A burgeoning rabbit problem needs careful treatment when you’re unable to get in with the ferrets, but rimfire aficionado Tony Megson has a quiet and effective solution
It wasn’t as if I had neglected the issue, but the rabbit population seemed to have expanded well beyond acceptable levels. In fact, it seemed as if they had been breeding like, well, rabbits.
Coneys could be seen near the feeders until mid-November, and they were appearing in areas hitherto unencumbered by their presence. It was obviously the time to reduce their numbers, but using a method that wouldn’t disturb the game birds.
Rabbit wires were a possibility, but they are time-consuming to check and threaten to provide Charlie with a ready meal. The shotgun was never going to be an option – one shot and you’ve spooked next season’s breeding birds and every rabbit within an area the size of a small country. It quickly became obvious that the most appropriate tool for the job was the moderated .22 rimfire.
I happened to have a CZ .22 coupled with a Weaver Classic scope. This combination is accurate, reliable and robust. Its ruggedness is such an advantage that even someone as clumsy and destructive as me, after banging it around and generally abusing it for months, can still shoot it with a modicum of accuracy.
It was late in the afternoon on the following day when I was able to venture forth on my campaign to become a member of the rampant rabbit reduction society. Rimfire slung on shoulder, I considered where I would be best placed. Ensuring I was downwind and had a suitable backdrop, I found an acceptable spot that would grant me a wide field of view and clear line of sight should any of my quarry emerge within range. Suitably camouflaged and safely ensconced, I began my vigil. It was a surprisingly short wait, which is unusual for me as I usually need a shave again before anything appears. I would guess I had only been sat for 15 minutes when the first one tentatively poked its head out from the undergrowth.
I was left with a minor predicament: Should I shoot this one or wait in the hope that others would emerge, offering the chance of bagging more than one? The problem was that if I waited, this one might disappear from whence it came and I wouldn’t get another opportunity. This would further darken my already tarnished reputation with she who must be obeyed. I dared not risk it.
The Weaver dot found the rabbit’s shoulder and the almost silent report of the CZ confirmed my faith in the equipment as the rabbit fell to its side. Then I saw another appear from the cover opposite its fallen colleague. It wasn’t spooked, as the rimfire had caused little disturbance. Nevertheless, for all its silent efficiency the animal was aware something untoward had occurred. It didn’t have chance to wonder for long as the 38-grain Remington subsonic quickly removed any anxiety it may have had. Two in the bag less than 20 minutes in – and it hadn’t even rained yet.
I stayed in the same spot for another 20 minutes before I was presented with a third possibility. About 20 yards past the two earlier targets, three more came out and were feeding on the edge of the cover. I estimated the range to be about 80 yards.
I was about to squeeze the trigger when my intended target hopped out of sight and into the game cover. I quickly swung on to one of the two remaining, and again the CZ proved its effectiveness. While the second one disappeared immediately, almost instantly the first one re-emerged from its dining table and sat looking around curiously. Quickly bringing the gun to bear, I found the target with the Weaver’s dot and dispatched the coney silently and without ceremony.
While I was moving back towards the vehicle, I saw movement alongside an adjoining hedge. More rabbits. It was too good an opportunity to miss. Crawling forward along the base of some trees, I tried to get within range. The wind had come round and wasn’t to my advantage, but I thought I was making fairly good progress – until they all disappeared. I didn’t think I had made that much noise but something had certainly spooked them.
I was just about to get up and make my way back when I saw the reason for the coneys’ swift departure: Charlie fox, 220 or so yards away. I could only imagine that it must have been the wind carrying its scent down to where the conies sat that had frightened them.
I lay as quietly as possible, barely daring to move. I brought the rifle to my shoulder and watched it approach through the Weaver scope. I was in an open position but if I kept still I was certain it wouldn’t spot me. It walked a little closer when it raised its head and, momentarily looking straight at me, ran off like a scalded cat in the opposite direction.
Heading swiftly back to the vehicle, I wondered whether I could circumnavigate the fox’s route. Driving round, I glassed the area with the Minox binoculars but it was nowhere to be seen. This was going to be a problem to solve on another occasion with a larger calibre – and I really must get a second opinion on my aftershave.