Hard­man’s Hunt­ing

Phil Hard­man finds his hunt­ing time flies faster with ev­ery pass­ing year – but there’s still time to learn

Airgun World - - Contents -

Time flies when you’re hav­ing fun - or not. Phil can’t be­lieve an­other year has gone.

The Jan­uary is­sue is here al­ready, eh? I can’t be­lieve how quickly this year has passed by. It must be an age thing, be­cause ev­ery year seems to go faster than the one be­fore. When I was a child, sum­mer seemed to last for­ever; now, I barely no­tice it whizz past. At this time of year, when things are a lit­tle more sub­dued on the hunt­ing front, I use the time to re­flect on the past 12 months, to see if I can learn any­thing that will put me at an ad­van­tage over the course of the fol­low­ing year. Na­ture works in set sea­sons, set pat­terns the an­i­mals must fol­low in order to sur­vive and thrive. Spot­ting these pat­terns and learn­ing them, and what they mean for our quarry, en­ables us to pre­dict what they might be do­ing and where, be­fore they are ac­tu­ally do­ing it. Armed with this knowl­edge, we can put our­selves in a po­si­tion to be ahead of them, wait­ing and strik­ing when the mo­ment is right.

HALF THE RE­WARD

2017 was the strangest year I have ever en­coun­tered in all my years spent hunt­ing. Noth­ing went how it was sup­posed to, and the pat­terns of na­ture that I had spent a life­time learn­ing and study­ing, sud­denly meant noth­ing at all. It all started fairly typ­i­cally. Things were pretty quiet out in the hedgerows and fields, so I mainly con­cen­trated on squir­rels in the woods, or rats in the farm­yard, us­ing the long dark nights and shel­ter of the build­ings to hit them hard and es­cape the worst of the weather, which was quite mild, but very wet. I was al­ready think­ing ahead, though, be­cause around late Jan­uary early Fe­bru­ary usu­ally sees a huge win­ter flock of wood­pi­geons move into one of the woods on my per­mis­sion, which they use as a day­time roost.

Over the years, I have al­ways en­joyed this, get­ting out be­fore they ar­rive, and hit­ting them as they come in. It usu­ally lasts into the start of spring, when I feel the first real warm rays of sun­shine stream­ing into the woods, re­mind­ing me that soon, sum­mer will creep in and I will for­get the days spent shiv­er­ing in the cold, naked, win­ter wood.

WATCH­ING AND WAIT­ING

The be­gin­ning of 2017 saw no birds, though. I watched and waited, for weeks, even months, but they never showed. This meant in­stead of do­ing what I usu­ally did, I was forced to scrape around the land look­ing for any­thing that might present a tar­get, ran­domly wan­der­ing round the place, like I used to when I first started hunt­ing, clue­less, just hop­ing that I bumped into some­thing – the odd mag­pie here, the odd pi­geon there.

At the time, I thought it was just a small anom­aly, and as soon as spring hit, the rab­bits would go into full-on breed­ing mode, the pi­geons would be pair­ing up, and I would once again be able to get ahead of the game, and make some de­cent dents in their num­bers.

Things did pick up, com­pared to the des­o­late win­ter months, but there was noth­ing like the pop­u­la­tion ex­plo­sions that I have come to ex­pect, and so, al­though I did man­age to en­joy my­self and have some suc­cess­ful hunts, I couldn’t help but no­tice that my bag was al­ways a lot less full than it used to be. I was putting in the same amount of ef­fort as I al­ways had at that time of year, and in that sit­u­a­tion, but only reap­ing half of the re­ward.

NO DECOYS

I’d love to say that things im­proved through the sum­mer months, but they re­ally didn’t. I had my suc­cesses, don’t get me wrong, but com­pared to pre­vi­ous years, things were a lot harder work than I was ac­cus­tomed to and I al­ways sensed that I was play­ing catch up, the usual pat­terns of be­hav­ior, re­placed by a seem­ingly ran­dom chaotic mess. Places where I al­ways found rab­bits, sud­denly had none, and places where I sel­dom found any­thing would see rab­bits jump­ing up from out of nowhere and flee­ing to safety be­fore I even re­alised they were there.

Dur­ing this pe­riod, I kept telling my­self that soon the fields would be cut, and I would once again get to en­joy my beloved de­coy­ing on the stub­ble, but that too was a ma­jor dis­ap­point­ment, mainly due to foul weather

“I couldn’t help but no­tice that my bag was al­ways a lot less full than it used to be”

“There’s no point in con­cen­trat­ing on your fail­ures too hard, just try take what lessons you can”

which meant that the farm­ers cut the fields and ploughed them on the same day, leav­ing me with great swathes of empty, bar­ren, fields of mud, in­stead of the stub­ble that would usu­ally draw so many birds. Above all else, that was a crush­ing blow. I spend all year look­ing for­ward to it like noth­ing else in life, and I didn’t get a sin­gle day out with the decoys.

Luck­ily, I didn’t get too long to feel sorry for my­self, be­cause au­tumn ar­rived, and brought with it a re­newed sense of op­ti­mism. I soon found my­self out in the woods as of­ten as I could man­age. Grey squir­rels and wood­pi­geons were my main tar­gets and they pro­vided some de­cent days as win­ter crept ever closer. I put up a feeder in the wood to use in late win­ter, so be­tween that and the rats in the yard, I have some­where to go, no mat­ter what the weather, or what time of day it is.

