Rabbit lamping: make use of those dark winter evenings
Shorter winter days don’t necessarily mean long hours stuck indoors – as Mat Manning proves when he grabs his lamp and heads out in search of rabbits…
The winter days may be getting shorter, but I’m not complaining – because while some associate this time of year with long nights snuggled up in front of the fire, I regard it as prime lamping season. And that means nights out rabbit lamping.
In warmer months, you’ll frequently encounter daylight rabbits, often when they’re enjoying the late-evening sun or feeding on dew-softened grass at dawn. But they become far more secretive at this time of year when, with so many hours of darkness, they can afford not to venture out in daylight.
They therefore become quite nocturnal in their habits – and by the turn of the year, you can be fooled into thinking rabbits have all but disappeared from your permission. However, go rabbit lamping after nightfall… and you’ll more than likely be presented with a very different picture.
Those rabbits you saw out feeding between six and 10 o’clock in the evening during summer are probably still keeping similar hours – but you’re not going to see that by spending cosy nights at home.
Shooters often complain about the lack of hunting time during the winter months – but you can add many hours to your field time simply by switching to after-dark forays. And with dusk setting in around teatime, you can spend a few hours out bagging bunnies and still grab enough sleep to feel fresh for work the following morning.
Night vision optics have established a loyal following among airgun shooters over recent years, and rightly so – they provide optimum stealth for picking off pests after dark. However, never underestimate the effectiveness of more conventional lamping gear.
If your budget doesn’t quite stretch to the latest NV gear, you still have the choice of several great lamping setups that will give you change from £100. We seasoned hunters used lamps for all our nocturnal shooting assignments before night vision came on the scene – and the method still works just as well as always.
As much as I enjoy using state-of-the-art NV rigs, I still find that lamping makes for an easier night out. By and large, scope-mounted lamps are simpler to use than your average night vision optic – all you need to do is clip one to your daytime tellies… and you’re away.
I also like the fact that you can easily see where you’re going when using lamplight. Walking in the pitch black associated with NV – especially when your eyes are ‘blinded’ by the bright glow of the NV sight’s picture or display screen – is much trickier. Moreover, lamps tend to give you a much wider field of view when scanning the fields for quarry.
And so I opted for a simple tactical flashlight for a recent night out after rabbits on one of my permissions. With the intention of covering a few miles, I clipped the compact Clulite Red Eye Gun Light atop a Daystate/MTC combo and headed for the fields. (Read our guide to the best torches for hunting.)
Wanting to keep kit light and simple for the impending trek, I also dispensed with the lamp’s remote switch and swapped it for the integral tail switch. Some people may think that strange, but it meant I’d have no trailing wires to get tangled up in.
I wound down the scope’s magnification to 6x to improve light transmission as well as enable faster target acquisition. Combined with the Regal’s user-friendly weight and 10-shot magazine – which makes for fumble-free loading in the dark – I’d got a good set-up for traversing several miles of shoot at night-time.
To allow time for the rabbits to venture out into the fields, I’d waited until about an hour after sunset – but, disappointingly, the first shine-round revealed a pair of fox’s eyes! About 200 metres away, old Charlie didn’t hang around when I lit him up – but at least a scattering of very dark, fresh rabbit droppings close to the hedgerow suggested that the bunnies had been out. With luck, I’d have spooked the fox enough so he wouldn’t spoil my chances.
Drifting on through the gloom, I turned around a dogleg in the hedge line and stopped for a careful rabbit lamping scan. To my relief, this area clearly hadn’t been spoilt by my four-legged adversary; the light picked up the eye-shine from three, feeding rabbits about 80 metres ahead.
Obviously, I needed to get much closer for the shot. So I switched off the torch and crept very quietly in their direction, keeping my footfalls as soft as possible – not easy in heavy rubber boots, but at least they were keeping my feet dry in the wet grass!
After closing down the distance by 40 or so paces, I flicked the lamp back on to find all three rabbits still out, and now almost close enough for a shot. Keeping the Clulite’s red beam held steady on the nearest bunny, I carried on my stealthy approach.
At about 30 metres away, I sank onto my knee to take aim. The rabbit was clearly aware of the lamp’s red light, but not unduly concerned with it. While it continued to feed among the tussocks, I steadied my breathing and clicked my tongue to make it sit up.
It duly obliged, offering me a head shot clear of the tufts of grass – and an instant after I touched off the trigger, the sound of the impacting pellet echoed through the night air. Seeing that the rabbit was cleanly despatched, I cycled the bolt and swung the lamp round to see if any of the other bunnies had lingered. However, they’d scarpered.
Pointing the beam on the shot rabbit, I walked in to make the retrieve. I’d not taken a backpack to carry the night’s spoils, but that wasn’t a problem. I flicked on my headlamp, grabbed the Opinel knife out of my jacket pocket, and hocked the rabbit’s hind legs to a fence, ready for collection at the end of the session. My homeward journey would take me back along the same route, and I just hoped that Charlie wouldn’t gather up the night’s bag before I did! (Read our guide to the best hunting knives.)
My outward journey yielded another three rabbits – all hocked and hung in the same manner as the first – with one more bagged on the return. Thankfully, nothing was plundered and I collected all five of the hocked bunnies.
Although five is by no means a big bag on this rabbit lamping permission, I was still very happy with the night’s tally. Frequent visits like this keep the farmer satisfied that I’m keeping the pest control programme rolling, and also provide me with a regular supply of meat for the pot without over-filling the freezer.
So not only had it been a productive and enjoyable night session, after my recent field trials of NV equipment, it also served as a good reminder that conventional lamping kit can still deliver the goods for the airgun hunter. (You might also like to read – what happens when rabbits get lamp shy?)
This piece was originally published in 2015 and has been updated.