Run rabbit run

The modified vehicles used in deepest Central Otago to carry a collection of varmint hunters may not be roadworthy, but they definitely need to be hillworthy.

Lottie Hedley

In a story from 2016, New Zealand Geographic editor Rebekah White ventured south to witness the “fiercely-fought contest, 24-hour endurance event, significant pest control operation, and family sporting occasion” otherwise known as the Great Easter Bunny Hunt.

Three hundred people were there to wage war against the rabbits of Central Otago for the event’s 25th birthday and White was stationed in Craig Irwin’s modified Land Rover, one of four vehicles competing for a team known as the ‘Hopper Stoppers’.

“It’s clean,” said Craig’s brother Brent, as White climbed up and sat on the back seat… and on a whole heap of dried bird poo.

The Landy had actually been part of a fence before the event. The trucks the competitors use are often towed in or unloaded from trailers because they’re generally old farm vehicles, unregistered and unroadworthy. All of them had been “improved” to make it easier to hunt while navigating the difficult terrain.

“Windscreens fold down, and there’s space behind the cab for shooters to stand, padded bars for them to hang on to, boards nailed to the sides so the rabbits in the back don’t fall out.”

Photographer Lottie Hedley came along for the bumpy ride and captured the event and the ongoing vehicle modifications. In one shot, one of the Irwin daughters, Emily, is testing the powerful spotlights attached to the top of the vehicle.

Emily Irwin tests the spotlight attached to the top of her father’s Land Rover. The most successful bunny hunting teams shoot from dusk until dawn: night usually brings a greater yield of rabbits than day, with bunnies more likely to freeze on the spot than run. Shotguns are the weapon of choice (above).

White learned that all three Irwin daughters could bring down a deer at 200 metres and the event had become a fixture in the Irwin family calendar.

“Craig’s wife, Katrina, sends a note to school a few days before Easter saying she’s pulling her girls out for a ‘family sporting event’.” The event hasn’t been held for the past few years, but the Landy still gets pulled out regularly on the Irwin family farm, reliably carting keen shooters and their macabre cargo.

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