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Hunting Story: Hare Today!

An event I have always missed out on is the February hare drive in Suffolk, but this year I managed to get an invite, along with my friend Michael Nitsch. He was very keen to come, as he told me in Germany this species is thin on the ground and was surprised when I said we had no such problems. Unlike a pheasant shoot, for example, it’s free, with voluntary donations for SSAFA (Soldiers’, Sailors’ & Airmen’s Families Association), which was started in 1885 and still doing sterling work today. As an ex-squaddie, as is Michael (German airborne) we were keen to contribute and what better way than this shoot?


You might ask why a driven hare shoot? Primarily numbers need keeping down, as they do a lot of crop damage. Also, it thins out the population, which helps to stop the spread of Coccidiosis and Brown Hare disease, which they suffer from and to a degree stops illegal coursing too. Apart from supporting SSAFA, the proceeds of the meat sales went to the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institute and also paid for the day. Like I said, it’s good to give something back!

February in Suffolk; wet, cold and muddy, so best to get kitted out properly, after all, ‘any fool can be uncomfortable’ as my Sgt Major used to say! Shotguns are the tool, with heavy shot like #4s the preferred choice, I used a Winchester SX4 semi-auto (what else?), but 75% of the shooters were more countryfied and used doubles. There were 60 in all, which was a good turn out, and after the rules and signing our waivers, we were divided up into walking and static guns.


Stand or stroll

It was explained to me that the walkers are the beaters and naturally they tend to shoot more and therefore get more game, the standers are more a stop line, however, both are essential for a successful day. In the bare, muddy and water-logged winter fields, walking is hard going. I elected to be a stander, as I knew I would not keep up with the beaters and did not want to cause any problems, but that does not keep you out of the weather!

We also had a safety brief, as 60-people with shotguns shooting at fast moving and agile ground game does present some problems! Essentially, do not shoot out of arc, be aware of other people and always keep in line. I shouted at a couple of people that day, as did others, as you could see them drifting off the point a bit; sorry guys, nothing personal! There was also an official pick-up squad on quads towing trailers.


Load up, move out!

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We loaded up into the shoot trailers and set off on the first drive. We were moving up in line to the first position when a Hare jumped out in front of Michael and he rolled it over with his first shot; nice one mate! Over a fence, we lined out on the edge of a massive field, with the wind cutting in. Rules stated that we could shoot to our fronts and sides (arc providing) as the hares were being moved towards us by the walkers. After a time, we could see them approach, when they got to a certain distance a whistle signaled we must stop shooting. Then, on another blast, we could turn 180° and shoot backwards at animals that ran through our reversed position.

The Hares aren’t stupid and tended to stay about 60 yards out, a bit too far, however, firing over their heads tended to move them on and in some cases closer. The guns on my far left had a good start, as the animals ran in that direction to leave the field. Michael got another, but I did not get anything, no problem. At the end of the first drive, I was glad I elected to be a stander, as walking back across the field with pounds of mud on each boot was bad enough. It was a good start, and to quote some unknown military bloke; ‘we have met the enemy’!


Long wet walk

Drive two and the expected rain started and never stopped all day, only increasing in ferocity along with the wind; that’s hunting in winter, get over it! We were lined out in ‘another’ big field, with Hares coming in, I got my first kill. It ran in at 45° and down the right; I missed, then nailed it with the second shot. But it’s all too easy to get carried away and forget your neighbours and I declined some more shots, as they looked a bit too near other shooters. Then it was back to the farm for lunch.

In the afternoon, a long climb up to the top field and by this time the rain was coming in horizontally, driven by a wicked wind, but the Hares kept coming too. It was so wet I took off my glasses as I could see better without them! I got two, one of which was behind and jinking in amongst the cover; not an easy shot. Glad to be off that water-logged hill, the final drive was on a wooded track, I missed one amongst the tress, then could have shot two more, but the walkers were coming down the track, so no go.


Done well

And it was over, and though enjoying myself immensely, I was really looking forward to the hotel, a shower, drinks and dinner. My clothing stood up well and the only thing that failed was my gloves; next time I’ll bring a spare pair. In the end, Michael got five with three for me; good enough! The total bag was 196 Hares, plus assorted pigeons and squirrels, in truth that was just the tip of the iceberg. So, with their numbers thinned ‘a little’, a successful day and we raised just shy of £2000 for SSAFA; result!

Contacts: SSAFA; www.ssafa.org.uk Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institute; www.rabi.org.uk

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