A Lifetime with Ferrets by Tony Carinduff
(A Lifetime with Ferrets | Tony Carinduff)

Ferrets, Ferreting and Rabbits have been a very big part of my life over the past fifty odd years and believe it or not I am still picking up bits of information and tips from ferreting men with whom I have the pleasure of meeting at "Field Days" and at Game and Country Fairs. Especially at our own N. Ireland Game and Country Fair which has progressed from Clandeboye to Shane's Castle and now to Ballywalter Park.

Twenty-five years seems a long time but the "Fairs" only took place in the second half of my hunting life as it were. It makes me feel ancient. The pursuit of field sports has been in my family for generations and the art and craft has been faithfully passed on from fathers to sons and so in my early days my father duly passes on his experience to me.

Tony Carinduff

In those days money was scarce and rabbits were plentiful so every rabbit in the net brought much needed money into the house and food on the table. I sometimes think I missed a part of the sport when I was a youth because many a time the rabbit ended up in the bag by fair as well as foul means. What I can tell you is that if one is hunting for the pot a lot has to be learned in a very short time.

I can well remember my first tasks with ferrets my Dad kept, was feeding, cleaning and handling them regularly. These tasks were assigned to me before I had even reached the school starting age of five. Later I was taken on ferreting expeditions as ferret carrier, game carrier and net sorter. It was, as it seems I was serving my apprenticeship. For me any job was acceptable so long as I could follow the proceedings.

One important job I took part in paunching and hanging the rabbits in pairs after each days hunting. We lived in a house, which had a thatched roof, and the rabbits were hung on spikes or nails, which were driven into the walls just under the eaves. The "game dealer" as we called him came twice a week. He also bought hens and eggs and during the years many a different breed of bird or animal ended up in his van.

He gave my Dad a higher price for undamaged carcasses so naturally my Dad preferred to net rabbits and hares rather than shoot them. I used to watch the game dealer inspect each carcass and he would pass on the money to whoever was in the house at the time. Even now when I look back I can see the trust people had in each other. Not once did my Dad ever question the price that was paid for his kills.

Obviously then the art of netting and snaring was high on Dad's list of priorities and I can remember us sitting around the fire at night initially watching him and then in turn him teaching me how to make the nets and snares we used. The tales that he and his friends told around the big fireplace were totally believed at that time by a youthful me, on reflection now I would take them with a "pinch of salt".

I can well remember one of the most disappointing days of my young life. My Dad carried his ferrets in a canvas bag which had eyelets and a pull cord to close the top. We were crossing a river which he jumped over first and told me to toss him the ferrets. The pull cord got tangled with my fingers and the ferrets ended up in the river. The river banks were quite steep so without hesitation he jumped in after them. When he scrambled out onto the bank he sent me home. For me a terrible day but when I got over the shock I realised he had to come home also for a change of clothing. Dad was fairly strict and every ferreting day was taken very seriously and each task had to be carried out correctly, but how I looked forward to Saturdays and Sundays.

The years rolled on and shooting became more popular as prices for game dwindled away and all I could think about was having a gun of my own. When out with my Dad I can remember pestering him to let me shoot his gun. His words were 'In time when you learn to handle one safely'. As in ferreting he taught me well, and at seventeen I obtained my firearms permit and bought my first gun.

My first outing will never be forgotten. I was a man, a hunting man. Ferrets were still a big part of my life, but what troubled me most was the terrible conditions in which some were kept and treated. Few people understood this brave little animal and were very wary of them because of their rat-like appearance and snake-like movements. Many times I sat and thought how I could promote this little warrior.

By good fate a gentleman named Albert Titterington and his team organised a Game Fair at Clandeboye I thought this is the place to promote the ferret. When I contacted him he passed my name on to the late Jack Hamilton of the Ulster Game and Wildfowl. We met before the fair and arrangements were made. Gordon McCloud and Tony Kent gave me a pen to use and incidentally I still use this same pen today. Me and my ferrets were on our way.

That first day at the fair was magic to me. Meeting people liking shooting and ferrets. It all passed so quickly.

A couple of years later a ferret man of great renown from England called Fred Taylor attended Clandeboye. I had read his column in the Shooting Times and looked forward to meeting him. Our meeting was a great success and later he wrote an article in the magazine complimenting the fair management and of course my ferrets.

Over the years I've had terrific times and met many people and friends and obtained some good hunting invites. Including some to judge ferrets at fairs in England and Scotland, and then there was the parties and barbecues that took place on the Game Fair evenings. All unforgettable.

There were also the jokes and happenings such as one girl was bitten on the nose another on the ear and a certain spaniel man on the chin (sorry Hugh), also one of my ferrets got into Andy McCleans duck pen and was imitating a jockey with one of his mallard. Most serious was a chap who stole a ferret out of my pen and made off up the site with me in hot pursuit. A good friend warned me if I touched him I'd be in trouble so I took his shoes off and threw them into the nearby river. That day was the wettest game fair day ever and to see that chap scurrying off in his sock soles through inches of mud was very satisfying.

I often wonder where all the years have gone, but I know the ferret population has benefited immensely through our work and promotion. A lot of people understand them more.

I've had a very rewarding and hunting life with many outstanding events but the biggest thrill of all was when I was presented with the William Brownlow Memorial Trophy at Ballywalter Park two years ago for my contribution to field sports Public Relations, once again thanks to my ferrets.

From my earliest introduction to ferrets until now, span sixty years and I certainly have a lot of people to thank. There was my father who has passed on. My wife Kathleen who supported me through thick and thin and who has also passed away, and my four daughters without whose help I wouldn't have survived. My brother George who kept my animals safe when we went on holidays or Game Fairs, my partner Margaret who is a tower of strength and to the many, many friends who helped and guided me through all those years and last but not least to Albert and his past and present teams who have enabled me to promote my favourite animal, The Ferret.

Tony Carinduff
(A Lifetime with Ferrets | Tony Carinduff)

Tony Carinduff, is genuinely one of the greatest country men of his generation. In Ireland no Fair, field day or country sports event would be complete without Tony and his ferrets.

With his late wife Kathleen and now his current partner Margaret, he is respected and revered throughout Ireland and indeed further afield for his very professional Ferret displays and Ferret Clinics. Always willing to dispense good advice on any aspect of country sports and especially ferrets, to young or old, Tony has been almost single handedly responsible for promoting responsible and informed ferret ownership to a generation of country sports people.

Apart from having probably the most interesting display at the Game Fair, Tony's and Margaret's post fair hospitality is legendary and after a stressful day I personally love to visit their "hospitality area" where terrier and lurcher men, anglers, gundog men, falconers, game shooters and wildfowlers gather to enjoy good company, a glass or two and to partake in the barbeque. In my own mind no Fair would be complete without Tony and his ferrets.

In this our 25th Anniversary year at the Fair a number of new competitions have been proposed including the Irish Ferret Championship - who better to judge this than Ireland's "Mr Ferret" himself - Tony Carinduff.

Albert J Titterington