Hard­man’s Hunt­ing

Phil shines a light on the mys­te­ri­ous world of hunt­ing after dark

Airgun World - - Contents -

Phil’s out hunt­ing at night, and of­fers some tips on how to make the most of it

This month, we’re go­ing to have a lit­tle look at what is in­volved in hunt­ing at night. Some peo­ple love it, some avoid it, or just sim­ply haven’t ever tried it, but night-hunt­ing is an ex­tremely ef­fec­tive method of tar­get­ing species that are out and about after dark. You can look at it sim­i­lar to stalk­ing, but with a few twists.

Firstly, it is dark, so you can­not see, and the ver­min you hunt – rab­bits and rats – can, so you’re in­stantly at a dis­ad­van­tage. We get round the prob­lem by us­ing an ar­ti­fi­cial light source, ei­ther a stan­dard vis­i­ble lamp of some sort, or night-vi­sion tech­nol­ogy. We’ll start off with the ba­sics be­cause they are the same for both tech­niques, re­gard­less of the kit you use.

As I said, this is a form of stalk­ing, so all the essen­tials of field­craft need to be fol­lowed; you need to be quiet, slow mov­ing, and be a part of the coun­try­side just as much as you do dur­ing the day, but with the added dif­fi­culty of less back­ground noise and not be­ing able to see. You re­ally need to make more ef­fort than dur­ing day­light hunt­ing ses­sions.

We are us­ing the cover of dark­ness to ap­proach, in­stead of cam­ou­flage cloth­ing, so we need it to be re­ally dark – no moon and good cloud cover is ad­vis­able, and be care­ful not to sil­hou­ette your­self against any dis­tant back­ground light pol­lu­tion.

In the case of a lamp, you will have to choose ei­ther to use a lamp man, to shine the beam and search for tar­gets, while you take the shots, or you will need to get a ri­fle­mounted lamp if you are go­ing solo. The ac­tual tac­tic is sim­ple enough, re­ally, I try to stalk along and get my­self be­tween the rab­bits that should be out feed­ing in the mid­dle of the field, and the war­ren it­self, to close off their es­cape route. If they haven’t been lamped much be­fore, they shouldn’t worry too much about a beam of light hit­ting them, but if they are wor­ried and you’re be­tween them and their war­ren, they have nowhere to run and will in­stead of­ten hun­ker down and try to hide.

WORK AS A TEAM

After giv­ing a quick scan of the lamp, I turn it off and move closer to any po­ten­tial tar­gets as qui­etly as I can, and then stop and flick it

back on again. I never move with the beam on if I can avoid it be­cause that will of­ten give the rab­bit an idea of your dis­tance and be enough to spook them into run­ning. In­stead, I check and turn it back off if I am still not in range, un­til I am. The light re­flects off the rab­bits’ eyes so they are pretty vis­i­ble even when try­ing to hide, but since they aren’t aware of this, you can of­ten find your­self able to ap­proach a hun­kered down bunny ex­tremely closely. If you choose to use a lamp man, he con­trols the hunt, not the ri­fle­man. The lamp man’s job is to seek out tar­gets and get the ri­fle­man close enough for the shot, so fol­low his lead. It ac­tu­ally pays to put the most ex­pe­ri­enced man be­hind the lamp rather than the trig­ger, be­cause he will know when he is as close as he can get and it’s time to hand off to the ri­fle­man for the shot. Work­ing in a team like this can be ex­cep­tion­ally ef­fec­tive, but re­mem­ber you need to stay quiet, so keep talk­ing down to an ab­so­lute min­i­mum.

