Richard Saunders ventures onto his golf course permission – with mixed results.
Everything happened so easily. I play darts for my village pub. We were having, well, let’s call it a practice session, and I found myself chatting to a chap at the bar.
I’d seen him plenty of times before, but we were only on nodding terms. It turned out he owned a golf course in the next village. Before long we got onto his rabbit problem, and I had a new permission.
I knew the club; in fact, it’s where my late father spent much of his retirement, with me joining him from time to time. That made the place even more special to me.
Sprawling over the Berkshire/Oxfordshire boundary, the land is wasted on golfers; thick pockets of woodland and dense hedgerows provide a haven for rabbits.
A meeting with the groundskeeper a few days later over a mug of tea revealed that while rabbits were the main problem, squirrels too were a major nuisance due to their penchant for digging up flower bulbs, burying food on the greens and stripping bark from saplings.
Armed with tips on which areas to focus on, I planned an inaugural hunting trip for the next evening. Arriving a couple of hours before dusk, I soon discovered the biggest problem with golf course permissions is that they are usually overrun with people playing golf on them, rather inconveniently.
I sat on the tailgate of the truck in the car park, trying to be rational but fuming anyway, as golfers dawdled about the place, all Pringle jumpers and loud voices. Eventually, with around an hour-and-a-half of light left, the last one cleared off.
Slipping a loaded magazine into my 30ft-lb Daystate Wolverine R, I flicked the safety catch on and made my way down the edge of the first fairway.
I headed towards the fifth hole, the first of several areas where the greenkeeper said he’d seen rabbits, which sits at the top of a hill and gives a beautiful, panoramic view of the ground below.
The tee itself comprises three levels, each dropping 15 or so feet. According to the greenkeeper, dense bushes and undergrowth down the left side of the fairway were home to a colony of rabbits – though none were to be seen.
I had a choice: I could either keep wandering and hope to spot a rabbit, or I could set up an ambush and wait for them to come to me. Deciding on the latter, I planned to give myself no more than 20 minutes and laid down on the tee’s top tier.
My Wolverine R is zeroed at 30 metres, and with a 16-grain pellet, the trajectory is flat between 20 and 40 metres. Thanks to the extra power of the FAC rifle, I’ll take shots at 50 metres, but only when the conditions are perfect.
Laying down behind the rifle, I used my rangefinder on fence posts and prominent bushes to map out some distances. Helped by my elevated position, the slight left-to-right breeze carried my scent away from the rabbits.
It’s happened before, and no doubt is rooted deep in our prehistoric DNA, but everything seemed to get a little quieter and the colour of the undergrowth seemed suddenly more vivid.
I felt certain something was about to happen and sure enough, a fully-grown rabbit emerged from the bushes some 35 metres away. It sat on the edge of the fairway below, sniffing the air, but seeming to be relaxed enough.
As I shuffled into position, a second rabbit emerged a few metres closer, presenting me with a classic side-on profile shot.
With the scope on 15x magnification, I placed the reticle just forward of the closest rabbit’s ear on a line with its eye, slowed my breathing and squeezed the trigger to be rewarded with the meaty smack of the pellet hitting home. The rabbit curled over, stretching its legs out and splaying its toes before rolling down the slight incline.
The other rabbit froze at the sound of the pellet strike. Though it was clearly on the verge of making its getaway, I only had to shuffle a few inches to my right to place the crosshairs and drop it with another head shot.
Though I felt sure I would have bagged a few more from the spot, I wanted to make the most of the remaining daylight so I stood up, inadvertently spooking yet another rabbit about 15 metres away – goodness only knows how long it had been there – and collected my prizes.
I squeezed the rabbits’ stomachs to empty their bladders before putting them in my game bag. Picking up the Wolverine R, I carried on down the hill and was sticking to the hedgerow when another rabbit appeared from the bushes and sat no more than 20 metres in front of me.
Fortunately, I had just edged past a large bush that was now behind me. Though the rabbit could sense something wasn’t quite right, the bush provided all the cover I needed as I lowered myself onto the floor to take the shot.
I should have known my luck wasn’t going to last; the rabbit thumped the ground in alarm, but instead of bolting back the way it had come, tore off across the fairway. I expected to see it disappear into the bushes on the other side, but lost sight of it behind a large bunker.
Using the bunker as cover, I made my way to where I hoped the rabbit had stopped. Sure enough, as I inched over the crest, I could see it at the edge of the green, nibbling at the grass.
Laid on top of the mound as I was, the shot was a straightforward 30 metres and I felt certain I was about the score my hat-trick. However, the pellet clipped the top of the mound only a few feet in front of me. The rabbit looked up but, unable to locate the source of its concern, stayed where it was and I was able to take a clean head shot.
Feeling pretty pleased with myself, the rabbit joined the others in my game bag and I started daydreaming how I could let the greenkeeper and course owner know of my successful start without sounding like a show-off.
I made my way up another hill and found myself on the ninth tee, another of the greenkeeper’s recommended hotspots. The light was failing quickly now; certainly there wasn’t enough for my rangefinder to work, though I could still see clearly enough through my binoculars.
I made my way along the edge of the fairway and sure enough, as I scanned ahead, I could see three plump rabbits about 150 metres away munching at the long grass by the green. A screen of trees ran almost the entire length of the fairway and provided thick cover all the way. Even the breeze was blowing in my face.
Wishing that all stalks could be as easy as this, I stopped every once in a while to check on the rabbits. They were blissfully unaware of my presence. I settled on the closest and continued making progress, thinking to myself that the shot would be a mere formality and that the greenkeeper would surely be amazed at my awesomeness.
It serves me right. I closed to within a comfortable 30 metres, shot slightly downhill, and placed the rifle on the grass as I prepared to go prone. As I did so, I tripped on a root or branch (which I’m beginning to suspect was deliberately placed there by the rabbits) and stumbled forward to try to stop myself falling flat on my face.
You know what it’s like when your body goes faster than your legs? Well, that was me. So much for the panther-like hunter whose stealthy skills would make a ninja jealous.
I crashed through the treeline, lurched into the middle of the green, arms windmilling, before collapsing gently to the ground. Goodness only knows what the rabbits thought of the sudden emergence of this camouflaged clown seemingly falling out of the sky, but they didn’t hang about to find out.
I picked myself up, had a chuckle and headed back to the car, making a mental note not to tell the greenkeeper about the conclusion to my first hunting session.