I was at a friends house looking at some mounts he had of truly impressive bucks, and in my mind I compared it to my own trophies of past hunts. I’ve got a few nice representative animals on the larger side of the scale, but nothing that would impress a hard core trophy hunter. But having said that, they are trophies to me because of the memory and accomplishment I attach to them.
For instance, the first buck I shot was in Kentucky while hunting with my friend Randy Mitchell. This was back in 2006, and at that time there was no where legal to deer hunt, we’d been focusing on hogs and exotics in Texas for the last few years before. But that year, Kentucky did allowed airguns to be used, with the proviso they be muzzle loaded and used within the primitive weapons regulations.
Dennis Quackenbush had made a replacement bolt to convert our DAQ’s into muzzleloaders, and so armed Randy and I went to his lease and climbed into his side by side tree stand. This was another new experience, I’d done most of my hunting out west and had never even seen a tree stand. It was a cold drizzly morning, and before long the first couple deer walked by…. a doe and a little spike. The a little four point came by, but the club that held the lease had a 6 point rule, so as I tried to will a couple more points to sprout, I had to let him walk.
After a couple hours with not much else happening we talked about heading back in for a cup of coffee, when I saw another buck coming down on my left, and he had plenty of points! I told Randy to take the shot, and he said no it was on my side and my buck. That’s the kind of guy Randy is, he wanted his first airgunning buck too, it was his lease, but he made the call for me to shoot.
I did, and the deer ran about 20 yards up a hill, and half way up did a partial back flip and was dead on the spot. That was not a huge buck, but to me it was a real trophy and the antlers are still hanging in my man cave. It was the first legal buck that I know of taken with an air rifle, the first in Kentucky, my first, and I’ll always think fondly of Randy letting me have the shot because he thought it the right thing to do. In my mind trophies dont get much better than that.
In future post I’ll pull out some of the other airgunning first that stand out in my memory. It’s not only that they were first, but more that we were helping to lay the foundations for a new hunting sport, and how often do you get a chance to do that?
I like squirrel hunting in the fall when the leaves are coming off the trees, because the squirrels are moving, both up in the bare branches and also on the ground. You can spot them from a ways off and plan an approach…. on the other hand they can see you from a long ways off if your not smart about it, and plan their exit! It’s this cat and mouse game that makes hunting this time of year so fun, and potentially productive. Gray squirrels tend to spend more time aloft and fox squirrels more on the ground, but in fall this conventional wisdom goes out the window and you’re likely to find either in either place at any time.
I look for drays and nest trees, then look for food trees, and try to set up an ambush point along the way. Earlier in the year I’m sweeping the canopy looking for motion out of sync with the wind, but later in fall I’m glassing the ground well ahead of me looking for bushytail on the ground digging up nuts. If setting up an ambush, I plant myself with my back against a tree and get comfortable, I might be here 30-40 minutes and it is important to stay as still as possible. Squirrels pick up on even slight motion, and it’s frustrating to sit still for 25 minutes then stretch your legs only to scare off an approaching squirrel.
When looking for squirrels on the ground, they are pretty easy to locate because the tend to be on the move, however when up in the trees they may sit very still for long periods. I keep a sharp eye out for atypical motion, a common give away is when you see the tail fur outlined against the sky blowing in even a light breeze.
In the woods where I hunt it’s possible to get a mixed bag. I spent a couple days at the farm and limited on grays Saturday, and fox squirrels on Sunday….. not planned, just the way it worked! On this trip I used my Daystate Huntsman, one of the prettiest air rifles ever built to my eye. Mine is a .22, and it is very accurate, a great gun to wander the woods with: a please to carry and to shoot.
At the end of the day I dressed the squirrels, skinning the first, then gutting and quartering them before packing on ice. I also keep the tails and cure to use for fly tying….. another one of my hobbies.
Many years ago I had an experience that opened my eyes to a new hunting opportunity that I’d not realized existed. I was out squirrel hunting in the woods of central Indiana on an overcast and very cold morning. Sitting in the shadows at the base of a shaggy oak as morning broke over the forest, I thought I’d heard a squirrel moving through the trees. But after a half hour of searching the canopy, could not locate the bushytailed rodent. After what seemed an inordinately long time with no squirrels showing themselves, I decided to break out a call. In the past this approach had yielded less than stellar results, but I figured there was nothing to lose. I don’t remember why, but rather than the using the bellows to create some chatter, I flipped the call over and blew a baby squirrel distress sound. After a few minutes I took a short break to look around, and picked up some movement heading in my direction. Out of the early morning gloom emerged a big boar raccoon heading directly at me. Either he didn’t see me sitting at the base of the tree or didn’t care, but at any rate didn’t seem inclined to turn or slow down. I had my gun up and was not hiding my movement, and still he came on, until at about 5 yards it apparently sank in that I might be a problem best avoided. He spun around to run, and before moving two steps my pellet slammed into the back of the coons head dropping him. So raccoons will come running to a call, who knew? Well I guess some of the more experienced predator hunters even a few years back did. But I didn’t, and was really impressed by how aggressively that masked bandit made his approach!
