Texas Varmint Hunt!

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

On the Road to Texas!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guns and Gear

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

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

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

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

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

Prairie Dogs and Jackrabbits …… everywhere!

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

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

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

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

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

Gun and Ammo Performance

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

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

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

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

Air Powered Handguns for Hunting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lining up on a squirrel!

Lining up on a squirrel!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weather Blocked! It’s down to the Basement!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Air Rifle Stocks

Taking Stock!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Random Notes

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

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

 

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

Airgun Pigeon Control in South Africa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pellet Adjacent Trivia!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bottle Fed Air Rifles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mussings on Airgun Power

What is the right power level?

The level of power that can be generated with airguns depends on what type of airgun you’re talking about. Most of the inexpensive CO2 and pneumatics that are produced for the mass market plinkers generate from 4 to 10 fpe, while some of the the big bores can generate over 600 fpe!

As a general rule of thumb, even the most high powered springers and PCP production guns are much less powerful than a .22 rimfire. While most CO2 airguns are fairly low powered by comparison to springers and PCPs there are some CO2 guns doing 15 fpe out of the box, but these are the exception. Springers usually generate around 16 – 20 fpe, though there are some very powerful models in .25 caliber that gets up to 30 fpe. Many production pre-charged pneumatics can generate much higher energy levels, the little Brocock specialist gets over 20 fpe and the Daystate Wolverine and FX Boss .303′s get up to around the 100 fpe mark. The FX Verminator, which offers adjustable power, allows the shooter to dial it down for plinking or target shooting in the basement range, crank it up a bit for pest control around a barn where you don’t want to risk over penetration or punching a whole through the roof with a miss, then go full power when heading out for raccoons or prairie dogs at a greater distance. This effectively gives you three guns for three applications for the price of one.

You can also change the power in your pneumatic guns by fiddling with the hammer springs; a lighter spring will reduce the power and a heavier spring will increase it. In my DAQ .308 I use a light spring when shooting the light round ball for small and medium game, but switch over to a heavier spring when using a 120 grain cast bullet for bigger game. The tradeoff you make is that the shot count is reduced, with the heavy spring I get about four full power shots and with the lighter spring it jumps up to seven or eight shots.

Low power guns will let you take small game and pest with a reduced risk of collateral damage

Low power guns will let you take small game and pest with a reduced risk of collateral damage

A medium power gun loike the Brocok Specialist doing 20 fpe is strong medicine for squirrel at 45-50 yards.

A medium power gun loike the Brocok Specialist doing 20 fpe is strong medicine for squirrel at 45-50 yards.

But give me a 100 fpe plus when going after bigger predators. You can do it with the right shot placement, but there's a lot to be said for using enough gun!

But give me a 100 fpe plus when going after bigger predators. You can do it with the right shot placement, but there’s a lot to be said for using enough gun!

What gun to use for what game is an interesting topic that is sure to get airgunners arguing, or at lest talking! My personal belief is that any .177 or .22 airgun that generates 12 fpe is appropriate for small game animals at 30 yards. If you’re going to push the distance another 10 yards I’d want something in the 14 to 16 fpe range. You have to remember that the energy level when your pellet finds its quarry will be lower than it was at the muzzle, and that the power diminishes more rapidly with smaller and lighter pellets. Some shooters that use their airguns for pest control in more built up areas, will opt for lower power 8-9 fpe guns because they shoot at closer range around barns and animal feed lots for instance, and want to make sure that they don’t damage animals or property with a missed or over penetrated shot. When you start to get up into what I consider medium sized airgun quarry such as raccoon or woodchucks I prefer a .22 or .25 putting out around 30 fpe. If I am going to shoot at longer distances for medium game, I will often use one of my larger bore airguns. When moving into the area of larger or harder to kill game, say coyote or bobcats I think a .308 caliber in the 100 fpe range is a good idea. And if the quarry is large and tough: deer, wild hogs, exotics, or African plains game, I think a large bore airgun that puts out at least a couple hundred FPE is the minimum, and I prefer a gun in the 300 fpe on up category. There is no doubt that you can kill an animal with a lower power gun than I’ve recommended, it has been done. That doesn’t make it a good idea, many deer have been killed with a .22 rimfire, but there is a reason it is not legal in most places, the chances of wounding or maiming an animal is high.

