The essential guide to night-time rabbit hunting

Mat Manning clips on his scope-mounted lamp and heads out into the darkness to keep his rabbiting rounds on track as the nights draw in

Mat is after the rabbit this time, probably the UK’s most notorious agricultural pest. They breed rapidly, sometimes right through the year

Rabbits are a year-round pest on this permission. During the summer, Mat hit them hard with dawn and dusk sessions, but it’s not so easy to target them by daylight on short autumn days. A layoff now could see rabbit numbers start to creep up again, so Mat needs to keep the pressure on. He’s switched to lamping to extend his visits into the night.

The rabbit is probably the UK’s most notorious agricultural pest. They breed rapidly, sometimes right through the year, and they’re capable of munching into farmers’ profits as they gobble through cereal, grassland and vegetables.

On this permission, the rabbits are causing major problems with their burrowing. They’re undermining the field margins and creating a danger to horses and farm animals – if a misplaced hoof ends up down a rabbit hole, it could result in a broken leg.

Useful extras for hunting at night

Mat’s key item of kit for this session is a quality scope-mounted lamp. Attaching a light to your rig is perfect for solo hunting sessions, providing illumination wherever you point the gun.

Tonight’s line-up also includes a hand-held torch. This simple accessory means Mat isn’t dependant on his gun-lamp when he needs light for tasks such as loading and paunching.

It may not be an obvious piece of lamping gear, but Mat often clips on a bipod when heading out after rabbits.

Tracer LEDray F900

Tracer LEDray F900

£170

This comprehensive package features a compact lamp with a powerful adjustable beam that can shift from a wide flood to a tight spot. Rechargeable battery and charger, adjustable scope mount, remote switch, and 1.5in snoot are included. Interchangeable heads facilitate a choice of beam colours and an infrared option.

LED Lenser P7.2 Gun Set

LED Lenser P7.2 Gun Set

£77

This 320-lumen focusable lamp can be mounted to your scope, and comes supplied with a fixed mount, batteries and remote switch. Robust, water‑resistant, small and lightweight, it also makes for a very useful torch to stow in your pocket, ready for close-up jobs that need a touch of extra illumination in a hurry.

Bisley Swivel Top Bipod

Bisley Swivel Top Bipod

£80

This versatile bipod clips securely to a quick-release stud and provides a super-steady rest when shooting from the prone position. Extending legs enable it to be set to just the right height and its lockable swivel function means you can keep your crosshairs exactly upright, even when you’re shooting on a slope.

Getting set

With all his early preparations made, Mat clips on his scope-mounted lamp before he leaves his car

It’s vital to be properly prepared if you’re going to enjoy lamping success. Hunting in the dark is very demanding – especially if you’re out on your own – and having the right kit can make it a lot easier. Preparation should begin before you leave the house: check the batteries in your gun-lamp and torch, let someone know where you’re going, make sure that you’ve packed your mobile phone and wrap up in the right clothing depending on the forecast for the night.

With all his early preparations made, Mat clips on his scope-mounted lamp before he leaves his car. He also checks that his kit bag is packed with everything he’s likely to need before loading up his rifle’s 10-shot magazine and heading out into the darkness. Using a multi-shot gun will save Mat from having to fumble for pellets when he needs to reload in the gloom.

Scanning the fields

Mat lights up and scours the field with his lamp

It pays not to leave the lamp on all the time if there’s enough ambient light from the stars and the Moon to find your way safely around the fields. Flick on the light and scan ahead from time to time, and you’ll make your batteries last longer and reduce the chance of spooking any rabbits that are out feeding.

Mat lights up and scours the field with his lamp. He sweeps the beam from left to right, starting close to his position then gradually shining further out into the field. The first sign of rabbits is usually the shine-back from their eyes as they’re picked up by the lamplight.

There’s nothing in this field, but Mat isn’t too disheartened. He’s still close to where he parked his car, and it’s likely that the rabbits here have gone to ground after hearing the drone of the engine and the clunk of the closing doors.

It pays not to leave the lamp on all the time if there’s enough ambient light from the stars and the Moon to find your way safely around the fields. Flick on the light and scan ahead from time to time, and you’ll make your batteries last longer and reduce the chance of spooking any rabbits that are out feeding.

Mat lights up and scours the field with his lamp. He sweeps the beam from left to right, starting close to his position then gradually shining further out into the field. The first sign of rabbits is usually the shine-back from their eyes as they’re picked up by the lamplight.

There’s nothing in this field, but Mat isn’t too disheartened. He’s still close to where he parked his car, and it’s likely that the rabbits here have gone to ground after hearing the drone of the engine and the clunk of the closing doors.

Essential Technique: Lamping

Go for a model with an angle-adjustable mount so you can make sure the beam is always aligned with the sights

Although lamping has taken something of a backseat since the rapid rise of night vision optics, it’s a technique that still works as well as it ever did – and it offers a more affordable and much simpler alternative to hi-tech night vision gear.

