The Extreme Sport of Ferret-Legging

Have you ever wondered how certain sports started? The origins of baseball and basketball are not too difficult to understand. Other sports, such as the goat-dragging, horse-riding event of Buzkashi can leave you scratching your head, wondering how anyone ever thought it up.

With that in mind, try to imagine how boring life must have been on the day someone suggested a sport that consisted of stuffing a ferocious ferret down one’s trousers. Such might be the stuff of your nightmares, but it exists as reality and entertainment among the aficionados of ferret-legging.

The rules of ferret-legging are not particularly complex. Participants tie their trousers at the ankles, insert a live ferret into their pants, and then tighten their belts to prevent the creature from escaping. Competitors are not permitted to wear underwear, and the trousers must be baggy enough to allow the ferret to move freely from one leg to the other. The ferret must have a full set of teeth and claws, neither of which have been filed or blunted. Lastly, neither the ferret nor the human is permitted to be drunk, drugged, or otherwise sedated.

A ferret shows off its teeth

The winner is the person who endures the experience the longest. This means that an additional requirement for serious competitors is a high pain tolerance and a willingness to have one’s legs and nether regions scratched, bitten, and potentially permanently scarred. If a ferret attaches itself to a body part, the competitor may attempt to dislodge it from the outside of the trousers. This can be quite difficult, however, since ferrets have a reputation for chomping down and holding on with admirable tenacity.

It probably goes without saying that there is no minimum IQ requirement for competitors.

The origins of this extreme sport remain a matter of debate. Some have speculated that it started in Yorkshire, England among the coal miners of the 1970s. Others trace its murky past to Scotland, where patrons in local taverns would wager over the sport. Another school of thought traces ferret-legging to a time in England when only members of the upper classes were permitted to use ferrets for hunting. Those who illegally used ferrets were forced to conceal the creatures in their trousers to avoid being prosecuted for poaching.

Don Katz wrote “King of the Ferret Leggers” in the October 1987 issue of Outside magazine. He described ferrets as “having claws like hypodermic needles and teeth like number 16 carpet tacks.” He wrote, “Alternatively referred to by professional ferret handlers as ‘a shark of the land,’ ‘a piranha with feet,’ ‘fur-coated evil,’ and ‘the only four-legged creature in existence that kills just for kicks,’ the common domesticated ferret—mustela putorius—has the spinal flexibility of a snake and the jaw musculature of a pit bull. Rabbits, rats, and even frogs run screaming from hiding places when confronted with a ferret. Ferreters—those who hunt with ferrets, as opposed to putting them in their pants—sit around and tell tales of rabbits running toward hunters to surrender after gazing into the torch-red eyes of an oncoming ferret.”

Oddly, it was this terrifying description of the ferret launched the sport of ferret-legging into heretofore undreamed-of levels of popularity. Competitions have been held around the world.

The sport has yet to become sufficiently organized so as to justify any kind of international governing body. Consequently, variations of the rules and customs abound. Some competitions make use of two ferrets in the trousers simultaneously. A female version of the sport — ferret-busting — involves stuffing the ferret into the competitor’s blouse. This variation has failed to gain much traction, thus further demonstrating why women tend to live longer than men.

Former world champion, Reg Mellor, is credited with instituting the practice of wearing white trousers in ferret-legging matches, to better display the blood from the wounds caused by the animals.

The world record for ferret-legging was 40 seconds in 1972. The elusive one-minute mark seemed as unattainable as the 4-minute mile before Roger Bannister proved it could be done. Just a few years later, however, the record surpassed one minute and rocketed to 90 minutes. In 1977, Edward Simpkins from the Isle of Wight set the new world record of five hours and ten minutes, with one ferret in his trousers during the first four hours and two for the last seventy minutes. He received two large bites during the competition.

On July 5, 1981, Reg Mellor set the new world record time of five hours and twenty-six minutes at the Annual Pennine Show at Holmfirth, Yorkshire. He said that he had trained for the sport since his youth. As a hunter, he worked with ferrets and routinely carried them in his pants to keep them warm and dry. He says that the best practice is to make sure the critters are well-fed before stuffing them in your drawers.

In 1986, Mellor tried to break his own record and surpass the 6-hour mark. Although he started before a crowd of 2,500 spectators, most of them got bored and left after five hours. Seeing the audience dwindle, workers began to dismantle the stage despite Mellor’s protests that he was still competing. Adrian Tame of the Sunday Herald Sun reported that Mellor retired after that experience, “disillusioned and broken-hearted,” but with his dignity and manhood intact.

We dispute the former but take him at his word on the latter.

The current record holders appear to be Frank Bartlett and Christine Farnsworth. The pair broke Mellor’s record in 2010, coming in at five hours and thirty minutes.

If you want to see how this extreme sport is played, watch the video below. If you have participated in ferret-legging, we’d love to hear from you. More to the point, we’d like the answer to just one question: WHY?

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