Squirrel Season: Finding a Place To Hunt

In this post I’ll explain how I go about finding new spots to hunt in unfamiliar territory. The internet has opened up a whole new set of tools for hunters, that accelerate the search for new hunting grounds!!

First step is to locate a map or list of areas, in this case its the WMA's, and Minnesota has a lot of them!

First step is to locate a map or list of areas, in this case its the WMA’s, and Minnesota has a lot of them.

 

Next step is to get directions and find the GPS coordinates.

Next step is to get directions and find the GPS coordinates.

As many of you know, after several years living in the Indianapolis area we moved up to Minneapolis about two years ago. But I was completely booked on out-of-state hunts last year, so this is really my first year of serious hunting in Minnesota. I have a couple of places that have been offered to me to hunt deer and turkey this season on private land, but I’m on my own finding places to squirrel hunt. In the ten or so seasons I’d passed in Indiana, I had a personal directory full of private and public land locations with great squirrel populations that had been accumulated over several years.

But now I had to start over, and the steps I’ve taken have already started to pay off for me. I thought that my approach might be of interest to readers that are going through the same trials and tribulations. One of the great things about squirrel hunting, is that the habitat they call home is just about everywhere. I live about 20 miles out of the city, and every day as I drive to work I see squirrels in the parks, the wooded lots between housing developments, and in the technology park where my office is situated. It seems like I can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a squirrel, but where to hunt them?

Next step is to zoom in and get an idea of the lay of the land before going onsite to for a prehunt scout.

Next step is to zoom in and get an idea of the lay of the land before going onsite to for a prehunt scout.

My approach focuses on three activities; a) talking to people at work, church, and that I know socially to see if they have contacts with farms or other properties I might be able to hunt, b) cold call farmers to see if they’ll let me do some low impact squirrel hunting, and c) do online research using google search engine and google earth to search out public hunting opportunities.

This year I’ve been lucky, a couple of the farmers I caught on their property during downtime (best not to bother them while they’re working) where they agreed to let me hunt squirrel with an airgun… no deer, no turkey, just squirrel and in both cases I believe it was the fact that I wasn’t using a firearm that sealed the deal. A guy at church has some friends with large properties, but ironically they welcome me to hunt deer, but really don’t me wandering over the places after squirrel until after the season ends. But the one that has paid off big for me has been my online research!

I started off searching for Minnesota Wildlife Management Areas (WMA), state forest, walk-ins, and other public hunting opportunities. Then I do a search to get information (on a WMA for instance) to find out what hunting opportunities are allowed. Once I find the areas I locate them on google map, and plan a route from my house to the site, noting the latitude and longitude to enter into my GPS. Next I start zooming in looking for stands of trees, hilly areas, woods bordering fields, etc to get some idea of where I might go.

I try to get out to a parcel of land I intend to hunt without a gun in non-peak hunting times, usually midday, and scout the area looking for mast producing trees and even better fresh cuttings. I print a highly magnified map before I go, and mark the places where I find food sources, likely den trees, and cuttings. Then on hunt day I get out before daybreak for my morning hunts or a couple hours before sunset for my afternoon hunts, slow stalking to my marked spots and sitting in wait when I reach them.

On my scouting trip I found areas with mast, den trees, and areas where there was obvious squirrel activities.

On my scouting trip I found areas with mast, den trees, and areas where there was obvious squirrel activities.

All the heavy folliage makes the early fall a challanging hunt.

All the heavy folliage makes the early fall a challanging hunt.

I went to one spot I’d found that’s about 20 miles from home, and ran over after church to do a quick scouting trip. Then I went home and gathered my girls for sushi and shopping, and then home to relax for a couple hours. At about 3:30 I drove back out, this time with my gun and gear and started working my way to a stand of hardwoods. This early in the fall the leaves are still in the trees, and it can be hard to get a shot even when you find the prey. I heard leaves being thrashed and some cuttings raining down, but never got an open shot so I moved on. Next stop was on a deep ravine with a small creek at the bottom, lots of vines, fallen branches, and shadows when I spotted a bushy tail popping over a log. Again he ran in and out of sight never giving me a shot, until about five yards later he appeared on my side of the bank to my extreme right. I moved excruciatingly slowly bringing my gun up, but just as I started to look through the scope he busted me and was off in a flash. So I moved on to a potential den tree I found on my earlier scouting trip, and set up about 40 yards away. Ten minutes came and went, it was getting late in the day and the sun was starting to drop, when out of the corner of my eye I spotted a gray up gnawing on a nut. This time I had a shot and my pellet hit dead on, with the big male gray dropping DOA.

 

I finally sat down and waited in ambush for Mr. Bushytail to come back, and was rewarded with a shot

I finally sat down and waited in ambush for Mr. Bushytail to come back, and was rewarded with a shot

 

One for the bag. With these short hunts and low (self induced) limits, it takes a while to fill the freezer but keeps me in the field throughout the year!

One for the bag. With these short hunts and low (self induced) limits, it takes a while to fill the freezer but keeps me in the field throughout the year!

These places I hunt are not high density populations that you’d find around a pecan or walnut orchard, and I usually have to work for each squirrel, which is what I really enjoy. These hunts are more like mini deer hunts rather than the type of rapid fire target rich prairie dog or ground squirrel shoots. On most of the smaller properties I give myself a three squirrel limit per trip and my plan is that when I take ten squirrels that spot will close for year. I’ll mark it in my journal, and wait till next year to visit again.

Categories: offhand shooting, Pellets, Power, Regulations, Small Game Hunting, Squirrels, where to hunt | Tags: | Leave a comment

Hunting Season is On Us!!

Well, I’m starting to ease in to the hunting season with the squirrel opening in Minnesota this week. Had a lot going on, but managed to slip out for a few hours on Saturday morning and put a couple of bushytails in the game bag. I was using a little 12 fpe carbine that I’ve been having a blast with; it started life as the Benjamin Marauder Pistol (also called the P-Rod) but has turned into a very cool little carbine. I’ll tell you a bit about it then get back to the hunt….

I finally sat down and waited in ambush for Mr. Bushytail to come back, and was rewarded with a shot

I finally sat down and waited in ambush for Mr. Bushytail to come back, and was rewarded with a shot

The P-Rod comes with a skeletonized stock for a carbine conversion, which is functional but to be honest I really never was enthralled with it. It was a great standard accessory and did allow the gun to be used as a carbine, but it was not all that ergonomic and it definitely didn’t appeal to my sense of aesthetics. I used the P-Rod quite a bit when it first hit the market, both as a pistol and a carbine, eventually losing interest in it. But then about two weeks ago I was at an airgun show in Texas where I met Dave from R.Arms Innovations, which is his startup company that makes adaptors and AR type stock for Crosman guns now, but he will be expanding his offering to include other guns in future. Using his adaptor and the stock, I converted my P-Rod into a featherweight 12 fpe hunting carbine that is ergonomic and a blast to shoot. It has rekindled my enthusiasm for the P-Rod, if you own one I’d look into this stock ….. if you don’t its worth buying one just to do the conversion!

