Rent a house or a Room in Gozo, Malta
Rabbit Hunting in Gozo is becoming more and more popular. The sport is again on the increase mainly for 2 reasons.
The shortened spring hunting season (only about 16 days in 2011) for turtle-doves and quail leaves the hunters utterly dejected and unsatisfied. The short duration coupled with the ridiculous quota of not more than 1 dove and 1 quail a day and up to a total of 4 of each for the whole season is making the hunters to take up rabbit hunting as an alternative source to quench their passion of shooting game.
The second reason is that rabbits are fairly numerous in Gozo and the patient and persevering hunter is likely to be rewarded for his pains almost everytime he decides to go hunting. Rabbits are a pest and destroy crops so farmers are glad to see a hunter shooting rabbits on their land. Moreover the lean Gozo rabbits are very good to eat so rabbit hunting in Gozo is a clear win-win-situation.
A Little Bit of History about rabbit hunting in Gozo
“TAX - XIBER” - THE INDIGENOUS RABBIT of MALTA
J. Gauci-Maistre Malta Rabbit Club, Fur& Feather Federation
Oryctolagus cuniculus first arrived in Malta and Gozo about 3600 years ago on the ships of the Phoenicians as they sailed eastwards from Spain. This assumption is based on the knowledge that it was the Phoenicians who discovered the wild rabbit in Spain and that they made it a point to populate the islands along their routes with this self-replenishing supply of fresh meat so as to ensure regular provisions at strategic points in their travels. And Malta was (and is) strategically placed in the centre of the Mediterranean and directly in a straight line eastwards. In fact it was one of the first islands the Phoenicians would encounter on their way home from Spain. It was of such importance to the Phoenicians that they occupied it from 1500 B.C. (well over a hundred years before their glory really began) till around 750 B.C..
During the time of the Knights of Malta an edict was issued on the 22nd June 1530 forbidding rabbit hunting in Gozo, Comino and Malta (except by the privileged few). This edict, enacted before the Knights actually set foot on the land was strengthened first by Grandmaster Del Monte (1534-1535) and then by Grand Master La Vallette (the hero of the Great Siege of 1565), the latter putting special emphasis on Comino. Exaggeratedly harsh punishments were to be inflicted on anyone caught even merely helping himself to the same type of weeds on which the wild rabbits foraged on that islet.
What the Grandmaster did not take into consideration was that for the wild rabbit to increase and multiply it had to devastate more and more of the farmers’ crops. Consequently there was an upsurge of discontent and unrest which eventually culminated in the famous “Rising of the Priests”, following clashes also with the ecclesiastical authorities. It was only after this that the edict was removed by the proclamation of May 1776 which allowed the hunting of rabbits with all sort of arms or equipment in privately owned territory. And, ironically, although Grandmaster Ximenes did not pacify the people, his plan to lower the price of rabbit meat had succeeded dramatically. Rabbit meat again became available to the masses, but this time in such abundance that surely it must have triggered the tradition of the “Fenkata” (rabbit stew) as Malta’s national dish.
Rabbit Hunting in Gozo in the daylight hours.
The simplest way for rabbit hunting in Gozo is in the daytime ... just take your shotgun and some number 8 cartridges together with your dog if you have trained it to sit very quietly near you. If you have previously discovered a 'droppings heap' ('redus' in Maltese, pronounced reh-do-s), that would obviously be a good enough place since that indicates the sure presence of your quarry. Proceed to a site about 30 meters away from the spot. Approach from a downwind direction and sit quietly and wait. The best time is early morning up to 8 or 9, in the quiet hours of the afternoon from 2 to 6 pm or an hour or so before sunset. These are the favourite times for rabbits to come out foraging from their warren, hole or tunnel.
It is very important to choose a downwind spot and if you are with a friend do not talk or smoke.
Rabbit Hunting in Gozo - by night.
In the night-time one requires more equipment in the form of a lamp with a strong beam. Some people today use a strong flashlight powered by AA or AAA batteries but formerly a car battery was used connected to a car headlamp encased in a wooden box. This contraption besides being primitive has the added disadvantage of having to carry the heavy battery around.
Advance to the desired spot, switch on and start probing in an arc against the wind until you zoom on a couple of 2 red pinpoints of light if you are lucky. The rabbit is transfixed and immobilized by the bright beam of light and all you have to do is to stand up and shoot.
Afterwards it is best to move some distance upwind and start over.
Rabbit Hunting in Gozo with the Kelb tal-Fenek (Pharaoh Hound)
This is the most exciting method of rabbit hunting. It is also carried out at night in the company of a friend and with two or more pharaoh dogs. You do not need a gun because the rabbit is being trapped this time not shot. The dogs will kill it. Apart from the dogs, you will also take your 'pet' ferret (nemes in Maltese, pronounced neh-mes) in its small wicker basket and of course two nets (xbiek in Maltese pronounced sh-beek) at least. As you may know the ferret is the rabbit's most dangerous enemy. You would also need a small torch for use when laying the nets and a strong walking stick (bastun in Maltese pronounced bus-toon) to help you find your feet on the rough terrain in the dark.
