PHIL HARD­MAN

Not when you’re bag­ging vi­tal info – as Phil Hard­man re­veals

Airgun World - - Contents - I paused to plot my next move.

TOO LOW FOR ZERO

We’ve had quite a bit of snow up here in County Durham lately, and to be hon­est, it’s just about the only part of win­ter hunt­ing I re­ally look for­ward to these days. I don’t know if it’s be­cause I am get­ting older, or what, but I seem in­creas­ingly to spend my win­ters wish­ing it was spring, and I don’t mean just look­ing for­ward to spring, I mean long­ing for it. The cold I can just about tol­er­ate, once I am out, but the bar­ren, empty land, de­void of much in the way of shoot­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties just seems to de­press me – or win­ter in gen­eral does, per­haps, and it shows in my shoot­ing out­look. I am sure that when I was younger it didn’t have such an im­pact – I just cracked on and never thought about it. Ei­ther way, any­thing that can give me a kick up the bum and re­new my en­thu­si­asm for win­ter is es­pe­cially wel­comed, and snow does that. The other down­side to get­ting older is, you have more re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, and they of­ten mean you can­not get out as much as you’d like, or plan trips as well. Kids es­pe­cially play havoc, so you of­ten find your­self just grab­bing your gun and go­ing when you get the chance, hav­ing put off nu­mer­ous trips in the days lead­ing up. This is what hap­pened to me with this month’s ex­cel­lent snow­fall, which had all but gone by the time I found the time to get out into the field. Still, I’d been plan­ning on get­ting out for days, so once the op­por­tu­nity came I wasn’t wast­ing it. I grabbed my ri­fle and didn’t look back, al­most run­ning to the car be­fore my girl­friend, Char­lotte, man­aged to find another job for me.

ZERO TEM­PER­A­TURES

It was a bit­terly cold day. A northerly wind was sweep­ing across the land and it sucked any traces of warmth out of my body be­fore I had even closed the car door. As I walked through the farm­yard, I bumped into Jimmy, the farm­hand, so stopped for a quick chat. It al­ways pays to chat to peo­ple who spend a lot of time on the land; it makes a good im­pres­sion on them and helps to keep your place on the shoot se­cure, and you can pick up tips about quarry habits; where they are at the minute, what’s caus­ing prob­lems etc. This can saves you a lot of hard work and cuts down on the amount of time you waste chas­ing your tail, look­ing for the best places to shoot, even more vi­tal if you have a lot of ground to cover. On this oc­ca­sion, the chat prove fruit­less. All was quiet on the ver­min front, save for a few rats in the yard, ap­par­ently. With the sun out, and my hands now too numb to trans­mit the sig­nal to my brain telling it that they were cold, I made my way out of the farm and into the out­ly­ing fields feel­ing sur­pris­ingly warm con­sid­er­ing the near zero tem­per­a­tures.

SET­TLED IN

The go­ing was slow out in the fields. The ground that had been sit­ting un­der six inches of snow all week was wa­ter­logged and muddy as the melt water strug­gled to drain away. I was con­cen­trat­ing so much on my foot place­ment in the icy swamp­land that used to be a horse pad­dock, that I spooked a group of mag­pies with­out see­ing them, only notic­ing as they took off from the lit­tle al­lot­ment gar­den type thing that sits in the cor­ner of the field. There’s a chicken coop in there, so I as­sumed they must have been steal­ing the chicken feed, and see­ing the per­fect place from which

A wind was sweep­ing across the land and it sucked any warmth out of my body

“Try­ing my best to shake off my dis­ap­point­ment, I de­cided to move on”

to am­bush them, I de­cided to get my­self tucked in be­hind the rows of hay bales that ran along the op­po­site hedge, hop­ing that they might re­turn.

The bales were placed two high, one on top of another, and meant that I would have de­cent enough cover not only from the front, but also from above, with a hedge be­hind me serv­ing to hide me from view from al­most all an­gles. Shel­tered from the wind, with the sun shin­ing it wasn’t a bad day re­ally, and as I got set­tled in and waited, I even be­gan to en­joy my­self.

Twenty or so min­utes passed be­fore any­thing stirred, and then sud­denly I heard a mag­pie squawk­ing loudly. It was close, that I could tell, but I had no idea where it was ex­actly. It wasn’t giv­ing off the chat­ter­ing alarm call, so I was pretty sure I hadn’t yet been de­tected, but it was so close that I knew if I tried to move to find it, I would surely be seen be­fore I ever had any hope of get­ting a shot off.

RAT RUNS

I sus­pected it was ac­tu­ally on one of the hay bales that I was hid­ing be­hind, so I sank down lower and just held po­si­tion, hop­ing that it, or one of its bud­dies, would make the mis­take of swoop­ing down into the chicken coop. Things went very quiet very quickly, and the si­lence had me think­ing that maybe it had seen me after all, and I just re­laxed when sud­denly a black and white blur dropped in from nowhere and landed on the fence at the edge of the coop. I in­stantly re­sponded by drop­ping in be­hind the scope on my Weihrauch HW110 and let­ting the shot go. In my mind, I knew I had nailed it, but much to my sur­prise I saw a small puff of feath­ers come from the top of the mag­pie’s head as my pel­let zipped through them harm­lessly, leav­ing the world’s luck­i­est mag­pie to make its es­cape as it leapt into the air and dis­ap­peared over the back of the farm­yard. I had been count­ing on that first kill to lure more mag­pies in, but it was clearly spooked I knew that ev­ery mag­pie in the area would now know that the chicken coop was to be avoided.

