Richard Saunders takes us through his kit bag and reveals the essential shooting items he never leaves home without.
I like to travel as light as possible when I go hunting and work on the principle that the more stuff I have in my pockets, hung around my neck or slung in a backpack, the more things there are to jangle or knock together and scare my quarry away.
In fact, I truly begrudge taking anything with me other than my rifle and some pellets. As a result, every accessory has to earn its keep. Some I carry, while others stay in the truck.
Some are expensive and others cost only a few quid. But what they all have in common is the ability to make my shooting more successful, productive and enjoyable. When I write it out like this, the amount of kit I take with me seems enormous.
Of course, some of it stays in the truck and I only carry items that are relevant to the session I am planning – for example, I’ll take some string with me if planning to shoot from a hide that might need some sort of repair.
But the guiding principle is to be ruthless; every piece of kit you take has to serve a vital purpose and if it doesn’t make you more efficient and successful as a hunter then you should question whether you really need it. So let’s get down to it and have a rummage in my old kit bag…
Pulsar Helion XQ38F thermal monocular and binoculars
At over £2,200, the Helion is easily my most expensive piece of kit and definitely falls into the ‘shooting luxury’ category. Yet it is the first item I make sure to take with me.
The Helion was the standout product in a thermal spotter review I wrote a couple of years ago, and I knew I had to have one of my own. One of my permissions is a fruit farm.
It’s enormous, and the only practical way to control the rabbits is to stay mobile, so I trundle around the fields in my truck at night, spotting rabbits through the open window with the Helion. Anything with a pulse stands out in brilliant white, black or any of the other colour settings, even mice and flies.
It performs just as well in daylight, helping to spot targets obscured by light undergrowth and confirm that what I think is a distant rabbit really is a rabbit and not just a lump of earth.
I find binoculars a real nuisance and resent taking them with me. If I can get by without them I most certainly will. However, some of my permissions have footpaths running through or near them, and some that don’t are frequented by dog walkers. A set of binoculars is useful for spotting walkers in the distance so I can make sure I am safe and don’t scare them witless.
One of my cheapest accessories – I think it only cost a fiver – is also one of the most useful, and forgetting it is a real pain. If you’ve ever had to carry three or four rabbits in your hands, along with a rifle over your shoulder, and perhaps a set of sticks and bean bag, you’ll know what I mean.
A game carrier makes life a lot easier. Mine comprises a set of leather loops through which I put the rabbits’ legs. Of course, I could take a game bag with me, but I prefer not to. And I could use my knife to hock the rabbits’ legs and carry them on a stick. But I find the game carrier easiest of all.
Rangefinders and night vision
Thanks to the loopy path pellets follow, knowing how far away your quarry is so you can apply the right amount of holdover or under is crucial. During the day I use a Hawke LRF 400 rangefinder which fits nicely into a pocket and can be used one-handed.
At night it’s even harder to judge distances when using night vision (NV) gear. I use a NiteSite Viper RTEK system when shooting rats. To help gauge distances I use it with a NiteSite Laser Rangefinder, which simply bolts on to the side of the infrared beamer and gives a constant read out of distances at the press of a button – perfect for scanning farmyards and outbuildings.
When it comes to rabbit shooting at night though, I have an ATN X-Sight 4K Pro 5-20 attached to one of my FAC rifles. It’s a tremendous piece of kit, except for the inbuilt rangefinder which I find too fiddly to use.
Instead, I have fitted an ATN Auxiliary Ballistic Laser (ABL) rangefinder which attaches to a sunshade-type collar and screws onto the front of the scope. Not only does the ABL give an accurate distance reading, it also means I can use the ballistic calculator function on the X-Sight.
Having entered some basic information about my setup, such as feet per second, pellet weight and ballistic coefficient, the ABL talks to the X-Sight via Bluetooth, which then adjusts the aim point accordingly.
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Shooting sticks and bean bag seat
Like most shooters, I am significantly more accurate when shooting from a rest, and pretty much anything will do if it’s the right height and in the right place. And that’s the problem.
Gates, fence posts and trees are all well and good, but take a set of trigger sticks with you and you’ll always have the perfect rest to shoot from. They may be cumbersome, and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve spooked a rabbit because they have clanked at the wrong time, but the benefits far outweigh the inconvenience of carrying them.
There are of course lots of different makes. I prefer the tripod style which can be adjusted for height and angle with a trigger. My sticks came from UK Shoot Warehouse and I use them when stalking, ambushing, sitting in a hide or when sat in a barn after rats in the dark.
Another bulky item that I resent having to carry, but wouldn’t be without, is my bean bag. During the spring and summer, when the grass is longer, ambushing rabbits from a prone position isn’t always practical and I usually find myself sitting against a tree or some other dark background behind my trigger sticks.
Being able to plonk myself down on the bean bag makes those often-long vigils more bearable. It’s also a versatile piece of kit, making a great improvised gun rest when shooting from my truck.
