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Not a birdie in sight!

PUBLISHED: 13:34 12 January 2012 | UPDATED: 09:53 23 April 2012

Lamp on, concentration total - rabbits ahead.

Lamp on, concentration total - rabbits ahead.

Copyright © 2010 Ian Harford

This month sees Team Wild tackling an age-old pest and probably our most sought-after quarry, the rabbit; the Latin for which, is ‘Oryctolagus cuniculus’ so Wildy informs me, and I’m pretty sure he must have Googled that one!

We've been carrying out pest control in its various forms for many years including pigeon, crow, fox and deer, to name but a few. However, the rabbit stays on our quarry list all year round.

As well as allowing us to provide a service to our local farmers and other landowners, rabbits do provide us with a small return as we sell some of them through Wildys butcher shop. I say return but really it sometimes pays for our diesel for the nights hunt and if we are really lucky it covers the cost of our Tuesday night fine dining at the local chippy.

More recently, we have a list as long as your arm of people wanting rabbits for themselves to cook and eat. This is great as I personally hate to see anything go to waste, and Im quite happy to paunch and prepare the rabbits for them.

On par for hunting

Golf is a good walk, spoiled, were the immortal words of Mark Twain, and Wildy and I couldnt agree more. We are more into rugby and cricket; watching them that is, not playing, although I must say that after many years of trying, Wildy is starting to get the hang of watching cricket.

Over four million golfers in the UK would disagree with us though and they play on nearly 7000 golf courses, most of which have one thing in common, the need for pest control. Figures from Natural England, the conservationist group, last year stated that rabbit vandalism (I love that term), costs somewhere in the region of 100 million to put right.

Rabbits and moles are the main enemy of the green keeper, although foxes and crows do crop up as a problem from time to time. This opens up a whole world of shooting for the avid airgun hunter should he or she be lucky enough to gain permission to shoot on a golf course.

Team Wild has permission on a local course and weve been shooting there for just over five years. Its a nice course but the area is a bit urban for our liking. Usually for rabbit control we would use my trusty old Rimfire Magic .22 in semi-auto, or Wildys .17hmr which are both devastating on rabbits, but on this particular course we have adopted an air rifle only policy. This means getting a bit more up-close and personal with our quarry, which we havent got a problem with.

Where theres a wheel

The first couple of times round the golf course we walked and lamped at night, this being our only option really as the golfers hit the course from daybreak to dusk, and Im not sure what they would think of two Realtree clad figures skulking around in the undergrowth bowling the odd rabbit over now and again! In my opinion, this type of work needs to be discreet.

We found that the rabbits were spooked more at night with us on foot rather than when we were trundling around in the pick-up, and we can only assume that they are so used to seeing and hearing buggies and lawnmowers that they dont recognise vehicles as a threat. So we now drive around the course sticking to the rough and being very wary of any damage to the fairways.

You lazy gits, I hear you call, but it works for us to go by vehicle as we cover over 100 miles on a Tuesday night and shoot over three farms and the golf course, so we would never get around it all if we went on foot.

This particular evening I rang the course owner to make sure it was OK to go and shoot. No problem, do your best, came the reply and all that was left to do then was grab the Daystate Huntsman, pack my kit into the truck, inform Wildy of a pick-up time, argue for five minutes on the phone over whose turn it was to pay for the chips, and then set off.

Police informants

I always ring the regional police switchboard when we shoot this particular golf course as its quite close to local houses. Many people see a red lamp shining and believe it to be poachers or someone else up to no good and give the boys in blue a tug; they in turn usually send out an armed response unit and if youre really lucky, like Wildy and me, theyll throw in a dog handling team for good measure.

A simple phone call usually has the switchboard ringing to see if it is me on the ground if anyone calls or complains. This works really well, as we have been known to be sitting in the pub on a Saturday night, obviously discussing the nights acts on X Factor, or which micro-celebritys been kicked out of the jungle, and the police switchboard has called to see if we are out lamping. We can let them know straight away that its not us and they then know to send out the boys to see what is going on.

It was a good dark night, no moon or stars, and a slight wind blowing, which meant it was perfect for lamping. As we drew up the private road to the gate we were excited to see what the night would bring. I pulled up at the gate and handed the key to Wildy who was gate bitch, ... er, sorry, gate attendant for the evening and off he went on his merry way to open up. Halfway there he stopped, crouched low and scuttled back to the truck. Theres one just 25 yards past the gate mate. We must have driven straight past it! came Wildys hushed tones as he scrabbled to get the rifle case open, eager to put his new Masterlite Supreme gun light from Clulite to use.

The curse of mixy

I could see the rabbit now and it seemed oblivious to Wildys stalk up to it and a clean shot to the base of its skull saw it jump in the air and give out a few kicks. The gun light worked a treat and projected a nice tight beam into the night and I thought to myself, what a good start to the evening, but I then saw the reaction on Wildys face when he held it to the headlights to give it the once-over and I knew the look wasnt good.

My instincts were right as Wildy confirmed it was full of myxomatosis and we both then knew that the night might not be as good as we expected. Myxomatosis is a viral disease transmitted by fleas. It was created in Brazil originally and introduced illegally into France in 1952 by a bacteriologist who wanted to rid his estate of rabbits. By 1953 it had reached the UK and wiped out nearly 90% of the rabbit population. Over the years however, the rabbit population began to overcome and withstand the virus and the numbers have risen again, but the warm summer and exceptionally mild weather of late had allowed the disease-carrying fleas to prosper.