Try­ing my best to shake off my dis­ap­point­ment, I de­cided to move on, al­though not be­fore notic­ing the huge net­work of rat runs that were vis­i­ble in the soft ground be­neath where some of the hay bales had been, be­fore be­ing moved. I made a men­tal not to make sure that I check this area out next time I am out rat­ting. If the bales are home, then the chicken coop must be where they are feed­ing, and the fence that runs from one to the other would surely see a lot of ac­tiv­ity after dark.

SMALL COR­RI­DOR

As I headed over the pad­dock, across the white snow patches that clung on de­spite the rise in tem­per­a­ture, I found my­self once again at the mercy of the icy wind blast. I’m not sure what my plan was, or even if I had one, but with the farm­yard busy, and the small plan­ta­tions lin­ing it look­ing des­o­late, I headed out into the hedgerows in search of my next chance. As I walked along, slip­ping and slid­ing in the mud, I no­ticed a dis­tant lack of wood­pi­geons on the land. By ‘dis­tinct lack’ I mean that I hadn’t seen any, not a sin­gle one. That was a first for this per­mis­sion, which tra­di­tion­ally sees me shoot more pi­geons than any other ver­min species, if not all of the oth­ers com­bined!

I passed through a gate and headed along the bot­tom side of one of the larger grass fields. This area is usu­ally pretty good for rab­bits; small gorse bushes on the field bound­ary, and a gi­ant hawthorn hedge about six feet apart form a small cor­ri­dor be­tween the two. Rab­bits call the hawthorn home, but must move out past the gorse and into the field in or­der to feed, al­low­ing me to move up this cor­ri­dor un­de­tected, and more

im­por­tantly, cut off their es­cape route. By the time they re­alise I am there, I am stand­ing di­rectly be­tween them, and their sets.

DAN­GER­OUS TREND

On this oc­ca­sion, though, I spot­ted a dan­ger­ous new trend that the rab­bits had started. I could tell right away that the field it­self had been the scene of some se­ri­ous rab­bit ground work, about 30 or 40 yards out in the field it­self. To get a closer look, I climbed over the fence and into the field and as I got nearer I could hardly be­lieve my eyes. The rab­bits have been busy con­vert­ing what was a cou­ple of bolt holes, into a ma­jor war­ren, with holes al­most ev­ery­where. The scene was more like some­thing you’d ex­pect from a doc­u­men­tary about the Somme, such was the ex­ten­sive ex­ca­va­tion that had taken place. This is a horse field, so this was se­ri­ously bad news; one hoof down a hole and that could be the end for a horse un­lucky enough to break a leg, so I knew right away that I was go­ing to have to give this my full at­ten­tion over the next few weeks and months. In the mean­time, I slowly and qui­etly backed away from the sets and set up in a over­watch­ing po­si­tion. With that much ac­tiv­ity, I was sure that the chances of a rab­bit pop­ping out were pretty de­cent, and with not much else hap­pen­ing on the land, it seemed like as good a move as any.

A WASTED DAY?

I sat and watched the clouds roll by over­head whilst plan­ning my at­tack for a night raid on the war­ren. Which route would I take? Where I would sit? I won­dered just how many rab­bits it had taken to cre­ate such a mess in such a short space of time, when sud­denly I looked up and saw one sit­ting out in the open. At 40 yards it would a bit of a long shot in the wind, but ex­pe­ri­ence told me ex­actly where to aim, so full of con­fi­dence I set­tled in and got ready to send it. The lit­tle HW110 barely coughed as a pel­let left the bar­rel and zipped through the air, be­fore smash­ing into the rab­bit’s skull with a sharp, res­onat­ing crack! The rab­bit jumped up a cou­ple of inches, its body stiff as a board be­fore it dis­ap­peared from view as it fell onto its side. I didn’t want to give away my po­si­tion to any oth­ers that might be go­ing to pop out, so I reloaded and stayed put, but after 30 min­utes or so, the cold was re­ally start­ing to seep in through my clothes, and I de­cided that mov­ing was my best op­tion.

I stalked the rest of the field, and then made my way up the tree line back to­ward the farm­yard. These trees usu­ally have a lot of wood­pi­geons in them, even at this time of year, but I still didn’t see a sin­gle one on my re­turn trip, not even just fly­ing over. Maybe they have flocked up on my other per­mis­sion, which usu­ally sees hun­dreds, if not thou­sands roost­ing in the woods from now un­til spring, I’m hop­ing that’s what this means, be­cause last year they didn’t turn up there at all.

INFO IN THE BAG

What the day lacked in ac­tion, it cer­tainly made up for in in­for­ma­tion, I now have two ar­eas where bag­ging de­cent num­bers is likely if I use my night-vi­sion gear after dark; the rats at the bales and the chicken coop, and the rab­bits out in the field, which is some­times the case with hunt­ing. They say there is no such thing as a wasted day in the field, and that’s very true, es­pe­cially if what you learn adds up to some se­ri­ous ac­tion next time, and that’s what I am hop­ing for. Watch this space!

A comfy rest and close range. I couldn’t miss, or could I? If any­one still won­ders why we shoot rab­bits, show them this.

My camo was work­ing well, but I re­ally need to dig out my gloves and face veil.

Any clues you can find could lead to your next kill; so make sure you take in ev­ery­thing.

Warmth, shel­ter, food nearby; the per­fect win­ter home for rats! It was easy to see just how fresh this ac­tiv­ity was, and there were prints ev­ery­where!

Ar­eas where the bales had been moved showed ex­ten­sive rat tun­nel­ing.

This line of trees is al­ways good for a pi­geon or two.

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