What’s this 12 fpe thing in the UK?

This Twinmaster was tuned to legal (UK) limits and did the trick for me squirrel hunting for several years.

This Twinmaster was tuned to legal (UK) limits and did the trick for me squirrel hunting for several years.

It is somewhat ironic that in the United Kingdom, which is arguably the center of the airgunning universe and where many of the best PCP airguns originate, there is a limitation on the power of an airgun that can be owned without a fire arms certificate (FAC). Air rifles can not be over 12 fpe and air pistols can not be over 6 fpe. If a gun exceeds this limit and the person in possession of that gun does not have an FAC, heavy penalties up to big fines and a long prison sentences can result. This limit does allow enough power for small game hunting out to about thirty yards or so, but does not allow much margin of error. I believe this is one of the reasons that British airgun hunters are such sticklers when it comes to restricting their shot placement to their quarries head.

The reason that this limit was established in the first place seems to be a result of lobbying initiated from within the airgun manufacturing industry itself. The story goes, that at the time this regulation was passed the British airgun manufacturers were unable to produce guns that generated the power level of foreign imports. The tactic was to protect the market by enacting this arbitrary limit and provide a shield against technologically advanced offshore competition. Unfortunately once this type of restriction is in place the chances of having it repealed, especially in the current anti shooting climate, are slight. Some swear by this story while other say it is urban legend, but I’ve not heard any better explanation and the unfortunate bottom line is the limit exists. While it is eminently possible to hunt at 12 fpe, my personal preference is to have at least 16 fpe as I have seen a pretty significant difference in the ability to achieve clean kills with just this 4 fpe jump. From a practical standpoint, if you buy a gun from Britain make sure it is or can be tuned up.

FPEBLOG_7

Most of the guns from FX have an adjustable power wheel that lets you optimize the gun for a number of shooting scenarios. A great feature!

Too Much Power?

My personal opinion is that unless there is a good reason to limit power, say that you’ll be shooting around equipment or livestock, more power is better as long as it doesn’t adversely impact accuracy. But as has been said, only accurate guns are interesting, so I think you always have to frame up the answer in this context. I think we’re luck in the USA in that we don’t have power restrictions, and one of the reasons is that it gives us the freedom to push the limits of air power ballistics. But if we had the same type of limits as the UK, it might change my hunting style somewhat, but I’d keep going and keep being an effective hunter.

You could get good results with a lower power gun, but if you don't have to, why would you? At the end of the day I want my quarry to drop cleanly and that is mainly a function of accuracy, but once you've met that criteria more power doesn't hurt.

You could get good results with a lower power gun, but if you don’t have to, why would you? At the end of the day I want my quarry to drop cleanly and that is mainly a function of accuracy, but once you’ve met that criteria more power doesn’t hurt.

 

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Categories: Long Range shooting, pest birds, Pest Control, Power, Prairie dogs, Rabbits, Small Game Hunting | 4 Comments

Hog Hunting With an Air Rifle

Big bore airguns were used as early as the 1700s to take wild boar in Europe. There is extensive documentation on the use of these guns, though they were not widely known and very few huntsman of the day would ever get a chance to use one. They were expensive and complicated to manufacture and their ownership was restricted to the very wealthy nobles of the day. But over the last decade there has been a resurgence of this primitive hunting technique, which is rapidly growing in popularity.

