My Journey into Airgun Hunting

I get a lot of questions about how I got into airgunning and what changes I’ve seen over the last several years. In this two part post I’m going to look at one airgunners journey into an emerging hunting sport, grounded in Europe but gaining maturity in the United States. In this two part article I am going to talk about my experience as an airgun hunter, the people and events that have formed my worldview of our sport. A disclaimer; what I am presenting is a personal history and outlook on events, others have different experiences and views. This is mine!

We have a very strong hunting culture in the USA, and it can be argued that it is the most egalitarian and inclusive hunting community in the world. There is however one area in which we have historically lagged behind, and that is the sport of airgun hunting. I’m sure there will be some that read this and smile, or maybe laugh out loud, and based on the exposure many have had to airguns in the past this might be understandable. But two things I can tell you; awareness of what the modern airgun can do is taking hold, and there is a USA based airgunning subculture that is growing and breaking new ground. Hunting laws around the country are incorporating the use of airguns for a variety of quarry from small game to predators to big game species.

To frame this discussion up, let’s take a quick trip back in the history of airguns, and it is a long and storied past. There are examples of precharged pneumatic big bore airguns that are traced back to Bavarian Nobles of the 16th century, with reports of them being used to take large game such as Russian boar. During Napoleonic times there was at least one Austrian battalion of airgun riflemen that were known for their ability to direct accurate and high rates of fire in the direction of their enemies. Closer to home and in the less distant pass, it has become common knowledge that Lewis and Clark carried a twenty shot repeating big bore air rifle to impress the heck out of indian tribes they met along the way.

I didn’t know any of this when I relocated to Europe for school and work in the early eighties, though it was quickly apparent that my lifelong interest in hunting and shooting wasn’t going to go anywhere under the oppressive gun laws of my temporary home. But one day while whining about never getting to shoot, an Austrian friend suggested that I give one of his airguns a try. And what an airgun! It was an under barrel spring piston airgun that sported a finer stock than anything I’d ever shot before. We spent an afternoon plinking and shooting rats at a local tip, and I was hooked. But my real awakening to the sport occurred a few weeks later when I was looking through the international magazine rack at the airport in Amsterdam, and found a British magazine dedicated to airguns and airgun hunting! I’d grown up on Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, Fur-Fish-Game and all the other great American hunting and shooting publications so this discovery had me floating higher than everybody else in Amsterdam.

When I got back to the states in the late 90's, I found that it was a very different type of airgun hunting than I'd experienced overseas, and the first time I had the choice to choose airguns over firearms.

When I got back to the states in the late 90′s, I found that it was a very different type of airgun hunting than I’d experienced overseas, and the first time I had the choice to choose airguns over firearms.

What I quickly figured out was that the British have such rigid anti-gun policies in place that the airgun developed in an atmosphere quite different than back home. These guns had become one of the only ways the rank and file Brit could shoot, and they had concurrently developed their guns for hunting applications. While we were running around small game hunting without .22 rimfires back home, our cousins across the pond were having at the rabbit, rook, and wood pigeon populations with finely crafted spring piston airguns. An interesting aside and not sure if this is factual or urban legend, but I’ve been told by several “in-the-know” UK airgunners that the reason for the 12 fpe limit was self-inflicted. UK manufacturers in the 70′s were building spring piston guns with most topping out in the 12 fpe range, when out of Germany and Spain a new threat appeared, magnum springers! To protect their markets British companies lobbied for limits to block these imports….. and as a rule it’s easier to get a law passed than to get it repealed. At any rate it seems as good a reason as any other I’ve heard for this somewhat arbitrary power limit. So I used airguns to hunt where legal, and did almost all my fun shooting with them for several years. After spending a decade in Europe followed by a few years in Asia and Australia, which also had a more developed airgun culture for the same reason as the UK, I brought my passion for airguns home to roost.

This picture was taken in the Mojave desert outside on the California/Nevada border in 1998, and became the cover of my first book "American Airgun Hunter" a few years later.

This picture was taken in the Mojave desert outside on the California/Nevada border in 1998, and became the cover of my first book “American Airgun Hunter” a few years later.

