Thursday, 31 December 2009

Thanks!

I've just come back from spending a snowy Christmas with friends near Newport on Tay where I had the joy of seeing, for the first time in my life, hares racing about in the fields.

Snowy fields near Newport-on-Tay

The turn of the year seems like a good time to send out my thanks; I started blogging here about air rifle hunting & shooting on February 9th this year and this will be post 134; the blog has received 13,832 visits and 25,117 pages views so far. I've certainly very much enjoyed my end of things - writing and fiddling with photo's - but this amounts to little compared to the pleasure I've had from all the comments, responses and feedback to the blog. So I thought this would be a good time to express my gratitude.

My thanks go in particular to:

Albert A Rasch (currently in Afghanistan), for his generous and enthusiastic support both for this blog and for the life of the Hunter-Blogger community in general.

The Suburban Bushwacker - the premier UK Hunter-Blogger! - for his links, comments and the pleasure of the conversations we've had.

NorCal Cazadora - Mighty Queen of the Hunter-Bloggers! - it's an honour to be on y'r blogroll, ma'am!

Mungo Says Bah! - Thanks for your links and support and the pleasure that your always-delightful photography has given me.

Thomas - I faintly suspect that, were I in the States, my voting choices wouldn't meet with your unqualified approval - but your kindness, comments and emails have greatly enlivened this blog, broadened my outlook, sharpened my knives and improved my shooting.

Fred - many thanks for that Rhino Scope you were kind enough to send me. I've been such a lazy bugger of late that - and I'm embarrassed about this - I've yet to use it in the field. But that day will come, and soon, I'm sure.

Tony of Sandwell Field Sports (probably the best gun shop in the UK) - for tuning my old HW80k - it's a different gun thanks to you and I'm very much looking forwards to the barrel work you've suggested.

Many thanks for the comradely links and support from James Marchington, Harris' Hawk blog, Wandering Owl Outside, Wildcat Outdoors, Backyard Safari, Hodgeman, Lone Star Parson and Murphyfish.

To those that have hit the 'Donate' button on the left: You know who you are - please know also my very sincere thanks to you.

To those who've clicked the ads on the blog: Google Adsense quite rightly forbids me from encouraging you, but it can't stop me thanking you!

Thanks, cheers, and a Happy New Year to you all!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

The Hackney Farmer Karma of Hubert.

Joy! After months of relentless lurking in charity shops I finally landed myself an authentically smelly, wrinkled and grubby fake Barbour Jacket! Hallelujah! The search is over: with my new jacket, straggly beard and filthy flat cap I am, at long last, the very image of a bona-fide Hackney Farmer.

A Hackney Farmer? Just so: one who affects the full trappings of rural work-wear and yet can be seen to do nothing but lounge around all day in Starbucks with a Mac on their lap, cradling, in their moisturised, callous-free hands, naught more burdensome than a de-caff soya latte.

C'est moi!
I might now look like a scion of the rural working community, but I've been nowhere near the fields for... well, for what seems like months.

Anyway, now fully outfitted for appearance in the country I, of course, headed straight for the city (with the ever-lovely Mrs. Hubert)...


...and strode around proudly in the crowded streets, resplendent, so I felt, in my new-found, very becoming, son-of-the-soil, rural garb.

Out for a meal at my brother-in-law's place in the city, the three of us were just finished with the first bottle of wine each and, swaying somewhat, I struggled into my new coat and went out into the garden for a smoke.

As I left the warmth, my brother-in-law elected to bring his fluffy and adorable pet rabbit into the cozy, wine-and-roast-chicken perfumed snug of his lounge to warm up a wee bit. All very nice.

Fag finished, I came back inside, dropped everything and said 'yes please!' to another glass.

The rabbit ate my bloody jacket.

In a flash, in the space of a minute the damn thing put about a dozen holes in it; big holes, not little nibbled scratchy marks, dirty great big inch-across holes.

Now, I'm very happy to pretend I'm a farmer but I'm less happy, far less happy, to appear like someone who lives in a bush and talks back to his voices (obviously, since this is actually who I am, and the whole useful and enjoyable point of costume is putting on the orthopaedic mask of someone that you're not). So the hole-riddled jacket went on the peg in the hall and stayed there for a month while I contemplated it in passing every day with a grumpy scowl on my face.

Pedalling back from the giant charity warehouse on the outskirts of the town where I live the other day (where I'd gone to try and find a cheap fridge, since my old second-hand one has chosen this helpfully chilly part of the year to finally break down) I spotted a mouldy green lump in a ditch which, on inspection, turned out to be another filthy fake Barbour.

Joy! (and thanks, God.)

I cut the less mouldy strips of the waxed fabric from the discarded wreck of the coat and, over a few nights, stitched them onto the rabbit-wrecked remains of my own.


Job's a good 'un.
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Winter draws on.

Winter has come to the West Midlands; the first flakes of the season's snow fall invisibly through the late afternoon's darkness, glitter for a moment in the yellowy-orange glow of the street lights and shiver down finally onto the lawns, the roofs of parked cars and the piled-up, wind-blown remains of Autumn's long-fallen leaves.

Do they fall on Hubert, hunkered in a field somewhere, one boggling eyeball frozen to end of a scope?

Nope; no-sirree; no they don't - for Hubert is inside: crouched in the weak field of warmth that's grudgingly given by the ancient storage heaters in his near-Arctic flat; long-john clad, duvet-wrapped, chain-smoking roll-ups and dreaming of summer...

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Tripping Up Trump!