Hiking back with my first squirrel of the season. Since moving to the midwest this has become on of my favorite hunts and I look forward to it all during the summer months.

Hiking back with my first squirrel of the season. Since moving to the midwest this has become on of my favorite hunts and I look forward to it all during the summer months.

Anyways, with two hours free I hit the woods that border a little farm that is being cleared for a housing development. It’s about ten minutes from my house, and has a couple 5 acre stand of trees that have not yet been razed. There is still a lot of foliage, the leaves haven’t started to fall yet, which always makes for a challenging hunt. When I hit the tree line, I stopped and pulled a lightweight cam shirt over my t-shirt, put on a face mask and camo gloves, and slowly started stalking. Ten minutes in, I saw a flash of a tail as a squirrel moved through the ground covering behind a log. I leaned against a tree and waited for a shot, and though I got glimpses of him and he seemed unaware of me, he never stopped moving in the open. Then he vanished, so I decided to sit and see if he’d return, noticing a lot of cuttings in the area. After about 15 minutes, I caught motion out of the corner of my eye, he was back and this time had stopped at the base of a tree to my right side. Moving at glacial speed, I rotated around to line up a shot, and just as I got him in my scope he noticed me and zipped up the tree barking. At about 25 yards from me and 20 feet up the tree he poked his head around to bark at me only to do a backflip as my pellet smacked him in the head. I walked over and collected my quarry, slipped a carrying strap over his head and moved on. In the next hour I bagged another squirrel, this time a fox squirrel, in much the same way.

I love the compact guns, and for an up close squirrel getter really liked the P-Rod with the R.Arms stock.

I love the compact guns, and for an up close squirrel getter really liked the P-Rod with the R.Arms stock.

Because I was using an airgun, I was able to hunt an area that even a rimfire wouldn’t be tolerated, that was less than 10 minutes from home. Because of this I was able to get a short opening day hunt in, that would not otherwise be possible. I also did more stalking to shoot those squirrels than I did on most of my deer hunts last year ….. so it’s great practice for the pre-deer season.

I’m still relatively new to this area, and when my job moved me away from Indiana where I’d lived the last decade, the whole hunting infrastructure I’d built vanished; farms where I’d gotten permission, public land that I’d scouted and built up a familiarity with, friends I hunted with all evaporated. So I’ve been starting over again, and what I’ve been doing might help those of you that are struggling to fing hunting land. I am luck, in that because of my writing and the TV show, I do have several traveling hunts every season. But part of my love for airgun hunting stems from being able to get out for those short soul soothing hunts to break up my hectic professional and family life …. My “me” time. To do this I need places close to home, I started by visiting several local farms and trying to catch the land oners at a time when they didn’t look busy to ask if I could hunt coyote (that’s always a good foot in the door) squirrels, rabbits and crows on their land. I’ve asked about a dozen and gotten an unqualified yes on 2, and 2 more with restrictions. Next I started asking everyone at work and church if they had any contacts with a coyote or varmint problem, to see if I might be able to help out ….. picked up a couple more that way. Then I went online and looked for state land, wild life management areas, state forest, etc. Then I located names, found list and maps, went on google earth to narrow down terrains, and at the end have probably 20 places to hunt less than 45 minutes from home. It’s going to take me a couple of years to suss out the most productive sites, but that’s part of the fun!

As to those traveling hunt this year; got deer hunts in Virginia, Missouri, and Alabama lined up. A bison hunt in S. Dakota (as well as several coyote hunts around some wing shooting), small game in California, hopefully I’ll get the draw for javalina in AZ again (also trying for mulie and cous), hog hunts in Georgia and Texas, plus a couple predator hunts in Texas. I’m not big into exotics, but I do want a black buck and a Aoudad at some point, and might try to wrangle one of these while in the lone star state. And around these I’ll pack in several small game hunts around home an all over the country. I’ll also be going back to Africa next summer, and have the EBR, SHOT show , and a couple FT and BR events coming so there will be a lot of airgunning!

I do appreciate your visiting this blog, give me your comments, questions and tell me about your hunts …. Do your homework, practice with your gun, and get ready for one of the best times of the year!

Categories: adjustable buttstock, air pistols, handgun, Hunting Accessories, offhand shooting, Power, Rifle stocks, Small Game Hunting, Squirrels, stocks, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Growth of Airgun Hunting

I was working on an article over the weekend, and was thinking back over my perspective of the growth of airgun hunting in North America. In the 15 years I’ve been back in the States (after almost 20 years abroad), I have seen change. When I came home I thought I was about the only one hunting with airguns, until surfing the web showed that there was a hardcore group of airgunners hunting their airguns. Based on many years in Europe my worldview on airgun hunting had been formed around the British sensibilities at that time, with respect to my opinions on power, range, shot placement, etc.

With higher power gun we're using larger caliber to reach out a lot further. When hunting prairie dogs I'll often take the 100 yard shot.

With higher power gun we’re using larger caliber to reach out a lot further. When hunting prairie dogs I’ll often take the 100 yard shot.

I came back thinking only head shots should be taken for a clean and effective kill, that body shots were not consistently effective enough to guarantee a clean kill every time. I thought 35-40 yard shots were as far as anybody should (or needed) to reach out on live quarry, I thought 12 fpe was probably adequate for most hunting applications …. I was in agreement with all the conventional wisdom that still holds true for many of our cousins across the pond and think they hold true to this day.

But as airgunning in the USA started to evolve it also started to diverge in a direction that was sometimes in direct opposition to the core beliefs of the guys that arguably invented the sport. Why are these changes happening?  I think there are a few important reasons; the first is the advent of precharged pneumatic gun designs, the second is that we don’t have restrictions on the power output of our airguns, and finally we have a much broader range of quarry species and hunting environments than most airgun hunters in other parts of the world.

The first two points are related, the development of PCP airguns that were able to generate substantially higher power outputs than spring piston airguns and work efficiently with larger caliber projectiles. The second part of this is that we have no legal restrictions that place constraints on our ability to capitalize on the potential of the PCP design. This has a direct correlation to our ability to reach out to greater ranges than thought appropriate in the past, to have more latitude in shot placement, and to take larger game.

We also have quite a few species that are larger, tougher, and more aggressive than those hunted in the UK. A couple weeks back one of my buddies was calling coons and had one run right up his leg and chomp down!

We also have quite a few species that are larger, tougher, and more aggressive than those hunted in the UK. A couple weeks back one of my buddies was calling coons and had one run right up his leg and chomp down!

If I was hunting in the UK, for the species they pursue, in the agricultural environments they frequently hunt, and was limited to a 12 fpe gun; I’d typically stick with headshots, I’d stay inside of 40 yards, I would probably stick with .22 as my go to caliber. There is another element that the British hunters have to deal with, which is a very emotional and uneducated general public when it comes to understanding nature or management of a natural ecosystem. The UK based hunters are in a position of having to placate a generally anti-hunting population that can’t be reasoned with, and yet they must try. They have to convince that general public that the animal felt no pain and died in an instant, they have to vilify the animal as a vermin that threatens health and the ability of the British farmer to produce crops, and heaven forbid they come out and say they enjoy hunting for the pure sport of it. There’s a lesson to be learned, but that leson is not the focusof this post. I mention it to highlight some of the differences.

