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Hardman's hunting: A warm welcome

PUBLISHED: 14:04 22 August 2017 | UPDATED: 14:04 22 August 2017

Breathing steadily, staying calm, and ready to slip the shot.

Breathing steadily, staying calm, and ready to slip the shot.

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Phil Hardman enjoys the rewards of a summer's evening moochabout

Summer – everyone likes it. We all look forward to it, every year. Most people think of garden barbecues or paddling pools, trips to the seaside, but not me. I think of long, lush green grass, light nights, and even lighter mornings and a bounty of hunting opportunities to enjoy. At the minute, there seems to be more quarry than I can deal with; rats in the yard are still causing problems, rabbits are now at the peak of their populations, woodpigeons have been breeding all spring and many thousands of young birds have joined the adult ranks and are getting ready to embark on their crop-devastating raids as we move toward harvest time.

I simply don’t have enough hours in the day to capitalise on all of the chances that are out there, but whatever, I am going to do my very best to enjoy it while it lasts. Remember all those hours spent out freezing in the winter, with very limited opportunities and not much to show for our efforts? Well this, right now, is our reward.

In an effort to take advantage of all these chances at once, I decided to have a proper walk out, taking in all the most productive areas of the land in one trip. No driving, no cheating, just good old legwork, like I used to do it, before I passed my driving test and got lazy. I’d start off in the farmyard, maybe bag a few rats, and then move into the small plantations that separate the yard from the rest of the land. After that, I’d hit the hedgerows and tree lines further out, perhaps bagging some rabbits as I went. For me, this is hunting in its purest form – just me, my little Weihrauch HW110, a pocketful of pellets, and that’s it.

A summer meadow - one of the finest sights in my hunting world.A summer meadow - one of the finest sights in my hunting world.

Optimistic

I parked up in the farmyard and took a long swig from my Pepsi bottle. It was getting on to early evening, dry and warm, maybe too warm really and travelling light meant that I wouldn’t have a drink with me, or anything else, so I made sure that I took on as much as I could in the way of fluids before I readied the rifle, filled the mag with .177 JSB Exacts, and slipped it into the breech.

I climbed out of my little Suzuki and closed the door as quietly as I could. A few woodpigeons clattered their way out of the trees as I did so, but mostly the area was still and mostly silent, except for the constant drone of the A1 as lorries and other traffic barrelled past in the distance. I started the short walk to the first gate in the yard that separates the farmhouse from the main yard and the cattle sheds. This is always the first place I pause because it offers a nice rest to shoot from and overlooks the first shed so provides the first real chance I will get, and more often than not, the first shot of the day.

On this occasion nothing stirred and I knew I was being slightly optimistic because it was still very early for rats, but with numbers like I have been seeing lately, I was betting that at least a few would be out and about during the day. I waited a few minutes, rifle at the ready, but decided not to dedicate too much time to this position, when the next corner I peered around might have concealed an easy chance. I didn’t open the gate for fear of making a noise, instead I slinked over it, and stalked silently through the yard, my eyes scanning every corner, every dark area and gap in the buildings, with the rifle ready to follow in an instant.

Suicidal rat

The second shed was the same as the first – empty – but the third contained a nice fat adult rat, sitting in some sort of daydream, not doing much of anything at all. As I lined up the shot, I couldn’t help but wonder how this fully grown, adult rat, could have made such a fatal error, sitting in the open seemingly oblivious to its surroundings and how much danger it was in. In a world where everything wants to kill you, you tend only to survive into adulthood if you’re really smart, but today, something had led this rat to meet its end as if it didn’t have a care in the world.

After moving its body to the fire heap I decided to leave the yard and move on to other species. I was in the mood to do some stalking, and let’s face it, 10-yard suicidal rats aren’t exactly a huge challenge.

First plantation

I entered the first plantation and scanned the treetops in search of woodpigeons as I slowly stalked from tree to tree. The plantation is long, maybe 300 yards, but it is only 15 or 20 yards wide, so despite my best efforts to concentrate on pigeons in the trees, I soon found myself distracted by rabbits in the paddock on the other side of the fence. I could see two adults sitting out in the short grass together, totally unaware of my movement through the trees to the fenceline that separated us. They were 25 yards out but with a fence so close to me, I really wanted to take them from a rested position, so I had to step over a few broken branches carefully to get to the fence post for the shot.

