Saturday, 28 February 2009

Hunting accuracy in the field - Ideals & Reality

Crouching in fields, freezing, over the last few months - trying not to fog the eyepiece of my scope up with my breath, trying to keep some feeling in my trigger finger - I found myself thinking a good deal about accuracy.

I'm new to this game: I got my first air gun in late Autumn last year and, in total since then, I've shot six rabbits only.

I've come to this, and have been learning how to do it, almost entirely via this medium called "The Internet". I went along to a gun club one time and a field target shoot another time and I had some good conversations with very friendly and helpful people at both of these places. But, since I wanted to shoot and eat rabbits, not hit tiny metal targets at challenging distances nor fire on a 25 yard indoor range, I have - unwisely perhaps - spent much the time that I haven't spent in fields reading things that people have written on the net about hunting rabbits.

And a large part of that was concerned with accuracy: "Never take a shot until you can absolutely guarantee that it will pass through the brain of the rabbit and turn that animal off like you would turn off a light" - was the impression I got from reading the forums. "Any other shot, any failure to instantly and painlessly transfer this animal from the state of being alive to the state of being dead is inhumane and has no place in our sport" - this was, more or less, the message I absorbed from what was written there.

And, while I was reading, I was doing my target practise and getting better at grouping and changing guns and trying to find one that had the power to do the job and doing more target practise. And then I started trying to hunt rabbits in the field.

The first rabbit I shot was a 'perfect' head shot at 25 to 30 yards; it jumped straight up into the air about three feet and when it hit the ground again it was stone dead - and this was just like I'd read in the forums: on/off.

But the rest of them, to be honest, haven't really been like that. I haven't been able to convince myself that my shooting has been operating at the level of clinical precision that seems to be, if I judge the matter by the standards upheld in the writing on the forums, the only humane and acceptable way of doing the job - the job of getting rabbits to put in the cook pot.

And I've sat in fields, , freezing and staring at hedgerows - and I've thought a good deal about this.

And it comes down to accuracy, I've decided. But not accuracy that's merely on the level of "Can you put five shots at thirty-five yards through the hole in the middle of a Polo Mint?" (to which the answer is, of course, simply, 'no') but rather the question of seeking for a greater and greater accuracy not only in shooting but also in finding the words to accurately and honestly describe what goes on when I'm out shooting. Since I've started to write this blog I've noticed that there's a real pressure - a pressure from within myself, mainly - to push what is pictured in my writing towards an ideal that is, in truth, quite remote from what is actual in my shooting.

I tap away at the keyboard and I'm very much aware of an imaginary, judgemental gaze looking at me, looking at what I've written, and sternly pointing out to me just how far that deviates from the ideal which I understand - from reading the forums - to be the only thing that's acceptable. So I conform to this pressure and write in such a way that I join in and thereby allow my aim, as it were, to drift. My initial aim of accurately describing what goes on in the field drifts, then, towards the different aim-point of acceptably describing what goes on in the field - and there's a gap, a distance, between what's actual and what's acceptable.

Does this matter?

I suppose that it does matter if this 'ideal' becomes a tyrant: if I, or we, can tolerate nothing that isn't this pristine ideal then life, I think, will become a very sterile thing indeed; it will become very un-life-like.

I watched a video on the net the other day about dog shit; a borough council official was saying to camera, "Obviously, we're responsible for the safety of the citizens in our community - it's our job to look after them. If just one child were to become blind as a result of catching a disease from dog mess that they'd come into contact with on a piece of common land in the Borough, well then, we - the members of the Borough Council - would be personally responsible for that child's blindness! So it's very clear to us that our legislation banning the exercise of dogs on the common is very much in the public interest and - despite the protests of dog-owners - will go ahead as planned".

Here, I thought, was a instance of the ideal (and it's a worthy one, of course) completely dictating what could actually - legally and practically - happen on a piece of public land. The gap was closed: no dogs, no shit, no discussion, no actual, just the ideal, and thank you very much.

The ideal thing, as regards shooting rabbits for the pot with an air rifle, would perhaps be if everyone ate only soy beans, no one owned an air rifle and rabbits were re-named 'hedge kittens'.

I'd like, somehow, to try to remember myself that not only is there a permanent and irresolvable gap - always and forever - between the ideal and the actual, but also that there's a value, a great value, in publicly admitting that this really is the case. Because I just can't accept that the Good Life - this thing that we're all looking for - does really consist in the extermination of our actual lives. That accurate, I just don't want to be.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Hunting Rabbits is difficult!

