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Mick Garvey relays a night spent rabbiting on one of his permissions, with tips and tricks for safe and effective rabbit hunting included!
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Before I start with this article I have to say congratulations to Air Arms for winning the air rifle of the year award and to Hawke Optics for two awards; best scope under £1,000, and best scope over £1,000. I feel extremely privileged to be connected with these great companies, and the teams behind the scenes truly deserve these awards for their never-ending hard work in our industry.
I have known Mr & Mrs B for a couple of years, since I was alerted to a grey squirrel sighting on their planation. The grey was dealt with after installing a couple of feeders and cameras, and a few weeks after the dispatch, it was great to see the return of a red squirrel to the garden. No more greys have been reported or seen, although the red doesn’t appear as often as we would have liked, but it’s still early days and the surrounding areas have a good number of reds, so we’re hoping that they’ll return full time.
There is a very sad story to be told here and it’s not for these pages, but suffice to say, Mr B is no longer with us and although we only met a handful of times I miss him and his enthusiasm for the red squirrel conservation. There is a memorial tree within the planation area and I always say ‘hi’ to the tree when I’m there.
The small-holding is part of my regular tour of the area and I always make time to chat with Mrs B, and to offer my help if she needs anything. I once had to reinstate the electrical supply to the lounge area after a slight mishap, and I felt like a good Samaritan that day, but no thanks were needed because I was just happy to help.
The conversation changed to how the squirreling was going in the area, and she then asked if I would be able to help with a rabbit problem. There was a couple of fields that belonged to the property and these were all surrounded by grazing fields that now held sheep ready for lambing. and the rabbits were coming on to the smallholding from these fields. The damage being done to the saplings and garden area is quite extensive, and a worry, especially if the memorial tree ends up being a target for the rabbits. The rabbits had also started to burrow under a new outbuilding, which could possibly end up undermining the foundations, but I had taken care of this previously and they hadn’t returned – yet.
I hadn’t seen a large number of rabbits either, by eye or on the trail cams, but they were there, although not in huge numbers like on some of my other permissions. It does go to show how much damage can be created by just a handful of these furry pests.
I told Mrs B that I would be up that week and I’d text her on the day, but before leaving I checked the feeders and camera. One feeder was completely empty and had muddy paw prints on the inside of the Perspex front, but the camera was facing down, so something had sat on it and caused it to move. The images were all of the ground, but one pic showed what I am sure was the end of a red squirrel’s tail and if that was the case then we’d know soon.
The plan of attack was quite a loose one. I’d be using the trusty FAC FX Wildcat Mk2 in .25 because I planned on taking shots from the plantation out into the field, which was 90 yards wide at its narrowest, and around 110 yards at its widest. The added power should give me the opportunity to take longer shots without having to try to close the distance by entering the field and giving away my position and having them disappear into the adjoining fields.
The scope was the excellent TD50L digital day/night scope from InfiRay, combined with the equally impressive A51IR infra-red torch from Wicked Lights – this has the 940, 850 and red LEDs, and is easily changed by the simple turn of a dial. Pellets, as always with the Wildcat, are the 25g Air Arms Diablos, and spotting is taken care of by the market-leading FH35R finder, again from InfiRay, and keeping everything silent is the truly awesome Ronin moderator from my good friend Donny FL.
The roads into and around this little hamlet are very dark, with no street lighting to speak of, and once on the property, the available light is even less. It was a cloudy night, the moon trying its hardest to break through, but with little success, and the temperature was under freezing – maybe -1º to -2ºC – with a forecast of a little snow and a very slight breeze, which I was hoping to use in my favour if I did need to get into the field, and I parked up away from the security lights so I could pop back to the truck for a hot drink without lighting up the area. I secured the ‘Warcat’ to the KJI tripod because the surrounding boundary had either electric fencing or barbed wire on top, so there was no stable support available.
I have had many a conversation with other shooters about how thermal spotting has a lack of depth perception, so it can flatten everything out and some find it hard to gauge distances. Knowing your land is a great way, but still doesn’t give you a realistic distance without identified landmarks, such as mounds of earth, trees or even rocks. A built-in laser rangefinder (LRF) takes all the guesswork out of the equation and is a real asset for any hunter. It is easy to fall into the trap of mistakenly thinking a small target, such as a young rabbit, is further away than you think. I’ve done this numerous times when squirrelling; spotting a heat source that looks like a squirrel, only to find out that it’s a small bird close up. As always, never squeeze that trigger unless you are 100% certain of what you are looking at.
