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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Shrouded Barrels

I have enumerated the advantages of airguns many times in this blog, and they are more or less in line with what I hear from the growing numbers using airguns for hunting and pest control. While each individual’s priorities may vary, one consistently stated advantage is that they are quiet. Depending on the type of gun and how it is configured, the sound signature is typically far less than even a .22 subsonic rimfire.

Airguns are intrinsically quieter than firearms, regardless of the power plant used. However, not all airguns generate the same type or intensity of sound; the sound generated from a spring piston airgun is at least partially of mechanical origin related to the spring piston slamming home, these guns generate a relatively small volume of air to drive the pellet forward making them the quietest of the airgun power plants. The release of a much larger volume of compressed air from a PCP generates a louder discharge sound that is closer to a firearm, though not exactly the same or as loud. Many airguns generate velocities in the subsonic range, but at higher velocities (around 1100 fps) a supersonic “crack” will be noted. Even in those guns with the potential of going supersonic, the savvy shooter will often dial down the power setting or use a heavier pellet to achieve optimal ballistic performance at lower velocities along with a concurrent reduction in the sound signature.

Example of PCP with a shrouded barrel (L) and a suppressor (R).

Example of PCP with a shrouded barrel (L) and a suppressor (R).

Beyond the intrinsically quieter discharge of airguns, they may be further suppressed to a level that is very low by either using a silencer or a shrouded barrel. Before entering this discussion there are a couple of legal issues worth having a look at. A silencer that can be used, or modified for use on a firearm comes under the jurisdiction of the BATF. It is considered a firearm and must carry a serial number; furthermore legal possession requires a federal permit. However there is some indication that BATF is taking a a look at making regulations pertaining to airgun silencers more reasonable. Not all states allow their citizens to possess a silencer under any circumstance. The appropriate permits may or may not be difficult to obtain depending on where you live, and it will take a bit of time, effort, and a couple hundred bucks regardless. If the airgun silencer and its parts can not be used or modified for use on a firearm, then it should fall outside of the jurisdiction of BATF and not require the license.  For shooters outside of the USA, there are many airgun companies that supply silencers as options and third party manufacturers offering a range of aftermarket products. It is odd that in countries such as the UK and South Africa that have laws which are more restrictive overall, the use of an airgun silencer is considered an almost essential piece of equipment. You cannot buy these after market products here for the aforementioned reasons, though there are a few rifle models available that have a permanently attached silencer which are imported and sold domestically. There are at least a couple of companies looking at the manufacture of airgun silencers from materials that would disintegrate under the temperatures and pressures generated by a firearm, but to my knowledge this is still in the early R&D phase and I don’t know if the BATF will accept them as a work-around. I would not recommend using an after market silencer on your airgun in the States without the appropriate license, it’s not worth the risk.

A sound suppression system, be it a :silencer" or a shroud, will generally utilize a series of baffles to port expanding gasses.

A sound suppression system, be it a :silencer” or a shroud, will generally utilize a series of baffles to port expanding gasses.

A developing trend that provides a very quiet gun while fulfilling both the letter and the spirit of the law, are airguns with integrated barrel shrouds. These are full length shrouds that are built into the gun and provide a gas porting function without an extraneous “device”, and are an integrated component of the airgun. These are very effective in reducing a PCP rifles sound signature, with the added advantage of not substantially increasing the guns overall length. There is an increasing trend by most of the high end gun makers to offer models with integrated shrouds. Most manufacturers these days either offer a shrouded barrel on all, or at least many of their guns. These shrouds are typically equipped with baffles and damping materials that are very effective in reducing the sound further.

In addition to the legal possession of devices used to silence airguns, you also need to consider local hunting regulations. Some states do not allow silenced guns for hunting, some do not allow taking game animals but are OK for non-game animals, and pest control activities usually get pretty wide latitude. But be smart and check, don’t get yourself in trouble and your gun confiscated!

OK, so once you get these details out of the way, how do moderated guns work in the field? Two of the outstanding hunting rifles I’ve been using for several months are the Daystate Wolverine Type B .25 and the FX Verminator .25, and both are shrouded. These guns are more than capable of ¼” 50 yard groups, and can reach out much further with the power to anchor small game while generating a sound only a little louder than snapping your fingers. On jackrabbits, prairie dogs, and ground squirrel shoots, I’ve knocked multiple varmints over without disturbing their neighbor sitting a foot away. Doing pest control duty on a friend’s farm in South Africa that was literally buried under a variety of pigeon species raiding the feeders; we sat in camo quietly picking off multitudes of birds without giving away our position. The advantage of these quiet airarms for urban predator and pest control duties are obvious, and opens up more shooting opportunity for those that might not otherwise be able to participate in the sport.

My first fully shrouded gun was a Logun Sweet 16, and I was blown away by how quiet it was!

My first fully shrouded gun was a Logun Sweet 16, and I was blown away by how quiet it was!

The majority of airguns I use when shooting and hunting are silenced, and I find this especially useful when hunting in more densely populated regions or around livestock. I have a couple of airgun silencers that I leave with friends in South Africa and attach to my rifles whenever we head out for pest control around the farm. The places I hunt small game here at home aren’t generally that noise sensitive, but places where I shoot pest often are. I like the fact that using a gun with an integrated shroud I can be positioned in a field near a factory building with people less than a hundred yards from me, and not be heard. There is also a lot to be said for shooting moderated guns in my basement range as well, the family can be watching TV or reading upstairs and I don’t disturb anyone, plus I don’t need to wear hearing protection. I think that if you are looking for a pest control gun or will be shooting in a noise sensitive area, it would be well worth looking for one with a fully shrouded barrel. If you will be using it to hunt small game, just make sure of your local regulations. With no felt recoil from the rifle, it is an awesome experience to shoot a prairie dog at 75 yards and watch him through the scope silently flipping off the mound!

