Hard­man’s Hunt­ing

Phil tells us how he writes his hunt­ing fea­tures, some­times against all odds

Airgun World - - Contents -

This month I’m tak­ing a break from my usual hunt­ing fea­ture and writ­ing about mak­ing a hunt­ing fea­ture in­stead. On oc­ca­sions, I’ve been asked what it’s like to write for a mag­a­zine about some­thing I love, that I am ex­tremely pas­sion­ate about. I also get asked if I ever run out of things to write about, or how I plan what I am go­ing to be do­ing each time, and who, if any­one, takes the photographs. Well, I have de­cided to an­swer some of those ques­tions and more, by telling you ex­actly how I go about do­ing what I do each month.

Writ­ing about hunt­ing isn’t al­ways as easy as it seems. Hunt­ing is a chal­lenge in it­self, but pro­duc­ing a piece for a mag­a­zine on top of that, brings a whole other set of is­sues into play. First, you have to go out and get some­thing to write about and then doc­u­ment it with photographs, be­fore ac­tu­ally writ­ing about it. It sounds fairly straight­for­ward, I know, but I am yet to meet any­one who can ac­com­pany me on a hunt to take photographs, with­out com­pro­mis­ing the hunt it­self. Now, don’t get me wrong I have friends who are pretty de­cent hun­ters, and great pho­tog­ra­phers, but adding a sec­ond per­son to a hunt dou­bles your chances of be­ing seen and dou­bles the noise you’re likely to make, so no mat­ter how good they might be, if you’re used to hunt­ing alone, like me, they’re more of a hin­drance than a help. Af­ter all, if you don‘t make any suc­cess­ful kills, you haven’t re­ally got any­thing to photograph any­way.

First and fore­most, you need a suc­cess­ful hunt, which is never guar­an­teed. I like to head out alone to give me the great­est chance of suc­cess, and worry about the photographs and stuff once I know I have some­thing to write about. I usu­ally have a rough idea what I will be do­ing a cou­ple of weeks in ad­vance; na­ture dic­tates which species I will likely be tar­get­ing, depend­ing of the time of year and weather pat­terns. I de­cided that this month’s piece would be about rab­bits. The farmer had seen an ex­plo­sion in the num­bers of new holes dug since spring ar­rived, along the edge of a grass field, and he asked me to check it out. Hit­ting them now, whilst they’re in full-on breeding mode makes sense, be­fore they get too out of con­trol.


That was the main quarry species de­cided, and the place, and I knew that I had a fair chance of suc­cess, so the next thing to de­cide on was what I was go­ing to do about the photographs. Now, as men­tioned ear­lier, I pre­fer to hunt alone if pos­si­ble, but in the past I have pro­duced some of my best fea­tures when I have had my pho­tog­ra­pher ac­com­pany me on the stalks. The pic­tures look so much bet­ter when you can see a live tar­get in the same frame as me with my ri­fle, and it re­ally seems to bring the whole thing to life for the reader, but I only have a few friends who used to hunt with me and could do that with­out mak­ing me wait un­til they got the right an­gle or fo­cus. I hate los­ing kills whilst we set up for a photograph, so now I tend ei­ther to take the photographs my­self, or have my pho­tog­ra­pher meet up with me a hour or two into the ses­sion. That way, I have a head start, and can make sure that I have some­thing in the bag be­fore we ded­i­cate too much time tak­ing pic­tures for a fea­ture that might never hap­pen, should I fail to bag any­thing. Luck­ily, that last sce­nario rarely hap­pens, but it does some­times, so I al­ways bear that in mind. I loathe drag­ging a tri­pod around with me, so on this oc­ca­sion I de­cided to use a pho­tog­ra­pher – my girl­friend ac­tu­ally – and meet up with her af­ter a cou­ple of hours of hunt­ing, when I should have man­aged to bag a few things.


I set off on foot and walked to my per­mis­sion this time. My car was in for some re­pairs so I trav­elled as light as I pos­si­bly could with just my Weihrauch HW100, gun­bag, and a tin of pel­lets on me

– and my phone, of course. Walk­ing to the area where I had been told the rab­bits were caus­ing a lot of dam­age brought me along the edge of a small piece of wood­land, so I took the ri­fle from its bag, loaded the 14-shot mag’ and slowed to a quiet, more leisurely pace on the off-chance that some­thing might present me with a shot.

When you’re work­ing with the pres­sure of dead­lines, ev­ery sin­gle shot you miss is a mas­sively wasted opportunity, and could be the dif­fer­ence be­tween a de­cent fea­ture and a pretty miffed edi­tor, so you learn to have your ri­fle ready at all times, no mat­ter how un­likely a chance may seem. Un­like reg­u­lar hunt­ing, when you can for­give your­self the mis­take, move on and for­get about it, any mis­takes a hunt­ing writer makes are for­ever noted in print, that fi­nal ‘bag’ photograph al­ways has one miss­ing, and you never for­get it.

In­stead of skirt­ing around the wood, I cut through it, mainly to take a short cut, but I was pleased that I had. As soon as I crossed the fence and stepped on to the crunchy fallen leaves, I alerted a rab­bit to my pres­ence. Usu­ally, this would have been an er­ror on my part, but in the cover of the wood­land floor I’m fairly sure it wasn’t be­cause I wouldn’t have seen the rab­bit un­til it broke cover to run, and by then it would have been too late. Luck­ily for me, it raised its head and I saw the move­ment in time to act. I paused and slowly raised the ri­fle as it sat look­ing for the source of the noise. I clearly re­mem­ber think­ing, ‘bag this and we’re in busi­ness, Phil’ as I brought the ri­fle to bear and lined up the shot be­fore send­ing the pel­let zip­ping across the wood and straight into the rab­bit’s skull with a loud crack as it ar­rived.