It's a bit damn late in the day for me to post this but if it gets a couple more signatures on the petition before it closes on Thursday (tomorrow!) then it won't have been in vain.

Mr. Trump (as detailed in an article in the Guardian here) wants to evict the salmon fisherman and quarryman Michael Forbes from the home he shares with his mother so that he can build a golf-themed playground and housing estate for the ultra-rich on the land.

Mr Trump has said of Forbes: "has always been dirty, sloppy and unkempt in his personal appearance and demeanor [sic]. He is a loser who is seriously damaging the image of both Aberdeenshire and his great country.
"His property is a disgusting blight on the community and an environmental hazard, with leaking oil containers, rusted shacks and abandoned vehicles dumped everywhere. It is a very poor image and representation for the world to see of Scotland."
The Rabbit Stew Blog says - thoughtfully and diplomatically as ever - Sod off, Trump!
Join me in donating to support the campaign against the compulsory purchase of Forbes' land by visiting the "Tripping up Trump" site here and signing the petition to the Aberdeenshire Council here.
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Wednesday, 21 October 2009


I've decided that I'm going to write all further posts on this blog in verse. So there will now be a small pause (of some years, probably) in which I learn how to write poetry.

(Also it's damn chilly and wet in the sodden, autumnal West Midlands and lying under a dripping hedge at dusk with an iron-sights rifle seems about as attractive to me as ... something very unattractive.)

Meanwhile, I send my most hearty congratulations to Holly on the occasion of her first deer.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

