What Happens to my Big Game After the Hunt……. Biltong!!

Ok, this isn’t strictly airgunning, but I often get questions about what I do with the animals I hunt. In this post I’ll talk about what I do with the deer I shoot. One deer a year supplies my family with all the venison we’ll need; backstraps, a few steaks, and a lot of ground for burgers, spaghetti, and chilies, and I prefer a young doe for this purpose.

On one of my airgun hunts at my friend Brian Cooks place out in MO a few years back, I took three deer in three days with three different guns while another buddy, big bore airgunner Eric Henderson put down the gun and picked up the camera. Two deer were donated, but this big doe was converted to biltong.

On one of my airgun hunts at my friend Brian Cooks place out in MO a few years back, I took three deer in three days with three different guns while another buddy, big bore airgunner Eric Henderson put down the gun and picked up the camera. Two deer were donated, but this big doe was converted to biltong.

But I’ll also shoot a couple of deer, buck or doe, in it’s prime or old doesn’t matter, to make biltong. Biltong is the South African version of jerky, though it’s air dried and not smoked, and is really a national dish. Everybody eats it, you can buy it anywhere, and there are many biltong shops that specialize in it, made from every type game imaginable in addition to domestic livestock. In South Africa I’ve had kudu, springbuck, bleesbuck, buffalo, bushbuck, and elephant biltong, and when I lived in Australia our South African butcher made kangaroo, emu, lamb, as well as beef biltong. In the following I am going to explain how I’ve been making it out of the deer I’ve been harvesting with my big bore airguns.

Figure 1: The biltong box is made from storage box with mesh covered holes for air flow. The green computer fan at the top increases airflow, and will only set you back a few bucks.

Figure 1: The biltong box is made from storage box with mesh covered holes for air flow. The green computer fan at the top increases airflow, and will only set you back a few bucks.

I’ve lived all over the world and have spent almost as much of my adult life outside of the States as inside our borders. But my wife is South African, that’s where we were married, it’s where I hunt every year, it’s been one of the constants in my life and my second home. There is a lot I love about the country, the people, the land, the game, and on the food front, the thing I hold above all others ……. Biltong!

Biltong fills the niche inhabited by jerky in the Americas, and served the same purpose. In the past it was a way of preserving meat without refrigeration, and it’s a fantastic use for one of the deer you shoot for the larder.  Unlike jerky, which is smoked, biltong is treated with spices and air dried. The final product is similar, but even though I am a true jerky aficionado (a connoisseur even), have to admit I like biltong even more. Every year when visiting family or out on safari we consume mass quantities of the stuff. You can ask my buddy Kip next time you call AOA, we put away a mountain of the stuff on our hunt on the Eastern Cape a while back. The problem is that you can’t bring it back into the country and we haven’t found a place to buy it locally. The result is we have to go through a biltong drought eleven months of the year.

On a trip a few years back I asked one of my friends to teach me how to make it, and found that the process is very straight forward and needs only a simple and easy to use bit of equipment, called naturally enough a biltong box. Out on my friend’s farm on the Eastern Cape this box is actually a walk in drying room, but I found several plans for a smaller scale box that can make a couple pounds of the stuff at a time.

Figure 2: The cut and spiced meat strips are hung from wire hooks for drying. A 60 watt bulb is used to keep the air dry as it flows through the box

Figure 2: The cut and spiced meat strips are hung from wire hooks for drying. A 60 watt bulb is used to keep the air dry as it flows through the box

The box I made started as a typical 38 gallon plastic storage box, which I stood lengthwise and mounted a set of metal wheels. I cut a 4” diameter hole in the top of the box and mounted a fan to draw air out of the box. This fan was a computer fan that I picked up at an electronics store for $5-$6.  I then drilled 1” holes around the middle part of the box and used duct tape to affix a covering of mesh to keep out insects. I mounted a light fixture with a 60 watt bulb at the bottom of the box. ½” doweling pins were fixed at the top to form a rack to hang the meat strips. I bought a coil of heavy gauge steel wire to cut in 6” lengths and formed into hooks used to hang the meat strips from the dowels. Many of the plans call for a shelf between the light and main body of he drying box to keep any fat from dripping on the bulb, but I used a metal lamp cover to shield the bulb. I put foil on the floor both to reflect heat upwards and to make clean up easier.

Figure 3: The meat has to be spaced so that it doesn't touch, or it won't dry properly and may get moldy. If this happens it goes into the trash!

Figure 3: The meat has to be spaced so that it doesn’t touch, or it won’t dry properly and may get moldy. If this happens it goes into the trash!

A true Afrikaner protects his biltong recipe as though it was written on the deed to his property. My own recipe is a good starting point, but with experience you’ll probably make your own improvements along the way. You will need 1.5 cups vinegar (apple cider vinegar is preferable), 3 cups of course salt, 2 cups of brown sugar, 5 ml bicarbonate of soda,  12.5 ml of coarsely ground black pepper, and coriander seeds.

Just about any type of meat can be used, but I make it out of deer and sometimes beef, using the backstraps and loins cut into 6 – 8 inch strips.
These strips are thoroughly brushed with vinegar and left to sit in a serving dish placed in the refrigerator. As the meat is cooling my wife gets busy preparing the spices. She cooks the coriander seeds in a frying pan until roasted then crushes them with a mortar and pestle. This is then added to the salt, black pepper, sugar and bicarbonate of soda.

Figure 4: The finished product, look fast because at my house it will be gone in sixty seconds!!

Figure 4: The finished product, look fast because at my house it will be gone in sixty seconds!!

After a half hour the meat is taken from the refrigerator and rolled in the spices, then placed back in the cooler for about three hours. After this period the meat is removed and rinsed in the vinegar, dried in paper towels, and suspended from the hanging rack. The lid of the box is then replaced and the box left sealed for 3-4 days.

At the end of this time the box is opened and the biltong is ready to eat. I like to take out a strip and place it on a wooden cutting board, slicing off strips to munch on as needed. We’re going to have to add an extra box so I can keep a batch curing at all times, as it doesn’t seem to last very long in my house.

Once cured, biltong can be kept for several weeks in a dry environment. If you intend to keep it for several months the best storage method is to seal it in a vacuum pack and freeze it, and once frozen it can be kept indefinitely. But as mentioned, in my house it doesn’t last long enough to warrant freezing! You can experiment with different spices and find one that best suits your taste. If you like jerky, I really recommend you give biltong a go, it’s fast and easy to make, cost effective, and a great way to treat those deer you bring home every season. The other thing that is great about biltong is that you can use meat from those tough old bucks as well as a tender yearling or doe, and the end product will not suffer.

The South Africans were as tough and resourceful a group of pioneers as you’d find anywhere, and biltong was an important part of that past. I think this is one of the best uses for the deer I harvest, and as more states allow airguns for deer I ten to take several every season now. Some get donated to hunters against hunger programs, but 2-3 will surely pass through my biltong box. Give it a try, most of my American friends have liked it!

Categories: Big Bore Airguns, Big Game, biltong, Deer hunting, Safari, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Harder to Justify my Rimfires!

I’m going to share a story that recently caused me a lot of frustration. Since I jotted this in my field log, I have taken every opportunity to build up my supply of .22 rimfire ammo. Over the course of a few months I’ve found occasion (small) supply’s and bought when ever I could. Sometimes I had to go to a store multiple times buying the couple box limit until they ran out, but finally a few hundred dollars invested I have refilled the powder room….. but the whole episode put me right off my rimfires. But I asked myself seriously, do I really want to shoot my rimfires anymore?

With the right gun, the right ammo, and the making the right shot choices, my range with my airguns is no more limited than with a .22 rimfire.

With the right gun, the right ammo, and the making the right shot choices, my range with my airguns is no more limited than with a .22 rimfire.