If you hunt with a friend, you could opt for a handheld lamp and split the shooting and lamping duties between you. Those who shoot on their own will find a scope-mounted lamp invaluable, as it provides a beam of light to illuminate the sight picture wherever you point your gun. Go for a model with an angle-adjustable mount so you can make sure the beam is always aligned with the sights.

Sweep the fields with the light until you see the shine-back of reflected light from rabbits’ eyes. If you spot rabbits at a distance, switch off the lamp, creep in closer and flick it on for another look when you’re within range.

Rabbits can become lamp-shy after sustained shooting pressure. You can get around this by softening the beam, applying a coloured filter or changing the torch head on your lamp for one with a different-coloured LED light source.

The shot’s on

Mat settles himself into a kneeling position and topples the nearest rabbit

Conditions can make a big difference to lamping sessions. A really dark night with plenty of cloud cover will help you go unseen, and a bit of a breeze can be a real asset as the noise of the wind rustling through the trees and across the fields will help to mask the sound of your approach.

There’s hardly any wind at all tonight, and it’s making it difficult for Mat to go undetected. It’s quiet enough to hear the damp grass squeaking under his boots – a sound that could easily put the rabbits on edge.

Despite the challenges, Mat manages to creep in close enough for a shot after picking up a pair of feeding rabbits in the lamplight. Content that he’s comfortably within range, Mat settles himself into a stable kneeling position and topples the nearest rabbit with a smack to the head. The other bunny bolts at the sound of the impacting pellet, but at least it’s one in the bag.

Bag it up

Before bagging his bunny, Mat holds it up by its forelegs and squeezes his hand down its belly. This drains the bladder, preventing urine from tainting the meat

It’s just about light enough for Mat to make his way around the fields without switching on his torch, but the extra illumination comes in very handy for tasks like retrieving shot quarry. Mat flicks on his light and soon finds his prize nestled in the dewy grass.

The roving lamper is faced with a choice when he makes a kill: whether to hock the rabbit to a fence or branch and pick it up later, or to put it in a backpack and carry it with him. Mat’s not expecting to make a large bag tonight, as numbers are still low after a heavy summer’s shooting, so he decides that it shouldn’t be too much of a burden to carry his haul.

Before bagging his bunny, Mat holds it up by its forelegs and squeezes his hand down its belly. This drains the bladder, preventing urine from tainting the meat. The night’s tally will be paunched in one go at the end of the session.

Overcoming obstacles

The sound of gate catches can put rabbits on edge

Farmland is full of obstacles that could pose a danger after dark. The best way to overcome them is to head out for a daytime recce so you can familiarise yourself with the ground and work out the best route around the farm for your night-time foray.

Apart from working out the safest way around, you also want to take the quietest course if possible – the sound of clanging gate catches can really put rabbits on edge.

Mat has no choice but to scale a gate to carry on across the fields, and his torch is going to come in handy once again for negotiating this obstacle. He unloads his rifle to make it safe, then slides it through the bars of the gate and lays it on the grass on the opposite side.

Unburdened by his gun, Mat clambers over the gate, keeping his weight as close as he can to the gate hinges. This reduces the strain on the gate and should make for a slightly quieter crossing in the night.

On into the night

It’s easy to lose track of time when you’re trekking across the fields shrouded in a cocoon of darkness

It’s easy to lose track of time when you’re trekking across the fields shrouded in a cocoon of darkness, and the hours can really fly by when you’re getting a few shots.

Although the shooting is never hectic, Mat enjoys steady action as the night wears on. The rabbits are thin on the ground, and those that remain are extremely wary, but he manages to pick off a few longer shots by dropping down to the prone position to take advantage of the extra stability provided by the bipod. That’s one very handy thing about shooting over ground that’s grazed by cattle and horses – the grass has usually been nibbled down low enough to stop it from hampering your pellet’s flightpath.

Mat’s tally is up to five now, and he’s not done yet. There are more fields to cover before drawing the night to a close.

Expert TipSilence is Golden

The darkness will help you to stay hidden from rabbits’ eyes, but avoiding detection by their very sensitive ears is more challenging, so it’s important to be as quiet as possible.

Choose clothing that doesn’t rustle, and swap your sloppy wellies for lighter footwear if it’s dry. Beware of zips and poppers on hunting jackets – even the tap of flapping laces against a leather boot can put skittish rabbits on edge. The best way to find out how quiet your hunting clothes are is to wear them around the house late at night when everyone else has gone to bed. You’ll probably be surprised by how much of a din they make.


This article originally appeared in the issue 102 of Airgun Shooter magazine. For more great content like this, subscribe today at our secure online store: www.myfavouritemagazines.co.uk

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