SNOW HUNT­ING

De­spite what was by far and away the most dis­ap­point­ing year I have ever had in the hunt­ing field, I man­aged to end the year with my spir­its high, look­ing for­ward to the year to come. I mean, things couldn’t pos­si­bly be this bad again, right? Truth­fully, they could. I have no idea what caused it, no ob­vi­ous cor­re­la­tions be­tween the weather and the an­i­mals’ be­hav­iour have lead me to un­der­stand com­pletely what was so dif­fer­ent about 2017 com­pared to the pre­vi­ous 20 or so years I have hunted over this land.

There’s no point in con­cen­trat­ing on your fail­ures too hard, al­though I al­ways say, try to take what lessons you can from them, and once you have, it’s time to move on, for­get it, and con­cen­trate on fu­ture hunts, which you can still in­flu­ence. We’ve just re­cently had a dust­ing of snow, and I adore snow hunt­ing, when I get the rare chance to don my white cam­ou­flage gear. There is just some­thing so pure about hunt­ing in the coun­try­side af­ter a fresh snow­fall, and al­though that didn’t last long enough for me to get out in it, more has been forecast, and I am hope­ful that it will ar­rive soon. Be­yond that, I am re­ally look­ing for­ward to spring. I might love the snow, but I sure hate win­ter be­cause I of­ten suf­fer from ter­ri­bly low moods, al­though, this win­ter has seen me less af­fected than any year I can re­mem­ber. That, com­bined with my rein­vig­o­rated feel­ing in re­gard to hunt­ing, means that de­spite a very tough year I am even more de­ter­mined than ever to make this one count!

NEW PER­MIS­SIONS

I am think­ing about find­ing some new per­mis­sions some­where a lit­tle further away from home than the ones I have now, which are lit­er­ally on my doorstep. Don’t get me wrong, I love the land I shoot on; I’m ex­tremely priv­i­leged to have ac­cess to it, and I have hunted most of it my en­tire life, so there’s a huge emo­tional at­tach­ment, but it would be

“I al­ways ad­vise peo­ple to stick to what works and get to know your kit in­ti­mately”

nice to have some new chal­lenges, and new land to learn and even­tu­ally master. It can take years to re­ally suss a place out fully, and this past year has shown me that when you have land that sits in in one big clump and things go wrong, you aren’t left with many op­tions. If I have an­other per­mis­sion some­where I can al­ter­nate be­tween the two, strik­ing which­ever gives me the best chance of suc­cess at any given time. Peo­ple al­ways strug­gle to find per­mis­sion, so this might take me a while, but I will ded­i­cate a few days to get­ting out and driv­ing around and knock­ing on some doors, the old-fash­ioned way, and I will, of course, keep you all up to date with my progress.

NEW TECHNOLOGY

In the mean­time, I am look­ing at some new bits and bobs to try out kit wise, just to make things a bit more in­ter­est­ing. I tend to stick to what I know, wear­ing the same camo gear, the same old boots. Us­ing the same ri­fles, scopes and pel­lets for years and years on end with­out ever al­ter­ing any­thing, which is great for con­sis­tency. I al­ways ad­vise peo­ple to stick to what works and get to know your kit in­ti­mately, but how do you know that what you’re us­ing works best, if you never try any­thing new?

In the past, I have been slow to make the leap towards new technology. I stayed with a springer for years af­ter pre-charged pneu­mat­ics be­came main­stream, and I missed out, so I am de­ter­mined to stay as cur­rent as I can these days. I have no idea what these new things will be, be­cause all of my kit works ex­tremely well, has been fully tested, and I know I can rely on it – which is why I use it all in the first place. I had to­tally forgotten how much fun it is to look at the ads in the mag­a­zine and drool over some of the stuff, in there, or scrolling end­lessly through web­sites, wish­ing, dream­ing. I used to spend more time read­ing the ads in Air­gun World than I did read­ing the ar­ti­cles when I was young. I didn’t have a de­cent ri­fle then, and I ac­tu­ally or­dered my very first, an Weihrauch HW95 from a mail order ad in these very pages, so it’s been like a trip down mem­ory lane in a way, look­ing at things through much more youth­ful and in­ex­pe­ri­enced eyes.

WEL­COME BACK

Ac­tu­ally, speak­ing of kit, I have ‘Gretchen’ my beloved Suzuki Jimny back, all fixed up, good as new, and sport­ing a new, slightly toned down, but way more prac­ti­cal, paint job ready for the months that lie ahead. I had to let her go due to some me­chan­i­cal prob­lems from the abuse I gave her, but she is fixed and back, and I couldn’t be hap­pier. I had re­ally missed her, but more on that next month.

Any­way, that’s enough of me harp­ing on. I hope you had a bet­ter year than I did last year, and I hope we all have a very suc­cess­ful 2018 in what­ever form of shoot­ing we do, be it hunt­ing, HFT or plink­ing. It’s all about en­joy­ing what we do, get­ting the max­i­mum out of it, and de­spite not al­ways get­ting the re­sults I ex­pected, I am end­ing the year more in­vig­o­rated and ex­cited about airgunning in gen­eral than I have been in years! See you all next month. I

Sum­mer usu­ally pro­vides a huge bounty for us hun­ters, so where was it?

I love hunt­ing in the snow, and I am hop­ing that this win­ter will see us with a de­cent amount on the ground.

Sum­mer rab­bit ses­sions seem a long way off at the minute, but they’ll be here sooner than you think.

Ev­ery year for the past two decades, these trees have been full of roost­ing pi­geons … erm?

I was forced to wan­der around, hop­ing to bump into some­thing, maybe a pi­geon?.

Cold, wet, mis­er­able – my 2017.

I had some suc­cesses, but I re­ally had to work for them.

The big­gest bag of the year – 25 kills.

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