Grave problems

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I like nothing better than a one-off assignment. Over the years, there have been a number of memorable ones.

I have been requested to shoot muntjac in small gardens surrounded by houses. This isn’t the sort of spot one can deploy the .30-06 – although I once had a client who did just that, thereby attracting the disapproving attention of the constabulary.

I guess it was the double yellow lines on the street outside the house that caused them to be so cross. In such circumstances, safety constraints within the conditions imposed by the Deer Act point to the deployment of a shotgun rather than a rifle.

Round the houses: Muntjac that stray into residential areas are incredibly difficult to dispatch safely

Round the houses: Muntjac that stray into residential areas are incredibly difficult to dispatch safely

One job involved culling a muntjac in a shrub garden. This lay in front of the house. In making my risk assessment I considered and rejected the option of shooting from the upstairs windows of this towards the road.

A high seat with lines of fire back to the house, and with the house itself as the ultimate backstop, was the preferred choice.

I waited until the owner was away and, in the early morning pre-light, parked my truck discreetly in the drive and sat up with high hopes of ambushing this muntjac buck in the course of his shrubbery patrol.

After an hour a glimpse of movement in the shrubs was characteristic of a muntjac and I lifted the rifle off the cross rails of my high seat and readied myself for action.

Regular muntjac stalkers will know just how it was – tantalising glimpses of the muntjac in summer coat, never the whole beast, always bits of it, always infuriatingly screened by the leaves and branches of the shrubs.

However, he was gradually working towards the edge of one shrubbery and I thought there was every chance of him breaking cover and crossing the lawn to another planted area to my left.

And so he would have done, had not a police car then driven up to the front of the house.

As the car scrunched over the gravel, the muntjac bolted back under cover, leaving me to explain to the policemen that I was operating with the owner’s consent and was not a burglar, as suspected by the sharp-eyed neighbour who had reported my truck. That was one muntjac I never nailed!

On another occasion I was called in to assist a lady who lived in a roadside cottage, behind which was a field. Her garden, a very pretty one about the size of a tennis court, contained herbaceous borders and several fruit trees and was separated from the field immediately behind by a post-and-rail fence.

This lady complained that big deer were coming into her garden, eating her flowers and damaging the trees. As the garden was so small and immediately behind the house I found this claim hard to believe.

However, an inspection revealed plants eaten off in a ragged way, fraying on the trees, fallow deer slots and fewmets. Once the culprits had been identified, I had to think what to do about them.

Short of sitting on the end of the lady’s bed all night with a rifle and lamp, there was simply no room to shoot. Eventually, I obtained permission to shoot deer on the field behind the cottage.

I erected a high seat and used it several times without ever seeing a deer on this field. Frustratingly, what I did see was a regular herd of fallow deer over the road on the edge of the adjoining park.

With their usual cunning, these beasts had learnt to wait for the cover of darkness before crossing the road and starting their nocturnal depredations in my lady’s garden. I made contact with the park’s owner and suggested he should conduct a cull, although I never heard whether he undertook this.

Churchyard coneys: Rabbits had taken up residence in the graveyard, and it’s down to David to deal with them

Churchyard coneys: Rabbits had taken up residence in the graveyard, and it’s down to David to deal with them

Another lady, who lived in a house adjacent to an ancient church and churchyard, provided me with some engaging and quite unexpected sport of a different kind.

“Bring your rifle,” she instructed when I called to make arrangements for an overnight stay. I did. I put my old Brno .22 rifle and a box of Winchester subsonic ammunition in the truck.

On my arrival at ‘Church Hall’ my hostess pointed to the grassy churchyard and told me it was seething with rabbits. Some of them lived in the adjoining woodland, but others had taken up residence in the graves.

One mausoleum was close to collapse because of the sheer number of burrows underneath it. These were the rabbits I was to shoot! I enquired as to whether the neighbours would disapprove of my shooting in the churchyard. “Not at all – they are all for it,” came the answer.

At four the next morning I slipped out of my bed and into an excellent, elevated shooting position on her upstairs landing. There were plenty of targets. The churchyard was infested with rabbits.

I engaged the nearest one, confident that the massive walls of the church were providing the safest backstop I would ever have.

The first rabbit – a big buck – jumped a good three feet before collapsing in a heap. Another shot or two and the survivors scuttled off, but not for long. On their return I was waiting for them and shot several more.

My rimfire meant they wouldn’t be hearing any more rings from the church bells.

Mission accomplished: The churchyard is quiet once more thanks to David’s old Brno, a box of Winchester subsonic ammo and a lot of determination

Mission accomplished: The churchyard is quiet once more thanks to David’s old Brno, a box of Winchester subsonic ammo and a lot of determination

At 6.30am I ceased fire and made safe my rifle. Then, slipping into the churchyard through the lychgate, I retrieved six fine rabbits.

I laughed out loud as I thought of the sport I had just enjoyed in this unusual location, and of Andrew Marvell’s celebrated couplet:

The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.

David Barrington Barnes

Fast work: David finds good sport in an unlikely place, taking six rabbits in one night

Fast work: David finds good sport in an unlikely place, taking six rabbits in one night

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