The importance of small game population control in the UK.
Many species of small game mammals in the UK need a bit of population control throughout the year in order to keep our ecosystems balanced and diverse. Two of the largest populations in this bracket are foxes and rabbits, which are obviously very common in most British neighbourhoods. Due to this, hunting these animals common and necessary. It’s highly unlikely that any hunter would be able to resist the urge to shoot a fox on sight, in the appropriate environment of course.
Controlling the population of foxes
Although there are genuine plans to bring the lynx back into UK wilderness within the next few years or so, there’s currently no bigger predator across the nation than the fox. There are no other species that control or hunt foxes which, when combined with the ever warming winter temperatures of Northern Europe, allows them to thrive and expand continuously. This isn’t always a positive thing. Their large population means some skulks are forced out of the suitable living territory and into dirty, urban areas with insufficient prey and sanitation for them to stay healthy. This, in turn, produces disease and infection which can not only affect future generations of fox but our own domestic pets such as cats and dogs - should they come into contact with a diseased fox.
The controlling and culling of foxes isn’t just a hobby or sport in the UK - it’s a recognised profession and a genuine business that’s become more and more important in recent years. Not everyone can just go round shooting these animals as soon as they catch sight of them; you’ll need access and permission from landowners, farmers or whoever is in possession of the area you want access to. It’s very similar to if you were going to hunt deer or other large game on someone's land; it can’t just be seen as an unrestricted recreational activity.
It was once a very basic and raw procedure that pretty much required one man and his dog, but it has since become a pretty sophisticated operation with large amounts of time and money being pumped into the improvement of detection techniques and shooting efficiency to help get the job done quicker. Some operations even modify trucks especially for fox hunting that allow people to locate, track and call foxes with more precision, as well as allowing for a more precise and protected shot from much further distances.
Julian Morris gives you even more useful tips and tricks for fox shooting in this article, including gear guides and setup suggestions.
Controlling rabbit counts in the UK
Foxes aren’t the only thorn in the side for rural communities (and beyond); another variety comes with long ears and a fluffy tail. Although not as predatory as foxes, rabbits are even more destructive, and definitely more reproductive! Rabbits spend a huge chunk of their day grazing, on more or less anything they can get their paws on. No lawn or crop field is safe from being munched on by rabbits and they really can ruin large patches of vegetation within a very short space of time. Farmers rely on population control to feed their own families with the money they make, so this too has become somewhat an occupation for people. The issue here is that there are so many of them - other than pigeons, rabbits hold the largest pest population in the entire nation.
As a hunter you have a responsibility to kill an animal as humanely as possible - so you need to be using firearms that’ll provide a nice, clean kill. For foxes, this will mean using a centrefire rifle to dispatch of the animal quickly and without any complications. However, due to the size and biology of a rabbit, you can more or less go about it with any method you’re comfortable with; shotgun flushing, bird of prey assistance and rimfire rifles just to name a few.
People tend to prefer pest controlling in hours of darkness to reduce the chances of being detected, so a few bits of extra kit are normally required, like specialist lamping torches, night vision scopes and sights, and sometimes thermal imaging too. Pest control in the late hours involves quite a high level of proficiency and a combination of skills such as stamina, agility, balance and hand-eye coordination. Being a skilled fox/rabbit hunter takes a lot of practice and time to perfect; lots of people can be successful but administering the perfect shot is very tough. One thing that’ll really help you here is having a high-quality rifle to do the job with. A great example of a sufficient hunting rifle is the Browning T-Bolt varmint .22 HMR.