Can We Hide?

It’s been a busy few weeks, I’m sitting on a plane as I write this, traveling back from Scotland. I was in Edinburgh and tried to find an airgun shop to visit, but no luck. I think the restrictions, or risk there of, must be having a negative impact. We’re in much better shape in the States than our cousins across the pond, from what I was told they can no longer buy airguns online. That means if physical stores are closing and online shops are restricted, access will become an issue.

The question of restrictions on airguns (in the USA) comes up on the forums on a fairly frequent basis…… every time a new big bore is released, a semi or full auto action, a more powerful gun is released, you get a small group fretting and moaning that it’s the swan song for airguns. I stop to consider a few specific details when I think about this; a) what would be the basis for airguns being restricted, b) what would these restrictions look like, c) can analogies be drawn with other devices, d) how can we best protect our use of and access to airguns, and e) if we restrict ourselves (on caliber, power, action type) to fly under the radar (which I don’t think is possible) haven’t we in fact done the same thing we want to fly under the radar to avoid? Namely, removing these guns from the market.

I think that airguns could in fact, come under pressure to regulate at some point in time. But I think this would be done by anti-gun proponents and safety police regardless of power output or caliber. They have tried it with airsoft and in some jurisdictions anything more than a a Daisy Red Rider is considered a firearm or prohibited in some fashion. They have tried to regulate the color of toy guns…. so I wouldn’t doubt there will be more attempts. The fact is that the people that want to take your guns away, don’t really understand the differences between 10 or 100 fpe, a .177 and a .50 caliber, airsoft or PCP….. they just know guns are bad and they have to be controlled.

On the other-hand, It can be argued that a muzzle loader is much more powerful than any airgun, and that the rate of fire in many ariguns is less than a competent archer can get with their bows. One of the ways that you can protect the right to have access to these tools, is to offer examples of valid uses: hunting, long range shooting competition etc. This is what has been done with muzzle loaders and archery, and there is very little regulation in these areas.

If there are restrictions what would they be? An arbitrary and meaningless limit on power such as our British counter parts? That we can’t have certain calibers or certain powerplants? Again, I think the way to protect these is to show you have a valid application….. I need a big bore because I hunt deer or feral hogs, I need a 50 fpe gun because I shoot long range target competition, etc. That’s one of the reasons I think expanding the hunting laws is a positive factor for all airgunners, hunters or not. In a true chicken and egg scenario, having larger caliber and more powerful guns then helps justify expanding hunting regulations to include airguns. The potential regulation that is troubling is if airguns could not be sold online and shipped without restriction. The limiting of access would damage the sport in this country in a major way, because unlike the UK for instance, airguns are a very small niche compared to firearms and it takes a certain population to support a physical shop. We need to be prepared to lobby and stand against proposed regulation, but trying to hide or fly under the radar just does not work. The fact that firearms are regulated does not stop me from using firearms, it does however restrict where I can buy them. The fact that I can’t buy a 30-06 online is no problem, because I have 10 physical locations within a half hours drive where I can buy them.

The other thing that I’ll mention, there is no “right” to have an airgun, same as there is no “right” to hunt in a constitutional sense. Airguns, if regulated, would be done as with any other consumer product, probably a risk based decision. At some point I would hope we had an organization that would serve as a voice for airgunners in this country. But the logic that we should self regulate ourselves with respect to power or caliber to avoid being regulated escapes me, because the outcome is the same.

Anyways, enough of the rant for now. When I get home I have a few new guns awaiting me, so I’ll be getting in some serious coyote hunting over the next few weeks. I finally have the Bulldog being shipped to me and it should be available to use this weekend. Catch up with you all next week!

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Airgun Hunting the USA

We have a fairly large community of hunters in the United States, and are favored with a lot of game and plentiful land to hunt on. In addition, there are few restrictions on gun ownership and the price of firearms is fairly low. As a result, airguns have remained relatively unknown here as they have not historically filled a need. But in the last couple of decades the visibility and availability of air powered guns has been on a steady upswing. This increase in awareness was especially apparent at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas in January. Where in the past only a few airgun relates businesses were around, and they were not heavily trafficked, this year there were several vendors and a lot of interest from the mainstream hunting/shooting community!

We're blessed with plentiful, varied, and widely accessible small game opportunities.

We’re blessed with plentiful, varied, and widely accessible small game opportunities.

This is to some extent driven by the fact that airguns are now being distributed through shops online, so a specialty store with a physical location is not required to obtain a selection of guns and ancillary gear. I assume all the readers of this blog are familiar with the AOA shop, which is both an online business and a physical shop. As an aside,  I think a physical location is especially important for an importer, because it indicates stability and longevity, I am uncomfortable with an import business that is run out of a garage or spare bedroom. I don’t want the company I just purchased a $1200 rifle from to go belly up and one day not be there to answer the phone.

Many mainstream hunters have come to realize that based on the lower power, range, and sound signature, airguns open up new hunting territory for the urban and suburban sportsman. I am an avid big game and upland game hunter, and have several places to hunt within a few hours drive from my home. But by using air rifles to harvest small game and pest species I can be out in the field after squirrel, rabbit, or calling raccoons and coyotes in twenty minutes from doorstep to shooting area. I shot one of the biggest coyote I’ve seen 20 minutes from house a couple weeks ago, where there is no way I could have used a firearm.  A two or three hour small game hunt on Saturday morning becomes possible, and is well suited to a busy schedule. It is also something that is possible just about everywhere in the country, west coast to east coast, urban to rural, to open country.

There are some local regulations which control sales or usage of airguns, but these are the exception rather than the rule. This means that regardless of their geographic location, all shooters have access to online shops and products purchased from these businesses can be shipped directly to a private home address. The other impact of the regulatory status is that the power of airguns is not restricted. This is why sub FAC power levels are not as popular with the hunting crowd, and most of our field guns are in the 18 to 30 fpe range. It lets us hunt the bigger animals at greater distances than say British airgun hunters. This is a reason we see the trend of European manufacturers building guns expressly for the US market growing at a rapid rate.

Lots of states will let you hunt feral hogs, and these rate as a top notch big game species for airgunners, even if classified as pests!

Lots of states will let you hunt feral hogs, and these rate as a top notch big game species for airgunners, even if classified as pests!

Guns and Gear

As previously mentioned, firearms are readily available and inexpensive here. The average spring piston airgun will be priced at around $300 – $400 and a precharged pneumatic hunting rifle will cost $600 – $800 (add another $400 for an air tank and fittings). However one can walk into a gun shop and after an instant background check, walk out the door with a semi auto rimfire and a brick of ammunition (well they used to be able, though rimfire ammo is now scarce and expensive) for under $400.00. The attractiveness of air powered rifles is therefore not a low cost of ownership or to circumvent legal restrictions, but rather all those attributes (low power, limited range, and reduced sound signature) that are unique to airguns. Most of the rifles that are popular here are in line with those used by our British counterparts; indeed many of our most popular quality guns are of British, Swedish, and German manufacture. There is increasing availability of American made guns as well, in both small and big calibers though mostly PCP’s. As in the UK, the trend in this country is moving toward PCPs for most hunting applications, I have several springers that are pulled out a few times a year for a squirrel or rabbit hunt, but I have to admit this does become less frequent and a conscious decision to keep up on my springers with each passing year.

The production pcp rifles in my gun rack provides a snapshot of the models many of us are hunting with. I have many guns from Daystate (Wolverine, Wolverine C, Huntsman Classic), Brocock (Specialist, Concept Elite), FX (Verminator, Boss), AirForce (Talon, Talon-P, Escape, Talon, and Texan), Crosman (Discovery, Marauder, Rogue, Bulldog) and many others from RWS, AirArms, Weihrauch,  BSA, Falcon, Evanix, Hatsan, Walther, Gamo, etc. in a range of calibers from .177 to .50.

Quarry Species

The types of quarry we can pursue in the US include several pest species, some the same as those shot in the UK; rats, pigeons, rabbits, squirrels, crows. It is interesting to note that rabbits are considered game animals in most states, whereas the most abundant hare (jackrabbits) are considered pest species. Pest species do not receive protection whereas game species have bag limits and seasons that offer a higher degree of protection and allows management of the resource. Tree squirrels (fox squirrels, gray squirrels, etc) are also considered a game animal, while ground squirrels are considered a pest species through most of their range. Ground squirrels can be found in towns that contain hundreds of individuals and can cause a great deal of damage to pastureland. Other species we hunt include prairie dogs, marmots (woodchucks, groundhogs, and rockchucks), possums, nutria, European starlings, crows and pigeons. Some states permit game birds such as quail, pheasant, and turkey to be taken by airguns, while others expressly prohibit their use. Other animals such as raccoons, fox, and bobcats, ringtail are considered furbearers and depending on the state have different regulations, some allow airguns and some do not. As you have probably noted, each state has their own set of regulations which range from enlightened and pro airgun to those that expressly prohibit their use (which is thankfully the minority position). We also have a growing number of big game hunting opportunities opening up to big bore airguns, MO, VA, MI, AZ, MI, AL  allow deer to be taken by air, and many (if not most) allow predators, feral hogs, and exotics to likewise be taken by air. There seem to be a couple new states opening up every year and I expect the trend will continue. You do need to be careful to check, understand, and follow state regulations when hunting.