Up until then, I’d shoot these animals opportunistically
around grain bins, trash cans, or would sometimes lamp up in the trees for
them. My approach towards raccoons had been in the context of pest control, and
no doubt airguns are great for this application because they are quiet and effective
and can be used in more populated areas. And this is exactly the type of
environment where you’ll often find raccoons. After this initial experience, I
started approaching raccoons as a predator rather than a garbage raiding pest,
and began working in earnest to call them in. I had some immediate success with
distress sounds produced on simple mouth blown calls. About this time I started hunting with a
really outstanding predator hunter by the name of Brian Beck, who was already
seriously into calling coons. Brian introduced me to using the raccoon fight
sequences on my FoxPro, which until then I’d only used occasionally when trying
to throw something new at the coyotes. I now prefer the e-caller for a couple
reasons, first it’s the only practical way to get a coon fight sequence (at
least for me), and it allows the sound source to be moved away from where I am
sitting. This appeals to me because that first raccoon was not the only one
that has almost landed in my lap!
You can hunt raccoons in daylight or at night, though where
allowed hunting at night is far more productive. However, I have had pretty
good results early in the early morning and later afternoon leading into dusk.
I’ve even managed to coax them in (though infrequently) in the middle of the
day, especially when it’s overcast. I like calling at night when there is snow
on the ground and the moon is reflecting enough light to allow them to be
picked up in the scope without artificial light. If calling in daylight I try
to find a den tree, finding that a fight sequence will bring the big boars
charging down the tree in daylight, if he’s in an aggressive mood.
Lamping is an effective means of hunting raccoons, that I’ve
often employed on the large ranches in Texas (where the use of spotlights is
legal). This falls into the category of pest control, but is a more active
approach than shooting pest animals off the trash heap. The method consists of
covering large areas in a truck while lamping the treetops, brush, and agricultural
areas. We will drive likely looking areas with a high powered spotlight
sweeping the tree branches, surrounding brush and fields, looking for the
telltale orange glow reflected from the eyes of watching raccoons. This can be
done with or without the use of a call, however combining the two methods
(lamping and calling) will often produce the best results. When the glow of
eyes are spotted, the hunter jumps out and follows up on foot. I have taken
some of my biggest hauls of raccoons this way, and on several occasions have
racked up well over a dozen in a night. Another cool aspect of this is that
depending where you are calling, you never know what’s going to show up. I’ve
had the usual suspects come in; coyote, bobcats, fox, but also some unexpected
visitors such as ringtail cats and coatimundi!
The Airguns that I think are appropriate for these tough little
critters generate at least 25 fpe of energy, and can be either spring piston or
precharged pneumatic power plants. My preference however, is a PCP generating 35
fpe or more, and while I’ve taken many with .22’s I much prefer the .25
caliber. And more recently the .30’s are impressing me with their outstanding
terminal performance. One reason I prefer a PCP is that they are more powerful
and easier to shoot accurately, but more importantly springers are single shot
and many of the PCP’s are magazine fed multi-shot. In the cold weather and dark
shooting hours when coons are often hunted, you don’t want to fumble for
pellets with frozen fingers or when there’s not enough light to see what you’re
doing. Additionally, raccoons will often come in two or more at a time, and a
fast follow-up shot can be a good thing to have.
Just about any air rifle generating 35 fpe or better, with
the accuracy to print sub one inch groups at 50 yards would be a reasonable
coon hunting option. As a point of reference, I’ll give examples of guns that I
use and can recommend for those wanting to hunt raccoons. My little AirForce
Talon-P was designed as an air pistol, but to my way of thinking serves much
better as an ultracompact carbine. Though it’s a single shot, this .25 caliber
gun has adjustable power and is capable of generating around 50 fpe. It’s
perfect for jumping in and out of trucks, has an accessory rail for mounting
lights, along with the accuracy to deliver consistent kills at 50-60 yards. The
Hatsan AT-44 QE and the Benjamin Marauder in .25, are both moderately powered,
quiet, full sized rifles that are attractively priced. My go to gun for
raccoons is the Brocock Bantam or Compatto, though I’ve also been using the
Daystate Renegade quite a bit lately. I’ve taken many raccoons with all of
these guns, and even though not as compact as the Talon P, the fact that they
are so quiet makes them the perfect options for use in suburban settings or
around small farms where you want to keep the noise down.
The scopes I use on my raccoon rigs are in the lower
magnification range, as shooting can be close and fast, and this type of optic
deploys quickly. Quality glass that has good low light transmitting
characteristics is a must. And an illuminated reticle is also helpful; on a
moonlit night with snow on the ground it is bright enough to hunt without
artificial light. But it is easy to lose the crosshair against the dark silhouette
of your quarry, and a red or green illuminated wire can fix that problem right
For projectiles, my choice is generally a Diabolo roundnose
of mid to heavy weight down the lines of the JSB Jumbo/Kings. These are accurate,
hit with authority, and provide the right balance of penetration and energy
transfer. As always, accuracy is the primary concern, so achieve that first then
worry about other factors. I have been using a couple of the hollowpoints
recently with good results; H&N Hunter Extremes are a hollow point with a
small mouth and a crosshatch cut into them. I have found this pellet very
effective on heavier bodied quarry when coupled with a powerful gun, they hit
hard, penetrate well, and expand to increase the size of the wound channel.
Another pellet worth looking at for use with mid-powered guns is the Predator
Polymag; which is a hollowpoint that has a polymer tip bonded to the head. This
pellet penetrates well and expands on heavier bodied animals, and when shot from
a gun that digest them well can be devastating.
