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Pest Animal Control 04

Effective Night Shooting to Control Rabbits

Introduction Suitable Firearm While shotguns are effective for

Nightshooting and rifling To use a firearm, the operator shooting rabbits flushed from
(stalking at dawn or evening) must hold a firearm licence or cover, or in situations where
are probably the most common be working under the immediate safe range is limited, they are
forms of rabbit control carried supervision of a licence holder. not generally recommended for
out in New Zealand. Shooting The operator must be fully nightshooting because their noise
was originally developed as a conversant with the ‘Arms Code’ level will drive nearby rabbits into
secondary control measure to firearms safety manual issued by cover. Where shotguns are used,
follow poisoning operations. the New Zealand Police. a 12 gauge bore is recommended
Nightshooting in particular, using cartridges loaded with
is an effective method of No 4 shot.
controlling light rabbit infestation.
Nightshooting (spotlighting) All firearms must be well
involves searching for animal maintained and the shooter
pests at night using a spotlight must be totally familiar with
to locate pests while they are their operation. Rifles should be
feeding, or are away from cover. ‘sighted-in’ periodically under
range conditions to ensure their
To be effective, a systematic accuracy is maintained.
approach is required by an
experienced operator. Shooting Suitable Spotlights for
to control medium or high rabbit Nightshooting
numbers has limited effect on the There are a wide selection
population level and surviving of spotlights available. The
rabbits become more wary. recommended system used
Poisoning is the appropriate and by most pest control operators
more cost-effective method for is a helmet or headband
Suitable firearms – Ruger 10/22
controlling medium to high levels (self-loading), Ruger 77/22 (bolt-action), mounted 12 volt 35 watt spotlight.
of rabbits. Winchester (lever action), Franchi 12G A 35 watt light gives adequate
illumination to cover the normal
Best results from shooting shooting range of a .22 rifle
operations are obtained on A .22 rimfire rifle fitted with a (i.e. 80 m). A 12 volt motorcycle
properties that have good access good quality telescopic sight battery, carried in a specifically
and little cover. A competent is recommended for all night designed backpack or hipbelt,
operator can shoot approximately shooting. The use of sound is used as a power source.
30% of the resident rabbit moderators and sub-sonic
population in a single nightshoot. hollow point ammunition is also Rifle-mounted lights are not
To achieve a significant reduction recommended. Self-loading recommended. This configuration
in infestation levels, three to four rifles are commonly used by requires the rifle to be pointed
nightshoots need to be carried professional operators, although with the spotlight, which can be
out. Rifling is only suitable all magazine fed actions are tiring and unsafe.
for controlling very low rabbit suitable. Rabbits are often
infestations. Suitable situations encountered in small groups,
for rifling operation are where and single-shot rifles are not
one or two animals are damaging recommended for nightshooting.
newly planted trees or market

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Effective Night Shooting to
Sustainable Options Pest Animal Control 04 Control Rabbits

1 Weather. Heavy rain, frosts

and strong winds affect animal
pest emergence from cover
and limit the effectiveness of
the shoot. However, light rain
tends to make rabbits ‘sit’ and
become easy targets. Ideal
conditions for nightshooting
are warm, dry weather with
little wind.

2 Rabbit behaviour. Rabbits will

feed voraciously early in the
evening and then intermittently
through the rest of the night.
Dominant rabbits will usually
feed first with younger rabbits
Headband spotlight with battery pack occupying the feeding areas
later. This means it is often
Techniques for potential hazards and worthwhile rechecking an
Nightshooting landmarks that will help you area where rabbits were shot
Prior to carrying out a navigate at night. earlier in the evening.
nightshooting operation, it is
essential that the area to be A .22 rifle bullet can travel up to 3 Moon phase. Full moon
nightshot be thoroughly inspected 3 km. It is essential you carefully phases are not generally good
during the day. Look for rabbit consider your safe firing zones times for nightshooting. The
feeding areas, normally indicated during the day, as your vision at bright conditions allow rabbits
by shortly cropped grass with night will be limited to the range to detect the operator and this
rabbit scratchings and droppings. of the spotlight! tends to make them ‘flighty’
and difficult to shoot.
Also take note of potential areas It is important to consider
of cover which the resident pest farmed stock as they may 4 Previous nightshooting.
population may be using. ‘Runs’ hinder a shooting operation. Ineffective nightshooting in
from cover to feeding areas may Try to avoid heavily stocked the past may have produced
be evident. Predetermine your paddocks, as these animals rabbits that are “shy” of both
nightshoot route so you approach will probably frighten rabbits by lights and guns. The only way
these areas between the rabbits moving ahead of you. Cattle can of overcoming this problem is
and their cover. Take note of cause problems by following to prevent any shooting on the
you. Paddocks containing horses block for several months to
and deer should not be entered allow the rabbit population to
unless absolutely necessary. quieten down.
These animals are easily
frightened by spotlights and may 5 Predators. If rabbit feeding
injure themselves running into areas are checked with a
fences or other obstacles. spotlight and no rabbits are
seen, predators may have
Planning a Nightshoot scared them. Recheck these
There are several factors to areas on another occasion.
consider before nightshooting.
Typical rabbit feeding area - shortly cropped
grass with associated rabbit droppings.
Effective Night Shooting to
Sustainable Options Pest Animal Control 04 Control Rabbits

