Urban Fox: Memoirs of an Edinburgh Poacher by Bob Redwater
It wasn’t hard for me to think up a title that would best describe my unconventional lifestyle in Scotland’s capital city.
I always swore that I would never write about my illegal hunting activities. It was my elder brother Peter who pressurised me into writing about my life because he thought it was worth sharing with others. Whatever the reason the deed has been done and I have shared my hunters life with the publication of a book.
It took me a lifetime to become a successful hunter, learning the hard way and sharing experiences along the way. It might be hard for some folk to understand how a person can love animals and yet kill them to eat. Most hunting peoples experience the same kind of mixed feelings when it comes to taking a life to sustain them and their families. I would never claim starvation as a justification for my activities but eating fresh wild meat is a great salve to the conscience.
Intensively farmed animals have a poor life compared to the wild game that lives a natural life. At times I have felt a little guilt but no regrets. I have never been interested in hunting for sport. Wealthy folk are prepared to shoot stags on highland estates for a trophy head. They are allowed none of the meat. That mentality makes no sense to me.
The following are some of the memories I have written in my book…
It was the month of March and my wife, myself and my friend Paul took a trip down to the Borders to explore an area new to us in the hills. We walked past a reservoir, putting up hundreds of wild mallard ducks, teal, curlew, lapwings and a few oyster catchers. A large brown hare got up in front of us from the rough grass and splashed into a burn almost on top of a mallard that had been hiding under the bank. The hare then swam to the other side and then ran slowly uphill through a newly seeded field and disappeared over the skyline while the dog was straining at the lead. We couldn’t let him off because there were sheep in the field and there were two houses in the distance which commanded a view across the whole valley
We followed the burn into the hills flushing even more mallards. A heron flapped slowly away upstream and grouse exploded from the heather as we reached the higher ground. There were also a few pheasants and a couple of black cock amongst the stunted birch trees along the burn – but not a single hare stirred on the upper slopes. We circled back round one of the high ridges and followed a downhill track until we spotted a white blob in the heather below, which got smaller as we got nearer. I slipped the dog off the lead and sent him off in the general direction of the white hare, which he hadn’t yet seen.
When the hare left its hiding place, the dog chased it downhill towards the valley bottom, crossing the burn and then through the heather, where he began to catch up with it. The hare began to jink and turned the dog six times, leaving him struggling to keep up. Once the hare got into its stride on the open hillside the gap between the pair got wider and it became obvious that the hare was going to live to run another day.
I whistled the dog and he came back towards us at a slow trot with his tongue hanging out. As he came near to his original starting place, a fresh hare got up directly in front of him. and there was a second chase. The second hare chose a different escape route to the first hare and led the dog directly towards us for a few yards, before turning and heading downhill into the valley with the small birch wood, where both animals disappeared from sight. We waited anxiously on the high ground for any sign of the continuing chase several hundred yards below, but there was no movement and after about fifteen minutes I was beginning to get concerned.
I whistled and waited: still nothing. Fox was rarely out of my sight for more than ten minutes, even after a long chase and always came running when he heard my whistle.The three of us then began searching for him; we spread out and headed downhill in a line abreast about fifty yards apart. I was hoping that he had not been caught in a gamekeeper’s fox snare, or was stuck on a barbed wire fence in some remote place. That kind of fate was not unknown for shepherd’s dogs in upland areas.
I climbed over the drystane dyke that ran at right angles to the burn in the valley bottom and spotted something black alongside it, several hundred yards away. It was the dog. I whistled, but he wouldn’t come to me. Then I shouted, but he still wouldn’t move. Then I saw a dead sheep, not more than thirty yards away from him and felt a pang of horror. Fox had been trained from a very young age to ignore sheep; as a pup he had been severely thrashed for chasing one and I thought he had grown up with an aversion to them.
I ran all the way down the steep hill to look at the dead sheep, lying on its side in the rushes near to the dyke. On closer inspection I saw that it had probably been dead for more than a week, the eyes had been pecked out by the crows. I was greatly relieved but wondered why Fox had not moved. I thought maybe he had been injured and went to check him over, but he was okay and sound of limb. I did notice he had been digging beside the wall.
The mystery was soon solved when I realised what Fox was looking at inside the dyke. That plump white hare had managed to get itself to safety from the pursuing hound and was sitting quietly, absolutely still and hardly breathing inside the dyke, it was exactly in the middle and looked just like another stone in the wall.
I knelt on the ground for a closer look. We were eyeball to eyeball. It seemed a miracle that the creature could have squeezed into such a tight place. I was barely able to slide my hand between the narrow gaps in the stones and could only reach in by rolling up my sleeve, badly grazing my elbow in the process. I managed to get my hand onto the hare’s warm, white furry back and stroked it, wondering how I was going to extricate it without loosening any stones.
While I was pondering this little puzzle, I saw my wife’s face on the other side of the dyke. She had observed the hare, my groping hand and the dog’s nose, and gave me this ultimatum:
“If you kill that poor hare, I’ll never speak to you again. If it was smart enough to get in there and escape the dog, then it deserves to live and breed other clever hares”.
Of course she was right. I could be quite cold blooded when I was hunting for food, but we were unlikely to starve if we let this one go. The dog was not so easily persuaded, however, and I had to put him on the lead and drag him away from his prize; all four paws planted firmly on the ground and I could only describe his doggy expression as furious. We put up a woodcock on the way home and four more hares, but went home empty handed.
Bob will be talking about his life as a poacher at the Ragged University: