BROCOCK AND MTC OPTICS HUNTING CONSULTANT RICHARD SAUNDERS FINDS TIME TO TACKLE THE RABBITS
With spring in full flow, my attention is turning away from controlling grey squirrels and rats and more towards the abundant rabbit populations on my permissions.
The changing season means that nature’s restaurants are fully open for business. The rats that rode out the winter in farm buildings have spread back out in the fields and woods, and all of a sudden, squirrels are no longer reliant on the peanuts and maize in my feeders.
Pest control obligations being what they are, I will keep my feeders topped up so I can keep the pressure on the squirrels. And my shooting buddies and I plan to continue visiting the chicken farm and stables because there will always be a few rats around.
However, for the next few months at least, rabbits are my main focus. Without doubt, Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD) has had an impact on the nationwide rabbit population, and Myxomatosis continues to make an unwelcome appearance every now and then, however, on my permissions in Berkshire and Oxfordshire, the fields are still home to significant numbers.
With the warmer weather and longer days, I like to arrive in the last couple of hours before dusk so I can ambush the rabbits as they exploit the sun, and then shoot on into dusk. The permission I visited yesterday is only a few minutes from home and although it is one of my smallest at around 10 acres, there is a large and persistent rabbit population.
The fields are surrounded by houses on two sides, a busy road and the main railway line to Paddington on the others. The home owners are fine with me shooting during daylight but a couple have made it clear they don’t like the thought of someone creeping around in the dark which kind of makes me wonder what they get up to!
That’s fine by me and over the years I’ve become accustomed to short, frequent visits of a couple of hours, usually timed to avoid the soaps and reality shows on TV.
The environment also makes the use of 12 ft. lbs. air rifles perfect for the job. Fortunately, the rabbit warrens are located in places which make it easy for me to lie up and snipe away safe in the knowledge that I have safe backstops.
I arrived at exactly 7.00pm yesterday evening – the church bells told me so. Parking a little way off the lane, I set up my gear – a Brocock Bantam Sniper HR in .177 paired with an MTC Mamba Lite 4-16×42 – in the back of the truck.
I loaded the 10-shot magazine, but didn’t put it in the rifle, and used the integrated picatinny rail under the fore-end to attach a bipod. A handful of pellets – you never know – in my pocket along with a knife and my range finder and I was ready to go.
Getting ready for an evening of rabbit control
10-shot magazine , Huma regulated Brocock Sniper HR matched with an MTC Optics Mamba Lite
Once I’d negotiated a couple of fences safely, I installed the magazine and scanned the edges of the field through my range finder for signs of rabbits.
Thankfully there were several on a small, wooded mound which is home to the main warren.
Negotiating gates, fences and other obstacles safely. Make sure your rifle is unloaded, discharge the pellet into the ground.
If necessary, put your rifle on the ground on the other side first.
If you have to climb a gate, make sure you do so from the hinged side
I threw some pieces of grass into the air to confirm what direction the small breeze was blowing and planned my approach along the bottom of some gardens and then down the side of the railway track.
Although I took my time, I didn’t make a huge effort to avoid being spotted by my quarry; there was no way I’d be able to avoid so many pairs of eyes and I’d rather the rabbits hopped underground whilst I was some way off out of a sense of precaution. I knew that if I was spotted from 50 metres away they’d bolt underground and stay there for the rest of the day. This way they were more likely to reappear after half an hour or so.
And so it proved to be. The rabbits froze when they spotted me a couple of hundred metres away, standing up on their back legs to make sure, before making their way up the mound and into their holes. A short while later I was in position, tucked up tight against the hedgerow. I shuffled to try and get comfortable on the hard ground and shouldered the Bantam in my prone position to adjust the magnification and side-mounted parallax on the Mamba Lite.
Keep quiet and stay low, but don’t worry if rabbits spot you from a distance as there’s every chance they be out again when your ready to ambush them
Satisfied with my set up, I pulled the range finder out of my pocket and pinged the distance to a few landmarks – a fence post, some clumps of mud and a few bushes. With the .177 Bantam I’m confident of taking shots out to 40 metres, a distance that requires a mildot of hold-over from a 30 metre zero. I know the rifle is capable of incredible accuracy at that range and the stability of the prone position and bipod meant I would be able to exploit it.
Having worked out the markers that represented my maximum range, I settled down, expecting shots to come in at the 30 to 35 metre range based on the rabbits I’d seen earlier.
Laying prone and waiting for the rabbits to appear is not the most comfortable way of passing time
Half an hour later I was still waiting for them to reappear. I’d checked the wind direction a couple of times to satisfy myself that I was still upwind. My back and shoulders started aching at the inactivity and I started thinking about a move to the other side of the mound when movement caught my eye.
Slowly, I raised the Mamba Lite to my eye to confirm the presence of a fully-grown rabbit underneath one of the low bushes on the edge of the mound. I knew the range to be a little over 30 metres but waited for the rabbit to move away from its hole and start feeding.
It took an age, but eventually it obliged and I lined up a shot, placing the SCB2 reticule behind the rabbit’s eye as it sat side-on to me, facing to the right. I slowed my breathing and took up the tension on the Bantam’s trigger, gave it a final squeeze and saw the rabbit topple over, its legs stretching out.
Although the rifle had barely made a sound, the impact of the pellet had made a meaty thwack and in the relatively close confines of the mound, it must have been amplified as I saw the white backsides of another three or four rabbits that I’d not spotted disappear in a flash.
Patience rewarded and at last the shot is on
That was all the excuse I needed to get up and relieve my aching back and shoulders. I retrieved the rabbit, confirming the pellet had hit exactly where I’d intended, and prepared to move to the other side of the mound.
With the wind still in my favour, I skirted the bottom of the tree-line, knowing there was every chance another rabbit or two would be in the open. Peering through the trees I was able to see at least one that was feeding and clearly had not been spooked by my shot.
Until recently the field had been full of cattle. As a result, the ground was uneven and, thanks to the recent dry weather, the tiny, dry craters made by the cows’ feet made progress awkward and unsteady.
The rabbit looked up several times; as it froze, so did I, waiting for its head to dip down again so I could resume. At long last I was in position to take a shot. I used the range finder to confirm the distance at 37 metres, which meant a little under a mildot of hold over, before sinking to the ground and taking up position behind the Bantam on its bipod once again.
Dusk was in full flow by now and although I could make the rabbit out, it was getting harder to do so by the minute. However, even on 12x magnification, the Mamba Lite pulled in plenty of light for me to see my target clearly and once again the Bantam coughed and the pellet found its mark.
With that, the church bells chimed 9.00 o’clock so, in the last of the dusk, I retrieved my rabbit, squeezed its bladder and put him in the game bag alongside the first before making my way back to the truck.