Yorkshire gamekeeper Tony Megson experiences mixed fortunes in his attempts to curtail the mink menace. Nothing a cup of tea won’t put right…
Reed growth at the side of the stream was beginning to wilt away even though the weather was unnaturally warm for the time of year. The beaten down reedy blanket formed some degree of cover for the fish and predators while offering the angler an element of concealment from enquiring aquatic eyes. Gale force winds were driving heavy rain and laying the remaining geriatric reeds onto the water’s surface. Those that were left standing had a somewhat lonely and forlorn appearance.
The water levels had struggled to reach anything like their normal height for this time of year, making the catching of the grayling even more challenging than usual in the gin-clear shallow water. That said, I had been fortunate enough to catch a couple and one of those had the tell-tale red hole in its flank indicative of the heron’s deadly lance. It was while I was examining this fish that I saw movement at the edge of the laid reeds on the far bank. I was low to the water and my Rivers West gear meant I was well camouflaged so whatever it was hadn’t been spooked. Keeping still I soon saw the unmistakeable image of the sleek black-coated predator that is the mink.
This was a worrying occurrence as I thought I had managed to curtail their numbers and protect the stream’s inhabitants over the previous few months. It was imperative that I removed this waterborne assassin as soon as I could. To leave it in situ would not only mean the loss of the fish in my care but also the destruction of the duck, waterhen, coot and water vole population.
The mink is an unbelievably efficient predator, even more proficient a killer aquatically than it is on land so nothing was safe until I could facilitate its removal. My mink raft had shown no sign of its presence and there were still voles and ducks on the water, so I was fairly certain that the one I had seen was a newcomer. Returning to the hut I utilised a sprat I had brought for the pike to employ as bait for the mink traps. Cutting it in half to allow the scent to pervade the area, I set traps in the most appropriate places near to where I had first spotted the dark destroyer. I would leave these overnight and return the next day to check them. But next time, instead of a rod, I would be carrying the CZ .22 Weaver combo. It has proven to be exceptionally accurate and an efficient dispatcher of all things predatory.
Mid-morning found me at the water’s edge and the walk to where the traps were placed was uneventful on the mink-spotting front. But on my arrival I found the traps missing, even though both had been pegged down. There was no sign of them. I searched the surrounding area but there was nothing. It was only when the wind dropped for a second and the ripple fell from the water’s surface that I spotted them thrown into the middle of the stream. Letting out an audible sigh I returned to the hut to get the equipment I would need to retrieve them. This had happened before when the so-called Friends of the Countryside had spotted the traps and slung them away, believing they were benefiting the local wildlife by doing so. How naive and utterly wrong can you be?
Traps retrieved, I sat for an hour waiting to see if my nemesis would return. It wasn’t to be and so somewhat disconsolately I returned to the hut for a cup of tea and to rehash my tattered plan. There wasn’t supposed to be any public access to the water, but no one can be there all the time and it doesn’t take long for someone to chuck a couple of traps into the water while “walking the dog”!
Sitting outside the hut is an unusually pleasant experience, from which point a couple of hundred yards or so of the stream can be seen. There was the odd fish rising and the wind had ceased its incessant howling and had dropped to a mild, gusty blow. It was while I was sat there sipping my brew and pondering the possibility of some mink-lined underpants that I saw what I thought at first was a good rise close to the reed bank. Believing it to be a sizeable fish, my attention was drawn to the area from which it had emanated. It was then I saw the unmistakeably glossy form of the dark slayer. Lurching to the other side of the table I retrieved the .22 and crawled as noiselessly as I could to the bank top. I scanned the vicinity where I had just seen it with the Weaver Classic. I was at a loss to find it. It could have submerged or disappeared into the reeds – either way it was now invisible.
Lying in wait I heard it before I saw it. The unmistakeable noise of something moving through the reeds. There was a possibility it could be a vole. They can be noisy little devils for something so small (a bit like the wife, come to think of it), but this sounded like something larger. And so it proved as the head of the mink protruded from the reed bed as it slipped silently back into the water like a silky miniature crocodile. It stayed below the surface for some time and I thought at first it may have come up under the bank where I lay in wait. If it had that would have left me unable to get a shot off unless it moved out towards the middle of the flow. In fact it came up on the far bank but failed to present a clear shot. Lying immobile I hoped for an opportunity to fire. But it failed to materialise and, even though I stayed in position for a good 30 minutes, it wasn’t to be. So I returned to the hut to finish my brew.
It was while I sat cogitating the devastation this interloper could cause when a friend phoned. He lives not a great distance from where I was and knew I was at the stream. He asked if I would be good enough to visit to ascertain what it was that was taking his ducks from their pens. I said I would and, after the short journey, he directed me to where the damage had been found. At first it appeared as if a fox might have been the culprit but the tell-tale footprints in the soft mud told a very different story. These prints were unquestionably those of a mink. The distance involved between the stream I had just left and the duck pens led me to think that a family of mink had been reared close by and taken an unhealthy interest in my pal’s mallard.
Retreating back towards the farm buildings, I searched for a position that would offer a suitable vantage point with a clear, uninterrupted view of the area and a safe backdrop, but would also afford me some shelter from obvious view. The position was found and some judicious moving of sheep shelters meant I had adequate concealment while being able to view the entire area in which the killer had been working.
Time was pressing and darkness was beginning to fall. It needed to appear soon or I was going to lose the light. The half-light is a time when many creatures venture forth hoping that the cover of darkness will protect their nefarious activities and I wasn’t to be disappointed. Twenty minutes after concealing myself, a dark shape appeared from the dyke. It was barely discernible in the fading light but definitely a mink. I quickly brought the crosshairs of the Weaver to bear and its excellent light gathering capacity allowed me to be assured of its identity. Recognition complete, I gently squeezed the trigger, releasing the 38-grain Remington sub to do its work. It proved to be as efficient a dispatcher of mink as the mink was of wildlife. It fell dead where it had emerged – a testament to the accuracy of the outfit.
With the quarry retrieved, I returned to my friend to show him the spoils and cause of his losses. His delight was tangible, his charges were safer and I just needed a pattern for those underpants!