So without these constraints and with the quarry species we have, along with the vast array of hunting environments, we’ve started to reach out further ……. Sometimes a lot further. In the woods after squirrels I like to stalk in close, when hunting cottontails in agricultural areas I also prefer to move inside that 40 yard mark. But if I’m using a 25 fpe .22 or .25 I don’t have any problem taking body shots. When I’m out in the wide open grasslands after prairie dogs, ground squirrels, or woodchucks, I want to be able to reach out 100 yards and change. With higher power guns and heavier large caliber pellets, these are completely ethical shots to take.

And moving up to mid bores and largebore guns putting out 100 – 600 fpe guns, allows larger quarry species to be taken, plus there is  a growing list of states allowing appropriate airguns for predators and  big game. For our European counterparts the limited games species, associated costs, gun restrictions, lack of access, all converge to preclude the growth of this side of the sport.

So for me, Britain is the birthplace of serious airgun hunting and has a special place in the history of the development of the sport. There are large numbers of dedicated enthusiasts, there is a great infrastructure to support the airgun culture, and it’s where some of the most talented and knowledgeable airgun shooters and hunters come from. It’s also where many of the finest guns are designed and manufactured. However, it’s for all the reasons listed above that I think the future of airgun hunting is centered right here in the USA!

Categories: Big Bore Airguns, Big Game, bird hunting, crow hunting, Deer hunting, Ground squirrels, Hunting Accessories, Jackrabbits, Long Range shooting, offhand shooting, pest birds, Pest Control, Prairie dogs, Predator hunting, Rabbits, Regulations, Small Game Hunting, Spring Piston Airguns | 6 Comments

Housekeeping and Getting Ready for a New Season!

I’ve had a lot of behind the scenes airgunning stuff in the works since getting back from S. Dakota. I’ve been straitening up my trophy/gun room, trying to find some wall space for my bushbuck mount that should be coming over soon. Also have converted a walkin closet to a gun closet and working out a storage system for guns, optics, packs, e-callers and decoys, and a gajillion other bits of gear, Dropping everything into plastic bins got it out of the way, but I can never find anything when I need it! Right now I’ve got about forty rifles in and out of cases shoved up against the wall, so even though it’s not hand at least I can get into the room …….. barely possible before my clean up.

This part of the room doesn't look too cluttered.

This part of the room doesn’t look too cluttered.

It get a bit messier when you look towards the other end....

It get a bit messier when you look towards the other end….

But it gets ugly when you look into my starage closet. What you can appreciate is that the gun cases to the left are 3-4 deep.

But it gets ugly when you look into my starage closet. What you can appreciate is that the gun cases to the left are 3-4 deep. To use my wife’s south African expressions, it looks like “a dogs breakfast”.

This room is where I write, where I take care of business, and in general my retreat so it’s important to me that it has a comfortable feel (a place I want to hang out) as well as being functional. I’ve got my fly tying station tucked into a corner, a library of my favorite Capstick books,  souvenirs I’ve picked up in my travels, and a lot of the artwork was done by my wife’s late aunt, who was a well know painter that used a lot of African imagery.  The gun case is a place of honor where I keep my favorite guns, but I have a personal guideline a gun has to be in my collection for at least a year before it makes it to display….

The real work has been down in my basement, where I’ve been building up a studio to video my you tube stuff and get photos of the guns I’m working up. Going on line I’ve been get ideas for build light stands and diffusers, and infinity white backdrop for that “apple look”. Started playing with that and getting some good results, but it’s figuring out how to use it and not overuse it that will take some thought.

I'm building backdrop panels that can be positioned to segment areas off for a workbench, testing area, and intro/outros for hunting videos.

I’m building backdrop panels that can be positioned to segment areas off for a workbench, testing area, and intro/outros for hunting videos.

I built an infinity white backdrop for doing the "Apple look", will add a green so I can do special effects for presentations as well.

I built an infinity white backdrop for doing the “Apple look”, will add a green so I can do special effects for presentations as well.

I also built a stand for my Pro Chronograph, and purchased the Competition Electronics indoor lighting system that will let me use it in the basement this winter when it’s too cold to venture out for target practice and range work. I only have 22 yards indoors, but it will let me do some basic testing and when used with Chairgun, get my guns zeroed for hunting distances.

I've tried a lot of different lighting solutions, but this looks like a great option that will let me use my Pro Chrony.

I’ve tried a lot of different lighting solutions, but this looks like a great option that will let me use my Pro Chrony.

I made this stand out of PVC to provide a stable but easily transported stand for my chony. I'll have the lights for shooting inside, and the diffusor for outside.

I made this stand out of PVC to provide a stable but easily transported stand for my chony. I’ll have the lights for shooting inside, and the diffusor for outside.

I’m flying down to Dallas/Fort Worth next Friday to be at my friend and colleague from American Airgunner Tom Gaylord’s airgun event, and will pair up with my long time hunting buddy Eric Henderson to shoot and talk about big bores. I’ve got a couple free days afterwards to try to get a hunt together, and though it’s a bit early want to go after some predators.

By the way; if you haven’t done so go over to the AOA home page and sign up for the EBR in November, this has become the airgunning event with lots of great people, great guns, great competition, and loads of fun! This year for the first time, I am really preparing for it and am bringing my own guns to shoot! No matter what class you shoot in or which events you focus on, there are some good shooters to match up with.

And lastly, I’m looking at schedules, and hunting options for the season. I need to get my applications in for tags in Arizona, I’ve got a bison hunt lined up, trying to figure where to go after deer (would like to hit MO, VA, and AL this year). Thinking about going after the squirrel grand slam again this winter; Fox and gray squirrel in Indiana, up to UP Michigan for a black phase, and AZ for Aberts. Going to do a couple hog hunts, looking at Texas, Georgia, and or Florida. There will be several short hunts for small game; I want a snow shoe hare, and lots and lots of squirrel hunting (one of my favorite), and quail in CA and AZ. My buddy Scott will be back in AZ so there will be some Eurasian doves going down. And of course; predator hunt in Texas! Luckily I have 4-5 weeks of vacation at my day job saved up!

I hope all of you have enjoyed your summer, gotten some shooting in, and are like me, getting ready for the upcoming season!

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Out in South Dakota on a Prairie Dog Hunt

Unfortunately I was late getting out for P-dogs this season and worried the populations would be down and the dogs very wary. I’d had an invite to hunt a big ranch property in the Western part of South Dakota, so loaded up my (mountain of) gear and made the 7 hour drive. I got in four days of shooting, but lost most of one to rain.