Infrared and thermal devices are all well and good, but when shooting at night you can’t beat a decent torch, especially when it comes to tracking down a shot rabbit or simply getting your bearings. I have a high-powered torch on which the beam can be adjusted from a wide circle to a narrow beam.
I really like the fact that it has a simple on and off button and no flashing or strobe modes. I also carry, or rather wear, a head torch. When they were little, the kids bought me one for Christmas.
The only problem was that it was in the shape of a lion’s head and every time I switched it on the lion would roar. I was grateful of course, but have replaced it with a grown-up version. Its relatively low output, and the fact that it has a red light mode, makes it ideal for close-up jobs like refilling a magazine or checking air pressure.
In addition to regular torches, I carry a couple of infrared torches which I use with the ATN X-Site as well as the NiteSite Viper when I need a bit more illumination.
I’m a clumsy clot at the best of times and have a tendency to go through IR torches, so I always make sure I carry a spare. The main one I use is a Laserluchs 500. It fits on to a Picatinny rail quickly and the beam is easily adjustable.
I’ve been caught out too many times to make sure I don’t leave home without a stock of spare batteries. So much kit seems to rely on them nowadays – regular torches, IR torches, rangefinders, illuminated reticle scopes – so I carry a good selection, and plenty of them.
Of course, many larger items like my ATN X-Sight, Helion and NiteSite gear use lithium ion batteries that have to be charged at home from the mains.
Sometimes things don’t work out to plan though and many’s the time I’ve discovered too late that my charge is low. As a result, I keep a portable power bank charger in the truck, which is just enough to top me up for a session.
Manufacturers go to great lengths to ensure the non-FAC rifles they ship are tuned to just under the UK legal limit of 12 foot pounds. Despite this, as the owner of the rifle, you are responsible in the eyes of the law so it’s up to you to ensure your rifle is legal.
I have a couple of chronographs, but tend to use the one from FX, which works in conjunction with a phone app, more often simply because it is radar operated and not affected by sunlight.
As well as helping you stay on the right side of the law, a chronograph will help determine the relative performance of different pellets and spot any emerging issues with your rifle.
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The barrels on some of my rifles never seem to need cleaning, they just keep performing the same, month after month. However, with others – especially the higher-powered FAC guns – a sudden drop in accuracy is usually a sign the barrel needs to be cleaned.
The bigger calibre rifles in particular, like my .25 Daystate Red Wolf and .30 FX Impact MkII, seem to be the worst, perhaps it’s a combination of higher velocities and bigger lumps of lead flying down the barrel.
The performance drop-off is usually pretty sudden, so I make sure to keep a pull-through kit in the truck so I can take care of the problem during a session. Fortunately, neither the Impact nor Red Wolf seem to need much in the way of leading up again, and following a quick zero check I’m usually up and running once more.
Gloves and face veil
Nothing is more likely to spook your quarry than a flash of pale skin, so I’ll be sure to wear a pair of gloves and put on a face veil, especially when I’m using ambushing tactics.
As someone who wears glasses, veils are a particular nuisance as they can result in me steaming up. To get around the problem, I use a veil made of fine mesh which allows my breath to dissipate more easily.
There’s nothing worse than getting caught out in the rain. Although rifles and most other items of shooting kit are pretty resilient to water, you’ll want to dry everything off as soon as possible.
I keep a cloth and some oil-impregnated cleaning patches in the truck. After wiping off any rain or condensation, the patches provide extra protection. If you’re unlucky enough to get a real soaking, make sure you remove the stock, shroud and silencer when you get home and dry everything off properly before putting it all back together again.
Handling lead, not to mention wild animals and poking about in woods and around farms, makes a bottle of hand sanitiser essential in my book. I keep a small bottle in my kit bag and a larger bottle in the truck as it’s not something I want to run out of in the field.
The decision whether to wear any form of bug spray is a difficult one as I’m reluctant to cover myself in anything that smells. However, on some of my permissions the mosquitoes are not only plentiful, but persistent and will find their way to a free lunch no matter how well covered up I am.
I don’t tend to bother spraying up if I know I am going to be on the move, but if I plan on sitting in ambush I will take careful note of the wind direction and sacrifice a bit of concealment for the luxury of not being eaten alive.
In addition to the obvious jobs like cleaning rabbits (incidentally I always have a pair of latex gloves in my pocket for that job), a knife is also helpful for hocking rabbits and carrying out minor tasks like repairing a hide or trimming back foliage that’s in the way of a clear shot.
I prefer a reasonably heavy fixed blade rather than a folding one as I find it better for chopping with, but penknives are undoubtedly easier and more compact to carry. A knife sharpener is a good idea as well and doesn’t take up much room. Cleaning a rabbit with a blunt knife isn’t much fun.
More from Richard Saunders
- Rabbit hunting with Richard Saunders
- Daystate, Weihrauch and Webley – A look at Richard Saunders’ airgun collection
- Richard Saunders on bipods
- Richard Saunders on CO2 rifles
- Best chronographs for airgunning – Richard Saunders’ top choices