With respect to shot placement, my preference is a headshot when
available. However with the more powerful rifles a chest shot will work fine, so
long as there is not an immediate risk of losing the animal if it runs a few
yards before dropping. Whether you are doing pest control in an urban
environment, or calling in the wide open spaces, airguns are an effective,
efficient, and quiet method of take. My respect for the raccoon has grown
tremendously: this is the perfect starter predator for airgun hunting. They’re
the right size, they can be found almost anywhere in the country and in sizable
populations, and they come aggressively to the call. Not everybody has the
opportunity to pursue coyote, bobcat, or fox close to home: but almost
everyone, no matter where they live, can grab an airgun, a call, a light, and
be onto raccoons without traveling too far from home!
I did a lot of squirrel hunting last season and plan to do so again when the winter finally fades away: getting in both all-day hunts as well as the shorter outings before and after work. But with a few open days in front of me, I decided to get out on an overnight trip. The plan was to drive up early in the morning, hike in and dump my camping gear, then move onwards for some shooting. I reckoned that if I stayed out until the following afternoon, I should get three or four good hunts in different areas of the property.
I would be camping on a 200-acre parcel of land owned by a
friend, that contained several stands of mast producing trees; some up in the
hills bordering ridgelines, some down in the bottoms along the creek, and some
bordering the crop fields that surround his place on three sides.
Unlike my overnight trips later in the year, these early fall
hunts don’t require as much gear, and what is packed tends to be lighter
weight. I found a level area tucked away in the trees during a preseason hike,
where I thought it would be nice to hang my hammock and set up a base camp.
From this campsite, it would be easy to strike out for hunting areas anywhere
on the property.
The gun packed for this trip was the Brocock Bantam in .22
caliber. If you follow my writing or videos you will know that I am a big fan
of the Compatto, and the Bantam is the bottle up-front version of this
semi-bullpup. That bottle means more shots, and with a couple of days squirrel
limits along with the possibility to bag some rabbits and crows, the additional
shots could mean the difference between continuous hunting and running dry!
The camping gear was based around my ultralight kit: a
hammock with tarp, lightweight 50 degree sleeping bag (I could sleep in my down
vest if it got cold), headlamp, lantern, dry fuel camp stove, and food stores.
I thought that some articles of hunting gear such as a closed cell foam seat,
shooting sticks, and camo poncho could perform double duty for both hunting and
campsite tasks. I also had a couple of new audio books downloaded on my phone,
as I take great pleasure in listening as I drift off to sleep in my hammock at
The weather during the 5 am drive out was cloudy, with an on
again/off again rain, and on the cool side but not cold. It took about two
hours of country back roads to reach my destination, and by the time I’d arrived
the rain had abated. After parking the car, I staged my gear and ran through it
to make sure nothing was forgotten, then shouldered my pack and rifle and hit
The clothing selected for the trip warrants some mention; I
dressed in lightweight synthetic backpacking oriented outerwear worn over super
thin 32-degree thermal underwear (tops and bottom). I had a synthetic fleece
pullover and a windbreaker shell packed, and knew from experience this would
keep me warm enough even in freezing conditions. I also stashed a down vest,
just in case conditions really broke down. None of this clothing is camouflage,
but a set of thin camo coveralls presented me with various layering options,
providing a great deal of flexibility with minimal weight. Another advantage
was that if I got soaked in the rain, these cloths were still effective in
retaining heat, and dried out quickly.
The leaves were starting to come off the trees, though there
was still substantial cover in the canopy, and a lot of ground cover to trip
through. As I hiked in, the presence of squirrels became obvious. I could hear
cutting from above, or see the shavings from gnawed nuts raining down, with the
occasional plop of a walnut or hazelnut hitting the forest floor. Nuts were
littering the ground waiting to be stashed away for later in the winter. It
took me about a half hour to reach my spot, and I quickly slipped out of my
pack and geared up to hunt. Leaving my pack and most of the gear behind, I
grabbed shooting sticks, binos, and range finder and slipped back to a stand of
trees about two hundred yards away. On the way in, I’d spotted a lot of
squirrel sign and seen a couple bushytails moving through the canopy in the
early morning haze.
Settling in, it was only a matter of minutes when the first
squirrel, a big orange fox squirrel, came in my direction moving through the
trees. He hung up at about 50 yards, moving up and down a large oak that appeared
to be a den tree. Finally, he stopped on the side of the trunk, hanging upside
down and looked at me. I had the Bantam up on the heavy Primos Pole Cat
shooting sticks, and lined up the shot. On the muffled bark of the gun, the
sound substantially reduced by the affixed Huget suppressor, I watched my first
squirrel drop. I noticed a second squirrel moving through the trees a couple
hundred feet away, and after marking the spot where the dead squirrel laid,
started off in pursuit.
Staying behind a few larger tree trunks as I made my
approach, I heard a warning bark and was surprised to see that the squirrel was
off to my side 30 yards away watching me. Slowly stepping up to a big Shaggy
Oak, I brought the rifle up and leaned it against the trunk for a rest, then
lined up the shot and let the Exact Jumbo RS 13.4 grain pellet fly. With a
thwack, the arboreal rodent sprang up then dropped to the ground. After another
hour of hunting I had two squirrels in the bag, a third had dropped into a
thicket and I couldn’t recover it, though I spent a half hour trying. I finally
decided to take a break as I was halfway to my daily limit and it was only
After setting up camp and making myself a cup of soup, I
spent a couple of hours without my rifle scouting the entire property, and then
lounged about. I dozed on and off whilst listening to my book, then around
2:00, loaded my hunting pack and rifle and started off with the objective of
rounding out my limit. I saw a gray and another fox squirrel, but didn’t have a
good shot opportunity, so decided to hike back to the car so that I could
process the squirrels and put them on ice. I am collecting meat for an acquaintance
that is a serious chef, and wants to experiment with all types of game. I’d
agreed to supply the larder, and to be honest what I really wanted the most
were the tails to use for fly tying.