Categories: Hunting Accessories, shrouded barrel | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Shooting Positions: Standing shots in the field

Practice standing shots whenever you get the chance. Before leaving on a hunting trip, such as Africa, where there will be a lot of offhand shooting, I practice a bit every day ...great thing about airguns is you can do that.

Practice standing shots whenever you get the chance. Before leaving on a hunting trip, such as Africa, where there will be a lot of offhand shooting, I practice a bit every day …great thing about airguns is you can do that.

One of the requests I’ve gotten lately is to write a bit about the shooting techniques I employ when in the field hunting. I’m going to do so, but preface it with a disclaimer: I am not a target shooter, outside of a brief stint in the army national guard I haven’t had formal training, and I’m sure that over 40 years of shooting and hunting I’ve developed some bad habits along the way. I’m a good, but not a great marksman. But what I will tell you about is what works for me, and I will say that I am a good hunter and I have found what works well for me. I’m going to start this out with what I believe is the most difficult skill for an airgun hunter to develop, which is making the standing shot. I believe this is much more difficult for airgunning than when a firearm is used, by virtue of the fact that airgun hunting requires a much more precise shot placement. I say this because after many years of hunting with both firearms and airguns, I know that I have and still do take standing offhand shots with my 30-06 that I wouldn’t think of with my DAQ .457, because a less than perfect shot with the centerfire is still going to drop the animal in most cases while it might be a lost animal with the airgun. It’s the same when bow hunting, you have to adapt the technique to the method.

It also doesn't hurt to shoot while wearing the type of cloths you expect to have on when in the field. The more you replicate field conditions when practicing the better!

It also doesn’t hurt to shoot while wearing the type of cloths you expect to have on when in the field. The more you replicate field conditions when practicing the better!

I find that when I’m in the field hunting, a high percentage of my shots are taken while standing or kneeling. I would generally prefer to shoot while sitting or from a prone position, but for many reasons this is often not possible. Often when in the brush, you need to get some height to see over grass, brush, or rocks to see your quarry.

Depending on where and the type of hunting you do, it is safe to say a majority of shots taken will be from the standing offhand position, or a standing braced position. This is especially true when big game hunting on the ground. Standing offhand is not the most stable of stances, and can only be held for a few seconds. Try to get onto flat ground (not always possible) and take a couple of quick breaths and blow out a half breathe, then hold and squeeze off your shot. I pull in my lead arm with my elbow pulled in tight to my ribs, with my palm up and the guns forestock laid in my hand and held loosely. The great thing about the standing position is that it can be assumed quickly and the hunter can cover a large area. It is often the only position which allows a clear shooting lane through grass and brush.

Often when hunting in heavy brush or long grass, the standing shot is your only option ... better be able to take it if you want to be successful.

Often when hunting in heavy brush or long grass, the standing shot is your only option … better be able to take it if you want to be successful.

Place your feet about 90 degrees to your target, then raise the rifle butt into your right shoulder and place your chin down on the cheek piece of the rifle to lock everything solid. Make sure that you use a consistent hold and cheek placement, and to this end I find guns that have an adjustable cheekpiece very helpful. Sight your target through the center of the scope, place your finger on the trigger and the rest of the trigger hand can be wrapped around the pistol grip of the weapon. Make sure the eye is not too close to the rear lens of the scope or you could get whacked in the head when the rifle recoils. When shhoting from an offhand standing position I’ll use any convenient objects such as leaning against a tree trunk or a fence post to help steady myself.

I have gotten into the habit of carrying shooting sticks with me, especially when hunting in the high desert where it can be difficult to find something to use as a rest, and when I hunt Africa I’d say that 90% of the shots taken are off a tripod while standing. My technique when using sticks off a standing position is to grasp the stick while resting the guns forestock between thumb and fore finger, then leaning my weight into the sticks. This helps me lock up in a fairly stable position.

Use sticks when you can, or any natural rest (tree truncks, rocks, etc.)

Use sticks when you can, or any natural rest (tree truncks, rocks, etc.)

So there’s a quick look at my approach to standing shoots. I’ll mix some of the other positions into upcoming posts.

Unfortunately this weekend was a waste shooting wise, I’ve come down with a killer flu…… got the shots but then went running off to other countries with their own unique viruses lying in wait!! I did get caught up on some writing however, so it wasn’t a complete write off. I straightened out my trophy/gun/writing room and rotated the guns in my display case. The six rifles that made the display cut are the Daystate Wolverine Type A, Type B, Huntsman Classic, AirArms s510, The Beeman Falcon R-9, and Quackenbush .452. These guns represent what I like most in my rifles, all are accurate and great field performers, but moreover have some styling element and a level of workmanship that resonates with me. I’ll catch up with some more videos, web and blog posting, etc later in the week when I’m feeling a bit better. Until then have fun shooting!

Jim

YouTube    https://www.youtube.com/echochapman

Website      http://www.americanairgunhunter.com

Categories: offhand shooting, shooting sticks, Shooting technique | 2 Comments

Big Bore Airguns

The sport of airgun hunting has been growing at a rapid pace in recent years, and hunting larger game with big bore air rifles is a niche within the market that has seen a surge. There are more guns being offered in .30 to .50 caliber than at any time in the past. In my opinion the interest and demand has grown as hunters look for more challenge (as with bow hunting), more states have added or expanded regulations that allow predators and game animals to be taken, which has in turn led to more custom builders and airgun companies manufacturing products to meet the demand.

