Dave Barham turns a blank morning’s hunting into a positive experience
Dave turns a blank morning at his new permission into a learning curve
If you learn, you never blank. That’s one message I cannot stress enough to anyone who hunts or fishes. I discovered a long time ago, through my fishing experiences, that if I can walk away from a session having learned something that will help me on my next outing, then the trip was worth the effort – it’s exactly the same with shooting.
If you read Phil Hardman’s article this month, you’ll see that he recommends getting out there without your gun for a good scout around. It’s all about learning your shooting permission to give you an advantage over your quarry, and I can certainly echo his advice.
A HORSEY PROBLEM
I recently gained access to a new permission through a very good friend of mine, Roger Cooling. His wife, Juliana, has a lovely horse called Harvey, which is stabled just seven miles away from my house.
I received a call late last night from Juliana, asking if I could pop over to the stables and ‘take care’ of some problem rabbits. The fields adjacent to the paddocks are home to a reasonable number of rabbits, but they have been edging ever closer to the horses and have now managed to dig under the wire fencing and actually enter the paddocks.
It seems the draw of fresh grass and shallow water troughs has proved too much of an attraction for the rabbits, and they have begun to start digging and scraping holes in the fields where the horses roam free.
So what’s the problem? Well, if the rabbits were left to their own devices they could create serious problems for the horses – namely large holes that could end up breaking a horse’s leg, which would probably prove fatal for the horse.
LIKE A RIFLE RANGE
It’s a strange set up, this shoot. There’s a long, thin strip of land between the field where the rabbits live and the paddocks, akin to a long shooting range. It’s this strip of land that I’m allowed to shoot on, measuring approximately 8 feet by 100 yards – crazy eh!
It’s a great little set-up though, with a large set of wooden steps that make the perfect bench rest, and somewhere to hide behind by the gate, too.
I can only shoot from the gate toward the open fields along the ‘rifle range’, because there is a house and B road directly behind me, so I can’t shoot the other way. I also can’t shoot from the paddocks on the left, because that would mean I’d be shooting into someone else’s land, so you see it’s a a weird situation, and one that requires a bit of forethought, so I discovered this morning.
IS A BLANK REALLY A BLANK?
I’ve just returned from a morning’s hunt, empty-handed. I didn’t even see a rabbit, let alone manage to take a shot. A quick scout around after I’d chucked in the towel proved to me that there are indeed plenty of rabbits there, and that they are most definitely active. Fresh droppings and recent scrapes are a clear sign, as are recent tracks. So why didn’t I even see one?
It was quite cool when I left the house under cover of darkness at 6am, my car said four degrees, but that’s not cold enough for the rabbits to miss out on an early morning feed. By 8am the air temperature had risen to 14 degrees, and when I’d given up at 12.30pm it was positively roasting at 22 degrees.
The only thing I could put my failure down to was that the rabbits knew I was there. I decided to check the compass on my phone and soon discovered why I had failed.
The ‘shooting range’ runs straight south to north, and this morning we had a gentle
south-westerly breeze, barely enough to make the tips of the long grass wobble, but obviously enough to blow my scent straight through the hedge to my right, and into the field where the rabbits live – schoolboy error!
A LEARNING CURVE
I’m 99% certain that my failure this morning was completely down to wind direction. I should have known that; it’s rule number one when digging in and waiting for your quarry to come to you – always have the wind in your face. I guess in all the excitement of gaining a new permission, and the urgency of the task in hand, I just completely forgot about it – I am only human after all.
So, I’m sitting behind my desk now, writing this piece, not full of woe because of a blank morning, but full of anticipation for what the coming days might bring. I learned a lot from this failure.
I now know that I need to keep my eye on the weather for a north-easterly breeze, so it carries my scent away from the fields. I also know that I might stand more chance by arriving early evening, when the air temperature is warmer and the rabbits might be more active than at first light, with our typical autumnal weather patterns.
Last, but not least, I’ve decided to keep a journal of conditions for this particular shoot, so I can note the wind direction and air temperature for future reference to see if my theories are correct. It’s something I used to do religiously when carp fishing many years ago, and after time it helped me to build a picture of what conditions were best for the lakes I was fishing – it’s exactly the same concept with hunting. Only time will tell, but in the meantime I’ll just keep on learning, and that means I’ll never have a blank session!
Harvey is such a friendly old chap, it’s horrible to think that a rabbit hole could break his leg.
In some areas, the rabbits have clearly achieved their aim to get into the paddocks.
Checking the weather conditions and wind direction after the event – oops!
Empty bag, full head. No rabbits today in Dave’s cool-box, but plenty of knowledge and experience gained.
If you decide to keep a journal it’s important to record the day’s conditions after a failure, as well as when you succeed.
The iPhone compass is going to prove invaluable to Dave on his next hunt.
The new permission is just like a rifle range, with only one direction to shoot.
This is a fresh dig, and it won’t be long until the rabbits get under this part of the fence.