The first cut of the harvest signals the start of my rabbiting year. The fields and hedgerows are a good indicator of the local rabbit population, bearing the signs of their runs and huge mounds of droppings. But will the creatures be in the crops when I get there?
I didn’t get much chance to get my eye in before harvest time as my previous rabbit shooting had been short and sweet.
To prepare for shooting with the combines, I visited my friend Bruce Marks, an excellent shotgun coach who helped me to improve my accuracy. Bruce gave me some great pointers that you can see in detail in the video above. At his place — Grange Farm in Wansford, Cambridgeshire — I spent hours smashing clays, learning a great deal about my gun, stance and action.
Before you even think about shooting at harvest, you need to check the ground first. Make sure there are no public footpaths or animals the other side of hedges. You need to know where your shot is going to fall and land should you miss a rabbit. You’ll definitely need a dust mask and glasses as the combine harvester kicks up a lot of dust!
I joined the farm to shoot alongside the combine harvesters with Bruce’s advice still resonating. And as you’ll see from above, I’m not afraid to admit that I still missed a few rabbits.
A combine shoot is all about making the right decision at the right time. Put miles of walking in, up and down the fields, and looking out for what’s going on around you is important. Many animals use the crop as harbourage, from rats to deer. As the crop is harvested, the animals make a dash for the nearby hedgerows and become exposed.
I know I could remove more rabbits at night, but you only get out what you put in. A lot of the ground I covered this year I had never been on, so I wanted a good look about to see what’s what and what is moving where in preparation for the winter’s busy schedule.
The rabbit may be a great survivor, but fortunately for me, these ones aren’t.