Hunters on hop for furry pests

SVEN HERSELMAN
Last updated 05:00 05/04/2014
Karl Slape,
Scott Hammond
On the hunt: Rabbits Unlimited New Zealand hunters Karl Slape, Jim Saunderson, Graham Brooks, Eric Warmouth, Dave Grueber, Geoff Warmouth and Uri Cohen.

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If you have a rabbit problem, if no-one else can help and if you can find them, then maybe you can hire the crack shots at Rabbits Unlimited New Zealand.

The best part, other than their prodigious rabbit killing track record, is that they don't even charge for their services.

The group offer their time to land owners around Marlborough with the only payment being their enjoyment of the hunt and the challenge that shooting small game offers.

Founding member Karl Slape says that they formed the group around three-and-a-half years ago when he and two other hunters were asked to help a farmer with a massive rabbit problem.

The hunters quickly found that they could not deal with the sheer number of rabbits and needed to work as a larger and more organised group.

"We run like a military unit. Discipline and precision are very important and of course safety is our number one priority. We know each other's strengths and weaknesses and we apply that when we go into an area to hunt," Karl says.

On a good day a group of eight hunters can take down 80 to 120 rabbits each, with a keen rivalry among them for the number of rabbits killed without a miss. For one member, James Saunderson, that stood at 108 kills without a miss as of last week.

More impressive is that no shot was from closer than some 160 metres.

"There is a bit of banter between the guys, you know how blokes always get a bit competitive," he says.

The hunters keep meticulous records from each of their hunts, with the number of kills and misses as well as rabbit numbers recorded, and a report compiled for the land owner.

Rabbits can cause massive problems for farmers, and have been known to bankrupt some land owners. Conditions in Marlborough are particularly favourable for them with a dry climate that helps the survival of the kits.

One of the long-time members of the group, Graham Brooks, says that he prefers shooting to poisoning the rabbits. The furry critters can also make for very challenging quarry that quickly become wise to the hunters.

"You can never underestimate a rabbit. I used to hunt a block with a friend and we would always walk up the valley, but on one occasion we took a different way around. As we got over a hill at the top we looked down and saw all the rabbits with their backs to us looking down the valley that we usually come up, waiting to see if they could see us - they are very cunning," he says.

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The group are also looking into goat hunting and will shoot wild cats if the land owner has given them permission.

- The Marlborough Express

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