Pests news from BPCA

27 November 2020

Practical rabbit management: part two

TECHNICAL | PPC101 DECEMBER 2020

In his previous article in PPC100, Dave Archer looked at the history and legal aspects of rabbit management. In part two, he jumps straight into the practicalities of controlling rabbits.

Practical rabbit management part 2 BPCA pest control magazine

SPEED VIEW

  • Best method of rabbit control can be decided by observing and evaluating evidence
  • When shooting, move slowly and stand in direct sunlight so that rabbits are ‘sun blinded’
  • Snares are holding devices that can be hugely effective at dealing with rabbits that have evaded other control methods
  • A pitfall is a deep box with a lid that is secured by means of a hinge pin and return spring, which you must check (minimum) every 24 hours by law
  • Dave’s rabbit pie recipe is best served with a glass of Burgundy!

There are quite a few legal methods of controlling rabbits: snaring, cage and spring trapping, shooting, ferreting, netting and gassing.

Now, first of all take a look at a rabbit – the ears are huge and they work very well indeed!

Make too much noise when you’re hunting them and they’ll not only hear you first but, in addition, thump their back feet into the earth, alerting all their chums that you are there too!

To the experienced eye, the best method of control for each situation can be discerned by simply observing and evaluating the evidence.

My preferred methods of control are by shooting with a .22 rim-fire rifle, by snaring or by box pitfall traps.

Shooting

The .22 rim-fire rifle is, to my mind, the most effective and yet the most dangerous tool for this job.

It is effective as it is deadly, and accurate up to around 55 metres. It’s dangerous as it looks similar to an air rifle, and the bullet (as opposed to pellet) travels at subsonic speeds so yields very little noise. This can fool you into thinking it is not as powerful and deadly as it most certainly is.

Daves 22 rim-fire rifle as effective as it is deadly

Rabbits love to sunbathe and will often be found at the end of the day basking on the sunny side of a hedge.

Never walk quickly though a hedgerow gap or gateway, move slowly and use field craft to slowly scan the hedgerow for signs of rabbits.

A good pair of field binoculars is invaluable here; I never go shooting without them.

If you can place yourself in direct sunlight so the rabbits are sunblinded, you should be able to pick off a fair few before darkness falls.

If a rabbit is crouched and you can only see its ears, try making a distressed squeal sound with your hand and lips. The rabbit will sit up to investigate, affording a clean shot. This nearly always works!

I always use a rest to support the rifle for accuracy, ergo humaneness. It’s key to make that shot count, to prevent unnecessary suffering to the animal.

After darkness falls you can illuminate the rabbits by lamp or infrared and shoot them this way. Of course, shooting at night brings its own risks. In addition, rabbits that are regularly ‘lamped’ soon become aware of the threat and simply run for cover.

The beauty of a rifle as opposed to shotgun is that the small bullet strikes in one place only (head or chest shots are best) and therefore the rabbit is perfectly fine for eating.

Snaring

Snaring is a much maligned and misunderstood art. Carried out correctly (and that is the key) snaring is not cruel.

Snares are simply holding devices and they can be hugely effective at dealing with those rabbits that have thus far evaded other control methods.

Snare with wire crimp stop

Pictures showing snares garroting any animal are simply outdated designs used to evoke sympathy with those who are easily swayed by emotion rather than fact.  

The law is complex in relation to snaring and differs in each devolved area within the UK, but it is you who risks prosecution if you do not abide by your country’s legal remit. However, if you are adept at snaring and are prepared to set your snares at dusk and return at dawn, the rewards can be manifold.

Some suppliers still sell snares without stops, which is not humane. I always fit my rabbit snares with a bird wire crimp 13cm from the hoop, to prevent the snare over tightening.

Rabbits do like warm, damp evenings so setting snares after a downpour with a clear evening is a good time for snaring.

Gassing

I’ve never gassed a rabbit – ever. How can you ever leave good, fine meat to rot underground?

Trapping

Another superb tool in the control of rabbits is the pitfall trap, whereby rabbits simply slide into a box trap overnight to be collected in the morning.

Pitfall traps are not really in favour these days, but for rabbit control where there are long standing problems, they are first class.

Basically a pitfall is a deep box with a lid that is secured by means of a hinge pin and return spring. The box is set in a run through a fence line where there are few other areas for rabbits to cross through.

The box is buried into the ground and the rabbits soon get used to running over the lid. Once every week the pin in the lid is removed and the rabbits simply fall into the box and the return spring closes the lid, leaving rabbits ready for collection the next morning.  

It is a remarkably simple but wonderful rabbit control technique whereby you can select at your leisure when you set the trap.

By law, you need to go back to the trap at least every 24 hours, but I prefer intervals at 12 hours (dawn and dusk).

It is not unusual to find as many as ten or so rabbits on every visit in the box. Be sure you are adept at neck dislocation (the best method of rabbit dispatch), as rabbits can give a deep, nasty scratch with the rear claws to the unwary or inexperienced.

Cage traps should be set nine metres or so from a hedge and pegged down securely so that foxes and badgers can’t roll them away if a rabbit is caught.

As with all traps, do not set the trap to start with, but leave sliced carrot and lettuce around the trap, gradually putting the food inside the cage. Once the rabbit becomes accustomed to entering, then set the trap!

Setting ten or so along a hedge line will give better results than just one or two. Make sure no public footpaths are near or it won’t just be foxes removing your traps!

Dave’s traditional rabbit pie recipe

Go on, get your pinny on… you know you want to! I have been making this pie since I was a teenager and still think it is one of the best meals going.

Daves traditional rabbit pie recipe

You will need:

  • 1 large or 2 medium jointed rabbits – leave liver and kidneys in if desired (I do)
  • 3 bacon lardons
  • 1 medium leek
  • 1 garlic clove if desired
  • 3 bay leaves
  • Paprika
  • Cracked black pepper
  • Salt
  • Salted butter
  • Chardonnay white wine
  • Double cream
  • Ready made and thawed shortcrust pastry.

Method

  1. Place the joints in a slow cooker with the bay leaves, salt and a good splash of white wine. Cook on low setting in the slow cooker for 4 to 5 hours.
  2. When the rabbit is almost done, fry off some finely-chopped bacon lardons. Chop the leek, finely chop the garlic clove and sweat these off in a frying pan with the cooked bacon. Do not overcook, you are only sweating them off.
  3. Leave joints, leeks, and garlic to cool. Drain the rabbit joints and then separate meat from the bone (it should just fall off, being slow cooked). Be very careful not to leave any bones in the mix. Use the liver and kidney in the mix at this stage, if desired.
  4. Take a large Pyrex bowl and add the leek mix, shredded rabbit and a good pinch of paprika, cracked black pepper and double cream. This is your pie filling. Be careful not to make the mixture too loose. It should be quite firm.
  5. Take a pie dish and run a small amount of melted butter all around the inside with a pastry brush, paying attention to any recesses in the dish (to prevent the pie from sticking).
  6. Line the dish with shortcrust pastry – shop bought is fine, life is too short to make your own pastry – and add the mixture until it’s level with the rim.
  7. Lay the pastry lid on top and decorate with a cut out pastry rabbit.
  8. Glaze top with melted butter.
  9. Cook in a hot oven at around 170°C (gas mark 3) until the lid goes golden brown.
  10. Serve with garlic mashed potato, steamed carrots (of course) and a nice chilled Chardonnay or Burgundy.

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Source: PPC101

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