I was hunting for pigs with Ed Schultz in Oklahoma a while back, and we loaded onto a truck and were dropped way back on the ranch to hike out. I picked up this little pig on the way, with the DAQ .451

I was hunting for pigs with Ed Schultz in Oklahoma a while back, and we loaded onto a truck and were dropped way back on the ranch to hike out. I picked up this little pig on the way, with the DAQ .451

Introduction

I’ve shot a lot of hogs over the last several years; in Texas, Florida, California, wherever the opportunity presented. I’ve chased warthog in South Africa on multiple occasions and continue this activity on yearly trips to the Eastern Cape. I’ve been skunked on bushpigs the last couple years, but will spend as many nights huddled over the rotting carcasses used for bait as necessary until I add this species to my list. I am like most of the readers of this magazine, a committed hog hunter. There is however probably one fundamental difference; my hunting tool of choice (where permitted by law) is an air rifle.

The big bore airgun came on the scene in the 1700s, all but disappearing during the intervening centuries. However there is a new breed of airgun available that utilizes high pressure air to drive heavy large caliber bullets at 650 – 900 feet per second. My favorite pig gun right now is a Quackenbush .451, which propels a 245 grain cast lead bullet at over 800 fps yielding well over 340 foot pound of energy! OK, that’s not a powerhouse when compared to a centerfire rifle or even a .44 mag. But the tackdriving accuracy along with the terminal performance of these slow moving projectiles can really mess up a pig’s day, even the big tuskers. There is a growing fraternity of big bore airgun hunters in North America, and hogs are one of the favorite quarry because of availability, and the regulations in several jurisdictions allow them to be taken with air powered rifles.  The two key aspects of air hoggin are to get into the appropriate range and select the optimal shot! I can tell you from personal experience on ferals, Russians, and warthogs that the penetration and power are more than enough to cleanly and efficiently anchor even the big ones.

This hog went down to a redneck hollowpoint, I flipped a bullet concaved backend first. But man did it mushroom! Passed side to side and lodged under the skin on the offside.

This hog went down to a redneck hollowpoint, I flipped a bullet concaved backend first. But man did it mushroom! Passed side to side and lodged under the skin on the offside.

All airguns that are appropriate for taking hogs are powered by compressed high power air. You may have seen the guy on the hunting show shooting a pig in the head from a few yards with a .177 springer propelling an alloy pellet, which at best is a stunt that no ethical hunter would consider. What I’m discussing is an appropriate tool for fair chase hunting. There are essentially three categories of big bore airguns available to today’s hunters. The first are the mass produced big bores, these are airguns manufactured in Korea by Shinsung and Sam Yung. Both companies have many years in the airgun business and produce guns in .308, .45, and .50 calibers. They are at the lower end of the power band typically putting out approximately 200 fpe, but are readily available and more than adequate for a forty yard pig gun. There are also some great tuners such as Will Piatt that can ramp up the power on these guns substantially, as well as smoothing out the action and the trigger. The next source is arguably the best, the semi custom production guns of Dennis Quackenbush. These guns are an order of magnitude more powerful than the Korean guns, but the downside is that you may have to get on a year long waiting list for a rifle. When it finally arrives however, you know it was worth the wait. And finally, we are seeing small start up shops that put out custom guns. The best of these should build into viable businesses with time. Demand is exceeding supply as the popularity of the sport grows.

This bullet hit the shoulder and flattened a bit, but passed from front almost to the hip.

This bullet hit the shoulder and flattened a bit, but passed from front almost to the hip.

Pre Charged Pneumatic airguns can store a fairly large volume of air and provide from a couple to many shots on a single charge. The guns are filled by connecting the air tank to the guns onboard reservoir using a hose fitted with a quick release connecter. A pressure gauge allows the fill pressure to be monitored during the charging process, and the line bleed and disconnected when the desired fill pressure (2500 – 3500 psi) is achieved. Once filled, the gun is ready for action. In the field I carry a small carbon fiber buddy bottle in my day pack that will allow me to refill the gun as needed, and the process can be accomplished quickly.

