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 | Leave a comment

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 | 5 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 | 2 Comments

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