Rabbit control: sorting a serious problem

PUBLISHED: 16:47 18 January 2021

Mick mounted his thermal on the CZ to scan the area in daylight before creating his plan of action

Mick mounted his thermal on the CZ to scan the area in daylight before creating his plan of action

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Mick Garvey is called in to deal with a rabbit problem so severe it is putting people’s homes at risk...

Mick's farmer has a 10-acre plot with views over the Eden Valley and the Yorkshire moors - no wonder he loves this place!Mick's farmer has a 10-acre plot with views over the Eden Valley and the Yorkshire moors - no wonder he loves this place!

It seems that I’m spending more and more time in Cumbria and the Eden Valley these days, and with no wonder: with the fells and lakes as a playground and with friends dotted all over the county, it’s beginning to feel like a home from home. I already have a few permissions up there, and on my latest trip, I called in to see one of the farmers to say hi and to check on any new activities on the pest and vermin front. “Oh, am I glad you called in,” were his words. “I want to introduce you to someone who needs your expertise.”

My farmer has a 10-acre plot that runs alongside a log cabin site, which actually looks beautifully laid out with views over towards the Eden Valley and with the North Yorkshire moors in the distance – it had it all! But, and it was a big but, there was a rabbit problem – a big rabbit problem. There will be a few of us that can cast our minds back to the days of heaving fields of rabbits. There still are some areas like that left, but not so many these days. Well, this reminded me of those long-gone days.

The issue was that the furry pests were making their way into the lodge site and beginning to undermine the foundations and supports for the log cabins, making the residents justifiably concerned. I was given instant permission by my farmer to do what I could to sort it out, and he duly introduced me to a couple of the owners. “We’ve heard good things about you,” was the third compliment I had heard so far that day. It seems news of the pest control I was taking care of on my other farms had spread, and not just in regard to the shooting.

Mick found plenty of evidence of burrowing around the permission, so he knew his services were requiredMick found plenty of evidence of burrowing around the permission, so he knew his services were required

The fact that I had been and gone without anyone noticing my presence is something that any landowner will appreciate. With most of my rabbiting taking place after dark, the last thing anyone wants is to be disturbed by the sight of someone walking around or the sound of gunshots.

I make it a personal thing to keep my presence as discreet as possible, and it works both ways. They can enjoy their evening in front of the TV, and I can proceed doing what I love the most out in the woods and fields with the breeze in my face, stalking my prey.

After a scan with the thermal, which was mounted on the CZ, I decided to walk the land during daylight and report back within the hour with a plan of attack. And with that, I was off. No gun, just a camera and my notebook. A double-gated area to prevent escapees would be the perfect place to park up for the evening, and I hadn’t even opened the second gate when my eyes almost popped out of my head – rabbits! Ten of them, in front of me. A few snaps with the Canon, then through the gate, only to be confronted with more rabbits. I was literally salivating at the thought of the forthcoming shoot. The 10 acres were traversed quickly, taking notes of runs and warrens. A line of trees looked to be a hotspot, and it was clear that the rabbits were burrowing under the wire fence and heading straight to the soft dry soil under the lodges. The plan was simple: skirt around the edge of the field taking rabbits along the way, maybe completing a couple of circuits before the bunnies got wise and headed home.

On arriving back at the gated area, another owner was waiting for me. I explained what I had seen and how I proposed to tackle the infestation. I have to say, he looked suitably impressed and asked me to look at his field; though just a small half-acre plot, it was the main crossing area from the farmer’s field to the lodges. “I want you to sort them out on here too” – that was four great compliments in a day. “All of them,” he said, “all of them”. I have said before that I would hate to be the man who shot the last rabbit, squirrel, fox or whatever, but my host was having none of it and understandably so: his home could be at risk. My work would be more than creating a balance; it would be maximum pest control.

Mick hadn't seen this many rabbits in years. He was operating at one every five minutes!Mick hadn't seen this many rabbits in years. He was operating at one every five minutes!

I had one problem, though, and it would dictate how many of the intruders I could take out of the game: the cottage where we were staying didn’t have a freezer! I always travel with my electric cool box, which does a great job, but my numbers would be limited, and everything I shoot is harvested and not wasted.

It was just before dark when I arrived back, and the Quantum spotter had the juices flowing immediately. I haven’t seen this many rabbits in years – the CZ took three before I got through the second gate. I piled them together so I could easily spot them on my return (I thought that there was no point in carrying them only to bring them back again). Making my way to the treeline I had spotted earlier, I eased myself into the shadows. An amazing sight awaited the CZ-mounted Trail thermal: there must have been over a hundred in view, with probably double that out of sight. Another five were taken from the cover of the treeline before I moved on to the main warrens and the half-acre crossover field.

It was like shooting fish in a barrel. These rabbits had not been shot at before and weren’t at all phased by my presence to start with. The cold air, slight breeze and clear skies made working with the thermals a joy. The Eley Hollow subs finished the job off like a dream, working perfectly against the breeze, easily out to 80 yards. My rucksack took 10 good rabbits before I felt a pain in my neck. So, with four from the warren along with the eight I had laid out, I returned to the van with two in hand. After a quick photo session with the gun and the first 12 rabbits, I was off again, only this time, to the half-acre. We all know that the freshly cut grass brings them in like kids to a sweet shop. Taking care to stay in the shadows, keeping the lodges behind me, another 12 were added to the total, all of them at close range (no more than 50 yards with some even as close as 25 yards). Not once did I see a light come on or anyone peering out of their window – another testament to how well a stealthy approach works.

Bagging 24 rabbits in two hours really got me excited for my next trip up north. But I’ll need a place with a freezer for sure – maybe an industrial-sized one.

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