The dog population was pretty good and there were still some young dogs running around, my bigger challange was weather. I rained a bit (an understatement on one of the days) and got pretty windy at times. My shots were at 50 to 125 yards with the majority at 80 yards. I had a lot of guns, but shifted my shooting in the windy conditions to guns in the .30′s shooting JSB Diabolo pellets, as I found them more resistant to the influences of the wind, though some Kentucky windage was called for.

Brett from Bad River Bucks and Birds was a great host on this trip, and really knows the country and wildlife!

Brett from Bad River Bucks and Birds was a great host on this trip, and really knows the country and wildlife!

Lining up the shot with the FX Boss, the .303 and this rifle were a great combo for long range shooting,

Lining up the shot with the FX Boss, the .303 and this rifle were a great combo for long range shooting,

When the wind calmed down, I had a few shots out at about 125 yards, and the larger calibers had great terminal performance. One thing I like about using the mid bores for prairie dogs, is that you get a lot of field shooting with the same gun you’ll use for predator hunting, which will make you a better field shooter when a coyote is in the crosshairs.

I set the hunt up with Bad River Bucks and Birds, they have a great lodge, lots of land with an incredible amount of game and several prairie dog towns. First day was overcast with some sun poking through and we hiked miles. I’d set up, shot three or four dogs as they’d slowly pop up out of their holes, then move a couple hundred yards away and repeat.  As I walked up they’d dive down the burrows, but ten or fifteen minutes later barking would start and a few minutes later a head would pop up.

Our Quarry, even though the weather didn't cooperate, was out and about.... and fairly plentiful.

Our Quarry, even though the weather didn’t cooperate, was out and about…. and fairly plentiful.

I really enjoy this approach; using an airgun and working each dog as a quarry rather than sitting 300 yards away on a bench rest and viewing them as targets. This is not a high volume shoot, 40 dogs in a day is a good hunt, it’s more about how you’re getting them than how many.

There are only a couple articles of gear I carry besides my gun and pellets; shooting sticks, binoculars, range finder, a buddy bottle in a messenger style day pack and a foam seat. I practice shooting from a sitting position of sticks frequently, and can lock up pretty solidly. The binos can help locate the little sage rats while they are peeking over the rims of the mounds, and the range finder is essential when dealing with the long shots as inches of trajectory is significant on a small kill zone.

We had great wildlife viewing along the way; we saw bison, mule and whitetail deer, pronghorn, and more pheasant, prairie chicken and waterfowl than you can imagine!

We had great wildlife viewing along the way; we saw bison, mule and whitetail deer, pronghorn, and more pheasant, prairie chicken and waterfowl than you can imagine!

Beautiful landscapes, a great way to end the day.

Beautiful landscapes, a great way to end the day.

Anyways, I had a great time, and would say that if you want to have some outstanding shooting and hunting, get out on the dogs!

Categories: binoculars, Destinations, Ground squirrels, Long Range shooting, Pest Control, Prairie dogs, shooting sticks, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Does Hunting Need To Be Justified to Non-Hunters?

I’m going to use this weeks blog post to climb up on to my soapbox, to address an issue that I’ve seen cropping up in a couple places. A recent discussion on one of the airgunning forums regarding a mountain lion hunt was the first incident that got me thinking about this, then afterwards I noticed in a couple of the British airgunning magazines (one of which I sometimes write for) that anti hunting letters were published with a response from the editors.

Let me first say that I don’t believe everybody has hunting coded in their DNA, and both their natural tendencies and upbringing lead them to abhor the idea of hunting. I also understand that in some areas sustenance hunting to supply the majority of protein or at least to supplement the larder is common and accepted. However most hunters participate in the sport because they enjoy it. And the goal of the hunt is in taking your quarry, and for me, while I enjoy being out on the stalk (quite a lot as a matter of fact) if I don’t bag my quarry it is not a success. I won’t be disingenuous and say “if I don’t get my quarry it doesn’t matter” because to me it does. That doesn’t mean I consider an unproductive hunt wasted time, I enjoy being out stalking, scouting, or just experiencing the outdoors more than most anything else, but if I don’t kill my quarry it lacks completeness. So there I said it; I hunt because I enjoy it, and the kill is an important aspect of the hunt.

As humans we are not abiotic, all of us take life to exist in one way or another. Many of the non-hunting and anti-hunting (remember these are not analogous) contingency, eat meat. They seem to feel it is alright to purpose breed and raise animals for slaughter, to kill these animals in less than pleasant ways, so long as somebody else does it, they don’t see it, and it’s nicely packaged before their first contact. I believe this is fine and don’t have a problem with it, though do wonder why it’s better to raise an animal in prison conditions for slaughter rather than letting it live free until it’s end comes. Almost all wildlife dies at some point in a fairly violent way, a clean shot is probably one of the quickest exits from this mortal coil. I lack clarity as to why it’s acceptable to butcher farmed livestock but not harvest a naturally grown head of wild game, what is the value judgment to make a deer’s life more valuable than a cows? I believe both are equally appropriate to nourish us, but I won’t digress.

Well ok, I will a little bit: as to the vegetarian argument and the position that no life is lost, this does stick in my craw. For food to be grown, even organically, land is removed from the natural ecosystem and it is lost to all wildlife as opposed to selective species being properly managed. I won’t go into a harangue about vegetarianism, but when my oldest daughter started eating meet again after a decade of supplements  and poor nutrition I was a happy daddy. I will only comment that everyone of us takes life to live, and if you are religious you find in almost all faiths that this is condoned. If not religious, put on your scientist hat and consider why we evolved with the teeth and nutritional needs that we have.

While I believe that it is good and ethical to eat what you kill when that makes sense, this is not in my opinion the justification for hunting or killing an animal. I don’t think it matters if the primary objective of a deer hunter is that the hunter wants a trophy rack on the wall or a fat doe to keep the family fed. That doesn’t mean the trophy hunter should waste the meat, and they don’t, or that I personally wouldn’t rather see the meat hunter get his animal, because I would. However I believe that the key consideration is whether the removal of the animal makes sense from a management perspective; a) to control populations, b) to remove pest or varmint species that have a negative impact on agriculture, c) for environmental health and removal of disease vectors, or c) removal of non indigenous species.

Like it or not, man is almost everywhere which has resulted in limited space for some species.  With reduction in predators around human habitation (even animal loving cat owners get a bit miffed when tinkerbell becomes a coyotes main course at dinner) some populations are exploding. Everything from deer in both farming and suburban areas, to non indigenous feral hogs everywhere, and Eurasian collared doves around farming areas need to be controlled, and sound thinking supports shooting as a control mechanism. Both native and non indigenous pest species need to be culled or totally removed from certain area and selective shooting is an effective approach, certainly a better option than poison. I shook my head in disbelief when the writer of a letter to the British publication stated it was natural for cats to hunt birds in Britain but morally bereft for a hunter to shoot a squirrel or rabbit (I’m paraphrasing). Without getting (too) insulting, it is rather dimwitted to approve of a non-indigenous cat running around unfettered eating native songbirds, while disapproving of a hunter removing non-indigenous gray squirrels that are decimating the native red squirrel populations. But it is more an emotional response than a reasoned one. What made it worse was that this letter was from a fellow shooter, who is dependent on his hunting counterparts to help support his ability to participate in his chosen sport in the anti-gun UK.

