Night hunting

The majority of daytime hunting practices apply at night too, but the emphasis from our point of view is more on reducing noise and smell than on camouflage. However, just because we cannot see well at night, it does not mean that our quarry cannot see us. Most animals have greater visual acuity at night than humans, as animals have more rod cells in their eyes. (Humans have more cone cells- these mean that we can see more colours than animals during the day, but at night rod cells are of more use). Animals are generally better adapted to night conditions than we are, so extreme care must be taken that we hunt even more quietly than usual. (The quiet nights in the countryside mean that any noise will carry further and attract more attention at night than during the day). 

Alright, then- animals cam hunt by smell and sound as well as by sight, but we are limited mainly to sight. Therefore, some form of lamp is necessary for almost all night hunting. During the summer months, a large front ended scope (e.g.. the 56mm front lense "Moonlighters") permits hunting up to and sometimes past the hour of dusk, but come September, there just isn't enough light for a scope to gather. So, a lamp is required. Alternatively, if you are relatively wealthy, some form of light amplification/ Infra red gear can be used. However, this gear (usually ex military or military derived) is expensive and delicate. Personally, I prefer a good gun lamp. It needs to be powerful enough to get a good concise beam at 50 odd yards (depending on your hunting range), but not so powerful that rabbits etc. will be blinded and forced to run away. There is little point in using a filter- rabbits are effectively colourblind, and will be wary whatever the colour of the light. The headlamps used by sea anglers to bait up etc. when night fishing are too weak for any range of hunting. I don't make brand suggestions, you must try and see what is right for you. If you hunt alone, a light that clips to your scope is usually the best option, though it can be useful to have a separate torch so you don't have to keep swinging the rifle around and tire yourself unnecessarily. I hunt frequently with a friend, and we often take one torch and one (or two) guns between us. Torch man sweeps, holds the light steady on the target (standing in front of rifleman to avoid light backwash) and provides a back up shot should the first shot miss or wound. (Torch man passes light to friend and shoulders own rifle, assuming that you are hunting with a single shot weapon). 

The way to lamp in my experience is to enter your shoot very quietly, then swiftly but steadily sweep the lamp/ secondary torch from side to side to pick out the gleam of a rabbits' eyes. Do not hold the light on the rabbit until you are close enough to shoot- sweep, stalk towards the closest pair of eyes, sweep again occasionally. When within range, lock the light on your target, check again that it is a rabbit (many nocturnal animals such as foxes and badgers have similar eye shine) and shoot. If your quarry starts to move at any time when you are within range, try and keep the light between it and its burrow or hidey hole, as it will be less keen to run through the lighted area. If it is not too spooked, take the light off it again and it may stop- you may get a better chance later. As in daytime, you must judge how close you can get by scoping the bunny occasionally and seeing how nervous it looks. If it is head down and eating you are alright, but if it is up on its hind legs and scanning the area stay dead still until it settles again. Rabbits eyes are wide mounted on the head to watch a large area, so be careful- rabbits can see you while looking almost directly away from you. Movement is the key here- keep all movements slow and deliberate. If you are motionless and slightly camouflaged, very few animals can see you (rabbits are not one of them), but if you move, peripheral vision and the fact that you are not behaving in the same way as the background will make you far easier to spot.  

As always, much depends upon your shoot and your "type" of rabbit- some will run the second the light brushes them, and others (usually the younger ones) will remain eating and unconcerned until you are barely 20 yards away. More practice with range estimation is required at night as darkness distorts distances- at first, you are likely to find yourself shooting high. 

A light breeze is useful to provide background noise, and also to provide some movement in the background, hopefully making your movements less obvious. Weather conditions have little effect on rabbits- I have shot them in pouring rain and on beautiful warm evenings. As usual, study your shoot to find the times and weather conditions they prefer. In really heavy rain, the scent trails  that rabbits use to find their ways to their burrows can be washed away, and you may find them stranded in fields unsure of where safety lies. Be wary of woodpigeons roosting in trees- they are extremely difficult to see at night, but when they see or here you nearby they will crash out of the trees with a cawing and a fluttering and this does not aid stealth and subtlety. One final point is do not fire unless you are pretty sure of a hit- at night, the crack of a miss (even with a suppressed air rifle) can carry a fair way, and can spoil further hunting.