While I mostly shoot Airguns, I’ll admit that I still get out with my firearms from time to time. I had a writing assignment come up to use rimfire rifles for a prairie dog shoot in North Dakota. This article was for a conventional hunting publication and the spin they wanted was for me to do a budget hunt. So with the objective of keeping my ammo cost as low as possible I had decided to take my .22 LR, .17 Mach II, and .17 HMR rifles. I’d let my stock of rimfire ammo drop very low, so before my planned departure I went to Cabelas to pick up ammo ……… and there was not a round of rimfire ammo to be found! I went to 10 gun and/or hunting stores over the next couple days and could not find a single vendor with any rimfire ammo in stock. And I was told that they didn’t know when any new shipments would arrive, but that when it did come in there would be limits on the amount an individual could purchase in a day (typically a couple 50 round boxes maximum)! Arguably the .22 rimfire is the most popular cartridge in the country, and (ironically) makes for the largest number of unshootable guns in the current ammo drought.

Long story short, I could not find any rimfire ammo so had to revise my plans; this trip became a budget priced airgun hunt! Truth be told, I have a strong bias towards airguns and this would have been my preference anyways, and it just so happened that I had a couple hundred tins of pellets in .22, .25, .303, and .357 in my gun room waiting to go!  But if I’d needed more it could have been ordered in vast quantities, the only limit being my checkbook. In the past when comparing rimfire to airgun shooting I’d start off talking about the price of ammo, however these days I’d have to say that the major advantage is that you can actually buy ammunition for your airguns. I shoot about 500 to 1000 pellets a week providing I’m not doing testing or going on a hunting/shooting expedition, in which case the numbers can go through the roof, and would be in a tough spot if dependent on finding a brick of rimfire ammo now or in the foreseeable future. So let me take a look at how the rimfires currently stack against today’s quality airguns.

My .25 Verminator is more accurate than most of my rimfires, the ammo is a fraction of the price and readily available, and the gun is much quieter to boot!

My .25 Verminator is more accurate than most of my rimfires, the ammo is a fraction of the price and readily available, and the gun is much quieter to boot!

It is controversial to take on the venerable .22 rimfire, I mean it is the most popular round in America for a reason. There are a lot of great guns with a virtually unlimited variety of styles and capabilities, the price of most is pretty reasonable (though you can spend as much as you want to), they tend to be fairly accurate, and compared to other powder burners the ammunition is (used to be) inexpensive, the sound levels are relatively low, and it’s a great caliber and power level for shooting small game. But aside from the difficulty in finding rimfire ammunition these days (and the ridiculous prices now being forced on us), there are other compelling reasons for shooters and hunters to lay down their rimfire rifles once in a while (or maybe for good) and pick up an airgun.

Both the selection and availability of airguns has increased over the last few years. There is a broad range of air rifles currently available for competitive shooters, plinkers, and hunters. I’m going to keep this discussion focused on the application I am most involved with, hunting. I shoot airgun about 200 days of the year, about 125 days of which are hunting. This is where some of the advantages of airguns become manifest; I can practice in my basement or backyard because of the power and sound levels associated with these guns. I live in suburbia, and if I’m going squirrel hunting on Saturday can practice with the gun I intend to use throughout the week before or after a day in the office. One of the primary means of becoming a more effective hunter is to practice your shooting technique, and maintaining familiarity with your gun. There is nowhere to shoot close to where I live, and it’s a half hour drive to the nearest range, which besides the cost always seems busy when my schedule yields up a few open minutes to shoot. But the fact that airguns are quiet and ammunition inexpensive (and readily available) would be of little import if the guns didn’t perform as hunting tools, so let’s look at some comparisons with rimfires for this intended use.

This little Talon-P carbine has become my pack gun on  ultralight backpacking trips or out in my kayak.

This little Talon-P carbine has become my pack gun on ultralight backpacking trips or out in my kayak.

Velocity of a typical .22 rimfire rifle using standard velocity ammunition is about 1140 fps velocity with a 40 grain roundnose bullet, or about 105 fpe of energy. A high velocity .22 rimfire round fired through a typical 20” barrel will propel a 40 grain bullet at 1250 fps, generating about 140 fpe. If you site the rifle in at 50 yards 1.4” high at 50 yards, it will not deviate more than 1.5” from the muzzle to out to 90 yards.

A .22 caliber pcp air rifle will generate about 1100 fps with an 18.13 grain JSB Exact round nose pellet, producing just under 50 fpe, and this is one of the more powerful .22 production pcp’s on the market. If you zero the gun at 50 yards, the POI will be approximately an inch high at 30 yards and 7.5” low at 90 yards.

So on the surface, many hunters using a .22 rimfire would look at these results and say “there is no way an airgun would be an effective replacement to my .22 LR”. And they would be wrong for several reasons; 1) the .22 rimfire and airgun both generate way more power than is needed to efficiently and cleanly kill small game and varmint, 2) while the trajectory is more pronounced with the airgun projectiles the inherent accuracy is no better and often not as good as that obtained with the air rifle, and 3) and the lower velocity and poorer coefficient of drag limits the range, meaning the airgun is viable in environments where a rimfire will carry too far. Add to this that the report is low, ammo available, and the guns can often be shot where firearms are prohibited, starts to justify the airgun as a valid hunting tool for many rimfire hunters.

When discussing the difference in power between an airgun and a rimfire, I’d point out that a rabbit or squirrel (actually just about any small game) only takes a few fpe to kill. Both the rimfire and any medium power airgun provide more than enough energy to cleanly put them down. The excess power in the rimfire will allow the hunter a bit more latitude for less than optimal shot placement, but not much, and it is worth noting that our goal should be to place good shots rather than giving us the latitude to make sloppy ones. The higher velocity, heavier projectile, and better BC of a rimfire bullet does result in a flatter shooting projectile at longer range. But it can be argued that once the trajectory for a specific airgun and pellet has been mastered, the achievable accuracy at 90 yards is very similar. And at 50 yards, where most small game is taken, my experience has actually been better with my airguns…… I shoot them more accurately.

And if you look at the .30 caliber airguns on the market these days, you'll appreciate the penetration and wound channel they produce.

And if you look at the .30 caliber airguns on the market these days, you’ll appreciate the penetration and wound channel they produce.

I was out on a prairie dog shoot earlier in the year, and took my Ruger 10/22 and Daystate Huntsman Classic along. I did a direct comparison of the two guns shooting each during one hour sessions, and found that my shoot/hit ratio on the inside 50 yard range was about 90%, and on the longer shots was actually significantly better with the Daystate, 80% and 65% respectively. There was no wind blow during this outing, but the next day when I repeated the experiment the wind was gusting at about 20 mph, and while my long range shooting went to hell in a hand basket with both guns, the Ruger outperformed on that day. The point is that an airgun can hold its own, and often outperform the .22 rimfire in the field.

The place where airgun have an undeniable advantage over rimfires is that they are much quieter, especially if they are configured to utilize a shrouded barrel. This allows the guns to be practiced with and hunted with in far more places than can be done with the rimfire, especially if you live in the city or the suburbs!

I am not suggesting that all hunters should swap their rimfire rifles for airguns, I’m an airgun fanatic but I still own and shoot my rimfires occasionally. But there are many compelling reasons to add an airgun to your hunting battery, and I can say without reservation that my airguns let me practice more which makes me a better marksman, and spend more time in the field hunting which makes me a better hunter! Now, when considered in face of the current ammo availability situation, the idea of airgun hunting will become even more attractive. When I finally started finding ammo again, there was almost always a low volume limit (typically a couple 50 round boxes) and I was paying between $4.50 and $8.00 per 50 round box! If I had of spent that much at AOA, I’d have enough pellets to last for years! I think that as more hunters using rimfires switch over to airguns in the short term to circumvent the ammo shortage, they will be less inclined to hurry back once/if the ammo situation improves!

Categories: .22 ammo shortage, airgun ammo, Rimfire, Small Game Hunting | 2 Comments

No Country for Old Boar Coons!

Sometimes you can get a tree'd coon without calling, but you will find more, faster, when combining a call with a good light.

Sometimes you can get a tree’d coon without calling, but you will find more, faster, when combining a call with a good light.

It was just getting dark when a buddy and I unloaded our gear on the edge of a harvested corn field. Guns and lights are standard night time hunting gear, but we also carried an electronic call, which we’ve found very useful for raccoon hunting night or day. We hiked a couple hundred yards across the open ground, then stopped and swept a filtered light across the woods surrounding the field until catching the reflected glow of eyes up in one of the trees. Moving in closer we set down the call thirty yards from the gnarled tree trunk, and backed up another ten.