On some of my out of state trips I bring lots of guns because it will give me the opportunity to take lots of game with each, but I'll also carry lots of tools and backup supplies as well. I love driving to my hunts when possible.

On some of my out of state trips I bring lots of guns because it will give me the opportunity to take lots of game with each, but I’ll also carry lots of tools and backup supplies as well. I love driving to my hunts when possible.

State of Airgun Hunting in the States

So while we do not have the tradition of airgunning that our British friends have, we do have a range of quarry species, plenty of land to hunt, a growing selection of guns and airgun specific gear, and a developing distribution network across the country. As mentioned any states are adding regulations to the books which make airguns a legal method of take, and there is a growing awareness by both hunters and wildlife management professionals that airguns are uniquely suited for use in more built up areas where pest and small game populations need to be controlled.

Travel to Hunt

Another aspect of airgun hunting to consider is the ability to travel for hunts. Traveling for big game can be very expensive, in fact more than a couple of out of state trips is not within the reach of most hunters. The cost of licenses and tags, outfitters and guides, limited access to huntable land are all impediments for many hunters. However, the cost of small game / general licenses tend to be pretty reasonable, distances and cost of travel lower (you don’t have to go to Montana to hunt rabbit or squirrel) are doable around a normal schedule, and there is a lot of public land spread across the country where the big game populations are under a lot of pressure but small game and varminting is there for the asking. And yet, the excitement and adventure of traveling to hunt, and the challenge and fun of the hunt is still very high. If you don’t have feral hogs in your state, you wont have to travel far to find one that does. If you don’t have prairie dogs or jackrabbits where you live, go to a place that does! Last year I hunted with my airguns in Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, Virginia, Alabama, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, California, North Dakota, South Dakota and a couple others for all type of game…… and it was a blast! OK it’s true that this is kind of a second career with writing, etc. for me… but I will bet almost everyone here could manage a couple out of state trips in a year. Plan something, do it, and let us hear about the trips…. I’m sure you’ll have some stories!

Of course the big trips are when you get to go out of country. I remember my Guinea fowl hunts as well as my big game hunts in SA.

Of course the big trips are when you get to go out of country. I remember my Guinea fowl hunts as well as my big game hunts in SA.

Categories: .22 ammo shortage, airgun ammo, Airguns of Arizona, AOA Bushbuck .451, Big Bore Airguns, Big Game, bird hunting, crow hunting, Deer hunting, Destinations, Ground squirrels, Hog hunting, Jackrabbits, pest birds, Pest Control, Prairie dogs, Predator hunting, Rabbits, Small Game Hunting, Squirrels, where to hunt | Leave a comment

Took the Bushbuck .451 on a Hog Hunt!!

I was out in Texas on a hog hunt over the weekend, and had my share of action. I took a couple of big pigs with the new AOA Bushbuck, one was 205 lb and the other 160 lb, both taken at about 65 yards.

I was out in Texas on a hog hunt over the weekend, and had my share of action. I took a couple of big pigs with the new AOA Bushbuck, one was 205 lb and the other 160 lb, both taken at about 65 yards.

If you read my posts or saw the videos from the SHOT Show, you know two of the areas generating a lot of interest were the new big bores and the new bullpups. I like bullpups and think they serve a purpose, though truth be told I am more of a traditionalist when it comes to my hunting guns. But the abundance of new mid and big bores, now there is something that gets me excited! BY the way, I’, going to return to the topic of mid bores at the end of this post…. And a big bore I got really excited about was the AOA  .45 Bushbuck, which is the most powerful production big bore on the market, but to hijack (and modify) an old saying, only accurate airguns are interesting. So I could not wait to get my hands on this gun.

One of the reasons I was looking forward to this gun, was that the driving force behind it is my good friend and AOA’s resident hunting expert Kip Perow. Kips one of the best airgun hunters around, he is a professional hunting guide, he is an airgunning expert, and he owns and shoots many of the big bores on the market. So when a guy likes this says he is going to focus on developing a big bore hunting gun, it warrants attention! I got a chance to shoot this gun when I was down in Arizona after the EBR, and though we only had it on the indoor range, I was able to appreciate the craftsmanship that went into the gun, note the nice trigger, smoothness of the action and firing cycle, and was impressed with the ergonomics and the fit of the gun. I also appreciated the stability and the light rearward recoil on a gun generating a whopping 600 fpe.

AOA had quietly informed a select group of customers about the gun, and the first production run sold out before the gun was released to market. I reserved one last year when they started development, at that time based only on Kips involvement. Like I said, the involvement of a serious hunter and airgun expert, was all I needed to have my interest piqued! Through a fluke AOA could not put the gun out on display at their booth at SHOT, as a ruling had come through that only British built products could be shown …. which is a shame because this rifle would have been a major draw! Now here’s a bit of back story, the gun at the SHOT show was my gun and was going to be shipped to me afterwards. So when I’d passed by the AOA booth and saw somebody holding my gun a saying how beautiful it was, I wanted to yell “hands off, that’s my gun”!

The 445 grain bullet has a large metplat, and penetrated the broadside shot from side to side, coming to rest on the offside under the skin. The side armor  on this pig was incredible and the bullet performed very well. The MTC scope was set so that the crosshair was dead on at 50 yards, the first dot down at 75 and the second at 100. This gun was dialed in and a serious tack hammer!

The 445 grain bullet has a large metplat, and penetrated the broadside shot from side to side, coming to rest on the offside under the skin. The side armor on this pig was incredible and the bullet performed very well. The MTC scope was set so that the crosshair was dead on at 50 yards, the first dot down at 75 and the second at 100. This gun was dialed in and a serious tack hammer!

At any rate, I was heading off on a hog hunt in Texas and had the gun shipped down and waiting for me. Kip had hand casted two .451 bullets for; me a 405 and 420 grain solid bullet with a large metplate. He had mounted an MTC 5-20x scope and sighted the gun in, and everything was shipped in and waiting. I am writing this trip up for an upcoming article in Fur-Fish-Game so won’t go through every detail here; but will mention a few things I noted while hunting the gun. I hunted from a brush blind in the morning and evening, but where I had my success was still hunting the very heavy brush in the mid day, where I saw more hogs, and bigger ones, than anybody else at the ranch. This meant I carried the gun a lot, and it is a big rifle that could be a challenge in the tight vegetation coming in from every side and top and bottom. At one point I shot a 205 lb boar and it was one of the more adrenaline inducing hog hunts I’ve had. We stalked the pig for well over an hour, but at one point thought we had lost him, until I spotted him partially hidden behind some bushes. I found a spot at about 65 yards where I could sit with my pack on a dirt mound, and get lined up for a broadside. When I shot, it knocked the pig back, he wobbled, then ran on a beeline directly at me. I will tell you that sitting on the ground at eye level with a hog that big, with tusk you could see and sharpness you can imagine, Is a motivation to take action. Almost immediately after my shot I started to reload and pulled the gun up and shot him in the head at about 25 yards dumping him on the spot. When we dressed this pig we found the fist bullet had passed side to side coming to rest just under the skin line on the off shoulder. The shields on this pig were an inch thick and as hard as rock. The second shot had taken him right between the eyes. The cool thing ……. we got this all on film. The sow I hit on the run, she was moving towards me but unlike the boar didn’t know I was there. I don’t know where she was heading or why, but she didn’t seem interested in stopping. It was a front quartering shot that broke the left front shoulder, traveled transversely all the way through and broke the rear right hip. She went down and didn’t get back up.

Nice set of dentures on this guy, they said some of the biggest they've seen at the ranch. Out of eight guys hunting, seven with bigbore forearms, the airgun got the most and the biggest!!

Nice set of dentures on this guy, they said some of the biggest they’ve seen at the ranch. Out of eight guys hunting, seven with bigbore forearms, the airgun got the most and the biggest!!