As if to prove a point, the first thing I spotted that evening was a decent-sized rabbit within the trees in the plantation. It was a clear view with a perfect thermal image, but the LRF was saying 20 yards. I guessed it was probably picking up on some twiglet between us, and with this in mind, I opted to leave the shot because hitting the twiglet could result in a ricochet. As I made my way toward this heat source and was almost on top of it , the rabbit ran out. It was indeed a young ‘un, probably less than 6” long, but it’ll be there for next time with a bit more size to it.
I passed by the memorial tree, gave it a respectful nod and made my way to the fence line. The field lit up with heat signatures, but not from rabbits … sheep! There were a few rabbits sitting out, and I gave it 30 minutes for them to make a move, for a safer shot. They were soon at it, chasing each other around, but still over 90 yards away.
Another heat source made itself known on the other side of the hawthorn hedge and this time, not a sheep or a rabbit, but a fox. I gave it a squeak to see if it would respond, but it looked like it was on a mission and carried on trotting by, heading toward the lambing fields. I made a mental note to call in on the neighbouring farm to pass on the info.
On a positive note, the rabbits were now on the move and heading my way – was it because of the fox, or was it the squeak? I’ve squeaked rabbits many times to get their heads up, and even to get them moving, but these were all heading my way – well, all three of them – coming to a halt at 50 yards. It was time to send out some Diablos. The tripod gives an awesome, stable support for these field shots, and the first bunny of the night was down with minimum fuss.
The other two were still around, but one was edging toward the fallen one. I watched its response to the lifeless body, and it jumped on it as if to wake it up, backed off then did it again. I’ve seen this with squirrels and similar with rabbits, but not to this extent. I decided that taking the third one whilst this one played around was a good idea, although this one kicked a little more and I hoped it hadn’t disturbed its compatriot. It hadn’t, and the third
shot took it out clean.
Another hour passed and the only thing that had appeared was a hare; we don’t shoot hares, and besides, it was a Sunday. Leaving the three rabbits out in the field, I moved back toward the truck and a hot drink. I now had a clear thermal view of the full length of the field, and way over to the neighbouring farms. The fox appeared on the horizon of the lambing field. It was still trotting and went right by the lambs, which was worrying! Had it just been fed? I really must contact the farm tomorrow.
The temperature dropped another couple of degrees and a slight snow started, which seemed to stimulate the rabbits, and another handful came into the field. They were too far away for any shot, but I could get to them by moving alongside the high hawthorn hedge.
With the gun and tripod over my shoulder, I got to within 70 yards, and with a little holdover I schwacked another. At this stage, I have to say this Wildcat Mk2 is like a laser – it just doesn’t want to miss! Four in the bag and the weather was getting worse – it never sems to bother the rabbits, though, and as I headed toward the first three, I took another that had been clamped down in the grass. The elevated position from the tripod overcomes this issue easily, and the target just rolled over and was feet up on retrieval.
Five now, and I was ready to call it a day when another scan revealed two rabbits by the memorial tree. I just had to get these taken out. The fence hid my movement forward beautifully, and setting down the tripod quietly was the only problem I faced. It was closer than I’d thought, and face on, too, but the shot was good and down it went. The second rabbit looked familiar and must have been the young ‘un from earlier. I had the crosshair on it and fingered the trigger … and then thought better of it – next time, pal!
I was happy with the six and stashed them all into the rucksack. They were all good sized, and I could feel the strain on the straps. A welcoming party was awaiting me at the truck; another rabbit sat under a tree by a log pile, but the TD50L was still turned on, as was the Wicked Lights torch, so the eye illuminated like a star and a through-and-through shot had it jumping a few times before coming to a halt.
It had been a great evening and Mrs B was over the moon. I called to see the local farmer about the fox, and spoke to his wife. She asked for my card and promised to be back in touch, so there might be another rabbiting and foxing permission … I hope so.
If you want to support the red squirrel conservation work or just want to know more, then please check out our website
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