Sweeping the light up the big oak, we saw multiple sets of eyes that added up to at least two coons, but none presented a clear shot. My partner was working the light and the call on this set, and whispered, ready? I responded “hit it”, at which he manipulated the remote on the FoxPro call to slowly dial up the sound of a raccoon fight. This is a very specific sound that incorporates growls, clicks, and various vocalizations, and I at least, don’t have a hope of replicating it with the mouth call I’ll sometimes use for a distress calls. This is definitely an application where a digital is the best tool for the job!

I've used .22 and preferred .25, but lately am really starting to like the .303. A very decisive caliber on raccoon sized game on up to coyote.

I’ve used .22 and preferred .25, but lately am really starting to like the .303. A very decisive caliber on raccoon sized game on up to coyote.

Within a minute spotted three raccoons spilling out of the tree and hitting the ground at a dead run towards the call. We hit mute and they pulled up, with a big boar standing on his hind legs for a look-see. I had the crosshairs of my illuminated Hawke scope locked in with the crosshair right between the eyes. The rifle I was carrying on this hunt was the .25 caliber FX Verminator dialed up to full power; and has selected JSB Jumbo Exacts which are one of my favorite all around hunting pellets. Squeezing the trigger the gun a subdued pop and I watched through the scope as coon number one did a back flip with his den mates making hell for high leather back to the trees.

We hung the coon up in a tree so no coyotes could get to it, and moved on. Besides being a pest raccoons are classed as fur bearers, and in fact there is quite a good market for the pelts. My friend lives on his farm and has a couple buyers in the area; he brings his quarry in whole and the buyer takes on the responsibility for skinning, tanning, and handling the fur before selling it up the chain. Give a coyote a couple minutes, and there won’t be a raccoon pelt of any value left!

We trekked on through the icy cold searching the trees with our lights, stopping every now and again to sound the e-caller. Did I mention it was cold? It was ice-in-the-mustache-painful-to-breathe cold! Even though I was bundled to a point where I was a round formless mass, it was still cold. We found a place to set up back to a large tree, and positioning the call on the other side of the road, I dialed up a distress call. Not more than two minutes later another big boar raccoon came charging up. It happened so fast he was almost on top of the call before I could mute it. I barked to stop the fired up predator, but instead of stopping he headed straight in almost running up my leg! But the raccoon stopped dead just as I squeezed of the shot and rolled our second coon of the hunt.

We collected the two big raccoons, the one was an absolute giant, and headed back to the truck. We grabbed a bite to eat at an all night dinner and I started the 45 minute drive back home, having experienced a great hunt almost in my back yard. I think raccoons are one of the most underrated predators out there. At the right time of the year, either a raccoon fight sequence or a distress call can bring them charging in. This is not shooting pest animals over the garbage bin (nothing at all wrong with pest control mind you), but true and exciting predator hunting and a great game for airgunning!!

Add an electronic call and use raccoon fights to draw them in.

Add an electronic call and use raccoon fights to draw them in.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Texas Varmint Hunt!

My hunting has been a bit slow over the last couple months, I’ve been traveling a lot for work, doing some family trips (spent this weekend at the Fields Museum in Chicago….love that place!), and thought I jump into my field journal and share a hunt from seasons past. A couple summers back I was invited on a predator hunt in West Texas, to help thin out the coyotes and bobcats causing some headaches for a local rancher. The land was being converted to a wildlife / hunting preserve, but after years of a no hunting policy by the past owner, predators had gotten out of control. An old friend and predator hunting expert Cody Brunette had been asked to come in and control their numbers, and asked if I’d like to come with them. Knowing my fondness for airguns, they asked if I wanted to bring one along to take a side trip for prairie dogs and jackrabbits. They said there was a population explosion on another of the ranches they take care of. Well, this sounded like a winning deal to me; predators all night and varmint in the day!

On the Road to Texas!

Getting ready for the trip from Indianapolis to Midland Odessa I confronted the perennial challenge, how to get all my gear onsite without spending more in excess baggage than the cost of the airfare. I wanted to take three guns on this trip, but outside of the massive safari case used for long overseas trips, none of my cases would conveniently fit three full sized rifles. I finally settled on disassembling the guns removing the actions from stocks and demounting the scopes so that they’d fit into a standard two rifle case.

I’d originally planned to carry a couple of small tanks and a hand pump for keeping the guns charged. But while doing some advanced ground work, I went online to look for a paintball shop where I could get the tanks filled, and low and behold found a dive shop…. In the middle of Texas, go figure! Calling to see if they could fill my tanks, the owner asked if I just wanted to rent tanks instead of hauling my own cross country. He arranged to have three bottles filled and ready, so all I had to carry along was the yoke and fill probes. I was a bit apprehensive without the safety net of even a handpump, but the shop owner had done business with airgunners in the past and assured me they would have everything I’d need. So in the end I got all the gear required packed into my duffle and a standard rifle case.

I was hunting the seemingly barren West Texas area, but as dry as it is, there is a lot of wildlife.

I was hunting the seemingly barren West Texas area, but as dry as it is, there is a lot of wildlife.

I had found a good deal on airfare online, but did encounter some hidden charges. I had to pay additional fees for my checked baggage and excess weight, if you’re watching your budget consider these costs before buying your ticket. Checking my gun case was trouble free; I filled out the forms, confirmed the guns were unloaded, and stood by while it went through TSA. Getting your guns squared away is always hit or miss, and depends on whose working at the airline check-in and security counters, as the only consistency to be expected these days is inconsistency. Airguns are viewed and handled as firearms, and as a rule I don’t even mention that they are airguns as this seems to totally confuse most airline representatives. But it was my day and after a few minutes wait for the gun case to clear, I was in my seat and on my way!

Flying into Midland a few hours later, I looked out the window to see an expanse of open land that looked like a giant game board with green vegetation and red earth checkering the landscape. This looked like endless hunting opportunity and I could not wait to get in the field. I was keeping my fingers crossed that the guns had made the transfer on my Dallas stop over, as I ran through a mental check list of what needed to be done on arrival (get gear, pick up tanks, drop off bags and put guns together, etc.). The approach was bumpy, and as it turned out the winds bouncing our little commuter plane around as the girl behind me sat retching would be my unwelcome companion for the next few days.

On the grounds, my bags came rolling out quickly and seemed in good condition with no visible dents. I wheeled my gear outside and called Cody on my cell phone, and waited until I saw his full sized hunt-mobile pull up to the curb. I threw my kit in the back and we headed over to collect the scuba tanks. There were three tanks filled to 3400 psi waiting for me as promised, and all my connectors fit perfectly…. Off to a good start! I was dropped by my hotel to get checked in and sorted out, grabbed a fast bite to eat, and then headed out for an afternoon prairie dog shoot.

I wasn’t sure if I’d need optics on this trip or not. I always bring a spotting scope when heading out for a varmint shoot with my centerfires, but around a hundred yards was going to be as far as I’d be stretching it with an air rifle. I packed binoculars and a spotting scope to be safe, but in the end only used the binocs. And they did come in handy for viewing the area between shots and picking out my rodent targets from the cow patties.

Lots of prairie dogs, this is one the only places that I've shot prairie dogs and ground squirrels in the same place.

Lots of prairie dogs, this is one the only places that I’ve shot prairie dogs and ground squirrels in the same place.

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Lots of jackrabbits too, on this trip they were everywhere you looked, a year later hardly and to be found, this year I've heard they're out in numbers again!

Lots of jackrabbits too, on this trip they were everywhere you looked, a year later hardly and to be found, this year I’ve heard they’re out in numbers again!

Guns and Gear

The gun I’d chosen to take along for smaller quarry was the AirArms S410 FAC. This well crafted rifle is typical of the quality in British gun design; a well crafted and ergonomic stock, rugged and reliable action, and nice overall fit and finish. The .22 caliber rifle I’ve been shooting is spitting out pellets at velocities in the mid 900 fps range, packing a walloping 31 fpe. This gun is cocked using a side lever action which I find to be a marked improvement over the traditional bolt action, and makes it fast to cycle the 10 shot rotary magazine. The magazine is quick and easy to fill, and digests a wide range of pellet styles, though I opted for Crosman Premiers as the best all around hunting load.

