The countryman with Mat Manning

Mat Manning targets pasture and woodland as he sets his sights on making a mixed bag for the pot.

Accurate shooting is a prime consideration in any hunting scenario, so Mat never cuts any corners when it comes to pellet selection. His preference is usually for a quality domed design and today he’s chosen a line that’s been giving great results with his Daystate Red Wolf.

Although it gives the gun some bling on the range, the Red Wolf’s shiny carbon barrel shroud can attract unwanted attention in the field. Mat has treated his to a coating of glare-free camo tape to keep it hidden.

Even during a roving hunt, it’s very likely that you’ll want to sit down from time to time, either for a breather or to set up an ambush. With that in mind Mat has taken along a lightweight seat to keep him comfortable and seal out the wet.


The quarry: 

Rabbit and grey squirrel

Rabbits cause serious damage by burrowing and also by feeding on emerging crops. Although rabbit haemorrhagic disease is taking its toll on rabbit populations up and down the country, this agricultural pest still needs to be controlled in some areas.

The grey squirrel is an invasive species that has a detrimental impact on native wildlife, including red squirrels and dormice.


Gear for a roving foray in field and woodland

Allen Camo Cloth Tape

This camo tape is perfect for covering up shiny gear that could attract unwanted attention and spook sharp-eyed quarry. Easy to apply and ultra-adhesive once it’s in place, it features a woodland pattern with a matt finish to keep it low-key.

www.highlandoutdoors.co.uk

£7.99


Shooter’s Cushion

www.range-right.co.uk

£29.99


This light cushion is easy to carry ready for setting up an impromptu ambush. Made from a tough nylon shell and filled with squashy polystyrene balls, it also creates a waterproof barrier between you and damp or cold ground.

This camo tape is perfect for covering up shiny gear that could attract unwanted attention and spook sharp-eyed quarry. Easy to apply and ultra-adhesive once it’s in place, it features a woodland pattern with a matt finish to keep it low-key.

Accurate shooting is a prime consideration in any hunting scenario, so Mat never cuts any corners when it comes to pellet selection. His preference is usually for a quality domed design and today he’s chosen a line that’s been giving great results with his Daystate Red Wolf.

Although it gives the gun some bling on the range, the Red Wolf’s shiny carbon barrel shroud can attract unwanted attention in the field. Mat has treated his to a coating of glare-free camo tape to keep it hidden.

Even during a roving hunt, it’s very likely that you’ll want to sit down from time to time, either for a breather or to set up an ambush. With that in mind Mat has taken along a lightweight seat to keep him comfortable and seal out the wet.


Rangemaster Sovereign Pellets

www.daystate.com

£17.49 (for 500 in .22)

Made to exacting standards in the classic domed design favoured by target shooters, this pellet is renowned for consistent accuracy. Weighing 15.9 grains in .22 and produced from a relatively soft lead compound, it delivers plenty of shock energy on impact.


07:55

Starting on the move

It’s a lovely day to be out and about and there’s no better way to make the most of it than heading out for a rove with an air rifle, so Mat has decided to do just that today.

A mobile hunt will enable him to properly explore his permission and catch up with some of the areas he might have ignored through the winter months, so he’s kicking off with a wander around the field margins.

Although this kind of hunt doesn’t demand the same degree of preparation and specialist equipment as night-vision ratting or decoying pigeons, Mat is still sticking to a few basic principles of fieldcraft to maximise his chances. He’s keeping close to cover, moving slowly and quietly, and stopping from time to time to scan ahead for signs of quarry.

There’s every chance of encountering rabbits that are still out feeding, and Mat doesn’t want to ruin his chances of bagging one by making a clumsy approach.


08:20

Early opportunity

It’s not long before Mat clocks his first opportunity of the session: a single rabbit nibbling the grass about 100m ahead. The rabbit appears to be oblivious to any threat; it’s well out from the hedge line and has its head down, feeding very confidently – all good signs for Mat.

He pauses for a moment to consider his approach and check for any tricky areas up ahead. The pathway appears to be clear, with no significant obstructions that might cause problems, so Mat continues to move forward, very slowly and very quietly.

At around 40m the rabbit sits up, ears erect and twitching. Mat freezes until the rabbit relaxes and settles down to feed again. It’s just about within range, but now that it has relaxed again, Mat decides to creep in closer before settling down for a kneeling shot.

Closing down those few extra metres makes all the difference, and the shot is a mere formality. The pellet slams home between the rabbit’s eye and ear to deliver a clean kill.


