A reader wants to know about rimfires for rabbit control

Q: I was going to apply for a certificate for a .22 rimfire rifle for rabbit control, but I am now tempted to go for a .17 HMR. What can you tell me about the cartridge?

A: Mike says: There are quite a few .17 rifle cartridges, both centrefire and rimfire. HMR stands for Hornady Magnum Rimfire, and the cartridge is the fastest rimfire available. It came out in the early 2000s.

At 17 grains, the bullet is lighter than a .22 rimfire, records 2,550 feet per second at the muzzle, and in the right rifle and in good conditions, can shoot half-inch groups at 100 yards. You won’t achieve performance like that in field conditions, but you should get good accuracy – the the added bonus of a flat trajectory and not too much wind drift.

Rabbiting with rimfires

Simon Whitehead writes:

Now that the clocks have gone forward, the extended daylight hours and rising temperatures mean the rabbits are no longer using up as much energy to keep warm.

The spring barley is growing quickly, the beet is poking its head through and the wheat has reached an irritating height where a rabbit can bob down and disappear. This gives rabbits an extra sense of security and encourages them to squat rather than run when alarmed.

With this in mind, and the appearance of so many juvenile rabbits, springtime offers some fantastic shooting for pot hunters and pest controllers alike.

Rifles for rabbit shooting 

In my gun cabinet I have three rifles that I use for rabbit shooting: a firearms-rated .22 air rifle, a .17HMR and a .22 rimfire. Of these, the rimfire stands head and shoulders above the rest as the instrument to use. The reasons include range, cost, effectiveness, consistency and noise. The cost of the ammunition is fairly low compared with that of the .17HMR. If you shoot for the pot or profit, the carcass damage is also significantly different from a .17HMR.

Though I use my .17HMR purely for pest control, it is no replacement for my rimfire, but it is a useful gun to have. This also applies to my air rifle. Having a choice of three guns gives me an adaptability to shoot safely in almost any given situation.

Any shot must be safe and humane

Whatever calibre used, any shot taken has to be a safe one. Not only do you have to deem it safe, but it has to hit the right spot to give a humane kill. You need to know the ground you are shooting on well, especially if the public has access to it.

Time spent practising with life-sized targets at differing distances is time well spent. It helps your accuracy and allows you to gauge the various sizes of the silhouettes at different distances.

An accurate and silent shot

For reliable accuracy, I currently shoot an Anschutz bolt-action .22LR, which is fitted with a sound moderator. I carry my spare magazines in a clean, dust-proof container and I prefer to use Winchester subsonic bullets. The scope is a Hawke Sport HD 3-9×50. For night-time work, I use an LEDray Tactical 700 that sits on top of the scope without hampering performance or manoeuvrability when shooting from inside my truck or from the sticks. This is essential when I want to move around safely without accidentally knocking anything.

After shooting this rifle for a few years, it fits like a glove. With spare magazines at the ready, it makes for relaxed shooting zeroed in at 50 paces, and I rarely shoot a rabbit at more than 70 paces.

Practising your fieldcraft techniques is always invaluable. You can sit in a high chair, in a truck or under a hedge and observe the behaviour of the rabbits and any other wildlife that happens to pass by.

To keep my focus, I have to be warm and dry, and I must blend in with my environment.

Once you are ready to go rabbit shooting with a rifle, you need to decide which style to adopt. Do you want to hunt from a vehicle or quad, either using the vehicle as a hide, or, if discretion is required, at night with a lamp or nightvision equipment? You might choose to go stalking on the hoof with a set of sticks or sit inside a natural hide and ambush the rabbits as they come out to feed.

Daylight shooting

For me, however, nothing beats daylight shooting when the rabbits are feeding eagerly. Sitting motionless, the first rabbit presents a safe shot. With the sound moderator dampening the noise, the rabbit drops. Sometimes a few of its fellow feeders can be shot before they realise that something isn’t right and head for home. With patience you can shoot quite big bags in early spring adopting this approach.

The rimfire must account for millions of rabbits each year across the UK. Nipping a problematic rabbit population in the bud during the spring and summer months not only saves the farmers’ crops, it provides thousands of sportsmen plenty of enjoyable and affordable shooting.