Yesterday I set out about four-thirty, about an hour and three-quarters before dusk. Rabbits - as far as I know - don't seem to emerge in numbers before dusk so going out early was more for the pleasure of being outside and walking around in the fields than anything else.

I chose one sheltered spot at the base of a tree in the hopes that the view into the next field would yield early rabbits and that the neighbouring trees would be places where wood pigeons might roost. I sat there for a little while but soon saw that my view of the trees and the field was actually rather cramped - so I set off again.

I sat under another tree with a view through a hedge across another field. At once two rabbits emerged and began to hop along the line of the fence fifty yards away across the field. This was too far for a shot so I watched them through the scope instead (and took a picture - whose blurriness is not due to the scope optics, but to the difficulty of focusing a camera with one hand whilst holding and pointing an 11lb rifle with the other). After a while, one of the rabbits stopped nibbling grass and ran - to my surprise - straight across the field towards me before ducking through the hedge and emerging about fifteen yards away from me on my left. Green jeans, I decided, a camouflage jacket, an olive-drab baseball cap and a mottled-green scarf round my face must have concealed me very well, but this rabbit was now so close that it seemed to me impossible to turn and point my rifle at it without making it aware that I was sitting there. I began to move as slowly as I possibly could - but it was no good, the rabbit fled.

I walked across the field to the fence where I'd seen the rabbits and lay down beside it, looking along the line of the wire down the field. My approach had startled them into hiding but fifteen minutes later the commotion of my arrival had faded enough to allow one rabbit to pop out in front of me at - again - fifteen yards. This rabbit seemed much more interested in eating than it was in me so I could take some time to steady the shot and try and gauge an aim point. My scope - a Hawke SR6 Nite Eye - is calibrated to offer .22 calibre air rifle aim points at between 20 and 60 yards -but at fifteen yards I was forced to guess the position - relative to the 30-yard zero - that my pellet would be in its arc. So I chose a point just above the twenty-yard mark in the scope and squeezed off a head shot. This missed completely and the rabbit - utterly unharmed - tore back to its burrow.

I pondered this for a bit as the light died: perhaps my scope has drifted in the last week - maybe I needed to go and make sure that it was still zeroed correctly? More likely, it was just that I'd judged the distance or the aim point wrongly - or wobbled or failed to follow through. Dispirited, I got up and walked down the fence about a hundred yards and then lay down again.

There's a distant street lamp that throws some light over this corner of the field and, as dusk became dark, I waited for it to turn on - only yesterday it didn't come on at all. Thoroughly miserable by then, I lay there in the dark for a while before getting up and trudging home for a (vegetarian) supper.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Air Rifle Hunting & Wandering

I went out shooting early today. I wanted to walk around some parts of the fields that I've been neglecting and get to know them a bit better. I was also trying to see if I could spot any Wood-Pigeons coming back to roost since I've yet to shoot one of these and I'm keen to add them to the cook pot. Quite early on in the afternoon I settled down beside big tree - well sheltered from view by some dead nettle stalks - and watched the field next to it, to see what sort of rabbit activity would go on while it was still light.

After fifteen minutes I saw two pop out, run a bit and then sit looking warily around - but I ended up deciding, after spending a while trying to figure out what distance away they were that - despite being nicely concealed - my position was no good. The rabbits all seemed to be showing up at about fifty yards away from me. At this distance through a x6 magnification scope this always looks to me like a target I can shoot at, but appearances are deceptive - fifty yards is just too far away, for me at least, to stand any chance of making a humane kill. So I wandered off again.

I found a little, dense, shrubby green wood which, in one part, was carpeted with old bottles - a glass dump for the farms out this way, I guessed. I lay down near the edge of the wood and looked out onto a stretch of field where I've seen rabbits before, I lay there for fifteen minutes or so but I think that while there was very little wind this afternoon, what there was might have been taking my scent towards them and keeping them in their burrows. There was obviously nothing doing there, so I moved on again.

I've taken to lying just along the boundary of a field right up against an overgrown wire fence in the hope that rabbits hopping out of their burrows further down the field will not notice me. So I lay there for another twenty minutes and, while I certainly saw a few rabbits again, they were at a hopeless sixty yards. I decided to move down along the fence a little towards a corner of the field that gets a little illumination from some street lighting not too far away. The little bit of extra light there makes it possible for me - if I'm looking down the field towards it, at least - to see rabbits in clear silhouette for some time after dusk has turned into early evening. I lay there for a good while, starting to get rather cold and aware that the happy, good spirits that I'd enjoyed all afternoon had started evaporated into a fog of impatience.

