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