Spotlighting rabbits on foot

Sam Garro

Normally, spotlighting rabbits is done from a vehicle with a rooftop rotating fixture to free-up the driver if he or she is the sole shooter and if there’s more than one shooter the spotlighting, driving and shooting is shared between two or three, giving everyone a chance. But spotlighting rabbits on foot is a whole different experience with its own rewards.

While I’ve employed various hunting methods over the years on all manner of game from field-shooting rabbits, quail and duck, spotlighting rabbits from a vehicle, stalking pigs over bait to a buffalo-hunting safari in the Top End, it was only recently I had the chance to spotlight rabbits on foot, a pursuit I’d always wanted to try but for various reasons never did. The occasional article on the subject in shooting magazines also piqued my interest.

On reflection, trepidation or uncertainty of the hunt at night on foot and alone - and the gear required in the past such as a weighty battery hanging from a shoulder strap and having to juggle a spotlight, rifle and bagged rabbits - all would have been discouraging factors. Now with the availability of lightweight powerful LED or Cree LED hand-held spotlights, torches and firearm barrel attachments and accessories, the task is made easy.

A fellow shooter and acquaintance had been successfully bagging rabbits by this method for some time and while his nights were productive, he needed another shooter or two to help with culling the increasing rabbit population. Soaking rains and warm weather had promoted abundant green growth which was welcome fodder for the property owner’s cows but not the rabbits.

In mild night conditions we took our time spotlighting, visited likely areas around clusters of blackberry bushes, warrens mounds, haystacks, dams and along the outskirts of timbered growth and also walked open sections between knee-high ferns where rabbits had concealed burrows. Our headlamps lit the ground ahead while an easy-to-carry, lightweight 9cm hand-held spotlight powered by a rechargeable lithium battery or a bright long beam LED torch was used to spot rabbits. Once spied, the spotlight or torch was turned off until we came within shooting range.

The night’s hunt proved more rewarding than anticipated. Where rabbits were skittish or evasive during daylight hours, at night outside their burrows and in open sections they appeared to feed unperturbed so in close and out to 60m or so, head shots for clean meat retrieval were achievable on a regular basis.

That said, several were missed through excitement and rushing shots or trying to drop them on the run, but between myself and mate Alex using Brno 2 .22LR rifles and Mark with his U/O shotgun, we bagged a couple of dozen for the night and a decent result for the owner. After experiencing the night hunt and putting aside any trepidation or concerns I may have had, I’m looking forward to my next session when conditions are right. If you’re contemplating such a venture, here are a few pointers which may help.

 

Required skills

As a hunter of many years, stalking in daylight and using learned skills such as operating up-wind, remaining as inconspicuous as possible and the need for a quiet approach have become instinctive. Hunting at night is really no different except the shooter has the advantage of darkness, as most game is unable to easily detect your approach until you’re reasonably close or under the light of a full moon.

 

Night vision aids

In the past, a spotlight wired to a weighty battery pack slung over the shoulder, coupled with carrying a firearm and backpack or other accessories, would have placed some restriction on the hunter and number of rabbits retrieved. But now there’s the availability of compact, lightweight, hand-held spotlights and torches of varying sizes, designs and makes. These are powered by longer-lasting lithium ion batteries of 6-10 hours or more before they need replacing or recharging. There are also different configuration firearm attachments and accessories so the mission is simplified. Thermal imaging or night vision monocular and/or riflescopes certainly provide real sight and game location advantages at night, albeit presently costly and out of reach of most hunters.

 

Equipping yourself

For lighting the ground ahead, particularly if trekking over unfamiliar terrain, a quality adjustable headlamp with good light output and back-up batteries is essential. A smaller version, lightweight hand-held Cree LED spotlight to pick out rabbits or one of the better quality hand-held torches such as Olight, Jetbeam, Led Lenser or Wolf-Eyes to name a few, will cast a strong and concentrated beam out to 100m and more. As they’re available in different sizes, luminous strength, weight and configuration, choose what’s appropriate and ergonomically comfortable for you.

A barrel or riflescope mount bracket or magnetic gun mount to attach a spotting torch makes for a quicker shooting response when the opportunity presents, and a red filter cover or red lens spotlight or torch will prove more effective as they cast softer light compared to a blinding white beam. This is less likely to spook game and while a plastic red filter may reduce light intensity and beam length, red light LED lenses maintain beam strength and distance.

 

Know your territory

Skirting around the property during the day with everything in full view is easy enough but at night if you happen to even briefly veer off track, the surroundings can appear totally different and create real doubt and uncertainty. Chasing a scurrying or wounded rabbit on foot as it weaves and circles out in front will surely confuse and disorientate a hunter.

Making a mental note of gates, the lie and direction of fence lines, landmarks such as sheds and dams or even a rough diagram of the property with landmarks and/or features will help. Certainly a GPS with location of the car and homestead as a minimum will obviate any embarrassment and inconvenience to all concerned.

 

Precautions

Awareness and location of livestock is paramount and, most importantly, any requirement or directive from the property owner should be strictly adhered to. A shotgun or .22LR rimfire rifle in a safe manner is the preferred firearm of choice in this type of hunting scenario.

 

Venturing out

So readied with night vision equipment and firearm it’s also appropriate to carry some food or a snack and drink, depending on the intended duration of the hunt, together with a field knife and GPS. Also factor in a locator, small medical kit as a safety precaution, a backpack to carry items and a hessian bag, if not a backpack, to carry the rabbits. Whether a novice or experienced hunter, it’s always best to go out in company and ensure the farmer or property owner is aware of the area you’ll be hunting and when you’re likely to return.

 

Where to hunt

Drive around the property during the day and note places occupied or frequented by rabbits. These could be clusters of burrows or warrens, stacked hay bales, stances of blackberry bushes, patches of concealing grass, feed or crop paddocks. Also check dams or reservoirs and other natural or man-made features such as sheds or old farm buildings as this will assist in the bunnies’ location at night. Apart from obvious plain sight places, walking around the ground during the day to note fresh diggings or droppings outside thick growth such as blackberry bushes and fern patches will also indicate activity.

 

Nights to hunt

Over the years, spotlighting in gusty wind conditions has generally proven unproductive with rabbits preferring to remain underground. In calmer settings and particularly during a full moon they seem to be more active and during spring or under favourable situations as a result of good rains, we can expect a rapid rise in their numbers. Where they exist in abundance, most nights in mild or warmer conditions should prove productive.

 

Hunting approach

Adopt a patient and slow walking pace, avoiding unnecessary noise under foot. Stopping at intervals to scan ahead for those red eyes will produce results and if your quarry is spotted out of range, turn off the main lights, wait a few moments for the rabbit to start feeding or settle then move closer. When readying for the shot, be prepared to quickly scan again as the rabbit may have moved from its earlier position.

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