Phil Hardman: Catching up on ratting duties with new gear
PUBLISHED: 15:53 17 July 2019 | UPDATED: 15:53 17 July 2019
Phil Hardman tries out his new hunting gear – and catches up on his ratting duties
It's been like Christmas in the Hardman household this month. The kind folks at Jack Pyke sent me a parcel with the latest English Oak Evolution pattern clothing, and a few other bits and bobs to try. I must admit I'm a sucker for a nice camo pattern. I have a bit of a fascination with them, and camouflage techniques as a whole, so testing out a new pattern is always fun and interesting for me, and that's what I have been doing for the past couple of weeks.
The pattern is all new, but the clothing itself is basically the same as I have been wearing for years, which is no bad thing. I have had no problems with The Hunter jacket and pants, which is a firm favourite of mine for colder weather, so it was like slipping on my favourite pair of slippers as I got ready to head out in it for the first time.
I also received some lightweight jackets and T-shirts for when the weather warms up, and the new Tundra II Evo boots, which I must admit, are my favourite bit of kit by far. I love camo boots, and they look gorgeous in the new pattern. Speaking of the pattern, I must say, first impressions are great. They have kept true to the original English oak by using native foliage from English woodland, and oak is in the name, so as you'd expect, it features heavily in the pattern, with high-definition leaves of green and brown over the top of areas of bark, and branches, spaced with lighter areas of larger pale greenish greys with darker shadows of branches giving depth to the pattern.
You can really see the 3D effect this achieves, making it very pleasing on the eye. The old English oak was very orange, which was perfect for autumn and winter, but I'm pleased to see they have moved to a lighter overall colour of browns and greens and even greys, which will make it much more effective all year round.
I decided to put it through its paces with a mix of woodland stalking and some more open hedgerows, because no matter how much I like it, it needs to work against all manner of quarry, and in many different areas. I parked at the far end of the farm drive and climbed into the small strip wood that runs up to the farmyard. This area is great for both woodpigeons, and increasingly, rabbits lately. My first-ever rabbit kills, were in woods, and although I love stalking them out in the open fields, there's something special about hunting them in woodland; it takes me back to where it all began.
I started slowly making my way through the trees, my eyes scanning from the bottom, to the top of every tree, listening intently for any rustling in the vicinity. Unlike rabbit stalking in the open countryside, which predominantly relies on you seeing them early, woodland hunting is more about hearing them as they hop through years of dead leaves and twigs, brushing against small branches and generally rustle their way around. It's a whole different type of rabbit hunting, and with ranges tending to be short, it can be extremely exciting when you hear one, but can't yet see it through the thick ground cover.
My first chance wasn't a rabbit, though. It was a woodpigeon that came in as part of a group and landed in the trees 30 yards ahead. They instantly started pecking at the buds on the tips of the branches as I first froze and then set about trying to find a gap through the twigs to thread the shot. I knelt behind the trunk of a tree, lined up the scope, and once happy that my shot had a clear path to target, I fired. The pellet zipped through the trees and found its mark, and a small puff of feathers like grey dust signalled success as the bird's head caught the impact. The rest of the birds reacted instantly, exploding from the trees in all directions, my chosen target plummeting downward to the woodland floor with a thump.
I picked up the fallen bird and moved on, weaving slowly between the trees, careful not to step on any twigs or leaves that would send out a signal to nearby animals, giving my position away. I must have only gone 70 or so yards when I caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye, a rabbit! It was moving from the field on my left, into the wood, heading right, low and slow through the undergrowth 40 yards ahead. It had obviously sensed my approach and was moving to cover, but I was sure it wasn't completely aware of me, or exactly where I was, so I knelt at the base of a small tree, using a small pile of branches as cover and to rest the rifle as I tracked the rabbit through the scope. It moved a few yards then paused, each time my shot blocked by a branch or patch of twigs. Frustratingly, I watched as it moved, only to pause once more behind a small branch. I could see the entire rabbit, clear as day, except the part between its ear and eye, my aim point. I held fast, watching, waiting. The rabbit moved again, and this time I had a clear shot. The HW100 barked quietly as I launched the shot, the muted sound paling into insignificance compared to the loud crack from the impact of the pellet as it echoed through the trees.
I made my way onward, eventually arriving at the end of the wood, and into the farmyard. I always have a little look round the farm buildings while I am here, but as I approached I saw the farmer was busy working in the yard, so I wasn't expecting much action. Still, I peeked into the main barn, and was stopped dead in my tracks by what I saw. Rats, four of them, just sitting there, out in the open and feeding on the loose bits of spilled grain. This wasn't early morning, it was a quarter to five in the afternoon! I'd never seen this before. I have shot the odd one in daylight in midsummer, but not a group of them, seemingly without a care in the world.
I dropped one almost instantly, a 15-yard headshot rolling it onto its side as the others scarpered sharpish. I remember thinking how embarrassed I was to see that I had let things get this bad. I hadn't been out as much over the back end of last year and it was obvious. Keeping vermin under control was my job, it's what I do, and have done on this farm for over 20 years. I also noticed the grain, usually piled up in the open, was now bagged up, and I knew that was a sign that things had become bad. I stayed put, waiting for more rats to come out, and they did, not in huge numbers, but regularly enough to keep me busy for an hour. After putting a small dent in them, taking just under a dozen, I decided to check the rest of the yard, round the back of the buildings.
No way challenging
I stalked silently down the small gap between the barns and heard a few squeaks here and there, but it was a rabbit that I eventually saw, not a rat. I spotted it sitting low in the grass at the very back fence of the yard. It had seen me, but I guess it thought I was the farmer because instead of running it tried to hide, hunkering down. I took a side step to the left to put a pallet of bricks between us, and crept closer knowing that I couldn't be seen. When I reached the bricks, I slide the rifle slowly over the top, and then rose up from a crouch, resting the gun and slipping my eye in behind the scope. At 15 yards the shot was in no way challenging, but it still felt good to get another bunny in the bag.
I stopped to chat to the farmer before heading home, assuring him that I would take care of the rats as a priority. In fact ,since writing this, I have been out twice already and started to put a decent dent in the numbers, and I won't stop until they're under control.
We're extremely lucky to get permission, and I know that if I don't do my job properly, someone else will come along who will. That's it from me for this month. Fingers crossed, my new rifle should be here in time for next month's issue. Here's hoping!
Read more from Phil Hardman…
Planning his shooting year ahead
Hunting in the real world
Advice on hunting at night