Texas Hog Hunt

On one trip to Texas, I carried a .50 caliber gun that had been setup to generate over 600 fpe. The projectile used was a 325 grain slug that a friend had cast from soft lead and was designed with a hollow base. We had experimented with flipping this bullet and shooting it back end first, finding that at 50 yards it was grouping at just under an inch. While this is not great accuracy out of this particular rifle, it was more than adequate for a fifty yard hunting gun. Hiking the ranch early one morning and glassing the river bottom from a low hillside, we spotted a group of hogs feeding. There weren’t any monsters, but there were a couple shooters in the group. Setting up the stalk, I moved quickly into position and set up on shooting sticks while remaining hidden by a thick stand of brush. As the herd stepped into view at about sixty yards, I picked out a small boar and lined up a broadside. The big slug went through both lungs, and after running a few yards the 180 lb pig rolled over and thrashed a minute before going still.  While skinning the animal we retrieved the bullet from under the skin on the opposite shoulder, the projectile formed a perfect mushroom … a very big mushroom.

As I related in the beginning of this article, I’ve taken several animals with a variety of airguns; feral hogs, Russians (up to 300 lb), and several large warthogs. In just about every case the kills have been one shot and clean. Those of us that hunt hogs in this manner opt for headshots more than most firearms hunters do. The ability to deliver spot on shot placement due to both the intrinsic accuracy and low recoil of these guns routinely makes this a viable target zone. You don’t get the hydrostatic shock delivered by a centerfire, but a big .45 or .50 caliber hole in the right place does just fine.

Warthogs!

A few years ago I was on a friend’s ranch in South Africa hunting plains game. We’d gotten permits to use bigbore airguns for these animals as part of an evaluation hunt to see if this would be allowed on an ongoing basis. My friends place had an over abundance of these African tuskers, and we ended up shooting quite a few to reduce the population. Two less than stellar shots stand out in my memory from this first hunt, even better than some of the picture perfect stalks and kills we’d put on. It underscores one of the basic principles of this type of hunting, shot placement is paramount!

In the first, we’d been after a kudu glassed from a distant hillside and had been stalking the bull for about a mile. As we poked our heads over a small canyon rim, I found myself staring at the largest warthog I’d ever seen. Massive body and massive ivory, he was standing broadside with the light wind in our favor. My hunting plans change immediately; this had just evolved from a kudu to a warthog hunt! Ducking down I slowly cocked the gun and stood back up, he hadn’t moved. Shooting downward at a steep angle, I placed the crosshair straight up on the shoulder and squeezed the trigger. The hog was knocked right of his feet, I mean he didn’t kick, he didn’t squeal, just dropped like a bag of cement. We stood there a minute then started whooping and high fiving, I hadn’t bothered to reload when he went down and was carried away by the excitement. I bent down to pick up my pack and walk up on my trophy, but as I straightened back up was horrified to see the hog jumping to his feet and heading straight up the hill at a half run half drag. He was out of my range before I could reload, but my buddy (and a PH) snapped up his 30-06 and with two quick shots that both hit finally dropped him. Even though I badly wanted this pig I didn’t claim him as my own, it was my friends shots that had anchored him. A post mortem explained the event, I’d shot high and clipped the spine, temporarily stunning the critter. I guess I been thrown off by the angle of the shot, or maybe it was buck fever spawned by a really big animal, but I broke the first rule of airgun hunting and not made the right shot placement.

Took this warthog at 65 yards with a .457 caliber rifle putting out over 600 fpe. One shot kill, he dropped on the spot.

Took this warthog at 65 yards with a .457 caliber rifle putting out over 600 fpe. One shot kill, he dropped on the spot.

A face only a mother could love. A smallish pig, but as I've often said, any hard won animal with an airgun is a trophy!

A face only a mother could love. A smallish pig, but as I’ve often said, any hard won animal with an airgun is a trophy!

