As we passed through the last gate surprised roos raised themselves from their dusty beds and bounded off towards the tree line. It is a hard land and the desolation and depilation was evident everywhere I looked. A lifetime of hard work had been put into this property but now it was all gone. The old house was in its final stages of decay and on the verge of falling down. Old machinery lay all over the place, some where it was last used, other bits, like the old Dodge ute, were stored away under cover, no doubt a collector’s treasure chest. As I stood at the doorway of the only habitable shack on the property the words of the property owner drifted back to me; ëThere is nothing left but roos and rabbits.’ And the rabbits were what we were there for.
At times this particular property literally crawls with the freeloaders and, seeing that the owner still runs a few sheep on it, he was pleased to see us remove as many of them as we could. Going by the old magazines in the house (The Australian Women’s Mirror) dated during the 1960’s, we assumed that was about the time things started to wind down on the property. When I last spoke to the property owner on the phone a few days before our arrival, arranging for a sortee after the rabbits, he informed us that there were quite a few getting around and he was right.
When we had called into his resident property before heading over to where we were now he informed us of other concentrations of rabbits, mainly out the back in the sandhills and pine country. One particular patch we drove past was literally crawling with rabbits and we couldn’t resist knocking a few over with the Anschultz 17HMR. The warrens in this spot were extremely large with numerous entry points. There would have been at least thirty rabbits on one, a lot being half-grown showing that even though the existing conditions were harsh there was an extensive breeding session going on. With all the young rabbits about we hoped there would be the odd fox getting about as well.
While I unpacked the 4×4 Haden busied himself setting up a target to fine tune our rifles for the spotlighting session ahead. Seeing that we intended head shooting as many rabbits as possible for future use, a high degree of accuracy was called for. Up until now I have been using a Winchester lever action in 22 magnum for my longer shots, but I have recently changed over to a CZ 17 HMR. I would have liked a heavy barrelled model but as I am left handed I had to settle for a standard barrel to be able to obtain a left-handed model. To this I have added a Leopold 2x-7x-33 variable scope. I intend to use this outfit for whistling foxes as well hence the 2x-7x-33 scope. Seeing that the 17HMR is susceptible to windy conditions I take along my Brno Model 2 in 22 rimfire as well. This has a Bushnell Banner variable in 3x-9x – 40 and this combination is deadly on rabbits with headshots being able to be taken out to 75 metres with ease.
Haden was using a recently acquired Anschultz 17 HMR to which he has fitted a 3x-9x-40 variable scope. He is also left handed and was prepared to pay top dollar to get a left handed rifle and, so far, has been very impressed with the deadly accuracy of the Anschultz.
My Brno has always shown a particular liking to Winchester power points so I have been using this brand of ammunition for quite a while now. Haden has gone through the trying process of finding a suitable round for his 17HMR and has finally settled for the Hornady 17 grain bullet.On the way in I had already knocked over several rabbits and a crow over ranges from 80 to 120 metres with Haden’s 17HMR and I was suitably impressed with its accuracy. The wind was starting to pick up a little so we thought we would cover all bases by taking both the Anschultz 17HMR and my Brno 22 rimfire.
It was now almost dark so we quickly re-arranged our gear in the 4×4, as after dark everything takes on a new perspective and as safety is paramount, we left nothing to chance. I don’t like using spotlights for rabbit shooting as I have found that if you don’t use filters the bright white light can disturb the rabbits and they become restless and are hard to hold still for a steady shot.
When I used to do a lot of rabbit hunting for the money we had an old car done up to suit the purpose. We never used a spot but had a number of driving lights mounted above the vehicle, each shining in a different direction. We had the whole area around the front and sides of the vehicle bathed in white light without causing any alarm to the unsuspecting rabbits. We also had the windscreen knocked out and, although it was a bit cold during the night, proved perfect for taking rabbits out front of the vehicle. Our best night’s tally was just on 600 rabbits for the night. I smiled to myself when I thought of the reaction I would get if I suggested to Haden that we should knock out the windscreen out of his flash 4×4 for better shooting. Satisfied with our preparations we headed off looking forward to a good night on the rabbits, everything we had seen so far certainly pointed to it.