And at night it was back to the big bores and calling in the yotes! Cody has a very cool shooting tower and calling station above his pickup.

And at night it was back to the big bores and calling in the yotes! Cody has a very cool shooting tower and calling station above his pickup.

I like the CP pellets for a couple reasons, weighing in at 14.3 grains these round nose pellets are particularly accurate in the rifle I was going to use, and I know from past experience they perform well on small game. These pellets are purchased in bulk, and come packed in a box of 1250 pellets per box. I transfer a couple hundred pellets into small fishing lure storage boxes for carry in the field. It is a smart practice to shoot the same pellets used for plinking and target practice as those that will be used for hunting, reduce the variables in your field gun wherever you can.

The accuracy obtained with this gun is impressive, facilitated by the 12 grove Lothar Walther barrel and two stage adjustable trigger. Checking my guns zero after remounting the scope, I was getting ¼” fifty yard groups that opened up to ¾” at 100 yards. I don’t often reach out this far with my small bore airguns, but I’d been tasked with aggressively thinning out the varmints and would take long shots when presented. I knew this gun would be up to it! The optics mounted on my rifle was the Niko Stirling 3-9x50mm scope with adjustable objective, which can be optimized from 5 yards to infinity. The optical quality is clear, sharp, and offers excellent low light characteristics, the perfect compliment to this gun.

Prairie Dogs and Jackrabbits …… everywhere!

The first afternoon Cody and Chris picked me up and we drove about an hour out of Midland. We were going to a prairie dog town on a ranch where the guys hunted predators, but they’d not been there for a while. Pulling off the highway we started down a dirt ranch road bouncing along the washboard ruts. There was sparse mesquite brush as far as the eye could see, and in just about every other shady spot I could see a jackrabbit or two trying to escape the intense mid day sun. And it was hot, the high that day eventually reaching 103 degrees. After a thirty minute drive we pulled off the road onto a trail that led out to a barren flat of about thirty acres, spotted with a few mesquites and a light cover of low grass and barren earth. Prairie dog mounds and cow patties dotted the landscape, each with a prairie dog set back on his haunches staring at us as much smaller and faster ground squirrels darted about. Some of the dogs dropped down their holes and out of sight, while a few brave souls stayed above ground to watch us.

I jumped out of the truck and sat down shooting off of my knee, and squeezed two rapid shots dropping two dogs quickly. My rifle has a shrouded barrel and  is very quiet, I don’t think they could hear anything, and were confused as one after another a neighbor back flipped away to the big prairie dog town in the sky. The outstanding accuracy of the rifle coupled with an effective pellet enabled me to reach out with a couple shots paced off at over a 110 yards. I dropped many more prairie dogs and a few ground squirrels, most in the 60 to 80 yard range. Eventually the wind started kicking up, and I had to start making some significant adjustment for windage, a 16 grain pellet moving at around 900 fps can be moved several inches in a 30 mph crosswind. Having Cody call my shots for me was a big help, but the wind remained a factor for the rest of my trip.

The next day we decided to focus on jackrabbits and headed to another ranch where the landowner had way too many of these desert hares. The previous year they had been a real nuisance as they raided his winter wheat crop. I’ve been an outdoorsman all my life and have traveled far and wide, but outside of a couple areas in Australia have never seen so many rabbits in my life. It is not an exaggeration to say that on some areas of the ranch I could walk for hours in any direction and never loose sight of at least one set of the antennae like ears perked up and listening for trouble. As with the prairie dogs, the gun and pellet combo did the trick. I shot a pile of jacks at ranges between 25 and 120 yards. The pellets hit with a thud that was more audible than the gun, and whether lung shot or head shot would tend to anchor the rabbit. I have always liked multi-shot guns, but unless hunting in very cold climates where loading with numb fingers was a problem, was just as happy with a single shot. But simply based on the large number of targets and how quickly they presented, found the ten shot rotary magazine an asset.

A rather odd thing occurred when taking a shot at a rabbit around a hundred yards out. A strong gust of wind blew my shot a little off course and I cycled the gun getting ready to shoot again. But looking through my scope I was surprised to see a covey of quail surround the rabbit and feed, with a couple actually stepping on his back! I had to wait about five minutes for the quail to finish and get on their way before I could shoot.

Prairie dogs, ground squirrels, and jackrabbits are the perfect quarry for airgun hunters. They take precision shooting, are the right size, and can be found in quantity. A rifle such as the one I used on this hunt, that generates thirty or so fpe and minute of angle accuracy, will do the job and provide a lot of shooting opportunity.

Gun and Ammo Performance

I used my AirArms s510 on this trip, but any accurate gun in .22 or. 25 putting out in the 20+ fpe range would do the trick. Some of the other guns I’ve used since this trip when heading out west over the last couple years include the Daystate Wolverine .22 and the Huntsman Classic .22, the FX Verminator in .25, the Royale .25, the Airforce Condor, and the Marauder .25. With shots often stretching close to the century mark I like a gun with a bit more power that can handle heavy roundnose pellets which I find the best type of pellet for most hunting, and especially longer range. I have gravitated more towards .25 caliber in recent years, as it hits with authority and is better at anchoring quarry on the spot.

My trip out to Texas with Cody and Chris was a lot of fun, but in fact it was the wrong time of the year for serious predator hunting, which the guys had warned me of up front. As hard as we worked, hunting all night and systematically making more than a dozen sets over large areas on each outing the coyote and bobcats wouldn’t come in. Or I should say that we couldn’t see them through the thick vegetation if they did. But having my air rifle along for varmint provided all the field shooting I could ask for during down time, and really made the trip! Hunting small quarry with air, due to the need for precise shot placement at closer range, was a different and much more “hunting” oriented challenge than the typical long range varmint shooting with a small caliber centerfire. Regardless of whether you are backing up your firearm hunt with an airgun, or specifically out to hunt with air, there is a lot of fun to be had with this mode of shooting!

Have some new guns on the way from my friends at Airguns of Arizona, and planning a hunting trip out there soon. In the meantime I’m hitting the basement range almost every day for an hour or two, one of the things I love most about airguns, no matter how busy life gets I can shoot every day!

Categories: airgun ammo, binoculars, distress call, electronic calls, Ground squirrels, Jackrabbits, Long Range shooting, Optics, Pellets, Prairie dogs, Rabbits, Small Game Hunting | Leave a comment

Air Powered Handguns for Hunting

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I used the Brocock Enigma to take care of close range Pdawgs on a hunt out in Kansas

Back in the days when I did most of my hunting with firearms, and rifles at that, I started looking for some new challenges. I soon settled in on handgun hunting, buying myself a Thompson Contender with a number of barrels in a variety of calibers. That gun was used on everything from prairie dogs to mule deer and quite a few species in between. It fueled a multiyear love affair with this particular method of take, and for a few years my rifles hardly ever made it out of the gun safe.

A hand held airgun is a great tool for urban trappers that need to dispatch animals where firearms can't be used.

A hand held airgun is a great tool for urban trappers that need to dispatch animals where firearms can’t be used.

Then came the years living in Europe and Australia with a very limited shooting opportunity, which was in turn responsible for my introduction to and eventual obsession with airgun shooting. On moving back to the states I started using these guns for serious hunting, almost to the exclusion of my firearms and bow. Considering that history it’s not a surprise that the idea of handgun hunting with airguns started to bubble up. The only problem was that about the only air powered handguns I could find were lower powered CO2 models that were way under powered for my intended use. This lead to a period where I was building my own guns based on the Crosman 2240 platform, and getting these up to a power level where I could use them for rabbit and squirrels at closer ranges. I then converted these guns to a high pressure air source which opened up new possibilities.

It doesn't take a lot of power to kill small game, but you need precision in shot placement.

It doesn’t take a lot of power to kill small game, but you need precision in shot placement.

