As those of you who know my writings here, I have a particular distaste for wounding my quarry. Vermin or not, I cannot abide un-necessary suffering inflicted on a living creature just because it has a price on its head as a pest. That's why I only buy the best kit for my shooting needs.
So, last evening and with a call from one of my permissions with a rape field getting hammered by rabbits I took out my beloved HW77 .22 rifle and zeroed up. A 5p size group of 15 AA Field .22 5.52mm at 30 metres and we're ready to go. There are horses in a meadow where I shoot on this permission and accuracy is vitally important. As if it's not already.
It's been beautiful weather here in my bit of Lincolnshire at Coningsby and I was raring to be out in the sunset air and get down to the business in the fields. There were rabbits out in the meadow next to the rape and here is where I would shoot this evening.
My first two shots were two really satisfying kills on two rabbits, clean through their heads at 63 and 59 metres, I expected the female would bolt as soon as her mate flipped over but, no. She sat frozen to the spot and she was dead in a moment later. I thought my rifle and I were well on form now. This is one seriously, incredibly accurate spring rifle and, for me, the HW77 is the finest spring air rifle you can buy without an FAC. I've shot hundreds of rabbits with this rifle and not one of them suffered a slow death from wounding. That's why I love the '77 so much.
So, about half an hour later out pops this large, full grown adult buck rabbit. Only 23 yards or so away from my hide. I thought I would spook it just trying to move my rifle into aim, but, there he is, just sat nibbling away.
My shot hit it clean into the head. It instantly backflipped and began writhing....and writhing. Then rolling and turning over violently. Blood was pouring out of the side of its head from a point on its head I could see was right on the button to have killed it outright. But it was still breathing and rolling over and over.
I reloaded quick, got into aim, got my breathing down and fired a SECOND shot which hit it on the opposite side of its head to the first shot. Still it spun over and kicked like hell. Still breathing. I could see it was in absolute agony.
A quick reload and shot number THREE hit it clean between the eyes through its forehead. STILL it kept on writhing, slower now but, I saw it was still breathing as it gasped for air and its chest rose and fell.
The FOURTH shot hit behind its right eye, almost onto the first one. That, mercifully, put it out of its misery and killed it.
Four shots from a full-power .22 rifle that has never yet once, inflicted less than a humane killing shot first time.. All of them in the heads. Any one of these shots would have easily killed another rabbit instantly, no problem. But not this one. Its head was in such a hell of a mess I couldn't tell where it had been actually hit. Any one of the four of them should have been enough.
I've recently slipped my HW77 into an HW97K Bavarian sporter stock and the handling and balance are so good, it;s staying put. It looks beautifully elegant and classically proportioned and the tartan chequering is a very welcome feature.
My scope is a vintage Bushnell Scopechief 4-14x50 with a 30/30 reticle. It holds zero all day and night, however many shots it has to withstand and is superbly pinsharp clear. Together with my '77 it puts a professional's hunting air rifle in my hands and get's on with the job without fuss.
I went on to bag a total of 7 rabbits including this one, for the time I was out. The other six went down like all others before. A fast and painlessly merciful death.
It hasn't put me off hunting rabbits with my HW77. But it makes me wonder still, if this might happen again and should we not be ready to expect this from time to time?.
All the best and hope it doesn't happen to you.