A little more of this and I was reaching the point where I was starting to be more occupied with cursing my own ineptitude than I was with noticing my surroundings. Sometimes I can just shrug off off a fruitless hunting trip but this evening I was becoming increasingly cross with myself for having failed again as well as stubbornly unwilling to make the walk home with empty hands. This - for me - is a recipe for a very unhappy state of mind and one that it's difficult to get out of.

Right then, about twenty yards away, two rabbits hopped through the fence into the field right in front of me. Moving extremely slowly, I inched the rifle up and brought the scope towards my eye - and took a head shot on the nearest rabbit.

I felt a fool for feeling proud, walking home with a rabbit that I'd shot, but I did feel proud - and happy that there was some meat for the pot tonight.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Tuning the HW80k - Sandwell Field Sports

In terms of performance the HW80k was a completely different class of air rifle to the Crosman Ratcatcher. I'd been doing target practise at 30 yards on a half-inch-thick piece of damp chipboard with the Ratcatcher. From that distance, the .22 pellets would gather in a fairly tight group around the bullseye, penetrate the card of the target and embed themselves to a depth of about half their length in the surface of the chipboard beneath.

I fired the HW80k at a target on the same panel of chipboard and when I took it off to see how the pellets had fared I saw to my surprise that this group of pellets had not embedded themselves at all - they had instead blasted clear through the board. The difference between 7ftlbs and 12ftlbs could not have been more clear.

I hadn't given a thought to recoil when using the Ratcatcher - it didn't really have any. But the absence of recoil on the Ratty only really became clear to me retrospectively when I'd fired the Weihrauch - because this gun had recoil a-plenty. It was quite a shock at first; when I squeezed the trigger on the Ratty I'd be bracing myself for a recoil which never really came; with the Weihrauch, however, I did give out a genuine yelp of surprise when the thing went off the first time: it really did have a kick.

But not only did it kick, it was heavy. The Ratty weighed nothing - but this thing weighed a ton: nearly eleven pounds, all told, with scope and sound moderator. Standing, if I took more than a couple of breaths to stabilise the waving of the gun while I aimed, I found that I'd start to wobble again at the sheer effort of keeping the thing horizontal.

Learning to fire a springer, so I had read, took some time - and I could see why. I was, at first, overwhelmed by the size, weight, and recoil of the gun. But beyond this, after I'd done some more target practise, I also began to suspect that the recoil itself was not as well-behaved as it might have been. I began to notice that when I fired the rifle - in addition to a recoil along the axis of the direction in which it was pointing there was a discernible side-to-side recoil as well.

I began to look around on the net for information about tuning air rifles - and of course, there's a stack of it. A lot of it is devoted to techniques for home-tuning and the merits and demerits of the various tuning kits, lubricants, springs, spring hats and guides - seemingly endless - that you can buy and then apply yourself. The rest of the material on home tuning - at least in the U.K - is devoted to stern warnings concerning the length of time that you can expect to stay in prison if your home-improved rifle ends up straying a whit above the 12ftlb mark (five years!).

Stuff all this, I thought, I'll just have to pay someone to tune it for me. I looked around a bit and eventually took it to Sandwell Field Sports in Birmingham. Tony Wall there agreed to give the gun a "First Stage Tuning" for me for which would cost £60 and take a week.

When I went to get the gun (and after I'd finished the coffee and biscuits that always seem to be on offer at the shop) I spoke to Tony about maintenance, "What do I need to do in terms of oil and stuff?" I asked him. "Nothing," he said, "Absolutely nothing. Just leave it alone, it doesn't need a thing."

The tuned rifle was was simply transformed. The very noticeable boing! of the spring and wobble when fired had completely disappeared. It was replaced with a businesslike thock! and a recoil which was at once more discrete but also more positive - which is to say completely along the axis of the gun's orientation and without a trace of the old side-to-side wobble. Once scoped up and zero'd in, a practise batch of pellets through the newly-tuned rifle delivered the tightest groups I'd ever fired. My first foray into the field that evening gave me a rabbit - my first - on the very first shot.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Hunting Ethics: Learning from experience

Some excellent advice here from the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) on hunting rabbits with air rifles:

The BASC says that rabbits must not be shot less than two metres from their burrows. This is so as to prevent the possibility of a wounded rabbit getting back to its burrow before you can dispatch it. This is very good advice.