These are two big bore carbine "Bush guns" in .451 and .457 built by DAQ and BMFG airguns. They represent what I like in my big bore hunting guns 250+ fppe, two full power shots, small, light, compact!

These are two big bore carbine “Bush guns” in .451 and .457 built by DAQ and BMFG airguns. They represent what I like in my big bore hunting guns 250+ fppe, two full power shots, small, light, compact!

Let’s take a minute to drill down on what constitutes a big bore airgun and what they are capable of doing. While big bore airguns go back a long way, standard production airgun fare has been .177, .20,.22, and .25, which made the .25 the king of the mountain. This was followed by guns in .308 and larger calibers that started to pop up on the air gunning radar screen with some regularity, and today there are more than a half dozen manufacturers offering big bore rifles. The common usage of “big bore” refers to airguns .30 caliber on up, however with the recent introuction of rifles in the .30 and .35 caliber designed to shoot Diabolo style pellets, I like to use the term midbore even if this gets a bit fuzzy with the higher powered .357 shooting cast slugs.

Building a big bore airgun requires more than simply rebarreling a standard rifle; the power plant has to be up to the job. Consider that unlike a firearm all of the energy in an air rifle is stored in, and released by, the gun and not the cartridge. The only power plant capable of generating the energy required to propel a 120 grain .308 bullet at 800-900 feet per second (fps) is a precharged pneumatic. There are many great spring piston hunting guns in the standard calibers, but this power plant cannot generate the energy needed to work effectively with heavier large caliber projectiles. In fact, even when a precharged pneumatic power plant (PCP) is used it requires modification; the volume of air through the valve must be increased, the transfer port which serves as a conduit for air flow from the reservoir to the rifles breech must be opened up, and it may be necessary to increase the fill pressure in conjunction with fine tuning the hammer and valve springs to optimize both ballistic performance and shot capacity of the gun. My more powerful big bores will charge up to 3500 or even 4000 psi.

Sighting in our mid and big bores before hunting in South Africa.

Sighting in our mid and big bores before hunting in South Africa.

The number of shots delivered from a single fill comes down to the volume of air contained in the guns onboard reservoir and the volume of air / pressure needed to drive the projectile at the desired velocity. The gun can be tuned to provide the desired tradeoff between power and shot count. The physical size of the reservoir is limited in that you don’t want the diameter so large that it precludes an ergonomic forestock , or the length to exceed that of the barrel. I would expect to see a bottle forward big bore design to come a long at some point in the not too distant future, and is already being used in some mid bores such as the FX Boss. .30.

Earlier I stated that there is more to building a big bore than simply adding a bigger barrel, which is not meant to imply that the barrel selection isn’t a key design factor. The twist rate of the barrel used in an air rifle is generally slower than that of a firearm to take into account the lower velocities generated. The lands and grooves are also cut shallower as they do not need to imprint the bullet to impart the optimal spin. As to barrel length, it is true that the longer the barrel the higher the velocity (to a point). However, an exceedingly long barrel is more difficult to maneuver in the field, and at the ranges I like to shoot (50-70 yards) has very little impact with respect to terminal performance. I know my views on this are not shared by all in the big bore hunting community, but I think trying to go long range with an air rifle negates the reason most of us want to use them, mainly to up the challange.

The desired performance profile depends on how the rifle will be used. For predators at closer ranges n(say 50-60 yards) I have been using (and liking) the midbores. If reaching out further my preference is for a flat shooting .308 or .357 sending a 100 grain bullet down range at 900 fps. With this set up I’ve got a coyote gun that will reach out to 100 yards, it can stretch further but efficacy will start to fall off. For larger animals such as deer and hogs I like a larger caliber such as a .457 doing 750 fps. The critical point with a big bore airgun is that it must be accurate; certainly it should group under an inch at the maximum distance you plan to hunt. The guns I shoot are all capable of printing clover leaf groups when sighted in at 50, 75, or 100 yards.

A flat shooting .357 can be deadly on coyotes out to 100 yards. Flat shooting and hard hitting with a 120 grain cast bullet.

A flat shooting .357 can be deadly on coyotes out to 100 yards. Flat shooting and hard hitting with a 120 grain cast bullet.

In terms of power, it of course depends on what is being hunted. As a general rule of thumb I want a gun that generates at least 125 fpe for long range (100 yard) predator hunting. This will allow complete pass through on a coyote shot broadside in most cases. For hunting larger game such as hog and deer, I think a 220 fpe minimum is appropriate for a 50 yard hunting gun. Boost the power and you can reach out a bit further, however as with bow hunting, the airgun hunter needs to exercise a bit more self discipline when it comes to shot selection and pass on longer shots. With respect to the conventional wisdom stating that 1000 fpe is needed for deer sized game with a firearm, field experience clearly demonstrates this is not the case with a big bore airgun. With these guns the killing ability is purely a product of punching a big hole in the right place, which these slow moving heavy projectiles excel at. Anything from a .308 to a .50 caliber projectile at 250 fpe is going to produce complete pass through on even a big hog at 50 yards in most cases.

I can report that there is a lot of activity out there, with several new mid bores and big bores being developed. I would predict that within the next year we will see close to a half dozen new mid/big bore rifles coming to market. The take away is that if you’ve ever wanted to get into big bore air gunning, now is a great time to give it a go. There are more places to hunt with more legal species, and more guns and projectiles to choose from, than ever before. Over the years I’ve taken a lot of firearm hunters out for their first big bore airgun hunts, and in almost every case I’ve seen the light switch on as they experience the excitement of using these unusual yet very effective rifles in the field.