Getting this chore out of the way, I reached camp as the sun was starting to set. I boiled some water and made a cup of raman noodles, cut up some hard salami and cheese, and after a simple but filling meal climbed into my sleeping bag and drifted off. During the night, I woke to the sound of an explosion, finding myself in the middle of a downpour, with lightning and thunder going off all around me. I only slept sporadically the rest of the night, and by morning the rain was threatening to get worse. Staying under my hammocks tarp I fired up the stove and boiled water for a bowl of oatmeal and cup of coffee.
Considering the options, I decided to call it a trip, and
after eating loaded up my pack for the hike out. What had taken me 35 minutes
to reach the day before, now took twice as long as I tried to avoid streams,
pools of muddy water, and trees that had fallen over in the night. Some of these
trees were quite large, and I was happy that I’d given a close inspection to my
campsite before settling in!
So, in the end I had a great morning hunt, a relaxing lay
about in the afternoon, and an adventurous night, and a soggy hike the next
morning! The Brocock Bantam had done a great job for me, and proven itself
every bit the capable hunting gun I’d expected it to be, based on its
stablemate the Compatto. It’s a funny thing: I was in Africa a couple of months
ago, I will be out for big game in several states this season, but I am sure
this is a hunt that will stand out in my memory. It isn’t the type of game you
hunt or the gun you use by themselves that that establishes the quality of a hunt,
it’s the total experience. And I’ll tell you right now, this short local trip
was an experience!
In this post I’d like talk about some of the gear I use when hunting. I know I’ve covered this topic in other post a while back, but I’ve gotten a lot of request since then to revisit the subject. This list could get very long because I hunt a variety of species, in diverse terrains, under a wide range of weather conditions.
When it comes to small game rifles, the Brocock Compatto is a great example of the features and attributes I look for. The first two requirements are accuracy and power, of which accuracy is the most important. If I can shoot a ¾” 50-yard groups off sticks, but start to see outliers at 60 yards, then 50 yards is my maximum hunting range for that gun/pellet combination.
Shooting in the States gives a somewhat different perspective on the question of power. In the UK where you must deal with power restrictions and obtaining an FAC, the merit of FAC vs Legal power is a valid discussion. In the absence of regulatory hurdles, we look for the best combination of accuracy and power. Outside of some specialty applications, such as shooting inside of buildings, there isn’t really another compelling reason to limit power.
Other features I prefer in my hunting rifles are; multi-shot magazines, sidelever action, a crisp (adjustable) trigger set at about 3 lb, a compact and lightweight design, and a sling system that is comfortable and makes the gun quickly accessible. I’ll pack a replaceable air cylinder or a small tank when I think a refill might be needed. I like to carry a couple loaded magazines, and extra pellets are carried in a small aluminum box, that protects and makes them accessible.
I generally opt for scopes with moderate magnification; a 3-9×40 scope built on a 1” tube has worked well for me. I don’t need more magnification than 9x when shooting small game at 50-100 yards, and often carry my rifles over very long distances in some harsh terrain. Why carry the extra weight when it’s not going to be used? The other point for me is phycological: at higher magnifications, the apparent motion/jitter is (for me) a detriment.
With respect to clothing, I have reached the conclusion that for many hunting applications camouflage is exceedingly useful. At the very least I’d suggest earth toned trousers, camo shirt, hat, with face mask and gloves. When wearing camo, I try to match the environment, which sounds obvious but presents some challenges when you hunt as many places as I do. One solution I’ve found are light-weight camo coveralls in a variety of patterns: from desert to forest to snow. I can pack several sets in a very small space, and pull them over my jeans once I get onsite, allowing me to match the local color.
A couple of years back I started packing a 3D Leafy Poncho, which I’ve used all over the country as well as Africa. This is as close to a wearable blind as you’ll find, and I’ve also used it to construct a makeshift blind on more than one occasion. For hot weather clothing I use my fishing and backpacking technical clothing in natural colors. The advantage of these for desert and plains hunting is that they have built in UV sun protection, they are vented which permits optimized airflow, and they breath and dry out quickly.
Boots can make or break a trip with respect to comfort, too heavy or too light, too much or too little insulation, not the right amount of support for the conditions, can have a big impact on your wellbeing in the field. In the cold northern forests with lots of snow on the ground, my heavily insulated high profile boots will keep my feet warm and dry. In the arid scrub of Texas, I want something light and breathable, but I also need support for my ankles while climbing through rock formations, as well as protection from cactus thorns and rattlesnakes. For this environment, I will often opt for ankle high boots coupled with knee high snake guards.
Packs are an essential gear component that I carefully match to the expected conditions, I make it a rule not to carry more weight than necessary. So, if the plan is for a long hike and all my gear fits into a small pack, that’s what I’ll use. But with the same amount of gear where long distance hiking isn’t required, my preference is for an over the shoulder messenger bag. Messenger bags are not as comfortable over the long haul; however, they allow easy access to packed gear without having to dismount the bag or unsling my rifle. A more substantial pack comes out when I need space for larger volumes of hunting gear.