As the rab­bit kicked its last in the leaf lit­ter, I re­mem­bered the sense of relief that I get ev­ery sin­gle time I bag one for a mag­a­zine fea­ture be­cause no mat­ter what hap­pens from that mo­ment on, I have some­thing to work with. One rab­bit isn’t much, but it’s some­thing to write about. If all else fails, and ev­ery­thing goes wrong from here on in, I still have some­thing.

Of course, we all want to pro­duce the best fea­tures pos­si­ble, so re­ally this was just a good start, and I had no in­ten­tion of let­ting this be my only kill, but it was one in the bag, and so far my only one. I didn’t want to carry it all the way around with me, and I didn’t have a bag to put it in, so I left it hang­ing in the fork of a small tree to col­lect later, but not be­fore

tak­ing a pic­ture with my phone. I try des­per­ately to avoid us­ing phone pic­tures, sim­ply due to the qual­ity, but I have lost many kills to scav­engers over the years, so I make sure that I get one photograph, at least. Be­ing the cool, hip kinda guy that I am, I de­cided that a selfie would be the best choice; with­out a tri­pod it was ei­ther that, or the old ‘ri­fle and kill ly­ing on the ground’ pic­ture, and I am a sucker for a good selfie.


With that one sorted, I cracked on across the wood, tak­ing a lit­tle short cut through the cen­tre, and then out and along the fence line a cou­ple of yards into the field. I had only gone maybe 75 yards from where I’d left the rab­bit, when sud­denly, in a small clear­ing, I no­ticed a grey squir­rel, perched on a small, fallen branch. It was il­lu­mi­nated by a ray of sun­shine that cut down through a gap in the canopy, al­most like a spot­light point­ing me to­ward it. At 30 yards, and forced to take the shot stand­ing due to the ter­rain and fo­liage be­tween us, it was any­thing but sim­ple, but I wound up the mag­ni­fi­ca­tion on my scope to 12x, took care­ful aim and fired. The squir­rel bar­relled off the lit­tle branch as it tum­bled earth­ward, and I could tell in­stantly that I had nailed the shot and it had been an in­stant kill. I made sure to take an­other photo and left the squir­rel on the branch from which it had fallen. With two in the bag, the pres­sure was off some­what and I was free to re­lax a lit­tle.


I sent a text to my girl­friend, Char­lotte, ask­ing her to meet me at the edge of the field so that we could stalk the hedgerow to­gether. Short grass that’s reg­u­larly grazed tends to be rel­a­tively easy to stalk over silently so I thought it would be good prac­tice for her. I led, with her fol­low­ing be­hind by 10 or 15 yards. If I paused, so did she, and when I moved, she was free to move, al­ways fol­low­ing the path I had taken, and free to snap away with the cam­era as we went. It was still much ear­lier than I would have liked, but I had to work to her sched­ule so we had to try to make do as best we could. There were plenty of signs of rab­bits, but not many out and about as we made our way along the yel­low gorse bushes that line the edge of the field. I had started to give up, but I soon spot­ted a large male rab­bit fur­ther in to­ward the cen­tre, chas­ing a smaller fe­male around. I set off to make the stalk, us­ing a small rise in the field to cover me as I sank low and made my ap­proach.

By the time I had made it to within 25 yards, the fe­male had dis­ap­peared and the male was sit­ting very close to the war­ren en­trance, so I had to make sure that I dropped it on the spot, or I risked cer­tainly los­ing it down the holes. I opted to take the shot prone, which is by far the most sta­ble stance you can use and min­imised any risk of me fluff­ing the shot. No one wants to miss a shot in front of their girl­friend, and last time out I’d missed a sit­ter of a squir­rel at about 15 yards so I was feel­ing un­der pres­sure to per­form this time round. Much to my relief, I man­aged to drop the rab­bit where it sat, dead on the spot with­out so much as a twitch. Feel­ing like the hero I clearly was, I got up and went over to make the re­trieve, Char­lotte fol­low­ing and the Nikon click­ing away as I picked up and posed with my prize.


We moved on un­til we reached the other edge of the field. I only saw one young rab­bit as we went, but it didn’t hang around. I used the rest of the time to get a good idea of where in the field the rab­bits were most ac­tive, so that I can hit them with night-vision af­ter dark and max­imise the dam­age I can do to their num­bers. We dou­bled-checked that we had ev­ery­thing we needed, that the photographs were in good fo­cus, and then headed back home so I could look over them on the com­puter and set about writ­ing this piece. I’d been lucky; to­day most things went to plan and quite of­ten that isn’t the case, but to be hon­est, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Any­way, that’s all I have space for this month, I hope you en­joyed this lit­tle in­sight and that it helped to an­swer a few ques­tions for you all. Un­til next time, happy hunt­ing!

Above: With the pho­tog­ra­pher 10 yards be­hind, I’m free to get on with the hunt­ing.

Above: Load both mag’s be­fore set­ting off - just in case the ac­tion comes thick and fast.

Above: Is that a rab­bit, or a mound of earth?

Above: Stalk­ing on grass tends to be silent, but the cover is lim­ited.

Above: Stand­ing shots aren’t the most sta­ble, and best avoided if pos­si­ble.

Above: To­tal con­cen­tra­tion, min­i­mal ten­sion. It's a good trick if you can do it!

Above: The oblig­a­tory ‘tro­phy pose’.

Above: Shoot­ing prone min­imised the risk of me fluff­ing the shot. Left: No tri­pod, no pho­tog­ra­pher? This calls for a hunt­ing selfie!

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