Snow had driven me from my hill top permission on the edge of the Chiltern Hills in March and I hadn’t been back, until the landowner called me, saying that he hadn’t seen so many rabbits there since before I’d started to shoot over it.
The land has a dividing fence, being used for fattening cattle and for his very large bull to cover the young heifers, these being in the right hand field on my first visit this week. This is my preferred side, as it slopes down to a valley and is relatively flat, but with the bull, young heifers and a few cows with calves present, there was no way I would be climbing that gate.
The other side slopes to the north and is subject to strong winds, which can blow the lightweight HMR bullets off target, while the land has undulations and pockets, where rabbits can feed unobserved, it being difficult to get into a good stake out position for shooting off the bipod. In other words, it’s hard work, usually covering a lot of ground on foot for just a few rabbits. This proved to be the case and I winged to the landowner back at the yard, about the bull being on my preferred bit of land. This amused him, saying the bull was a” big pussy cat” in his soft Irish brogue, but he would move them, if I wanted to return the following day.
Good to his word, the cattle were munching on fresh grass, when I arrived, leaving me free to take up my stake out position overlooking 300 yards of hedge line to the lane in the valley below. Being dull and overcast, the only wind was from behind, ideal conditions for the HMR, which will shoot with only about an inch drop out to 120 yards and if set half an inch high at 100, extends the killing zone further without hold over.
Young rabbits were everywhere, many ignoring the circular approach to my firing position. A buck sprang from cover and made a bee line to the hedge and stopping at the fence a 100 yards away. I dropped to the ground and zeroed in, as he stepped through the fence and paused again, a second too long, as the .17 bullet struck the back of his head. Number one in the bag. Reaching my raised firing position, I settled down and made myself comfortable, this long range sniping being about relaxed breathing and a steady pull on the trigger, the twelve times magnification of the scope bringing the operation to clinical proportions. There were plenty of young adults about, but the fully grown does were my target, as they are all in kit this time of year, there production line of young, evident in front of me. The first two appeared from the brambles lining the field after fifteen minutes and I waited for a side on shot before dropping the first without a kick. The other doe barely looked up, the bolt shifted another bullet in place and the second toppled over, both head shots finding the walnut sized brain from 120 yards. A few more minutes and another came out several yards further down and sat up to receive the same fate. No more appeared and I backtracked down to pick them up.
The HMR bullet being supersonic at around 2500 feet per second, is a noisy round even with a silencer fitted to the rifle, making a high pitch crack close to, but virtually silent at 100 yards down range. To counter this disturbance, I prefer to approach the area from the opposite end to pick up and clean my rabbits, which allows those now at the other end to settle down and come out. This proved the case, more coming out to feed, while I attended to my duties, repeating my success at ranges between 60 and a 100 yards.
Looking back up the field, at least a dozen young rabbits were visible, when I took this picture, proof that the old adage “breed like rabbits” is true. I have shot this field for several years and regular visits have kept the numbers down to an acceptable level, but a cold, wet and snow filled winter and spring have kept me away and the result is a rabbit explosion. I will be back.