YouTube    https://www.youtube.com/echochapman

Website      http://www.americanairgunhunter.com

Categories: arrow gun, Big Bore Airguns, Big Game, Deer hunting, Predator hunting | Tags: | 1 Comment

Catching Up!

Hello to all my blog’n friends, let me start off by apologizing for missing last weeks post, I was out of the country and traveling hard for a couple weeks. And even sorrier to say I had no shooting on this trip, which took me first to Vienna and then across the channel to Scotland. The IWA was underway in Nuremberg during the course of my travels (which is the European equivalent of SHOT Show), but hard as I tried was unable to shift my schedule around to drop by the exhibit.

One cool thing related to my hunting/airgunning however, was that while in Vienna I stayed at a very nice hotel in the cities center, which is the location of high end shops for clothing, jewelry, and all of the accruements of wealth from all the “right” designers. And there right in the middle of it was a fantastic hunting shop that targeted a different hunting world than we’re used to in the states. Fine double rifles and shotguns at prices that ranged from what you might expect to pay for a new car on up to a small house, were lined up on the racks. And in the midst of all of this, was a rack of German spring piston airguns, though the clerk told me he could order a PCP for me, but they didn’t stock them in the shop.

DSC_8144

Getting ready to start filming a round table session!

The sound-man is getting me mic'd up. It's great working with a very professional production crew.

The sound-man is getting me mic’d up. It’s great working with a very professional production crew.

The did have some great ancillary gear, and I laid down a chunk of change for a new Eberlestock daypack with an integrated scabbard, which will allow me to carry everything, including my gun, on my back when hunting. This is especially important to me, because I often have to hit the field with guns that have not been equipped with sling swivels. A manufacturer will often supply me with a new gun on loan for evaluating; many of these guns do not offer sling mounts as a standard, and since I am expected to return the gun in the same condition I received it in, can’t drill and mount my own. Consequently I find myself hiking up and down hills and through the woods clutching the rifle in my hands. I’ve come up with a couple of different mounting options, but think this pack is the slickest system yet. Besides the scabbard, it has a built in small game carrier, a hydration system, and plenty of gear packets. I’m on the road again, sitting on a plane as I write this, but will get some photos of the pack posted when I get back home in a couple days.

This trip does have something to do with airguns, I’ve mentioned in the past that I’ll be hosting the hunting segments on the “American Airgunner” this season (the program will air on the Sportsman Channel and the Pursuit network) and have several hunts in the can; several African hunts, deer in Alabama, javalina in Arizona, predators in Texas. This week I’m heading into the studio to tape the round table sessions with our group of usual suspects out of the airgunning world along with a couple new faces. I’ve got several hunting topics we’ll be discussing, and am excited about the 2014 season.

I’ll be getting ready for the prairie dogs to come out, and am really looking to get a couple of my new guns out for this long range shooting. I will be using the Daystate Huntsman and Wolverine Type B on a couple of upcoming shoots, and am particularly looking forward to getting the high shot count type B on a Pdawg town! I’ve been very impressed with the accuracy and the gun likes the heavier JSB pellets, which is a plus in the often breezy conditions we encounter. I am going to try for a prairie dogs in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, South and North Dakota, Arizona, and anywhere else they occur this year. I have a personal best of six states in one season, but we’ll see if I can do more.

If you have any topics you’d like me to take a look at, or any specific gun, scope, pellet, or other gear to evaluate, let me know. I’ll be coming at you with some exciting hunts and gear reviews, introducing you to some of my hunting buddies, and passing along some tips on where to go, so keep in touch!

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Handgun Hunting with Airguns!

I found that a gun like the Crosman 2240 Co2 provided adequate power out of the box to take small pest species like starlings and rats at close range. This gun was also one of my early attempts at making grips .....

I found that a gun like the Crosman 2240 Co2 provided adequate power out of the box to take small pest species like starlings and rats at close range. This gun was also one of my early attempts at making grips …..

Handgun hunting has become a very popular sport over the last couple decades. As a rule, handguns are more difficult to shoot than rifles and as the range is shorter than with a rifle it puts much more emphasis on closing with your quarry, and many hunters have found themselves drawn to the challenge. I took up the sport in the late seventies, hunting small game with a number of rimfire pistols and revolvers. Before long I’d graduated to the big bores, and spent a lot of time in the field tracking feral hogs up and down the coastal hills of my native California. I found a heavy centerfire like a .44 mag a great round for this up close and personal brand of hunting.

With some minor tweaking we got the guns up to about 14 fpe using Co2, my son is holding a rabbit he took one one of our hunts in the high desert. He's off at grad school now, so it gives you a time reference.

With some minor tweaking we got the guns up to about 14 fpe using Co2, my son is holding a rabbit he took one one of our hunts in the high desert. He’s off at grad school now, so it gives you a time reference.

As my interest in hunting with air rifles grew, it crossed my mind that using an airpistol for small game and pest control would provide me with an opportunity to get in more shooting, and be a lot of fun to boot! I started looking around and found that while there was an almost unlimited selection of low powered CO2 plinkers (clones of popular Colts, Sig Sauers, etc) there was a very limited selection of handguns with the accuracy and power to reliably kill anything larger than a field mouse. I wanted a hunting tool that would be applicable for shooting pigeons inside of a barn, or rabbits around the garden. Many years ago a chart was published in the Beeman catalog that stated most small game and pest species required 3 to 5 foot pounds energy (fpe) to kill, and since I planned to use these guns inside of the twenty yard range thought that a muzzle energy around 9-10 FPE would be sufficient.

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I started building gun using components from Quackenbush, Glover, and others to convert the platform to a PCP. This was a 9mm version that was doing about 35-40 fpe. I sent this gun to the engineering group at Crosman to have a look and play around with.

