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Rabbits for Stalking Skills: by Bill McLeod

24/07/2022 6:57 AM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

We knew that we would have to learn to hunt somehow. Barry Crump’s Good Keen Man gave me the inspiration but it was a long way from sparrows in the back yard to climbing mountains after deer. I was so lucky that my Uncle and Auntie had a hundred acre dairy farm at Woodhill, just around the corner from the Woodhill Store. I would wait in anticipation when the school holidays were approaching for the invitation to stay on the farm. Dad’s sister would invite me. You beaut.  And there were rabbits. We got possums up the Macrocarpa shelter belts but that wasn’t the biggest challenge.

Rabbits were a more difficult proposition. Get it wrong and they would run away. After milking I would make for some areas where I had seen rabbits or burrows. A careful plan had to be made to keep out of sight of where they were likely to be, then a cautious  peek out from behind cover. The open sights on the 22 were not considered a drawback, there were almost no telescopic sights then. So there was the aspiring deer hunter, sneaking up on rabbits, trying his best to keep the rifle steady to take home a rabbit for the farm cats.

I was to have a lot of fun with rabbits in later years. Working for the Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park Board based on Motutapu Island I was tasked with supplying two Kleensacks full of rabbits on a Friday when the park boat took the workers back to Devonport. The rabbits were distributed to pensioners by the then assistant chief ranger. I would go over to Browns Island where the rabbits were truly out of control. It would take me about an hour to fill the sacks with rabbits, all head shots. The little Brno with a scope did great work. Then there was a resident population on Motutapu. They were on the list.  Came home for lunch one day and noticed my rifle leaning in the corner of the room where Jeanette did the ironing. She said go and have a look in the vege garden I had put in. In among the carrots, one dead rabbit. Well done, Nette.

Some years later while working on te Paki I had an opportunity to do more rabbit work. While the rabbits were no imminent threat to the viability of the farm it was worthwhile having a look occasionally while surveying for possums. Some of my cobbers in the pistol club were very happy with the results they were getting with their semi auto 22s and they weren’t shy about telling me.  No one should have to put up with too much bullshit so I’d invite them to shoot with me. Jeanette would drive  my Landrover and the victim and I would take turns shooting and spotlighting. The rules were you were to get ten shots, if you missed you were on the light  till either I missed or had ten hits out of ten. We soon had to reduce the hit count to five because no one, even with their super dooper semis, even got five without a miss. With the Brno most of the sets of ten were completed.

Then we had some real rabbit adventure. The Great Easter Bunny hunt in Alexandra. Got to the venue and met some of the awesome folk who lived there. Daylight hunting at first sneaking along in an extended line chasing the rabbits round the Matagauri bushes with shotguns. Then the real work of the weekend. The locals provided our team of four with a Hilux and turned us loose on a big farm. I soon figured out that no one on our team had any experience driving a four wheel vehicle off road, let alone at night. There was no other choice, I had to do the driving. Put the best of my troops on the spotlight with clear instructions on what I wanted him to do. Just use the light like a paintbrush to sweep over all the ground then jump back onto a set of eyes that were within range. He got onto that concept pretty quick but then another problem arose. The shooters couldn’t hit anything. The two shooters were very experienced hunters but they could not shoot under these circumstances. I tried swapping the bloke on the light for a shooter but this wasn’t any more successful. This didn’t stop everyone enjoying themselves. Finally it started to snow, so thankfully we packed it in for the night and went back to the woodshed about midnight. We’d just got in when someone asked if we had left a gate open down on the main road. A mob of sheep had got onto the highway and a local had crashed into the mob with numerous casualties. As we were from Auckland,  we were immediately suspect but we managed to convince them we were nowhere near the massacre site. About three in the morning a local team headed out and I asked if I could join them. They were a very efficient team, their driver could drive , their spot lighter knew his job and their shooters could hit the rabbits. My job was gate opener.  All this work was with shotguns.

The next year our team did about the same but knocked off even earlier. One real top local said him and I should go out together in his cut down Nissan. We used 22s. It was a pleasure to accompany a skilled bloke. We shot mainly hares on this farm, just the way it went. His unsilenced high velocity combination was noticeably more effective than my silenced subsonic combination. Took turns with the light and the gun, the driver doing the spotlighting. Night shooting has its own challenges.

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