I can’t imagine how this gun could have served me any better; it was dead accurate, very powerful, very shootable. The trigger was fine by my hunting standards; heavy enough that even with gloves it had a good tactile response, but light enough that it facilitated accurate shooting. If i was going to change anything, I’d go for a carbine version even at the cost of some power and a lower shot count….. but that seems to be the first thing I say with every new big bore I shoot! This gun has the potential of becoming my favorite big game big bore to date!

What I wanted to mention about the mid bores; while taping a recent Round Table at the SHOT Show, my friend and airgun guru Tom Gaylord and I had a difference of opinion. I said that I differentiate big bores (.40 and up) from mid bores (the .30′s) because in my application I think of the mid bores as predator guns and big bores as big game. The complicating factor is some mid bores start to cross over into big bore performance. Here is my rationale; most of the .30′s are in the 90-120 fpe range, and I believe the relatively low power and small caliber make it suboptimal for larger quarry (but perfect for coyote sized game). On the other hand, my preference for big game is a gun doing at least 250 fpe and with a larger (.40) caliber because a bigger bullet produces a larger wound channel and a) better killing power and b) produces a better blood trail when tracking is necessary. If you don’t seperate these guns out and classify them all as big bores, a guy with a 90 fpe .30 may be lead to believe they have a viable deer gun. Where I gets murky is that Sam Yang and Benjamin produce .35′s that are pushing up against the lower levels of power for big game hunting, so grouping them as mid bore with the associated understanding that this is a lower power predator gun may do them a disservice. I have no doubt that a .30 can take deer and hogs, I have done so along with impala, springbuck, and warthogs, but think the majority of guns in this caliber are not the right choice, and those guns that are, are more of an experts gun. Having said this, I still believe that differentiating the mid bores and big bores makes sense from a hunters perspective, and as these guns are built for hunting not paper punching, this is the perspective that matters.

Categories: AOA Bushbuck .451, Big Bore Airguns, Big Game, Hog hunting | 9 Comments

Raccons and Airguns: Hunting the masked bandit

The raccoon is a medium sized mammal that can be found in virtually every state in the continental United States. It has a ringed tail and a masked face, by which everyone knows this animal. The tail is 10-12 in. long and has a series of rings. They measure 9-12 in. at the shoulder and 30-33 in. body length. The average adult is 12-15 lb, but they can get much larger. I was out calling  the other night and dialed in a raccoon fight, over my shoulder I saw what looked like a black bear heading at me on a dead run. I was sitting at ground level between the coon and the call (rock and a hard place?), and if you said that thing was under 30 lb I wouldn’t have beleved it!  Their eyes are black by day and orange by night, and can be seen glowing when hit by a lamp at night. The raccoon is unusual in that they can see equally well in the daylight or at night, and can be difficult to spot at night due to their coloration.

You might have seen this photo before, it was the first raccoon I had come into a call, while hunting squirrel in Indiana many years ago.

You might have seen this photo before, it was the first raccoon I had come into a call, while hunting squirrel in Indiana many years ago.

People tend to think of raccoons only as scavengers and in fact the diet of the raccoon is aggressively omnivorous. They will eat fruit, berries, grain, eggs, poultry, vegetables, nuts, mollusks, fish, insects, rodents, carrion, pet food and garbage. Individual animals may learn to use specialized foods such as poultry, fruit crops, small livestock, or garbage by watching other raccoons.  But what I’ve come to find over the last few years of going out to hunt raccoons is that they are a predator of note. When firing off a small mammal distress in the vicinity of a den tree, coons will poor out of the den and down the tree. And they charge more aggressively towards the call than coyote, bobcat, or fox when in the mood. I’ve had the bloody things just about run me over when using mouth calls.

These animals are nocturnal and become quite active as the sun sets. Urban raccoon populations are often underestimated because people seldom see them traveling during the daytime. Where I live I see new road kill raccoons as I drive to my office almost every day, which would indicate a pretty healthy population. But I reckon out in the country areas if there’s a small wooded area, I’ll pull a coon from it.

Raccoons can cause substantial damage to buildings (particularly attics and roofs), gardens, fruit trees, lawns, garbage cans and trash containers. They are also attracted to pet food left outdoors and will attack pets. In rural areas, raccoons may feed on farm crops or raid poultry houses. Raccoons have been known to mutilate poultry in cages by pulling heads or legs off. Several kills may be made during a single night raid with part of one or more carcasses fed upon. Dead fowl may be consumed at the kill site or dragged several yards away. Raccoons are also serious predators of wild bird populations. I have read that raccoons have been responsible for eliminating local populations of some nesting waterfowl. In these situations raccoons may be classified as a pest species, but in most jurisdictions they are classified as a furbearer so check the laws for method of take, seasons and limits.

I had quite a few hunts in Texas for raccoons, but it was when Brian Beck and I started going out calling specifically for them that I was hooked, and started thinking of this animal as a predator rather than a garbage raider.

I had quite a few hunts in Texas for raccoons, but it was when Brian Beck and I started going out calling specifically for them that I was hooked, and started thinking of this animal as a predator rather than a garbage raider.

As a rule, when I talk about raccoon hunting I am talking about calling them in rural areas, approaching them as a predator. I have started pursueing them in a more focused way over the last couple years.  Hunting raccoons can be done with dogs, and this is how most firearm hunters do it. My method is quite simple, and consists of setting up an ambush then waiting. The gun that I found to work well was a .22, .25, and more recently the .30 caliber PCP rifles scoped with a fixed 4x powered scope and a mag light fitted under the barrel. Heavy roundnose pellets give a good combination of penetration and energy dump. With these guns either a head shot or a heart/lung, but raccoons are tough and can carry lead when a body shot is taken.

However, two things happened which tweaked my interest in raccoon hunting. The first was that on a couple trips for large game in Texas, ranchers asked us to thin the populations on their properties as there were just too many coons causing way too much damage. We pursued these animals with lamps at night (legal on private property in Texas) with the aim of removing as many as possible. We drove the ranch roads with high power lamps searching the trees and scrub looking for the telltale glow of eyes, hopping out of the truck and moving in on the spotlighted animals for a twenty five to forty yard shot. This was pest control, pure and simple; the objective being to remove a large number of critters, and this approach worked well. On one nights outing with a couple hunting buddies  we took a dozen raccoons  on a local farm situated north of Dallas in just a few short hours, I was using an FX Gladiator on that outing.

The second factor which increased my raccoon hunting interest was when I accidentally discovered they will aggressively come in on a call. I was squirrel hunting and using a distress call to locate bushy tails, when out of the corner of my eye I picked up a big male raccoon moving rapidly towards me. He froze on detecting something was out of line, but then it was too late. Since that time I have called in many more masked bandits, and find that unlike night time pest control, this is exciting sport which offers some real challenge. Anybody that tells you raccoons won’t come to a call, or won’t come at it in daylight has not tried it. The other thing that I’ve found as I’ve gotten more experience with raccoon calling, they can come charging in without a second thought to wind direction or scent. I almost ended up with a raccoon in my lap on one occasion, and for that reason alone prefer an electronic call so I can get a little distance between my person and the source of sound. But another, more important reason is that I have found the best way to get a raccoon to come to the call is by using raccoon fight sequences which I cannot do with a mouth call.

The distress calls which I’ve found most productive are woodpecker distress, baby squirrel distress, and rodent squeakers. I have many e-callers, but the two I like best for raccoons are the FoxPro Wildfire and the Primos Alpha dog. Almost any call will give you a good selection of distress calls, but these two offer a better library of coon sounds than most others.

If you plan to take raccoons, check the local laws; in some jurisdictions raccoons are pest, in others they are a furbearer with seasons and limits. Sometimes they become a nuisance or pest animal, and depredation permits or special requirements may or may not be required. Raccoons are fairly robust animals that can be hard to kill, and I therefore prefer to use more powerful guns in the 30 fpe plus range. A solid, heavy pellet is a good choice and I have found the JSB round nose (in .22, .25, and .30) and Beeman Kodiaks work very well, yielding both penetration and an effective transfer of energy. If you want an exciting hunt, with a good chance of success, that is available almost anywhere in the country, give raccoons a try!

I’ve staked out about a dozen likely spots, and am going out to call a couple of them when it gets dark. There’s a full moon and with snow on the ground, I don’t even need a light.

Categories: Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Back From the SHOT Show: News from AoA

The Daystate Pulsar drew a great deal of interest, and to my eye is one of the prettiest bullpups around.