EX­TREMELY EF­FEC­TIVE

Night-vi­sion, or NV hunt­ing. is very sim­i­lar, but you aren’t us­ing a vis­i­ble beam of light. It re­lies on an in­frared light source that nei­ther we, nor our quarry can see, but can be picked up by the NV unit, so that we can use it to see in the dark. This tac­tic is ex­tremely ef­fec­tive be­cause the rab­bits or rats can­not see any­thing at all and tend to not be spooked or re­act in any way. On the other hand, it’s not as easy to scan with a lamp as it is with a nar­row field of view NV unit and they can be a lot more ex­pen­sive than lamps so it comes down to per­sonal pref­er­ence. If I have a large area and a lot of rab­bits to shoot, I choose the lamp, but when I am rat­ting in a place where I tend not to have to move around much and I only have to scan a lim­ited area, it’s the NV ev­ery time for me. I pre­fer NV add-on units that fit to the rear of your day scope, con­vert­ing it to a nighthunt­ing combo with­out the need for a sec­ond ri­fle, or hav­ing to switch scopes con­stantly. Oth­ers pre­fer ded­i­cated night scopes, al­though th­ese can­not be used dur­ing the day and will of­ten re­quire a sec­ond ri­fle to be used, to avoid the has­sle of swap­ping be­tween scopes. With rats you don’t need to move around as much, al­though I do still stalk around the farm­yard ev­ery so of­ten. I also like to sit in po­si­tion over­look­ing a well-used run, or a feed­ing area, and wait for the rats to come to me.

STAY SAFE

One thing I will say about ei­ther of th­ese meth­ods is to make sure you know your land well. Learn it dur­ing the day­light be­fore you at­tempt to hunt at night. We are of­ten out in the mid­dle of nowhere at un­godly hours, and a sim­ple trip or fall can be­come pretty se­ri­ous very quickly when you are alone. Make sure you have your mo­bile phone charged and ready, and prefer­ably tell some­one where you are go­ing. A flat bat­tery, two bro­ken an­kles and a mile crawl to the near­est road or house will not be much fun at any time, but in the mid­dle of win­ter, when most lamp­ing takes place, it could be life-threat­en­ing.

Farm­yards are also pretty dan­ger­ous places, even dur­ing the day, so at night they be­come al­most lethal; heavy ma­chin­ery, things to trip over, sharp ob­jects wait­ing to im­pale you … the list is al­most end­less, so con­duct­ing a proper day­light recce on the yard and all the build­ings be­fore you go at night is es­sen­tial.

“It ac­tu­ally pays to put the most ex­pe­ri­enced man be­hind the lamp rather than the trig­ger”

AC­CI­DENTS HAP­PEN

Only twice have I had to end a hunt­ing trip early be­cause of ac­ci­dent or in­jury, and both came at night while lamp­ing. I once stood on a 6-inch nail, on a board cov­ered in rats’ blood, when I was pick­ing up after a pretty suc­cess­ful evening out. It was dark and I sim­ply didn’t see it un­til I felt it en­ter my foot. When you walk into the doc­tor’s for a tetanus jab and say that you have been around rats’ blood you tend to get funny looks, and the leaflet they give you on Weil’s dis­ease is a pretty har­row­ing read, so trust me, you want to be very care­ful when out rat­ting.

On the other oc­ca­sion I had a flat tyre on my ATV quad, but be­ing the type to think ahead I had a can of emer­gency foam tyre-weld handy. It wasn’t un­til I put it on the valve and turned it on that it ex­ploded in my face and eyes. I had to stag­ger to the farm­house blinded, eyes burn­ing and cov­ered in sticky goo to rinse them im­me­di­ately and seek ad­vice from a lo­cal eye in­fir­mary the next day. Both times I was lucky; it could have been a lot worse, but ac­ci­dents can hap­pen, to me, and to you, so be pre­pared! This time of year is the time to make sure all your night-hunt­ing kit is in or­der, the dark nights are clos­ing in fast, but there’s still plenty of sport to be had. See you all next month.

“When you walk into the doc­tor’s for a tetanus jab and say you’ve been around rats’ blood”

I’ll use any sup­port I can to steady my shot, what­ever the dis­tance.

Be­ing able to see in to­tal dark­ness is a sur­real ex­pe­ri­ence at first.

The view through my Night­mas­ter Atom Dig­i­tal NV in com­plete dark­ness.

Us­ing colured fil­ters on lamps helps when your quarry be­comes lamp-shy.

Lamp­ing or NV – both have their places and can be ex­tremely ef­fec­tive tech­niques.

Day­light recce ses­sions help you not only to learn of any po­ten­tial haz­ards, but also where you’re likely to get shots.

Some of my most mem­o­rable nights were rat­ting with NV.

There are a lot of trip haz­ards and sharp things on farms – be care­ful after dark.

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