How to Hunt Rabbits with an Air Rifle

The sticky, boiled down, concentrated essence of the first year of Hubert's rabbit hunting could be expressed as follows:
  • If in the UK, get a rifle that'll shoot at about 11.5ftlb with a variety of pellets (because one that'll shoot 'just under' 12ftlb with the pellet you use most often will still send you to prison if the pellet the police happen to test it with pops the chrono 'just over').
  • Get permission from a landowner. Ask around, dress smartly, knock on doors, don't show up drunk, don't bother asking by post or phoning (you'll just irritate them and lessen the chances they'll be friendly to the folk that actually bother to ask them personally). Accept refusals with good grace and retire politely. Keep going till you get one.
  • Once you have a permission, don't bugger it up by being narky to dog walkers and hikers: one word to the police from an irritated Labrador owner and you are back to yearning fruitlessly over copies of  AirGun Weekly (or in jail). Look after the land that you have permission to shoot on: don't knacker the fences; don't leave litter; don't take a pop at that out-building gutter when you're bored and stay well away from any livestock on the land. You are an ambassador for hunting now and there are plenty of ill-informed people who would have the whole thing banned - so don't give them ammunition.
  • Learn how to shoot the gun accurately before attempting to shoot your dinner. Practising on live quarry is an utter no-no. Join an air-rifle club or a Field Target club - but practise. You do not have to be pellet-on-pellet perfect at 75 yards but you will have to practise a good deal before you start hunting unless you are going out specifically to pointlessly maim wildlife (and you shouldn't be). If you can get consistent groups within one inch at thirty yards - from the positions that you'll be using in the field - then you've reached the minimum level to start hunting proper. There's no need to stay at this minimum level however, so do keep practising.
  • You don't really need a full-body, army-sniper ghillie suit; drab clothing, greeny-brown in colour will do nicely. Don't go out hunting in your safety-orange work wear. Don't put highly perfumed fabric conditioner in your washing machine if you're cleaning your hunting gear.
  • You don't need a scope that can shift focus between your outstretched finger and the surface of the moon when your effective shooting range is only up to 40 yards. In summer, you can go out mid-afternoon and find rabbits; in the cooler months however, dawn and dusk will be the best times to hunt and, because this is so, a scope that gathers as much light as possible will be helpful - as will an illuminated reticule. This isn't to say that you can't hunt at dusk with an unilluminated 30mm objective lens: you can. But something between 40 and 50mm will allow you to hunt for a good deal longer. If you can afford the light-up reticule, then get one.
  • Consider using see-through mounts for your scope. These aren't that easy to get your hands on but I think they might well mean - for scopes around the 40mm mark - that you could use the iron sights as well as the scope, and this might well give you a little bit more flexibility about the shots you can take and the speed with which you can take them.
  • If you can afford that Airwolf, great, (and while you're here, mister Moneybags, can you see that 'Donate' button to the left?) but you don't need to spend a grand on a gun.
  • If what you want to do is get rabbits for the table and you can afford a pre-charged pneumatic rifle (and the kit that goes with it) and you are not too fussed about getting off more than a hundred shots in an afternoon's shooting (and dear God why would you want to?) - then get one. You will hear people going on about the 'romance of the springer' and 'Oh, it's so much more satisfying shooting with a spring gun' but PCP's are more accurate and will put more rabbits in the pot and that's why you're doing it, not for the joy of the action and the challenge (unless of course you are and in which case, good luck to you).
  • If you can't afford a PCP then buy a decent springer and get good at shooting with what you can afford. A well-made springer, in the hands of someone who has learned how to shoot one, will do the job perfectly.
  • Yes, Crosman 2250 Ratcatchers are cheap and nifty - sadly, they don't do the job.
  • Those Chinese-made CO2 rifles are well made, affordable and can indeed, with a bit of fettling, rival the PCP's for accuracy. CO2, however, is not a free commodity and in cold weather you can get a considerable drop in pressure which will have a knock-on effect on accuracy (and not a good one).
  • Dome headed pellets give the best combination of accuracy and efficiency. Cheap pellets are a false economy since they're inevitably less well made and therefore less predictable in flight. If you buy pellets on-line for economy then try to arrange it so that the Postie does not just pop them through your letterbox: the three-foot drop to the floor will render half the tin unusable.
  • If you can afford the PCP it probably makes sense to get it in .177 calibre. There is more whack in a .22 but all the whack in the world will not put a rabbit in the pot if you miss - and it's trickier judging distance with the steeper parabolic arc of a .22 pellet.
  • Yep, a .20 is probably a good compromise and no, you don't see many of them around second hand.
  • With a springer, I've honestly no idea if there's much difference between .177 and .22 but with a .22 you can reasonably look to take pigeons as well as rabbits because a .22 will drop a pigeon (if you hit it) more effectively than the smaller pellet.
  • Keep the safety on until it's time to shoot. Climbing over fences with a rifle that'll maybe go off if you drop it is a very bad idea: 11.5ftlbs on a pellet into an eye might very well kill you or your mate stone dead.
  • Watch your background. Your pellet will not go half a mile - that's why you don't need a firearms certificate - but it will, if you miss, go straight through that nearby hedge. If you can't absolutely guarantee that there's no one on the other side then you should not be taking that shot. If you hit someone, or their dog, and hurt them, then you'll likely go to jail and you'll deserve it.
  • Walk the land you have permission on; get to know it. Look for burrows; look for paths between burrows; figure out the distances from places you can hide and shoot to likely target areas. If you already know it's thirty yards to that burrow then you can reasonably expect, if you've zeroed at thirty, that you will be putting the pellets in the right place - otherwise you'll be estimating all the time and that takes a while to learn how to do well.
  • Tread softly. Don't wear hob-nailed boots when you're out hunting: rabbits are very sensitive to vibration through the ground so wear light shoes and go easy.
  • Don't cover yourself in eau de cologne before you go out. Rabbits have a very acute sense of smell. Don't chain-smoke while hunting, either - if you do, you won't be.
  • You can camp or you can wander. Camping, settling down a useful distance from a place you expect rabbits to appear, will probably get you some rabbits - but you may need to earn it by sitting or lying silently for a long time - and there's no guarantee that one will appear. Wandering, walking the land in the hope of seeing a rabbit and approaching it by stealth, is much more interesting than camping, but 'interesting' in this context also means 'considerably more challenging'.
  • If you're going to be camping and it's not high summer, dress very warmly: lie motionless on the ground when it's even mildly chilly and you'll soon freeze.
  • If a rabbit pops out in front of you and sits on the edge of its burrow then you should not shoot at it. Rabbits need to be so far from their burrow that you can get to a wounded but still mobile rabbit quicker than it can get back to its burrow. This is important.
  • If you can find a spot where you can watch down a burrow-riddled fence line, then that's good. If you can find a spot where you can look down two burrow-riddled fence lines then that's even better. Examine the intersection of fields: is there a little hidey-hole there you can use?
  • If you're wandering, pay attention to the direction of the wind: there's little point walking towards an area that your scent will visit before you get there. Walk into the breeze if you can. Don't camp upwind of a burrow you have hopes for.
  • Rabbits will not sit around while you approach them in plain sight - sad but true. It is possible, using all available cover from hedges, long grass, nettles, overhanging foliage or depressions in the grounds, to creep up on rabbits in daylight - but it is very, very difficult. Hold the rifle across the crooks of your elbows if you are crawling on all fours; advance when they are feeding or looking the other way and freeze if they look up. Don't try this in clothes you're not happy to get filthy because you will get filthy if you do it properly. Wear a hat. Don't be discouraged by numerous failures - it really is very difficult to do this and reading about it on the internet is not the same as learning how to do it.
  • You should be aiming for the point where an imaginary line back from the rabbit's eye intersects with another imaginary line coming down from its ear. That's where its brain is; that's where you want the pellet to go.
  • If you wound the animal and you are not sitting behind a multi-shot PCP with half-a-dozen pellets ready to go then you will need to get up quickly, get to it, grab it and dispatch it with the utmost haste. Take a sturdy trout priest with you or learn how to break a rabbit's neck (James Marchington demonstrates (to the Suburban Bushwacker) how to do this at the end of this video.)
  • A dead rabbit will need to be - and this is, unfortunately, the correct term - 'thumbed' to clear the bladder of urine prior to gutting. You hold the rabbit by the front legs with your left hand (if you're right-handed), grab the animal around the stomach and, exerting pressure with your thumb, slide your hand down towards its tail; then you repeat the process till the job is done.
  • Rabbits come with fleas. You may decide that hanging your catch on a fencepost for half an hour while they disperse is a good idea; you may equally decide to grit your teeth and get on with gutting the rabbit there and then.
  • It's probably best to gut rabbits in the field. To do so, lay the animal on its back on the ground, pick up the fur just below the bottom of the ribcage and make a nick through the skin beneath. This done, insert the blade of your knife in the nick and, taking care not to slice through any of the revealed intestines (since this will risk tainting the meat), slice the belly open towards the back legs. Pick the rabbit up so that you're holding it with the front legs in your left hand and the back legs in your right and then - holding tightly - make an abrupt gesture away in front of you while turning slightly: the guts - all of them, if you're lucky - will fly out. You may have to tidy up with your knife afterwards. None of this is as pleasant as it sounds.
  • Don't forget to clean your knife when you get home and don't risk cross-contamination by using the same knife for anything else food-related.
  • Hey, you've got a rabbit for dinner!
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Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Drug abuse, idleness and mobile phones.