In the case of the mountain lion hunt mentioned at the beginning, the poster argued that the hunter was participating in a canned hunt because dogs were used. It doesn’t matter that this is the most common (and sometimes only) way to track lions in the dense wilderness regions of Arizona’s deserts and mountains, or that it’s legal, or that the hunter spent six days on mule back in rough conditions, before making a clean and well placed kill shot. It didn’t matter that Arizona’s wildlife management services run a very well thought out and scientifically based program to maintain the proper population suited to the carrying capacity of the land, this individual is obviously ignorant to what goes into such a hunt. Again, this individual is in the shooting fraternity (ironically in a very gray legal area with the products he manufactures and sells) but felt well positioned to comment on hunting ethics. Its bad because it undermines the sport when an ethical hunter using accepted techniques is attacked by someone in the community, but it’s even worse when the attack is based on pure ignorance. I did get a bit confrontational in this particular instance, because I felt the individual was a traitor to the sport, but more over exceedingly ignorant not to mention a screaming hypocrite.

So my concluding remarks: it is up to the individual to define their personal ethics, and choices for when and what to shoot…. so long as it’s legal, that the reasons for a hunter to hunt is a personal matter, and the justification for hunting should be based on scientifically based wildlife management and pest control objectives, and requires no further justification. It makes sense for us to show sensitivity and take the time to explain the role of hunting in todays society, Some people will not agree, some will have an emotional response against it… and that’s ok, we won’t all agree. For my part however, I will never take an apologists position in the debate. Living in a democracy where most people have no real connection to the natural world, we could always have the masses take out sport away (the UK is fighting this battle right now) which means that the best way to secure our ability to hunt is to build a strong case supported with empirical, financial, and scientific data. and to fight from a position of strength.

Other Things

It’s Sunday afternoon as I write this, and my office is overflowing with gear. Wednesday night I’m loading up the Outback with a dozen guns, half dozen CF tanks, miscellaneous equipment, and heading off to S. Dakota on a prairie dogs shoot we’re filming! Will have 5 days, and some big towns to shoot over. Amongst other projects, I’m going to compare the .25, .303, and .357 under field conditions to decide on my default option for long range pest control.

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Opportunistic Airgun Hunts: South Texas Add On

A while back I’d been invited to hunt javalina down on a ranch in S. Texas. These desert pigs (not actually a pig, I know) are a game animal in Texas and therefore could not be hunted with airpowered guns. My gun of choice was my .308, but I also came ready to do some airgun hunting as well. The javalina was a bust, my trip got cut short…… but my airguns saved the day!

I had a basic bunkhouse to myself, and much of the time I was on my own, which is my preference but not always possible. This was before I needed a cameraman on just about every outing.

I had a basic bunkhouse to myself, and much of the time I was on my own, which is my preference but not always possible. This was before I needed a cameraman on just about every outing.

My selection of guns: the Webley Patriot .25 caliber magnum springer, my AR-6 PCP in .22 caliber, and the twin reservoir BigBore 909 in .457.

My selection of guns: the Webley Patriot .25 caliber magnum springer, my AR-6 PCP in .22 caliber, and the twin reservoir BigBore 909 in .457.

I went down to South Texas to hunt with Pete Reyes on his property about 80 miles south of San Antonio, with the plan to hunt Javalina with my .308 centerfire and bring a selection of airguns for coyote, bobcat, raccoons, hogs and whatever small stuff came my way. I would have liked to hunt the javalina with an airgun, but as it is a game animal airguns are expressly forbotten. It is somewhat ironic that I can legally take a 300 lb hog with my .45 airgun, but not a 50 lb peccary. However, Texas is one of the truly hunter friendly states so I won’t complain! And what I didn’t know then was that Arizona would open up their big game seasons (including javalina) to Airguns, so eventually I’d have an alternative.

The plan on this trip was to fly in on Friday and get out for an afternoon stand, and on following morning and afternoon out for javalina, then mid-day and night for varmint, pest, small game, and a mixed bag of the diverse fauna of this part of Texas, until I had to depart on Monday afternoon. In the end an emergency at work came up and I received an email (curse the cell coverage) on Saturday night telling me I needed to be back for a meeting on Monday morning. So on the spur of the moment I had to book a flight home on Sunday, leaving me only a night hunt on Saturday. So getting back to the lodge after the afternoon hunt, I ate a quick dinner, grabbed my gear, loaded up my guide’s truck, and was off for what had become my last chance to shoot. I was taking along a couple PCP air rifles that I’d done bench testing on; and decided that I wanted to get a raccoon, possum, bob cat, coyote, fox, ringtail cat, and may be a couple rabbits. The two animals that I really wanted for mounts in my trophy room were the bobcat and the ringtail, two of the representative small game species of the South Texas Senderas.

I took a couple jackrabbits while out hiking the pastures at dusk.

I took a couple jackrabbits while out hiking the pastures at dusk.

And then got a couple cottontails after a morning strikeout at the blind.

And then got a couple cottontails after a morning strikeout at the blind.

We drove out to a ranch on the river bottoms about 40 minutes west of the lodge, watching the deer gliding across the road and disappear into the heavy brush lining the highway. Pulling up to the ranch road, I jumped out to open the gate, pondering two inescapable aspects of ranching; first is that the driver is invariably excused from opening the gates themselves, and secondly no two gate latches work in exactly the same way! But after working out the Rubik cube of a locking system and passing the truck through, we were on our way.

We drove the dirt trails spotlighting the trees and densely cactus covered landscape for about an hour seeing nothing but a bobcat speeding across the rutted dirt road, when Joe (the ranch hand) said “over there, I see eyes”. The spotlight was plugged into the trucks lighter jack, which tied Joe and the light source to the vehicle. I on the other hand, had a scope mounted varmint light sitting atop my scope with a battery pack hooked on my belt. So jumping out of the truck I hiked through the vegetation till I arrived at a break from which I could see a big coon hightailing it higher towards a bridge in the canopy that would allow him to cross the riverbed (now dry) forty feet over my head and 35 yards away. The gun I was using was the Evanix AR6 in .22 caliber matched with Beeman Kodiak heavy pellets. Quickly thumbing back the hammer while following the coon through the scope, I fired a shot hitting the running coon right in the head and dumping her into the dry river bed. Joe and I started down after her, when a branch snagged the wire of my light unplugging me, followed by an expletive from me, and the sound of my unfortunate companion rolling down the side of the hill in pitch blackness. But after a brief moment of fumbling around I got plugged in and found that Joe had somehow come to rest next to my downed quarry. We carried the animal up to the truck so it could be brought back to camp for skinning.