The second shot started off when glassing from a dirt road while driving cross country, we saw a line of Warthogs trotting down a hillside about three hundred yards off and parallel with the path we were on. We grabbed the shooting sticks and took off on a run down the road before finding a wash that led to where we expected the pigs path to converge on us. Half running half crawling through the heavy thorn bush, we climbed out of the gully and got to the ambush site we’d selected. Sure enough, after a few minutes we heard the sound of hoofs which resolved into a perfect line of warthogs appearing over a low ridge. The animals were only thirty five yards away and the big sow in the lead stopped dead when she saw us. My hunting partner hissed “take it, shoot, shoot” and I did. I hit that old sow right between the eyes with a 325 grain bullet that glanced off her sloping forehead, where upon she gave an indignant squeal and a snort, then turned tail and led her family off in the direction they’d approached from. Last sighting was the line of hogs disappearing over a distant hill at a dead run. My friend, who is also a PH, turned and looked at me saying “that’s why head shots aren’t great on that animal”. It wasn’t the guns terminal performance; it was my shot selection in both cases. But I learned, and have shot several more of these fantastic critters with much better results. As a matter of fact, the general sentiment of the PHs we’ve hunted with is that we are at least as effective as firearm hunters and more so than a majority of the bow hunters they guide due to our focus on shot placement and shot selection along with the ballistic performance of the big, heavy slugs.

Much more in line with typical results was last year, when we were driving to the far end of the property to scout an area to hunt bushbuck. We spotted a group of three nice little boars of a similar size, very slowly rooting across a hillside about four hundred yards away. We picked a line that had lots of brush covering our approach and started towards an intercept point. I’d broken my ankle a few weeks before and had the cast removed early so I could hunt, and was doing my best to keep up, but not moving real fast. At any rate we got into position behind a bush about fifty yards below the level of the hogs on the hillside, and about fifty yards ahead of them. My leg was pounding so badly that I couldn’t stand, so I sat down and laid my rifle across a detached bipod I had in my pack and waited. The lead pig kept moving parallel to the hill, but the two behind turned and started down. Deciding to shoot before the two rear hogs stumbled down and on us, I opted to take the boar in the front. I was just preparing to shoot when the pig started walking again then turned to look in our direction, offering a front quartering shot. I stoked the trigger and heard the bullet impact as he dropped with a grunt. The shot had gone through the right lung, traversed the animal in an oblique line, and smashed the left hip.

To my way of thinking, this penetration on an animal this big and this tough is proof positive these guns are an effective hunting tool. The fact that they are also quiet when compared to a firearm didn’t factor in while shooting in the African bush, but it does have the potential to open up areas closer to home where a gun isn’t currently an option. As feral hogs continue to extend their range and spread into more urban environments, and hunting space comes more difficult to find airguns will continue to grow in popularity as a viable means of take, Regardless of whether your motivated by pragmatism or simply the urge to maximize the challenge of your hunts, an airgun may be something you want to try.

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Categories: Big Bore Airguns, Big Game | Leave a comment

Springer Hunting

Hunting Airguns

I was speaking with a friend that works in the airgun industry at SHOT Show, and he remarked that there has been a sustained growth in the North American airgun market over the last few years. He attributed this in a large part to the growing popularity of airguns for small game hunting and pest control. Airguns are used extensively for hunting in many parts of the world, but have been less visible in the States. However many North American hunters are beginning to appreciate that airguns are quiet, inexpensive to shoot, and are capable of delivering tack driving accuracy with enough power to be very effective in taking game.

A springer is a perfect tool for heavy pest shooting duties... a tin of pellets and you are good to go!

A springer is a perfect tool for heavy pest shooting duties… a tin of pellets and you are good to go!

