HARDMAN’S HUNTING: AN ESSENTIAL HUNT

PUBLISHED: 11:24 11 June 2020 | UPDATED: 11:28 11 June 2020

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Archant

Phil Hardman is called out of lockdown to help a farmer - even if it doesn’t feel right

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Lockdown has been in full effect in the UK for just over three weeks now, and at the time of writing, has just been extended for another three weeks. Things have become very serious, so let me take this chance, first of all, to wish all of our readers and their families the best at this difficult time. When the lockdown was first declared, I was unsure about whether or not I could still go out into the hunting field so I had a look on the BASC website, which states that essential pest control is still permitted, but was what I do essential? I figured that would be up to the landowner to decide, so after a quick phone call, I had it clarified. He deemed it essential and he’d checked with the local police who agreed with him, so it was.

He told me that the rabbit numbers had started to explode and his crops were under serious threat, so asked if I could head over ASAP to help protect them. I couldn’t take a photographer with me because of the rules on social distancing – we wouldn’t have been able to follow social distancing guidelines and still hunt effectively – so I had to go it alone, being the hunter and the photographer at the same time. I packed a Nikon DSLR into the game bag, and then my phone into my pocket, in case I needed to snap a photo quickly, without being seen and the phone was easier to get to. I tipped some pellets into my pocket, grabbed the Weihrauch HW100BP and headed out for an early evening stalk in the sunshine.

THE A GAME

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This hunting trip was different from most in that this wasn’t a leisurely stroll. Actually, it didn’t feel ‘right’ to be out here at all, but there was a job to be done. This wasn’t about me enjoying myself, or the countryside, although I always do; this was pure pest control, and it was my only reason for being out.

Killing rabbits suddenly had become far more than a hobby, or sport, it was ‘essential’. With that in mind, I had a much more serious, focused mindset as I got out of my car and loaded the rifle. Whilst being out in the fresh air was a welcome break from the stay-at-home lockdown I had become used to, I was here to do a job, so enjoying the sights and sounds would have to take a back seat – I had to bring my A game today.

DISCRETION

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I parked near a private housing estate at the far end of the permission and made my way around it to the first field. I had seen a few young rabbits as I pulled up and despite the people who live here being extremely friendly and supportive of what I do, I was reluctant to shoot juvenile rabbits in full view of the houses, so instead I crept slowly around the wall that separates the houses from the first field, and out of view.

The young rabbits moved around ahead of me, running and then pausing, before scampering a few more yards, and then pausing again. I stayed low and slow, tucked in against the wall, and using the overhanging trees as cover as I followed them around the corner, waiting to get a better view of the big picture before I struck.

PRIORITIES

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I had decided to prioritise adult rabbits, simply because they are more wary, and take longer to resurface after going underground. A shot at a young rabbit that scares an adult might mean that I never get the chance at the adult again, whereas with a shot that kills an adult, the kits would be back out a lot sooner, when I could try to get them too.

As I rounded the corner, I knelt to have a good look around and I could see several kits sitting out in the open on a small patch of short grass; the closest was about 20 yards from me, the furthest about 35 yards, and none had any idea I was there. I looked into the field behind them, through the gap where the large gate is, and saw a fully grown adult rabbit sitting feeding at 40 yards, and made the decision to go for that one first.

SUPREMELY CONFIDENT

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There was very little breeze, and with the ATN ABL laser and ATN X sight ballistic computer doing its magic, I was supremely confident as I lined up the scope’s reticle, and squeezed off the shot. The pellet flew over the kits, sending them fleeing as it zipped past and smashed into the target rabbit’s skull. The loud, sharp crack that followed told me that I had hit my mark exactly, and the rabbit just slumped forward, no kicking, no fuss. I worked the sidelever on the rifle to feed another pellet into the mag’ and immediately looked for another target, hoping that a kit had decided to pause at the edge of the bushes, but I didn’t see any, so I slowly got to my feet to make the retrieve.

STANDING SHOT

I must have only taken half a dozen steps, when I caught sight of a pair of ears sitting just behind the fence that ran alongside me. I raised the rifle, focused the scope and hit the laser button to take the range – 11 yards – and because I could only just see the rabbit’s head above the lower fence post, it had to be a standing shot.

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When I take these shots, I find it helps to tell myself ‘it’s a rat shot’ as I take aim. I have taken sub-15-yard standing headshots on rats countless times over the years, they’re probably the most common rat shot I take, so I have become exceptionally good at them.