Not more than fifteen minutes later we spotted another set of eyes very high up in a big oak tree. The raccoon was hidden in a clump of vegetation and all I could see was the eyes and his forehead. Joe asked “can you take him?” to which I replied my view was obstructed but I could see his forehead. Just as I was about to shoot, he shifted and we could see he was in fact a very big, very irritated porcupine. These guys are all landowners and/or dog handlers, and none seemed to like porcupines much though I personally bear them no ill will. Joe said “we shoot them when we see them, take it”. As I squeezed the trigger and watched this big pin cushion of a critter tumble down from perhaps 60 feet up. We circled around the carcass each trying to talk the other into grabbing his foot and hauling him to the truck. Finally I pointed out that I was his guest, and as a good host it was his duty, no his privilege, to retrieve our trophy. We tossed the porcupine into the back of the truck and continued on our way.

A little bit later a bobcat came walking across the road at 35 yards, a slow stroll seemingly only mildly concerned. I have wanted a chance for a bobcat with an airgun, and have been actively pursuing this goal for a couple years. I had my Big Bore 909 with varmint light sitting in my lap, loaded and ready to go. This was going to be my night, I just had to jump out of the truck and take my shot. Unfortunately, I’d been leaning out of the window and had unknowingly locked the door. And I frantically tried to figure out how to unlock it, squeaking like a mouse to hold him up, as I watched my bobcat continue walking by. Just as I got it worked out and tumbled out the door, I saw the cat look my way as he stepped behind a cactus not to appear again.

On the night time outing I got this raccoon and porcupine within minutes, with well placed .22 pellets out of the AR-6.

On the night time outing I got this raccoon and porcupine within minutes, with well placed .22 pellets out of the AR-6.

My first ringtail cat, and I was excited. Unfortunately the mount was lost and never made it back to me.

My first ringtail cat, and I was excited. Unfortunately the mount was lost and never made it back to me.

On we drove, through a stand of trees with a canopy that grew over the road creating a living tunnel. Coming around a bend, a pod of three coons went running by and up a tree. I was going for variety more than numbers and let these guys go on their way. The rancher would have preferred that I took them, but it was my hunt and I wanted something else ….. primarily the bobcat I’d just missed.  I decided I was going to hold off until I had a shot at something different.

And I got that chance in about a half hour, lighting up a tree I saw eyes looking down at me. It turned out to be a ringtailed cat, one of the animals I’d wanted to bag since seeing a mount in a hunting lodge a few years ago. Jumping out of the truck, I sat in the road and braced the gun on my knee to line up the 5o yard shot. The ringtail was sitting in the fork of the tree giving me a frontal shot, and squeezing the trigger on the 909 sent the 120 grain right on target. The cat flipped out of the tree and was DOA when I reached his landing spot.

There are similarities between the raccoon and the ringtail at first glance, but they are very different animals once you get away from the tail.

There are similarities between the raccoon and the ringtail at first glance, but they are very different animals once you get away from the tail.

We called it quits and headed on back to the lodge, it was about three in the morning and I was dead tired. The next morning I loaded my gear and made my way to the airport for the rescheduled flight home. In the end I didn’t get my javalina, I’d seen them when I had an airgun, which was not a legal hunting arm for a game animal. I had planned to go back the next morning with my .308 centerfire…. but then business called. What can you say, I’d passed on some hogs as well, figuring I could always take one later if I wanted to. At one point I’d been sitting in a blind surrounded by 19 deer; two does the rest bucks including one massive 10 pointer. I didn’t get my javalina, but I did get some cool small stuff with my airguns and saw a lot of wildlife. If I’d been able to spend the Sunday and Monday hunting as planned I have no doubt that I’d have bagged my javalina …. And maybe my bobcat!

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The Traveling Airgun Hunter: Know the Laws and the People!

I know that I am very lucky; between writing for several hunting publications, a TV show, and Online (websites, blogs, and Youtube) projects, I get to hunt in a lot of different places. That in and of itself is very cool, but I also have the opportunity to meet with a lot of great people. But when you travel to hunt in different jurisdictions it is the hunters responsibility to know the laws. This post is not a comprehensive compendium of all the laws across the country, but I’ll tell you about some of the places I’ve hunted over the last few years, I also mention some of my fellow hunters I’ve met along the way!

Eric Henderson I on a squirrel hunt in some state or another. We started hunting together in Texas over a decade ago and have hunted all over the country and Africa as well.

Eric Henderson I on a squirrel hunt in some state or another. We started hunting together in Texas over a decade ago and have hunted all over the country and Africa as well.

So you’ve decided to lay your hands on an air rifle and hit the field in pursuit of game, the next question is; what to hunt and where to hunt it? It is the responsibility of each and every hunter to know the local laws, but those pertaining to airgun hunting are not always clear. There is an evolving mosaic of regulations for airgun hunters, and one needs to keep current on the jurisdictions in which they’ll hunt. Almost every jurisdiction requires that the hunter has a hunting license, even for pest control. There are however, a few states such as Nevada that do not mandate a license for hunting non game varmint and pest species. A detailed list outlining the current regulations for every state is outside the scope of this column; however let’s take a look at a representative sample. A quick summary of the laws in Arizona, California, Nevada, Indiana, Kentucky, and Texas will give an idea of the regulatory landscape.

Kip Perow and I have hunted Arizona and South Africa together. One of the best all around hunters I've shot with.

Kip Perow and I have hunted Arizona and South Africa together. One of the best all around hunters I’ve shot with.

Arizona is one of the states that clearly spells out the use of airguns as a legal hunting tool, and allowed pneumatic airguns to be used for taking of small game and non-game animals for several years. But as of last year, changes to the regulations were implemented that allow for the taking of most large games species as well; whitetail and mule deer, pronghorn, javalina, bear, mountain lion can now be taken with PCP air rifles .357 caliber or larger. This makes the State the destination for airgun hunters, and I plan to hunt there a lot in coming years. As an aside Airgun Only Adventures is the guide/outfitting service started up by Airgun of Arizona and headed up by Kip Perow, a very knowledgeable airgun hunter and guide that can get you on to an airgunning dream hunt.

Scott Dellinger is a new friend that I've been shooting with quite a bit over the last year or two. We shot literally hundreds of collared doves and pigeons in that time!

Scott Dellinger is a new friend that I’ve been shooting with quite a bit over the last year or two. We shot literally hundreds of collared doves and pigeons in that time!

California is another jurisdiction that specifically allows the use of air powered guns for the taking of small game animals, including rabbit, squirrel, quail, and turkey. It is stipulated that when hunting turkey the caliber of the airgun must be .20 caliber or larger. Non game species such as sparrows, pigeons, starlings, ground squirrels, coyote and jackrabbit may also be taken with airguns. California is one of my favorite airgunning venues, because in addition to the well thought out regulations pertaining to airguns, there are literally thousands upon thousands of acres of public land to hunt. I’m a confirmed wingshooter and have been for most of my life, but taking a game bird grand slam in the sunshine state; mountain quail, California quail, and chucker with an airgun is a realistic yet challenging goal!

