It was decided at the beginning of 2016 that a couple of mates and I would apply for our firearms licences in order to start our own hunting adventures. Having been hunting in the past with others it seemed a natural progression. After a quick safety course and a thorough police and security check, the green light was given and a whole range of new recreational hunting options were opened up.
The initial thing was buying my first firearm. Being on a student budget and only having the experience of big game hunting a handful of times, it seemed silly to invest in an expensive, powerful rifle too soon. Instead I chose to start small and work my way up by purchasing the humble .22, a common starting point in many kiwi hunting careers.
A .22 rifle is designed for small game such as possums and rabbits which are introduced pests in New Zealand, and can reach plague proportions if not controlled. After sighting my rifle in and dropping a few possums in the Marlborough Sounds over Easter, I began researching small game options closer to home. The majority of research all led to the same response “the best small game hunting is found on private land”. The problem with this is getting access to this kind of country.
Fortunately a good mate of mine Devan (who also got his firearms licence at the same time), was putting some feelers out too and had some promising leads. A relative of his worked on a dairy farm near the Waiau River – a braided river with the kind of habitat rabbits love.
After spending a week in the Lewis Pass changing transmitters on kiwis, I came back into phone reception receiving a message from Dev asking if I’d be keen to check out this farm near the Waiau for rabbits. Usually I would of had no hesitation whatsoever at the opportunity, however having just come from the Alps, I had experienced the weather system that was supposed to hit that evening and it wasn’t pleasant…
We were too keen and it was decided we’d try and get a shoot in before the weather closed in .A quick change around saw us heading back North towards the farm.
Luckily for us the weather held out and it was a cold yet dry evening when we arrived. With a car charger spotlight, a couple of rifles and pocketfuls of ammo, three of us hoped into a utility gator and off we went (a ‘gator’ is essentially a large quadbike with a roof and tray table in the back, an ideal farm vehicle/rabbit hunting machine!).
Not knowing what to expect on a cold late Autumn evening, we had previously discussed that the trip was mainly a reconnaissance mission to see if there were even any rabbits around. It didn’t take long to answer that question, as at the bottom end of the first paddock we had rabbits running this way and that way, the only trouble being the noise of the vehicle spooking them from quite a distance a way. First up on the rifle was Dev, his cousin in the drivers seat and myself on the spotlight. Standing in the tray of gator and leaning the rifle on the roof a few long shots were taken testing the accuracy of the rifle and the shooter.
A few early misses were to be expected as we were still perfecting the ideal way to get in close enough for a decent shot. Then, as we reached the beginning of the second paddock a rabbit froze in the spotlight at a distance of around 10 metres which Dev smoked with the pull of the trigger. A rabbit under the belt increased our confidence of how accurate the rifle was shooting and more rabbits soon followed.
From then on we took turns shooting a couple of rabbits each, throwing each rabbit in the back to harvest the meat off them later. The first rabbit I shot of the evening was at a distance that I thought may have been too far for the rifle. Turned out Dev had the rifle sighted in with precision and the gun did not disappoint. As the evening continued we began to realize that the rabbits were favouring a particular end of the farm which correlated to the end of the farm that backed on to the braided river. Once we had hammered this end of the farm, rabbits were few and far between. With cold fingers, a tray stacking up with rabbits, and the fear the weather could turn at any moment, we called it a night and headed in. Not a moment too late as the rain began falling shortly after hitting the state highway back to Christchurch.
On route home we decided to pull over near Balmoral Forest and harvest the back legs and back straps for a rabbit stew. Managing to ‘push gut’ a few and managing to ‘fail’ on others, a miniature rabbit butchery was assembled in the boot of Dev’s truck. The edible meat was chucked in a bag destined for the slowcooker, where upon it met some vegetables and bacon to produce the goods.
A very successful hunt, learning more and more every time.
Look out bunnies, we will be back!