This evening I stalked up to a warren where I could see some rabbits. On my approach they went back to earth but I lay flat and waited for ten minutes. One emerged slowly and sat just above the entrance to its burrow and in plain sight for an easy 30-yard shot. But a shot rabbit on its burrow will very likely- even if it's killed outright - just fall straight back down the hole and be lost. This rabbit paused and then ran straight across the field to enter another burrow on the other side. I carried on waiting and five minutes later another rabbit emerged. Again, it waited, then it hopped a couple of metres away from its hole - and then sat up and offered me its profile. I had plenty of time to sight and stabilise; I took the head shot and it went down instantly and lay still. I got up to go and retrieve the rabbit - utterly confident that the shot was a good one -but then saw to my distress that it was not in fact dead - it had started to struggle back towards its burrow and it made it before I could get there or take another shot.

I can certainly testify that this is a very bad feeling: knowing that the animal is probably seriously wounded and also that there's nothing you can do about it. I walked back home across the fields sick at heart and angry with myself for having perhaps grabbed too greedily at the shot.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Buying the HW80k: Grandchildren - and some advice.

I bought my gun from a friendly man who greeted me at his front door wearing camouflage gear and Wellington boots. He took me down to his immaculate cellar - full of shooting and fishing gear - where the polished and highly impressive looking gun was laid across a maintenance stand. He told me that he'd adapted the gun for use by his grandson; his grandson had used it for a little while but had recently gone to a game fair where he'd had a go with a pre-charged pneumatic and had - after the experience - become adamant that this would be the only kind of air rifle he'd be willing to have anything to do with. His grandfather shrugged at this and said, "Well, what can you do?" He did seem genuinely sad about his grandson's choice - and I could see why: the HW80k was a handsome gun and he seemed sad that his grandson didn't want to embrace the rifle as a kind of family heirloom.

He showed me round his cellar, showed me the centre fire and rim fire bullets he had out on his work bench and we chatted about waders and fishing for Perch and Pike. Just before I left with the gun I asked him about lubrication. He said, "It doesn't need much. Every now and then, just put a drop - not more! - of 3-in-1 down the air hole of the gun into the spring chamber inside. That's all it needs; if you put more in, it ignites when you fire the gun - pistoning, it's called - and you end up in all sorts of trouble...".

I went into a charity shop down the road from there and found - to my delight - two sturdy leather belts that were on sale for 50p each. I bought them both and, with them, I made a shoulder strap for the gun.

I'm grateful to the man who sold me the rifle; I've since learned that lubricating the internal mechanism of a Weihrauch with 3-in-1 oil is not a good idea - but I've no doubt that he gave me the advice in complete good faith.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

The Joy of Springers?

There is a 'return to springers' going on, I understand. Bored with the monotonous regularity of being able to predictably and silently hit target after target, rabbit after rabbit, with terrifying, military precision via the shock and awe technology of the high-end, pre-charged pneumatic, multi-shot air rifle, people - nostalgic perhaps for the rosy days of recoil, loud noises and missing things - are tossing aside their grands-worth pneumatics in favour of guns with great big boingy springs in them.

I can see the point, I suppose. I've only ever had the chance to fire a couple of shots with a HW100 and it was a bizarre experience. After getting to grips with shooting via the great, snorting, hefty howitzer that is the HW80, the 100 seemed like a trip with Alice to Wonderland: You are looking through the scope at the target, you apply a degree of pressure to the trigger and you note - whilst doing so - that, inexplicably, the target appears to have developed a small hole at precisely the bullseye point. Casting around in order to find a cause for this anomaly, you are forced to consider that the all-but-inaudible 'fhut!' a second ago was the 'report' of the gun in your hands as it fired. This seems ludicrous at first because the gun has sat utterly motionless in your arms and has clearly not 'fired' at all in any sense that you are familiar with. But no, it's true, the damn thing actually has gone off!

I can see how this would get boring if the gratification you were seeking in the act of firing the gun was simply the pleasure of firing the gun and no other. If acquiring a rabbit for the pot or not acquiring a rabbit for the pot was a matter of indifference to you then I can see that the satisfaction found in wrestling with the difficulties of the springer might well - then - become the main event, as it were. I can see how this might be the case, but for me it isn't the case: meat is crazily expensive, I can't afford to buy it but I am resistant to being forced into vegetarianism - so I want those rabbits in the pot.