There were a few guns that came close to this; the Sheriden H Series multi-pump .20 caliber pistol, the Crosman 600, the Crossman 2240 CO2 in .177 and .22, and a few others. I found that that the stock Sheriden and the Crosmans produced around 8 fpe and were capable of making clean kills on pigeons, starlings and rats at close range, so long as I was close and could make the head shot. These results should not be surprising, British airgun hunters are limited to sub 12 fpe airrifles (without a special firearms permit), and have obtained excellent results using them for rabbit and pigeon hunting. When taken in the context of firearms, most airguns are relatively low powered, and the ability to precisely deliver a pellet on target is the critical piece. If you are keeping the range inside of twenty yards, it doesn’t matter if you hit a squirrel in the head with 8 fpe or a 12 fpe, what matters is that you hit him in the head!

At the next SHOT Show I was handed the Marauder to have a look at. I received an early gun and used it a lot on small game and varmint. This was the first mainstream air pistol adequate for most small game hunting.

At the next SHOT Show I was handed the Marauder to have a look at. I received an early gun and used it a lot on small game and varmint. This was the first mainstream air pistol adequate for most small game hunting.

Of course if accuracy is comparable, more power is better. A more powerful gun will allow a bit more latitude in shot placement and it will allow shots to be taken at slightly longer ranges. This simple truth lead me on a search to find ways to boost the performance of the guns that were available, and I stumbled on a small cadre of hobbyist that were hot-rodding production CO2 pistols; particularly the inexpensive and readily available Crosman 2240. This gun can be purchased for around fifty dollars, and with a Dremel tool and a couple evenings tinkering, can be turned into a 9-12 fpe hunting gun. The pistol is dismantled and the internal dimensions of the valve increased, and the transfer port between the valve and the receiver opened up to facilitate improved gas flow. The process of modifying the valve and transfer port, optimizing the hammer spring, and fine tuning the trigger is not only easy but a lot of fun. There are also a number of after market accessories such as complete replacement valves, receivers and bolts, and custom grips in exotic woods and laminates now available from several sources.

I'd recommend either a low power scope or a red dot as a sighting system for most applications. Red dots are not as good a choice if shooting in very bright sunshine as it washes the dot out.

I’d recommend either a low power scope or a red dot as a sighting system for most applications. Red dots are not as good a choice if shooting in very bright sunshine as it washes the dot out.

I have used the modified 2240 to take pigeons, squirrels, cottontails, and jackrabbits out past 20 yards. While not an absolute necessity, it is preferable to stick with head shots. The intrinsic accuracy achieved with most of these airpistols is more than adequate; sub 1/2 inch groups at twenty yards are the norm. It is a good idea to check several different brands of pellets to see what works best with a specific gun; I find that light weight round nose pellets are effective hunting projectiles well suited to the lower velocities of pistols. Hollowpoints tend to be ineffectual at these low velocities, wadcutters don’t penetrate very well but are efficient transferring energy at these close ranges, and pointed pellets are typically the least accurate. While caliber is not critical, one can argue whether the higher velocity and deeper penetration of the .177 or larger wound channel and increased energy delivered by the .22 offers greater advantage. This might be one of the few times an alloy pellet might be a good option; I have recently been shooting the Gamo PBA Raptor .22 caliber pellet with some interesting results. There is a substantial jump in velocity over standard pellets. Inside of twenty yards they are fairly accurate and the terminal performance is quite good. As a matter of fact I’ve had much better results using them in pistols than rifles.

Other handguns from Brocock, the Grand Prix in this photo, and FX started to roll out give more choices in some fine airguns.

Other handguns from Brocock, the Grand Prix in this photo, and FX started to roll out give more choices in some fine airguns.

There are three basic options available when selecting a sighting system for the hunting air pistol; at these close ranges iron sights are fine, but many hunters opt for either a scope or a red dot. Most of my guns are equipped with low power scopes, and as pest control often takes place at night some are also equipped with lights and lasers as well.

Up to this point we have been looking at the most common airpistols available, but there are some new high power PCP and CO2 handguns on the market that open up new territory for the hunter. The FX Ranchero is available in .177 or .22 caliber: this PCP pistol uses an eight shot rotary magazine and generates about 16 fpe, though the adjustable power can be dialed down when shooting in more enclosed spaces. These numbers place it in the same performance range as many full sized rifles. Another source for high power airpistols are the small custom houses specializing in providing components for conversions or producing ground up builds. Once an airpistol is above the 20 fpe threshold, it is capable of taking prairie dogs, woodchucks and raccoons. Dennis Quackenbush has a line of big bore (.308 and up) PCP handguns that put out well over 100 fpe and have been used to take feral hogs and coyotes!

With the right gun, such as this 130 fpe .308, you can take much larger game!

With the right gun, such as this 130 fpe .308, you can take much larger game!

If you are a handgun hunter and want to get in some practice, or simply want a compact shooting tool for taking care of pest control duties around the property, an air powered handgun might be the right option. Make sure you pick a gun that is up to the job, find the right ammo for it, and practice a lot to make sure you can hold up your end. Getting in lots of practice should present no problems; a tin of pellets, a few CO2 cartridges, and an open section of basement or garage and you are good to go!

What’s going on

I’m packing up for a business trip to Europe next week, first Austria then on to Scotland. I am going to try to stop over in Nuremberg for a day to visit the IWA, which is the European version of the SHOT Show, though there is much more focus on the airgun side of things. On my return I’ll be off to the studio for taping new “Round Table” episodes of the American Airgunner, which will air this summer. After that we are trying to set up a predator hunt in Texas, though we’re getting late in the season. On the other hand we’ll have prairie dog trips coming up soon!

