After moving to Dorset and settling in to our new home we began, as you do, to get to know our fellow villagers. Our garden backed on to farm land and it wasn't long before I met the farmer whom owned the land. A quiet, pleasant man, John was a thoroughly decent sort. As far as I am aware he had been in farming all his life, his parents before him also farmed. Coincidentally John had grown up in the village which we were later to move to and in which we now live.
However, as a result of requesting John's permission to do a bit of ferreting upon his land, which he granted, we became good friends and I often went along and helped him out with bits and pieces on the farm throughout the years. John had a son, Tim, who was also quite keen on shooting and similar things to myself and I was soon to be allowed to shoot on the farm as well as the ferreting. Overall, the farm had a quite large, and for the most part, healthy rabbit population. So much so that the rabbits did a fair amount of damage to the corn and other crops which John grew. Rabbiting was, therefore, greatly welcomed and the more we could impact upon their population the better.
In addition to ferreting and shooting, I would often spend an evening out in the fields with my lurcher, Toby, lamping. Toby was a master at the game he loved being out and was adept at catching the bolting bunnies with or without the aid of the lamp. Working a dog in the dark on a windy night is a very humbling experience, it demonstrates, without doubt, how greatly superior the dogs hearing, sight and sense of smell are over our own. How many times did I say to Toby, "get on there's nothing there", only to be proved completely wrong when a squatting rabbit leapt up before us and made its bid for freedom. He seldom missed his target. Although great sport, lamping is not the most efficient method of rabbit control. Obviously, a dog can only perform at great speed and on maximum energy for a limited period of time, so, the number of rabbits caught are restricted by these factors. I took the view that half a dozen good runs was enough for an evening although Toby would have kept going until he was worn out.
In addition to my efforts to help with John's rabbit problem, Tim would organise shooting evenings during the winter months. There would usually be five people involved in the team. We shot from the back of a Land Rover which had a box like structure built into it to support three guns. One shooting ahead and the other two to the left and the right. Inside the cab would be the driver and his mate who controlled the lamp and did the picking up. The vehicle would be driven around the fields and rabbits shot as they became visible. This method would account for several dozen in a period of two or three hours. We kept the time limit down to that sort of level, and the finishing time to ten o'clock in order to avoid complaints of noise, and or, nuisance. Not withstanding our attempts to keep on the right side of the village residents we did get the odd complaint.On one occasion a woman wrote a heart rending piece to the local newspaper complaining about the barbarity of the farmer and the rabbit slayers whom she saw as despicable murderers. Clearly, the good lady had no idea of farming economics or the need to control the hundreds of mouths that were, literally, eating into Johns income. John replied to letter in question and suggested the problem could be solved amicably. He would undertake to catch, in nets, as many rabbits as he possibly could and would deliver them all alive and well to the garden of the complainant. Needless to say we heard no more of the matter.
On one occasion there appeared in the fields, with the general rabbit population, a white rabbit. Over the years, periodically, black specimens had appeared but never before a white one. Clearly visible on the banks of the fields beside the single track road into the village, the white rabbit quickly became something of a celebrity amongst mums and their children on their way to and from school etc. Each day little groups could be seen looking for the white rabbit. When, once again, we began our rabbit shooting trips during the winter months Tim took the opportunity, during his pre-shoot briefing, to make it clear the white rabbit was not to be shot. He knew if the white rabbit had disappeared on the morning after a shoot he and his father would get the blame. He wanted to avoid that at all costs. Things went well for a number of shoots and, as before, each time we were forbidden from shooting the white bunny. One of the regular chaps that made up the shooting team was the son of a nearby poultry farmer. We are not talking a few hens here, the enterprise was huge, hundreds of thousands of laying hens in massive aircraft like hangars. The chap in question, Ian, was, what could reasonably be called, a bit of a character. The life and soul of any group, Ian was always up for a laugh. When he wasn't devoting himself to getting nicked on one or other of his collection of high powered motorcycles, he was something of a joker.
So it was we found ourselves half way through a rabbit shooting session, and again having been warned regarding the white rabbit, that from his bag in the back of the truck, Ian produced a well frozen white rabbit.He chucked it off the back of the vehicle in order that it could not be seen from within the driver's cab and a few moments later he called to Tim, the driver, to circle round as we had missed a couple of squatting rabbits. As we turned back the lamp picked up the white rabbit,which appeared to be squatting in the grass, and all three guns in the back of the vehicle gave it both barrels. Well the response from within the cab was both immediate and unfriendly. The engine was turned off and Tim leapt from his seat calling us every kind of idiot he could think of. Words that can't possibly be repeated here. That was it, we were going home and the team of guns would never be invited to shoot again. All of that and what on earth would he tell his parents when the complaints started arriving? We in the back thought it highly amusing and our laughter served only to inflame Tim's displeasure. However, a few minutes later an apprehensive picker upper went to recover the white corpse. He bent down, picked up the white rabbit and exclaimed, "The bloody thing is frozen". Needless to say all concerned had a good laugh and Tim didn't seem to know if he should be more angry or not. In the event we carried on and the real white rabbit lived to a good age before disappearing during the summer months and, presumably, died of natural, causes.