TIMELY REMINDER

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A rat’s brain is such a tiny target, so it makes me that much more confident if I quickly remind myself that I can do this with consistent accuracy in the dark of a farmyard, after a long and busy session when I’m tired, so a larger target like a rabbit, when I’m box fresh, is a doddle. That might sound almost cocky, but I find confidence counts for a lot in the field, and believing in your own abilities is a massive thing when you’re about to pull the trigger on a live animal. If I didn’t have such belief, I wouldn’t fire the shot, simple.

As it turned out, I did, and hit my mark perfectly, the rabbit dropped and disappeared from view instantly, but the sound told me it was a good solid hit. I went over to pick it up, and saw a huge rabbit hole, but no rabbit, so I stuck my hand down the hole and soon felt it, and pulled it out and stuffed it into my game bag, where it was joined by the adult I had shot a couple of minutes before.

EERIE FEELING

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I moved on deeper into the permission in search of more kills. The countryside was silent, not even the usual hum of traffic could be heard from the nearby roads, which lent an eerie feeling to the place as the sun slowly went down and the light faded. There were plenty of rabbits around – the farmer hadn’t been exaggerating when he said it was vital that I continued to control their numbers. Many were young, but a rabbit is a rabbit, so I targeted them just as readily as the adults. Usually, I try to avoid shooting them when they’re sitting on top of a warren, because they tend to fall down the holes, but today I didn’t have the luxury of being picky, and actually lost three this way.

They were all very young, sitting in the same area, and I had walked up close, about 10 to 15 yards from the first two, which I very quickly dispatched. The third was further back, 27 yards, and I nailed that too, but I knew there was a chance I wouldn’t be able to retrieve them. Today, killing them was more important than having them in the bag at the end – pure pest control.

LAST OF THE SUN

I walked the hedge that separates a crop field from a horse paddock, and I could see a number of rabbits at the top of the field, so I used the shadow of the hedge to conceal my approach. I could see a fairly decent-sized adult, and a couple of three-quarter grown rabbits on the small bank in the bushes, and about a half dozen kits out in the grass enjoying the last of the sun as it slowly sank below the horizon.

I stalked as close as I dared, waiting until the first rabbits reacted by pausing and sitting up on their hind legs, before I stopped, and slowly got down onto my knees. I remained motionless for a couple of minutes, luring the bunnies into a false sense of security before I gingerly settled in a seated position and got myself comfortable for the shot.

I was about 37 yards from the furthest rabbit, and a mere 20 yards from the closest, with plenty of targets to choose from. I decided to go for an adult rabbit at the back of the group, nearest the warrens, figuring the closer ones might run to the bushes and pause on hearing the sound of the rifle, and I could perhaps get a second shot off before they really knew what was going on.

NO MESSING

My chosen target was sitting on the dirt bank under a hawthorn hedge, just below the warren. It was dead on 35 yards, completely oblivious to any danger as I took aim and squeezed the trigger. The sitting stance is perhaps my very favourite to shoot from, it’s just so stable and comfortable, and I knew this rabbit was going in the bag as I took up the trigger’s first stage, and then squeezed further, sending the pellet on its way. The sun behind me illuminated the little .177 pellet up as it arced its way to the target, and I literally saw the pellet strike the rabbit just behind its eye as I followed the shot through.

The rabbit tumbled down the dirt bank as I reloaded the rifle and got back behind the scope, this time finding a three-quarter grown bunny that seemed oblivious to what had just happened. I lined up the ATN’s green reticle and took the range with the laser rangefinder – 15 yards it was, just sitting there, relaxed and unaware. I didn’t mess around; at this distance it was a formality, and it was soon down, kicking its last in the grass.

HEAVY GAME BAG

I picked up the two rabbits and continued on my way. I am sure more would have come out if I had waited, but I wanted to cover more ground to see if this sudden boom in the population was happening all across the land, or if it was restricted to this one area.

By now, my game bag was pretty heavy which slowed things down as I tried to keep my breathing and heart rate slow enough to take any shots that might present themselves with little or no notice, and I did manage to bag a few more kits as I stalked my way round the land.

All in all, I killed nine rabbits across this session, but I lost four kits that were 100% headshot, dead on-the-spot shots. I even have them on video and have reviewed the footage through the scope to confirm, but all four kicked their way down the warrens and out of reach. Under normal circumstances, I’d leave those shots and wait until the rabbits moved further away from the holes, but I didn’t have that luxury today, and besides, I was still very happy with the five I did put in the bag! This hunt didn’t feel ‘right’ but it felt necessary, and I guess that’s what counts, and I’ll be doing my bit to help the farmer whenever I’m able. That’s it from me for this month. Stay safe everybody.

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