When it comes to reducing the springtime increase in the rabbit population, Simon Whitehead finds that the CZ 452.17 HMR is the best tool for the job
I spend a lot of time with my rifles to complement my ferreting and trapping — especially at this time of year. Not all rabbit problems are the same so I have to be adaptable, which is why my gun cabinet contains a wide variety of firearms.
I certainly couldn’t operate without my air rifle. I often shoot in intimate and noise-sensitive environments, where a neither- seen-nor-heard rule applies. I use a .22 FX Cyclone, kicking out 23ft/lb energy, fitted with an adjuster that enables me to go sub-12ft/lb and below if the need arises. This is good for consistently producing results at up to 60 paces. I started using this rifle more because my .22 rimfire presented too many dangers when shooting locally. But it has pretty much been superseded by a rifle that has helped me fine-tune my skills: the CZ 452 .17 HMR.
This rifle continues to teach me about shooting rabbits
Sporting a heavy barrel to aid steadiness and therefore accuracy, coupled with a good sound moderator, this rifle continues to teach me about shooting rabbits. I am forever stretching my ability to the limit in pursuit of maximising this calibre’s capabilities in the field. But as I discovered when talking to other shooters, it is not to everyone’s taste.
I have fitted a new scope to my CZ. All my rifles now boast an MTC Mamba 4-16×50 parallax adjustable scope, which provides massive value for money and great optics. With a 30mm diameter tube, it syncs perfectly with my customised digital night vision and fits straight on to any rifle in seconds.
The advantages far outweigh any disadvantages for my situation, style of shooting and what it brings to the job. I can see why so many farmers, pest controllers and keepers use them, especially at this time of year. The major drawback to using a .22 rimfire on flat topography — criss-crossed with footpaths, used by ramblers and dog walkers — is the danger of ricochets. I know any bullet has the ability to rebound, but the Hornady 17-gr V-Max ballistic tip, travelling at more than 2,500fps, makes me confident that every time I squeeze the trigger, I will hear a thud and not an elongated ping.
If I miss, the energy ensures that, on the whole, the ballistic tip breaks upon impact. I also like the fact that, being so light and fast, this load has a flat trajectory.
The difficulties in accurately estimating distances in the dark using night vision
do not present the same problem that I get with, for example, my air rifle, where every metre makes all the difference.
Despite the crack of the supersonic bullet in flight, on numerous occasions the rabbit sitting next to the one that has just been shot isn’t spooked. More often than not it is the light accompanying the shot that scares the rabbit, not the noise or the thud of the bullet hitting home.
Influence of the wind on shooting accuracy
But there is a downside. Travelling at such speed, this load is affected by the wind. It depends on what distance you are comfortable shooting at because the greater the distance, the greater the influence wind will have on accuracy.
This is why you can never spend enough time on a range or in a field, practising at varying distances in differing conditions. Zeroed in at 75 yards, the rifle will, with allowances, give me the confidence to shoot any rabbit up to the 125m mark.
This is something I intend to improve this summer by practising shooting at longer ranges. In windy conditions, I will have no hesitation shooting up to the zero range because its accuracy is all down to skill and marksmanship. With such a high- speed round, the impact ensures that your target will not get up when hit in or around its vital areas; something that cannot be said of the .22 rimfire or an air rifle of whatever poundage. This makes it a consistently more humane calibre.
With this superior range at my disposal, I can let the rabbits come to me rather than covering the ground to look for them. If I have a problem area, I usually use my CZ on my quad bike or shoot from a stationary vehicle using the wing mirror as a rest.
I can get comfortable and wait to shoot the emerging rabbits from a static position. This can decimate the warren in no time, and in spring I can have a real impact on the local rabbit population in a relatively short time.
Static shooting is often underrated — on my quad, I get a combined range of 250m and 180° view. Using the quad bike means I can get almost anywhere. When I fit my Night Master 800 on the top, with a red LED pill, I can “lamp” almost old-school style. This is great, but once the rabbits realise the danger that the light presents, I turn to my night vision. I prefer to shoot this when static or to be driven because I don’t like to ride around on a quad with this perched on my rifle.
I have a fair bit of rabbit shooting coming up. Youngsters sitting out on the headlands, adults nipping the shoots off the emerging crops, they are all fair game. I use my CZ 452 because it offers safety, efficiency and great results.
It does exactly what I want a rifle to do. My only handicap is the ability of the person pulling the trigger.
Bite the bullet — the cost of an HMR round pays off
At 25p a shot, you’ll want to hit your target every time
There are possible drawbacks to the speed and energy of my .17 HMR set-up. Many recreational shooters sell their shot rabbits to a gamedealer to help fund their shooting, but the .17 HMR can damage the carcase.
The best way to avoid this is to aim at the head because head-shot rabbits are still perfectly acceptable to a dealer or butcher.
Another downside is the cost of an HMR round — a box of 50 costs between £11 and £15, compared with the Winchester .22 at around £5 for the same quantity. On the plus side, at 25p a shot, you will still be in profit from the dealer, and the cost is a great incentive to brush up on your skills so you don’t miss and waste your money.
Explaining the popularity of the rifle, David Beer, the manager of the gunroom at The Country Store in Pampisford, Cambridgeshire,said: “At this time of year, keepers, farmers and pest controllers want to shoot every last rabbit on the field. The .17 HMR goes a long way to guaranteeing that.”