Optics are another item often overlooked by airgun hunters. Many think that since we are hunting at closer ranges we don’t need binoculars. However, I find them useful for spotting quarry from a long way off, which allows me to plan a stealthy approach. Additionally, no matter how great your eyesight is, you will pick up more partially hidden quarry while glassing than you will with the naked eye.
Another item of gear often overlooked is a range finder. No matter how good you believe your natural range estimating abilities are, they are not as good as you think! The difficulty is greater at longer ranges, and when shooting prairie dogs at 40-100 yards it is a must-have item of gear. The trajectories we airgunners deal with, coupled with the difficulty of making accurate range estimation over small increments in distance, would argue for this device be included in your pack!
The most important aspect of field shooting is accuracy. Once you’ve established the rifle has the intrinsic accuracy to do what is required, you must ensure you can keep up your end. I am a decent offhand shot, but to consistently hit the kill zone of a small game animal at 50 or more yards, some manner of rest is required. For this reason, shooting sticks are another essential component of my hunting kit. I currently favor the Primos Pole Cat shooting sticks, which work well when sitting or kneeling, are very fast to deploy, and extremely compact and lightweight to carry.
I use calls when hunting crows, turkey, and predators, the simplest and least expensive being mouth calls. These can be effective and some, such as distress calls, are easy to use. But others, such as crow and raccoon fights or predator vocalizations, are difficult to replicate and better produced with electronic calls. The other advantage is that electronic calls can be positioned away from the hunter so as not to call attention to your hiding spot. I will often carry a mini-electronic call in my pack when and where appropriate.
On an overnight hunt, the addition of a tent, sleeping bag, food, stove and other gear in addition to hunt equipment, requires a larger bag. As I load up my camp, note my high top insulated boots, these kept my feet toasty warm as I snowshoed through even deep drifts
A headlamp and a small flashlight is always in my pack, because I am often out well before daybreak and after sunset. These lights can be fitted with red filters to avoid spooking game as I move in the field. Additionally, in jurisdictions where it is legal to hunt at night with lights, I will pack a high-power light that mounts to my scope or to an accessory mount on my rifle. Recently I have been using a thermal monocular for night hunting, and add them to my pack when I’ll be out after the sun sets.
For a long time I looked for a good way to carry small game after harvesting it. When I slipped rabbits or squirrels into my game bag or pack, I ended up with a real mess. The solution I finally arrived at was using a game carrier of the type employed by waterfowl hunters. Several lengths of webbing with a ring affixed at either end, and joined at the midpoint, can be formed into a loop and slipped over the heads of virtually any small game animal you’d like to haul back to camp.
To process small game I pack a dressing kit that contains: a small narrow blade knife, a larger skinning knife, sharpening stone, plastic bags, and some cleansing wipes are the basics, though I’ll add a camping knife, a hatchet, a gut hook, and spreaders and a hoist for bigger game.
Of course the gear you select to pack for your hunts will be dictated by the game and environment. Whilst it is completely possible to grab your favorite air rifle and a handful of pellets for a great day of hunting, having the gear you need when its needed will improve results and make you more efficient, effective, and comfortable in the field.
In past I’ve shared several of my hunts for squirrels, which have taken place across North America. Fox and grays squirrels in the deep woods of the Midwest, and the tufted eared Abert’s squirrel in the rugged Rocky Mountain regions of the Western states. And even though these species are similar, the ways in which they are hunted can be as varied as the terrain they inhabit. As a traveling hunter, I’ve built up a repertoire of techniques that have proven useful wherever my hunts have taken me. In this blog post I’m going to share some of these tricks of the trade and discuss when and how I apply them in specific situations.
The type of squirrel suggests where you’ll find them, in
much of our Midwestern woods the gray and fox squirrel overlap. In fact, a
small stand of 10 acres may find an equal proportion of these two species. Both
Grays and fox squirrels may be found on the ground or high in the canopy, and
regardless of the species both vary the mix of ground/tree time based on
season. As a rule of thumb, fox squirrels spend more time on the ground, and
grays spend more time aloft. During the late spring through early fall, both
spend more time in the canopy where they are feeding or cutting. There is
simply little reason for them to drop to the ground, the food is up high and
many (but not all) of their predators are down below.
But later in the fall through the winter and into early
spring, both come down to either bury or retrieve acorns, beech, and other nuts
from their food caches. I’ve noticed
that in these conditions, grays tend to stay on the ground long enough to grab
a nut and get back to a higher vantage point to dine in relative safety. Fox
squirrels are more likely to stay on the forest floor longer, collecting
multiple nuts on the ground or perching on a fallen log to eat before returning
to the treetops.
As a result, the season influences my approach in the field, certain techniques work better in certain situations. In the late fall and winter when squirrels are spending more time on the ground collecting food, they are using the trees as a highway to get from their dens to their feeding areas. Because there is less foliage in the trees, it is much easier to see how and where the animals are moving. But it is a double-edged sword, as it is also easier for the squirrel to see you approaching.
In the spring through early fall, these arboreal rodents are
spending more time up in the canopy and looking for cuttings raining down from
above or the shaking of a clump of leafy branches is a dead giveaway to their
location. And because there is so much leafy material between you and your
quarry, it allows the hunter to move in closer without being detected. But
again, the double-edged sword, because once you get in closer it is difficult
to see the squirrel through all the vegetation, let alone get a good shot.