When I got back home to Southern California in the late 90′s I started taking my beautiful German spring piston airguns out after jackrabbits and ground squirrels but never once ran into another airgun hunter. I thought I was all alone, but then I came across the Beeman catalogs and learned there were others taking the leap into high end airguns. As a matter of fact I bought a Beeman C1 (which I still have and shoot) and an R1 that went in a trade a few years back. A little historical juxtaposition; a few years later when writing a review on my first book “American Airgun Hunter” Dr. Beeman said “Jim Chapman is all about results, and will hunt with guns I wouldn’t be seen with” I try to keep an open mind and a sense of context when reviewing any new gun rather than my personal bias.  A bit later I stumbled across Tom Gaylord’s Airgun Letter and started to get a sense that there were a few others like me around.

My son was my hunting partner back in the early days, and we got to do some great trips together. He's off at grad school now, so we don't get out much any more.

My son was my hunting partner back in the early days, and we got to do some great trips together. He’s off at grad school now, so we don’t get out much any more.

Eventually my work took us to the Midwest, and coincidentally a perfect storm of events; I had my introduction to squirrel hunting, I started surfing the internet and found a few other hardcore airgun hunters, I discovered several domestic sources for quality gear, and the advent (actually the reincarnation) of precharged pneumatic airgun technology! All of these factors were impactful, but the latter was a game changer!

Spring piston Airguns were all we had early on and still have two obvious advantages in my view, they are generally much less expensive and they are fully self-contained. They are less expensive because they are simpler to manufacture, have efficiency of scale, and probably the most important factor is they require no additional filling gear. A good quality springer will cost you about 1/4 of the price of a budget PCP and high pressure air tank. This is also why they are self-contained, the energy required to shoot the gun comes from you physically cocking the rifle and setting the piston, for which the investment is 35-50 pounds of cocking effort. But you can take one of these guns and a tin of pellets and hunt as long as it takes you to shoot through 500 pellets, then get another tin and keep on going. Even with the availability of PCP guns, it is the springers that dominate the market still.

Another big step on my airgun journey was when I started tuning cheap Chinese guns and hunting them.

Another big step on my airgun journey was when I started tuning cheap Chinese guns and hunting them.

The primary disadvantages are also two fold; springers are much harder to shoot than a PCP, or a firearm for that matter. There is a bidirectional recoil to the firing cycle, which makes these guns more hold sensitive, and because of the lower velocities when compared to firearms a longer dwell time, or time between the trigger being pulled and the pellets exiting the barrel. Let me say right up front that I am a pretty good, but not a great, shot. Yet I cannot count the number of times a really good centerfire shooter has told me he got one of those damn BB guns, and that it is so inaccurate his targets look like he patterning a shotgun. Then I pick up the gun and shoot a clover leaf, not because I’m an intrinsically better shot (most probably I am not), but because I know how to shoot a springer. Springers don’t like to be rested, they don’t like to be gripped tightly, and all airguns regardless of powerplant are impacted more by trajectory. This is one of the reasons for the slow understanding of the potential of airguns as hunting tools; new shooters didn’t realize a different technique was required and there were not enough resources available to help them.

Precharged pneumatic guns are the ones that were being used a few hundred years ago, but then disappeared from the scene until relatively recently. Why? Because they were technically difficult to manufacture and they were very expensive so when rifled barrels came along firearms were more powerful and far simpler and cheaper to manufacture. But again, necessity is the mother of invention, the Brits wanted/needed a gun that was more accurate, quieter, more compact and easier to shoot accurately. Companies like Daystate, Webley, BSA, and AirArms jumped on the bandwagon and started to produce some truly superb small game hunting guns. These guns store a volume of high pressure compressed air in some manner of onboard storage container; a reservoir or bottle under the barrel, or a bottle in the buttstock, to store enough air to shoot several shots per fill.

Randy and I back in 2003-2004 with a couple of our early PCP's, he had a BSA Techstar and I had a Webley Raider.

Randy and I back in 2003-2004 with a couple of our early PCP’s, he had a BSA Techstar and I had a Webley Raider.