So, yes, cast aside those tiresome pneumatics and return to the blue-remembered-hills of spring-filled joy (but when you do cast them aside, please, cast them in my direction...).

The big question: .177 or .22 for Rabbit Hunting?

177 or 22? That - a swift peek at any of the popular airgun forums will quickly assure you - is most certainly the question.

To cut to the chase, the answer's 177.

Why? Well: it seems to boil down to trajectory - the parabolic path that a hopefully rabbit-bound pellet describes after it leaves the barrel of a rifle. It does not go in a straight line, I learned to my surprise, and then drop when it's tired - it inscribes, instead, an arc 'twixt gun and rabbit. But if it does that, then it's not simply a question of 'point and shoot' at all; distance becomes a crucial factor. How can you predict where in its arc your pellet is going to be when it reaches the head of the rabbit that you wish to shoot? Because if it's an inch too high then it will miss, and if it's an inch too low, then it will miss again. Nightmare!

177 pellets have a much flatter trajectory in the 40-odd yards after they leave the rifle barrel than 22's do. It's as simple as that. You can arrange it - I gather - so that in the area, say, between 20 and 35 yards (the crucial area within which the vast majority of relatively humane air rifle shooting is going to be taking place) the pellet will deviate from an imaginary straight line drawn between the end of the barrel and the rabbit's brain by a matter of only so little as half an inch or so. A 22 pellet, on the other hand, will be drawing a line that looks like the path of an amusing roller-coaster ride.

This I learned after I blew all the cash I had to spare on a 22 rifle.

If you want to have a gander at some parabolas, head over to or to the ballistic reticle calculator (superb name!) at and download the free software.

[In my time machine I revisit this post to leave a link to the future where I will write more upon this topic and my decision to opt for .177: ]

Rabbit in Cider - the first one in the pot!

The first time I cooked a rabbit that I'd shot I adapted a recipe I found on the Channel 4 recipe page. First, I fried a bit of bacon then, after putting the fried bacon in a casserole dish, I put the jointed rabbit into the pan - a couple of pieces at a time - to sear and seal the meat and then I fried some shallots as well. Then I put everything into the casserole dish together with carrots, a bit of celeriac that was knocking about in the fridge, some sprigs of thyme from the window box, a blob of honey and about 500mls of good, dry cider. I seasoned with salt & pepper and then I brought the heat up so that all was at a very low, gentle simmer, and then I left it for a couple of hours. For the last thirty minutes I threw in a couple of handfuls of brown rice and this soaked up the excess liquid a treat.

How was it? Well, the months of preparation I'd put in - learning to shoot, getting permission, getting a gun, finding the rabbits - had certainly sharpened my anticipation of the dish, but anticipation aside, I honestly did still think that it was the best thing that I'd ever eaten.

Ethics and Hunting: Are rabbits people too?

To state the obvious: no, rabbits aren't people; we - those of us reading and writing this blog - we are people. yes, killing people is wrong - and killing rabbits is not the same as killing people. To overlook or obscure the difference between killing rabbits and killing people is to do a grave disservice only to people - because meat is not murder, murder is murder. To seriously advance the view that a human life is strictly equivalent to the life, say, of a rabbit or a sparrow is to terribly misunderstand the worth of human life - for we are, indeed, worth more than many sparrows.

If we treat animals 'humanely' it is not because they are members of the set 'humans', but because we are. Certain actions are fitting to those who aspire to the description 'human' and some are not. Killing animals for food with an absolute disregard for the pain they undergo is not - to my mind - humane, which is to say, if one wants to keep becoming a human this is not the way to do so. I write 'becoming a human' because I do not - as a catholic - see 'human' as a finite identity - 'humans', since the Incarnation, are invited to take a share in the infinite life that is Christ. So a human is something to continually become - to become fully human, as Christ was fully human.

I also think it's a mistake to understand an animal as 'suffering'. I think that suffering is something that only humans can do. Pain, which animals certainly seem to 'experience', is not, I would say, the same as suffering, since suffering is an anguished thinking and not merely the unmediated 'experience' of pain (which humans, I'd also suggest, know nothing about). (Though it's possible, I suppose, that fully domesticated animals - soaked as they are in the sea of words that flows from and through human life - suffer insofar as they are within this ocean.)

