Air­gun Stu­dent

Nay­lor Ball turns to na­ture to help with his stalk­ing

Airgun World - - Contents -

Af­ter study­ing shoot­ing tech­nique for the past few months, I de­cided I needed a change of sub­ject. I seem to do most of my best think­ing when I’m wan­der­ing around my shoot with an air ri­fle, so that’s what I did while I waited for in­spi­ra­tion to reach out and grab me. I didn’t have to wait long.

I had no in­ten­tion of hunt­ing ‘se­ri­ously’ but I put a lit­tle pur­pose in my walk­a­bout and headed for a known rab­bit hotspot. Sure enough, there were two rab­bits vis­i­ble and one was so busy feed­ing that I thought it was a prime can­di­date for stalk­ing. With­out re­ally think­ing about it, I dropped into the fa­mil­iar low crouch and be­gan a slow-mo­tion ap­proach. I was do­ing well un­til, about 45 yards from the feed­ing rab­bit, I ran out of cover to hide be­hind. There was noth­ing but well-cropped grass be­tween me and my quarry. Now what?

BET­TER CHOICES

By now, I was prone and study­ing my op­tions, and from what I could see, there weren’t any. Then I did what I should have done in the first place and looked be­hind me to study an al­ter­na­tive stalk­ing route. Had I taken just a few sec­onds to plot a bet­ter ap­proach, I could have crept to within 35 yards, us­ing clumps of grass, this­tles, net­tles and rag­wort. At 35 yards on a still day like this, with my ri­fle rested, I could guar­an­tee the shot, but not at 45 yards from where I was now. I tried to belly-crawl but the rab­bit ei­ther saw me, scented me, or felt my ap­proach through vi­bra­tions on the ground, and with two hops and a trot it was gone. Still at least I had a les­son to work on.

NAT­U­RAL CONCEALMENT

In fact, I got two lessons from that failed stalk. The first was ‘think be­fore you make the ap­proach’, and the sec­ond was to plot my stalks to take in ev­ery bit of nat­u­ral concealment avail­able to me. I have to ad­mit that I was more ex­cited than dis­ap­pointed at

the prospect of learn­ing what I needed to know, so I was keen to get started. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

FORE­WARNED IS FORE­ARMED

The first thing I learned is that it’s a mas­sive ad­van­tage to know my hunt­ing ter­ri­tory. In re­ally ba­sic terms, if I know the di­rec­tion of the pre­vail­ing wind and I’ve learned all about where my quarry is likely to be and what there is to hide be­hind be­tween me and that quarry, I have to be in with a far bet­ter chance of suc­cess­fully stalk­ing it. That re­ally is ba­sic stuff, but when I spoke to my mates about it, only a cou­ple of them said they ap­ply any sort of plan­ning to their hunts. Most of them told me they just turn up and see what’s about, and right away I could see that there has to be a bet­ter way than that.

WIND AND DI­REC­TION

My first job then be­came ob­vi­ous. I had to find out the di­rec­tion of the wind and plan my stalk to keep it in my face as much as pos­si­ble. Be­fore I started ac­tu­ally study­ing shoot­ing I all but dis­re­garded the wind, but the more I learn, the more the im­por­tance of wind-di­rec­tion, and specif­i­cally how my scent will be car­ried by it, has been driven home to me.

You know those days when you ex­pect to see rab­bits in the usual hotspots, and there are none? Of­ten, that won’t be down to a fox hav­ing been through just be­fore you, or that the rab­bits don’t fancy a feed, but the wind an­nounc­ing your pres­ence, some­times a cou­ple of fields away. One thing’s for cer­tain; hav­ing the wind tak­ing away your scent, and some of the noise of your ap­proach, must be bet­ter than hav­ing that breeze giv­ing your quarry the heads-up that you’re on the land. I al­ways do my best to have the wind work­ing for me.

NAT­U­RAL COVER

Scent is vi­tally important, then, but be­ing sighted will usu­ally guar­an­tee a failed stalk, so I know I have to do my ut­most to pre­vent my be­ing seen. This means keep­ing nat­u­ral cover be­tween me and what­ever I’m stalk­ing. A stroll around my shoot, tak­ing note of any­thing that would come in handy as cover. I did this in re­la­tion to the known quarry hotspots, such as war­rens, feed­ing and drink­ing places, sitty trees and rab­bit mid­dens.

While I was log­ging all of this, tak­ing pho­tos on my mo­bile phone for ref­er­ence, I noted wind di­rec­tion and what was un­der­foot as I moved. Rab­bits can ‘feel’ the vi­bra­tion of our foot­steps through their hindquar­ters and as they’re per­ma­nently con­nected to the ground, it’s as well to avoid crunchy gravel, snap­ping twigs and any­thing else that will give away your ap­proach.

STATIC AD­VAN­TAGES

I noted that some of these nat­u­ral screens were large enough and in the right po­si­tion to act as am­bush points. This lends it­self to what’s known as static hunt­ing and this has to be one of the eas­i­est ways to make a de­cent bag of quarry. It re­quires no build­ing of hides and in­volved min­i­mal dis­tur­bance, so it’s well worth do­ing some ground­work on any po­ten­tial static lo­ca­tions. The suc­cess of these re­lies on your quarry com­ing to you, rather than the other way round, and I think it’s all go­ing to be about tim­ing it right, but that’s yet an­other les­son for me to learn.

CON­CLU­SIONS

As all ex­pe­ri­enced hunters have known for years, mak­ing full use of nat­u­ral screens and tak­ing ad­van­tage of the wind is a cru­cial part of suc­cess­ful hunt­ing. I al­ready know it will take me years to get any­thing like an ex­pert grasp of this, but the lessons have be­gun and I’ll turn up for my classes when­ever I can. The course isn’t com­pli­cated and the rules couldn’t be more sim­ple; I need to use ev­ery­thing I can to keep my in­ten­tions hid­den. Here’s to the next chance to learn!

Stay­ing low, mov­ing slowly, with the breeze in my face. It’s the way for­ward.

With screens to hide us, our chances of suc­cess are greatly in­creased.

Don’t look back in anger - look for­ward and plan your stalk.

A walk­a­bout’s OK, but it won’t teach you much.

Check the wind, and keep your­self reg­u­larly up­dated on its di­rec­tion.

Foot­falls on hard ground beat a warn­ing drum to nearby rab­bits.

Rab­bit scrap­ings, drop­pings and cropped grass give away hotspots that could be worth ex­ploit­ing.

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