This onboard storage needs to be filled either manually with a hand pump (looks like a bicycle pump on steroids) or from a high pressure tank that in turn is fill with a compressor (think diving bottles or paintball tanks). These guns, at least in the standard calibers, are virtually recoilless and therefore very easy to shoot accurately. They can be tuned to be substantially more powerful than springers, and they can be made very quiet. Another advantage is that the gun is where the energy is stored, not the ammunition. Many PCP rifles offer adjustable power, so I can take my predator gun, dial down the power for practice in my basement, and then tweak it up when I hit the field. There is nothing like a lot of practice with the same gun you use for hunting!

The disadvantage of the PCP is that they are expensive, and the filling gear can cost as much or more than the gun. At some point you need to fill the guns and tanks, so unless you have your own compressor you are not self-sufficient. And my last critique is the flipside of the fact they are easier to shoot, they don’t require the discipline of perfecting your shooting technique that a springer does. I had worked closely with the old management of Crosman, and was on their Prostaff for a while, and got the first Discovery to test and hunt with, and provided a lot of feedback that was later found in their Marauder model, which made PCP technology affordable in a US based product. But even before this another US manufacturer by the name of AirForce came out with a relatively inexpensive PCP that could bump up the power for an honest predator gun. These guns did a lot to make PCP an option for the everyman gun. I would say that most serious airgun hunters eventually gravitate to the PCP, but many never give up their springers.

So we started getting the PCP rifles in our hands, tuning them to shoot at higher and higher energy outputs, shooting further and going after larger animals. This is where I believe the foundation of airgun hunting in the USA and the UK started to diverge. I write for one of the British hunting magazines and have to be very careful when discussing long range shooting, taking body shots, and going after larger quarry, because their hunting ethic is based on a 12 fpe worldview.

But the other paradigm shift related to no imposed power limits is that larger calibers became practical. A .25 caliber pellet restricted to 12 fpe at 40 yards has a trajectory of a brick tossed underhand, while at 40 fpe it is fairly flat shooting. A groundswell of powerful .25 caliber guns started coming on to the market driven by the acceptance of American Airgunners. Even ten years ago there were very few .25 caliber guns on the market with even fewer choices when it came to pellets.

The other part of the perfect storm has been the people I’ve met along the way. In the early 2000′s I was shooting many springers and had branched out to buying cheap Chinese imports and tuning and modifying them, and also doing some rebuilds and conversions on the Crosman 2240 platform to build up hunting air powered handguns. Then through the “Yellow Forum” where I was researching these guns, I met Randy Mitchel. He had one of the only airgun hunting websites at the time. Right now you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting an airgun hunting website, but Randy’s was one of the first. He is a very solid writer, and was generating all the content himself.

Until that point except for a couple scientific books on the measurement of blood flow in adult and pediatric heart disease and several scientific articles in peer review journals, I’d only written a couple of articles on fishing and travel for regional publications, but asked Randy if I could do a couple pieces for his website. These were well received, and are really what laid the groundwork for all the other opportunities I’ve had in airgunning since. But just as important for me, was that Randy was one of the first guys I meet that was as fanatical about airgun hunting as me, plus he is a master in the art of squirrel hunting. Over the next few years I’d travel down to Kentucky to hunt with him, I took my first airgunning deer ( a nice 12 pt buck) sitting next to him in a treestand, and spent a great two weeks hunting big game with him in S. Africa on my 3rd safari. We eventually wrote a book together on squirrel hunting with airguns. I consider myself very proficient in this discipline of small game hunting, which probably would not have been the case if I hadn’t become friends with Reverend Randy!

And then along came Mr. DAQ; Dennis Quackenbush is the father of the modern big bore airgun and he started building guns shooting .308, .457, and .50 caliber cast lead bullets. Dennis built rifles that a small group of us started using to hunt predators, feral hogs, and exotics (no states allowed larger native game animals to be taken with airguns at the time). Over the last ten years the ranks of airgun hunters in general, and big bore airgunners specifically, has exploded onto the hunting scene. Mainstream manufacturers such as Crosman, Evanix, Sam Yang, Daystate, and FX are building guns in the .30, .40, and .50 caliber range. And I expect to see several new big bores hitting the market at the 2015 SHOT Show.

Eric Henderson and I started traveling all over the country to hunt our airguns... I could even talk him into a small game hunt every now and again. We've been hunting together for over ten years now!

