Let’s get this straight
PUBLISHED: 16:10 14 August 2013 | UPDATED: 16:10 14 August 2013
Lamping is the most productive hunting method of all as Phill price describes
The humble rabbit is now, and always has been, the mainstay of the British airgunner, with its huge population and the fact that it makes good eating, it’s the quarry we all love to go after. Farmers and other landowners can’t stand them and welcome help with keeping their numbers down. As much as I love stalking them in daylight, it has to be said that summer and autumn lamping expeditions are the way to cull big numbers in the minimum time. A wise hunter can make some impressive bags and shooting with a partner from a 4x4, I’ve been out on hunts when we’ve shot over 150 in one night. Of course, this was under exceptional circumstances, but the fact remains, lamping is the most productive way to cull pests and put meat in the freezer.
Despite of, or perhaps because of its popularity, there are many incorrect assumptions about lamping that are passed around the shooting community, so we thought it was time for a proper round-up of what equipment you really need and the techniques involved. Get to know the land before you even think about going lamping, make sure you know the land like the back of your hand. You must know where every house, building, path, road and livestock animal can be found to ensure that each shot you fire is safe. Never shoot into the darkness hoping that everything will be okay. Responsibility for safety starts and stops with you and there can be no exceptions.
Let’s look at the lamp itself. Many people work on ‘the more light the better’ principle, and buy lamps suitable for shooting foxes at 300 yards when they’re going to target rabbits at 30 yards. These mega-systems are expensive, bulky and usually heavy too, so why not use a compact, lightweight unit which can often be easily mounted on your scope without affecting the balance of the rifle much. I’ve noticed that when I’ve tested unnecessarily powerful lamps, the sheer brightness of the system will dazzle the rabbits into bolting when just enough power to let me find them will often reveal them sitting still long enough to make a telling shot.
My preference is for scope-mounted torch-type (flashlight) systems which weigh almost nothing yet have more than enough for airgun distances. Many now come in a kit with a mount, remote switch and filters and are, in my opinion, the ultimate airgun lamps. Deben, Cluson and Fenix offer excellent set-ups which I’ve tried and can vouch for. They’re not even that expensive these days and the quality is first class. On the subject of filters, many people swear by them but I’m not so sure that they make that much of a difference. I suspect that a lamp-shy rabbit would run if you struck a match and the benefit of most filters is that they simply reduce the lamp’s output which then startles the rabbit less. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I’ve tried them all, including some kits that were supposed to be invisible to rabbits, yet I’ve still seen them scatter as the lamp went on.
It’s my belief that it’s how you use the lamp rather than what colour it is that makes the difference. A great little tip that our own Steve Newton gave us recently was always to start your search at the hedge line and then work out into the field, rather than the other way around. This discourages the rabbits from heading for home, giving us more time to shoot. This simple yet brilliant technique works very well indeed and comes from Steve’s huge experience as a gamekeeper, not from some armchair expert. He also recommends placing the brightest part of the beam in front of the rabbit rather than shine it in the eye because this also encourages them to sit rather than bolt.
As with all shooting trips, good preparation is vital. Start by charging batteries fully for everything, as well as any spares you plan to take. Then fit everything together checking that you have all the leads, mounts clips and any other parts needed. Next, if your lamp mounts on the rifle, test fire it to ensure that the combination is properly zeroed. Any recoiling gun will be affected by the weight and you can be pretty sure the zero will have changed.
Then think about other equipment such as clothing and boots. Camouflage is less important at night for obvious reasons but it’s a good idea to wear clothing you’re familiar with so you know you’ll be comfortable. Thin layers are better than one big coat because the evening might be warm, but as the night wears on the temperature can fall and you can get quite chilly. Conversely, if you’re covering rough ground with a rucksack full of rabbits you might get very hot and be glad to take off a layer.
Boots are another very important consideration. They should be supportive and comfortable because they’re the foundation of every shot. They also need good grip and should be waterproof. This sounds daft on a warm, sunny day but as darkness descends, temperatures drop and the dew that forms on the grass will soak your feet in no time. It’s better to start off a little warm than end up with cold, wet feet all night. I find lightweight modern synthetic boots with a Gore-Tex lining to be the best.
As much as I like to travel light, I have a list of items that are vital to success and to turning rabbits into meals. In the car, I always take my dive bottle just in case the night turns out to be a special one and I need more air for my PCP. In my pocket, I carry spare mags’ and a small tub which is lined with foam to carry extra pellets which have been hand-selected and lubricated in advance. I seldom need them but I like to know they’re there in case there are lots of rabbits on offer.
To carry rabbits I find that a small rucksack is by far the best choice because it spreads the weight evenly across your shoulders minimising fatigue. I always use a rifle sling for the same reason. In the rucksack I carry a small, sharp knife, a head torch, disposable gloves and a small first-aid kit. Each of these is as light a model as I can find. Once you’ve used a good head torch you’ll wonder how you ever managed without one. Every task becomes far easier when you can see clearly and you have your hands free. Filling magazines, gutting rabbits and loading the car all become as easy as they are in daylight.
