob, he would turn and try to shake Bob off in the long rush, whereas an older stronger fox would go for the steep banks or straight up the gully, trying to get away, which they did on occasions.  Charlie was Barrie's second lurcher, which again was red in colour, he stood about 26 inches high, and had hound blood in him, Barrie had bought Charlie in as a young pup and started walking the hill with Charlie when he was about 12 months old and waited for the right fox to start Charlie off.  You might think that a dog of 12 months old would kill a fox, and on some occasions, yes, some dogs have, but there are more dogs ruined and entered too early, and receive a bite that has put the dog off, and on his second fox, is reluctant to strike first, giving the fox an opportunity to get away.   So if a decision is made to work a young lurcher on the rush foxes, they need all the basic training before entered to the course on our red friend.  So Charlie is now hunting with not so old Bob and is anything from 12 months to 18 months, and Charlie from the inital start of his hunting was a dog that was very fit and very strong through the day and was not the strongest killers I have seen and would never give in on the course / chase.  Again Charlie would be hunting 200 yards out from you and would speak, once he found fresh scent, again raising the alarm the fox is there.  Again, all the lurchers would then home in and look for the sight that they have hunted for all morning.  Charlie was a dog that liked no fuss and would never come into you when you were out on the hill, he had learnt this from old Bob.  The only time that any of the lurchers would come to you is if Barrie and I stopped to have a break and closed the gap between us, and perhaps had a chat about where to hunt next.  By seeing both of us together and standing still, all the lurchers would stop and come back to us.  If we walk together, Barrie and me, it meant we were finished for the day and headed back to the vehicle.  It was like the lurchers knew and they would all walk to heel without telling them.  Charlie would quite often wind a fox, along way off before he found the fox, and would tell you that the fox was about, by his body language and again move up two gears, and it was a fantastic sight to see.  Once Charlie had found his fox and caught site of him, Charlie would speak for short periods like a hound drawing the rest of the lurchers to him from above, below and from the flanks.

  It became very competitive between Charlie and Bob and they became quite a team to watch.  Bob would catch a fox on the run and might catch him form behind on the tail and would never let go, or change his grip, even though he knew and waited for the strike and bite of the fox.  By this time, dog and fox are now stationary, and then once that had happened, Bob would change his hold and that fox never had a change to get away.  Again, Bob would kill every time, very quick.  He had gained and learned when to hold and bite from his experiences.  On occasions some foxes would get past, and break for the hill, only to be run into an earth in the banks or into the peat holes in the rush, which we may have never found and would have walked around before.  It was then that the young lurchers would learn to mark a fox, this again was a sight to see because they had hunted, found, coursed, and marked, only to wait for the bolt or dig and course again.  The third lurcher that was part of the team was Todd, he was a 26" collie greyhound, first cross and all black with a white star on his chest.  He was a handsome looking dog, and had a fanstastic attitude towards hunting the hill, which was in the end, his downfall.  Todd had the attitude that if there were gutters, gullies and rush, it all had to be worked, he would not pass a piece of it and would try and cover every single blade of rush.  He did this at a tremendous rate and looked a picture of health and if he found the fox first, it would be an exciting course, for he would not give up and would crash through anything in his way.  Again he had learnt the task of hunting, finding scent, getting on to fresh scent, speaking and raising the fox and coursing and catching.  Todd was a young dog and the envy of the local lurcher men.  He was the type that would win the lurcher classes and yet did a tremendous job of hunting.  Barrie could stand in the bottom of a gutter and stop and drop Todd on the spot.  He would then send him out to the left or right, or even send him back to check an area out, and hunt it if Barrie just fancied that piece of rush.  Todd again would know where the holes were and go straight to them and check them out.  If he stayed there, we would go to him.  Todd would be there pulling the place apart, marking his fox.

  Every one of these lurchers would also enter an awkward or tight place, if you had dug to a terrier and wanted the fox out.  Bob and Todd were very hard and did not even give it second thought and would pull a fox from some unusual places.  I always thought Todd to be an exceptional dog, and he always surprised you every time we went out, and would cover more ground than anything Barrie and I have ever seen.  I can remember hunting an area out on the Llangynidr hill, with good long rush beds and very wet bogs, and can be very hard walking, and we had to walk a 4 mile treck out to some pete holes in the rush, all the holes were marked on the map and on the G.P.S., which told us the exact distance we had to walk, and the direction, but every lurcher knew the ground, and hunted their way out to the sets.  On the way, Tom hunted a gully and hit a nice big dog fox up, which give Todd a fine course.  This dog fox was in a nice piece of rush, where he was hunting, feeding and resting up, or laying out in the rush with the sun on him, out of the wind.  The last thing this fox expected was Todd.  I watched Todd giving the signals off and then the yap, the fox broke out of the rush, across some open ground where Todd closed the gap.  The fox knowing Todd was gaining on him and turned to some loose stones on the hill, this didn't slow Todd down and the fox couldn't loose Todd.  He then tried running down into a gutter, trying to lengthen the gap between him and Todd.  The fox was on a looser, he could not shake Todd off and it was a set to make you wet yourself with excitement.  He had tried every trick available to him and Todd was still on his tail, literally, you could see both tiring, but I knew who was going to win.