Today, nostrils crammed with snuff and my head spinning pleasantly, I lay on the grass of a cool Autumn field and gazed up into the branches of an oak tree; leaves - one or two at a time - fluttered down to join me.

DSC03284

Later, lying in a another field, I heard someone shouting; a large man appeared with a mobile phone at his ear and a red and white spaniel at his heels. He advanced into the field, lay down himself and continued his conversation while his dog raced around him. The call finished, he stood up, hitched up his tee-shirt and - baring his generous white belly in the act - scratched his shoulder at some length. This done, he greeted me with a cordial wave and left the field followed by his dog.

Pausing to exchange a series of whimsical text messages with my wife, I mooched in stages down a fence-line free of rabbits.

Dusk fell and the snuff ran out. Wholly unburdened with game as I was, a vision of cocoa and cheese on toast easily carried me home.

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Tuesday, 13 October 2009

At work in the fields

lying in the fields

I crawled through a hedge yesterday, like you do, and found myself under a tree. I took my rifle out of its bag, popped in a pellet and lay back against the tree. A flutter - and a wood pigeon landed in the branches above my head.

The times I've cooked them in the past, I realised last night, I've overcooked them; they don't need long: twenty minutes in the oven yesterday and this one was superbly tender and delicious.
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Monday, 12 October 2009

(S)Canned Veg

Scouring the 'reduced' shelves for food as I do, I'm often struck by the way that price tags and labels have come to dominate the appearance of the items on sale. Here are two fine specimens from my recent expeditions:



Thursday, 8 October 2009

Brrrrrr!

  • A bracing, heart-expanding Autumn evening; I stride briskly to the fields at dusk and sit motionless behind a stile for half an hour. In the distance, I can see scampering brown blobs but, near at hand, nothing stirs.
  • I get up and walk down the fence line; a cold mist is rising off the fields; it is, I realise, damn cold.
  • I shiver and - ninja-like, except for copious nose-blowing and snuff ingestion - continue to edge down the field.
  • I shiver more and realise that I am actually on the brink of hypothermia. Striding vigorously about and admiring the Autumn is all well and good, sitting motionless on the ground in a field is another matter entirely.
  • Rather than perish in a chilly field I elect to knock hunting on the head and go home to get warm.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Camper Van Bicycle

I've had a bizarre idea now for about a year (one of a number, it has to be said) concerning the adaptation of a bicycle into a kind of mobile home. Obviously, this makes no sense at all: why not simply put a tent in a pannier, ride to one's destination and erect said canvas dwelling? Much more sensible. Nonetheless the idea (as bizarre ideas are wont to) persisted.

Browsing the interweb the other day I was very startled to chance upon this image:


The very thing I'd imagined! How extraordinary!

Investigation, however, revealed that this is a 'sculptural art object' fabricated by a gentleman called Kevin Cyr (more details here).

Shame! I'd really like one.

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What's for Dinner?

I was in a charity shop yesterday and I overheard the staff talking about catching and eating sea-food on a holiday one of them had taken recently:

'...so he was out the front of the cottage, gutting the fish...'

'Oh no! I could never kill anything, me!'


'No, no, me neither - well, of course, I'd step on a spider!'


'Well, me too, yes.'


Just then I noticed an unusual book on the shelf in front of me.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Festival of Breaking Things

I managed to crack a window in my flat a couple of days ago. I had a panel of double-glazing in one room which had filled up with condensation because the seals had broken. I decided that drilling a little hole through the glass to try and let the water vapour out might be a good idea. So, about a month back, I used a little diamond drill bit and - making sure it didn't get too hot while drilling - managed to put the hole in without any problems. The hole in place, I left it to see if the condensation would evaporate and the window return to transparency.

Weeks passed and nothing happened so I decided to enlarge the hole. Again, I did it carefully and made the hole a little bit bigger. Then I thought, 'I know, I'll get a fan heater, blow some hot air through the hole and see if I can't drive out some of the condensation that way'.

After thirty seconds of that, of course - ping! - the window cracked.

I cursed myself for foolishness and then sat around in a funk.

Soon bored with funk, I thought I'd go out and do a bit of shooting. On my way out of the flat I propped my bagged rifle up against the door frame while I grabbed my jacket and - bugger! - it promptly fell to one side, straight down onto the scope, bent the 50 millimetre end-lens housing out of true and cracked the central tube.

So, the scope's on E-bay, I'm on the look out for a nice, tasteful window sticker and I've gone back to shooting with iron sights.
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Sunday, 20 September 2009

Zeroing Air Rifles: Festival of Missing Things


I was reading a thread on an air gun forum last night about shooting with pre-charged pneumatics (here) and so I went to sleep thinking - well, among other things, sure - about accuracy in the field. The folk in the thread are discussing the pellet-on-pellet performance that can or can't be expected from an out-of-the-box Weihrauch HW100 - and in terms of what they wrote and how it compares with the sort of thing that I can produce with my old springer, well, I might just as well attempt to hone the rabbit-stopping properties of my critical thinking as attempt to match the precision of these things (I quote):

"At 30 yards once you've found the the right pellet it should be 1 single hole."

[At 30 yards] "You should be getting ragged one hole groups at that distance."

"Both me and a mate was out the other evening perfect conditions, he too shoots a HW100KT and he shot a rabbit at 51 yds bisley magnum, and I shot one at 54 yds logan penetrator. Both shots were premeasured with laser rangefinder both perfect head shots instant kills. Neither of us are annie oakley but these rifles are deadly accurate if running as they should."

