Mat Manning shares his top tips for a successful days hunt, abiding by the BASC conservation guidelines…
1. Keep under cover
Make full use of natural cover and shade when you hunt on the move. It’s a great way to hide your outline and will help your camouflage clothing work to its optimum.
2. Wear light footwear
Wear lightweight lace-up boots, or even an old pair of trainers, when stalking rabbits. Your footfalls will be a lot lighter in these than in an old pair of wellies – an important consideration, as rabbits have excellent hearing and are able to detect vibrations through the ground.
3. Stay put
If stalking tactics fail to get you close enough to wary rabbits, opt for an ambush and hunker down instead. A static approach demands patience, but it does away with virtually all the movement and noise that can alert quarry to your presence.
4. Integrate your hide
If you’re building a hide, try to incorporate your camouflage net into a background of natural cover such as a steep bank, hedgerow or tree trunk. It makes your hide look like an extension of the existing landscape, and helps to prevent back-lighting from revealing your silhouette.
5. Peg your hide net
Use sticks to peg the bottom of your hide net to the ground. The tension creates more room on the inside, and also prevents the net from flapping in the wind and catching your quarry’s eye.
6. Disguise your net
Dress your hide net with vegetation when targeting sharp-eyed quarry such as corvids. A few branches and leaves will really help to take the edges off the net and make it blend in with the countryside. Check with the landowner first and stick to weed species such as ivy, nettles, grass, brambles, docks and elder.
7. Plan your route
Plan out your stalking routes so that you keep the wind in your face if you can. The breeze will help to carry your human scent away from the twitching nostrils of wary quarry.
8. Improvise a support
Forgetting to bring your bipod doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the luxury of rested shots when ambushing quarry from the prone position. Simply roll up your jacket and stuff it into your backpack to create a padded gun support that’s almost as good as a bench bag.
9. Check your distance
Use your laser rangefinder to ping the distance to markers such as fence posts, trees and gates as soon as you get into position. You can then use these reference points to estimate the range to your quarry. This prevents the risk of being spotted as you reach for the rangefinder in the heat of the action.
10. Have food and drink available
Remember to take food and drink with you on your hunting forays. Hydration and sustenance will keep you sharp, and stop you from cutting the session short to head for home after being struck by pangs of thirst or hunger. When the weather turns cold, pack a flask of hot soup to keep out the winter chill.
11. Bring a decoy
Add a decoy to the arrangement when using bait such as a dead rabbit or squirrel to attract corvids within range. The plastic intruder will grab the attention of passing birds and will also create an element of competition that should make them more confident.
12. Be quick with pigeons
Strike quickly when you spot woodpigeons targeting crops on your permissions. These birds have a habit of quickly deserting feeding grounds when new food sources show up.
13. Plan your pigeon hunting
Don’t be in too much of a hurry when you get there, though… pigeons stick to clearly defined flight lines as they flit in and out of fields, and can be reluctant to move away from them. A few minutes of reconnaissance should reveal an incoming flightline. Get your decoys properly set up underneath it and you should be in for some busy shooting.
14. Control your calling
Pigeon, crow and magpie callers can be a great way to draw birds within range, but don’t overdo it. Continual calling runs the risk of attracting your quarry’s attention to your hiding place.
15. Place decoys with care
Birds like to land and take off with the wind in their face, so set up your decoys facing roughly into the breeze to make them look natural. Don’t be afraid to tilt a few off at slightly different angles, though, and mix up the spacing between them a little – it’ll add to the realism when viewed from above.
16. Make your own caller
You can make a very effective magpie caller by putting a dozen or so heavy .22 pellets into an old 35mm camera film canister to create a rattle. Shake it to imitate the calls of inquisitive magpies to draw the real thing towards your decoy set-up.
17. Pose your shot birds
When decoying pigeons, it’s worth breaking cover to retrieve shot birds if they land on their back – nothing spooks incoming woodies more than seeing a mate belly-up. Turn them the right way up and add them to the decoy pattern, using a stick or some stiff wire to prop up their heads. Real birds make for extremely effective decoys.
18. Push further through
You can use a hide net to suspend your pre-charged airgun for added support, but remember to push it through until the cylinder or bottle takes the strain. If you allow the barrel to bear the weight of your gun, it will probably be pushed upwards, causing your shot to miss over the top.
19. Cover yourself up
Even when shooting from a hide, it’s often worth wearing a headnet and gloves when setting your sights on wary quarry. They’ll hide telltale flashes of pale skin that can still blow your cover if spotted through the net, and will also help to keep biting flies and midges at bay.
20. Pack a torch
Don’t forget to take a torch with you when you’re using night vision optics. Hi-tech NV gear is great for stealthy hunting in complete darkness, but it’s not so good when it comes to finding your way around safely and picking up shot quarry.
21. Try a scope lamp
Try a scope-mounted lamp if you want to head out on after-dark pest control rounds but can’t quite stretch to the cost of night vision optics. These clip-on lamps help to illuminate the sight picture wherever you point your airgun. You can always use a filter to soften the beam when targeting skittish quarry.
22. Arrive in advance
If you’re shooting woodpigeon at the roost, try to get into position a couple of hours before dusk. It should prevent you from putting the birds on edge by sending any early arrivals clattering from the treetops.
23. Stay put
Stay in position until night has closed right in when targeting roosting crows. These birds flight to the roost very late – much later than woodies – and you’ll miss the best of the action if you head for home as soon as the pigeons stop flighting in.
24. Move with purpose
If you’re right-handed, try to move in an anti-clockwise direction as you creep around the outside of barns, sheds and farmyard machinery. Your gun will be on the outside as you peep around corners, enabling you to mount-up without having to step out from cover when you spot your quarry. Simply reverse the process and stalk round in a clockwise direction if you’re a left-hander.
25. Try liquid bait
When shooting rats, use a liquid bait to make them stop and present you with a static target. These skittish rodents have a habit of grabbing mouthfuls of food then darting back into cover – but they can’t do that if they have to stop and lap up your offering. Liquidised cat food works brilliantly – rats can’t resist its fishy aroma.
26. Have gratitude
Having permission to shoot around farmyards, fields or woodland is a real privilege, so never take it for granted. Respect the landowner’s wishes at all times and do your best to deliver the effective and responsible pest control service you offered them – if you don’t, somebody else will.
27. Watch The Airgun Show
Every two weeks, our YouTube channel brings you in-the-field action full of hints and tips covering a wide range of hunting scenarios to help you stay at the very top of your fieldcraft game.
28. Seek out food sources
Identify food sources such as silage clamps, troughs and grain stores on farmyard permissions: they’re real quarry hotspots. Closer investigation could reveal signs such as rat, crow and pigeon droppings. Set up nearby and you should be able to ambush the feed-thieves.
29. Use a feeding station
Make your own hopper, nail it to a tree about five feet off the ground and fill it with peanuts to create a grey squirrel feeding station. This is by far the most effective way to draw these notorious woodland pests down from their treetop hiding places and out into the open – especially during the winter, when natural food is scarce.
30. Know your trees
Focus your efforts around oak, beech, sweet chestnut and hazel trees when controlling grey squirrels during late summer and early autumn. The nuts and seeds from these trees are real favourites with bushy-tails, and they’ll be busy foraging and caching the rich bounty in readiness for the tough winter months that lie ahead.