6 Ensure you carry a torch, first 2 Do not shine the light outside Consider the following points:
aid kit and, if you are using a of effective gun range. This
motorbike, a tool kit. Always will result in rabbits being 1 Aim for the centre of the chest
inform someone of your alerted to your presence or shoulder for a clean kill.
intentions! before you are in a position Head shots are easily missed.
to shoot them.
Spotlight Techniques 2 If a rest is available, use it.
The spotlight is used to identify 3 Use steady side to side If no rest is available consider
target animals. Rabbits and sweeps of the light while shooting from a sitting or
other animal pests should be searching for animals. Jerky or kneeling position. Always try
identified by both eye reflection erratic flashes of the light may to make each shot as easy
and body shapes; do not shoot frighten animals ahead of you. as possible.
at just reflections. If you notice
an animal but do not see an 4 Always search from cover 3 If two or more rabbits are
eye reflection, ensure that you edges first and work towards sighted at the same time,
positively identify it as a target feeding areas. Rabbits will shoot any moving rabbit first.
animal before shooting. often hesitate if you are If they are sitting, shoot any
between them and their cover that are lying down with their
The following describes the making them easier targets. ears held down first. If none
eye reflection colour of various appear nervous, shoot the
animal pests and other animals 5 If a single rabbit is sighted, furthest one first.
commonly encountered on farms: always presume that another
is nearby. Once the rabbit has 4 If a rabbit runs, it will often
Rabbits pinky-red been shot, intensively search stop at a fence or on cover
Hares similar to rabbits, the surrounding area for edges and allow an easier
but larger its mate. shot.
Possums red
Wallabies greenish-yellow 6 Once a rabbit has been found, 5 Running rabbits can
Cats brilliant green hold it on the edge of the light sometimes be stopped by
Ferrets brilliant green till you are ready to shoot. whistling at them.
Sheep yellow-green Rabbits (and most other
Cattle pale green, large animals) will sit quietly if the Use of Vehicles
Deer bright silvery light is not shone directly and Motorbikes for
green, large at them. Nightshooting
Pigs red, small and It is illegal to carry loaded
often not seen Shooting Techniques firearms (this includes a rifle
Rabbits missed on a nightshoot with a loaded magazine) in a
Successful nightshooting is reliant will likely learn from the vehicle either on public roads
on good spotlight technique, experience and become light or on private land!
so consider the following: and/or gun shy. Successful
shooting requires practice, not To carry a loaded firearm in a
1 If you are not using a just at stationary targets but also vehicle or on a motorbike on
headband or helmet-mounted moving ones. Remember judging private land, you must first
light, ensure you search with distances at night can be difficult obtain special permission from
the light held directly below so practice at night on targets at the district police commissioner.
your eyes. This allows for predetermined ranges. It is illegal to shoot on or from
animal eye reflections to be public roads.
readily seen. Never attempt a shot at an animal
pest unless you are confident of
killing it.
Effective Night Shooting to
Sustainable Options Pest Animal Control 04 Control Rabbits

Vehicle nightshooting usually
involves two people, one driving
and one shooting. Both can use
spotlights. As vehicle access over
farmland is generally limited, it is
essential that a battery pack and
portable spotlight be carried on
the vehicle, so that rabbit areas
out of vehicle range can
be hunted.

Coordination between the

driver and shooter is needed
in order to be successful and
is usually achieved by a series
of prearranged signals. The
vehicle should also be fitted with Helmet mounted spotlight. Operator demonstrating technique for shooting from a motorcycle

a suitable support frame for the

shooter and secure gun racks. Night riding while searching for Environment Bay of Plenty
Needless to say, the driver animals with a spotlight requires Environment Bay of Plenty pest
needs to be a very competent practice to become proficient. animal officers are available to
cross-country driver and have a Until you have developed the offer advice on nightshooting
good knowledge of the property. necessary skills, exercise equipment and will demonstrate
extreme caution, ride slowly techniques if required.
Motorbikes and stay constantly alert for
Motorbikes, and more recently hazards. Do not be tempted to Spotlights, batteries and battery
4-wheel ATVs, revolutionized chase running animals! If you chargers can be purchased
nightshooting in the 1970s and have an accident or drop the bike from Environment Bay of Plenty
1980s. They are manoeuvrable, while nightshooting and you are offices.
quiet, economical and cover an uninjured, immediately unload
area thoroughly and quickly. The and check your firearms for
rider should be experienced at damage. If you have any doubts
cross-country riding and have a concerning the safe condition of
good knowledge of the property. the weapon, abort the shoot,
Firearms are best transported in and have the firearm checked
scabbards fitted to the front forks by a gunsmith.
For further information and advice, contact
of the bike. Four-wheelers can be
your local pest animal officer at Environment
fitted with secure gun racks.
Bay of Plenty:

Telephone: 0800 ENV BOP (368 267)

Facsimile: 0800 ENV FAX (368 329)
Pollution Hotline: 0800 73 83 93
Address: 5 Quay Street, P O Box 364,
Whakatane, New Zealand

This fact sheet was prepared by Greg Corbett

Motorbike fitted with scabbards to carry both
.22 rifle and 12G shotgun
This fact sheet was last updated November 2004

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