Easter bunny hunters ready to set fur flying

Ray Moffat, of Cromwell, prepares for the 20th Great Easter Bunny Hunt, which begins in Central Otago tomorrow. Mr Moffat, who has worked full-time as a rabbiter for the past year, is one of the few shooters involved in all 20 hunts. Photo by Lynda Van Kempen.
Ray Moffat, of Cromwell, prepares for the 20th Great Easter Bunny Hunt, which begins in Central Otago tomorrow. Mr Moffat, who has worked full-time as a rabbiter for the past year, is one of the few shooters involved in all 20 hunts. Photo by Lynda Van Kempen.
Cromwell rabbiter Ray Moffat has shot 23,000 rabbits in the past year - the same number shot in 24 hours by competitors in the 2010 Great Easter Bunny Hunt.

Mr Moffat and his Southern Hopper Stoppers team will be lining up with 46 other teams to take part in this year's hunt, which begins tomorrow.

Event convener Dave Ramsay, of Alexandra, who organises the event on behalf of the Alexandra Lions Club, said it was the highest number of teams for more than a decade and demand was so high, 16 teams were balloted out.

"Each team has 12 shooters, so that means we've got 564 hunters, plus their entourage, the `picker-uppers', the cooks, the supporters, heading out on to farms throughout Central Otago to do battle with the rabbits."

Properties from the Lindis, through to Lake Hayes, St Bathans and Ettrick will be the focus of the hunters' work, and a ballot, drawn under police supervision tomorrow morning, will determine which block is allocated to each team.

"There's no shortage of rabbits. There's been plenty of food for them and they have been breeding like ... well, like rabbits, " Mr Ramsay said.

Hunters come from all over New Zealand; Gisborne, Auckland and Taranaki shooters joining teams from Canterbury, Southland and coastal Otago.

Although the event carries total prize money of $3500, the most sought-after prize was the trophy for the top team.

Mr Moffat has taken part in every Easter Bunny Hunt. The first year he entered, his team consisted of volunteer firemen from Wyndham. Then, after he shifted, it evolved into a team of mostly dairy farmers. For the past eight years it has been called the Southern Hopper Stoppers.

He moved from Southland to Cromwell a year ago "funnily enough, to become a full-time rabbiter, so it's my day job now as well".

His team has 12 shooters and "hanger-onners", bringing the number up to about 40.

"There's two cooks, picker-uppers and gate openers in that lot.

"And when it comes to the ballot for blocks, I'm hoping like hell I don't get one of the stations I usually shoot on, because there won't be many bunnies on it."

Teams shoot throughout the night and have to be back in Pioneer Park by noon on Saturday to have their haul counted and displayed.

lynda.van.kempen@odt.co.nz