But the swing point for me was when a few manufacturers started offering PCP models, ranging from 12 fpe pistols such as the .177 caliber Brocock Grand Prix to the 30 fpe .22 Evanix Renegade, to the 130 fpe .308 Quackenbush. I was off! I used these guns to take rabbits, predators, exotics, and feral hogs. These days, you can find a handgun to fill just about any type of hunting where airguns are legal, though you do need to make adjustments in the tactics applied. In this week’s blog I’ll take a look at some of the guns currently available and how they can be used for hunting

An obvious starting point is to ask why you want to hunt with a handgun; the usual reasons are portability, the desire to increase the challenge and quality of the hunt, or simply because you have a preference for handguns over rifles. Once you’ve determined why, there are also limitations to take into consideration. Air powered hand guns can be very accurate, I saw my buddy Kip Perow, from Airguns of Arizona knocking over prairie dogs at 100 yards with his FX Ranchero, but they are more difficult to shoot accurately. You need to make sure that you have a bipod or tripod to shoot off of if you intend to take longer range shots, and if not reduce the distance at which you’ll shoot. The handguns have smaller air reservoirs, so as a rule they will provide far fewer shoots per fill when compared to a rifle. So if you’ll be hunting in a target rich environment it will be necessary to refill at more frequent intervals, and if the barrel is not shrouded, these guns can have a bit of a bark. You’ll also have to give some thought as to how the gun is to be carried in the gun in the field, will a holster be worn (and what type) or will you mount a sling?

I watched Kip bowl this Pdawg over at 100 years with his FX Ranchero!

I watched Kip bowl this Pdawg over at 100 years with his FX Ranchero!

OK, you’ve thought about these factors and want to take the plunge, and now want to pick a gun. This depends on the conditions you expect to encounter and what you want to hunt. For small game and pest control in suburban areas where you want to limit the power and keep the sound levels down, tthree guns I like are the Brocock Grand Prix, Benjamin Marauder-P, and FX Ranchero. The Grand Prix is a lower power 12 fps single shot model that is compact and very accurate, but is unshrouded so a little noisy (still far less than a .22 short). The second gun in this class that I quite like is the Marauder-P, which is larger and less refined than the former, but due to the incorporated shroud is quiet. It is also an eight round multi-shot, and can be easily converted into a carbine with the shoulder stock that comes standard with the package. It is also in the 12 fpe range and a great little squirrel/rabbit gun.

Lining up on a squirrel!

Lining up on a squirrel!

The next step up is the guns that generate power on par with rifles, such as the FX Ranchero and AirForce Talon-P. The Ranchero is an 18-20 fpe gun and one of the more impressive handguns I’ve used for longer rage shooting. It is a medium sized round 8 shot repeater, that in addition to the inherent accuracy has a great trigger and ergonomic design. The AirForce Talon-P is a very powerful (over 50 fpe) single shot, that unlike most powerful handguns also yields a pretty high shot count. But the cost of that high shot count is an unwieldy air tank off the rear of the breech. As a matter of fact, I tend to use this gun as a carbine rather than a handgun most of the time, finding the different deployment options a very useful feature.

And last on my list are the real hammers, guns that are either of custom or limited production manufacture. In my mind the best example being the guns from Dennis Quackenbush. These single shot handguns generate energy in the 100-175 fpe range and are chambered in .308, .357, and .457. I have taken predators and hogs with these guns, and they are a valid tool for the job. These guns are big, loud, and have a limited shot capacity, but the accuracy is good and they are fun to shoot with.

Sometimes carrying an air powered handgun is the most convenient tool for the job, when running an urban trapline or as a discreet tool for pest control in more built up areas. Then there’s the pure sporting reason that it ups the challenge and skills needed for hunting. You need to make sure the gun has the required power for the game you are shooting, that it has the requisite accuracy, and you’ve developed the necessary skill level to be an effective, efficient, and ethical hunter with it.

With this buddy bottle and the Talon-P, I'm good for a day of hunting. This .25 is capable of putting out over 50 fpe!

With this buddy bottle and the Talon-P, I’m good for a day of hunting. This .25 is capable of putting out over 50 fpe!

I’ve had several new guns come in and been doing a lot of shooting this month, but haven’t gotten a lot of hunting time in. Lining up prairie dog shoot and a pest bird in the next couple weeks, so should have some guns and maybe a story or two coming soon.

Categories: air pistols, handgun, Pest Control | Leave a comment

Weather Blocked! It’s down to the Basement!

The weather this summer has been undermining my attempts to shoot, torrential rainstorms replete with ground striking lightening, howling winds, everything is soaked …… and the frustrating thing is that I’ve got several guns from Daystate, Hatsan, Gamo, and FX to shoot. On top of the weather, my day job has had me traveling to Japan, Scotland, LA, NYC, and I’m sitting on a plane heading for Portland Oregon as I write this…….. But not to worry! When I get back I have about four weeks of vacation and comp time, and am planning trips to Arizona, Nevada, Kansas, and maybe Florida to do a few varmint hunts! If all goes well mgiht even get in a bunny shoot in the UK.

I have gotten out for some shooting, one of the local hunting/fishing stores lets me use their archery range after hours (only 25 yards however). Been shooting spingers from RWS, AirArms, Hatsan, Crosman, and Gamo on my 20 yard basement range as well. Also gotten out with my Wolverines and the Huntsman Classic, I can’t overstate how beautifully designed and executed these British guns are. My FX Boss has nade it out a couple times, but as with the Wolverine, I really need to get out to a (dry) place where I can open up the range.

But shooting the springers down in the basement has reminded me what a lot of fun this powerplant can be! I’m getting downstairs everyday for at least a while to shoot offhand, kneeling, standing on sticks, sitting…. all the positions I use in the field. I believe that when I can consistently do tight twenty yard groups standing with my springer, it will prepare me for just about any field situation.

Had another fun experience, my fourteen year old daughter is a very girly girl, lives to shop, wander the mall, and discuss fashion with her BFF’s ……. shooting with dad, not so much. One of her friends was having a sleep over and the girls were bored (who’d have guessed, it was raining), so they asked if I’d let them shoot for a little while. It turned into a two hour shooting session as I taught the one girl to shoot and rekindled my little princess’s interest. they punched paper and then moved to spinners and knocking down plastic dinosaurs. They went through several gun, spingers and pcps and had a lot of fun! Maybe next time I head for the range she’ll join me….

On the project side, I am revisiting my old love affair with the Crosman 2240. Several years back I did a number of builds on this platform, including higher power C02 guns, larger bore conversions, and PCP conversions. I actually wrote a small booklet on how to do the C02 rebuild; increase the valve capacity, open the transfer port, replace breech, cut down and recrown the muzzle, shape grips, improve trigger, etc. It was a lot of fun, I have a crate of parts, and due to the weather (did I mention it’s raining a lot???), have a lot of indoor time. I want to get a 12 fpe pest control gun for my next pigeon shoot in AZ ….. When you coming home Scott D?

So that’s it for me this week…… you’ll start to see more hunting content coming up again soon. If you take one thing away from this weeks blog, it’s that you should make use of the opportunity your airguns provide, and get into a daily practice routine to sharpen your skill for when the small game seasons start to open up!

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Air Rifle Stocks

Taking Stock!

Whenever I look at a new rifle the stock is one of the main features I hone in on. It doesn’t matter how powerful or the inherently accurate, if the stock is not right I’ll never wring the full potential from the gun. I’ll hold the rifle and look at it while getting the feel, place my face against the comb to get an idea of how the gun will hold when I have a scope mounted, I’ll grip the pistol grip to see if it fits comfortably and cradle it in my arms to see how it will carry. The basic elements of stock design relate to what material(s) the stock is fabricated from and how the individual components are formed. Almost all airgun stocks are made from wood or a synthetic polymer material, though some designs do incorporate portions of the action metal work or reservoir tank into the stock. The primary design objective is to provide enough flexibility that it can be shaped or modified to fit a range of shooters, which makes wood an obvious choice; it is relatively simple for a skilled craftsman or a machine to shape or reshape, it is very durable, the grain and patterns are often works of art unto themselves, it¹s warm and easy to grip, and the expense can range from minimal to very expensive depending on the shooters requirements. Very attractive raw material is available from many sources, and most would argue that wood and blue steel are a natural match for one another.