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Arizonas First Airgun Javalina Hunt

I am writing this weeks blog from my hotel room in Arizona, and what a week it has been. I flew into town last Wednesday and drove over to Airguns of Arizona to catch up with the Robert Buchanan and his team, look at the new guns that came in (really interested in the new Brocock) do a little shopping (one can never have too many pellets) and make a general nuisance of myself before loading up and heading for my hunting spot to meet up with Kip Perow, who is the resident hunting expert at AOA. Kip and his guiding partner Steve from Copper Country Outfitters, had been scouting the area, and we’re my host on this trip.

Lining up my shot, I'd wanted to stay inside 50 yards, but felt comfortable with the 85 yards offhand.

Lining up my shot, I’d wanted to stay inside 50 yards, but felt comfortable with the 85 yards offhand.

I’ve been wanting to hunt javalina with an airgun for years, the only problem was that none of the states in which these animals occurred allowed airguns to be used, until this year. Arizona in a single bit of legislature have made this state the destination spot for airgun hunters, providing opportunity to take mule deer, couse deer, pronghorn, javalina, mountain lion, and bear with big bore airguns….. the only place for most of these species as a matter of fact.

Opening day of the hunt found us up and in the field well before sunrise, driving deep into national forest land on a Ranger, before setting off on foot over the rugged and hilly terrain. We glassed the hills and washes looking for the little desert pigs, and finally found a small herd, which as we followed merged into a much larger herd. I dropped a good size javalina at 85 yard with an offhand broadside chest shot. The video and story will be communicated in various media, but suffice it to say here that the scouting sweat and tears that Kip and Steve put into setting up my hunt, made this possible. If you’re hunting in a new place and don’t have the ability to scout for yourself, getting a good guide is your best bet for success.

Kip and I looking over my trophy, This was the highlight of my hunting year!

Kip and I looking over my trophy, This was the highlight of my hunting year!

After day one, Robert and his father joined us for an excellent dinner at the San Carlos casino,  along with a lot of fun story telling and banter mixed in with lots of airgun talk. We left the next morning, but got a text from Kip with an attached picture of Robert with his Javalina.,,, Well done Robert!

Following the javalina hunt we returned to Phoenix, and I spent the day today with buddy Scott Dellinger shooting Eurasian collard doves and pigeons while testing out the terminal performance of several pellets. We had a large pile of these tasty pest birds after a few hours of shooting, and a great deal of fun to boot. Going out tomorrow morning before ending my hunting holiday and flying back to the frozen north country I now call home.

Other News

I am leaving for a conference in Vienna on the 5th then on to Edinburgh on the 10th of next month, and am trying to arrange my schedule to spend a couple days in Nuremburg Germany in between so that I can attend the IWA, which is the international version of the SHOT Show, but I find to be much more focused on airguns (since many of the finest airguns come from Europe).

Have some new products I will be testing out; airguns from Brocock, pellets from Predator International, and a few new calls. Well, this a quick post as I need to get up early for my hunt…… I’ll touch base later in the week and be back on track with more during the week.

 

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Urban Stealth Hunting

A stealth gun is optimal when you have to shoot in factories, barns, or suburbia. And often you'll be shooting in close confines or out of a car (or as in the case, both).

A stealth gun is optimal when you have to shoot in factories, barns, or suburbia. And often you’ll be shooting in close confines or out of a car (or as in the case, both).

One of the reasons that airgun hunting has gained popularity is that increasing urbanization has resulted in less land available for traditional hunting pursuits. The observer of nature and wildlife will also note that these built up areas; such as industrial complexes, railroad yards, dumps, or other tableaus from the urban landscape often become the home territory and feeding grounds for a variety of pest and small game species. Airgun hunting for pest animals provides a service to the property owner while allowing the hunter to hone his shooting skills and have a little off season practice close to home.  Where local regulations permit, it is often possible to obtain permission from owners and facility managers to shoot pest animals on their property. The process of gaining access is helped along by demonstrating that you are responsible, explaining that you will remove pest species that cause financial damage or present a health risk, and will use a type of hunting tool that minimizes or negates the risk of damage to people or property. When I am asking permission to shoot on a property, I’ll often carry along a couple articles or books that discuss airguns and airgun hunting to share if they seem interested. I also keep a gun stowed in the trunk of my car that can be demonstrated on request, and this has led to more than one plinking session! A frequently encountered obstacle to overcome is concern over liability; I carry a form letter which states I assume responsibility for any damage I might inadvertently cause and to release the owners from liability for any injury that might befall me while on their property.

The Airforce Talon-P in carbine configuration will let you goit after coyote in the suburban setting. this little .25 caliber gun is kicking out pellets at 50 fpe.

The Airforce Talon-P in carbine configuration will let you goit after coyote in the suburban setting. this little .25 caliber gun is kicking out pellets at 50 fpe.

Once you determine that the local ordinances allow you to shoot an airgun and have lined up a property to hunt on, you may feel that everything is set and ready to go. But things can still go wrong! You may find yourself in a legal shooting area with permission to hunt and an eye on legal quarry, only to find you must pass through a populated area where it is preferable not to be seen toting a gun. This is when a stealth gun, one that is either very compact or a takedown, and quiet, is a huge advantage. The gun must also be quiet, generate appropriate power for the intended use, accept various targeting accessories, and if it can be broken down for transport to my hunt site, all the better.

A takedown model such as the FX Verminator is a great example of a stealth gun: it takedaown, it's compact, quiet, multishot, dead accurate, large shot capacity...it might be the perfect stealth gun as a matter of fact.