When the lurchers put a hunted fox up, you have to remember that you may have been hunting most of the morning and if you have covered a 5 mile walk, your lurchers hunting out in front can cover 3 times you mileage, giving a 15 mile cover, at a good pace.  The fox gets up after his meal / rest or layup in the rush and is fresh, so it takes some stamina and attitude to now catch and kill.  However, this was not a problem at the time for Todd.  He was 2 1/2 years old, fit and loving every second and gave 100% every day out.  Todd was now ready to pick up his fox and you learn to sense that the fox will not get away, or that he will get away.  If the lurcher is hunting up and the course is on in full site of you and you can re-run the course back in your mind and learn from it.  So when the next fox gets up and runs in full site of you, you can more or less say that he's yours, or not.  On numerous occasions, I have heard Barrie saying, after 20 seconds into the course, he is dead, or he might get away, if they don't catch him by the time the fox reaches the stones or the cover on the farm boundaries!  Back to Todd, he was going to have his fox and hit him fast and hard, tumbling the fox and catching him over his back, and within seconds the rest of the lurchers join him and are with Todd.  This is now the time that a young lurcher running with the pack learns.  He has experienced the long hunting, the fresh scent, spotted the fox at a distance, joined in the course, and has now joined in the catch.  However, he has not yet been entered and bitten by the fox, so if a young lurcher, at the right age and right attitude experiences this a few times, he should then be ready for the day when he hits fresh scent, raises the fox, gives tongue, and courses his first fox, hopefully supported by the older lurhcers, until he gains the experience and skills to catch and kill, or catch and hold, without having too many bites in the beginning of his hunting and working career.

On the day that I have mentioned above, we all had a rest for a while.  Barrie had rolled a cigarette, because if you smoke while hunting the rush and the wind changes, the smoking can give you away to the fox.  He can hear you, smell you, and sight you a long way off.  After our rest, we set off in our original direction to the holes out in the pete.  We had about 1 mile to go, when yes, came him again, Todd, hitting another fox up out of the rush and it started all over again, Todd was flat out on his fox and closing fast.  The fox could not shake Todd off, and when he tried running away from Todd, the others were closing in on the flanks, closing the distance.  I then heard "he is not going anywhere", only to see it happen yards from me.  The fox couldn't go anywhere, so they sometimes come back to where they first got up.  When they do this, we often find that the fox has been reared in this area and often find a new fox earth nearby.  However, this fox wasn't going too far, he knew Todd was  close and started to run into the divots and banks, and jumped out and over Todd, who had happened to be yards from me.  Todd quickly learnt something knew, and on the next little bank where the fox jumped into the air, Todd was in full flight with the fox and caught the fox in mid-air.  It was a sight that will remain fresh in my mind for the rest of my life and one that I replay in my mind over and over.  After taking this fox in the air, Todd fell to the ground with a fox in his mouth and landed on his back, only to be bitten by the fox.  Todd still held on to the fox, and gave a yelp from the bite, only to stand up and dispatch his fox very quickly, by this time the rest of the lurchers, including the young dogs, are learning the skills from Bob, Charlie and Todd.

We are now well in to our treck.  Two foxes up, and two brilliant hunts, and two very good courses, and everyone is on a high, the tired legs and backs are forgotten about.  I then hear Barrie saying, "Martin, that is better than any pint of beer, any drug you can take and it could keep any youngster out of the streets and out of trouble", which I also happen to agree with.  Why can't Blaire and his bandits see this?