I just got back home from Las Vegas on Friday morning …. it was a killer trip and not for the reasons one might associate with this town! I was at the SHOT Show, and as in years past it was a hectic schedule for me. But unlike last year, though I missed media day due to family obligations, I was there for three full days. I caught a late flight in and arrived in Vegas just before midnight on Monday, grabbed a cab to my hotel, and got a decent night sleep. I arrived at the show at 8:30, and as I’d preregistered went straight to the press room. I had a couple quick preliminary meetings with magazine editors, got myself organized, then hit the exhibit floor.

The Daystate Pulsar drew a great deal of interest, and to my eye is one of the prettiest bullpups around.

The Daystate Pulsar drew a great deal of interest, and to my eye is one of the prettiest bullpups around.

I am contracted to deliver reviews or commentary on SHOT for Predator Xtreme (my publishing home base), for Fish and Game (doing an annual gear guide), Airgun Hobbyist, and Airgun Shooter (UK) on big bore airguns. So in my blog today, so that I’m not stepping on my own toes and plagiarizing myself while trying to write four different articles on the same event, I am going to stick to guns and happenings at AoA. And there was a lot happening there with two of the major releases in the booth; the release of the new Daystate Bullpup called the Pulsar, and AoA’s first foray into manufacturing with the big bore called the Bushbuck! The other two areas of extreme interest (for me) was the further integration of Brocock product line into Daystate, and AoA’s management of the MTC scope line.

The AoA booth was, as in years past, in the British Pavilion and by virtue of that had to only shot British products. Fair enough and there was enough to show that this wasn’t a major setback, except that the AOA Bushbuck couldn’t be actively displayed. This was a shame, in that it is the most powerful production big bore gun in the world, and at a SHOT Show this year with the emphasis on all the new big bores the rifle wasn’t given a chance to shine. Robert, Greg, and Darren were manning the booth for AOA, with Tony Belas (Daystate Dir of Sales and Marketing) and his team in attendance. A great group of guys and a vast amount of airgunning experience between them!

Tony Belas took the time to tell me about the history, features, and release plans for the Pulsar.

Tony Belas took the time to tell me about the history, features, and release plans for the Pulsar.

Tony Belas told me that the Pulsar redefines airgun design as we know it. The gun is built on more than a decade of electronic airgun design which has proven very successful in both hunting and competitive shooting, stating that Daystate’s revolutionary CDT system has a significan place in sporting airguns. He also told me that the Pulsar represents the 5th generation of this technology and provides the next major step forward.

The Pulsar brings together Daystate’s established CDT and MCT systems, and updates them into one of the most compact, ergonomic, and advanced firing systems ever seen. The Pulsar’s new electronic GCU system is housed in a rugged waterproof box for total protection against the elements. The ergonomic design is fast to deploy and looks to be a shooter-friendly bullpup packages, which I hope to comment on from an experience users perspective soon. Some of the other features are an integral laser sight to allow the user to wholly concentrate on the shot. The gun is rich in safety features with a sophisticated and multidimensional electronic safety system – a crossbolt safety catch, anti-double loading mechanism, and bolt-open deactivator. All of these features should add up to make the Daystate PULSAR THE gun for shooters that want a bullpup …. and can afford the cover price to the dance :) . I like the concept of a bullpup, but the realization of most designs leaves me less enthusiastic; if I am going to use a bullpup it’s because I want a compact, light, easy to deploy gun. A lot of bullpups feel like a fencepost in my hands, but I was impressed with the fit and feel of this gun and am anxious to hit the field with it.

The AOA Bushbuck is a massive gun, and is producing massive power. The bolt action has two cocking position, pull it halfway back and you get 3-4 shots at 400 fpe, or pull it all the way back and get two shots at an incredible 600 fpe! This is the most powerful production airgun ever built. I shot this gun in Arizona as it was being prototyped, and think it may well represent the apex in big game hunting airguns. It has a solid trigger that is one of the most tactile and smoothest I used on a big bore out of the box. I’m taking this gun hunting soon and will report more then!

Darren and I go over the new AOA Bushbuck, which to me was a major development. At 600 fpe out of the box this is the most powerful production airgun ever made ...... and a great side note, the gun we're looking at is mine and ships after the show!!!

Darren and I go over the new AOA Bushbuck, which to me was a major development. At 600 fpe out of the box this is the most powerful production airgun ever made …… and a great side note, the gun we’re looking at is mine and ships after the show!!!

Brocock has been coming up with guns that I really like, they are compact, simple yet elegant in design, great performers, and tend to be very compact. A gun I got my hands on la couple years back, hunted with a lot in the squirrel woods of the Midwest, desert rabbits out west, and pest control all over, was the Specialist. I groaned when I heard the gun was discontinued, but was happy to see that it has been resurrected with a new ambidextrous stock, which is more substantial than the original stock but still weighs in at 4lb and some change. Now here’s where I’ll weigh in with an opinion, when I want a compact hunting gun to carry on long hikes this is what I reach for, not a bullpup, but a well designed, lightweight, compact carbine. And for this type of gun, Brocock is producing some of the best of breed.

Tony and I discussing the evolving Brocok product line, and the companies airgun portfolio which consists of Daystate, Brocock, and MTC scopes..... exciting times!

Tony and I discussing the evolving Brocok product line, and the companies airgun portfolio which consists of Daystate, Brocock, and MTC scopes….. exciting times!

I can’t give you a lot of details on the MTC Scopes yet, there was not a wide range at the show, but I will say that the couple I looked at impressed with the clarity of the image in the lowlight environment. These scopes have a very short eye relief, which may take a little getting used to, however if the field performance is on par with what I say at the show, it will be worth the effort of acclimation!

Other fun things for me at the show; we filmed a segment of the American Airgunner Roundtable from the floor, setting up a mobile studio at the Pursuit Channels booth. I was joined by the usual suspects (Rossi, Tom, and Rick) and we each spoke about some of our favorite finds from around the exhibit hall. I also did a full blown photo shoot for Game&Fish/Sportsman magazine, which was a bit wild. I met in a studio they’d set up in the convention center, replete with all the lights and gear, and a staff consisting of photographer, director of photography, makeup artist, etc. I had to change into my camo and strike heroic poses in front of a white screen with an air rifle over my shoulder to calls of ” a quarter turn, raise your chin, look into the camera, look serious, be the expert”. Will see how it turns out, I think my face is better suited for writing or radio!

Have lots of guns coming to me over the next few months, one of the first things I’ll do is an upcoming hog hunt with the Bushbuck…. I’ll keep readers up to date!

BTW: If you want to get a broader look at the SHOT Show, I’ve got a two part video posted, stop by for a look

https://www.youtube.com/watch?x-yt-cl=84503534&v=XWZVnImk8iM&feature=player_embedded&x-yt-ts=1421914688

Categories: Airguns of Arizona, Big Bore Airguns, Brocock, Daystate, SHOT Show, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Look Back At A Great Gun That Never Got A Chance

Flying into Las Vegas for the SHOT Show a few years back, I was eager (as always) to see what the airgun manufacturers had in store for us. I arrived Friday night and had to leave for a conference in Germany Sunday morning, which left me with one full day to cruise the show. I spent my limited time running from one Airgun booth to another as fast as I could, followed by pre dinner meetings, dinner meetings, and after dinner meetings.

A rifle that never got the chance to prove itself in the market!

A rifle that never got the chance to prove itself in the market!

But even under these time constraints I kept finding myself drawn back to the ROHM GmbH booth to look at two new rifles they were introducing; the Twinmaster Air Hunter Rifle and Twinmaster Air Hunter Carbine. These guns were both things of beauty, but it was the Carbine that really caught my eye: the precisely shaped thumbhole stock, the shrouded carbine length barrel, the solidly built bolt action, and the light crisp adjustable trigger all impressed.

An all around great little carbine that I really enjoyed hunting with. Who know what this gun might have done in the market if the legs not been kicked out from under it market introduction.

An all around great little carbine that I really enjoyed hunting with. Who know what this gun might have done in the market if the legs not been kicked out from under it market introduction.

The Air Hunter was developed in both a carbine and rifle configuration.

The Air Hunter was developed in both a carbine and rifle configuration.

After my second or third visit I sat down for a chat with the product and marketing guys in attendance, and was treated to a demo of and discussion on these yet to be released products. We agreed that when test guns were available, they would ship me the pair to get in some preliminary range and field time. As the months flew by, we kept in loose contact with an understanding they would be shipped as soon as a pre-release run of test guns was available. Then one day in June, I was notified that the brace of Air Hunters were being shipped and would be reaching me soon. I had some fun getting them through customs, a long story that I’ll go into another time, but eventually found myself sitting in my gun room opening a shipping container that held two packing boxes. The rifles resting therein had both made the long journey without incident or damage.