A takedown model such as the FX Verminator is a great example of a stealth gun: it takedaown, it’s compact, quiet, multishot, dead accurate, large shot capacity…it might be the perfect stealth gun as a matter of fact.

Just about any airgun is quieter than almost any firearm, some more than others. Spring piston airguns tend to be pretty quiet out of the box; most of the noise originates from the piston slamming home and is more of a low level mechanical twang than the sound of a firearm discharge. However it is not easy to find one that is truly compact or can be taken down. Pre-charged pneumatics and CO2 powered guns tend to be louder, producing a firearm like crack though at a substantially lower volume.  While the report of even a high power air rifle is much quieter than a rimfire, there are ways to quiet these guns down further still. A PCP or CO2 gun with a shrouded barrel can be as quiet as a whisper, and this is a standard component of a stealthy urban hunter in my opinion.

Urban hunting for pest such as pigeons, starlings, rats and smaller species typically occur at closer ranges, say inside of 25 yards. So a great deal of power does not need to be generated to achieve fast clean kills. One could argue that a gun producing 12-14 fpe is more than adequate for most pest control duties, and it certainly will cause less damage in case of a missed shot. I generally use a lower power 12 fpe PCP for this type of shooting, such as the Marauder P in carbine trim. If I intend to shoot something bigger such as a groundhog or raccoon I will opt for a more powerful pcp rifle. There are spring piston airguns that have the power and range for larger quarry, but they tend to be big and bulky. It is quite possible to find a substantially more powerful pcp in a compact and unobtrusive package, which makes them a better candidate for taking care of larger urban pest.

The Benjamin Marauder pistol is a lower power gun that will let you take any small game species efficiently and quietly, I an easily carried package.

The Benjamin Marauder pistol is a lower power gun that will let you take any small game species efficiently and quietly, I an easily carried package.

I mentioned that the gun should provide a means of mounting targeting accessories such as scopes, lasers, and lights. Iron sights are fine with respect to range, but as urban pest control often takes place in darker conditions I prefer a scope. A high power scope is unnecessary for the ranges typically associated with urban hunting.  However a lower power scope is very useful, especially in settings of low ambient light, such as hunting in a dark factory building or shooting rats at night. There are a couple of other pieces of gear that are of use in these conditions; such as a laser and a flashlight mounted on the gun using a specialized mounting system with remote switches that permit them to be easily set up and quickly deployed.

I have several guns that qualify as urban hunters; the aforementioned Benjamin Marauder P as either a pistol or carbine, the handy little Brocock Specialist ,22 as a carbine that offers a step up in power at around 20 fpe, and the FX and Kalibr are excellent examples of the class of guns available based on a bullpup design. They are very compact, powerful, accurate, and quiet with a multi-shot magazine. One of my favorites for stealth hunting whene noise isn’t a primary concern is the little AirForce Talon P in carbine configuration. This gun a barely larger than a handgun and can generate about 50 fpe, which is well in the range to kill a suburban coyote at 50 yards.

As I’ve pointed out many times before, one of the most compelling advantages of hunting with airguns is that they open up new hunting grounds closer to home. Often these urban settings don’t occur in the aesthetically pleasing landscapes we all prefer to hunt in, but they do offer target rich environments that can provide a lot of shooting fun and practice for when we can get out to the country

UP Next!

I’m on my way out tomorrow, first to So Cal for a couple days then on to Arizona. I’m meeting up with Kip and Robert at AOA, then Kip and I are heading off to hunt javalina under Arizona’s new airgun regulations, then I’m out for a few more days of predators, desert varmint, then meeting up with my buddy Scott for a couple days of dairy farm pest birds. Going to do a springer only day as well, because I had such a good time with these guns previously!

Then in the first week of March I’ll be in Vienna for several days then up to Scotland on business, but I’m trying to open up a day so I can swing down to the Daystate factory for a looksee, and if that happens should have some very good stuff to tell you about!

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Bottle Fed Air Rifles

Robert Buchanan and I on a pest bird shooot.... those Daystate guys now how to make a bottle forward gun!!

Robert Buchanan and I on a pest bird shooot…. those Daystate guys now how to make a bottle forward gun!!

From the perspective of appearance, some people love them others loath them, but when it comes to shot count bottle fed rifles can’t be denied …… But with the new breed of guns from manufacturers like Daystate, even those solely in the utilitarian camp will have to take a second look!

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.

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 28 shots. In other words I choose to give up 32 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.

On another trip to Arizona I took out the FX Gladiator, and was doing some long range prairie dog shooting with it.

On another trip to Arizona I took out the FX Gladiator, and was doing some long range prairie dog shooting with it.

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 and Theoben Rapid 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 Logun Sweet 16. 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, which is the least common approach seen on guns like the FX Gladiator with a buttstock air bottle and a under barrel air tube.

I’ve used the forward bottle guns from BSA, Theoben/Rapid, Daystate, and FX. 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 such as the Daystate Wolverine Type B tend to have more ergonomically designed stocks that either seamlessly dovetail into the bottle.

The Airforce and FX have models (Talon and Verminator respectively) that 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 have a capacity of 400-500 cc of compressed air, and at full power can give up to 40-50 shots per fill. Dial the adjustable power down and you can get 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. The Verminator and Gladiators have the mose ergonomic butt stock configurations built around the air bottle.

This is one of the old school guns, the BSA SuperTen I borrowed on an early varmint hunt in South Africa.

This is one of the old school guns, the BSA SuperTen I borrowed on an early varmint hunt in South Africa.

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.

