Much of my shooting these days seems to fit in with my wife’s desire to shop and with the countdown to Christmas ticking away, a request to visit our previous home town for a few hours browsing, had me weighing up the pros and cons of my various shooting permissions in the area. As I used to live within a mile of these various pieces of land, the days of a good bag of rabbits are long gone, but the need to keep my face in with the owners is important, whether I find anything to shoot , or not. I opted for the equestrian centre, where I can park by the stables and be on the path in minutes.
Morning rain had given way to bursts of low sunshine, bringing out the colours of the autumn leaves, as I surveyed the fields at the start of my patrol of likely rabbit haunts. The parkland is divided off into pasture and rides bordering woodland, which give plenty of cover for hunter and hunted. When I began shooting this old country estate, rabbits were everywhere and an hour walk round with my Webley Viper .22 air rifle, would often account for a dozen naive bunnies. Times have changed, the Webley stays in the gun cabinet and my weapon of choice is now the Magtech 7022 .22 semi auto, the scarce quarry often being beyond air rifle range, while the 40 grain hollow point RWS bullet provides instant stopping power.
This is true hunting territory requiring all the senses, with a slow approach, checking out small clearings and under bushes along the way, lifting feet, then placing them ahead, instead of striding along. The first few hundred yards had drawn a blank, not even a flock of feeding pigeons; they were all in the trees overhead, hidden from view, until they clattered out of the branches, sweeping low across the fields.
The path turned and entered a wood, where I stopped at an area of disturbed ground. Something larger than a squirrel had very recently been digging up the grass, possibly a badger, or rabbit. Scanning the undergrowth, the sound of a small animal moving away through the leaf litter, gave me a brief sighting of a rabbit twenty yards away, before it disappeared again. Moving forward, I rested against a tree and waited for movement. More rustling of leaves and a large buck trotted out into the clearing, halting long enough for me to get the cross hairs on it’s head and squeeze the trigger. With a half jump forward, it toppled over motionless.
The rabbit was paunched where it fell, to lighten the load in my game bag, before continuing down the path. Rounding a laurel bush, a pair of rabbits were feeding at the wood edge about sixty yards away, partially shielded by young trees and tried to use the trunk of a tree as cover to get closer for a better shot. Peering out from behind the trunk, they were gone. Back into the wood. This time there was no second chance. I could have taken a shot from sixty yards, but a miss, or worse, a wounded animal may have been the result. I already had a large rabbit in the bag and wasn’t desperate for another. Further on through, where another path joins the main one, I eased the rifle round the corner and viewed another feeding rabbit unaware of my presence, taking my time to line up for a chest shot. The near silent report from the moderator was drowned out by the thud of the bullet striking home and number two was in the bag.
The ground here is pock marked by rabbit holes, being one of my banker areas on a blank day. If I waited around for twenty minutes, another would pop out from the hedge, but I see my job as pest control, not eradication. The path now came out of the wood, skirting the boundary edge and apart from a rabbit that came out onto the ride forty yards ahead, then dived back before the rifle could be raised, I saw no more. Getting half way round the circuit, cutting across to where the ride passes through an ancient sunken, tree filled lane, I approached another of my banker areas. At the edge of the trees is a grass lined bank, with a view over the brow, down the grassy ride. Pressing hard into the undergrowth, I belly crawled up the bank to see a rabbit head down facing me. As I moved out from the edge to take the prone, thirty yard shot, it raised it’s head, only to flip over in shock as the bullet struck home.
Getting up to collect this one, flashing white tails bobbing down the ride meant more work to be done, but not today and on the half mile walk back to the stables, a couple more distant sightings proved to me, that more visits are required before Christmas. Reaching the stables, the owner’s wife was busy sorting out tack, but had time for a chat, happily accepting a fresh rabbit for the pot, while confirming that the shooting was exclusively mine, as long as I wanted it. Music to my ears.