Mat Manning is a fulltime field sports journalist, author and broadcaster with more than 30 years’ hunting experience under his belt.A regular contributor to national and international print and digital titles, Mat is recognised as one of the world’s leading authorities on hunting with air rifles. A fieldcraft specialist who shoots mostly for the pot and pest control purposes. Mat relishes hunting opportunities that enable him to get up close and personal with his quarry read more for daytime rat shooting.
Mat Manning sets up a stakeout to pick off rabbits as they venture out at dusk
Much of my Summer shooting revolves around controlling rabbits, usually around pony paddocks where these burrowing pests pose a serious danger to livestock. Through May and June, when there are lots of gullible young rabbits around, stalking tactics tend to work well as they enable me to cover lots of ground. But, as the summer wears on, the remaining rabbits become more educated and less trusting, which can make it harder to creep within range. Now is the time to switch to ambush tactics. Shooting from a static position with an airgun, offers several advantages – the main one being the obvious lack of movement. A stationary hunter makes far less noise than one who is trekking along the hedgerow, and reduced movement means you are also less likely to catch your quarry’s eye.Setting up with a bipod brings a noticeable improvement to accuracy and can significantly increase your hunting range.
If the grass is short enough, I like to take it a stage further and shoot from the prone position. Getting down on my belly might be a bit uncomfortable but it gives stealth a huge boost by keeping me down off the skyline. Going prone also makes for far more stable shooting, especially if you take advantage of the added support provided by a bipod.
Setting up with a bipod for airgun hunting brings a noticeable improvement to accuracy and can significantly increase your range. You need to put in the practice first, though, so you can work out your own limitations in a variety of different conditions. Fitting a bipod to your airgun helps to reduce wobbles but gravity still causes the pellet to fly with a curved trajectory. I set up targets at five-metre intervals from 15 to 50m during my practice sessions so I can map the rise and fall of the pellet as it travels downrange. My Vantage riflescope 3-9×40 has a Hawke Mil-Dot reticle, which offers me plenty of aim points so I can use hold-over and hold-under to keep shots dead on target.
My favourite time to ambush rabbits is an hour or two before nightfall – just as they are about to start venturing out to feed at dusk. I try to pick a busy warren – usually apparent by freshly excavated soil, an abundance of droppings and closely-cropped grass where the rabbits have been nibbling – and set up about 30m from where I expect the majority of shots to present themselves. If possible, I like to be downwind from the burrows so my scent is carried away from emerging rabbits and not towards their twitching nostrils.
Before I settle in, I take my laser rangefinder and ping the distance to prominent objects such as fence posts, drink troughs and tree trunks around the areas where I expect to see rabbits. These objects then serve as distance markers, enabling me to calculate how far away emerging rabbits are without having to cause additional disturbance by reaching for the rangefinder when they are above ground. Once all the preparations are made there is little to do apart from wait for my quarry to emerge. It rarely gets boring as there’s plenty to watch with swallows carving through the air, and even the odd glimpse of barn owls working the hedge line if I’m lucky, but it’s surprising how quickly rabbits creep back out once the disturbance of my arrival has passed.
When a rabbit does appear, there shouldn’t be too much movement as the gun will already be aiming in roughly the right direction. The range-marker closest to the bunny gives me a good idea of the distance to the target, and it’s simply a matter of using the right aim-point on the scope to compensate for the pellet’s trajectory. Sometimes feeding rabbits will have their head too low to offer a clear shot. A quick squeak through pursed lips or a click of the tongue against the roof of your mouth is usually enough to make them sit up. Alert rabbits tend to sit bolt upright and dead still, offering a clear, static target as they test the air with their ears and whiskers.
With all the groundwork done, the shot should be a mere formality; success heralded by a ringing crack through the still air as lead connects with bone. Unless a rabbit is wounded and needs to be finished off, don’t break cover. Head-shot rabbits are usually dead as soon as the pellet hits home, so leave them where they drop ready to be picked up at the end of the session. Stay put and keep disturbance to a minimum if you can, as another opportunity to add to the bag will probably come along very soon.
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Hawke Vantage 3-9x40 AO
11 layer fully multi-coated optics for maximum clarity. Adjustable objective for parallax correction. 1⁄4 MOA low profile no-snag fingertip turrets. Fast focus eyebell and high torque zoom ring. Threaded objective/ocular for optional accessoriesFind Out More
Hawke LRF 400 Hunter
Fully multi-coated optical system - BK-7 prisms. 6× magnification and an adjustable diopter. Ergonomically designed to fit in your hand. Lightweight and compact construction. Standard/Rain/Hunt mode - accurate to +/- 1m. Auto shut off battery save featureFind Out More