The image at the top of this post is my last zeroing effort a few days ago with my, as ever, boingy old HW80k. I'd taken about three shots the day before - thirty-yard shots, all - and missed every time. So in something of a funk, since I'd zero'd about two days before this, I went and fired off the first group (top left in the photo) from an unsupported sitting position at thirty yards (with H&N field target pellets).

And yes, the group showed that I was, indeed, out. So I dialled it up two clicks and fired off another set (top right). O.K, a little too high this time, so I took it one click down and fired off the third group (bottom left).

Well, O.K. That'll do, I thought. The last group did show a little bit of a left drift, but that could just have been the wind perhaps. The first two groups weren't to the left so I didn't adjust on the basis of the last one being a bit skewiff left-wise.

I certainly do wish that I could dependably hit a rabbit at 54 yards - but it would be crazy for me to even try. Twenty to thirty is about my limit and - even then - I miss a good deal.

Sometimes, when faced with an ideal like this against which I can judge myself, I can tend to think, 'ah, gawd, I shouldn't even be out shooting if this is the best I can do'.

I suppose that what I then do is remind myself that I'm not going out shooting in order to try and win any accuracy competitions, I'm actually going out because I want to try and get my dinner.

It's also becoming clearer to me that if I think that zeroing is something I need to do every couple of weeks, say, then I'm kidding myself; I ought to be doing it more or less every time I go out hunting.
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Saturday, 19 September 2009

Out Hunting: Bees, the Catechism and the Oral Object


I found the papery remnants of a beehive when I was out wandering over the fields the other day. After I found it - and rather unwisely perhaps - I looked around for the place it had come from; spotting it, I stuck my head into the hedge where the rest of the hive was hidden. Perhaps I thought that there would be a few bee-free combs full of golden, glistening honey in there that I could pluck out with my bare hands? I'm sure that I had something like that in mind; I love honey, love sweet things, love anything, in fact, that I can cram into my mouth and, when it comes to getting hold of stuff with which to fill my cake-hole, I rarely let anything as trivial as moderation or common sense stand in my way.

What I found, though, when I stuck my head in the hedge was a hole in the ground filled up with more of these old comb fragments and a few disconsolate bees ambling around on top of them. Perhaps, it occurred to me at this point, there might well be a more lively hive beneath the remains of this older one? Perhaps, if there was, the inhabitants might not take kindly to my great ugly mush hovering over them? With this thought, I pulled my head out of the hedge and made off.

Then I sat under a tree for an hour waiting for pigeons and thinking - with little enthusiasm - of the vegetarian meal which awaited me at home if I didn't bag any birds. I'd taken a little book out with me so as to have something to read during these times when I'm staking out a tree in the hope of harvesting wood -pigeons. Opening it, I found myself reading these words by the Dominican friar Herbert McCabe:

We exercise the virtue of temperance in the matter of eating and drinking by, characteristically, taking and enjoying what is sufficient for our health and for the entertainment of our friends.

We may fail (in the exercise of temperateness in this area) by indifference to the enjoyments of the table; by eating and drinking that is totally divorced from either friendship or the requirements of health; by eating what is merely superficially attractive at the expense of a reasonable diet, by drug abuse and by all forms of gluttony.

After about three-quarters of an hour and two missed shots I gave up on the pigeons and went to sit under another tree in the hope of rabbits. The light was fading now and, as it did, so grew my dissatisfaction at the idea of a meatless meal. I must have meat! I thought, I must!

After another half-an-hour, and in near-full darkness by then, a rabbit hopped out from a burrow about five feet away from me and sat there with its back to me. With the scope on the rifle I had no chance of getting a shot at a target that close and so all I could do was sit there and watch it. After a few moments, still not having noticed me, it ran away up the field and kept on running until it was too far away for a shot.

In complete darkness, then, I went home and - with much satisfaction since fruitless hours in search of meat had left me with a great appetite - ate my, in truth, perfectly pleasant vegetarian supper.
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Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Penkridge Village Market

I went along to the mid-week market at the nearby village of Penkridge today. There was an auction of local produce going on; hens, ducks and geese were to be sold and the cages with the animals inside were stacked up to form the walls of the outdoors auction room. Laid out on trestle tables all around were cardboard boxes and plastic trays all full of damsons, plums, cooking apples, tomatoes and many different types and sizes of eggs. Underneath the tables were dozens of rabbits all laid out on cattle-feed sacks or in boxes to be sold at auction as well.

Seeing all this made me happy. It was very nice to feel that the pleasure that I take in getting a rabbit for the table - or even a few damsons from a tree - are things that I could actually have in common with other human beings!

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Sunday, 13 September 2009

Makings of an Autumn Breakfast.

I sat at the base of a tree today and looked up into the branches of another one close by. There was a rise of ground in front of me and, just on the brow of the little slope ahead of me was a red-brown pile of earth that'd been thrown out by a badger expanding its underground home. I've been told by a dog-walker that knows this field that sometimes the badgers dig up bottles and push them out onto the mounds by their front doors; I'd like to come across a badger-excavated old marble-stopped pop bottle above all things, I guess.

I sat under this tree in the late afternoon with the idea that I'd take a shot at any wood-pigeon that came to rest in the branches above. I sat there for close on an hour, looking up at the sky and imagining the pleasures of a grilled pigeon for dinner - but I had no luck. There were birds flying past but non chose to land in the tree I'd picked to sit alongside. I hadn't made any great attempts to hide myself beyond being dressed in drab green and sitting beside a big clump of nettles, mind you, so perhaps the pigeons just saw a chap with a gun sitting below a tree and thought that a roost down the field a little way might just be a better bet? Who knows.