Composites made of fiberglass and other synthetic materials yield some advantages over traditional wood furniture. They offer far greater strength and structural stability than natural wood, and therefore can be more easily shaped with ergonomics dictating design. There are other advantages; synthetics are harder wearing and they do not absorb moisture. I used to say that on the downside the aesthetics are less appealing, but some guns such as the FX Monsoon are downright pretty, and the superb handeling of the Verminator made me drop this bias. Synthetics are difficult to modify and while these stocks are more rugged, if you do happen to damage on they can be difficult to repair.

Laminated stocks are made using several layers of laminated wood that are impregnated under pressure with chemically-cured resins. These stocks offer a compromise between the aesthetics of wood and the structural stability of the composites. And if different types or colors of laminates are used, very interesting and beautiful patterns can be obtained. But because of the resins used to bond the layers, these stocks tend to be very heavy and are therefore not my choice in a hunting rifle. I’ve got a laminated stock that Michael Chavka made for my Marauder, which is both a work of art and replaced the very blocky standard stock ….. but I don’t like carrying in the field because it is heavy….. plus I don’t want to scratch or ding it. Like I said, it is a work of art!

The shape of the stock is dictated by the type of gun, how it will be used, and the individual shooters preferences. There are many types to choose from; Sporters, thumbhole, bullpups, takedown, to name a few… however the primary requirement is that it fits the shooter. I like a stock that is light weight with a longish pull, a cheek piece that lifts my line of sight to allow consistent mount of the rifle with the selected optics, a fairly thin wrist and a rounded forearm. It does of course depend on the type of gun I am shooting; the stock of a spring-piston air rifle is limited in many ways by its function. When compared with a pre-charged pneumatic rifle stock, the stock on a spring piston rifle tends to be less well shaped and far less elegant as it must be engineered to manage the stress placed upon it as a part of the cocking process. But when all things are considered, the air rifle stock must be comfortable to mount if one hopes to achieve consistent accuracy, and it must be light enough to carry in the field. The forearm of an air rifle stock must be wide enough to accept the air chamber. Because of this functional requirement, the stocks of most airguns tend to be quite bulky. There are a couple guns now on the market which use the air reservoir as the forestock; such as the Daystate Wolverine Type B and the FX Royale, which are both aesthetically and ergonomically great examples of function and form in alignment!

The buttstock is the part of the stock which comes into direct contact with the shooters shoulder and the comb is the part of the buttstock that comes into contact with your face. The comb sits atop of the buttstock and has three primary configurations; raised, dropped or straight. The shape of the comb depends on what type of sighting system intended to be used on the rifle. If your rifle has open sights that are mounted on the front of the receiver where the barrel breaks, the comb will be dropped. This means that the top line of the comb falls away from the front to the rear. This allows the cheek to be placed against the comb and your eye will be in line with the open sights. If the rifle has a raised comb it was designed for use with a scope. A raised comb places the top edge of the comb moderately above the top of the receiver and places your line of sight more directly in line with the centre of the scope or sighting aperture. A cheekpiece helps improve shooter comfort. Generally speaking, the more generous the shape the more comfortable the rifle is to shoot. Cheekpieces on target and field target guns are sometimes completely detached from the buttstock and incorporate a built-in adjustment mechanism that allows the comb height to be adjusted to fit the individual shooter. However, on a hunting rifle I feel this is too much hardware adding additional complexity and weight to the stock.   The shape of a buttstock really depends on the degree of pitch or angle of the buttplate. Most air rifles have negative pitch which means that the buttplate angles forward at the bottom of the buttplate and rearward at the heel of the buttplate. As you increase the amount of negative pitch the rifle feels as more muzzle heavy. Decrease the amount of pitch and the rifle feels heavier in the buttstock. Pitch angle helps to balance the rifle and makes it easier to hold steady.

The length of pull or LOP is measured from the forward face of the trigger to the end of the butt plate or butt pad. It should be measured to the point halfway between the heel (top) and the toe (bottom) of the butt plate. LOP is an important measurement on the stock because the length of the buttstock will greatly affect how well you can hold your rifle and how well you will shoot. If the LOP is too short you will pull your shots to the right. If the LOP is too long the rifle will tend to ride upward and outward during recoil which will usually make you shoot low and to the left (the opposite applies if you are a left-hand shooter). For the air gun shooter, correct LOP can be determined by placing the buttstock along your forearm. Slip your trigger finger onto the trigger and the rest of your fingers around the pistol grip or wrist just like you would do if you were shouldering the rifle. Look down and see if the face of the butt plate or butt pad rests against your biceps. If it touches the surface of your biceps then the LOP is very close to being correct.   The amount of drop a stock has allows your head to fit the stock correctly. A stock needs some amount of angled drop along the top of the comb to allow the shooter to place his shooting eye directly in line with the scope. Since a scope will usually sit higher on top of the receiver than a set of open sights, the stock for scope sighted rifles should have less drop than a stock for a rifle equipped with open sights. The drop consists of two different measurements; drop at comb and at the heel. However you can get a good idea of the required drop by placing a straight edge on top of the receiver and making the measurements. This is the simple way to do it but you need to take into account how far the sights or scope will sit above this line so you can make the necessary changes in comb height to allow for correct head placement. Open sights typically require about a half inch drop at comb to be effective. Most scopes require about an inch and a half to two inches of drop to fit correctly. You can adjust the amount of drop with adjustable pads and slip on sleeves that permit you to change the comb height without making any permanent alterations to your stock.

One of the trends I see in stock design, along with the growing number of synthetic stocked guns, is the inclusion of adjustable furniture. I was shooting a couple of value priced guns over the weekend, the Hatsan BT65 and the Marauder Synthetic, and they both had adjustable stocks. There was a lot more latitude with the Hatsan which allowed the cheekpiece height, the length of pull, and the shoulder pad to each be fine-tuned for the shooters body habitus and preference.

Random Notes

I was in Japan on business last month which slowed my shooting down a bit, but this month I’ve got a 4-5 day block off and trying to decide where to hunt. Thinking about Arizona, Kansas, or S. Dakota for prairie dogs …… maybe Central Cali for some ground squirrels, we’ll see what cheap tickets I can find! We’re getting close to the opening of American Airgunner, I’ll post a link in case you don’t get Pursuit Channel or Sportsman Channel in a week or two.

Have fun shooting this summer, post a message and let’s see what success you’ve had on your warm weather varmint shoots!

 

Categories: adjustable buttstock, Long Range shooting, offhand shooting, Rifle stocks, Shooting technique | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Airgun Pigeon Control in South Africa

Returning to South Africa on one of his trips, I brought a mid powered small bore precharged pneumatic air rifles along to get some pigeon shooting in during breaks from hunting plains game. The action was fast and furious and the pigeons just kept on coming!

The pigons down here were very pretty, voracious eaters, and came in huge numbers. Great for airgunning

The pigons down here were very pretty, voracious eaters, and came in huge numbers. Great for airgunning

I was out on a friend’s stock (sheep) farm in South Africa recently, and had a chance to get in some airgun hunting. Down near the feedlots and stockyards they have a huge population of rock pigeons that fly in to forage before, during, and after the sheep have been fed.  Wave after wave of these wild pigeons fly in to rob the animal feeders, and take a substantial amount of grain. I’ve hunted this area several times in past years with various airguns in .177, .22, and .25 calibers, but this year I took one of the entry level rifles from the American manufacturer Crosman.

I made a cradle out of wire that a dead bird would sit in, which pulled birds in like crazy.

I made a cradle out of wire that a dead bird would sit in, which pulled birds in like crazy.

The Benjamin Marauder is a multi-shot precharged pneumatic (PCP) air rifle  few years back. A PCP air rifle is one that has an air reservoir incorporated, and is charged from an external power source such as a hand pump or scuba tank. Once the reservoir is filled 20 to 30 shots are available before it requires refilling. The Marauder is currently chambered in .177,.22, and .25 and comes loaded with features usually found in more expensive guns. A fully integrated barrel shroud effectively lowers the sound signature while providing morepower than a conventional spring piston airgun. The rifle is virtually recoilless and has a fully adjustable trigger, which along with the designs intrinsic accuracy make it pretty accurate

Once the pigeons started landing, they just kept coming in!

