Over the New Year, extreme cold and wet conditions saw me preparing for a new season by stripping and cleaning my rifles. The Magtech 7002 .22 semi auto rimfire benifitted from the full strip treatment, removing all those sticky carbon deposits, that can slow the return of the hammer and hamper the automatic feeding of the next bullet, while also oiling the trigger and hammer mechanisms. The barrel I left alone, as the rifle is as accurate as ever, a recent bullet comparison test giving very agreeable results for a .22 semi auto at 50 yards. A .22 barrel needs time to lead up after cleaning, and should only require cleaning if accuracy falls off.
A period of freak warm weather for February, saw me visiting the equestrian centre for the first time in months to check out the current rabbit stock, which had appeared to be struggling in November. First impressions can be misleading, but after parking the van, I walked twenty yards to look through the gate of a small paddock, which although empty of horses, had two rabbits on view 80 yards away. Before I could do a holdover shot at them, they trotted into the undergrowth at the far end. Turning to leave, a rustle through the brambles to my right revealed another rabbit, only feet away, that bounded over the bank and along the ditch out of sight. This was a good sign.
Sunshine and little breeze had fooled the rabbits into thinking that it was spring, but it had also attracted the young female horse owners, who were out enjoying their half term school holidays exercising their mounts, by cantering round the various rides at the 80 acre centre. With every chance of being disturbed, while patrolling these open areas for rabbits, the only option was try the wood.
The floor of the wood in February is usually carpeted in snow drops, but the cold weather had them behind, just pushing through the leaf litter, while now they were really confused in the warm sunshine and trying to set flowers. My attention was drawn by dry leaves being displaced at a trot and expected to see a pair of muntjack deer disturbed by my presence, but just caught sight of three big rabbits running from cover, full tilt across the open ground of the wood to bushes at the other end. Two collided and went tumbling in their haste to get to safety. With horse riders in the vicinity, a wild shot at them would have been irresponsible and dangerous, but a studied look to see where they had stopped was more valuable.
Walking into the brush to my side, I found two new holes, the scrapes fresh earth. The rabbits had been caught feeding in the open away from their holes and would probably return soon across the open ground, and found cover against a tree trunk, with a clear view to where the rabbits had taken refuge. Lying prone, with the Magtech rested on my gun bag, I waited for movement at the far end 50 yards away. A rabbit appeared, sitting up to test the air and I took aim, a clear view in the scope, illuminated by the sunlight. A gentle squeeze of the trigger and it toppled over. Another unseen rabbit bolted forward into the cover of another bush. After ten more minutes, I walked over to the bush to see several holes among the roots, then down to collect my prize.
This large buck won’t get the chance to father any more offspring, but walking further into wood, a group of four kits shuffled away into the undergrowth, as fast as their little legs would take them, so maybe he has done his work already. On my November visit, I bemoaned the fact that I had been too successful in my shooting efforts, but now could see that they have been busy, while I have been away. Passing out of the side of the wood, I had a clear view along two of the rides, where at the far end of one, another rabbit was clearly visible sitting up on it’s haunches. At 150 yards it was well beyond the range of the Magtech, but there were two options, one to work my way toward it using the sparse cover offered by the bushes at the ride edge, or cut back into the wood to cut down the distance and hope that the rabbit was still there, when I emerged at the edge of the ride. Choosing option two, I made fast progress through the wood and crossed a ditch to slide up to the edge of the ride, pushing my gun bag out first, then positioning the rifle on it, before moving round to sight through the scope, while prone. The rabbit was still there, head down feeding about fifty yards away. Confident with a head shot, there was no arguing with a 40 grain bullet and the rabbit had enjoyed it’s last meal.
Turning back into the wood toward a large warren, I was disappointed to see that the whole area had been taken over by badgers, with fresh digging extending out into the path, where a large hole was just waiting to trip a horse, or human. Gathering up some dead branches, I filled the hole as best I could, stuffing them deep into the passage, leaving a few protruding above the surface as a visual marker. Intending a few visits at dusk later in the season, snapping an ankle in one of these holes would not be welcome.
Following round the path, a small group of rabbits were feeding on an open patch of ground and I stepped back into cover, moving as close as possible, before getting down on the ground to peep round the base of a bush. Two were still visible about forty yards away and pushed the bag forward as a rest, while inching out into the path. One sat up, presenting the perfect target, the shot flipping it over on it’s back. Swinging round for the second, I had a view of a white tail flashing away into the tangled undergrowth.
These were all big old bucks, that will go toward my next batch of bunny burgers http://www.urbanfieldsportsman.com/index.php/bunny-burgers-with-chorizo/ although I will save the loins for a tastier dish.
No doubt the equestrian centre owner will soon be complaining about the rabbits again and I will do my best to keep them down.