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

My Weihrauch HW80k

I'm new to all this. I only started trying to figure out how to get rabbits for the pot a few months ago, at the end of Autumn last year.  I could see a period of being absolutely skint heading my way and - before it got to me - I decided I'd spend a little money and see if I could learn how to get some of the free-range rabbit that I saw scampering around in the fields nearby.

The first guns I picked up weren't remotely right, but I think I needed to get them in order to do a bit of plinking and see this for myself. So I bought two cheap, second-hand Crosmans: a 'Ratcatcher 2250' and an 'American Classic 1377'. Both of these had their strong points, but a bit more reading, a lot of target practise and some first attempts at trying to get get some experience in the field led me to understand that, coupled as they were with my non-existent stalking skills, neither of these were going to do the job.

I had a tiny budget and I'd need sell both of these gun if I was going to get a better one and I really wanted to get going as soon as I could. So what gun was I going to be able to get? What was within my price range and good for shooting rabbits?

The obvious answer was a Weihrauch HW80. They came equipped with a reputation for being almost indestructibly tough, accurate, well-made, dependable and powerful. Good, clean HW80's were still beyond my price range though. A search at Guntrader will still show HW80's starting just shy of £200 and heading up to around £400 for highly tuned guns in fine condition.

After haunting sites like this for a couple of weeks I saw an HW80k come up for £120 in a private sale a little north of where I lived. I rang him up. The gun had previously been modified for a ten-year old boy to use by having had an inch and a half sawn off the stock. Well, that's no good then, I thought. "But I've still got the piece that was cut off", he said, "and you could put it back on again easy enough."

'Well, OK then,' I thought, 'why not?'

I drove up there. The gun was in great condition; the guy who was selling it was clearly honest, friendly and trustworthy; the stock had been very cleanly shortened and, just as he'd said, it looked like it would be very easy to repair. I bought it on the spot. It didn't have a shoulder strap so I went into a charity shop a mile or so up the road and found a good quality, thick leather belt for a couple of quid.

Bingo: I had a proper rabbit gun.

Sitting, Looking, Thinking, Praying.

I tend to sit under a tree, beside a hedge, looking through the hedge into a field beyond. I try to arrive twenty minutes before dusk and I sit there as quietly as I can in the hope that the local wildlife will, with time, overlook the scandal of my arrival and go about their appointed tasks without any concern for me.

So I sit there with the business of the hedge and the field taking place in front of me and the commotion that I am taking place – inside, outside, all around me - as worry, fear, longing, fury, hope, fantasy and grief.

Field mice have a highway in front of me: tiny brown blurs that zip across my vision; robins come and look at me; too quick to really see, a wren will hurtle through the branches of the hedge and disappear.

Bored with the nonsense rattling round my mind, I’ll often try to pray instead, try to establish some sort of peaceful climate, try to just sit there looking at the hedge and the field rather than sitting there - oblivious to the world - with my head trying to wring my own neck.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Getting a 'Permission' to Shoot

What's a permission? Well, I have an idea that in these health-and-safety-obsessed times a permission is, more formally, a written document signed by you and a local landowner saying that you - the air rifle owner and would-be rabbit-shooter - can indeed exercise their wish to shoot the rabbits on the land of the above mentioned landowner, and that this shall - henceforth - take place fully in agreement with both the wishes of the said landowner and, indeed, the law of the realm wherein the landowner, the shooter and the rabbits all reside.

In short, a permission is a contract which says it's O.K for you to shoot on the farmer's land. It's probably better if it's written. (Oh, but life's a funny thing, isn't it? Everything is better written down so we all believe - and I believe it just like the next man; unless there's something on paper, we think, then, near as damn it, there's nothing there at all. Which is fine if you, yourself, are words on a page. For the rest of us walking, talking bipeds strutting around on the stage here - full of sound and fury, signifying...well, who knows? - - for us poor saps who are not wholly written down, not wholly reduced (just yet, just yet) to a name carved on a slab of granite somewhere - this is bad news. Because, essentially, it's a crime to be alive.)

But I digress.

I got my permission, in retrospect, ludicrously easily - although that's not the way it felt at the time. Way back in Spring last year I was out for a jog; absolutely knackered, I took a short cut home via a public right of way over the fields next to where I live. I saw a bloke in a tractor and an idea formed in my mind. I approached the tractor chap and we had a chat about this and that. "Would it be O.K," I asked (and he stiffened at once, sensing the nub of my conversation approaching), "would it be all right if I came with me air rifle sometime (I had no air rifle at the time) and shot the odd rabbit on your land?".

