The coldest night of the year so far, with temperatures down to minus 7 degrees C, did not deter me from keeping my promise to the equestrian centre owner this week, who facing an obvious increase in the rabbit population, called me back to the 80 acre site to continue the cull. On my arrival, the bright sun was deceptive, the north facing hedgerows shading rides that crunched under foot with frost and puddles slippery with ice catching me unawares as I walked.
The field covered with feeding rabbits last week was bare, doing nothing to beat the chill, my plan to stake out the area from a comfortable corner in need of revision. The owner had passed on areas that had rabbits, when he had done that morning’s rounds, which included a couple of my hot spots, so was not too disheartened, although it would mean a lot of walking. At least I would keep warm.
Approaching the first hot spot along an exposed lane, rabbits were sitting out in the sun, but ran back into the shade of the hedge, long before I was within range. Continuing on, I passed behind the hedge, this ride in full sunshine, where, as I rounded a corner, a dark brown rabbit was feeding on grass at the base of an oak tree.
With a busy road and houses beyond, the rabbit was ideally placed for a safe shot, the oak tree acting as a back stop. Shooting the Magtech .22 off my bag, the rabbit jumped a foot in the air, then lay still.
Having bagged this one, I back tracked to the first hot spot, approaching this time from behind the hedge, viewing a rabbit feeding in the shade 30 yards away. Sliding up the bank there was a clear shot, but horses were grazing beyond the line of fire and I waited for them to move, while the unfortunate rabbit continued feeding oblivious of it’s fate.
With number two in the bag, I set off across the field to the far boundary, where I found as reported, several rabbits grazing twenty yards from the safety of their burrows and ducked down to keep them out of sight below the curve of the ground, only lifting my head to check their position at the last minute. A stout fence post gave me some cover and a support for the rifle, while taking aim on the nearest fifty yards away. The sound of the bullet hitting bone echoed back, as the first one fell forward, another sitting up toppling over seconds later. The remainder sped back to the edge of the copse and I watched their white tails flicker into the undergrowth, but as I got close, the pale shape of a loner stood out in the shade. The ride corner post was conveniently positioned as a rest and I took my time, aiming high on the shoulder, knowing the 70 yard shot would drop into the chest cavity for instant dispatch.
With these skinned and cleaned, my bag was now heavy and full, but only an hour into the session, I headed back west along the boundary and into the warming sunshine, the ride dropping down and round giving good cover as I stalked the tree lined edge. Three more were came into view and I crawled forward, pushing the bag ahead to act as a rest, watching with satisfaction as target number six crumpled 60 yards away. A snap shot at another missed, reminding myself not to get too greedy.
The remaining walk was uneventful, apart from the mocking of a flock of green parrots, squawking from tree to tree. In the sunshine it was quite pleasant, but climbing the slope into the back of the wood, the temperature dropped noticeably and I picked up my pace, keen to return to the van, but stopped at the sight of a rabbit silhouetted against the pale sky. Leaning against a tree, I steadied for the 30 yard shot and watched the shape drop from view. Uncertain whether the rabbit had been hit, or had run, I walked over to find another fat doe a yard from where it had been shot.
With two cleaned rabbits in a carrier bag, I slung the rifle on my shoulder and continued down the path, rounding the next bend to see more rabbits emptying out of the field, to cross the ditch into the wood, more fluffy tails merging into the shadows, before breaking out into the evening sunlight, as they crossed the path in front of me. I unslung the rifle, putting down the bag, watching and waiting. They seemed to be going in all directions, back and forth across the path, some very young kits among them. One stopped long enough for me to chance a 30 yarder as it paused by a tree and I claimed number eight. The Magtech 7002 was one of the cheapest .22 semi automatics on the market when I bought it, but it has settled into a very sweet rifle to carry and use, having paid for itself many times over.
Having walked over a mile, carrying an increasing weight in rabbits, plus removing the skins, I was physically pooped, dealing with this doe in quick time to get on my way, even ignoring a naive juvenile, which sat in front of me, until I was only yards away. The owner was busy burning a pile of branches, as I passed by carrying the fruits of my afternoon’s labour, even breaking into a rare smile, to say well done! Fifteen in two visits will only make a small dent in the current population, but with two thirds of those milky does, it will go a long way towards getting the numbers back under control.