Autumn is nearly here; it'll soon be time for me to acknowledge that if I actually do want to get a rabbit then I'm going to have to start going out at dusk again. I did see one or two today, out in the slightly weak afternoon sun, but this seems like nothing compared to the dozens I'd have seen at this time of day a month or so back.


On the way home, I picked a knee-pocket full of damsons from the abandoned orchard to make a sweet purée with which to enliven tomorrow's breakfast porridge.

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Saturday, 12 September 2009

Shooting: Four shots (one miss).

I've been staying in Bristol and London for the last week.

Today, I went and sat in a field.

On my way home, I took a photograph of the nettles and the grass in the late afternoon sun.

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Thursday, 3 September 2009

L'Atelier Vert - Rabbit Recipes


Just came across these involved but rather fine looking French recipies for rabbit on the site L'Atelier Vert:

Farm rabbit cooked like game

Daube of rabbit with rosé, lavender honey and thyme blossoms

Fricasée of rabbit with glazed onions, honey, and lavender

Rabbit braised with artichokes

Rabbit with mustard sauce

The only thing I'd quibble with about any of these very tasty looking recipes is the piece of advice that's given after one of them: "If you know a rabbit farmer, make sure to patronize him or her."

Well, no; be nice to rabbit farmers, that's my suggestion.
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Friday, 28 August 2009

Bullet Points: Three Days of Hunting

  • Today I went to a public library and downloaded seven-hundred-odd meg of a Linux operating system to a memory stick while a lot of kids mucked about around me on the computers and when I got the memory stick home I discovered that I'd made a cock up of transferring the file and so the damn thing wouldn't burn to disc properly.
  • I haven't eaten any rabbit today.
  • I haven't gone shooting today.
  • It's pouring down with rain here today.
  • I did go shooting yesterday.
  • I missed.
  • Twice, I missed.
  • I did find another puffball - but not, it seemed, before a whole lot of little burrowing insects had found it first.
  • I did see an adorable baby cow in a field and I wished I had my camera with me.
  • I did also clamber through a small hole in a prickly hedge in a blind panic when a herd of cows surprised me by suddenly coming into the field where I was quietly stalking.
  • They scare the crap out of me, cows, they really do.
  • I went out shooting three days ago and I did get a rabbit (after a particularly satisfying bit of stalking and shooting the complexity of which I'm afraid I lack the stamina to describe right now) and I cooked it with rice, veg and some Saffron I found in the cupboard and, afterwards - although I scoffed the lot of course - I did slightly wish I hadn't put the Saffron in since I'd forgotten that, as well as the nice colour that's produced by the addition of this stuff to food it also adds the taste of Saffron as well and that, I discovered, is a taste I'm not that keen on.
  • Hopefully, tomorrow, it won't rain.
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Monday, 24 August 2009

Air Rifle Fieldcraft: Breathing and Shooting

I took what felt to me to be a 'good shot' a few days ago. It was late afternoon and I'd just spent a while leaning up against a fence post and watching as the wood-pigeons came home to roost. I'd got up and walked across one field - patting a passing Labrador on the way - and then through a gate and down along the side of another. As I walked, I found that I was looking through a gap in the hedge at the bottom of the field at the land stretched out beyond and, squinting a little, I noticed that just visible in the green of the distant grass were two tiny patches of grey-brown.

I stepped sideways so that one clump of the old hedge would shield me from sight and kept on walking. There was a dip in the ground over the last dozen yards so I ducked down into this cover, dropped into a semi-crawl on my hands and knees, and managed to get to within ten yards of the hedge without the rabbits - perhaps another fifteen yards beyond in the next field - being able to see me.

Lying flat and raising the scope I saw that my approach hadn't gone completely unnoticed as the rabbits were sitting quite still and alert, holding their heads up high above the grass to look around.

I could have snatched at the shot but I decided - in the hope that an accurate shot in a few seconds time might yeild more than a quick but wobbly one right then - to take a moment or two and steady my breathing.

Looking through the scope I watched as, with each exhalation, the falling pressure of my breath lessened the push of my shoulder against the rifle stock and caused the cross-hairs to rise on the target. The sights climbed with my out-going breath and reached their peak in the momentary pause before the next inhalation which, increasing my shoulder pressure, would again force the reticule down.

In the cycle of two breaths I made tiny adjustments to my support of the rifle so that the peak of the sight's climb on the next exhalation would hopefully leave it paused - in the stillness before the next breath - on the head-shot aim-point just back from the eye and beneath the ear of the still-motionless rabbit. As my breath left me and the sight rose I tightened my squeeze on the trigger; the shot gave out much as I'd wished and the rabbit disappeared.

I scrambled through a gap in the hedge and made for the place where the rabbit had been and found it, to my surprise, head-shot and dead right there. I stood for a minute or so almost baffled at how well the shot had gone and pleased that, once again, I'd managed to get some food for the next few days.

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Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Philosopher Alain Badiou is Rabbit Shock.

Speaking recently the famous French philosopher, Alain Badiou, said:

My father was an alumnus of the École Normale Superieure and agrégé of mathematics: my mother an alumna of the École Normale Supérieure and agrégée of French literature. I am an alumnus of the École Normale Supérieure and agrégé, but agrege of what, of philosophy, that is to say, probably, the only possible way to assume the double filiation and circulate freely between the literary maternity and the mathematical paternity. This is a lesson for philosophy itself : the language of philosophy always constructs its own space between the matheme and the poem, between the mother and the father, after all.