Once the pigeons started landing, they just kept coming in!

I liked this gun for pigeon shooting; first is that the shooting gets fast and furious with birds coming in from all directions, making a highly reliable 8-10 shot magazine (depending on caliber) and the ability to do a quick reload a desirable attribute. The second major advantage is that this gun has a very low sound signature resulting from the integrated barrel shroud. A quiet pop and the sound of the pellet hitting didn’t even slow incoming birds. As a matter of fact, I could often sit and drop ten birds in a row with head shots without alarming the rest of the flock. The accuracy and power were all that could be asked for in both calibers; the .177 caliber gun coupled with the 10.3 grain and the .22 caliber with the 14.7 grain Crosman Premier pellets produced excellent terminal performance.

The main reasons such large numbers of birds were being taken was that it served to reduce the local population as they eat a great deal of feed and foul what is left behind. The secondary reason is that these grain feed pigeons are a pest that can be eaten, and are good in stews, roasted, or made into an English style pigeon pie. When taking large numbers I kept some for our table and distributed the rest to the farm workers.

We ate pigeon hearts for appetizers and then pigeon pie for lunch! It wwas (surprisingly) very good!

We ate pigeon hearts for appetizers and then pigeon pie for lunch! It wwas (surprisingly) very good!

My method was to either take off with gun in hand picking off birds whenever I got in range, or alternatively I’d set up an ambush. We noted that at specific times during the day, pigeons flew in large numbers to certain feedlots, and I decided to set up a shooting blind to capitalize on their routine. We selected a spot and built a blind from hay bales which would hide us from view as the birds were picked off. The bales were stacked behind a wire fence; 2×4 beams placed across the top with additional bales stacked on to give support and hold the blind together. There was a shooting window facing the field which contained the animal feed bins. Some old grain bags were hung from the door to prevent incoming sun from backlighting us and giving our position away. There were a couple spaces left around the enclosure that created small viewing/shooting portals and allowed a 360 degree view of surrounding areas.

The important first step is to shoot 3-4 birds and position them around the yard as decoys. This would invariably bring in more birds enlarging our decoy population. One trick I employed was to take a 14” length of wire and bend it into a cradle which would hold the dead decoys in lifelike positions. These were stuck into the ground at strategic positions and worked brilliantly. As soon as the decoys were out and I was in the blind, the birds started flying in, sometimes a small group of five or six birds some times as many as thirty would land. I would shoot a magazine then reload with a fresh one and continue. Being selective and taking my time, I could easily average fifty or sixty birds an hour!  On the first hunt I shot seventy birds in about an hour using body shots front and broadside, though I also lost a couple birds. After that, I only used head shots and never lost another one. As a matter of fact, on one shot I creased the top of one bird’s head dropping him on the spot, with the pellet then striking the bird right behind in the head giving me a double. Talk about killing two birds with one stone!

In a few days I took literally hundreds of birds in my spare time from big game hunting. And all of them were eaten.

In a few days I took literally hundreds of birds in my spare time from big game hunting. And all of them were eaten.

On another morning I was hiking a rock covered hillside above the farm looking for a mongoose I’d spotted the previous evening, when I stumbled into a stand of trees where the pigeons had been roosting and birds exploded every which way. I went back later that day and tucked myself in under a thorn bush, setting my rifle on a pair of shooting sticks while I waited. As the pigeons flew in, they would land on the tall spikes of the aloes as a pre-staging area before going to roost. I took a couple dozen birds in about a half hour, shooting anywhere from 50 to 80 yards.

At the conclusion of one afternoons hunt I brought a bag containing sixty pounds of pigeons to the farm help for processing, keeping some of the meat for ourselves and distributing the rest. The next evening we returned to the farmhouse from a big game hunt to find an appetizer of pigeon hearts and onions, along with a main course of pigeon pie awaiting us. This was a first for me, and it was very tasty. On other pigeon shoots I’d had the birds roasted and stewed, but think the pigeon pie would have to be my favorite. I think it worth mentioning again that these birds were South African Rock Pigeons not Rock Doves, Rock Doves being another name for the common feral pigeons found all over the world. They tasted like a good game bird that had been foraging wild and eating grain…… I’ve never been tempted to try feral pigeons and can’t comment on whether they are palatable or not.

While the primary goal of our pigeon shoots was to reduce the numbers of birds around the working areas of the farm, being able to convert the kill into an excellent source of protein was a big plus in my view. In terms of the shooting, the Marauder was one of the fastest action guns I’ve shot, and with three or four preloaded magazines in my pocket I was able to shoot without interruption when the birds were winging in.

I don’t believe I’ve ever shot in a more target rich environment; I could have taken several hundred pigeons if that was my primary focus. Even as a couple hour break from big game hunting now and then, I was racking them up in huge numbers. I left behind two Marauders for the farm owner to use in his continuing pigeon control efforts. They will never stop these birds from winging in, but by keeping up the pressure they can keep them out of certain areas. That’s OK with me, because on my yearly trips out this is an airgunning activity I quite look forward to.

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Pellet Adjacent Trivia!

I tend to talk about new guns, accessories, scopes, binoculars, shoot sticks, pellets, and hunting techniques. But this week I’m going to take a look at the steps some shooters take with respect to preparing and loading their pellets in order to achieve the best results; sizing, lubing, and seating the pellets in their guns. To be honest, while I’ve tried all these methods in the past, the manufacturing quality and tight tolerances of todays pellets generally negate the need …. at least for my style of shooting. If you’re a competitive shooter you may have a different opinion.

Pellet To Barrel Fit
Pellets come in many sizes, even for a specific caliber, and at in the extreme case a pellet can have such a loose fit that it falls through the barrel. If the pellets are too small it will bounce around in the barrel exiting the muzzle at different angles on every shot, which wrecks havoc on accuracy. Conversely, if the pellet is too large for the barrel it requires that it be forced into place when loading. When this occurs, the head of the pellet is deformed which negatively impacts its aerodynamic characteristics. This is the reason why premium pellet manufacturers go to great lengths to insure narrow production tolerances and consistent dimensions. Many serious target shooters actually go so far as to use a tool to size their pellets, though I must admit that I’ve never done this, but maybe if I was a competitive shooter. Some guns have a slightly over sized breech which facilitate quicker and easier loading, though may allow some blow-by which reduces the efficiency and velocity generated, but usually to a relatively small degree. Most of today’s guns have a choked barrel, which is a slight constriction at the muzzle of the barrel. This forces the skirt of the pellet to engage the rifling very closely as it is propelled out the barrel improving accuracy. Most skirted pellets will work in either choked or unchoked barrels as the malleable skirt will expand or compress to accommodate either configuration. However, solid bullet style projectiles may have to be for either a choked or unchoked barrel specifically.

Pellet Lube
Some shooters use a lubricant to improve performance and keep their guns barrels clean and rust free. There is some debate as to whether there is an advantage to lubricating pellets before shooting them, and my experienced has been mixed. In some of my guns I have noted a slightly increased velocity and tighter groups, in some guns no change, and in some a degradation of accuracy. I would suggest that if you do decided to lube your pellets, that the gun be tested for accuracy and over the chronograph for velocity measurement to see which way it takes the performance of your gun(s).

There are a number of commercial lubricants available, such as FP10, Napier Pellet Lube, and Wiscombe Airgun Honey. There are also a number of readily available alternatives such as Slick 50, transmission fluid, and some airgunners have even used furniture wax and reported good results, though I have shied away from this because of the high water content. I have been using a concoction that a friend of mine whips up, finding that it improves shot to shot consistency and giving a slight bump in velocity. The fluid is primarily mineral oil with a small amount of ingredients which reduce friction. This fluid will keep the rust out of your barrels, but don’t use too much or let it sit too long as it can become pretty gunky. An advantage of many of the commercial offerings is that they have ingredients that are used specifically to inhibit rust and break down any build up of gunge in the barrel Whether you use a commercial or home brewed lube, make sure it doesn’t include any type of oil that can combust and cause the gun to diesel. Regardless of what lubricant is used, the best way of transferring it to the pellets is to spay it lightly on a rag, then fold the rag over and rub the pellets between your hands. You only want a light coating, there is no need to saturate the pellets as this is in fact counterproductive. After the pellets have been lubricated, pour them back into the tin until your ready to shoot.