Eric Henderson and I started traveling all over the country to hunt our airguns… I could even talk him into a small game hunt every now and again. We’ve been hunting together for over ten years now!

In about 2004, Dennis Q introduced me to another guy by the name of Eric Henderson that was hunting predators, hogs, and exotics out in Texas, telling me I had to talk to this guy. He set up the call, and Eric and I hit it off from the start. Eric invited me to come down to Texas to hunt with him, and a few weeks later I was on a plane flying down to meet him, which started many years of us partnering up for hunts all over Texas, Kansas, Michigan, Virginia, Missouri, Oklahoma, and South Africa with our airguns, most often those built for us by Dennis. Eric made the first big bore airgun hunting videos and got me in front of a camera for the first time. Eric was instrumental in getting recognition for big bore airguns, his videos, he got the airgun hunting segments of American Airgunner started in the beginning, and was the originator of the LASSO long range shooting competiton. Eric was one of the first big bore guys out there and our friendship had a real impact on me personally and the sport in general. I don’t think Eric gets the acknowledgement he deserves for his contribution.

Another good friend and hunting partner I met along the way was Brian Beck, who is in my opinion the best predator hunter in the country using an airgun. Brian competes in open predator hunting competitions against guys using high powered centerfires and consistently places in the top finishers. During my years in Indiana, we hunted a lot and tried a lot of new guns together. Over the years I’ve met and hunted with a lot of other guys that have each in their own way, had an impact on me and/or the sport. I’ve hunted with Terry Tate (he of the giant cowboy hat), Robert Vogel (Mr. Hollowpoint), Seth Rowland of BHD, airgun/hunting fanatics Chip Sayers and Charles Peebles down in Virginia, Dammion Howard down in Alabama, Brian Cook in Missouri,  Scott Dellinger down in Arizona and many others.

About three years back, I was talking with AOA’s owner (and himself an airgunning fanatic) Robert Buchanan at the SHOT Show, and he invited me to visit their shop on an upcoming trip to Phoenix. When I got there I was really impressed with his operation, the guns he carried, and his staff. Recently one of my main hunting partners has become Kip Perow, who is an airgun expert and the resident hunter at Airguns of Arizona. Kip and I have hunted jackrabbits, prairie dogs, javalina, and done a S. African safari together. Kip is a font of knowledge and information on airguns, and a great guy to hunt with. Kip has been doing some great hunting and review videos, and much to my envy took the first airgun mountain lion a short while back!.

One the media side, Predator Xtreme has offered me a home for the last eight years, and provided a platform with my regular column Airgun Advantage, then Fur-Fish-Game started publishing my work, and when I was asked to contribute to Tim Smiths efforts on Airgun Hobbyist to introduce hunting I jumped at the chance. Then I was offered the opportunity to write a semi-regular series for Airgun Shooter in the UK. And then about two years ago I was asked to join the Roundtable sessions on American Airgunner with Tom Gaylord, Rick Eustler, Steve Criner, Steve Fjestad, and AA host Rossi Morreale, last season being asked to co-host with Rossi and Steve to help out with the hunting segments of the program. Through the media connections I’ve been able to shoot, talk, and hang with a great group of talented airgun hunter/writers such as Nigel Allen, Terry Doe, Giles over at the Airgun Gear Show, and Ian Bartlett. Another source of awareness for airguns in the States has been provided by many other airgunning authors such as Ron Robinson, Robert Hamilton, and Tom Gaylord, who have also had an impact on me and helped me develop a better understanding of the craft.

There are also a lot of guys that I’ve spoken or communicated with in cyberspace that have contributed to our sport; Ken Cox spearheaded the drive to get airguns legalized for Deer in MO, Thomas Jue and Robert Hamilton besides being very good writers, did much to help craft the California airgun hunting regulations and get them approved. Cedric (AKA Tofazfou) has been a great influence on long range shooting with mid and big bores, Ted Beal that has been a shooting star on the YouTube space and gotten a lot of visability for airguns, Manny the Hawaian hog slayer has been a strong voice for the Korean guns, and many many others I’m not mentioning (sorry, not enough space). And of course Steve (in CT) , the owner and leader of the Yellow Forum, the biggest and in my opinion, best airgun forum to be found. Steve and I have become friends over the years, and I think his role has been key in the wide adoption of airguns in the States. Keeping independent minded airgunners within boundaries is like herding prairie dogs, and he does a fine job. This forum has been the source of a tremendous amount of information and has been a great asset for many airgunners newbies and enthusiasts alike,