And a nice set of guns they were! Both of them dressed in laminate thumbhole stocks with stippled grips on the pistol grip and forestock. After a quick visual assessment, I cleaned the guns, attached the bolt (the only piece of assembly required), mounted a scope, filled the removable reservoir and charged it to 3000 psi, then sat down to sight in. I always bore sight my guns before the shooting, and the first three pellets sent down range formed a slightly ragged hole 3” inches low and a 1” to the right. I’ll get into the accuracy in detail a little further along, but want to say the first three things that I took note of were a) the stock was a great fit, b) the trigger was light and crisp, and c) the gun was very quiet. Sometimes, and it doesn’t happen often, you pick up a gun and it just “feels” right. My AA S410 FAC and Falcon PF 25 are two models that exemplify this; there are several great guns on the market but these two just felt good from the start. And extensive shooting and hunting experience with the rifles confirmed their promise as exceptional hunting arms. I had the same feeling with the Air Hunter Carbine, though carried on with the objective of maintaining a critical eye.

The kit contained both a 5 shot shuttle clip and a single shot tray.

The kit contained both a 5 shot shuttle clip and a single shot tray.

Fit and Finish

The level of fit and finish is very good, as one would expect from a gun at this price point. The laminate used for the thumbhole stock looks more like a traditional Walnut than the flashier muliti hued veneers often used in today’s guns. I think this gives the rifle classy good looks. The stippling on the pistol grip and forestock is well executed, and gives a good grip on the gun when the weather gets sloppy. All the metal work is deeply blued, and is well formed without machine marks or defects. It is solid without being bulky. A standard Weaver scope rail is factory installed, and I used it to mount a Hawke Map Pro 3-9x 40 variable scope. I found this carbine balanced very well, and the cheekpiece offered up a good sight alignment with the scope and medium profile rings used to mount it.

The Mechanics

The Air Hunter Carbine is available in .177 or .22 caliber (my gun is .22) and can be set up as a single shot using a loading recess insert, or as a repeater using a five shot strip magazine. Both the loading recess and the strip magazine will be included in the base package. The compressed air is supplied via a removable cartridge that has a fill rating of 3000 psi and yields approximately 40 shots per fill. The distal end of this air reservoir has an onboard monometer so that air pressure can be continuously monitored. This is a regulated gun, and the regulator is set to reduce the pressure to approximately 1950 psi over the 40 shot string. A filling adaptor that screws into a standard DIN tank fitting comes with the rifle. The reservoir screws onto this fitting, and after charging is automatically bled off as the cartridge is unscrewed. Therefore no external bleed valve is required.

This gun is cycled with a bolt mechanism, but is actually cocked by the compressed air pressure. If there is no charge, the gun cannot be discharged. The bolt is well proportioned and the action is smooth, I find that I can load and chamber a pellet very quickly. The triggers functional parameters; pull weight, slack, stop and force are preset at the factory with the weight preset at approximately 3.5 lb. The triggers position / finger distance can be adjusted using an Allen key. What is unique with this trigger is that there is virtually no stacking; the pressure one needs to exert to release the sear is a few grams. I really like the tactile response of this trigger for hunting, not too light but at the same time it breaks very smoothly.

Performance

I shot Crosman Premiers, JSB Exacts, and Eu Jin ,22 pellets for my initial shakedown of the Air Hunter. This gun is producing around 17 fpe, and performs very well with the CPs. I charged the gun to just under 3000 psi and shot 25 shot string, getting a maximum velocity of 752 fps and minimum velocity of 748 for a spread of only 13 fps. The accuracy achieved with the CPs was also impressive; shooting a series of five 10 shot groups at 25 and 50 yards I obtained .31 and .62 inch ctc groups respectively.  I have had good terminal performance on small game with CPs over the years, so decided to make this my hunting round.I think the combination of the quality barrel, well regulated air charge, ergonomic stock and the excellent tactile response of the trigger results in a very shootable package.

The gun provided consistency, accuracy, and power for small game hunting.

The gun provided consistency, accuracy, and power for small game hunting.

In The Field

On my first hunting trip with this carbine, I carried it for a day of rabbit hunting on a friend’s farm. The garden on his property was working as a magnet for the local bunny population, and he asked me to thin out the population a bit. I take these pest control duties seriously as this is one of the properties I use for deer hunting when season comes around. I rolled up late one afternoon, and scattered a few rabbits that had been feeding in the small park-like field in front of the farm house and bordering the 2 acre garden patch. I unloaded the Air Hunter and stuck a small pouch of CP pellets in my shirt pocket before starting out.  I moved to the edge of the cultivated area using the trees and bushes to shield my approach, before sitting down next to a small tree with an overlook of both the field and the garden. After a short wait rabbits started to appear but they were all out of range. Then I noticed one come out along the edge of the brush line at about fifty yards. I lined up the shot and squeezed the trigger, the light, crisp break along with the effectively silenced report allowed me to watch as the pellet dropped right on my point of aim! The rabbit rolled over, anchored on the spot. A similar scene played out a few more times with shots taken and made at 40 to 65 yards, before diminishing light sent me packing. The outing did give me enough shooting to appreciate how well this compact carbine handled in the field. On this trip I had the single shot loading recess in place, and found that I could easily and quickly feed the CPs and cycle the shot. The accuracy was outstanding, every shot was dead on target and every aspect of the gun was exceptional; they way it carried, the way it came to the shoulder, the sight alignment, and the responsive trigger made it a lot of fun to hunt with.

My next trip out found me chasing ground hogs, where shots sometimes have to range out a bit further and the quarry is a lot bigger. I was using XP 18 grain pellets this time, and in testing had found them to be accurate with the Air Hunter. Past experience had also shown me that they perform well on whistle pigs. Long story short; I stalked a series of fields but these late summer survivors would not let me get inside a hundred yards. I’ll reach out for a jack rabbit or prairie dog this far, but not an animal the sized of a well feed ground hog. This did give me a chance to walk, trot, leopard crawl, and crab walk with the gun, which reconfirmed my earlier assessment that it carried well in the field! Finally on my way back to the car, I looked up as I walked through a stand of trees and there in a small clearing sitting atop a log was a plump hog staring at me. I slowly raised the rifle and shot, taking him with a headshot as he prepared to vacate the area. He flopped over dead, and I counted off 32 paces as I walked over to collect him. As a rule, I’m not going to use a .22 air rifle for any prey much larger than this, and in my view the knock down performance of this gun satisfies my hunting needs for an air rifle in this caliber.

Opening day of Indiana’s squirrel season found me in the woods at daybreak, in full camo with the carbine in hand. I moved to a den tree that I’ve hunted a few times over the years and settled in for a wait. After a half hour, nothing was happening in my area but I did hear the repetitive barking of a squirrel off to my right. Grabbing my pack and rifle I slowly started moving in the direction of the sound, stopping often and listening. I sat at the base of a tall mast producing tree where I thought I’d heard some movement. After a few more minutes I heard cutting and saw a telltale patch of red fur from the fox squirrel high up. But the foliage was so heavy I could not see well enough for a shot. Standing up, I leaned around the base of the trunk to a point that I could see the bushytail stretched out above me. Bringing the rifle to shoulder, I leaned back and lined up a bead right on the noggin. The thumbhole stock allowed me to comfortably hold the rifle in this awkward position, and shooting almost straight up I squeezed the trigger. A plump red squirrel dropped through the branches landing at my feet. Within two hours in the woods, I had three nice fox squirrels loaded into the game pouch of my pack.

So, I started talking about these rifles and wrote a couple articles that got interest up, but nobody could find the guns or track down the manufacturer. I tried reaching the marketing folks at Roehm that had shipped the guns to me…. the phones went unanswered, emails went unanswered, I even tried snail mail without success, only to find much later on that the company had ceased operations and their assets sold. Since I have found that Airguns of Arizona had a couple of these guns hidden away in inventory….. but in the end I don’t believe more than a small handful ever made it into shooters hands. I’ve seen this a few times over the couple decades, what looked like a promising gun that for one reason or another never hit the market. Mine get a place of honor in the display case.

Other news:

I’m getting ready to leave for the SHOT Show in a couple days, and it’s going to be both a lot of fun and very busy. I’m covering the exhibition for four different magazines, a TV show, and I know there are a lot of new guns coming out! I’ll keep you all updated!

Categories: Airguns of Arizona, Hunting Accessories, Pest Control, Rabbits, Rifle stocks, Small Game Hunting, stocks | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Tree Squirrel Part II

My friend Randy Mitchell down in Kentucky was the guy that got me hooked on squirrel hunting. My first season in the Midwest I was only moderately successful, but after some hunts with him I started getting much better results. He and I wrote a book together on squirrel hunting several years ago.

