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