After a little rest and a cigarette, we are on the way to the pete holes, which are less than a mile away.  We get within 300 yards of the holes, and every lurcher starts winding in the air, and they are all running on scent in the wind.  They all head for the pete holes and start marking him, going from hole to hole whining, and then start digging at the holes.  We then brought the lurchers away from the holes and entered Queenie,  Barrie's russell terrior bitch, which again is out of terriors that Barrie has worked for years.  Queenie was very keen and found within seconds, and started baying steady, then she started to sound harder and put a fox in a block end, where we then dug down to her and found her up to the fox.  We then removed Queenie and then dispatched a fox in the hole.  Yet again, this was a great learning experience for young lurchers, which brought them on immensely.  One thing that we never do is allow any terriors loose when the lurchers are hunting, this is because the terriors will cast out with the lurchers.  Then, after a period of time or distance, the terriors keep drawing back to you, and this then draws the lurchers back to you, which is not what you want, so all the terriors are on couplings close to you at hand.  From time to time, we often see people out on the hill, but try to keep our distance from them, due to the fact that hunting was under the viewing glass, due to the minority trying to rule something that has gone on for years, in which they know nothing about, and yet live in the big City's and come to the Welsh Hills and use them for their own pleasure.  There is nothing wrong with them visiting the Welsh Hills, but I feel they should not interfere in something they know nothing about.   There are many young people that would like the opportunity to hunt the Welsh Hills, but do not have the opportunity now, and end up in trouble with alcohol, drugs and fall in with the wrong people, then they get caught up with ever growing problems.

Barrie went back to the Llangynidr hills with a friend, who now owns Bob.  On this day, Barrie and Harrold had gone early, the weather was dry and cool, they had taken the same route as before, and yes, Todd had put a fox up in the rush.  In the distance, there were people walking the hills, and then from over a little bank, came a man, who like us was enjoying his day out, until he saw Todd coursing a fox towards him.  Todd was making good ground on the fox and closing in fast.  Then a voice was heard saying, (Barrie) "that fox is not going anywhere", then another box from the walker said, "I suppose you think that's right to do?, call the dog off".  Then as the dog passed this anti-shall we say?, he tried to cut Todd off, by running at the dog, waving a stick, which we don't know if he used to hit Todd with, as he was out of sight for a second or two.  Todd was then spotted again, still coursing the fox, but the distance between them became further and further.  It was then realised that there was something wrong with Todd.  The fox was then out of sight and over the brow of the hill, and Todd nowhere to be seen.   After a little heated discussion with the English City visitor, Todd was found some yards away lying in the rush.  He was dead lying there stiff, with all four legs stretched out.  Had something happened to Todd while coursing the fox, or had our friendly English visitor from the City interfered in some way?  Now with the foxing ban being in force, will we ever see another Bob, Charlie or Todd in The Heads of The Valleys?.




By Martin Carless 

Monday, 18 May 2015

Fox cubs

play it again sam 
 
afternoon nap!
best kept at arms length!
Wandered out today with the camera, me in super stealth mode (others might say a sneaky b*****d) The first vixen and cubs were fairly wary but the second seemed totally oblivious to me only leaving when the rain got heavy.
some evil looking eyes on this critter!



Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Hounds


Sometimes ...in-between hunting... whats better than watching hounds!




Thursday, 11 December 2014

Badger at Garreg Fawr - or - big brock under the big rock!

                                                                Not sure why this fella was not bothered by me, perhaps not 100% well? An  undigable big old rock earth, safe enough to enter a terrier to bolt a fox but  !!! make sure its a fox only type or you'll be in for the long stay!                      

Friday, 29 August 2014

Musk Beaver

Failed miserably with the trail cam, was hoping to "catch" one of these fellas

 Plenty of deer about though
My favorite of the week was a red squirrel, only the second one ive ever seen- pity i was to slow with the camera!


Saturday, 26 April 2014

Allrounder ? well almost

An EBT wouldnt be the first thing to spring to mind but some given the opportunity can  be more than usefull and even better than a few purpose bred dogs.              
If theres a way up a tree !
A pleasure to have around ferreting,great at cover work and marking rabbits at home, respects nets and ferrets!

This one has proved her worth many a time-nailing clipped foxes on fox shooting days.
obviously not an aggresive bone in her body
and sometimes managed to catch the target before the hounds.
Any good fox marking dog is a worthy addition to a pack, this bitch marks strong where many others struggle.
I,ve even seen her outworking the spaniels on a woodcock shooting day, i imagine theres lots of breeds with a bad image that given the chance could prove surprisingly usefull!
                                                                                        

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Wander in the Rhondda

The old town looks the same as i walk out in the rain!

Great looking bank behind this old building, i wonder how many miners have stopped to watch hounds screaming across the scree.
This cliffy heathery - bramble place looks a great place to hold a fox, i soon moved when i almost got blown into it!
This area must have seen some work over years
Looks like one crept in here out of the rain last night
 
The top end of my wander today- beyond here theres onlyone main road to cross and you could almost end up at the seaside, not today though!!!


Thursday, 6 February 2014

Hunting pics

Bobtail Dog Fox
A few tales to tell
Great when the hunter is on the right track
Some good looking areas for a hill fox

Another gummy fella



and another one fanged vixen