My point is that I and a few others get a lot of credit for helping to get airgun hunting going in the States… and get a lot of the credit.  I have been lucky to be part of it, but the growth has been driven by a community of dedicated airgunners. I am also aware that what I am presenting is my view, and others may have another perspective, and that I have left out other key players, but after all I am talking about my journey in this post. There are many guys with a lot of experience, but the ones I’ve names have also had visibility and/or made a significant and last contribution.

Most states now allow some type of airgun hunting; it may be strictly varmint and nongame pest, small game, or predators. Feral hogs are probably the most available big game species, and a growing number of states either allow deer to be taken with airguns or have changes to regulations up for discussion. Small game hunting (squirrel, rabbit, game birds) with a standard caliber airgun, both springer and PCP’s, is one of my favorite outdoor activities. During squirrel season I go out 2-3 times in the week on short hunts within 30 minutes of home, and spend a couple of hours in the woods and typically bag a couple squirrels. Then on Saturday I’ll do an all-day out-for-a-limit session! This type of hunting is available, inexpensive, a lot of fun, and a great way to get more hunters in the field. More states are adding new regulations or expanding existing ones every year, a trend I believe will continue.

When I go out to shoot prairie dogs with my centerfires, it is not hunting but an exercise in shooting. There is nothing wrong with this and it is certainly more productive than using an airgun. But I like to hunt more than shoot, so when I get on the ground working my way through a prairie dog town with an air rifle, using cover to stalk in and camo to ambush resurfacing dogs, I’ve turned the shoot into an actual hunt. OK so 40-50 dogs is a good day, but when I head in at the end of an outing, I’ve put miles in on the ground and had to work for those 50-100 yards shots. It’s not for everyone, but for me it doesn’t get much better!

I do a lot of predator hunting with an airgun (raccoons, fox, bobcat, coyote), which roughly fall into two categories; the first is simply to increase the challenge. I hunt in the same area I’d normally use a rifle in, so the sound of a gunshot or carry of the bullet is not an issue, but we have to work a bit harder and a bit smarter to succeed. The second type is when we are going after problem animals in more built up areas where we have to be quiet and we are in tighter confines. In the former the airgun is purely to enhance the sport, in the latter it’s a more appropriate tool.

My community of friends have taken a lot of game across the categories, and my airguns have accounted for squirrels, ground squirrels, rabbits, jackrabbit, rockchucks, groundhogs, prairie dogs, hyrax, vervet,  pigeons, doves, crows, quail, turkey, Guinea fowl, Egyptian Geese, ducks (legal in SA), deer, hogs, warthogs, javalina, duiker, Steinbuck, springbuck, bushbuck, impala, kudu, mongoose, raccoon, jackal, fox, bobcat, coyote and many exotics. Next blog post I’m going to drill down on my thoughts on the development of big game airgunning, which is an interesting story in its own right.

Next: Part 2- I’ll talk about my views on the recent history Big Bores airguns and big gam hunting!

 

 

Categories: Airguns of Arizona, Big Bore Airguns, Big Game, bird hunting, crow hunting, Deer hunting, Destinations, Ground squirrels, Jackrabbits, Long Range shooting, pest birds, Pest Control, Prairie dogs, Predator hunting, Rabbits, Regulations, Safari, Small Game Hunting, Spring Piston Airguns, Squirrels, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Another Short Hunt

Was out squirrel hunting today with the Brocock Specialist, love this little gun but more about this later. So far this year has been great for squirrel hunting up here in my new home of Minnesota, as I mentioned in the last post I’ve found a lot of public land to hunt, bushytail populations are high, weather hasn’t gotten terrible yet, and I have a ton of cool guns and gear to get out in the field with. Besides the public land I’ve found, we live in a suburban area about 20 miles out of the city that has a lot of new housing developments going up in what until recently had been farmland. Lots of 5-20 acre woods that are being bulldozed (price of progress I suppose) that I’ve been going to early in the morning before construction work starts or late afternoon after it ends.