Pellet Sizing
Twenty or thirty years ago the conventional wisdom was that you had to size your pellets to wring the best accuracy out of your guns. This was because the manufacturing process of the time did not produce the same uniform pellet as is achieved today. There are some brands of pellets that still have consistency problems and I think these can be improved by sizing. Using a pellet sizer provides a bit more uniformity, and when the size is matched to your airgun, they can reduce your groups a bit. However I don’t believe that this improvement is important in the context of a hunting gun and think simply buying better pellets makes sense.

Almost all high-quality adult airguns these days have choked muzzles, which squeezes the pellet down at the muzzle by one-half of a thousandth of an inch or so. This effectively sizes all the pellets which make the preliminary sizing operation redundant.

Pellet Seater
A pellet seater is simply a plastic or metal instrument that has a ball on the end of a spike a few inches in length. This is used after the pellet has been pressed in to the breach by hand. The ball is used to push the pellets skirt into the rifling. In most cases, the use of this device to push the pellet deeper into the rifling results in a better air-seal between the pellets skirt improving the consistency and accuracy yielded by their guns. This can also result in a slight bump in the power output of the gun, which to North American shooters is of little relevance, but to shooters in other countries can be the difference between the legal or illegal power output.

The seater I use is a little plastic gizmo that I picked up attached as a free give-away to an airgun magazine I bought while on a business trip to the UK, however it is easy to make one or use something like a plastic swizzle stick. Obviously, a seater only works with a single shot gun, and the loading port design of even some single shots will preclude the use of the seater. The net improvement may be outweighed by the extra step in loading when in the field hunting. It is worth a try in your favorite hunting gun so you can make an informed decision as to if you want to use one or not. I don’t use the seater when hunting, however I will use it in some guns when bench testing to wring the best accuracy possible.

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Bottle Fed Air Rifles

When buying any new air rifle there are several relevant factors to consider; power, accuracy, loudness (or quietness depending on perspective), trigger characteristics, the guns physical dimensions and how it fits the shooter, etc. Another important item specifically related to precharged pneumatic airguns is online air storage capacity, which dictates shot count and therefore how many shots are available each time the guns air storage reservoir is filled.

A tale of two Wolverines; out front is the first iteration .303, and the one behind is the new Wolverine Type B. I hear rumors that this version will eventually come in .303, which makes perfect sense for a bottle forward gun.

A tale of two Wolverines; out front is the first iteration .303, and the one behind is the new Wolverine Type B. I hear rumors that this version will eventually come in .303, which makes perfect sense for a bottle forward gun.

For any given gun, the shot count is a balance between how much air the gun can store and how much it uses on each shot. I have two Webley Raiders in my collection, which are identical except for the fact that one is set up for the UK market (12 foot pound of energy (FPE) limit), and the other has been set for the maximum power I can get out of this rifle design (40 fpe). The 12 fpe gun gets 60 shots per fill and the 40 fpe gun gets 22 shots. In other words I choose to give up 38 shots per fill in order to get an additional 28 fpe. The only way to get a higher shot count while keeping the same performance (peak velocity/energy) would be to increase the volume of available air.

When hunting small game and varmint I often want to use a gun that generates maximum power (to stretch out the shooting range), and don’t always want to carry an extra air tank in my pack. The way to accomplish this is deceptively simple, store more air in the gun! But increasing the dimensions of the air reservoir can be tricky; it needs to be done so that the balance and shooting characteristics of the rifle are not compromised.

When shooting in target rich environments, such as prairie dogs, the high shot count offered by the bottle forward guns is a real asset. Note the forward support of the air bottle on the Daystate Air Ranger.

When shooting in target rich environments, such as prairie dogs, the high shot count offered by the bottle forward guns is a real asset. Note the forward support of the air bottle on the Daystate Air Ranger.

Pigeons around a dairy farm was another target rich environment that was improved by  the high shot count of this Hugget shrouded Air Wolf .25, a great gun!

Pigeons around a dairy farm was another target rich environment that was improved by the high shot count of this Hugget shrouded Air Wolf .25, a great gun!

There are essentially three ways to substantially increase the onboard air storage; you can attach a large capacity air bottle to the forestock, incorporate a large capacity air bottle into the buttstock design, or do both. There are several guns on the market that use the forward mounted air bottle, the BSA Superten, the FX Boss, and the Daystate Wolverine Type B (whew, that’s a mouth full) being good examples of the breed. Less common are guns that use the air bottle as the structural basis for the buttstock, exemplified by the AirForce line of guns (the Talon and Condor) and the FX Verminator. These guns provide a very high shot count even when the guns are dialed up to provide the maximum possible power. The third configuration is a combination of the two, with a large volume air bottle forward and back.

I’ve used the forward bottle guns from BSA, Theoben/Rapid, Daystate, and more recently FX and Daystate. I think this is a good design when you want to tune a gun to deliver maximum power with big heavy pellets. All of these rifles will let you drive heavy projectiles at high velocities while maintaining a fairly high shot count, the actual number depending on the bottle volume (typically between 400 – 500 cc) and the power level set up for the gun. In some of the earlier models (like the BSA Superten) I didn’t really like the feel of the bottle as the stock didn’t cover it, though I still found it possible to shoot accurately. But the newer guns, especially the Daystates and FX guns, tend to have more ergonomically designed stocks that either seamlessly dovetail into the bottle, or actually forms a shell that covers it.

The Verminator is one of my favorite guns from FX, which goes in the opposite direction with respect to the air bottle which comprises the buttstock of this little carbine.

The Verminator is one of my favorite guns from FX, which goes in the opposite direction with respect to the air bottle which comprises the buttstock of this little carbine.

The Airforce models (Talon and Condor) and FX Verminator have the air bottle forming the buttstock, and this configuration lends itself very well to the high tech look and feel of their guns. The bottles hold a large volume of compressed air, and at full power can give up to 70 shots per fill. Dial the adjustable power down and you can get up to a couple hundred shots per fill! I find that with these bottle buttstock guns it is necessary to pay close attention to the scope mount used, if they are too high I find it difficult to achieve a consistent sight alignment. However, with a medium profile mount I do very well with both the Talon and the Condor. Airforce also sells spare tanks for back up, and even have versions that are purpose designed for different shooting situations (low power/low airflow versions for instance).

The method of filling these guns vary from manufacturer to manufacturer; in some models there is a filling port built into the gun so they can be refilled without demounting the bottle from the rifle. In others the bottle is removed and attached to the filling tank with a connector, filled, and then the full bottle is remounted. And in some there is the option to use either method, which is my preference. I like the option to carry a full tank that can be swapped for an empty in the field, but also like the option to quickly refill the gun without going through the extra steps of removing the bottle first. Regardless, the primary advantage of all of these guns is the increased shot count even when the gun is set for the highest possible power.

The combination of accuracy, power, and enough shots for a few days of rabbit hunting is a pretty good combination. I've taken this FX Royale out on Multiday hunts without needing a refill. That's saying something in a powerful hunting gun!

The combination of accuracy, power, and enough shots for a few days of rabbit hunting is a pretty good combination. I’ve taken this FX Royale out on Multiday hunts without needing a refill. That’s saying something in a powerful hunting gun!

I like the bottle fed rifles when hunting in target rich areas. On a recent prairie dog shoot out west, where I got a couple hundred shots a day, the FX Royale 500 let me stay in the field for long periods. This was a great step saver, in that we were spot and stalk hunting and managed to move a couple of miles away from the truck on each outing. On more than one occasion I was still knocking prairie dogs over as we hiked back to the vehicles, while my buddies had long since run their guns dry. Between the high volume of the onboard bottle and the ability to carry a compact lightweight extra bottle, you don’t really need to stop shooting with these guns. That’s something to think about if you plan to do a lot of shooting!

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