For this feature i have returned to rabbit control. Ron, from the fruit plantation farm near to where i live, gave me a call the other day. “Nigel” he said, “I’ve got a problem. Those darned rabbits are back tearing up my young shrubs, and eating through them. Can you sort them out for me?” I knew exactly what he meant and obliged instantly.
“I’ll drop in and see you on the way back from picking up my lad from school,” i replied. I got to Ron’s to confirm with him the location of the problem. At this time of year, the fruit plantation farms are extremely busy, and Ron’s farm is a big one indeed, probably in excess of 1000 acres. It stretches from my village right up to where my lads school is, some three and a half miles away – that’s big!
I am very fortunate to have to have this permission. I have been controlling this farm now for around 12 years, shooting all our legal quarry species, mainly rabbits, but on other occasions i have controlled moles on this same permission. Some of my permissions come from my pest control work, just like this one. Being a fully licensed pest controller, i get other work here and there and when I’ve finished, some of those landowners give me permission to carry on with my main hobby, and we all know what that is, don’t we!
With the location in mind and the problem rabbits confirmed, i visited the area for a quick reconnaissance. On arrival, i checked the raspberry shrubs for signs of activity, and this was confirmed by rabbit droppings all the way through the plantation’s plastic covered tubes. The rabbits had been chewing the young shrubs, which will hinder the natural growth of the potential raspberry stocks and ruin Ron’s plans of good fruit production for the season.
So, with all the recce done and dusted, my plan for my first attack was the stalk approach. I do like the challenge of pitting my wits against the conies, and there’s no better feeling than when you stalk quarry using nothing more than good old field craft. Stalking is not easy by any means; first you have to check what the wind is doing – is it swirling or in one direction? You have to keep the breeze in your face at all times. Secondly, you have to select the best approach after you have spotted your target. The best way is to use what’s available around you, be it a hedgerow or farming equipment, to mask your route on your way into range of your quarry. Thirdly, keep your footsteps light. If i start my stalk with my right foot, i will drop my foot with the rear right side of my heel touching the ground first, then roll my foot inward, feeling underfoot for stones and small twigs. If i feel something as i roll my foot over, i quickly shift my foot to a new location around the twigs. The same follows with the left foot, of course.
The next tip is to start crouching your body as you get closer. This is usually at around 40 yards, and it irons out your human shape to the rabbit; onward for about 35 yards, presuming the rabbit has not bolted for cover, and then starts to drop into a belly crawl for the final few yards. Whilst all this is happening, keep in mind that at all times the rabbit will stop feeding and go on the alert. My trick for this is to freeze, wait for it to resume feeding, and then carry on toward it. If all goes well, then the rest is up to you and your rifle, providing you keep your cool and control your breathing to complete your kill.
Beginners may have a little bit of ‘buck fever’, when the excitement and heartbeat will be uncontrollable and adrenaline levels will be up to the max. All of this can easily result in a total miss, which will be a big disappointment and cause a dent in confidence, especially after you’ve sweated it out and your approach has lasted for what seemed like a lifetime.
Moving on – my chosen kit for the days session was my Air Arms Ultimate Sporter in. 177 calibre, topped with my first choice of scopes, the Bushnell Trophy XLT 4-12X40 with adjustable objective on board, all perfectly married together with sportsmatch mounts. My camouflage choice for the attack on the problem rabbits was Jack Pyke’s English Woodland pattern. I have had great results when stalking conies with this particular pattern and it’s by far my favorite in the hunting field. I decided to do my stalking session on a Friday afternoon, into early evening, and with enough light at this time of year, its fine until at least 10 pm. I arrived at the plantation at four o’clock, and got my kit together ready for action. I loaded my S510 magazines with my gun’s favorite diet, of Air Arms Field pellets. When stalking, I always wear a head net, it helps a lot, believe me, covering that big pink beacon that we call ‘a face’ is a must. Its one of the biggest giveaways that our quarry picks up on first, along with sound and scent – lay off the Lynx and other aftershaves because rabbits will smell you for sure, and bolt for cover way before you spot them.
I started to stalk around the plastic tubes, using them as cover as I went forward, searching for my first chance of the session. Some twenty minutes had passed with me seeing nothing at all, and i was getting frustrated, so i stopped and told myself, ‘Don’t panic, Nige. Just be happy that you’re out, enjoying the privilege of being here on this fine permission’. Air rifle hunting is not just about big bags of vermin. If i go out and bag, say, four rabbits, and they were outstanding shots, then that’s worth more to me than bagging 30 – plus rabbits – its about quality not quantity. I do well most of the time, though, usually.
At last my first chance presented itself and as I stalked around my tenth tube, a young rabbit was grazing unaware some twenty yards away. I dropped for a prone shot for this one because i was a bit worn out after stalking for about half an hour.
I settled my breathing and aimed i aimed just behind the Coney’s eye as i took up the first stage of the Ultimate Sporter’s trigger. Then i pressed through the sweet second stage, releasing my shot to its mark. Smack! The rabbit bowled over on its side with just a few final kicks, confirming a clean kill and the first of the evening in the bag. As i moved on i heard a chatter of a magpie in the distance; magpies are not easily stalked, so i thought I’d forget about that one. I was here for rabbits, so let’s get on with the job in hand. It wasn’t long before i spotted my next chance.
A rabbit was sitting some 35 yards away, and i decided to move closer using the cover of the hedgerow. My plan was to get behind a mound of soil to take the shot and if i made it to my destination, I was on for an easy 25 yarder. I managed to arrive undetected so i steadied my Bushnell’s cross hairs on the rabbits bonce, and let fly my pellet to its destination. Thwop! The shot was another good one, as the Coney rolled over, stone dead. The magpie i heard earlier had come closer, and landed on top of a plastic cover, about 40 yards away, but as there was no wind this evening i decided to take the shot.
I was just behind the dirt mound and that had given me enough cover so the magpie wasn’t aware of my position. I settled and aimed carefully, giving about an inch and a half for elevation. I released the shot and dinner – suited robber dropped like a bomb to the floor, stone dead. Yes! My excitement was escalating by now, and my adrenaline was rising for sure after that shot.
Moving on, i managed to stash another five rabbits to my game – bag, and then I spotted a wood-pigeon aloft in a tall oak tree. My Air Arms rifle made short work of the Woodie, adding it my tally, and after dropping that pigeon, another magpie turned up chattering like mad at the fallen wood pigeon, so i dropped it with a well placed shot to the head. My session was coming to a close and i managed to put another two rabbits to the bag before dark. Well, I’d done it again – yet another good session and I’d thought at the start that it was going to be one of those days.