THE HUNTER’S WAY
Eddie Jones is sharing his tips for summer rabbit stalking
Rabbit stalking in high summer needs a special technique, and Eddie Jones is the man to tell us how it’s done
In this month’s feature, we are going to take a look at how we can stalk up on rabbits with a bit more confidence in order to shoot one. I have spent countless days stalking them at this time of year, and over time I have got to be pretty good at it. When you have a shoot that’s just open cattle grounds or horse paddocks, it can be a very daunting experience trying to get close enough for a confident shot. I have had thousands of failed stalks on this type of ground, so now I mainly use the blind method that I discussed last month to get the best out of an evening. It is also better to use a blind when it’s hot because it’s no fun walking around open fields with sparse cover in the baking heat.
When stalking rabbits, I would rather go on a morning shoot and pick a ground with plenty of cover to break up your outline as you try to get close enough for a shot. When the sun first hits the fields in the morning you will usually see rabbits above ground feeding. How many you see will certainly depend on the weather during the night, and I’ve found that the best time to go out is just after a good bit of rain. Although plenty of you guys who go out and shoot with a lamp in the rain will see rabbits out, the majority will be underground waiting it out for better conditions to feed in. This is when you will have a chance to get close. They will be more concerned with filling their stomachs to last them the rest of the day underground, before they emerge again for the evening feed. This time of year will also be when the second grass cut is planned; the rabbits will be feeding low down and with the grass quite high, they will not see you. It’s also going to be hard for you to see them, but when you know the areas where you should see one, it will be a good bet that you will get the chance of the shot.
Wind direction is crucial for your stalk. If the wind blows toward a rabbit, you are going to cut your chances of a shot dramatically. Rabbits will soon pick up your scent and will be on high alert from a long way off. Always have the wind in your face, or blowing from the hedge line out into the field you are walking along. If you have a wood line that you are stalking alongside, you still have chances of seeing one sitting on the floor amongst the foliage, so look forward and into the wood as you walk.
Stalking woods in the summer is a challenging way to try to shoot a rabbit for the pot. The woods I shoot in get covered in bracken in the summer, and it’s very hard to see anything, but this has not deterred me. I take time out every winter to identify where the warrens are, and then clear paths to them. I also clear small areas of the bracken to let the grass grow. When setting up the grass areas, make sure you have plenty of cover to get there quietly and concealed. I try to make the walk toward the area where they’ll be feeding, to look like a snake. This will give you cover if you keep low, and only when you get in position should you be able to see the grass area. It pays to visit the areas that you create every couple of weeks to clear any fallen branches or new growth that could hamper your approach. Why go through all the trouble and hard work only to let it slip when it will be productive? These areas prove popular in the morning because when young rabbits emerge, the adult rabbits will definitely join them after a while to feed. When they feel safe and if you get there at the right time, you will get a shot off.
Camouflage clothing is a big help when stalking. You don’t need the best kit in the world, but you do need to break up your outline as much as possible. When walking down a hedge line you will want to use any overhanging bush or patch of nettles as a background. You will also use these to your advantage to hide any movement when stalking up to the rabbit. You need to remember that if you can see the rabbit, it will undoubtedly be able to see you. Camouflage clothing will help in these situations, and I would certainly
“You need to calm the nerves and excitement that is rushing through your body, take your time”
recommend gloves and a face veil as essential parts of your clothing. Your skin is a definite giveaway to any quarry, so try to cover up as much as possible, the rest is down to your personal preference.
When you do get close enough to shoot the rabbit, give yourself time to control your breathing. You have done all the hard work now and to fluff the shot by trying to rush is the most frustrating part. I usually try to get on one knee if possible. When you are low down and out of sight you won’t need to worry about being seen.
I have made the mistake of spending ten minutes creeping to my location, with adrenalin pumping through my body, and you can feel your pulse thumping away as you are lining up the shot. You will be waving the cross hairs around like a madman, just waiting for them to land on the point of impact so you can squeeze the trigger quickly. Eight times out of ten you will miss, it’s a foregone conclusion that it will happen; I have done it many times. You need to calm the nerves and excitement that is rushing through your body, take your time and make all your hard work count.
When your pellet connects and you see the rabbit either lie down and kick, or do a somersault, you will be enjoying what hunting is all about. That one perfect stalk will stick in your mind for a long time, and it comes about because you have put all the graft in before the summer even starts.
Try to stay in the shadows if you can
RIGHT: Always scan around for other pests as you go
TOP RIGHT: Taking a breather to compose yourself will help you to shoot straight
BELOW: A hard-won mixed bag can make for a satisfying day
TOP LEFT: Even sparse cover can be a help