Another area where the head torch is ideal is searching for shot rabbits. This might sound easy and sometimes it is, but when the grass gets more than a couple of inches long, a downed rabbit can be a difficult thing to find. More times than I care to remember I’ve wandered around and around convinced that I was looking in the right area when in fact I was a few metres off. A modern head torch with a powerful beam is a huge help and a big time saver. The better ones have a choice of output levels and some even have a choice of light colour. My current favourite comes on with a low red light that’s gentle on your night vision allowing you to select brighter outputs as you choose.
My preferred method of lamping is to hunt as a two-man team. Apart from the pleasure of enjoying the hunt with a pal, splitting the work between you makes it far less tiring. If you’ve ever carried a rucksack containing ten rabbits for long, you’ll know it’s pretty hard work and if you add the weight of a rifle and lamp to that it only gets worse. If the lamp man carries the rucksack and the other one shoots, his accuracy will be better too. I like to make a plan that means we take turns to shoot which is most fair. This, of course, assumes that you can both shoot the one rifle, but it usually works out okay. The most important part of having a friend with you is in case of an accident. We’ve all tripped over, or put a foot down a rabbit hole, so don’t think it won’t happen to you.
A technique that I learned a long time ago is that when you go to look for a shot rabbit, the lamp man should stay still while you search. This makes it much easier to keep your reference point by holding the lamp on the spot where the rabbit was shot. If you shoot on public areas like golf courses, it’s very important to collect every rabbit shot no matter how much time you need to spend. Joe Public doesn’t like to find dead rabbits on their putting green and the landowner won’t be happy if he gets complaints from his customers.
Almost any type of rifle will work for lamping but, of course, the one you’re most accurate with will always be best. I prefer a mid-weight, pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) because that’s what I shoot best and I value the multi-shot, magazine-fed action too. Fumbling with pellets in the dark when you’re tired isn’t great, but a quick flick of a bolt action is easy and positive. However, remember many multi-shot rifles will continue to cycle on an empty magazine, so you need to keep track of how many shots are left in the mag’. In fact, in my Air Arms S410 I had a grub screw threaded into one chamber of the magazines so that when I’m out of pellets I know it. I’ve pulled the trigger on nothing but air far too many times, I’m embarrassed to say!
When it comes to scopes, I like a mid-size variable such as a 4-12 x 40 with an illuminated reticle. These give versatility without being too heavy and the illuminated reticle can make the difference between a kill and a miss in tricky light conditions. I also prefer a simple reticle over a complex one because you need to shoot quickly and decisively. At night I never take long shots anyway, so the added aiming points aren’t needed. On the subject of range, most people find that targets look much further away than they are under lamplight, so it’s a great idea to pace out every shot you take because this helps you to learn what each distance looks like at night.
Fully kitted practice
I find that the kneeling position is the one I use most so it’s well worth practising it with everything you’ll use when lamping. Set up the rifle with the lamp, put on your shooting clothes and boots, plus the rucksack and get some shots downrange at a paper target and see how you get on. Kneeling is massively more stable than standing but still gives you some height to see over the summer grass. It’s also quick to get into which can be important with twitchy conies. However, it does place some extra strain on your leg muscles that they might not be used to and practice can help. A long night lamping can be amazingly tiring so it well worth getting some extra exercise in the weeks leading up to the summer to be fit for the job.
Once you have your rabbit you want it to cool as quickly as possible and jamming it into a rucksack against other rabbits doesn’t allow this so the meat can be spoilt. If the route of your hunt allows, it’s always best to hang the rabbits from a fence or a tree to cool and then collect them on your way back.
If the land is large and the owner is happy, shooting from a 4x4 is the ultimate way to harvest rabbits. Your legs won’t be nearly as tired and your back won’t complain because the vehicle can do all the work. If you plan well, a large plastic tray will allow rabbits to be spread out to cool and you won’t need to worry about flat batteries because you’ll have 12-volt power on tap. However, be sure that you don’t damage the ground in wet conditions especially on places like golf courses.
If you arrive by car to hunt on foot, always agree with the landowner where you’ll leave it and let him have your registration number. Most landowners insist on being advised when you’ll be on their land and a quick phone call to them should be followed by a call to your local police, telling them who you are and what you’ll be doing. The police in my area appreciate this and have always thanked me for letting them know because it saves them coming out unnecessarily if a member of the public reports seeing lights in the night. I always keep my mobile phone to hand in case they need to call me as the night goes on, or heaven forbid, I should have an accident and need help.
For me, lamping is the cream of the year’s airgun sport and a great way of filling the freezer while keeping landowners happy, which in turn ensures that I’ll be welcomed back and that’s what we all want, isn’t it?