Finally, after several years of being out of action my Air Arms S410 was ready to hunt thanks to Ian at the Gunroom in Brisbane’s suburb of Sumner. With a daypack full of gear and the S410 over my shoulder I wandered off to the property in Victoria at a pace only matched by a rabbit with a whippet on its tail.
Rounding the bend into the gully I intended to hunt for the afternoon, the bush came to life with the crashing of vegetation. Swinging my head to the left a big-sized animal smashed through the scrub as I ran back to view the opposite face. I realised a sambar stag had burst into the open, bounding down the gully with his body covered in mud and about 24” antlers laid back upon his bristly neck. I wasn’t expecting that.
I unloaded my gear upon the track and headed further around the opposite face to check for rabbit activity. I located a couple of warrens with fresh piles of gravel scratched out that looked active but the number of rabbit runs through the grass were few. However, compared to last time it appeared more promising. For now it was an opportunity to seek some shade and set up an ambush where the trees and shrubs provided protection from the heat of the midday sun.
I stretched out some camouflage netting between a tree and nearby shrub in the hope of bagging a pest bird or two. I had a good view along the gully floor and surrounding tree tops containing a canopy of leaves. Settling in upon the stool with the S410 cradled in the shooting sticks I was ready for game ‑ be it furred or feathered.
Thirty minutes or so after the earlier disturbance the gully was again full of the sound of bird life. I figured I had more chance of bagging pest birds as it was midday and the bunnies would be down their cool burrows. Birds called from different locations among the dank, dark gully floor where they were well hidden amid thick blackberry bushes.
A pair of Indian mynas drifted overhead, landing well out of range in the paddock next door. Eventually the call of a blackbird drew closer as I tilted the rifle in the direction of cover and stayed motionless with just my camouflaged head and rifle above the netting. Hopping onto a branch the chest of the female blackbird became visible at 20 yards and the airgun’s cross-hairs settled upon it. She dropped like a stone as the Air Arms bolt pushed another pellet out of the magazine and into the chamber.
Other blackbirds could still be heard as before with the quietness of the air rifle causing minimal disturbance. I left her where she lay for now rather than disturb the area and sat listening to the birdlife. Between the Indian mynas, blackbirds and the call of doves I was always on my toes with eyes scanning left and right among branches and brush.
Then I saw it. A lazy rabbit hopped up from the gully below to a range of 20 yards where it promptly laid down in the shade at the base of some small trees. I could see fur among the timber but that was certainly no shot for an airgun.
Sitting totally still with rifle at the ready, mosquitoes began biting the back of my neck. After 20 minutes of enduring these insects without the ability to move, the rabbit sat up behind the cover and I prepared for a shot. Instead, the varmint simply flopped over onto his other side and flopped back down with his white belly now facing me.
Those mosquitoes kept treating me like a pin cushion while I watched a patch of white belly hair and thought of rabbit stew. The mosquitoes continued biting as I quietly suffered and manoeuvred in discomfort. Then he sat up, scratched his face and slowly hopped out into the open. Although sitting with his back towards me I had a shot at the rear of his head and couldn’t wait another second. The airgun coughed out a pellet and ‘Stew’ bounded off into the berries unscathed. Now that was frustrating. The only one left to stew was me. I thought to myself – why didn’t you just wait for a broadside shot?
Several dead mosquitoes later I heard the purr of wings in the air and looked around to see an introduced (not native) dove sitting on a tree branch 30 yards away, turning its head to look in my direction. The rifle manoeuvred to the right and up as the cross-hairs settled and the trigger was released. With the quiet cough of the .22 calibre air rifle, a solid thwack answered in reply creating a large puff of feathers as the dove fell to ground. Back at the blind and a couple of photos with the dove later I was barely ready again when something black caught my eye across the gully. Was it a cat? I was astounded to see a black rabbit.
I have hunted this property on and off for 10 years or so and never seen any coloured rabbits. I snapped a couple of long-distance photos across the gully before he went under the neighbour’s fence and out to feed. Then it was back to looking up into the trees for pest birds that I could hear in several directions. However, between being behind cover or an unsafe direction or too far away, a shot wasn’t available.
Movement again caught my eye as I peered down through the camouflage netting where I saw the back leg of a sambar disappear into the scrub. It must have walked right across in front of me while I was looking up into the trees. I attained another glimpse of what I now knew to be a hind before she caught my scent from when I collected the blackbird. Vegetation shook, sticks snapped and she was gone.
Only 10 minutes later I glanced over my shoulder at a rabbit warren up on the track I had walked in on about 15 yards away. Completely in the open a mature dog fox was sniffing around the burrows and not at all worried about my scent that would have to be there from earlier in the day. He continued on behind some cover as I grabbed the camera I had on a tripod and prepared for a photo. Back out into the open he went as he slowly hunted down into the gully, pausing briefly a couple of times. The camera shutter clicked and he had departed.
Afternoon shadows began to lengthen and I could see a couple of rabbits across the opposite face around the warren I checked earlier so I grabbed the shooting sticks and headed off. I managed another clean miss as a bunny bounded in at my approach and propped on the edge of cover. Sneaking up over a slight rise the warren came into view and there he was ‑ a nice-sized rabbit sitting upon the burrows.
A shot was taken over the shooting sticks, impacting between the eye and ear as I ran up to grab my meal before it could fall into a burrow and be lost. This one was going to be good eating.
I headed back to my camouflage netting and packed up the afternoon’s hunt. Although I only had a blackbird, a dove and a single rabbit to show for my efforts, I was rapt. That gully had been alive with wild game to hunt and native animal life to observe – how lucky we are to live in Australia.