He was nice about it. But the answer was no. "We get a lot of people asking, mind...". He said that his son took care of the rabbits; he'd go out lamping every now and then and get them with his shotgun, he told me. He even offered me some rabbits that his son had shot last night. He was extremely pleasant about it and the answer was, firmly, pleasantly, no.

So that was it. But I still had a hankering. I still wanted to shoot rabbits for the pot. So how was I going to do it? For months I pondered.

And in this pondering (Skywalker) I turned - to the dark side.

I began to consider the possibility - in speculation only I stress - of discretely shooting rabbits in places other than where permission had, in the strictest sense of the word, been strictly given.

Which is to say, illegally.

Now the laws about carrying - let alone using - air rifles or pistols in areas understood to be accessible to the general public are utterly unequivocal: it's highly dangerous, thoroughly illegal and you can go to prison for five years. Bang, simple as that. Huge tracts of empty woodland just round the corner from me, teeming with rabbits - and it simply cannot be done. End - as they say - of.

So I didn't. But I did think about it. And, since this thinking was thinking about something illegal, it carried the charge of excitation that such thinking always does carry and, in the end, makes shouldering the burden of these thoughts such an exhausting business. So I bore these tiresome thoughts for months and months, firmly - every time I span them around - encountering the vision of a pot of rabbit stew on the one hand and, on the other hand, five years of stewing, myself, in an overcrowded prison cell with the company of my fellow line over-steppers. Fairly clear, even to me, but still those thoughts kept spinning me around.

Eventually, fed up with all this neurotic nonsense, I asked another local farmer and he said, "Yeah, sure, no problem, go ahead".

Pocket knife - Columbia River Knife & Tool (CRKT) Mirage

I carry (only when I'm hunting of course) this CRKT knife which I got for a few quid (about £8 as I recall, second-hand) from Ebay. It soon lost its little widget that enables you to move the blade from closed to locked open with your thumb, but this is no great loss since the blade is so wide at the top and so heavy that a flick of the wrist is all that is required to get it to open and lock (though this is not a manoeuvre to practise whilst walking to one's shooting ground). This is actually rather handy when you have a recently-shot rabbit by the front legs, one that you have squeezed - so as to expel its pee - and are now about to gut in the field.

I'm not about to go buying new knives since I'm skint, but if I was, I'd probably - now that I've actually had to gut a few rabbits - go for one with what's called a gut-hook on the blade. This is a little hook-shaped blade which allows you to - essentially - unzip a rabbit's stomach from ribcage to pelvis without running the risk of slicing through any of its guts at the same time. This being something that's best avoided if you want to eat the rabbit because the guts may taint the meat. Doing this with a conventional knife in a dark field with cold-weather-numbed hands is not that easy, I've learned.

Keeping the knife sharp is also important, I discover: blunt knives - to my amazement - don't cut very well. I've found no alternative than to use a proper oil-stone & oil, and then grind alternate sides of the blade at a 20-degree angle - stropping on a leather belt to finish and polish the cutting edge. Even my cack-handed and impatient fettling skills can produce a fairly sharp knife with this method.

The Mirage is heavy enough - just about - to serve as a field meat cleaver: a few blows on a fence post will remove the head, feet & tail of a rabbit - leaving you with just the job of getting the rabbit out of its skin when you get home.

Crosman 2250 Ratcatcher

I wish I still had the Ratty. I had to flog it to get the cash for a full-power gun that might at least allow me to get the odd, inattentive rabbit. Crosman air guns come from the factory as very basic but highly customisable guns and there's a giant network of people who specialise in building on the basic forms of the bog-standard Crosman. Here's a few links:

Crosman Airgun Forum (new)

Crooked Barn

Custom CrosmanParts and Spares

AirgunMod - Custom & Modified Crosman Airguns

Even six months later when I've learned a tiny bit more about stalking and suchlike, I'm still not at all sure that I'd be any use with a Ratty - even one with a souped-up range. The furthest I got into the world of Ratty-customisation was to get a set of springs which lightened the fairly hefty single-stage trigger pull and pushed the internal hammer a little bit harder in its flight toward the CO2 release pin - thereby releasing more gas and generating more push behind the pellet. So, more poke, but less shots per cannister as more gas was used in each shot.