A compelling argument can be made for both spring piston and PCP power plants, and there are strong proponents for both. I think that it depends on your intended use, your specific hunting requirements, personal preferences, and how deep you want to dig into your wallet. I have both and use both for hunting a variety of quarry, but in this pot I want to take a look at the spring piston power plant. I find the idea of a fully self-contained gun very appealing, and will often take a springer along when heading out fishing or camping, anywhere that I don’t want to carry along a lot of extra gear or can’t be reliant on an external source of power to keep the gun shooting. So let’s take a look at what these guns can do with respect to performance, what’s available on the market, and what type of hunting you can use them for.

Spring Piston Performance

The spring piston airgun generates power using a powerful spring-loaded piston that is housed within a compression chamber. Cocking the gun (using a break barrel, side lever, or under lever mechanism) causes the piston assembly to compress the spring. When the spring is released it pushes the piston forward compressing a column of air in the chamber behind the pellet. The spring piston power plant is capable of developing sufficient energy to get a projectile moving at supersonic velocities, though effectiveness as a hunting tool is not solely a function of muzzle velocity. Pellet design is somewhat different than that of a firearm bullet, and many do not perform well at supersonic velocities becoming unstable as they transition across the sound barrier, which can adversely impact accuracy. In addition, a major advantage of airguns is that they are quiet. But once the projectile goes supersonic an audible “crack” is generated, yet still with a lower sound signature than a .rimfire 22 short. If the projectile is kept subsonic, then any sound from the gun is primarily the mechanical noise generated by the piston slamming home. I don’t mean to imply that you disregard muzzle velocity, by all means look for a gun with a higher velocity. But then rather than trying to achieve the highest velocity possible with that gun, which is typically achieved using the lightest pellet available, try a heavier pellet.  A 14 grain pellet moving at 1000 fps yields more power that a 7 grain pellet moving at 1200 fps. The heavy pellet moving at subsonic velocities is generally quieter and more accurate, yielding better terminal performance on game.

A spring piston gun is capable of taking the same small game a PCP can, you'll have to practice more and keep your shots closer though.

A spring piston gun is capable of taking the same small game a PCP can, you’ll have to practice more and keep your shots closer though.

Most airguns generate relatively low power compared to even a rimfire. This is not always the case; there are a couple pre-charged pneumatic airguns in my collection that are getting close to 600 fpe. However, most (not all) spring piston guns are limited to under 20 fpe. This is plenty of power for small game out to forty yards, and bigger stuff such as raccoon and woodchucks at 30 yards. In the United Kingdom, where airgun hunting has a huge following, hunters are limited to 12 fpe guns without a special (and almost impossible to obtain) firearms certificate. They have taken untold numbers of rabbits, squirrels, pigeons, and crows with these guns over the years. The whole objective of airgun hunting is achieving optimal accuracy from both the gun and the hunter. This is the overriding criteria; once a gun is doing 14 fpe any small game animal it connects with is going down cleanly so long as the shot placement is correct. However, once pinpoint accuracy is achieved, more power never hurts, and it will permit the hunter to reach out a bit further! I’ve been using a Beeman C1 (built by Webley & Scott) for well over two decades, and this mid 800 fps carbine in .177 has put more game in the bag than just about any gun I’ve ever owned. If you’ll be going after larger quarry such as raccoon, a gun producing 20 fpe or more is a good idea.

Another consideration when choosing a hunting springer is the cocking effort. It only takes a single cocking motion to prepare the gun for shooting, but the effort can be substantial. As a rule of thumb, the more powerful the gun the more effort will go into cocking it.  That’s why my 30 fpe .25 caliber Webley Patriot is not the first choice when plinking. The 40 lb cocking effort is very manageable for a day’s hunting, but is less ideal if the intention is to shoot a couple tins of pellets during a range session! I think finding the right balance of accuracy, power, cocking effort, and field attributes (size, weight, fit) is key to selecting the right gun.

The RWS Pro-Compact 350 is a hammer of a hunting springer, a gun I use a lot.

The RWS Pro-Compact 350 is a hammer of a hunting springer, a gun I use a lot.

