ENFORCED RECCE

Peter Yeats pushes through the pain bar­rier to check on his per­mis­sion

Air Gunner - - Contents -

Peter Yeats’ bad back forces him to view his per­mis­sion through fresh eyes

Wouldn’t you know it? Just as I was get­ting ready to do the ses­sion to form this ar­ti­cle, I in­jured my back, leav­ing me ly­ing flat, chew­ing heavy- duty painkillers and won­der­ing whether or not I’d get out and about at all be­fore this is­sue. As I lay wait­ing for my anaes­thetised back to sort it­self out, my thoughts turned to how I’d re­cently fo­cused on culling grey squir­rels, to the ne­glect of the rest of my per­mis­sion and that was some­thing to be ad­dressed.

For­tu­nately, after a week of frus­trat­ing agony, I was able to take care­ful walks as the tear­ing and bruis­ing healed, and at the first op­por­tu­nity, I headed to my per­mis­sion, with­out the en­cum­brance of my shoot­ing gear, to do as com­plete a recce of the whole area as pos­si­ble. As it turned out, I was able to check ev­ery­where over a pe­riod of about two and a half hours, and soon found the value of a reg­u­lar review.

‘Fa­mil­iar­ity breeds con­tempt’ is a good, old-fash­ioned say­ing, and in my case it is true. I have been shoot­ing my per­mis­sion for more than 15 years and was con­fi­dent that I knew it in­side out. When the farmer makes ob­vi­ous changes, they’re noted, but na­ture is also con­stantly chang­ing, even when it looks as ex­pected, su­per­fi­cially. My per­mis­sion is about half of a dis­used WW2 air­field, with one re­main­ing hangar – used as a barn – Nis­sen hut foun­da­tions and a cou­ple of blast/shrap­nel trenches, and apart from the wood be­hind the hangar, it’s as flat and open as you’d ex­pect of an old air­field.

VALUE OF REVIEW

I parked up at my usual spot, waved to the farmer and set off on a cir­cuit, head­ing south, along the hedge that bor­ders a coun­try lane and holds the dens­est pop­u­la­tion of rab­bits on the per­mis­sion. Prox­im­ity to the road means shoot­ing par­al­lel to the hedge, at a safe dis­tance in from the lane, usu­ally with a strong west wind blow­ing right to left, so short ranges with care­fully mea­sured and con­sid­ered windage are re­quired of any shoot­ing day.

I could see rab­bit runs and fresh drop­pings to con­firm that this re­mained a prime spot, hav­ing a raised plat­form of­fer­ing good con­ceal­ment with 30-yard shots off the bi­pod – per­fect! As I walked the half- mile length of the hedge, I was able to con­firm the rab­bit runs in the grass for the first 300 yards, or so; th­ese went out as much as 100 yards into the air­field, right past the first brick anti- blast trench. Rab­bits don’t come out this far be­fore dark­ness, so

I’d al­ways re­jected the lo­ca­tion as a shoot­ing po­si­tion, but after dark there were clearly rab­bits pass­ing near it so this could be an ideal area for my first foray into lamp­ing.

Look­ing at fa­mil­iar ground with a fresh pur­pose proved the value of my review. Ob­sta­cles that I’d barely reg­is­tered in dusk stalk­ing sud­denly took on the sta­tus of real dan­gers for lamp­ing; hut foun­da­tions and man­holes, some with bro­ken cov­ers, could cause trip­ping and se­ri­ous in­jury when lamp­ing, and creep­ing closer to my quarry in pitch dark­ness. Even worse were the col­lapsed drains just un­der the grass, ready to grab, twist or break an an­kle – all com­pletely ob­vi­ous in day­light, and now sharply etched into my men­tal map of the air­field.

NEW AC­TIV­ITY

So far, so good. The next sec­tion of the hedge had the same ev­i­dence of rab­bits, and haz­ards, but there was a lot of new bur­row­ing ac­tiv­ity in some of the pre­vi­ously un­oc­cu­pied mounds. Th­ese new dis­cov­er­ies of­fered shoot­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to­ward the west, into the pre­vail­ing west wind, mean­ing less windage, thus aid­ing accuracy, and less scent car­ry­ing to­ward my quarry – ex­cel­lent.

The south­ern and west­ern edges of my per­mis­sion showed much less promise, as I’d ex­pected, to be hon­est. It’s so very open and ex­posed, of­fer­ing very lit­tle cover from preda­tors. I spent time in this sec­tion watch­ing a buz­zard, and then a kestrel search­ing for prey ... no won­der quarry doesn’t wan­der this far from safety!

My next sur­prise was the con­crete rub­ble at the north- west cor­ner of the per­mis­sion. In the past, this had been an easy lo­ca­tion at which to wait and am­bush rab­bits. There is a war­ren un­der the rub­ble, and rab­bit safety was al­ways only feet away. Clearly, they con­sid­ered it to be safe and would emerge to en­joy the last of the sun­light, around dusk. This time, I found no re­cent signs of rab­bit ac­tiv­ity around the war­ren. What had hap­pened? Myxi? Vi­ral Hae­mor­agic Disease? Poach­ers with dogs, fer­rets and nets hoover­ing them up? I didn’t know, but plan­ning to shoot there was go­ing to be a waste of time. The clear­ing next to my fi­nal stretch of fence, into the wood, still showed signs of rab­bit ac­tiv­ity, though, so that re­mains a vi­able lo­ca­tion for a dusk ses­sion.

FRESH APPRECIATION

Then it was on to my squir­rel feed­ers – from the west, not the usual up­wind ap­proach. Un­sur­pris­ingly, noth­ing down­wind made an ap­pear­ance, but I could see the usual rab­bit runs from the neigh­bour­ing prop­erty so it was busi­ness as usual here. An­other sur­prise was how ex­posed I felt with­out the cover of the now leaf­less canopy. I sus­pect that fewer rab­bits would emerge into the wood be­fore full dark­ness, but on the other side of the scales, my feed­ers should be more ob­vi­ous to the greys as they be­came hun­grier.

Now all that re­mained was for me to check and re­fresh the feed­ers. There had been no feed­ing from in­side by lift­ing the lid, so nat­u­ral food was still too plen­ti­ful for them to work for their din­ners! Nev­er­the­less, I re­plen­ished the feed­ers and headed home. ■

The benefits I got from this recce, apart from a grad­u­ally im­prov­ing back, were a com­pletely fresh appreciation of the area and at least two en­tirely new lo­ca­tions and meth­ods to try on a per­mis­sion about which I thought I knew ev­ery­thing!

Whilst I wouldn’t rec­om­mend the back in­jury that led to my recce, I would def­i­nitely rec­om­mend tak­ing such a walk around your per­mis­sion – you too might be sur­prised by what you dis­cover!

This is def­i­nitely a rab­bit run

ABOVE RIGHT: It’s en­cour­ag­ing to see new bur­rows

BELOW: This col­lapsed drain could cause some se­ri­ous dam­age to Peter’s bad back if he trod in it

ABOVE LEFT: You cer­tainly wouldn’t want to trip over this in the dark

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