My memory of using the Ratty after rabbits is this: I'm crawling between cow-pats, cold, slightly wet around the kneecaps and trembling with anticipation: there is a rabbit in the field ahead of me. I edge up to a steel fence and - trying not to breathe too loudly - edge the Ratty through the bars of the fence and plonk my head alongside so I can see through the scope with the gun pointing rabbit-wards. I wait - cold and nervous - while my breathing settles down and watch the rabbit looking around - he's presenting me with a perfect profile for a head shot and I'm aiming exactly at a point where an imaginary lines reaching back from its eye would intersect with one coming down from its ear, bang on the creature's brain for (what's known as) a humane kill. My breathing has settled, I'm spot-on on target so I squeeze the trigger and....

There's a 'phut'. The rabbit looks round, unperturbed and completely uninjured, decides that the present company is - by and large - unwanted and then proceeds back towards its burrow at no great speed.

In my excitement, I'd wildly misjudged the range and the looping trajectory of my heavy .22 pellet had resulted in it burying itself in the muck ten yards or so short of the rabbit.

I repeated this several times and started doing lots of searches on Google for "good air rifle for hunting rabbits".

Let me Google that for you.


On the Crossman 2250: No More Ratcatcher

This is the gun I do not use to go hunting for rabbits.

Trying to figure out how to do this hunting thing is far from simple; it's a complicated learning process and one that I'm still very much involved in. This gun, then, is a snapshot from an early understanding of what was needed to get a rabbit for the pot.

It's a modified Crosman 2250 Ratcatcher. These guns are economical to buy new and can be very cheap second hand: I picked this one up (minus the scope and sound moderator) for £70 via the Pigeon Watch Forum. This was a good deal because the gun was in fine condition and had been modified with the addition of a steel breech. Ratcatchers come from the factory with a plastic breech and, if you want to achieve any sort of stability for your scope you'll definitely need to discard this and get a steel breech with proper scope rails (the Ratty does come with a scope of sorts when it's new, but it's very close to being a purely comical addition and little use for anything other than backyard plinking). Since this breech work had been done and the gun was in sparkling condition I was delighted with it for £70.

I picked up a second-hand scope from another online air-gun forum (£20 as I recall) a Nikko Sterling Silver Crown 4 X 32 (which seemed to me at the time perfectly adequate) and then a sound moderator from another forum (second-hand & made out of a high-tech plastic called "Delrin") for another £30.

The Ratty runs on CO2 - little cartridges that you can buy at gun shops or online - and fires a .22 pellet at about 7.5ftlbs. Though it's worth saying that it fires at 7.5ftlbs in warm or mild weather - in cold weather the numbers will go down a great deal.

I liked the Ratty: it was extraordinarily light and easy to carry - you could wander round the fields for hours with this thing on your shoulder and practically forget that it was there; with the scope set up it was accurate: after a good deal of practise I was getting good-enough groups at 30 yards to justify using the thing to hunt with. So start to hunt I did.

And I got nothing. I couldn't hit a damn thing. And the reason? It's not about the gun, I learned, it's not about the gun.

The finest, most ludicrously expensive, blinged, polished & smartly-equipped air rifle available (shooting under 12ftlbs as per the demands of the law) will, I eventually learned, get you absolutely bugger all for the pot if you don't know enough about the business of hunting itself.

The Ratcatcher, if you can stalk and if you know about how to conduct yourself in the field whilst out after rabbits, will probably, at close range (that's to say up to 30 yards) almost certainly help you fill up the cook pot. But if you don't know how to stalk (I didn't and I still don't) then forget it. If you can't get very close, then it just doesn't have the poke for the job.

I spent a few weeks getting this into my thick bonce and then bit the bullet and bought another gun.

Knowing Nothing

In the last six months I've gone from knowing nothing about small game hunting, shooting and cooking to knowing almost nothing.

This blog is where I'm going to share that 'almost nothing'.

I'm far too disorganised to do this in any kind of tidy fashion, so this higgledy-piggledy amalgam of topics and tangents is just the way it's going to have to be. It is a stew, after all.

What else is in the pot? Well, I'm a bloke, I'm skint, I live in the West Midlands of the UK, I'm a catholic and I've spent a while studying psychology - so there'll probably be some hints of this stuff floating around in the mix as well.

Anyway - I hope you enjoy reading it.

Hubert Hubert