There are not many greater joys than passing on your own knowledge to your children, especially if it is related to a mutual passion. I am blessed to have three sons who share my enthusiasm for being in the outdoors and hunting. Recently, we took a trip to our favourite rabbit-infested property and while there was certainly plenty of entertainment, I was pleased to be able to teach them some important lessons too.
It was a Saturday after my boys, Matthew, Timothy and Andrew, had finished their sporting commitments for the day. We all agreed that the weather was too good to stay at home and an afternoon sniping rabbits was on the agenda. After a short text to the owner of the property to confirm that it was fine for us to come out hunting, we quickly packed the car with all of the essentials for a long-range rabbit hunt.
Binoculars, rifles, ammunition, earmuffs and of course all of the other paraphernalia a young boy has to take on a hunting trip were tossed in the back of the four-wheel drive. The boys love putting on their army greens and filling their belts with pocket-knives, multi-tools, torches and flints for lighting an emergency fire. Children have an innate spirit of adventure and there is obviously a little Boy Scout born into all of us.
I am fortunate that the boys are three brothers who enjoy each other’s company and cherish opportunities to go out together hunting. They have become very competent with their favourite rifle, a CZ 452 Classic in .17HMR. The .17 is a fantastic calibre for children to learn to shoot with; it has virtually no recoil and shoots flat, making it easy to use over a wide variety of distances. Matthew holds the family record of 36 rabbits in one day with this rifle, but the other two are keen to surpass this.
On arrival at the property, we geared up and headed towards our favourite spot that gives us an expansive view of a number of warrens. We call the type of shooting we were about to engage in ‘sniping’ because it involves shooting at longer distances with a great deal of accuracy. Shots are usually made at more than 200m and a rifle in one of the.22-calibres proves to be the best medicine for our main target – rabbits.
We have found the .17HMR quite capable of taking rabbits out to 140m, but the larger-calibre rifles are more emphatic game-takers and are great fun to shoot because of the extremely flat trajectory.
As well as using their CZ on this trip, the boys would be shooting rabbits with my Remington 700.22-250. It is a beautiful rifle with a thumb hole laminated stock and a heavy stainless barrel. The rifle is fitted with a bipod and has had significant work done on the trigger to ensure it breaks crisply at 2lb. I believe that a good trigger has a major influence on one’s ability to shoot accurately, and sniping rabbits needs a rifle and its shooter to be as finely tuned as possible.
The other important part of a long-range varmint hunter’s kit is a high-quality scope. Normally, I am not an advocate of using super high-powered scopes on hunting rifles, but because rabbit sniping requires the accuracy of target shooting, I find a scope of at least 14x is necessary.
After a short period glassing the surrounding hills with their binoculars, the boys were soon to spot some bunnies. The rifle is sighted-in to shoot 1.5″ high at 100m and can consistently shoot sub-MOA five-shot groups. The boys were directed to aim at the middle of any rabbit’s chest to guarantee a quick, humane kill.
The first rabbit succumbed to the might of the .22-250 and soon, there were more to fall. It is amazing how quickly the rabbits venture back out of their warrens despite having been scared off by a previous blast from a rifle. Patience is an essential virtue of a rabbit sniper, and if you are willing to sit long enough, the rabbits will again come out to sun themselves.
After we exhausted the population of the first warren, we walked up a nearby creek to another spot that provides an ideal vantage point for sniping. Over the first ridge on our walk, one of the boys spotted a black feral cat. The animal proved too elusive in this first instance and disappeared out of sight over the creek bank.
This began a lengthy stalk, which led us more than 1km along the creek until we again were in a position to take a shot at the cat. Matthew was able to place a .17-calibre ballistic tip through the back of the animal’s spine and was pleased with himself to shoot his first feral cat.
While setting up at our next sniping spot, the boys found a shingleback lizard. As all family hunters will know, taking children on hunting trips is not just about shooting; it provides opportunities for them to explore all things in our natural environment.
Too many children these days spend hours playing their game consoles and hardly venture out of their lounge room. Being in the great outdoors develops in children an appreciation of our native animals and plants, and reducing feral animals is one way that the boys can contribute to helping these native breeds prosper.
After some more sniping, we began heading for home. We stopped at a log leaning over a fence, which provided a perfect rest for the boys to get some target practice in with their .17. The boys really enjoy shooting targets and understand the need to be an accurate shot when hunting live game. We could have stayed there shooting our makeshift targets for hours, but it was beginning to get dark and we needed to find the four-wheel drive.
One of the essential skills of hunting in the bush is being able to navigate your way back to the vehicle. I am always discussing with the boys the importance of being aware of their surrounds and taking notice of distinctive landmarks. They also make use of technology and had set the car as a waypoint in their GPS when we started. When it was time to head back, we simply followed the direction of the travel arrow on their GPS.
Sniping rabbits provides opportunities to teach children the basics of hunting, such as walking a little and looking a lot, stalking quietly and downwind and of course, using a rifle to its potential. These skills will no doubt become useful for the boys when they start hunting larger game such as deer with me when they grow a bit older.
During the drive home I could not stop thinking about what a special time we always have together on these trips. The boys were already planning our next hunting outing. “Dad, next time can we whistle up some foxes?” one of the boys said. “Sure,” I replied. Bring on the weekend!