Do you use a coloured filter when lamping? Many of the younger generation of lampers coming into our sport may have never worked without one. Most older hands may have tried them. Maybe you still use one? If so please read this with an open mind, as I think it may just help you catch more rabbits without such needless accessories. What do I know you may rightly ask? As well as being a dedicated lamper for thirty-five years now, I’ve also been a keen observer of the behaviour of our night time quarry. As I’ve got older I’ve learnt to keep a more open mind too. I was also once, let it be whispered, a ‘filter user’ myself though I have been clean for many years now! Let me explain more….
I upgraded my DIY, homemade lamping kit 26 years ago to a purpose made kit. I bought it at the Midland Game Fair from the Deben stand. I walked back and to twice and had several longing looks, kicked my heels a few times, before parting with my hard earned cash. You see we’d always made our own cheap lamping kits with old headlights and motor bike batteries.
I must admit that I’d had one of the very early purpose made kits called the ‘Sportsman’ which I’ve mentioned before. It was a basic 6 volt battery in a metal carry case and a small lamp attached to it. It was probably one of the earliest ready-made kits. The beam went about 50 yards which was more than enough for the little Bedlington lurcher I had at the time. I then moved onto my home-made headlight job as I sought a more powerful beam. This more powerful beam would surely catch me more rabbits wouldn’t it? I even modified it with a black 110mm plastic drainage coupling as a shroud (any builders will know what I am talking about) taped on to make the beam tighter. Now here I was finally buying an even more powerful purpose made kit. This my friends is where I believe lamping all started to go wrong.
The manufacturers of the new lamping kits at this time had suddenly started to use new and exciting terms to describe the power of their lamps, like ‘1 million candle power’ and other similar evocative terms. I bought a ‘Blue Eye’ lamp which was 250,000 candle power and according to the description on the box was so powerful it could cut through fog! It couldn’t, but that aside, 26 years ago, it was an OK lamp with a tight beam. Interestingly it came with a free red filter. That clinched the sale!
The salesman (for that’s what he was) on the store assured me that animals wouldn’t be able to see the red light as they are all colour blind. (This isn’t strictly true) This, he continued, meant that lamp-shy rabbits would no longer disappear at the first flick of your beam as it was now invisible to them. It certainly sounded good as there were plenty of lamp-shy rabbits around my neck of the woods; mainly because of me! Your dog of course wouldn’t be able to see anything with the filter on your lamp either he advised me, as they too are colour blind. He was wrong on this point too. This myth has since been debunked. Dogs eyes do see colour, but they see it differently to ours. They have two types of cones in their eyes, so they see orange, yellow and green as yellow. Blue-green is seen as white and red looks as though it is brownish-black. While they can see blue, they can’t distinguish shades, especially as the colour blue gets darker. But back then most of us took it as read that all animals were colour blind and filters were the answer to desperate lampers prayers. This is of course why so many people bought them. Lamp-shy rabbits it seems weren’t just a problem in my area!
The theory behind using these filters was that you spotted your rabbit, kept your red beam on it, got within range, whipped the filter off and slipped you dog onto the surprised rabbit! Some manufacturers even started putting hinged filters on which remained attached to the lamp and just flipped up at the desired moment. I eagerly ventured out and tried this new method that very evening. Being a keen student of animal behaviour I soon noticed that my supposedly colour blind dog was able to see the rabbits in the lurid red light. Surely if the dog can see in the red light then the rabbits can see in it too? Nobody else seemed to be raising such concerns and it quickly became the new accepted method of lamping. Indeed the market place was soon filled with other colour filters like amber, green and blue. Arguments raged as to what colour was best. This I believe did more to make rabbits (and other quarry) lamp-shy than bare white lights ever did. Here’s my reasons why, based on my own practical experiences, in the fields by night.
I went lamping with a gamekeeper one evening up in the Scottish Highlands. I was staying up there for a week hunting rabbits which at the time, were in abundance everywhere. Many of them were lamp-shy as the keen young trainees on this estate were always lamping them using rifles, air guns or even shotguns, often off the back of quad bikes or pick-up trucks. Whilst these rabbits may not have seen any lurchers they certainly knew that lamps meant danger. Like most other lampers of the time I had my red filter on and started scanning the parks (Scottish grass fields). I whipped it off when suitable rabbits were spotted and made a few catches on what I considered normal slips (they were actually very long slips to the locals). My keeper host soon instructed me, in no uncertain terms, to leave the filter off and told me it was unnecessary. I politely disagreed as many reading this now who use filters will disagree with me. You see I’d become so used to using it that I was almost scared to carry on without it. I genuinely believed I’d struggle to get near to rabbits without it. The keeper then took his turn to run his dog and quickly flicked on his own lamp (without a filter) for just a few seconds before switching it off and quickly moving in the dark. He’d spotted a suitable rabbit that was out of range and was getting in to a position of where he guessed it would run. Once in position the lamp was flicked on again and off went his dog to intercept the rabbit. After a couple of turns the dog had its prey and the lamp immediately went off. The dog carried the rabbit back to hand in the dark and they were off again. The lamp was quickly flicked on for a few seconds and then turned off as they once again got into position.
