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Rabbit hunting in daylight

Richard Saunders is forced to get down and dirty in order to deal with some flighty rabbits during the daytime

I don’t know if it’s the same for you, but it seems the rabbits on my permissions are even more nocturnal than usual. For the last several years I’ve shot hundreds of them, but only a handful during daylight.

I’m not sure why as some of my permissions are remote and the rabbits don’t suffer from over-shooting. And there are plenty about. Strap on NV gear and suddenly those venues look like Watership Down.

Consequently, I’ve got into the routine of only venturing out when it’s dark. Don’t get me wrong, I love shooting at night when my ancient instincts are awakened and senses other than sight are sharpened. But shooting at night has become a habit and it’s really not great for my social life. Pubs in the village are complaining.

So when one of my horsey permission owners asked if I could deal with some rabbits that she’d seen, I had to assume she meant during the day; she’s 80 years old and I doubted she’d been creeping about at night with a thermal spotter. 

The problem with equine permissions is that they are often full of horses that either want to follow you around or try to get in the way of otherwise safe shots. I explained this to the landowner and she said she’d move the horses. Of course I was very grateful, but when I promised I’d be round the following afternoon I rather felt I’d painted myself into a corner of expectation.

Taking the time to range a few landmarks will save time and unnecessary movement when a rabbit does eventually appear


Rabbit recon

I’m sure you’ve experienced permission owners telling you their land is ‘crawling with rabbits, rats, squirrels’. If I had a pound… But this time, as I rolled down the farm drive, I could see at least half a dozen rabbits happily stuffing their furry little faces and digging horse hoof-sized traps in the paddocks.

I resisted the urge to rush out with my rifle straight away and instead grabbed my binos and went for a stroll. I saw several rabbits. Most were feeding confidently in the open whilst the others stuck close to the security of the hedgerow.

I hurried back to the truck to sort out my gear. The farm is enormous and, except for the hedgerows, very open. Anticipating I’d need to stretch the range, I’d brought my .22 calibre 30 ft-lb. AGT Vixen Long – a light rifle that is easy to carry about. It’s nice and quiet thanks to an enormous shroud, and deadly accurate out to 50m with JSB Hades pellets and an MTC Cobra F1 scope on top.

I suppose my reconnaissance had lulled me into a false sense of overconfidence, as there seemed to be considerably fewer rabbits when I went back gun in hand.

Lying prone in ambush for rabbits is often as much a test of patience as it is fieldcraft, especially if the ground is wet and cold

And those that had lingered and had previously ignored me were suddenly a lot more attentive, disappearing into the hedgerow as soon as I made my way into their fields.

It was a salutary lesson and served to remind me that I couldn’t afford to be sloppy with regards to fieldcraft. The last couple of rabbits in the first field disappeared into the hedgerow when I was still around 100m or more away. They weren’t spooked and I got the impression they had retreated just to be on the safe side. 

Rabbits are able to pick up on vibration, so rather than stomp past and put them down for the rest of the day, I closed to within around 35m of where I’d seen the last two and planned to ambush them when they reappeared.

With the benefit of a bipod, laying prone is the most stable shooting position. I checked the distance to a few prominent bushes and sticks with my rangefinder and gave myself a 30-minute limit; if the rabbits hadn’t reappeared by then I’d move on.

I needn’t have worried though as the white flash of a bunny’s bum caught my eye after only 10 minutes. Inevitably it was a little further away than I’d expected, 52m according to the rangefinder, which translated to a dot of holdover.

Using even the smallest piece of cover like a single tree can make all the difference between spooking your quarry or staying stealthy


Bunnies down the barrel

I settled the Cobra F1’s reticle and felt confident that the Vixen’s 30 ft-lb of muzzle energy and CZ barrel would be able to take care of business. The sunlight must have been in just the right position because even at 900-plus ft/sec I could see the .22 Hades zip towards the bunny – and then go straight over its head.

Now suitably freaked out, the rabbit abruptly disappeared like smoke, and rather than wait for another to appear I decided to simply carry on. The next opportunity presented itself in the shape of a couple of rabbits sat sunning themselves in a side paddock 130m away. 

Look closely and you can see the pellet on its way to missing this lucky rabbit 52m away

This time though I had the benefit of some trees and whilst they weren’t much more than saplings, they at least provided me with some cover. So too did the wooden crossbars of the fence.

The breeze was on my side, blowing directly into my face. I took a few minutes to plan my stalk. A showjumping arena was to my left and the raised bank would cover me if I crouched down. 

Following the bank would take me almost level with the two rabbits, and from there I’d be able to use the few trees and fence for cover. All went well and I managed to creep as far as the trees. However, when I paused to check on the rabbits one of them had disappeared, although the other was still happily munching away.

I checked the distance, which showed 59m, which was still a little too far for me and in any case the long grass I’d have to lie in would obscure my shot. The fence line was another 17m away. The only problem was that other than the fence itself, I’d quickly run out of cover. 

With a final check on the rabbit, I crawled on my stomach until I reached the fence. After giving myself a few minutes to catch my breath, I opened the legs of the bipod and settled behind the rifle only to discover that the bottom plank of the fence blocked my view through the scope.

It may not be very elegant, but when the cover runs out, crawling is often the only way to get in range

I fiddled around adjusting the bipod’s height but no matter what I tried, the fence obscured the shot. Somehow, despite all the movement, the rabbit was still there. 

I retracted the bipod and settled into a sitting position, using the fence as a rest and lasered the rabbit at 42m. 

At last, I finally squeezed the trigger and the Hades pellet covered the distance in less than a heartbeat, hitting the rabbit squarely between the eyes. It did a full somersault before lying stretched out on the ground, legs and toes flexing in the throes of death.

Although I went on to claim another three rabbits before calling it a day, none of them fell to stalking tactics, despite several attempts. 

But laying in ambush and replaying that first success somehow made the hard ground just that bit more comfortable.