Bunny boom or bust: feral foe or fine asset?
Shooting Times & Country|August 18, 2021
The rabbit’s fortunes have changed since it was introduced to the UK but it still offers a blissfully pure form of sport, says Patrick Laurie
Patrick Laurie

Rabbits occupy a unique position in the shooting world. Treasured by some and reviled as a pest by others, they are always on the move in the sporting consciousness. It’s possible to love rabbits and hate them in the space of a single half-hour; when their numbers rise to a maddening abundance, it’s the perfect therapy to spend a morning ferreting or walking the bunnies out of rushes or bracken.

When I was growing up in Galloway, the world seemed full of rabbits. I could shoot 50 or 100 in a single evening, and steady work with an iron-sighted BSA .22 rimfire seemed to be inexhaustible. There was no limit to the number of rabbits I could bag and my family was overwhelmed by the tide of fresh meat that came into the house. I sold some to the local butchers, but even they were drowning in rabbits and I’m ashamed to say that, during busy times of the year, many of my kills were left out for the foxes.

I’m sure diseases play a major part in the loss of our rabbits and the cyclical boom and bust of their current status. We do not often see myxomatosis here, but other diseases leave rabbits dead in the grass as if they had simply been switched off.

I sometimes find rabbits on the verge of death and it’s hard to watch them gasping and suffering without any ability to help. I put the worst ones out of their misery, but it hardly creates a feeling that all is well when your morning walk is spent euthanizing sick bunnies.

Vanished

Of course, there are still parts of the UK where rabbits are superabundant, particularly in the south and southeast of England. It’s hard to convey a sense of loss to people who are still surrounded by these animals. However, there’s no getting around the fact that in some areas of the country, rabbits really have vanished. A survey by the British Trust for Ornithology reveals that in Scotland, rabbits may have declined by as much as 80% since the mid-1990s. That’s incredible and it will have a knock-on effect to all the other predatory and scavenging species that depend upon rabbits to make ends meet.

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