In the beginning

We decided to take two runs round the golf course so we would both get a chance to shoot and I won the toss to get behind the scope first, the scope being my new MTC Genesis LR 5-20 x 50 from Daystate, which I had fitted to my Huntsman. I had scoped the gun down the range and was immediately impressed with the Genesis. It not only looked good but its easy to use and had a nice sharp view right up to x20 mag. Another cool feature of this scope is that it comes fitted with a pair of flip-up lens caps, which in my opinion is a smart move.

On top of the scope I was also running a Clulite Masterlite Supreme gun light and having never used a scope light before I was keen to see what it could do. The scope mount and torch clamp are really easy to put together straight out of the box and the optional pressure switch allows you to operate the lamp while in the aim position from the forestock of the gun. All thats left to do is to align the beam with your scope and youre ready to play!

Right, down to business, and with me sitting on the back we were off! We teed-off on Hole 6, a nice wide fairway with a small, recently planted copse that the rabbits love to visit. The first rabbit in the lamp just didnt want to know and kept hopping and hopping until he was safely out of range but the second wasnt so fidgety and presented a nice shot at around 35 yards, the crosshairs of the Genesis hovering steadily just behind the eye and squeeze; a clean kill and the first good rabbit was in the bag.

The next two or three rabbits we saw were just out of range and we noticed that the number of rabbits was not normal. Usually they are scattered all over the place but the golf course was lacking in numbers so far.

In the rough

We pressed on and a few rabbits dashed from the centre of the fairway and made for the wood, but not before running into the crosshairs and experiencing the accuracy of the Huntsman again. The Clulite worked its magic once more, as with the headlights off and stopping every now and again for a look, we managed to bag another two rabbits but made the mistake of driving past one to shoot the other and you guessed it ... when we went back to pick the other one, we couldnt find it.

We knew it was dead as it was a good clean head shot and bowled straight over with the pellet strike, but search as we might, we still couldnt find it.

I unscrewed the Clulite torch from its scope mount and searched in the area where I thought the rabbit might be and with a full 250 lumens lighting up the grass, we soon found the elusive rabbit, so we were loaded up and on the move again.

We swapped places and Wildy took position on the trucks new bench seat. Its a completely custom bespoke in-house design, which has raised more than a few eyebrows. Wildy had already categorically stated I aint getting on that!, but after seeing me bowl a few over he was itching to get on the back.

If this falls off with me on it Im holding you responsible, he quipped in his grumpy monotone. I got behind the wheel and set off up the field, grinning but at the same time hoping my contraption wasnt going to break loose. I have even less faith in my own handiwork than other people do!

Long shot

Lights off, we headed across a valley, sticking close to the rough ground and ensuring we left no tracks on the course. A rabbit bolted from the rough grass and headed out on to the fairway, presenting Wildy with a nice long shot. I didnt even hear the report of the Huntsman but saw the rabbit spin round and kick its legs, so I knew the little Rangemaster Li pellets placement was good.

The next rabbit was missed clean, via another long shot. and I shouted up to Wildy, I think thats the type of shot that the golfers refer to as a LOFT shot mate, I called up to the big lad.

Why? Do you mean a shot missed because of too much height he asked inquisitively.

Ha, Id got him. No, part of it stands for Lack Of Talent, and Ill let you work out the other bit, and even he saw the funny side of that one.

We continued on to the widest part of the course and there were rabbits galore, but all out of range of our guns. They would have been ideal for a rimfire shot if it hadnt been for the proximity of the buildings, but an FAC air rifle would do the trick. This is an area we will have to investigate for next time as we have witnessed first-hand our good friend Ian Harfords .25 Air Arms S510TC in action. Its 40ft.lbs. providing plenty of extra power but without being too punchy in terms of velocity.

We headed out on foot for a bit, but the rabbits didnt want to play. We did manage to stalk up and over a bank with rough grass that overlooked a putting green. A rabbit broke cover and ran from the long stuff over the green, but made the mistake of stopping to have a look at the strange white light following him. The .177 proving clinical at around 30 yards added another to the bag.

Back over to the other side we did the same and crept up over a bank to ambush the unsuspecting rabbits that had reappeared, thinking we had gone away as most of the golfers do. Surprise! Wildy drew a bead on a pair and took one on the green, and with a slight breeze blowing, the other rabbit didnt even stop chewing. It did though when Wildy squeezed the trigger and the satisfying sound of a strike rang out.

We now had nine rabbits in the bag and decided to call it a night. As we have said before, its not a numbers game with us. We do what feels right at the time and the fact that the rabbit population on the ground had been hit hard by myxomatosis meant we didnt have to take as many, so Wildy suggested we paunch the rabbits and head back to HQ for a debrief.

Oh, Ill hold the lamp while you do them mate, Ive forgotten my knife, Wildy announced.

Yeah right. Get stuck in, son, or youll be wearing rabbit guts for a necklace. Oddly, Wildy found his knife

Until next time, this is Keith signing out. Keep safe - and dunna miss! n

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