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Why a little forward planning goes a long way hunting in the field

PUBLISHED: 10:18 10 April 2019 | UPDATED: 10:18 10 April 2019

You can't get a much better shooting position than this

You can't get a much better shooting position than this

Archant

"Even if you've reconnoitred thoroughly and planned carefully, you could still come up empty-handed, but the learning that such observations provide, and the practice of avoiding noisy obstacles whilst moving unobserved is invaluable."

Following last month’s article, in which I reconnoitred my permission for the first time in quite a while, I realised that my new appreciation had altered the way I thought about getting the best from it. Previously, I’d taken the view that the whole permission was a casual stalk with targets of opportunity, but not any more. Now I realise that my visits can be more effectively and productively spent by planning the stalking routes for the time that I have available. As the saying goes, ‘failure to plan is planning to fail’ – or at least to lengthen the odds.

By dividing my permission into zones, knowing which quarry is likely to be present, and thinking ahead about best approaches and methods for each, I can use my new knowledge to plan time more effectively, getting into position immediately to begin using the best method for the anticipated hunt.

Slow and steady is the key, sudden movements are a no-noSlow and steady is the key, sudden movements are a no-no

Stalking the hedgerows

For rabbits, the hedgerow seems to offer the best prospects. Stalking these dictates a dawn or dusk session, although there is a raised platform that’s perfect for ambushing off the bipod at 30 yards. Nevertheless, stalking along the hedge, heading south, is a pleasure, with or without a shooting opportunity. Fortunately, there still seems to be a few rabbits, although it looks as though their numbers are reducing and it might be necessary to give them time to recover in the face of a resurgent myxomatosis and the insidious viral haemorrhagic disease.

If their numbers hold up, I plan to try an evening lamping/ambush session in the autumn, from the concealment of the blast trench; rabbit runs from the hedge pass by quite closely. I now know that even if lamping means leaving the blast trench, rabbits go beyond it up to 100 yards, or so, from the hedgerow burrows, and there a far fewer tripping hazards compared to lamping from nearer to the hedge itself.

Using natural cover, such as trees, will always helpUsing natural cover, such as trees, will always help

Pop-up hide

The success of using a pop-up hide in the wood for grey squirrels has taught me that sitting still, even in a hide that is fairly obviously a new, temporary structure in the natural habitat, will offer shots at unwary rabbits relying on sensitivity to movement to detect danger. I wonder if placing the hide near the hedge, even closer to the rabbit runs than the bipod-ready platform, might not pay dividends just after dawn or as dusk approaches. The main challenge here is not only to erect the hide close enough to the hedge line to avoid standing out from it, but also to remain concealed from any prying eyes ... and not just the rabbits. More on whether that’s feasible when I give it a try.

A hide can prove invaluable, especially during the winter monthsA hide can prove invaluable, especially during the winter months

Cautious approach

New burrowing activity on the far southern end of the hedge line offers the prospect of good shooting in an area that had, for a long time, been quiet and best used for checking zero on the scope or for target practice. Concealment for this can be from close to the hedge itself, from the hide near the hedge, or from inside the second blast trench.

The return journey is via the Western edge of the same field, where a 40/50-yard ridge of compost offers sufficient concealment to enable a cautious approach and to peer over. Although buzzards and kestrels patrol this line, it can still provide occasional opportunities for rabbits in the adjacent field that’s also a part of the permission. From the northern end of this, it’s necessary to head north-east to begin the stalk through the wood from behind the old hangar.

This is often a stalk of its own because the wood is full of hidden birch twigs in grass, so silent progress is a slow process, feeling with the soles of your feet and looking for anything that might broadcast your whereabouts. Five or so very slow paces, from the shadow of one tree to another and then a very careful scan through about 270 degrees in front, as well as looking above for pigeons, corvids or squirrels. If there are no targets or birds likely to betray my presence, the whole sequence is repeated. It can easily take an hour on its own and it all ends at the rubble that’s virtually deserted now, although it used to be a ‘banker’ for rabbits enjoying the last of a day’s sunshine.

Shooting along a fence or hedgerow with plenty of cover will up your bagShooting along a fence or hedgerow with plenty of cover will up your bag

Amateur hour

Of course, stalking isn’t always successful. If it were easy, fieldcraft wouldn’t be such a prized skill among airgunners. Even wearing clothing that blends with the surroundings, often camouflage, keeping to shadows, avoiding being sihouetted by morning sun, staying low, moving very slowly and as silently as possible does not guarantee success. We are amateurs in our quarry’s environment, where they know every contour, sound and smell, and of course, their lives depend on their awareness. We all stalk with great sensitivity to the wind strength and direction, but an unexpected eddy can cause our scent to carry to the quarry and undo a long and careful stalk. It’s one of the reasons that all hunting airgunners pride themselves in stalking skills and value time spent honing them.

Even if you’ve reconnoitred thoroughly and planned carefully, you could still come up empty-handed, but the learning that such observations provide, and the practice of avoiding noisy obstacles whilst moving unobserved is invaluable. These skills make each following stalk more likely to be easy, successful and enjoyable. Knowing that you’re continually raising your game is a pleasure in itself, but if you are still not persuaded to plan and use a stalking route on your permission, I would argue that, while ‘golf is a good walk spoiled’, stalking is a great walk enhanced.

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Read more from Peter Yeats...

A morning’s hunt for grey squirrels

“Why a PCP has changed my shooting – for the better”

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