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I don’t know about your area, but here in parts of south Somerset, rabbits have gone into breeding overdrive, filling the hedgerows and fields with scores of multisized coneys, and the old cliché “a moving carpet” has almost come to be a fact. Farmers are complaining and even my wife’s hunter has to compete for grass with an ever-expanding rabbit population. While my old BSA Standard No 2 air rifle has dealt with a handful over the garden hedge and several have fallen to the shotgun and snares, I decided that the only way to make any serious inroads on the population would be with a .22 rimfire with an adequate scope. The decision made, a train of events was set in motion with an application to Avon and Somerset Constabulary for a variation to my firearms certificate for a .22 bolt-action rifle. The form was completed, a local farmer where I shoot added his commendation and details, a cheque for £29 made out and I sat back for what, I anticipated, would be a lengthy and possibly fraught wait before a decision was made and my certificate returned.

Not so. A brief and friendly telephone call after a week revealed that there were only four applicants to be processed before my turn, and within 10 days I received my variation. No problem, no fuss — thank you Avon and Somerset Constabulary. Now all I had to do was find a suitable rifle. From reports and seeing one in action, I was remarkably impressed with the CZ and BRNO ranges of sporting rifles and with this in mind headed to Exeter where, in a part of the city called Heavitree, is to be discovered The Gun and Sport Shop. Owned by Keith Chard and partly run by his brother Neil and a colleague, this is the sort of old-fashioned gun emporium that offers not only a good, straightforward service, but also experienced backup. Small, cluttered and with an unpretentious shopfront, its two rooms are lined with shotguns, rifles, modern air rifles and shooting equipment and, as Neil told me, “we have, quite simply, the complete package for shooting”.

The brothers’ father started the business in Exeter in 1950 in another part of the city, moving to the present premises in the late 1960s, and the emphasis is very much on providing personal service in a traditional gunshop atmosphere. It isn’t slick or fancy, but the customer who seeks advice, a full service of repairs or who wishes simply to browse, handle and discuss guns, scopes or equipment will find himself receiving the sort of service that only comes with years of experience and understanding. The fact that Neil shoots, stalks and uses an air rifle is also a plus and there is the added bonus of parking immediately behind the shop.

A rifle of high regard

It was here, then, that I explained my requirements to Neil Chard. No problem! He retired into the nether regions of the shop to return with a second-hand CZ BRNO rifle. This was an elderly Model 2 E-S, with a shortened barrel to take a short moderator, its Schnabel fore-end and roach-backed stock betraying its years. The wood was blond with reasonable configuration and while it was an old BRNO made perhaps in the 1960s or 1970s, before the once-united company split into two separate operations — BRNO and CZ — it was in excellent order. The rifle felt comfortable, I liked its slightly worn appearance and as these models retain a reputation for accuracy and longevity I did not hesitate. A cheque passed over the counter and Neil kindly mounted a rifle scope, one which I had supplied.

Fortuitously, I had just been sent a scope to test by Tony Gibson of Deben, the well-known sports optics company. This was the Endurance 3-10 x 44 MAP 8 (Multiple Aim Point), engineered in high-grade black aluminium and with an in-depth reticle design. By zeroing at 75 yards, and with the reticle set at 8x magnification, a series of aim points have been calculated on the vertical cross-hair at 25-yard intervals out to 225 yards. This scope has been specifically designed for .22 rimfire subsonic ammunition and, like all the Hawke optics, offers, in my opinion, outstanding value for money (£74.95). The clarity is excellent, even at dusk, and I appreciated the simple cross-hair reticle with its easily seen calibrations.

Putting rabbits in the bag

With the scope mounted, the little rifle had to be zeroed and then tested. On a warm, humid evening my stalking friend Charles Fenn joined me, a target was set up at 25 yards, and after the expenditure of around half a box of Winchester subsonic 40-grain ammunition and numerous ¼in click adjustments to the turrets, the rifle was found to be shooting spot on.

A glass of relaxing wine, a Chinese takeaway and then we set out with tripod, rifle and my Labrador. Half-a-dozen rabbits, all sizes, scuttled for their hedgerow burrows as we entered the field behind the house, but none paused to allow a shot. However, crossing the field to the next hedge we spotted a brace of half-grown youngsters perhaps 30 yards away. I set up the tripod, rested the rifle and as I squeezed the trigger there was a slight phut, followed by a distinctive plop as the bullet struck home. The rabbit cartwheeled, the dog was sent and the first of several was in the bag.

On now to a next door three-acre field where my wife keeps her hunter at grass for the summer. Here, we have been plagued by scores of rabbits, so much so that last year’s haylage crop was down to a mere 30 bales whereas in the previous year we had made more than 100 bales. The rabbits swarmed and, inevitably, great swathes of grass were cropped. I had managed to shoot a handful with the shotgun and at one stage, when the horse was briefly stabled, put down a couple of dozen snares. I caught three but a local fox, probably a vixen feeding cubs, snaffled two of the victims. That was last year. Now, with the new rifle the picture has changed.

We quietly walked up to the field gate and even as we did so more than a dozen rabbits scuttled for the nearest hedge. Two or three paused before diving into cover but we passed them up for fear that, possibly wounded, they might kick into the dense nettle and thorn cover. However, a pair of rabbits, perhaps 50 yards away and well out in the open, offered a safe shot and background. I took aim from the sticks… and missed! However, while the intended victim scuttled away, its companion sat up, puzzled and inquisitive. Charles took the shot and killed it cleanly.

At the end of half an hour, four had been shot, two missed and it was time to return home to see the final of Britain’s Got Talent. Incidentally, young half-grown rabbits shot at this time of the year are perfect for the frying pan. The hind legs, a chunk or two from the back, some bacon and perhaps a sliced lamb’s kidney provide the perfect breakfast.

The little BRNO is a delight to use and for a modest outlay of £175, real value for money. Meanwhile, the local rabbit population will be trimmed to manageable numbers. What more can one ask for?

The Gun and Sport Shop is at 76 Fore Street, Heavitree, Exeter, Devon EX1 2RR. Tel 01392 271701 or visit www.thegunandsportshop.co.uk.

To contact Deben, tel 01394 387762 or visit www.deben.com.