The leaves are coming off the trees, the squirrel populations are good, and I'm finding a lot of places to hunt. Of for a walk-about with my handy little Brocock Specialist over my shoulder!

The leaves are coming off the trees, the squirrel populations are good, and I’m finding a lot of places to hunt. Of for a walk-about with my handy little Brocock Specialist over my shoulder!

I reckon that most the trees and wildlife are going to be gone from these area soon, but I scout, get an idea of the squirrel populations, then give myself a limit. The one 10 acre stand of woods by my house has a lot of mast producing trees a few den trees, and I estimated probably 20 squirrels…. it’s pretty thick and probably more when counting both grays and fox squirrels, definitely more the former. Based on this I decided that I’d take eight, then shut it down …. I think I’m the only one hunting there. Well, I’ve shot seven over the last couple weeks so decided this afternoon would be my last hunting visit, though I will go back with my camera for photo work. I’ve shot these seven over 5 trips, the first was a scouting run and the next four I gave myself 2hours or 2 squirrels, which ever came first, Three times it was two squirrels, and once it was two hours that came first …… it’s a great way to hunt while conserving the limited resource on these small wooded areas.

Today was a bit colder and I was busy until late afternoon, so bundled in a jacked I rolled into the dark and overcast woods at about 4:00. Less than ten minutes in, I spotted two grays running around, coming in my direction. I slowly sank down to wait for them to move into shooting range…… and I sat………. and I sat….. but they had vanished into thin air. So I hoisted my messenger style pack and rifle and started back further into the woods. The area is a mix of mast producing trees; walnuts, hazelnuts, and acorns, with the whole north border up against cornfields. There is a fair mix of evergreens all of which covers some hills with a deep ravine running right through the middle of it.

The gun I choose today was the Brocock Specialist with a 6 shot rotary magazine. Mine is in .22 caliber and is generating about 21 fpe. This model is not shrouded and a bit on the loud side, though the muzzle is threaded and I do have accessories for it, though in this case I wasn’t worried about a little noise. The gun is accurate, and the cut-a-way stock with a well formed pistol grip comes very quickly to shoulder. I’ve found on previous hunts using this gun I shot well with it offhand, and as a matter of fact didn’t even bother with my usual (Primos Trigger) sticks. The rifles stock is black out of the box, though min is wrapped in a vinyl camo treatment. With the sling I’ve mounted, I throw the lightweight little compact over my shoulder and I am good to go. In this particular area I always have some climbing to do so really appreciate how compact the Specialist is.

P1010261 (800x600)

A while later I spotted three squirrels chasing each other around and started a slow stalk, but part was there I was busted and two of them took of like a flame had been lit under their tails. But the third one was no where to be seen, so I sat down to wait. But after 20 minutes I decided it was time to go, but first decided to sweep the are with my little compact binos …… and there in a big oak forty yards away and about 25 feet up sitting in a fork and hidden in shadows, was squirrel number three sitting on hi haunches, chewing a nut, and watching me! I leaned back against a small tree trunk, put my pack on my knee to get some elevation, and slowly squeezed the trigger. The bushy tail crumpled ……… but didn’t fall out of the tree! I spent the next half hour trying to throw a branch to knock him down, I tried shooting him down, all without success….. so I guess some owl will get dinner on me tonight. Anyways, that was how I closed out my experience at this location. With only a few self imposed rules it gave me several short hunts close to home, and at the risk of repeating myself ad nauseum, you can only do this with an airgun…… ya gotta love them!

Brocock Gun News

I’ve got some new guns coming in, and we’ll take a closer look at Brocock. Airguns of Arizona is the US importer and distributor of Brocock products and as you may have heard, Brocock was acquired by Diana (not the airgunning Diana) which is the parent company of Daystate. Brocock has new management, new production facilities, and of more importance to us ……. new products. I think Brocock is one of the underrated airgunning gems, and my hope is these changes will increase their visability and make more people aware of these hot little hunting rigs!

Extreme Benchrest!!

