July Musing - Rabbits

Jul 05, 2018

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Warning, hunting like this could be hazardous to your health and illegal! Oh the innocence of youth.:)

Growing up on a farm in the UK in the sixties was a lot different than today. Some how, I don't remember how, I had persuaded Dad to let me hunt rabbits at night. I used an IH (International Harvester) tractor either the B250 or B275 and later a B434 tractor. I carried my Grandfather's Westly Richards side by side hammer 12 bore shotgun. I usually wore an ex Royal Navy issue duffel coat which had great pockets for holding my shells. I hung an old burlap grain sack on the top of the 3 point hitch to hold my victims and I was all set.

July Musing - Rabbits 1

My favorite tractor was the B275, manual gear shift, no multi power (shift on the go) hand throttle, no foot throttle, good head lamps (for the day but not LED) and of course no cab so I had a full 360 degree arc of fire, sadly in those days no night time hunting dog. Tales of "Bonnie" are for a future Musing.

My favorite hunting ground was the sugar beet fields, early in the season, late Autumn (Fall), in those days we harvested sugar beet with a single row machine (rows were precision seeded on 21 inch centers) so we harvested the headlands and then roadways through the crop leaving the beet in blocks the length of the field and about 75 yds in width.

So I would set out after supper having earlier in daylight checked the fuel in the tractor, unhitched the trailer, washed the head lamps and attached the sack, I guess I was doing my "Reece" even before I knew what the word meant. No wonder later military training came as second nature. No back up, no I-phone, I once repaired a broken throttle linkage with strip torn off my handkerchief so I could continue my nights hunt, try that with a dam Kleenex, I still put one in my pocket every morning.

So once I got the tractor started and out the shed I would load my shotgun and keeping the butt between my legs on the seat holding her with my left hand I first learnt the huge advantage of been naturally right handed but left eye dominate. My right hand operated the steering wheel the hand throttle and the gear shift, my left hand looked after my gun.

Once reaching the field the fun would start, depending on ground conditions I would select a gear and charge off round the headland first and then start cruising up and down the blocks of beet. Any time a rabbit entered the head lamps, shut the throttle spin the wheel in the direction the rabbit was running, foot on the clutch and hit the appropriate brake for final steering. Under my right foot were two break pedals one each brake, for high speed driving ( what I was doing) they should be locked together, but I always had them unlocked, hit the left and she turned left, hit the right and she headed right, foot in the middle covered both so stop in a straight line, the lock was for dummies. Right hand on to the gun, my feet drove the tractor, up with the shotgun, cock a hammer and bang, one dead rabbit, sometimes a second one with my second barrel, shift into neutral, reload, jump off grab the rabbit, always keeping an eye out for another rabbit and careful not to look into the headlamps. If I had to face the tractor careful to shut one eye to preserve at least some of my night sight. If the rabbit wasn't  dead a swift swing against the tractor drawbar sorted him out and into the sack.
It was normal to get from 10 to 20 rabbits a night once a week from Oct through to Christmas. After the evenings hunt back to the house with my bag. First I would pick the worse shot rabbit, do  a quick butcher job, put a frying pan on the Rayburn  (Stove)  and fry up up the back legs and back strap while I ripped the guts out of the rest, a quick insert with a knife, two fingers into the belly, pull the guts out drop on to the old newspaper notch the rear legs and hang in the wood shed, feed the guts and newspaper onto the Rayburn, turn my supper and carry on, repeat the process. I gutted the rabbits just outside the back door so I could fry my late night snack whilst I prepared my hunt.
When the weekend came I would stuff all my rabbits into an old army back pack, strap it to the seat of my trusty BSA C15 bike and head off to Wipps in Bury St Edmunds, I could sell my rabbits to “Wipps" a Fish Monger in St John's Street, I could get anything from  one  shillen and sixpence to two shillens and sixpence. Now with my cash it was time to purchase essential supplies, first stop, fill up the BSA with petrol, then to Darlow & Sons, gunsmith for cartridges, (no licence required!) 12 bore "Red Rival " shells at twelve shillongs and sixpence for a box of 25, then round the corner and stock up with Players No 6, cigarettes, then sneak round to the Newsagent and see if the latest edition of "Parade" was available, this was a poor mans "Playboy". Then head for home, only five miles away but depending on the weather I might ride my bike for miles in a round about way before arriving home for lunch. Then it was time to take my bike to the tractor shed where I kept her, I would wipe her down with tractor oil while I studied the latest stars in Parade.

July Musing - Rabbits 2

Sadly my trusty BSA has long gone but the Westly Richards shotgun hangs in a place of honour in my office, every time I  look at her I can smell the sugar beet and rabbits in another country a long time ago.

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