I settled in behind the scope and got ready. The rabbits were sitting together, face to face, so I figured I might get a chance at the pair, providing I was quick with the reload and got the second shot away before rabbit number two worked out what was going on. All of that rested on me making the first shot count, of course, and I made the mistake of getting carried away. I put so much thought into the second shot before I had even fired the first, that I forgot to take off the safety catch before I slipped the trigger. I swear, apart from the fact that nothing happening when I fired, that shot would have been perfect, had a pellet actually come out of the barrel. I am sure it would have bowled that rabbit over perfectly.

Thistles are a mixed blessing, for sure.Thistles are a mixed blessing, for sure.

Safety off!

After slipping the safety off, I instantly sent the pellet away, and spurred on by frustration at my rookie mistake I was more determined than ever to bag both those rabbits. The shot hit home with a loud crack, a rear leg poking into the air the only movement from the rabbit as it fell. The second rabbit ran five or so yards toward me then paused; it knew something was wrong and that it had to run, but I think it sensed me as I shuffled the sidelever on the rifle and, realising that it was heading toward the danger, it panicked and froze. I dropped the second, and instantly caught sight of a previously unseen third rabbit that had been tucked away behind a little patch of thistle. This little fella was a bit further out at about 35 yards, just poking its head out. I knew that it wasn’t going to run, being so young, so I calmly fed another pellet into the breech and took the shot, still resting on the same fence post as before. I collected my kills and moved out further across the fields.

Shadows

I saw many more rabbits over the next hour or so, but the length of the grass and the difficulty spotting them in the sea of yellow buttercups that cover great swathes of land at this time of year, meant that by the time I saw them they were already running for the safety of their warrens, more often than not. Whilst this was frustrating, I didn’t let it take anything away from what was, an absolute cracker of an evening. I kept on, winding my way along the hedgerows, over the hills and along the tree lines, silently keeping to the ever-expanding shadows as the sun dropped lower into the horizon. The first two rabbits were older individuals, and the third was a young kit, so I was on the look-out for a three-quarter grown one because I had promised I’d get one and cook it for my girlfriend’s daughter, and after almost a year I figured it was about time I delivered.

High thistles

I continued my search, eventually ending up on the opposite side of the permission, bordering the gardens of a small private estate. This border has a long patch of high thistles and nettles that run along the fenceline, which forces the rabbits to feed further out into the field, resulting in a short strip of grass about 10 yards wide that runs all the way along the boundary. I sneaked along, using the thistles as cover, and could see a few rabbits sitting out, feeding in the short grass ahead, mostly youngsters, but one stood out as looking like the perfect size for eating, so I decided that was my target.

Rabbits tend to have confidence in numbers, so if there are a few in the same area, feeding or whatever, they tend to be more relaxed than if there is only one or two. I used this to my advantage as I crept closer. The young kits were oblivious to my approach, and they kept the older one happy as I got into range. The stalk wasn’t particularly long, but the thistles made it anything but simple. I had to pick my route through them carefully – not only were they prickly, but they weren’t the quietest either. What they lacked in stealthy approach they made up for in cover, though, so I opted to take my shot from within the thick patch, even if it did mean kneeling on the sharp spines.

I soon had the first one in my crosshairs.I soon had the first one in my crosshairs.

Zero range

The target rabbit was 35 yards away, which is the range at which I zero my scope, so I felt supremely confident as I centred up the crosshair and took up the first stage of the HW100’s trigger. I added just a little more pressure, the rifle coughed into life and the pellet arcing out across the sky was clearly visible through the scope until it disappeared into the rabbit’s skull, leaving a slight puff of fur as it did so. The rabbit flipped into the air before crashing back to earth and lying motionless.

I gave myself a little pat on the back, collected my kill and headed back to the car. The first three rabbits will be going to my friend for his dogs, but I skinned and gutted the final one ready to take home, just as I had promised I would, albeit 12 months late. Still, better late than never, right?

Hunting the old-fashioned way, just like I used to do it.Hunting the old-fashioned way, just like I used to do it.

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