Virginia expanded their laws a few years back to allow big game, as well as small game species, to be taken with air rifles. So besides the typical fare of squirrels, rabbits, and predators, you can use them to take turkey, deer, and black bear. Virginia has been one of my favorite destinations over the last few years hunting with my buddies Chip Sayers and Charles Peebles. If you’re an airgun hunter living in the more restrictive state of Pennsylvania, it’s well worth the travel down to the more progressive game management environment of Virginia to book your hunts!

Eric, Chip Sayers and I at Chip's house during a 7 day hunt a few years back, right after the airgunning laws went into effect.

Eric, Chip Sayers and I at Chip’s house during a 7 day hunt a few years back, right after the airgunning laws went into effect.

In Michigan, game may be taken by firearm, bow and arrow or slingshot and in some instances by crossbow. Michigan defines a firearm as a weapon from which a dangerous projectile may be propelled by an explosive, or by gas or air. This definition of a firearm does not include a smooth bore rifle or handgun designed and manufactured exclusively for propelling by a spring, or by gas or air, BB’s not exceeding .177 caliber. Thus, all air rifles, except smooth bores designed and manufactured exclusively for propelling by a spring, or by gas or air, BB’s not exceeding .177 caliber, can be used to hunt small game or varmints. There are several hunters in the state that under the preceding definition of a firearm, use airguns to hunt larger game as well.

Missouri was one of the earliest states to allow air rifles to be used for taking whitetail deer. The regulations, which were championed and pushed through multiple wildlife management hearings by airgun hunter Ken Cox, allow PCP air rifles of .40 caliber or larger to be used for taking deer. The state has long allowed air rifles for the taking of squirrel, rabbit and other small game. I’ve taken several deer there since the laws came into effect a few years ago, and offer this up as another one of those destination spots for airgun hunters. My friend Brian Cook has hosted Eric Henderson and I there on multiple trips, but the state also offers up a lot of public land hunting opportunities to set up a DYI, definitely a must do for the traveling airgun hunter.

Nevada: is one of the jurisdictions that do not specifically address airguns, but allows that small game may be taken with handguns and rifles without stating the power source. Nothing is contained in the regulations regarding the method of take for non-game animals. There is no closed season on those species of wild animals or wild birds classified as unprotected. Coyote jackrabbit, skunk and weasels, and all species of mammals which are not classified as game, fur-bearing, protected, threatened or endangered animals. These include marmots, chipmunks, English house sparrows, starlings, porcupines, skunks, rats, moles, voles, pocket gophers.

My son Jamie and I have hunted all over the West together.... unfortunately since he left for college we don't get the chance as often.

My son Jamie and I have hunted all over the West together…. unfortunately since he left for college we don’t get the chance as often.

Indiana doesn’t specifically call out airguns either. However, they do state that gray and fox squirrels may be taken with any equipment and ammunition during squirrel hunting season. The regulations are the same as when hunting with a firearm, you must have a hunting license, meet fluorescent orange clothing requirements while hunting squirrels when the season overlaps deer season, follow the same limits and seasons as firearm. An airgun can be used to control pest birds such as English sparrows, starlings and feral pigeons (except homing pigeons) stating they may be killed at any time and in any number.

Brian Beck and I hunted together a lot in Indiana while I lived there. One of the best predator hunters I've ever met.

Brian Beck and I hunted together a lot in Indiana while I lived there. One of the best predator hunters I’ve ever met.

Kentucky allows the use of air guns for the taking of small game animals; including rabbit, squirrel, and non game species such as sparrows, pigeons, starlings, ground squirrels, and coyote. Last season there was a change in the laws that took many airgun hunters by surprise, the use of .177 caliber guns was prohibited, and only guns in .20 caliber and larger were permitted. A grassroots effort led by local airgun hunting guru Randy Mitchell, was able to lobby for a reversal of the law and permit the use of .177.  As an aside, a new regulation was passed at the same time prohibiting the use of .25 caliber airguns for hunting. Go figure! Still, the state is taking a forward thinking approach with respect to airgunning and deserves kudos for doing so.

Historically Texas explicitly stated the taking of any game animal with Airguns is prohibited, but allowed the taking of exotic or non game animals. Therefore you can take rabbit, ground squirrels, prairie dog, coyote, bobcat, feral hogs, rams, axis deer and other non-indigenous species. But you could not take squirrel as they are a game animal in most (but interestingly not all) of the state. I have not seen the changes regulations, but my friend and airgunning guru Terry Tate told me the laws are changing this year to allow small game species to be on ticket. Texas is my destination spot for big game airgun hunting, and there are a lot of free range exotics rom Africa and Asia that can’t be hunted anywhere else.

I obviously don’t hunt in the next state, but as a contrast to other jurisdictions presented here I’ll mention the Pennsylvania regulations. They are at the other end of the spectrum stating that “Any device operated by air, chemical or gas cylinder by which a projectile of any size or kind can be discharged or propelled” is prohibited. These laws are very backwards in view of today’s Airguns, but every year I look for change.

We’ve taken a random look at a few states regulations, which will give the prospective airgun hunter a pretty good idea of what might be encountered. The states like California, Arizona, and Virginia which clearly articulate their positions on airguns are the ideal. In other regions the prospective hunter might have to do some home work to get clarification on ambiguous wording (when in doubt go to the appropriate enforcement agencies for clarification). There are a couple of jurisdictions that are outright restrictive with regards to airgun hunting, but hopefully they will revise their positions at some point. Besides keeping an eye on the game regulations, the hunter also needs to consider local ordinances with respect to where airguns can be discharged, but as a rule they are far less restrictive than firearms. I think the future for airgun hunting looks promising, in speaking with a number of fish and game agencies and enforcement branches it appears than many more states are looking at clarifying or expanding current regulations to become more airgun friendly. This is a positive trend as the sport continues to gain popularity.

So you’ve decided to lay your hands on an air rifle and hit the field in pursuit of game, the next question is; what to hunt and where to hunt it? It is the responsibility of each and every hunter to know the local laws, but those pertaining to airgun hunting are not always clear. There is an evolving mosaic of regulations for airgun hunters, and one needs to keep current on the jurisdictions in which they’ll hunt. Almost every jurisdiction requires that the hunter has a hunting license, even for pest control. There are however, a few states such as Nevada that do not mandate a license for hunting non game varmint and pest species. A detailed list outlining the current regulations for every state is outside the scope of this column; however let’s take a look at a representative sample. A quick summary of the laws in Arizona, California, Nevada, Indiana, Kentucky, and Texas will give an idea of the regulatory landscape.

Alabama has allowed airguns to be used for taking small game for a long time, but last year they opened the first season for whitetail deer with PCP air rifles. I was invited down to hunt with Dammion Howard and his son Hunter (cool name BTW), and we spent a few very cold days while I got on the board with my first Alabama buck. The people I met were great, the deer populations high, and the laws right for thise of us that want to use big bore airguns, this is one of the spots you should put on your “must hunt” lists.