Before going into the hunting expedition itself lets say a few words about the Pharaoh Dog (kelb tal-fenek in Maltese pronounced fen-ech)
The Pharaoh Hound is a breed of dog and the national dog of Malta, where it is called the Kelb tal-Fenek meaning "rabbit hound". Its fieldwork description clearly determines that it as a hound and is indigenous to the islands and remains rare outside of Malta. The Pharaoh Hound is light brown in colour and appears both graceful and elegant as well as powerful and athletic. Its build is one of strength without bulkiness or excessive musculature.
A dark night with a breath of wind increases to some extent, the chance of the Kelb tal-Fenek to catch its prey. This time the dogs are doing all the work and this is part of the fun, to see your dogs so cunning and expert. Therefore a moonless night is best, remember dogs see very well at night. On the other hand a moon-lit night enables the rabbit to see its predator and to flee well before the dog has caught sight or wind of it.
By instinct the dogs hunt against the wind and therefore have the advantage of scenting their prey without the rabbit having a clue that they are on its tracks.
Almost everywhere in Gozo is good for rabbit hunting, but proceed to a site where the wind is most favourable. For example when the wind is from the North consider places in the South of the Gozo, like Ta' Ċenċ (Ta Ch-ench), is-Sanab, Mġarr ix-Xini and Ix-Xatt l-Aħmar. When the wind is Southerly, you may proceed to Għarb, San Lawrenz, Dwejra and Wied il-Għasri. The hills are all good too, namely Il-Ħarrax, id-Dagħbrani and Ta' Kuljat.
When you arrive at your desired spot release the dogs and let them run freely in all directions. With the aid of the ‘bastun’ walk carefully behind the dogs for some distance, then stop and wait and keep your ears open. In the meantime the dogs would be running like the wind their noses to the ground. After some time you should hear the dogs mouthing the 'kurriera' (qu-r-ree-rah), a special crying bark indicating that the pharaohs are on the trail of a rabbit or rabbits. When this changes to definite barks it means that the prey is located and that the dogs have the rabbit pinned down. Follow the sounds and the dogs will point you at the hole or crack where the rabbit has gone to earth.
Now it is your turn. Take the nets out of the bag and spread them fairly loosely and try to cover as large an area as possibe and taking care to block all the possible exits that the rabbit could use for his escape. Pin it down carefully with large stones and boulders. Put on your thick leather gloves and carefully reach for the ferret. Next, tie a little bell (ġolġol in Maltese, pronounced jaw-l-jaw-l) around its neck and let it in through the hole indicated by the dogs.
If you have several dogs with you leave only 2 off the leash for they are enough to do the remainder of the work. Now wait and watch the antics of the dogs who would now be following most attentively the tingling of the bell moving behind the stones and rubble or inside the tunnels dug by the rabbits. Sometimes you may hear the thumping sounds made by the rabbit as it tries to escape its deadly enemy or even a squeak when the ferret bites the poor rabbit and finally you would be rewarded by seeing the rabbit shooting out and getting enmeshed in your net. The ferret would be close behind it but as soon as the dogs glimpse the rabbit, they immediately kill it.
You have caught your rabbit, maybe it is your first but surely not your last. Place it in the bag (xkora in Maltese pronounced sh-cor-rah) that you have brought with you for the purpose and pick up the ferret and replace it in its basket.
It is now advisable to tie down your dogs and let things calm down for half an hour or so to give the rabbits a chance to regain their confidence and to venture out of their hideouts again.
Sometimes it may happen that the dogs loose a rabbit. The older and more experienced rabbits know how to use various tactics and tricks, such as tight swerving, back tracking, entering thick bushes/thorn patches and immediately exiting or instant stopping. In this instance the 'kurriera' and the barking stops unexpectedly.
At other times the barking stops owing to the fact that one of the dogs has succeeded in catching the rabbit on the run. This gives the hunter great satisfaction for it proves the agility and skill of that particular dog. This is not unusual with a pharaoh dog of a mature age and experience and it gives great pleasure to its master to see it proudly approaching, wagging its tail happy with the quarry in its mouth.
This method of rabbit hunting in Gozo (or anywhere else) is the most exciting as we have said. Sometimes however the ferret creates problems. It is a wild animal and very difficult to tame not to say impossible. When things go as planned and the rabbit is started and shoots out of its warren and finishes trapped in the 'xibka', it is easy to catch the ferret again.
It may happen, however that the ferret succeeds in killing the rabbit inside a rubble wall or in a tunnel. This creates a problem for the hunter because the ferret immediately rips open the rabbit's chest and devours its liver. Afterwards, having eaten its fill, the ferret looses all its energy and lies down to sleep. In this instance, the hunter has no choice but to start clearing the rubble or digging along the tunnel in order to locate the snoozing ferret. Quite a job.
Excluding this glitch, rabbit hunting was always and still remains a popular and rewarding sport among the more 'adventurous' Maltese and Gozitans.
A final remark or advice if you want. Since this sport may take all night especially if one is having fun, it is best to leave it for the weekend or for a night when you don't have to work the following day.
Happy rabbit hunting in Gozo.
Go Back to Gozo Island from Rabbit Hunting in Gozo
Return to HomePage from Rabbit Hunting in Gozo
If you found this Page of some interest you may wish to "Like" it. Thanks.
Rent a house or a Room in Gozo, Malta