Rabbit hunting: controlling the myxi menace

PUBLISHED: 12:08 21 October 2016 | UPDATED: 12:08 21 October 2016

From a supported position I have total faith in my shot placement

From a supported position I have total faith in my shot placement

Archant

Eddie Jones does the right thing by some diseased rabbits

I was having a great day at the farm until I spotted the signs of myxiI was having a great day at the farm until I spotted the signs of myxi

Recently, I’d been shooting rabbits on a farm I had left for quite some time. I was having a great day and a bumper bag was certainly on the cards. I was in high spirits, but that was undone by one rabbit. I’m sure many readers have experienced this at some point in their shooting career.

I noticed a few scabs on this rabbit as I viewed it through the scope. You always hope it’s not myxi, but once shot and the head is inspected, my fears were confirmed. It was strange I hadn’t seen myxi on any of the rabbits I had shot on the same field, so I hoped it hadn’t yet spread on the ground and this was an isolated case.

Keep on keeping on

I carried on with the stalk around the field and again, I was spooking rabbits in the tall grass and nettles that were hard to see. I had come to another part where I could sneak up on anything feeding, and the nettles and hawthorn gave me good cover as I reached the point where I needed to be. Slowly, I stood up to look ahead to find any feeding rabbits and I could see at least three sets of ears amongst the thistles.

I prefer not to shoot offhand, but at short range it's okI prefer not to shoot offhand, but at short range it's ok

But as I looked through the scope again, I noticed scabs around the ears of at least one of the three, maybe two. Wasting no time, I dispatched the one I was sure had myxi, and one of the other two remaining rabbits bolted back in the hedge – the other was not sure what to do. As I was sighting this one up through the Hawke scope, I could see it had myxi, but was not so bad. I was sure this one was getting over the disease as its eyes looked like they had healed. I quickly shot the rabbit cleanly just behind the eye and set off to retrieve them.

Post mortem

I checked both rabbits and it was clear one had started to get over the myxi. Most of the scabs around its ears had fallen off and were certainly healed. Its eyes were open too, so it was a good sign that many on the ground could be in the same stage of getting better.

The other rabbit was not so lucky. Its eyes were full of pus, it was thin and would not have survived much longer – buzzard food, for sure. It amazes me how some rabbits can get over this but not others.

I prefer to pick them up as I goI prefer to pick them up as I go

I had now come to the end of this field and headed toward the paddocks to see if the farmer’s ‘hundreds’ were, in fact, a myth, and he was counting tails rather than bodies. I could see five paddocks from where I was positioned, and as I looked through the scope I counted at least 30 rabbits out feeding. Normally, I would be feeling like a kid in a candy shop, but all I could think of was how many of these had contracted the awful myxi virus.

I headed to the first paddock, but there wasn’t a lot of cover to get within shooting distance. We have a few rails alongside some of the paddocks, but it is mainly wire and tape surrounding the rest. The first paddock wasn’t too bad because I had a small nettle and thistle patch to keep my body behind as I got near the gate. Slowly getting into position so as not to make any noise, I scanned the field in front for rabbits. I counted at least seven rabbits feeding along the hedge that splits two paddocks, ranging from 30 to 60 yards away.

Long-ranger

I knew I would quite easily be able to shoot anything up to 40 yards as there was no wind blowing here, and my aim point would only need a small adjustment for distance. I was resting on one of the rails and sitting quite comfortably. I had taken a good look at all the rabbits out in this paddock, and out of the seven rabbits I could see, at least half had got myxi or were getting over it.

It is strange how you can get so many healthy ones looking like they haven’t even had a touch of the virus, yet they’re living amongst those suffering badly.

I scanned each field before enteringI scanned each field before entering

I had no choice here – I had to take out the worst hit with the virus to end its suffering. This rabbit was a little over 40 yards, and with a few millimetres adjustment of my aim point, it lay on its side as soon as the .177 pellet struck. The remaining rabbits stood upright, none of them had run. Why would they? They had probably never been shot at, so they wouldn’t know what a pellet would sound like as it whizzed past them. I quickly cycled another pellet from the magazine and took aim on the next rabbit.

I had three closer than the one I had just taken. They looked healthier around the eyes so I hoped I could keep one of these for eating. I quickly had the Hawke’s cross hair exactly below the rabbit’s ear.

Bang on, and another rabbit down. I cycled the Ultimate quickly again and took another right by the last one. The other rabbits were still feeding further up the field, but the closer one had hopped into the bottom of the hawthorn. It was clear these rabbits were not bothered at all, they had no fear of the noise when the others were getting hit.

Getting better

The scabs show that this rabbit has myxiThe scabs show that this rabbit has myxi

I collected the rabbits and two had definitely got over the virus, but the other hadn’t been in any fit state to survive much longer.

Over the next hour, I walked around most of the paddocks and I was now on to at least 25 shot rabbits. Just under half were not good for eating, but at least I was taking them out of the system and they would not pass on the fleas to healthy rabbits.

Usually, I hit rabbits hard if I see myxi early, yet I never had to deal with numbers like this. It is my fault for letting this place get so over-populated, and this is why it has spread so widely over the ground.

Back track

The bipod lets me reach a little bit furtherThe bipod lets me reach a little bit further

I decided to go back to one particular place where I had seen a lot of rabbits. I could cover a fair bit by lying down and shooting the Ultimate off a bipod. I still had over an hour before I started losing light, so I wanted to make the most of the time I had left.

I had a steady stream of rabbits coming out all around me, and it was easy to shoot anything within range. I even pushed the boat out on a couple of shots where I could see the rabbits were badly infected.

I’d shot over 40 rabbits, but only 20 were edible. The rest were put on the fire.

Never leave any diseased rabbits on the fields if you can help it. The fleas pass on the virus so you need to take them out of the system. I usually bury diseased rabbits, if there is nowhere to burn them.

Around half of the rabbits I shot had myxiAround half of the rabbits I shot had myxi

When skinning the rabbits, I noticed it was the young rabbits that got over the disease. Many old ones had not been able to shake it off so this does make me happy for the future. I will continue to get as many as possible if they’re showing signs of myxi, and maybe next year we will see a healthy crop all over the ground.

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