Example Of Hunting Springers

One of the spring piston guns I really enjoy hunting with is the HW95, which is manufactured by the great German airgun maker Weihrauch. I find this a great field gun that offers great design elements along with outstanding preformance. The fit and finish, of both wood work and metalwork is a cut above. This rifle is fitted with the Rekord match-grade trigger unit that can be tuned to a shooters specific requirement, but with a smooth, light and crisp release of 2lbs out of the box I’ve never felt a need to mess with it. The 95 comes with open sights that are adjustable for windage&elevation, but I prefer to scope my hunting guns for the most part. The stock on the premium level Luxus model has cut checkering on the pistol grip and forestock with a raised cheek piece and soft butt pad for comfort. I find that I get an excellent sight alignment through a standard 3-9×40 scope in medium profile mounts My gun is a .22 though I have shot the .177 quite a bit as well though haven’t had the chance to u the other standard calibers. I’m getting about 750 fps and this gun is deadly on squirrels and pest birds, I’ve had some very high count days on pigeons with the rifle!

Another rifle I’ve been having a lot of fun hunting with is the new Walther LGV Ultra.  This rifle is probably the best out of box hunting springer I’ve used, with standard features like synthetic piston bearings at the front and rear of the piston, a spring guide that eliminates vibration. It took me a bit of time on my first bird shoot with it to get a feel for the gun, for an out of the box springer it cycles quite smoothly which ironically threw me off at first. But once I settled in this gun performed like a thoroughbred! The match grade trigger is fully adjustable and has an excellent tactile feel, and the safety position at the rear of the receiver was easy to get at. Important for me when hunting is that both trigger and safety felt solid yet easy to work with my gloves on, as I typically have them on when in the field. The breech lock up system provides rigidity better than just about any break barrel spring piston gun. The forend of the stock has finger cuts for a comfortable hand position and the pistol grip has cut checkering that results in a solid hold. This is another gun that I’ve hunted several times now, and it is high on my springer list.

There are lots of great spring piston guns to choose from; while there are good springers to be found at lower price, if you can swing a slightly higher buy in, I’d take a look at one of the quality guns from the Germans or Brits (RWS, Weihrauch, Walther, AirArms, etc). They’ll cost more, but they will last you a lifetime and you won’t outgrow them. If you can’t pony up with the additional funds, don’t let that stop you, take a look at the guns from Crosman or Hatsan as a solid entry point.

What Caliber Is Best?

There are four standard airgun calibers; the.177, .20, .22, and .25, with the .177 and .22 by far the most common. An old adage I’ve heard repeated by many British airgunners is; .177 for feathers and .22 for fur. I don’t think it is quite so simple, and believe that the best caliber depends on what projectile will be used, what ranges will be encountered, how large the quarry is, and the hunters ability to deliver precise shot placement with a particular gun. When comparing the .177 and .22 for instance, both can be effective; the point is that due to the lower velocities achieved with the .22 (in the same model gun) the trajectory will be more arced while the .177 will shoot flatter and require less holdover. On the other hand, shooters that don’t have a problem judging holdover will be able to deliver higher impact energy on target with the .22 caliber.

Pre-charged pneumatics airguns work more efficiently with larger caliber pellets, so I’ll usually opt for a .22 or larger. With springers on the other hand, I don’t have a strong preference and use the .177 on most small game without reservation. The .20 caliber is a good tradeoff between the advantages and limitations of the two more common calibers, but both guns and ammo are a bit limited in availability and selection, yet still worth consideration. The .25 is the big kahuna when it comes to spring piston air rifles, and can generate upwards of 30 fpe. There is a growing lineup of guns that are chambered for the largest conventional caliber, and even though you have to deal with a bit more trajectory, it is a very effective for medium sized game.

One of the request I’ve been getting in my mail lately is to spend more time on springers, so this year you’ll see me hunting, evaluating, and writing a lot more about them!

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