Someone saw that very clearly, my colleague, the French analytic philosopher Jacques Bouveresse, from the Collège de France. In a recent book in which he paid me the horror of speaking of me, he compared me to a five-footed rabbit and says in substance: "This five- footed rabbit that Alain Badiou is runs at top speed in the direction of mathematic formalism, and then, all of a sudden, taking an incomprehensible turn, he goes back on his steps and runs at the same speed to throw himself into literature." Well, yes, that's how with a father and a mother so well distributed, one turns into a rabbit.

Back in the day when I had a brain and could read, his books Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil and Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism
had a big impact on me. They are, I'd suggest, essential reading for philosophically-inclined, melancholic rabbit hunters.
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Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Hubert's Cookery Tips: Cooking Rabbit with Olive Oil?


I'm no gourmet; I don't haunt delicatessens in search of edible exotica or loiter in puddles of my own drool beside the doorways of fancy restaurants. I don't really do posh nosh.

I do, however, regularly buy olive oil and, when I can afford it, I'll spend extra to get a bottle of oil that has a bit of taste to it. The furthest down the 'extra' road I ever got was a bottle of Nunez De Prado.

I came across it because I'd spent most of a day walking around the giant halls of the Tate Modern gallery in London and I was knackered, blitzed with high culture and very hungry. Wildly against my better judgement and heedless of the real state of my bank account, I decided - the hell with frugality! - to have a snack in the Tate's own swish restaurant.

I ordered the cheapest thing I could find and a devastatingly stylish waiter appeared bearing a tiny plate which was artfully adorned with one pink, glassy rectangular block (which turned out to be pressed hock of ham), one purple blob (a beetroot puree of some kind), a hand-hewn chunk of bread, a small pile of sea-salt flakes - and a circular pool of pale green oil.

All of these peculiar components turned out to be individually delicious but the star was - to my surprise - the oil: it was just unbelievably rich, complex and delicious. I was astounded; I had no idea that a simple thing like olive oil could get so good. I consulted the menu again: "...Nunez De Prado Oil". O.K, then.

When I got home I tracked down a supplier on the net, bought a bottle straight away and, for a few months after it arrived, every salad I ate was a feast and every dull boiled bit of veg - when garnished with a few drops of this stuff - positively shone on the palate! It was wonderful stuff.

It ran out, of course, and, because it's about twelve quid a bottle (about a fifth of my weekly income right now) I didn't buy another one. I did carry on using olive oil for almost everything I cooked, though - only I'd use Tesco 'Extra Virgin' at about a tenth of the cost.

This brings me - finally - to rabbit.

For months now I've been cooking rabbit with olive oil and I realised - yesterday - that I have finally developed an opinion regarding the merits of this which I am in a position to share with the readers of this blog. It's this:

Don't cook rabbit with olive oil.

Why not?

Well, even basic olive oil, I've decided, is just way too strong for rabbit. Rabbit - I've finally understood - is a delicately flavoured meat and a feisty, noticable oil like this just gets in the way, interferes with, clashes with the flavour of the meat - and then hangs around afterwards.

It's just not good.

I'd been suspecting this for a while but, since I'm a bit slow on the uptake - in this as in most things - it's taken a while for it to percolate through my bonce that something might be amiss in the kitchen. The last rabbit I got, by way of experiment, I cooked with sunflower oil only - and it was a huge improvement: there seemed to be space, this time, for the flavour of the meat to sit with the thyme and the rosemary; it was altogether fresher and less cloying than when cooked with olive oil.

Well, yes - that's quite enough Fanny Cradock impersonations for now, I think. Back to shooting stuff.
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Sunday, 16 August 2009

Puffballs and the Scope again...

Two days ago, after missing a couple of rabbits and feeling thoroughly fed up with my skills using open sights, I found a puffball mushroom in the fields and carried it home. It's very odd and entertaining to cut one of these things up and include it in the makings of a meal - like cooking with expanded polystyrene:


The pasta dinner that it provided me with, however, was tasty and very welcome - the cooked puffball having a pleasant texture and a creamy, buttery flavour:

Today, I bolted the scope to the Weihrauch again, zeroed it with an ease that surprised me and - wincing at the extra weight on my still-painful, bike-fall-knackered wrist - from an impossibly uncomfortable half-crouching position behind a willow tree at the edge of an old damson grove, took my first rabbit for a month with a head-shot at fifteen yards.

I'm cooking it in accordance with the 'use what's in the cupboard' recipe so, today, that means with rice, the last of the puffball, cabbage, carrots and onion - plus thyme and rosemary from the windowbox. It's bubbling away on the stove behind me as I write.

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Thursday, 9 July 2009

Back in the fields again.

I've not been out to the fields since I hurt myself a week ago falling off my bike. I've spent the time since then slapping antiseptic and sticky dressings on my knee, palms and elbow and trying to get a little flexibility back into my wrist. My knee is still painful but this evening I was so beside myself with restless, furious cabin-fever that I snatched up my gun and army jacket and set out anyway.

I took a few pictures of the motorway, climbed a stile into the fields, dodged a herd of over-curious cows - and then spent a beautiful couple of hours reacquainting myself with this place that, to my surprise, I find I've so keenly missed.