The first burrow we shone the light over was covered in rabbits, albeit a bit nervous, as we had already shot a few on this burrow early on in the afternoon. Rightly or wrongly I have always had my Brno sighted in to be dead on the point of aim at 25 metres. I rarely missed a rabbit but for this hunt I had it sighted in to be dead on the point of aim at 40 metres. I missed the first rabbit twice, the projectile flying high both times. I thought this a bit strange but dismissed the doubts when I dropped the next one with a clean head shot at a distance that was a bit further than the last.
Between us we managed to increase the tally before we headed over to the other paddocks that we had been told held quite a few rabbits. A quick gutting and skinning session was in order so I got it over and done with and placed the carcasses in the battery operated esky. We had just passed through one of the many gates that seem to be everywhere when the prowling light picked up a pair of gleaming eyes. At first we thought it was a fox, but another look revealed a skulking cat. All feral cats are swiftly dealt with and this one was no exception. The Brno 223 carried specifically for this purpose was quickly brought into use.
We continued on down the paddock and almost immediately the rabbits started appearing far more frequently and in larger numbers. It was my turn to shoot again and as Haden ran the light over a nearby warren it picked up at least a dozen rabbits cropping away at the scarce fodder. I quickly loaded the Brno 22 and placed the crosshairs of the variable scope on the rabbit closest to the burrow and gently squeezed the trigger. I quickly reloaded and picked another target. The rabbits were slowly moving towards the warren but were quickly picked up in the variable scope set on 7 power. In next to no time four rabbits fell to the Brno. I gathered them up and, after field dressing them, I added them to the rising pile of rabbits in the back of the 4×4.
No matter where we looked there seemed to be any number of rabbits out feeding, it looked as though we were going to have a good night. Another warren caught our attention and as Haden concentrated the light on it we noticed a fox had also singled the warren out for its special attention. At 40 metres it was an easy shot for the Brno 22 and as the fox collapsed another one came to investigate its stricken mate. It too was quick to fall to the Brno 22. It was then Haden’s turn to do the shooting, which was just as well, I was quickly running out of ammunition.
It didn’t take long to pick up a target for Haden, they were simply everywhere. The wind was picking up a bit but it wasn’t fazing the Anschultz 17HMR that much and Haden was pulling off some good shots, well over the 100 metre mark.
We were certainly in a purple patch and were hardly moving the vehicle before taking another shot, more often than not, multiple ones. The flat shooting capabilities of the 17HMR were really impressive and we could see why they are an extremely popular firearm. They are pretty savage on the poor old rabbit though and headshots are definitely the order of the day. Naturally the wind is the greatest enemy of the light 17 projectile but I suppose you can’t have everything.
A quick check of the time told us that it was 3.00am and seeing that we had exhausted our immediate ammunition supply, we thought it was time for bed. We had more ammunition back at the shack but to be quite frank this pair of oldies was getting a bit tired on it. We had gone through at least 300 rounds of ammunition with very few misses, so we estimated that we had taken a good 250 rabbits.
I was still not overly impressed with the performance of my rifle. It wasn’t out by much but my suspicions were confirmed the following morning, it was definitely shooting a shade high so I re-zeroed it for spot on at 25 metres. Before resighting it I had missed a rabbit twice, but after I shot a dozen rabbits without a miss.
The property owner was as pleased with our good night’s shooting as we were, he was even more pleased when we told him we had come across a large hatching of locusts. He said he would quickly take care of them as they were the last thing he wanted on his properties during this harsh drought.
I will be using my Brno 17HMR next time we venture out after the rabbits; it is certainly an impressive rifle.