My friend Randy Mitchell down in Kentucky was the guy that got me hooked on squirrel hunting. My first season in the Midwest I was only moderately successful, but after some hunts with him I started getting much better results. He and I wrote a book together on squirrel hunting several years ago.

The first step in a successful hunt is to select a good woods to hunt. I look for large mature trees with mast or another food source close at hand. The last few years I’ve used google maps to scout areas that look like good squirrel habitat, which has helped me locate some productive new hunting grounds on public land. I also keep a notebook which list the details on the areas in which I have seen squirrels, as they continue to be productive if not over harvested. You can often find two or three areas that contain most of the squirrels in an area, and then focus on these spots. I like to pick a protected pathway to so that I can quietly move to the site where I have set up my blind, and hunker down. I like to move into position before first light and set up, that way I am able to sit back undetected, as the squirrels start moving about. The blind I use is a wire frame pop up tent with shooting windows all around. These blinds set up and break down in seconds, keep me dry, and lets me move around without being seen. An alternative to setting up a blind is to wear camouflage, and I have several sets to match the different environments in which I hunt. My normal outfit consists of pants, jacket, mesh gloves and face cover, and hat. The advantage of this over the blind is that I can move around and still hunt. Another piece of gear I’ve really come to like over the last couple years is a leafy 3d camo poncho, which can be worn or used to set up a variety of different hides.

Some might say that complete camo for squirrels is overkill. but I believe it makes a big difference, especially on squirrels that get hunting pressure. At the very least, wear a face cover and gloves.

Some might say that complete camo for squirrels is overkill. but I believe it makes a big difference, especially on squirrels that get hunting pressure. At the very least, wear a face cover and gloves.

I like to use stalking and still hunting techniques when I’m entering the woods anytime after daybreak. Moving in a haphazard way through the woods will result in not seeing any squirrels for hours after; this is the perfect way to ruin a hunt. Take a few slow steps and stop for at least a minute. The squirrels may think you are a deer quietly foraging, and resume whatever they were doing. If you happen to spot a squirrel in the distance, move slowly and only when he has his attention dedicated to something else. Often you can get close enough for a shot, which is the name of the game when hunting with an airgun.

Slow spot and stalk hunting is more difficult than setting up a blind and often less productive.... but is the most fun way to hunt the bushytail.

Slow spot and stalk hunting is more difficult than setting up a blind and often less productive…. but is the most fun way to hunt the bushytail.

The Hatsan is an entry level gun that can get the job done. The Airforce Talon and the Benjamin Marauder also fit this bill.

The Hatsan is an entry level gun that can get the job done. The Airforce Talon and the Benjamin Marauder also fit this bill.

Another technique is a variation on the theme, which is to combine stalking or sitting a blind, and using a call. I sometimes favor using a squirrel call when I am hunting an area I know holds a population of bushytails but I’m not seeing any. I have the best results with a chatter call. Squirrels are both social and vocal animals, and you’ll frequently hear more than one chattering at a time. A chatter call can get others chattering and reveal locations. I have had mixed results with this call, sometimes it works and sometimes nothing. But I use these when I am not having luck otherwise, so I find them worth a try. If you do get a response, put on a stalk. If not, keep still, quiet, and wait! Chances are a curious squirrel is coming in to investigate. I have used the distressed squirrel pup and the barking calls on occasion, but I don’t seem to have the much success with these. But I don’t claim to be an expert squirrel caller, so it might be me!  Often when stalking through the woods, you and the squirrels will become aware of each other at about the same time, and these arboreal escape artists are very adept at keeping the tree between the two of you as they scamper to the offside precluding a shot. If hunting with a partner, have your buddy walk around the tree and quite often the squirrel will slide around right into your crosshairs. When hunting alone I’ll sit for a few minutes before throwing a rock or a branch to the other side of the tree, which will often move him back into shooting position.

Depending on the gun I am using, I will either take a head or a chest shot, but prefer the head shot. These kill zones are about the same size, so it’s really a matter of what target the squirrel presents me with. Squirrels are fairly tenacious little animals, so I prefer to use a heavy round nose pellet.

Ok, so we have a squirrel down, now what? These animals are actually make quite good table fare when prepared properly. Regardless of what game you shoot in the field, how it comes out on the dinner table has a lot to do with the way you care for it in the field. I prefer to skin and clean my kills as soon as possible, and have found a few ways to quickly and effectively prepare bushytails. The approach I’ve found to work quite well is to grasp the squirrel by the tail and use your knife and cut into the tail just above where the tail connects to the body above the anis at the underside of tail. Cut through the tailbone being careful not to cut the tail off the squirrel. Cut through to the skin on the other side of the bone leaving the tail attached by a narrow band of skin holding it to the rest of the hide. Hold onto the rear legs and skin the tail down the squirrel’s back a couple inches. Now take the tail and clamp it down to the ground with your boot, and put all your weight on it. Grasp the rear legs tightly and pull upwards until the skin peels off up to the squirrel’s neck. Next, grab the front legs that are still in the skin and pull them out of the skin up to the feet. Then let go of the rear legs as you grasp the edge of the hide left on the rear portion that looks like his pants on the belly side and pull it off like pulling his pants off , down toward his rear feet. Cut the front and rear feet off and your done with the skinning. A great advantage with this technique is that it leaves little or no hair on the meat. I did not realize early on that it is a good idea to remove all of the musk glands during cleaning and gutting to prevent a bitter taste. The glands are small grayish balls found on the neck, under front leg arm pits, on belly and hips areas, directly behind rear leg knee joints under the flesh. You must cut into the flesh behind the rear knee all the way to the bone in order to find the gland here. The other glands are readily apparent after the animal has been skinned.

My all around favorite small game gun is probably the Daystate Huntsman Classic. There are a few other guns that perform as well.... but none look better doing it!

My all around favorite small game gun is probably the Daystate Huntsman Classic. There are a few other guns that perform as well…. but none look better doing it!

The FX Royale is another gun that provides outstanding performance in the squirrel woods, and in .25 is a tackdrive on accuracy and a sledge hammer on power.

The FX Royale is another gun that provides outstanding performance in the squirrel woods, and in .25 is a tackdrive on accuracy and a sledge hammer on power.

There are several airguns that I like for squirrel hunting, which include springers and PCPs in various calibers. My favorite springers these days are; the RWS 34 .22 which is light and compact making it very easy to carry and bring into action, even in heavy spring foliage. The RWS 350 Pro Compact is a gun that I really enjoy for its classic lines, and it delivers the pellet on target with excellent accuracy and power. The Walther LGV comes in a variety of configurations, and are high quality guns that are smooth shooting and offer excellent power and accuracy, but the reason I like them specifically for squirrel hunting is that I can shoot them well from just about any position, whether I am sitting, standing, or prone. I also like my old Webley Patriot in .25 because this gun is a powerhouse, and in the heavy spring bush where I want to anchor the animal this gun does the job.  I have found that when matched to the right gun, the JSB Exacts and Predator Polymags.177 and .22 work very well, and the JSB Exacts and Benjamin Domes pellets are great in the .25. Some of the PCPs I like to use for Mr. Bushytail are the Daystate Huntsman Classic, the Wolverine type B in .22, the FX Verminator, and the Brocock Concept elite which are all accurate rifles with a multishot magazine and shrouded barrels. Another old favorite is the Prairie Falcon .22 with the eight shot rotary magazine that is a tack driver, and of the entry level guns that offer big performance, I’ve been getting great results with the Hatsan AT44 and Benjamin Marauder which shows you can get in the game on a budget as well. Saying that this list comprises my favorites is a bit arbitrary, as there are many guns I enjoy taking to the woods with, but they exemplify the type of gun I like. Sometimes when out for predators and an opportunistic shot at a squirrel comes up, I will use my mid bores to take small game as well, not the ideal squirrel guns but they do a good job anchoring squirrels!

So that’s my quick look at squirrel hunting, which arguably is the most popular airgun hunting quarry in North America. Of all the hunting I’ve done for different game in different places, some of my best memories are of squirrel hunts. If you haven’t tried it, and I mean seriously hunting them not just shooting them out of the bird feeder in the backyard for pest control, which is a valid application for an airgun but is not the same as hunting them in the woods, give it a try. Even as an experience hunter you may be surprised that such a small animal can provide such a big challenge!

Categories: Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Airgun Hunting’s Ubiquitous Game: Tree Squirrels

The gray, red, Aberts, and fox squirrels are all very cautious and elusive animals.  To consistently take squirrels requires an ability to stalk, a great deal of patience, and knowledge of the squirrels behavior.  I do a fair bit of deer hunting and find squirrel hunting excellent practice for bigger game. I also use my airgun hunting time in the woods pre deer season to find good places to set up my blind on opening day of deer season. If you can sneak up on a squirrel, you’re on your way to sneaking up on deer.

