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.
Managing rabbit numbers
Rabbit control accounts for much my field time at this time of year. A spiralling rabbit population can munch a costly dent into grassland, cereal and vegetable crops. Their burrowing also causes serious problems, undermining banks and field margins and even posing a danger to livestock if a misplaced hoof ends up down a hole.
A lot of my rabbit hunting is done on land that’s used as pony paddocks, where hidden rabbit holes pose a hazard to horses and their riders. The air rifle is the perfect tool for pest control on these holdings; its modest power results in a much-reduced risk of ricochet and its quiet operation is unlikely to spook livestock.The final hour or two of daylight is my favourite time... As the light fades, sun-parched grass is gradually softened by the evening dew, making it far more appealing to hungry rabbits.
Given rabbits’ propensity for rapid breeding, it takes sustained pressure to keep their numbers in check so I’m currently devoting three or four evenings per week to their control. It’s no hardship, though, and I can certainly think of worse ways to while away the final hours of a summer’s day than creeping around the pony paddocks as the sun sets and swooping swallows slowly give up their place in the evening sky to throngs of flitting bats.
The perfect time to rabbit hunt
The final hour or two of daylight is my favourite time to hunt rabbits during the long days of summer. Bunnies don’t tend to venture out during the heat of the day when the weather is warm and dry. I usually wait until the temperature falls with the onset of dusk before heading above ground. As the light fades, sun-parched grass is gradually softened by the evening dew, making it far more appealing to hungry rabbits.
I’ll sometimes use a lamp or night vision to extend my hunting time into darkness. Though I must confess that it’s not so appealing at this time of year when nightfall doesn’t come until about 10pm. Choose quality optics, though, and you should be able to shoot until it’s too dark to spot quarry with the naked eye. Before you have to think about clipping on a lamp or NV unit.
I was back out on my rabbiting rounds yesterday evening. Although I like to travel as light as possible, my kit for the session included a large objective riflescope, for maximum light gathering into the evening, bipod and rangefinder. My plan was to start by stalking from warren to warren, making the most of any opportunities that should crop up along the way.
You’ll often happen across areas where the rabbits are particularly active and these places can lend themselves well to ambush tactics. That’s where the bipod comes in; creating a super-steady gun support when shooting from the prone position. And, by using the rangefinder to confirm the distance to my quarry, I know exactly how much hold-over or hold-under to give shots when chances arise.
Setting up and getting into position
Rather than risk spooking rabbits by trying to range them after they’ve left cover, I ping the range as soon as I settle in; measuring the distance to fixed points such as trees, gates and fence posts. These markers then provide handy distance references that save me from having to reach for the rangefinder when edgy rabbits venture out.
My latest short session produced just one rabbit to stalking tactics as I spent the first hour creeping along the cover of the hedgerows, trying to intercept rabbits that were already out feeding. After locating a busy-looking area with lots of fresh excavations, I then added two more after hunkering down on my belly and shooting from the support of the bipod as rabbits crept out from the undergrowth to nibble at the grass.
A bag of three rabbits is not a large tally but they all count, and it’s surprising what a difference it makes if you visit regularly. Apart from helping to keep the fields free from these unwelcome pests, the outing also provided me with some more wonderful free-range meat for the pot.
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