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 WindyCity 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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Airgun Hunting Destinations

I have often said, I am a lucky guy; I’ve got a great family, strong faith, an interesting and fulfilling professional life, and I’ve had a chance to let my hobby grow into a second career of sorts. And it is the latter that I want to talk about in this post. If you’ve read my writing you’ll know that I started shooting airguns seriously while living for more than a decade in Europe. It was a combination of not having much opportunity to shoot firearms, an availability of quality airguns built for adults, and happening to come across the British airgun magazines carried by my local newsstand in the Netherlands. I was really captivated by the writing of John Darling and what he was doing with airguns, and I’m a guy brought up out west with firearms and a love from the classic writers in Field and Stream, Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, Fur-Fish-Game, and the adventures of big game hunting in those pages. I moved back to the states for a couple years before leaving the country for Japan and Australia and other stopovers before coming back a few years later. In this period back in the states, my company was sending me to Eastern Europe or Asia for a month on, then back to my high desert home for a month off work. During my month on I went hunting almost every day, and over a two year period I shot literally hundreds of rabbits, ground squirrels, and other varmint with my airguns, and got the first taste of predators with air power. This is the time that made me a confirmed airgun hunter, and I only used my firearms for big game, predator, and wingshooting. And once I found out about the new big bores and jumped on the early train, this started to diminish as well. The problem was, there were not many places to hunt……. but that’s also been changing! More and more states have been expanding their regulations to allow airguns as a legal method of take. And a few of these places have become destination trips in my opinion, and that’s what I want to talk about this week.

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Hunting in West Texas can be a predator hunters dream!

What makes a place a destination spot? For me it’s defined by opportunities to hunt game that can’t be hunted in other places, hunt animals in a quantity unavailable in most places, or in a variety unavailable elsewhere. My top five are West Texas, Northern Arizona, California’s high deserts, Virginia, and a tie between Missouri and Alabama. I’ve been hunting most of these places for a few years, as hunting laws have been put on the books.

Texas was one of the first places where we could use airguns to take larger game; their regulations don’t allow any game animals to be taken with air, but that leaves jackrabbits, cottontails, prairie dogs, ground squirrels, pigeons, raccoons, ringtails, fox, bobcats, coyote, hogs, and all the exotics. You can find places to shoot rabbits all over the state, and the same can be said for hogs and predators as well. The trick with Texas is that there is not much public land, so you’ll need to get access to private ranches. The easiest way is to hire a guide, because they have land to hunt on. If you book a couple days to hunt predators or hogs (usually at night), it is almost always possible to go out and hunt varmint in the day for no additional charge. It’ll cost a bit, but a fraction of the price of a deer or elk hunt….. and you’ll get a lot more hunting and shooting in. And if you want to spend a bit more or you find a place that lets you on for a trespass fee, free ranging Aoudad, Axis deer, black buck and other free ranging exotics are a possibility.

az hunt

Out for a rabbit hunt in Northern Arizona.

Arizona has probably come on this year as THE destination; because for small game / varmint you have jackrabbit, cottontail, prairie dogs, ground squirrels, pigeons, Eurasian doves, and predators. And as of this year, almost all bug game is on ticket: javalina, whitetail, coues, mule deer, pronghorn, bear, mountain lion are all allowed. As a matter of fact, it is the only place you can take javalina, coues, mule deer, or pronghorn….. and there is a lot of public land to hunt.

When people think about a gun friendly or hunting friendly State, California does not come immediately to mind. However they were one of the first places that allowed airguns for small game; you can take turkey, quail, chucker, cottontail and jackrabbits, ground squirrel ,,,, any small game you can take with a firearm is permitted with an airgun. And the great thing is that there are cast areas of public (BLM, Nat’l forest) land to hunt over.

I started hunting Virginia a few years back, they allow squirrel, rabbit, turkey, whitetail, bear, coyote to be taken with airguns. I love squirrel hunting, and the beautiful forests on the rolling hills hold big populations of fox and gray squirrels. They also have good populations of whitetail along with generous limits. It also one of a couple places country wide where you can bag a turkey with your airgun! I haven’t shot a bear with my big bore airgun yet, but I’m going to try in Virginia next season!

Missouri and Alabama are a tie for number five, and both make it in on the basis of being a place where the airgunner has the opportunity to bag a nice whitetail buck. Missouri has probably become the region in which the most whitetail have been taken since they opened the season a few years back, and Alabama just made airguns legal this year. They both also are great venues for squirrel hunting, which if you haven’t done it with an airgun you need to get out and give it  go!

All of these States require that you buy a license, and most have a provision to allow a short term license if you’ll only be hunting a few days in the year. The cost, depending on what and how long you’ll hunt, will be between $50-$100. You notice that I have emphasized more of the big game spots as destinations, and this is not because I like big game hunting more, but because it is often necessary to travel to find a place permitting big game with an airgun. But you can find small game opportunities wherever you live.

But still. I’ll travel for a squirrel or rabbit hunt as well. If you look for deals you can find some good ones, I recently found that I can get a flight on a budget carrier from Minneapolis to Phoenix for about $150, I’ve bought a yearly license for $150, and it adds up to an inexpensive weekend trip. As a matter of fact, it’s worth it to go for a pigeon or dove shooting weekend.

What’s Coming Up?

I’m on my way to Texas on Thursday for a predator hunt with my friend, guide, and outfitter Don Steele. We’ve got a weekend to see how much fur we can put in the truck, and I want to try for the grandslam; coyote, bobcat, fox, and raccoon.  I also have a lot of new camera gear for capturing video of the hunt …. so maybe something will make it up on my youtube channel! Talk to you all next week!

Lots of new camera gear, hope to get some good video footage.

Lots of new camera gear, hope to get some good video footage.

 

 

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