These creatures are spectacularly well suited for life in the trees, and move with a fluidity and speed that is truly amazing.  Gray, Aberts and red squirrels spend more time in the trees and less time on the ground, and fox squirrels spend more time on the ground scavenging than the others. Squirrels have the ability to literally disappear from sight in a seconds notice, and once that happens you probably won’t see him again for some time, if at all.  They are very adept at putting a tree between themselves and a hunter and making it difficult to line up a shot, though you can use this trait to advantage when stalking in to set up a shot.

Whether hunting fox, gray or Aberts squirrel, to be consistently successful you need to know your game and its habits.

Whether hunting fox, gray or Aberts squirrel, to be consistently successful you need to know your game and its habits.

This means knowing where to look for them, such as mast producing hardwoods.

This means knowing where to look for them, such as mast producing hardwoods.

And finding and understanding sign that they are in the area, where they are feeding and where the are denning.

And finding and understanding sign that they are in the area, where they are feeding and where the are denning.

Both gray and fox squirrel’s habitat is woodland with oak and hickory trees, yards, stands of trees around cultivated areas, actually just about anywhere there are trees and food.  As a general rule of thumb, grays like the denser wood area and foxes prefer some open ground area with the trees more spaced out. Squirrels nest in holes in trees or build leaf nests in tree branches. In inhabited areas, squirrels have the bad habit of building their homes inside human homes – and at that point they are no longer a game animal but a pest. One species or another can be found in most of the United States. Grey squirrels are active year-round and arboreal; they do not hibernate even in the very cold regions of their range, and they must have trees to survive. They are most frequently encountered around sun-rise and are the most active after sun-up. In the places I hunt, squirrels are classified as game animals and the fish and game regulations define the hours they may be hunted. Make sure you know the laws where you hunt. .Squirrels populations peak every five years or so. Squirrel tracks look a lot like a rabbit’s except the tracks of a squirrel are more bunched, and tend to end at the base of a tree.

These arboreal rodents eat a variety of foods; corn, sunflower seeds, hickory nuts bird food left in feeders, nuts insects, fungi, seeds, berries, fruit, vegetables, nuts, and in tough times, tree bark. Squirrels can be voracious carnivores and devour quantities of bird eggs and the chicks of many birds. I have to keep vigilance on my property as the large squirrel population will play havoc with the nesting songbirds and at the feeder During August-October, they are feeding heavily on hickory nuts, acorns, beech, dogwood or black gum. I have also seen them eat corn, sweetgum, poplar, cypress, pine, ironwood and wheat. They bury acorns and other nuts – but before they cache the nuts, they bite out the base that prevents the nut/seed from germinating. Squirrels must have a source of water and are seldom found far from it, I often hunt along the edges of streams and creeks. In some states, and Kentucky and Indiana come to mind, it is legal to hunt from boats if certain guidelines on the type of water craft used are adhered to. I use my Ocean 12’ SOT kayak as both a platform from which to hunt as well as a means of getting into secluded squirrel woods, and tie this into my other hobby of ultralight camping as well.

My kayak is a great platform for hunting squirrel (where legal) and a great way to getting into secluded hunting areas.

My kayak is a great platform for hunting squirrel (where legal) and a great way to getting into secluded hunting areas.

As mentioned, squirrels can be found in almost any wooded area within their range and have adjusted well to man. Often squirrels thrive within the city, making their homes wherever a suitable den can be found. We sometimes shoot squirrels within the city limits when they are pest, and for legal reasons this is one of the times I hunt with an airgun because I must rather than because I choose to. In the rural and wilderness areas one can usually find squirrels by finding a food source.

Squirrel_3

Gear also changes based on conditions, but I always carry range finder, binos, call, and a knife.

Gear also changes based on conditions, but I always carry range finder, binos, call, and a knife.

Once you have located the food source and know where the squirrel feeds eat, one must find where squirrels live. The favorite home of a squirrel is a hollowed out tree with a small opening of a couple of inches. The tree must be large enough to support a male and female squirrel and about 6 young, so the tree must be quite large in diameter. Squirrels also make temporary housing by bunch leaves and twigs in the upper parts of trees, and these often are seen as the leave start to fall, looking like large bird nest. Do not be tempted to shoot into these nests to scare out squirrels as this is illegal in most if not all states. Squirrels will often make a temporary nest in the same trees they have their permanent dens in, perhaps to get better airflow in the hot and humid summer nights, or perhaps where the male is chased off to when there are very young in the nest. These shelters are made near a food source so that food doesn’t have to be carried over a long distance.

 

Whether you are out for fox, gray, or Aberts squirrel, you have to hunt well and you have to hunt smart to be successful on a regular basis. The first step is knowing your quarry. Next installement I'll talk about some guns (the one in this photo is a home made PCP I built several years ago)

Whether you are out for fox, gray, or Aberts squirrel, you have to hunt well and you have to hunt smart to be successful on a regular basis. The first step is knowing your quarry. Next installement I’ll talk about some guns (the one in this photo is a home made PCP I built several years ago)

 

I’ll follow up with the second part of this discussion next post!

Categories: binoculars, mouth calls, Optics, Pellets, Small Game Hunting, springers, Squirrels, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sparrows (I think) in China

Several Years ago, almost twenty as I now think back, I was living in Tokyo. I had to make a trip over to China on short notice, and a scheduling error found me with free time and stumbling into a really unique airgunning experience. I wrote this up for my first airgun hunting book, the American Airgunner, and since that collection of hunting stories is long out of print, thought I’d share it here again.

This is one of those strange stories about a hunting trip that wasn’t supposed to be a hunting trip. I was living in Tokyo at the time and working all over Asia. I had been called down to Beijing China on short notice to help salvage a project going bad. My travel agent arranged the trip, my office in Tokyo arranged the meetings, and everything was set… I thought. I climbed off the plane in Beijing and made my way to a hotel a couple of miles outside of the airport and several miles outside the city. I had stayed in this hotel a few times before, and the plan was to get a nights sleep and be picked up by my companies driver in the morning. I called into the office to tell them I’d arrived, but nobody answered. I kept trying and kept getting the same results, so after a couple of hours I called back to Tokyo to find out what was going on. There were several calls back and forth and it was finally determined that there had been a mistake in the schedule and I was suppose to have arrived three days later, and to make matters worse (or better as it turned out) there was a holiday just starting and I was on my own. I decided to set up shop at the Movenpick Hotel out in the country rather than head into the city, and spend a long weekend drinking beer and laying by the pool. I did this with great success and woke up the next morning a bit off color, and decided to get some exercise instead of a replaying the events of the day before. I called down to the concierge and asked what activities were available and after running through the options decided to rent a mountain bike and go for a ride in the countryside. I had the hotel pack me a lunch and a couple bottles of water, threw some stuff in my pack and was off.

My hunting partner in China – one of those trips that sticks in your mind forever. We couldn’t speak each other language, but managed to make a good hunt!

My hunting partner in China – one of those trips that sticks in your mind forever. We couldn’t speak each other language, but managed to make a good hunt!

Just a mile or so away from the hotel, I found myself on little packed dirt roads surrounded by agricultural land, mostly rice paddies, that stretched out as far as the eye could see, I kept riding as the day started to become warmer, it was a clear blue sky with a scattering of clouds. Riding along I saw something coming towards me, but I couldn’t make out what it was, and as it grew closer I realized that an entire family was balanced on a bike. Mom, dad, baby and grandma (or grandpa, I couldn’t tell) perched on what looked like a dilapidated beach cruiser, and what contributed to the bizarre silhouette was the ample stock of household goods and farming implements they had also loaded on. I eyed them thinking this was quite a site, when I realized they were looking at me the same way. I am over 6’1’’ tall, wore somewhat longhair and a beard at the time, was wearing day glow bike shorts without a shirt. I must have been the very picture of some rice field demon rolling down the road. We all pedaled by, eyes locked on one another, going on our way with our own individual stories of the weird sight we’d seen.

