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The First Catch by Andrew Stainton

From a young age I grasped I had to keep away from the stifling atmosphere in the school classroom that was designed to develop your brain into being a labourer or some farmer. It certainly wasn’t somewhere to develop skills to earn real money. Besides, it never taught me how to read tracks and signs that teach you what is about in the countryside. This is why I had developed a disease that would certainly have killed most mortal men. So it came to pass that my recuperating walk from this self-made illness found me sneaking down a country lane with my scruffy leggy dog at heel. She was rather like a bearded collie with long legs. Never in the world would she have won a beauty contest, but to me she was stunning.As we approached a wheat field it occurred to me that one of the mole hills that were abundant was getting smaller. This certainly merited an investigation. Although, even at eight years old, I had seen this happen many times before - the hare spots you, and somehow melts into the ground before your eyes. At eight years old the last thing on my mind was giving a fair slip. I wanted to get as close as I could to give my dog a chance. She wasn’t like the lurchers I’ve had since where you slip as far away as possible to give the hare a fair chance and really test your dog. Indeed, for many years I have scorned anyone who slips under 50 yards. I feel they lack confidence in their dogs, most likely because they know they would be outclassed on a fair course.So it was, I stalked sally until around ten yards away. She exploded into life with that electrifying burst, and hit top speed within three strides. Around the field went hunter and quarry. Sometimes the dog forced a turn, at other times the hare turned the dog. I stood transfixed watching the spectacle that was unfolding before my eyes. After what seemed like hours, but was only seconds, with three laps of the field complete, the hare broke away and ran down the grass lane with me thinking that she had had her chance. She is bound to lose it now - however after turning a corner around a barn I heard a cry from a strickened hare. Running as fast as I could I met a smallholder farmer coming out of his yard with a grin on his face carrying my hare. ‘Is this your dog?’ he asked. I replied she was. ‘Well this is your hare then’ he said, ‘she just caught it at the side of my barn’.It was a mixture of pride in my dog and sadness for the hare that ran through my body. A strange feeling indeed, but it has happened with every catch I’ve made since. I’m told every true hunter feels the same way.It was a very proud boy walking through the village that afternoon as more and more people saw what I had caught. The hare’s front feet dragging on the floor as I wasn’t tall enough to stop them. It was very heavy by the time I got home, but I wouldn’t put it down for fear of it getting up again. Needless to say I was deemed fit enough for school the next day!This was my first catch, and perhaps the catch that welded me to a life of hunting, coursing, shooting and fishing. A life that has had many exciting times, some bad times, but far many more fantastic times.