Paths that I walked every day and swiped clear with my knife are now darned across with thick ropes of new bramble; the summer growth has been so strong that I twice came into clearings and was each time startled, for a moment, at not recognising places that I know like my own home; fields that were waist high are now mown into lawns; fields that were flat are now knee-high tangles of dandelion and lush, green grass. Can it only have been a week?

I flopped on the ground - not caring that I'd frightened every rabbit for a hundred yards - and just lay there with my chin propped on my rifle butt, drinking in the setting sun, the view of the fields and the peace.

I came home - darkness falling - empty handed, caring not a damn.
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Sunday, 5 July 2009

The Anti-Sex League?


Oh, I don't know - call me crazy - but looking again at the "Your daddy kills animals" leaflet, I have to say that something of what might be called a 'sub-text' suggests itself to me.

Maybe all those smoke-wreathed nights pouring over volumes of Freud in the company of my fellow black-polo-neck-jumper-wearing, bohemian crack-pots has led me to conjure phantasms where none exist?

Maybe I'm just reading too damn much into this - but...

But do you think it's possible that there's just the teeny-tiniest, smallest, quietest, most evanescent, barely-audible fleeting-bat-squeak of a hint of a (whisper it Hubert, oh dear god, whisper it!) sexual undertone to this picture?

Hmm...
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Friday, 3 July 2009

PETA: Your Daddy Kills Animals.

PETA: "As we all know, human beings often don't think before they act. We don't condemn President Obama for acting on instinct. When the media began contacting us in droves for a statement, we obliged, simply by saying that the president isn't the Buddha and shouldn't be expected to do everything right..."

Hey PETA; you and I know that it's certainly a multi-faith culture we live in these days: my Muslim friends go to the Mosque; my Buddhist friends do their meditation days; my Catholic friends go to Mass and tell their beads; my Quaker mates all sit quietly in their room together - and all of this is fine by me.

So I've got no problem with Buddhists; hell, I even used to think I was one. It was a while back, sure, but if anyone asked me what religion I was then, I used to say: Well, I suppose I'm a kind of Buddhist, really.

In those days, when I thought I was a Buddhist, I too, in imitation of the Buddha, followed a vegetarian diet - I was even a Vegan for about six months, living mainly on black coffee, beer, chips and peanut butter, as I recall. But, as I say, that was a while back, and my views have changed a little since then.

These days (and beside me saying it's the case, God knows there's little enough evidence of it - but that's another matter) what faith I do have tends to centre around the comparatively unattractive figure of that strange, occasionally rather grumpy-seeming, non-vegetarian man who ended up being nailed to a tree by his fellow religious professionals - way over in occupied Palestine - a couple of thousand years ago. These days - and with all the respect that's due to the devotees of other faiths - I'm not, actually, a Buddhist.

Now I know religious leaders don't tend to be in the habit of canvassing votes as regards their rule; they don't see that as being in their job description, I suppose - and maybe they're right about that. They do the religious leader thing - issue encyclicals, dictates, bulls, fatwas and the like - and their followers, well, they follow those rules. In a country that tolerates religious freedom people don't have to follow the rules of the religions they don't personally subscribe to.

Call me a bourgeois old liberal if you will, but personally I'm in favour of that set-up.

Now in theocracies, as far as I understand these things, the matter is rather different. In a theocracy, the leaders of the State and the religious leaders tend to wear the same hat - because, of course, they're wearing the same head (and that's admirably Green as regards sustainable hat production, of course). In a theocracy, there's just the law; it's a religious law, and you have to obey it, since it's the law of the land as well and there's no separate appeal court there that'd be willing to lend an ear about it not suiting you all that well.

Now, as far as I'm aware, I don't live in a theocracy. Gordon Brown has his own personal beliefs but if people think his policies favour the tenets of his own particular faith, to the radical detriment of others, then he'll get a kicking at the ballot box from those other faith practitioners - and he'll deserve it. England is not a theocracy.

If people of a country genuinely want a theocracy, then OK, they want a theocracy - good for them.

In countries where there isn't a theocratic government - in multi-faith countries, say, like the UK, Europe and the States - there, leaders and devotees of religious groups do need to be tolerant towards the different faith-based and secular cultures that surround them. There, within the boundaries of the secular law that they all agree to, they don't get to say what other people should or shouldn't do.

Aggressive, proselytizing missionary conversion tactics on the part of one faith-community as regards their fellow citizens who happen to belong to other faiths - or to those who profess no faith at all - that sort of thing really has no place in a modern, tolerant, multi-faith state.

A central part of Buddhist belief is concerned with showing 'compassion to all living things'; so that means most Buddhists have some form of vegetarianism as a part of the practise of their particular religious faith.

And that's fine; that's absolutely fine by me. Multi-faith tolerance? It's a good thing; you want to be a vegetarian because the Buddha was a vegetarian too? Well then, great, superb; good for you.

But, please, if you want to be good citizens of this admittedly rather complicated thing that's called a 'democracy' - then have the decency to let other people practise their faith, or their non-faith, unmolested. You want to be Buddhists? Fine, great - but I'm not a Buddhist. So this publication of yours, 'Your Daddy Kills Animals', this is actually a highly aggressive example of a very crude form of religious indoctrination. It's exactly a proselytizing, missionary tract that's aimed at bullying children into adopting the beliefs and practises of your particular faith.

This, I'd say, is precisely not the way that members of faith communities should behave towards others who do not subscribe to their particular beliefs.

We do not live in a theocracy. We get to choose what we believe in - and so should our children.

So cut it out.
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