Still hunting is at its core, a slow walk through the woods.
Done right, it is a very slow walk through the woods, punctuated by long pauses
to look and listen. I’ll pick trees that are perhaps 10 yards apart and stand
in a fixed spot searching the trees and ground from where I stand to perhaps 40-70
yards ahead. Slowly moving forward with frequent stops in-between, I’ll pause
at the next tree and scan ahead before moving to the next landmark. I find
binoculars useful for sweeping the woods, because seeing a moving squirrel or
one perched out in the open is not difficult inside of 75 yards, locating one
that is nestled into the fork of a tree trunk or peeking out from a pile of
In this type of hunting, you are trying to find your quarry
and get a shot while on the move. You are looking from where you stand to slightly
outside of your shooting range, to ensure you don’t blunder into a squirrel as
In my view, the difference between still hunting and spot
and stalk, is subtle but important. In spot and stalk the hunter is scanning
the woods much further out than their immediate shooting range. The intention
is to locate a squirrel at some distance, then move quickly and quietly into
range to take the shot. Moving through
the woods in this manner requires that the hunter uses natural cover to shield
I find that when the leaves are on the trees, still hunting
works better. It is more difficult to locate a squirrel high in the canopy at
longer distances, and the hunter is more likely to walk up to game at close
quarters. Conversely when the leaves are off the trees, and you and the
squirrel can see each other from afar, sighting the squirrel before he sees you
allows a considered approach using natural cover, to get into shooting position.
The tactics of setting a blind and ambush hunting are
similar, but again with important differences. When setting a blind, the
objective is to identify a route between a den tree or nest, and a food source.
When scouting new areas, keep a look out for den trees or dreys, and for stands
of mast producing trees with nut shards lying about. The hunter should keep a
lookout for other animals such as deer, turkey, and woodpeckers in the area, as
they utilize the same food sources. With these landmarks pinned down, the next
step is to look for a place in-between where you’re likely to intercept a
When setting up a blind, locate it where there is a
likelihood of intercepting multiple travel routes to ensure the effort is
warranted. Even pop up blinds, or quickly constructed natural blinds, take time
to set up and limit mobility. However, if you are in a high traffic area, this
can be a very effective approach. I find a blind a productive technique for
hunting smaller areas with less dispersed populations.
However, applying the same basic principles to ambush
hunting is generally more practical in the areas I hunt. You still want to
locate the traffic routes, but rather than setting up a blind the hunter relies
in camouflage. To do this well, you need to be well covered with an appropriate
camo pattern, you need to keep your hands and face covered, and you need to be
very still. This sounds simple, but sitting on hard, cold, and sometimes wet
ground for 30-40 minutes without moving can be a challenge. Once finding a
likely spot, try to stay put for 20-30 minutes before moving on. The main
advantage of this technique is that the hunter can be mobile and cover large
areas of terrain.
Any of these techniques requires that the hunter
has their shooting dialed in for both ground shots and those elevated shots up
into the trees. I started hunting
squirrels with many years of big game, predator, and small game experience
behind me, but was unskilled at shooting quarry that lived high up in the
trees! This is a skill that an effective squirrel hunter must practice and
become proficient at. Though I didn’t cover the use of calls in this article,
my experience has been that calling works at specific times and in specific
situations. We don’t have time to cover this topic in the detail it requires,
but that might be an interesting topic in future, what do you think?
In recent years, many states have crafted airgun friendly regulations for small game hunting with an airgun. There has also been a trend, but moving slower, to add regs on the book to allow big game, and there are currently several states where an airgun hunter can take a deer. However, turkey are another matter. At the current time there are only a handful of states that allow this great game bird to be taken with air. California, Virginia, Maryland (in the fall season only), but now Texas has joined the ranks.
This season I went to Texas with the goal of bagging my first Rio Grande turkey in the first legal season in the LoneStar State! I was actually hunting for deer, however the fall turkey season overlaps with deer, and I read a report in Texas Parks and Wildlife that stated more turkey are taken with deer rifles during deer season than shotguns
I was using the AirForce Texan .357 for deer, and passed on a couple smallish bucks early on, since I had a few days to hunt. But I’d seen where the turkey had been roosting and feeding, and knew from tracks they were coming in to the deer corn. Later in the morning, after the peak hours when deer were on the move, I watched some birds come down and start feeding toward me. I decided if they got in close, I’d take one.
After watching for about a half hour, two toms split from the flock and feed into range. When they got to about 50 yards, I laid the crosshairs on the lead bird, and as I sensed they were getting ready to move off, squeezed off the shot while thge bird was on the move. I hit the bird a bit further back than anticipated, and watched him spring up into the air, then do a kamakazi nose dive on the other side of the ranch road.
Now it’s obvious you don’t need a big bore 250 fpe gun to kill a turkey, and in fact if I’d been out specifically for one of these birds rather than mixing it with a deer hunt, I’d have used a .25 or .30 caliber mid power gun as my preferred bird gun. However, unlike not using enough gun, there isn’t a significant down side to using more gun than is needed in most cases (unless there are safety reasons).
I will definitely be returning for the spring season. I think that Texas is right up there with Arizona, maybe surpassing it, in the variety of game available to the airgunner. However, many of the animals that have to be drawn for in AZ, have over the counter tags and larger bag limits….. not to mention the huge populations of ferals, exotics, and predators.