I continued on for a few more miles and rode by several family farm compounds that, even though we were only twenty or so miles out of Beijing, looked like something out of the distant past. They were of a common design, a few rough stone buildings arranged in a rectangle around a courtyard, with a large hinged door to allow entry with equipment or animals. I could see families inside, going about their business. At one of these compounds, it was somewhat larger than the others, and surrounded by scattered trees I saw what looked like a teenage boy of fourteen or fifteen creeping around these little woods with an airgun. I broke out my water and a snack, and leaning my bike against a tree, sat back to watch. After a few minutes the kid saw me and looked somewhat alarmed. He started moving away, but I waved him over. Trying to look friendly and non-threatening I finally got him over to me, and using my Berlitz language book I tried to ask him about his gun and what he was hunting. I did not know then, but I do now, that the Berlitz guide has a dearth of hunting expressions. Using sign language to show him that I liked to hunt (aiming and squeezing off shots from my imaginary gun) and trying to modify the Berlitz phrases for meeting new friends at the disco, I continued my inquiries. At one point, he looked at me with what I thought was alarm and trotted off into the compound. Now I’ve done it I thought, I led him to believe that I was a western subversive set on infiltrating China with a plan to get my hands on an air rifle, and cause god knows what havoc and mayhem.

As I was climbing on my bike to take off before the family descended on me with pitchforks, the kid came running back carrying an additional rifle. He indicated through signs (he spoke as well but I got not one word of it) that I could use a rifle and shoot with him. This was too good an opportunity for an inveterate airgun hunter, and besides, I was on my own schedule and in no hurry to anything else. The rifle was an underlever cocking pneumatic air rifle, which had a military look to it. I later realized that it was probably some variation of a Model B3 rifle that is now days commonly sold via the internet. It was roughly finished and pretty banged up, but on shooting a few shots to acclimate myself, found it pretty accurate considering I was using iron sites. We were shooting .177 flat head pellets, and I had no way of knowing (or based on the diminutive size of our quarry, really caring) what velocity these guns were putting out.

We hiked down to some trees behind one of the out buildings where I had first seen him stalking. Looking up I saw a flock of perhaps forty or fifty little brown birds flitting from limb to limb. I pointed and he nodded affirmation that these were our quarry. I took aim at a bird about 20 feet up in the tree and squeezed off a shot, missing him cleanly. The kid laughed, I guess bad shooting transcends cultural differences in language and humor, and snapped off a shot…. Plap! A bird dropped to the ground. The others did not seem to take notice that one of their numbers had departed under less than favorable (for him) circumstances. I took aim once again, and this time nailed one of the little buggers with a chest shot. The bird came tumbling down, and my hunting companion didn’t look pleased. He pointed to the chest shot and indicated this was bad placement; he made me understand that these little birds, I think they were sparrows of a type, were destined for the table. I spent the entire afternoon shooting and the two of us took a large number of birds, which seemed to please him to no end. We would shoot at a stand of trees until the birds got nervous, then move to another. I think a CO2 multi shot rifle probably would have been powerful enough for this game, and the ability to follow up would have been nice.

I noticed it was getting late in the day, and nodded my thanks for the fun day of shooting. Riding away I thought it interesting that without being able to speak the same language and having nothing in common but the hunt, I had spent a really fun day somewhere in the agricultural backwaters of China shooting what at home was a pest, but here I guess I should consider game. I have long believed that there is a certain subset of any population that are hunters, and now I know they have their own language.

To wrap up my story, as I tried to find my way back it got dark. There were no lights anywhere and I was surrounded by a great deal of nothing. The compounds were all shut up, and even if they weren’t, I wouldn’t have been able to communicate. My food and water were long gone; I was hungry, thirsty, and lost. I was using my compass to try to keep going in the right direction, and it was a little disconcerting riding along under moonlight. After working my way through fields and around dead ends, I rolled out parallel to the paved road. But I wasn’t sure if I’d come out above or below the hotel, so taking a chance I picked a direction. It turned out to be the right direction and eventually I rolled into the hotel parking lot. The next morning I brought the bike back, and the guy that rented it to me was most unhappy that I had kept his bike all night. After the exertions of the day and night before, I decided that I’d spend my last free day back at the pool, drinking beer and reflecting on the hunt.

Categories: airgun ammo, bird hunting, Destinations, pest birds, Small Game Hunting, Spring Piston Airguns, springers | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Competition and the Extreme Bench Rest

Me lining up a shot, I proved you don't have to shoot well to have fun!

Me lining up a shot, I proved you don’t have to shoot well to have fun!

I’m getting packed up and preparing to leave on an airgunning hog hunt down in Texas for a few days. It’s going to be a lot of fun, getting out in the field for a quarry and in a place where modern big bore airgun hunting really took off. Being out in the field, and hunting is one of the things that bring me a great deal of satisfaction and enjoyment.

I have to admit that I never had any great interest in competitive shooting; I have always been impressed with good shooting, but the type of methodical interest in the smallest of detail to wring the absolute best accuracy out of gun and ammo, never captured my interest. When I’d read my monthly subscriptions to the British airgun magazines, I’d absorb the hunting articles while glancing over the field target match reports.

Everyone getting ready to shoot, Quail Creek has a very nice purpose designed airgun range.

Everyone getting ready to shoot, Quail Creek has a very nice purpose designed airgun range.

But then about three years ago I attended EBR which was my first match (outside of the LASO big bore long range matches) that really focused on the discipline of target shooting. I smiled as I watched these guys pull out specialized rifles with heavy, angular, chunky stocks, placed in over engineered bench rest, set up timers and wind flags and at what seemed precisely timed intervals carefully squeeze of a shot. This was a million miles away from my typical shooting environment, but it held no strong appeal. I shot that first match with a borrowed gun I’d never touched before, and while the other guys on the line were letting off a shot a very minute, I sat down, threw the rifle over my camera bag and was done in about four minutes. Every shot a dead rabbit…. But a mediocre score that dropped me in the middle of the pack. Then I shot the timed silhouette and the fast paced action, and had a blast! Now this was an event I wanted to try again someday. Unfortunately that year I could only spend a day before having to return home for a family gathering.

Looking down range.

Looking down range. Noah, a 12 year old shooter, clean the clock of the majority of shooters. This kid is one to watch!

But I thought to myself on leaving, next year I’m going to bring my own gun and really practice up! And I did…. That year I brought my FX Boss, sighted in and proven for the EBR and also brought my Huntsman Classic for a .22 for the other events. Misfortune snarled at me again, the wife of one of my staff (from my day job) decided to have a baby on Saturday morning, and I found myself on the way back to Minneapolis to pick up a suit and tie, before climbing on a later plane to fly to the east coast to cover a meeting for him….. no shooting that year!

So this year I was all set to come to play!! But shortly before the scheduled event I was called to our corporate headquarters to review my department’s performance: the good news was that our performance was very good and that I could still make the event. The bad news was the meeting was in Tokyo and I returned to Minneapolis the night before and had to leave early the next morning for Tucson. I was worn out and disinclined to lug my guns along, so once again shot borrowed guns …. And I shot horribly. But I still had a great time …. And that’s what I want to write about in this post!

And the winners are .... that's Tim MaMurray standing center stage in the winners circle.

And the winners are …. that’s Tim McMurray standing center stage in the winners circle.

Why would I kill myself to rush halfway around the world, say hi and goodbye to my family that I’d been away from for a week, to jump on another plane for a cross country flight? It’s because while I have a growing interest in the competition (and I swear next year I’ll be prepared J ) the Extreme Benchrest has become for me the ultimate airgunning event! There are great shooters, many very interesting guns, a lot of old and potential new friends, and no matter who you are a chance to learn and see something new. The fact that the heads of some of the finest airgun manufacturers in the world have a presence and are committed to the event provides an outstanding opportunity for airgunners to meet the guys that produce the guns and gear, and speak with them in a relaxed and open manner. The camaraderie is great as well: I know I’ll see my friends from Europe, south of the border, and from all over the country. The guys from AOA do a fantastic job of organizing and hosting the event, and I have some good friends in that group that are always fun to catch up with. The fantastic social gathering can’t be discounted, I think you’d have to work hard not to enjoy it!

The shooting events include the 25 Meter Benchrest, the 75 yard Extreme Benchrest, the Time Silohuette, Field Target disciplines, and pistol matches. There is something there for just about every shooter, and I will go into more detail on each event and the competitors in upcoming blog posts. I will tell you that after years of watching these serious shooters, I am motivated to take a more competitive view of the EBR in future, I was happy to be a spectator (and spectators are very welcome by the way). But when you see how focused and talented these guys are, you want to jump in and do your best. There are Sportsmen and Professional classes for the events, so newbie or very experienced there is a place for you.

So now I’m going back to packing for the Texas hunt in the morning, and will follow up with you later to share more experiences and observations about the EBR!

 

Categories: Airguns of Arizona, Competition, Daystate, Destinations, EBR, Extreme Benchrest, Long Range shooting, Shooting technique | Leave a comment
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