Ed Cook talks about the advantages of using an airgun to control rabbits and reminisces about his childhood experiences with one

I recently dusted off my first airgun that my parents bought me for my ninth birthday. This gun, along with copious amounts of enthusiasm, taught me a lot about hunting, fieldcraft and the rabbit.

I spent much of my teens shooting with this .22 Weihrauch HW 77 K and accounted for many rabbits, rats and other ‘bits and bobs’. I probably learned more with that Weihrauch about tactics to get within killing range of a rabbit than any gun I now own. I knew the gun’s limitations and that I needed to be within 40 yards and make a headshot. Anything more meant no rabbit in the bag.

Modern rifles, high calibres, technical range aids all help fine-tune the need to be within a certain range for shooting rabbits.

I don’t recall shooting sticks being commercially available and even if they were I doubt I could have afforded them. So I settled instead for sitting on the floor and taking a shot from my knees, a posture that would make all sorts of crunching and clicking these days.

Childhood airgunning

I learned to use wind direction to my advantage so as to avoid detection and, when possible, approach from downwind of my target. However, I only did this if it didn’t compromise my presence by walking out in the open – along the skyline or against bright lights, as these all help to highlight your presence as a potential threat.

Now, even for the most skilled airgunners with a non-FAC (firearms certificate) airgun, I would say that 50 yards is pretty much the distance limit between shooter and rabbit, although this can be doubled with FAC versions of air rifles.

Daylight stalk

I am not convinced camouflage outfits aid an airgun shooter’s ability to sneak towards their intended target, but the ability to freeze instantly on a rabbit adopting an alert posture undoubtedly is. In fact, I would say that without this skill a shooter who has to be within a limited range to nab his quarry is unlikely to be successful when stalking rabbits during daylight.

Other approaches can be productive, such as sitting near warrens. However, rabbits have a habit, especially when frequently shot at, of either stopping coming out altogether or, if they do, at further range than you or your gun’s capability. They are cute in all senses of the word and this can mean stalking is needed anyway.

Lamping and the use of night-vision equipment also bring options for the airgunner. I use such approaches in built- up areas or near buildings, especially when other calibres are unsafe. An advantage of an airgun is its relative quiet, especially in comparison with bigger calibres. (Read more on lamping rabbits here.)

This is a significant plus for the airgunner as a rabbit may not take cover after an airgun pellet miss compared with when something bigger whistled past. This is most likely because the noise of an airgun isn’t that different to many other noises that occur in these areas, noises to which the rabbit has become accustomed.

For me and the job I do as a professional rabbit controller, an airgun – either a standard or an FAC version – comes into its own when doing garden jobs, because we can use them effectively at small ranges to kill good numbers while sitting in wait from a variety of locations, be it from a window, flat roof or, as we did recently, from a children’s playhouse.  (Read more on garden airgunning.)