Deep in the throws of winter, and having gone through multiple days of -25 degree weather, I started daydreaming about warm weather hunting and a prairie dog shoot we’re in the process of planning. This will be the third year my friend Brett Waibel over at Bad River Birds and Bucks in South Dakota has hosted this airgun hunting event, and it’s always a blast!
Last year in advance of our hunt, I loaded up some gear, and made the five hour drive from Minneapolis, to look over a few of the towns and discuss some details with Brett. Along the way I stopped at the Cabela’s in Mitchel to pick up my small game / varmint license and a few other bits and pieces, before moving on. You can always get the licesnse online, but I use this as an opportunity to stop and stretch my legs, plus a layover at this store is never a bad thing!
Leaving the paved high way for a small country road, then turning off on a dirt ranch road for my last eight miles, I rolled along. There’s an old abandoned homestead a mile or so before turning off at the Ranch gate, that always signals the drives about over. Arriving at the lodge, I unpacked my compressor and topped off my tanks then headed off for a quick scouting trip.
The rifle I carried on this quick outing was the Daystate Renegade: A high performance, compact bullpup hunting gun, mine is a .22 caliber version that is an absolute tack hammer with the JSB Exacts. It was early in the year, a bit cold with on and off again rain. I hiked a town carrying minimal gear in my day-pack; range finder. binos, shooting sticks and pellets.
I saw a few mature dogs up out of their burrows for a quick look-see, but nt anything like the number that would be out as soon as it warmed up a bit. Shooting off sticks from a sitting position, I was offered a couple long shots between 75 – 150 yards, and managed four hits with two clean misses. My longest successful shot of the day was a good sized PD at about 125 yards, that rolled over on a head shot.
I like the Renegade a lot: very accurate, powerful, a great trigger, ergonomic design, fast cycling side-lever action with a very reliable magazine that smoothly auto-indexes, high shot capacity. It has a lot going for it. My only hangups I have are; the side lever is situated further rearwards than I prefer, and the gun has some heft. However, the cocking action is so smooth, I can’t really complain about how quickly I could get off subsequent shots. And the weight is not oppressive, plus the bullpup design pulls that weight into the shooters center of gravity making it very stable to shoot offhand.
I scouted out a couple towns with low hunter impact, and when the 2nd annual event kicked off, I guided one of the visiting hunters for a day of great shooting. I’ll post more on this years shoot over on my YouTube Channel, stop by for a look if you’re interested in joining us this year!
Tomorrow morning I’m off to Texas for a few days of hunting, going to do rabbits, predators, and hogs. I’ve got another Brocock Sniper being shipped out, and want to use it for both jackrabbits and a fox or bobcat…. we’ll see how that goes. Besides the regular hunting videos, my plan is to do a kill it and grill it segment ….. wait and see what culinary masterpiece I come up with….. I can guarantee it will be simple, we’ll see if it is palatable, I’m not a very good cook.
West Texas is a very arid region of the country, primarily
scrub brush and cactus. It’s been said that everything in the Texas brushland wants
to sting, stab, or bite you, and there’s some truth to that folksy adage. There
is cactus everywhere; from jumping Cholla cactus, to creeping vines of beehive
cactus, to clumps of prickly pears. Don’t even get me started on the animals;
ants that can leave welts, scorpions that can lay you low with cramps, and
rattlesnakes that will at the very least send you to the hospital for a few
days. I don’t mean to imply your life is at risk every when you step into this
desert-scape, however these all serve as incentives not to sit, kneel, or put
your hands on the ground. I did a few times last week and am still pulling
thorns out of my hands, my knees, my…….. well you get the picture.
This landscape is home to both jackrabbit and cottontail
rabbits and Texas is overrun with them . Both are viewed as pest species, which
means there are no limits and no seasons. In the daylight hours they tend to lay up in scrapes, depressions
scraped out under clumps of cactus or brush, though cottontails will rarely
hijack another animals burrow when trying to escape danger. Considering the
possibility of running into a badger, fox, or rattlesnake when dropping down a
strange hole, it’s understandable that evolution seems to have led them away
from a subterranean life. Besides these threats, rabbits out here are on the
menu for bobcats, mountain lion, hawks, owls, and eagles, though coyotes are
probably their main predator.
Cottontail rabbits rely mostly on their camouflage, tucking
in tight to brush or deep in tangles of paddle shaped prickly pear cactus, they
will hold tight allowing a hunter to step right over them without moving, then
scurry away once danger has passed. They will run when pressed, often moving in
a large circle while looking for new hiding places along the way. Jack rabbits
will often sit and watch the hunter approach through the brush. When their
safety zone is breeched, they may bound away in long strides. Or they may start
a chess game in which they move around and behind the hunter, slowly walking
and watching as they maneuver away from the source of danger. When they choose
to bolt, they have a habit of stopping at a short distance for a look back
before kicking it into high gear. It’s unfortunate for the rabbit, but an
opportunity for the hunter!
The most productive way to hunt these desert rabbits is
still hunting: slowly walking (with frequent stops along the way) while
searching the base of brush and looking into the patches of cactus and desert
grasses. Cottontails will tuck themselves in, while jacks will often sit with
their ears held erect listening for danger. As a matter of fact, it can be hard
to see a jackrabbit sitting 40 yards away watching you through the branches of
mesquite, but if the sun is behind them their ears may take on an amber glow as
the light passes through. The real challenge, and key to success, is spotting
the rabbit before you push them. Cottontails may eventually circle back but,
spook a jackrabbit and he’ll be a mile away before you know what happened.
