My passion for hunting was sparked on a farm, chasing rabbits and foxes. From shooting rabbits off a bi-pod, to stalking sleeping foxes, this is a recount of how hunting small game, has shaped the hunter I am today.
My earliest memories of hunting are of lying among dry cow pats, covered in flies, overlooking a maze of rabbit warrens with dad by my side. When I was first introduced to rabbit shooting, the going was easy, with short grass and huge numbers of bunnies in drought conditions.
Being new to the sport, my shooting skills were relatively basic. I had difficulty shooting sitting down and off hand, and so was limited to shooting prone, more often than not with a bipod. We would pick a warren or a few blackberry thickets, and lie in wait for the bunnies to emerge. It was not as efficient as stalking, it wasn’t uncommon for me to take at least half a dozen a night. For a young fellow just scratching the surface of the sport, this was some of the best fun to be had.
The routine back then was to wait for as long as it took for the rabbits to come out and squeeze off a shot when the opportunity presented itself. After a few shots — whether they had been successful or not — the rabbits seemed to learn their lesson and hide away for the remainder of the afternoon, forcing us to change our location. We would pick and choose different spots based on the wind direction, and continue until the mozzies drove us away.
During the first year, my marksmanship improved as a result of thorough practice at the rifle range. After learning the proper techniques for shooting standing, sitting and prone at my service rifle club, my scores began climb. I was oblivious at the time to how these skills would be crucial if I was any chance at a more prestigious animal in the future.
Plant life flourished after large rainfalls coupled with searing temperatures, which was great for the farmers but it made spotting rabbits in the four-foot-high grass nigh on impossible. Shooting prone was out of the question, and my only option was to stand. It forced me to hunt smarter.
On one particular property there is a small patch of scrub filled with blackberries and nicely stocked with rabbits. Eucalypts provided steady rests in order to increase my chances of hitting the small targets. Although these days I am far more confident shooting off hand, I still apply this method as it obviously helps for longer shots, when trying to head-shoot bunnies.
Picking my way carefully through the scrub, inching from tree to tree, was far more exciting than waiting for the bunnies to come to me. It was more difficult than just waiting them out, but the rewards were greater. It has to be said, it is not easy for a 12-year-old to sit on a warren for extended periods of time without boredom becoming an issue.
With even more rain, and the same high temperatures, the grass continued to grow. By this stage I had become a capable shot, and felt comfortable taking standing shots at relatively close range.
On our first visit to the property that year, the rabbit numbers were significantly down, probably due to the rains flooding warrens and causing disease among the bunny population. We turned our attention to fox whistling and quickly discovered there were plenty of redcoats. Using trees and natural obstacles as a means of breaking up our human forms and deliberately selecting positions that maximised our chances, we were often successful.
A few blasts of the button whistle would normally bring an eager young fox charging in for a free meal, only to be met with a hollow-point projectile fired from Grandad’s old Lithgow .22LR. With little or no hunting pressure in the area, the foxes had been as plentiful and as confident as ever, meaning hours of fun and excitement until the sun set.
I still enjoy hunting small game as much as I did when I was younger. Although the numbers of rabbits haven’t yet improved (much to the joy of the landowner) I still enjoy stalking carefully around blackberries to try to catch out one of the scarce critters. If nothing else, this hunting is great practice for more sought-after game, as I found out on a recent trip to Victoria. As I quietly crept around a small patch of blackberries, I spotted a young sambar hind no more than 15m in front of me. A single offhand shot put the yearling on the ground, just like I was shooting rabbits in the summer time.
More proof that my stalking skills had improved came after I stumbled upon a fox sleeping in a paddock. I spotted it while hunting rabbits. It was no more than 7m to my right, sprawled out on the ground like it was dead. Cautiously raising my rifle, I quietly hissed “Psssst”. No movement. “Psssst,” a little louder, but still nothing.
Deciding it was surely dead, I yelled quite loudly, “Oi!” It got up and ran for its life, giving me no chance at a shot at redemption. Stunned, I had no choice but to laugh it off, put it down to experience and continue my hunt.
Even though I’m not hunting for a trophy or a large food source, small game hunting is a highlight of the year for me. It has, without doubt, assisted me to take other animal species, and through experience has inevitably made me a smarter, safer hunter.