Frost on the hedgerows. Frost riming stark, winter-bare trees. Frost on the grass and on the remains of long-dead purple leaves and over all a blue, vaulting cloudless sky and a countryside lit by a low December sun. A brace of lively jill ferrets peep through air-holes in their carrying box, the little Jack Russell darts back and forth in barely suppressed excitement and even we blasé adults, all four of us, including that master snapper Paul Quagliana, have to admit that, for once, prospects are rather more than promising.
A long, 500-yard hedge is riddled with fresh and accessible buries, we can even see half-a-dozen rabbits chasing and scuttling at the field top and all, it would appear, is ripe for a couple of hours? ferreting before we retire to the village inn.
The two ferreters, both on their home patch in deepest Devon, are Nick Millman, chairman of the Devon Wildfowlers? Association, and Garry Burgess, his shooting companion, who is in charge of the nets. Nick, by the way, is using a specially designed net carrier, given to him by Shooting Times columnist Petrel and which has seen half a century of service. Each net is folded into a compartment on a canvas belt, which can be worn round the waist. Nets are kept separate and if carefully folded are ready for instant use.
Electronic collars are fitted to the jills, a 100-yard section of hedge is netted and, with the ferrets underground, Nick and I wait, guns at the ready for any rabbit that slips a net. Only the distant cawing of rooks and the plaintive call of herring gulls drifting inland disturb the silence. One minute, two, and then a faint rumble ? with a whoosh a rabbit has bolted into a net. Quickly killed and the net replaced, we wait. Another and another follow. Three rabbits in five minutes.
For once, there are no hold-ups and no need to dig. The jills work like tiny white Trojans, the rabbits bolt like good ?uns and by noon we have netted eight and shot two, all clean and as fat as butter. Thirsty work by any standard and with enough rabbits to satisfy present needs, we retire to the village inn for a pint of ale and a plate each of bangers and mash. That, my masters, is a proper sporting morning and they don?t come that often.