Ex-firearms and rural crime officer Pete Brookes now prefers an armed response of a different kind – wildlife management with his FAC air rifle.
I was driving to work to start an afternoon shift whilst listening on my car radio to the incoming news reports on 9/11. As I walked into the crew room, on the small portable television I could see the horrors of the terrorist attack on the twin towers unfolding on the news channel. It was only two days earlier that I had started working on a police armed response unit, and I thought to myself: “This could be interesting.”
From that day on the police use of firearms changed to provide an effective response to terrorist attacks, further accelerated by the events of 7/7. My initial training was akin to an armed traffic car where we basically turned up to a firearms incident, placed a containment and sat it out, dealing with what developed in front of us.
But over the next 17 years that changed dramatically, creating a more dynamic unit and converting to military-grade weaponry, equipment and tactics that were pretty much unrecognisable compared with those early days.
This brought with it a more intense firearms training package in both range and tactical skills that was not only demanding, but enjoyable and satisfying too. But while being deployed on armed incidents and carrying out this training was all well and good, I just loved hunting with my air rifle.
In my down time at work my mind took me to open fields sitting up waiting for bunnies to step out of cover, or being tucked up under an old oak tree in woodland waiting for grey squirrels to appear in the branches above my head.
That is what I like about hunting with airguns. They are effective, discreet and fun to use. There are no loud bangs, their relatively limited range encourages better fieldcraft and they can be used to good effect in areas that are well off-limits to even rimfires.
My own preference is the FAC air rifle running at around 30 foot pounds. For me it widens the hunting spectrum – not for any additional range, but for the additional power it delivers, giving the airgun hunter an optional secondary target area of the heart and lung on greys, rats and rabbits.
I understand FAC air is not to everyone’s taste, owing to the greater associated costs, but from a personal point of view I think there’s an increase of around 30% in the all-round versatility of an FAC air rifle compared with a sub-12.
- Richars Saunders tests the best FAC air rifles – read the full list here
People ask me if it is of any benefit to contact the police prior to any outing with their air rifle, or any other firearm for that matter. I have never done so as my permissions are farmland, and are not near any residential areas, so in these places it is no surprise to see persons engaged in some form of pest control. However, if your permission is overlooked or near urban areas it probably is a good idea to put in a quick call.
Talking of permissions, the adage ‘hard to get and easy to lose’ runs true. I am lucky to hold five permissions. Three are surrounding farms on my doorstep and two are just a short drive away.
I was not always fortunate to have anywhere substantial to shoot, and it is only in the past 10 years since moving to where I now live that I have been able to build up the land to which I now have access.
Cold calling on farms to enquire about permissions is a challenge as getting the timing right is always hard, and creating a good first impression and thereby instant trust is also difficult.
An alternative way of getting yourself known and gaining the trust of landowners is to get involved with beating on a local pheasant shoot. The more organised formal shoots are probably better to keep away from, as from my experiences although you are paid, the high financial value and required anticipated success of the day mean you are treated more as a member of a workforce, with usually nothing additional offered or expected.
The DIY shoots are where you get your face known and build up trust with landowners. Generally, on these types of shoots you are not paid, but you will be fed and watered.
You do become more integrated with the goings on of the day’s shoot and become very much part of the shoot, with the potential spinoff of land offered to shoot on to assist with pest control.
Do not abuse any permission given and always use the ground in the spirit it was given. It always pays to shoot discreetly on land and not to draw attention to either you or the landowner by your actions.
Keep them updated on what you are taking and offer to assist with any other work on their land, such as dealing with feral pigeons and rats. Do not be pushy, but do not underestimate what an asset to the landowner or farmer you could be in delivering effective, hassle-free and unpaid pest control. You really just need to maintain that trust.
When you do get your permission, it is important you give it a good recce. Do not expect every hedgeline to hold rabbits or every woodland to be overrun with greys.
I am lucky with the farms surrounding where I live as I am always looking out when walking my dogs around the lanes, so I can keep a good eye on the land throughout the four seasons of the year.
In my shooting jacket I carry one of those all-weather notebooks which you can buy online from the numerous military kit websites and a rangefinder. I find these both invaluable as I make notes on distances from potential firing points to rabbit warrens or around pinch-points within woodland which greys use as through routes. I also use the notebook to keep a record of what I take so I can update the landowner.
To me, taking a rabbit with the air rifle on the edge of a wood and the enjoyment it brings me easily equates to stalking a 12-point stag on a hillside.
We all need to appreciate that the world is changing in many ways. Importantly for us how shooting is now perceived, not just negatively, but also positively. We must be understanding towards the views of others, but we do not, and must not, feel the need to apologise for our sport and what we do.
Each to their own regarding what you hunt and the calibre you shoot – big or small – but keep it safe and humane, and then long may it continue.
More on airgun hunting
- Rabbit hunting with Richard Saunders
- 10 Tips for conservation-savvy rabbit hunting
- 30 tips for a successful day of hunting pests
- Farmyard crow control – The Countryman