Looking forward to the EBR down in Tucson in November; this is one of my favorite events of the year. Great venue, great shooters, and a great chance to see lots of friends from the States and the UK. I’ve already made my flight reservtions, registered to shoot all three of the competitions (haven’t decided on guns yet), it’s a LOT of fun. Registrations to compete have just about reached capacity, but even if you’re not going to compete it is worth the trip …. hope to meet a lot of the blog readers there!

Categories: Airguns of Arizona, binoculars, Brocock, Daystate, offhand shooting, Rifle stocks, Small Game Hunting, Squirrels, Uncategorized, where to hunt | 3 Comments

Practice Before Hitting the Field

I do a lot of practicing with my airguns before, during, and after hunting seasons. A good portion of this is after work in my basement range at 15-20 yards, and you may wonder what value that has. If I was just shooting off a bench, not much. But I find that using field positions; prone, sitting, standing, off hand and off sticks while shooting a FT target with the smallest kill zone is great for a tune up or for refining technique.

My basement is unfinished, so I lay one of my wife’s yoga mats down to soften the concrete contact points where knees and elbows meet the floor. And try to get fifty to a hundred shots every day, focusing on guns I’ll be using for upcoming hunts. I also shoot off sticks when possible during my hunts, usually sitting or kneeling. When I’m going to Africa I spend a lot more time shooting off sticks while standing as this is the most common shot option.

Some years ago I got a letter taking me to task for shooting off sticks instead of shooting offhand. My response was that you want to take the highest percentage shot whenever possible, and I don’t care how good an offhand shot you are, you’ll do better when rested. A lot of places you’ll encounter will have grass or other obstructions that preclude shooting prone with your gun over your pack. Many of the others will not have natural objects, such as rocks or trees, to rest on. A good set of sticks is the perfect answer for these situations.

The other advantage of this practice with respect to the hardware, is that you get accustomed to each guns trigger. Pulling it three or four hundred times in low intensity (non hunting) conditions gives you time to study the trigger while committing it to muscle memory. And moreover, you get accustomed to the general shooting characteristics of your rifle. With all the loading you’ll be doing, it will condition you to move quickly in the field where it counts.

I know I can belabor the point, but for the vast majority of us an airgun is the only hunting tool (aside from a bow) that will allow this much practice. It’s all that much better when we’re using the same guns will be depending on in the field.

Well summer is winding down; I got out on four prairie dog shoots, a few trips out for jackrabbits, groundhogs, and pest birds ……. but the real season is just getting started. In the couple weeks since opening, I’ve already been out of seven hunts in five new places and, have bagged a dozen and a half bushytails with a few different guns. Granted most of these are a couple hours in duration after work or on weekends before family time kicks in, and usually only a squirrel or two before I pack it in, but it seems like I’m getting a lot of field time in. In addition I’ve got four weeks of vacation that I’ll be stringing together to use on several major hunts between now and early next year. I love these filler hunts though. After the EBR I’ll be hitting the dairy farms with my buddies Scott and Steve. I know I’m repeating myself, but you gotta love this time of year!

By the way, just wanted to mention again the joys of a compact full power gun. I was out early this morning with the Brocock Specialist .22, and it was a joy to carry and shoot in the heavy fall foliage. Using JSB Exact Match pellets, the gun is putting out about 21 fpe and along with the accuracy is all out of proportion to the diminutive size of this carbine…… love the gun!

 

Categories: Big Game, bird hunting, crow hunting, Deer hunting, Destinations, Jackrabbits, offhand shooting, pest birds, Pest Control, Prairie dogs, Rabbits, shooting sticks, Shooting technique, Small Game Hunting, Squirrels, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Squirrel Season: Finding a Place To Hunt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: offhand shooting, Pellets, Power, Regulations, Small Game Hunting, Squirrels, where to hunt | Tags: | 4 Comments

Hunting Season is On Us!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Growth of Airgun Hunting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Housekeeping and Getting Ready for a New Season!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Out in South Dakota on a Prairie Dog Hunt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beautiful landscapes, a great way to end the day.

Beautiful landscapes, a great way to end the day.

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

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

Does Hunting Need To Be Justified to Non-Hunters?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Things

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

Categories: Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Opportunistic Airgun Hunts: South Texas Add On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment