When the red squirrel conservation work is over I can usually be found out on one of the many rabbiting permissions I’ve managed to secure here in Cumbria. They vary from farmland to golf
courses, and horse paddocks to privately owned lodge developments.

Rabbits are in good numbers up here and are a cause of great concern for home owners, farmers, horsey types and green keepers. The damage they can do to the foundations of various buildings can cost thousands of pounds to repair – and don’t get me going on the cost of a horse suffering a broken leg. I carry out rabbit control at a rehabilitation centre and my services are continually in demand there. Damage to putting greens drives the green keepers and golfers mad; I could spend most of my evenings on just these two areas.

I had lost contact with Big M, one of the previous owners of the golf course, but a chance meeting renewed our relationship. The last time we had spoken was before I moved ‘up north’ and we had both changed our mobile numbers.

The conversation soon moved onto his rabbit problem. I was all ears. He had a good-sized paddock for his daughter’s horses but it was overrun with bunnies. They spooked the horses, especially at night, and Big M was fearful of an injury either from the spooking or the diggings, which were increasing in number.


A daytime recce proved the intel to be totally correct, and during a 45-minute walk I spotted at least 20 sitting out. They hopped off as we passed by but had reappeared by the time I came back. It was looking good.

A couple of visits resulted in 30-plus rabbits being taken. One session was a daytime outing for a couple of hours and the other a night-time foray that was cut short by torrential rain. But the freezer had been filled to the max and the difference in numbers was easily noticed by Big M. I had promised to keep in touch and regularly come over to keep the numbers down.

Rabbit 4
The Reaper has a vice-like grip on my rifles

A call came in from the big man saying that he’d been chatting with the farmer next door and he would like my help on his land as well. The land was adjoining the paddocks but separated by hawthorns and dry stone walling, but it would be okay for me to access the land from the paddocks. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t scoped out this land on my previous visits and it was on my list to mention it to Big M. Recommendation is praise indeed and I had a warm fuzzy feeling of having done something well enough to gain another permission. I had noticed that the grass in these fields was in need of cutting but I was assured that it was scheduled for cutting that week. Winner!

My previous visits had been with my air rifles but this time I would crack open the CZ 455 .22 LR. This is a tack driver and one of my favourite rifles. It sits in a laminate stock and has had the magic of Roger at South Yorkshire Shooting Supplies’ gunsmithery all over it. Keeping things quiet is a standard SAK mod and optics are provided by InfiRay in the shape of the SCT35 Saim. This thermal scope is a compact unit with an awesome quality image and easy-to-use control buttons. Power is from two CR123s that last plenty long enough for a good session, but just in case I have a backup set.

I checked the freezer prior to leaving and knew I couldn’t bring back too many as the freezer was already crammed. I haven’t got a problem with this as I hate to shoot for the sake of it and the rabbits will always be there for next time, so I decided eight would top up the freezer nicely.

Pulling up at the gate, I scanned the area before climbing over. Just a couple of rabbits were sat out in the paddock, which was pleasing as a sign of a job well done. The
would be back though, I had no doubt about that.
It was now game time, but first the CZ had to be fixed to the KJI K800 carbon fibre tripod; this is my preferred method for rabbiting and foxing. The tripod is plenty light enough to carry on your shoulder even with the rifle attached. The Reaper grip’s curved and textured fingers wrap around the stock and hold it without fear of movement or slipping, but as an added safety measure I always loop the rifle sling through my arm. I have walked over a mile with the tripod and the .243 on my shoulder while foxing and it has never slipped. With three mags loaded and in my pocket I was off in direction of the field and whatever awaited me.

My heart sank as I clambered over the dry stone wall while trying to avoid getting tangled in the hawthorn. The grass had been cut all right but not baled up, and rows of uncollected grass formed lines all the way to the crest. Anything sat between the rows could easily be seen but anything the other side would be hidden and if alerted would bolt and no doubt cause others to follow suit. Should I take the higher ground and shoot down to the post and wire fencing, take the lower ground and shoot up towards another dry stone wall, or walk down the middle and hope to shoot both ways. All choices had a safe backstop. I decided it would be the high ground on the walk out and the low ground on the way back.

If things went to plan I wouldn’t even use a full 10-shot mag. Setting the tripod/CZ combo down, I scanned the fields. This is the beauty of the tripod system, which leaves you completely hands-free to scan or even prep a rabbit without having to lay the kit down. I had barely moved 50yd when a rabbit’s head appeared over the drying grass. It hadn’t been alerted as it kept dipping down taking the fresh cuttings. One last time and as if controlled by a switch it dropped out of sight as the explosive headshot through the thermal indicated an instant kill.

Rabbit 5
There’s no hiding from thermal              

I gave it a few seconds before moving forward just in case there was another in attendance, and was instantly rewarded by the sight of a second rabbit right by the side of the first one. Another Eley hollow sub was chambered and sent rabbit- wards – another clean kill. I gathered up both and put them in my rucksack.

Once at the top end of the field, the stone walling was used to mask my movements and it was a steady creep forward, stopping every 10-15yd to check out the area. With the wall against my back and at the crest of the field I could survey the entire area. As the field was 80-90yd wide, all shots would be within easy range of the CZ. Looking down, there were quite a few rabbits sitting out, but mostly half hidden by the cut grass. The position was perfect for the tripod’s 360° rotation, although I’d not even use 180° from this position. Ears were showing above the parapets everywhere but no shots were on. A short lip squeak brought a couple of heads up and I didn’t need a second invitation as two more were taken in rapid succession. I decide to wait to collect them on the way back as the InfiRay would easily pick out them out in the drop zone. I was halfway to my total with four taken in less than an hour, so I was certainly going to get an early night.

Everything taken up to now had been 45-55yd but the CZ was going to have to stretch its legs for the next few.

As I made my way downhill, the thermal spotter picked out rabbits like stars on a clear night and it became obvious that I would need to return here soon. The built-in rangefinder told me the next couple of rabbits were at 75yd and 80yd. The stable platform provided by the KJI was more than up to the job and as if in appreciation I was treated to a pretty impressive back flip from the second rabbit.

Two more to go for the evening’s limit, so I decided to turn and head back on the low ground and pick up the two left out on the way. But I was in for a shock as there were three heat sources at the drop zone and only two were rabbits. A fox had homed in on the scent and had undoubtedly trailed me.

Luckily it hadn’t got to the rabbits, and as I hadn’t discussed dispatching foxes with the farmer I had to be happy with explaining to it that it would be much appreciated it if it went about its business elsewhere.

With the two rabbits in the bag I was beginning to think I’d be heading home short of my target . But I shouldn’t have worried as once more the spotter picked out more bunnies hiding just beyond the wire fencing with a clear shot. An Eley hollow bowled one over cleanly and a second that was hiding very obligingly popped out to see what all the commotion was about. And soon found out.

It was quite obvious that my presence would be needed here again, and after a good chat with the farmer explaining my methods and the reasons for the limited number taken, I was asked to come back whenever I wanted and also take care of any foxes, as another neighbour had lost some ducks and chickens recently.

Rabbit 3
The evening’s haul did at least fill one box