With a fit dog and obliging weather, there is nothing better than pitting all-round canine athleticism against the survival instincts of a rabbit. However, these days I am more dependent on a ferreting dog. My circumstances and priorities have changed, so running my dogs down the beam has become less of an addiction and more of a therapeutic walk surveying the land.

I have more efficient ways of removing rabbits at night, but there is something special about lamping with a lurcher. On dark nights the click of the lamp echoes, the pencil-thin beam of the lamp reflects the eyes of the rabbit, and your senses go into overdrive. You sense the dog, the beam, the twist and turns of the course and the catch and retrieve. The contorted athleticism of hunter and hunted get tested to the limit where the rabbit has one advantage — its low centre of gravity.

Legal pest control

Since the passing of the 2004 hunting act, legitimate lurcher work has run the gauntlet of ignorance surrounding its many legal practices, especially after dark.

If permission to take rabbits has been granted, it is simply another legal form of pest control.

My new dog, Tawny, now 16 months old, has had a good maiden season. She is ready physically and mentally, so I felt the time was right to give her a go at lamping, but running a lurcher at night is an immensely different discipline, which puts intense pressure on her body and mind. I want her to live a full life and fulfil her potential, but she will not do this if I run her too early, damage her lungs, joints and tendons or scorch her brain with too much, too soon. I have seen too many good dogs never become great dogs because they get gassed out at three or four years old. At that age, they are just starting to peak.

Lamping with a lurcher

I thought long and hard about when and where I would take Tawny. The land can be on the fast side when the going is good under foot. After walking the Haylage fields to spy out any hidden ploughs or electric fencing, I had to instil into tawny the understanding that every time that lamp went on and stayed on, there would be a rabbit at the end of the beam and, if slipped, it was hers to catch. easier said than done, but I did my utmost to swing the odds in her favour by knowing the land, the rabbits and my dog’s limitations. To Tawny, this was another walk in the dark to practise her recall and retrieving, but for me, it would be the most nervous walk we had taken together so far. Potentially so much could go wrong. The darkness offers a smokescreen for potential disobedience that could be easily corrected in daylight. You have to trust your dog as much as your dog has to trust you.

Read more about when Simon Whitehead went lamping with a lurcher on page 17 of the 11th May issue of Shooting Times.