I’d say that most of my shots at cottontails in this region
take place between 8-40 yards. If they are holding tight, the main problem is
not getting close, but rather finding a clear shooting lane. I’ll often step
lightly on the periphery of the cover, not too aggressively or loudly, but
enough that they start to think about sprinting off. When this happens, the
rabbit will step to the offside of the bush or cactus in preparation of taking
flight, and this may be the hunters only chance at a clean shot.
Jackrabbits tend to be taken with shots that are longer, in
the 40-70-yard range. They may let you inside of 50 yards, but once spooked
they usually stand and watch momentarily before taking off in rapid bounds.
This brief hesitation is the best shot opportunity, however as mentioned
earlier jackrabbits will often run a short distance and pause to look back, and
this is typically the last chance for a shot before they are gone for good.
Had a great time hunting them with the FX Wildcat, I find this a compact and ergonomic field gun, and while bullpups aren’t my favorite style of gun in general, I do appreciate a well designed on and this is one of my favorites. I shoot it well from any field position, can cycle it very quickly, and the power and accuracy are top rate. My Wildcats are both .25 caliber, and it is a truly impressive small game getter.
On another topic: I’ll be posting information on our annual prairie dogs shoot in South Dakota in the coming days. Working out some of the final details, but the dates will be May 16 arrival, 17&18 shooting, and departure on the 19th. We’ve had a blast every year and expecting the same again!
For this pest control session there were several
requirements for the rifle I’d use: it had to be light and compact in anticipation
of shooting in confined spaces, it had to have a high shot count as there would
be many shot opportunities in such a target rich environment, and for the same
reason I wanted a multi-shot magazine with an action that could be rapidly
cycled. Because there would be workers in the area and I’d be shooting inside
as well as out, a low report and adjustable power setting were also deemed
important features. Selecting my small game gun for the trip, and knowing that
this pest shoot was a possibility, my eyes settled on a newer arrival in my gun
room that had been doing well for me in the squirrel woods, the Brocock Bantam.
The Bantam has all the attributes of my much loved Compatto,
and though I personally prefer the looks and balance of the Compatto, it was
the high shot count from the bottle up-front configuration that cinched the
decision for me. So, function won out over form, and the Bantam it was! I’d
shot at this facility in the past, and in preparation sighted the Axion scope
at 50 yards, making note of the aim points at 20 yards at a lower power setting
in preparation for indoor shooting. The pellets selected were the 15.3 grain
JSB Exacts, because they shoot accurately in this rifle and because I’ve had
good experience with their terminal performance.
So with my cased rifle in the back of the truck, I left the
ranch and headed to the feedlot about 10:00 am. There were birds everywhere as
I drove in: pigeons, cowbirds, and doves
in quantity, but pigeons were to be my primary focus. You can shoot the
invasive Eurasian doves, but morning and white wing doves (which are similar in
appearance) are game birds and not on the ticket at this time of year (or with
an Airgun). If hunting in an area where there are similar species with
different game laws applicable, you need to do a little homework and be able to
tell them apart. Penalties can be steep for shooting the games species out of
season with prohibited method of take!
As I’d been here only once before, and that was several
months earlier, I did a walk about to get the lay of the land. I wanted to note
where the workers were, check if there were “no-shoot” zones, and see where the
birds were congregating. It was interesting to note that there were areas
around the buildings where the pigeons were thick, areas in the feedlot where
doves constituted the avian majority, and grassy areas blanketed in blackbirds,
cowbirds, and grackles. I decided to stick to the buildings and and adjacent
sheds where the pigeons were creating the biggest problems.
I found one area in the back of the complex where as wall
panel was missing, and the birds were flying in and out, using nearby roofs and
pipes as staging areas. I could keep shooting here with very little
repositioning, the birds would fly off after one was hit, but would be replaced
by a new flight a few minutes later. In the first hour I’d dropped 20 birds,
with several falling onto the roof and out of reach for body retrieval. But I
soon found that I needn’t worry, as I watched a feral cat run out and snag one
of the fallen birds and carry it off.
As the morning rolled along, the birds slowed down at this
location and I noticed more flying inside a shed where feed was being shoveled
into piles before being scooped onto conveyor belts. I walked over to the
equipment operator and asked if I could shoot at the other end of the shed
while he worked, saying that I’d be aiming away from his work space. He seemed
to appreciate the heads up and said “sure thing buddy, clean those flying rats
out! And I did, a half hour latter I had several more birds down.
The Bantam was a well behaved and enjoyable rifle to shoot.
The semi-bull pup configuration is really a very clever design. It is compact
and well balanced like the best of the carbines, but with a full-length barrel.
This is anecdotal, but it seems to me that barrel length becomes more important
in high power guns with respect to efficiency, power, and to a lesser degree
At any rate, the Bantam performed very well for me (again);
the adjustable power let me dial it in for specific shooting situations, and
the accuracy was dead on. I could cycle the action rapidly, and the magazine
indexed and fed flawlessly. The compact and ergonomic design let me shoot well
from any position I found myself in and using the architectural structures I
found along the way, never missed my shooting sticks.