We were walking along a fence line that bordered some forestry. The ideal position for a run was to have your back against the fence with the rabbit directly in front of you out in the park. The dog would then go out to the rabbit and if it missed, it would be running directly towards you which is always better for catching. They caught a couple more using the same method and then it was my turn again.
Once again despite my host’s groans I started scanning the fields with the filter on. The rabbits were disappearing quickly before I could get into suitable positions so I had to resort to long slips. True I caught a few but not as many as my host.
Later on when we were finished he told me I was leaving my lamp on too long. He was right, I was. It was a very bad habit I and many other lampers who had bought filters were guilty of. Somehow I’d grown into this habit. He then pointed out how little his lamp was actually switched on compared to mine. I’d had my lamp on for twice as long as him yet had caught half as many rabbits! I had the more powerful lamp too. He was lamping how I used to lamp and how I was taught to lamp. A quick flick of the beam, spot a rabbit and lamp off. Get into a suitable position/range, lamp back on, dog away and lamp off as soon as the course is over.
Filters had created a generation of lampers, including me, who wrongly believed that the quarry couldn’t see their filtered beam. We’d forgot the old ways, the fieldcraft and stealth. We were scanning the countryside using our filtered lamps like great big search lights. We were making the rabbits more lamp-shy than ever. Artificial light will spook spooky rabbits no matter what colour it is. We were also casting our overly powerful new beams hundreds of yards ahead and even into the next field. This simply pre-warned our quarry that we were on our way! I realised he was right. I realised what bad habits I’d picked up and vowed to revert to the old ways. I never used a filter again. Nor have I ever used overly powerful lamps.
A friend started to come lamping with me occasionally on a shooting estate in north Wales and insisted on bringing his filter. I’d long realised the error of my ways by then. My friend was a good lurcher man but he was doing exactly what I’d been guilty of and like me had become conditioned to needlessly relying on his filter. He was almost like the toddler that won’t give up its dummy! He insisted on clinging to his filter as he believed it gave him an edge. It didn’t, it just gave him bad habits. His lamp was never off and he was shining too far ahead. Eventually I convinced him to leave it in the car and he was slowly converted. His catches improved as he began to employ the old ways and fieldcraft once more.
Many people reading this will still be convinced that they can’t catch rabbits or get slips without using their coloured filters. They will even make excuses to continue using one. I know because I did it myself. There are of course no rules on how you should lamp, with everyone having their preferred methods. All I can say is here are some tips to think about and if you have an open mind to try:
1. Leave your filter at home.
2. Never lamp too far ahead. You’ll see what’s in the next field when you arrive there!
3. Don’t use your lamp like a prison camp search light. Use it sparingly. The darkness is your cover and your ally.
4. Always work with the wind in your face. This may mean back tracking a few times as you move between fields but it is worth it.
5. The only time you need to leave your lamp on (when a chase isn’t on) is when you are illuminating a squatter for your dog to go out to. Once your dog knows about working squatters you can cover some of the beam with your hand to reduce it in these instances.
6. Consider the power of your beam. If you are lamping rabbits it doesn’t have to be ridiculously powerful. If it is too powerful it will simply make rabbits lamp-shy quicker.
7. Don’t be trigger happy with you lamp switch and continually flicking it on and off and looking for rabbits that aren’t there. This usually happens on unsuitable nights when it’s still or moonlit. In desperation for slips the lamp starts to stay on longer and longer. The simply solution is don’t lamp on unsuitable nights. Wait for better conditions.
8. Don’t shine over hedges from your vehicle before setting off on foot as you lose the element of surprise.
If you do use a filter have a think about what I’ve written. Then next season try without it and let me know how you go on. A good hunter with fieldcraft and a medium powered lamp will always do better than someone without fieldcraft who simply owns a very powerful lamp and several coloured filters. Remember, if you keep doing the same things then you will keep getting the same results!