08:25

Pick up and move on

After walking in to pick up his prize, Mat lifts the rabbit with a hand around its shoulders and then draws his other hand down the rabbit’s belly, squeezing gently to empty the bladder. This rabbit is destined for the dinner table and this early stage of game prep will clear any urine that could taint the meat.

Mat slips the rabbit into his backpack to keep his hands free and then continues with his stalk. He covers a couple more fields without any further success before deciding to make his way into the woods. Prime quarry switches from rabbit to grey squirrel as Mat moves into the woodland environment.

The surroundings may be different, but the basic principles of stalking remain the same. Trees and bushes provide cover now, and Mat continues to move with stealth, while making frequent stops to scan ahead for signs of quarry or potentially noisy terrain where cracking twigs and crunching leaves could blow his cover.


09:55

Switch to ambush

 

Stalking through the woods proves to be fruitless. Mat manages to catch a glimpse of one or two squirrels, but in such calm conditions they’re able to hear him approaching and make themselves scarce long before he can get within range.

After spooking a couple of squirrels from beneath a pheasant feeder, Mat decides that a silent ambush is more likely to yield a shot than pressing on with the stalk. The sighting is a very good sign, and the fact that the squirrels are well on to this food source suggests that they will be eager to get back.

Mat finds a promising hiding place about 20m from the feeder. A wide tree trunk provides a solid backdrop to help keep him concealed, but he decides to add a few fallen branches to break up his outline even more. Cover-up clothing such as headnets and gloves are more effective with natural cover to work against.


10:35

Action at the feeder

As expected, the lure of an easy meal of grain proves to be irresistible. Spring may be upon us, but natural pickings are still comparatively scarce, which makes the easy meal offered by pheasant feeders very tempting to squirrels.

The first bushy-tail to show up is very bold and makes straight for the bottom of the feeder. Once there it taps the outlet coil to release a hail of grain. The greedy little rodent settles to feed on the tasty morsels, offering Mat an easy shot from his sitting position. It’s a clean kill, so Mat leaves the squirrel where it dropped to avoid causing any unnecessary disturbance.

Less than half an hour later another squirrel puts in an appearance. This one is more cautious, and is understandably unsettled by the presence of its dead mate. Before long, the pull of the grain gets the better of the hungry rodent and it settles beneath the feeder and in clear view. Mat makes another clean head shoot to boost his squirrel tally to a brace.


Expert tip:

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease

Rabbit haemorrhagic disease, also known as rabbit calicivirus and viral haemorrhagic disease, is a highly infectious and deadly disease which has decimated rabbit populations in some parts of the country.

RHD causes rapid blood-clot formation in major organs such as the heart, lungs and kidneys, causing heart and respiratory failure. There are few external signs of infection, and rabbits tend to die within days of contracting the disease. Rabbits under eight weeks of age appear to be resistant to the virus.

It is recommended that rabbits should not be shot in areas adversely affected by RHD in order to give populations a chance to recover. Despite the impact of the disease, there are many places where rabbit numbers remain high and where culling by shooting is still necessary. The virus only affects rabbits, so their meat remains safe to eat when properly cooked.


11:50

Wrapping it up

No more squirrels show up, but Mat manages to bag a woodpigeon before the session draws to a close. Although the bird pitched into the treetops conveniently within range, it’s likely that it was attracted by the easy pickings at the grain hopper.

Mat would happily give it another hour or so, but this was only supposed to be a morning session and work beckons. It’s been an enjoyable outing, though, and although one rabbit, two squirrels and a woodpigeon don’t amount to a huge tally, Mat is still pleased with how it’s gone.

Apart from providing a few thoroughly enjoyable hours out in the fresh air, this session has given Mat plenty to think about, and he’ll certainly be heading back for another stint at the feeder in the next few days. And best of all, he’s heading home with some great meat for the table, as all the quarry in his bag is good for the pot.


Key technique:

Stealthy roving 

You’re most likely to get spotted by quarry when hunting on the move, but there are steps you can take to make your approach more discreet.

Keeping close to natural cover makes a big difference, as it helps to obscure your human outline. Hedgerows, trees, fences, and dips and rises in the ground can all be utilised to keep you out of sight, and the effect is improved if you keep as low as you can. Move slowly and keep footfalls as quiet and gentle as possible.

Stop occasionally to scan the terrain ahead as you may have to make a detour to avoid potentially noisy obstacles such as fallen branches, piles of dry leaves, boggy ground and gates that clang when they open and close.

Keep a close eye on your quarry as you close down the final few metres, as its body language will give you vital clues. If a rabbit suddenly sits up it’s probably alarmed, so keep still and wait.

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