Arizona is one of the first states that clearly spelled out the use of airguns as a legal hunting tool, and allowed pneumatic airguns to be used for taking of small game and non-game animals for several years. But as of last year, changes to the regulations were implemented that allow for the taking of most large games species as well; whitetail and mule deer, pronghorn, javalina, bear, mountain lion can now be taken with PCP air rifles .357 caliber or larger. This makes the State the destination for airgun hunters, and I plan to hunt there a lot in coming years. As an aside Airgun Only Adventures is the guide/outfitting service started up by Airgun of Arizona and headed up by Kip Perow, a very knowledgeable airgun hunter and guide that can get you on to an airgunning dream hunt.

California is another jurisdiction that specifically allows the use of air powered guns for the taking of small game animals, including rabbit, squirrel, quail, and turkey. It is stipulated that when hunting turkey the caliber of the airgun must be .20 caliber or larger. Non game species such as sparrows, pigeons, starlings, ground squirrels, coyote and jackrabbit may also be taken with airguns. California is one of my favorite airgunning venues, because in addition to the well thought out regulations pertaining to airguns, there are literally thousands upon thousands of acres of public land to hunt. I’m a confirmed wingshooter and have been for most of my life, but taking a game bird grand slam in the sunshine state; mountain quail, California quail, and chucker with an airgun is a realistic yet challenging goal!

Virginia expanded their laws a few years back to allow big game, as well as small game species, to be taken with air rifles. So besides the typical fare of squirrels, rabbits, and predators, you can use them to take turkey, deer, and black bear. Virginia has been one of my favorite destinations over the last few years hunting with my buddies Chip Sayers and Charles Peebles. If you’re an airgun hunter living in the more restrictive state of Pennsylvania, it’s well worth the travel down to the more progressive game management environment of Virginia to book your hunts!

In Michigan, game may be taken by firearm, bow and arrow or slingshot and in some instances by crossbow. Michigan defines a firearm as a weapon from which a dangerous projectile may be propelled by an explosive, or by gas or air. This definition of a firearm does not include a smooth bore rifle or handgun designed and manufactured exclusively for propelling by a spring, or by gas or air, BB’s not exceeding .177 caliber. Thus, all air rifles, except smooth bores designed and manufactured exclusively for propelling by a spring, or by gas or air, BB’s not exceeding .177 caliber, can be used to hunt small game or varmints. There are several hunters in the state that under the preceding definition of a firearm, use airguns to hunt larger game as well.

Bob Vogel shot this doe while we were hunting in MI a few years ago. We each took a doe and a buck on that trip.

Bob Vogel shot this doe while we were hunting in MI a few years ago. We each took a doe and a buck on that trip.

Missouri was one of the earliest states to allow air rifles to be used for taking whitetail deer. The regulations, which were championed and pushed through multiple wildlife management hearings by airgun hunter Ken Cox, allow PCP air rifles of .40 caliber or larger to be used for taking deer. The state has long allowed air rifles for the taking of squirrel, rabbit and other small game. I’ve taken several deer there since the laws came into effect a few years ago, and offer this up as another one of those destination spots for airgun hunters. My friend Brian Cook has hosted Eric Henderson and I there on multiple trips, but the state also offers up a lot of public land hunting opportunities to set up a DYI, definitely a must do for the traveling airgun hunter.

Nevada: is one of the jurisdictions that do not specifically address airguns, but allows that small game may be taken with handguns and rifles without stating the power source. Nothing is contained in the regulations regarding the method of take for non-game animals. There is no closed season on those species of wild animals or wild birds classified as unprotected. Coyote jackrabbit, skunk and weasels, and all species of mammals which are not classified as game, fur-bearing, protected, threatened or endangered animals. These include marmots, chipmunks, English house sparrows, starlings, porcupines, skunks, rats, moles, voles, pocket gophers.

Indiana doesn’t specifically call out airguns either. However, they do state that gray and fox squirrels may be taken with any equipment and ammunition during squirrel hunting season. The regulations are the same as when hunting with a firearm, you must have a hunting license, meet fluorescent orange clothing requirements while hunting squirrels when the season overlaps deer season, follow the same limits and seasons as firearm. An airgun can be used to control pest birds such as English sparrows, starlings and feral pigeons (except homing pigeons) stating they may be killed at any time and in any number.

Kentucky allows the use of air guns for the taking of small game animals; including rabbit, squirrel, and non game species such as sparrows, pigeons, starlings, ground squirrels, and coyote. Last season there was a change in the laws that took many airgun hunters by surprise, the use of .177 caliber guns was prohibited, and only guns in .20 caliber and larger were permitted. A grassroots effort led by local airgun hunting guru Randy Mitchell, was able to lobby for a reversal of the law and permit the use of .177.  As an aside, a new regulation was passed at the same time prohibiting the use of .25 caliber airguns for hunting. Go figure! Still, the state is taking a forward thinking approach with respect to airgunning and deserves kudos for doing so.

Historically Texas explicitly stated the taking of any game animal with Airguns is prohibited, but allowed the taking of exotic or non game animals. Therefore you can take rabbit, ground squirrels, prairie dog, coyote, bobcat, feral hogs, rams, axis deer and other non-indigenous species. But you could not take squirrel as they are a game animal in most (but interestingly not all) of the state. I have not seen the changes regulations, but my friend and airgunning guru Terry Tate told me the laws are changing this year to allow small game species to be on ticket. Texas is my destination spot for big game airgun hunting, and there are a lot of free range exotics rom Africa and Asia that can’t be hunted anywhere else.

Ed Schultz (heads up engineering at Crosman) on our way out for a hog hunt.

Ed Schultz (heads up engineering at Crosman) on our way out for a hog hunt.

I obviously don’t hunt in the next state, but as a contrast to other jurisdictions presented here I’ll mention the Pennsylvania regulations. They are at the other end of the spectrum stating that “Any device operated by air, chemical or gas cylinder by which a projectile of any size or kind can be discharged or propelled” is prohibited. These laws are very backwards in view of today’s Airguns, but every year I look for change.

We’ve taken a random look at a few states regulations, which will give the prospective airgun hunter a pretty good idea of what might be encountered. The states like California, Arizona, and Virginia which clearly articulate their positions on airguns are the ideal. In other regions the prospective hunter might have to do some home work to get clarification on ambiguous wording (when in doubt go to the appropriate enforcement agencies for clarification). There are a couple of jurisdictions that are outright restrictive with regards to airgun hunting, but hopefully they will revise their positions at some point. Besides keeping an eye on the game regulations, the hunter also needs to consider local ordinances with respect to where airguns can be discharged, but as a rule they are far less restrictive than firearms. I think the future for airgun hunting looks promising, in speaking with a number of fish and game agencies and enforcement branches it appears than many more states are looking at clarifying or expanding current regulations to become more airgun friendly. This is a positive trend as the sport continues to gain popularity.

Categories: Big Bore Airguns, Big Game, Deer hunting, Destinations, Regulations, Small Game Hunting, Squirrels, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

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 | 7 Comments