I was thinking about my airgun hunts this year, those after the Christmas holidays when things start to slow down. There were a few stand outs that I really enjoyed, with a few more to come during the summer before the real season starts back up and my winter hunts kick in.
I get a lot of mail that goes something like this: “Hi Jim, I am looking for a new hunting rifle, and am considering X, Y, Z guns. Which of these would you recommend”? First it depends on how you will use the gun, what you will hunt, in what situations, and under what conditions. Outside of that, I explain that I can give a personal preference, but once you get past a few mandatory requirements it becomes a personal choice.
I’m writing this while tucked away in a small travel trailer sitting on a friends ranch in Northern California. It is the end of the second day of a four day turkey hunt in California, and so far I have two birds in the freezer. Now if you are unfamiliar with Cali’s hunting opportunities you may ask “why go there to hunt”? There are several reasons, the sunshine state has thousands upon thousands of acres of huntable land, a great deal of it open to the public. They also have a pretty broad range of game that can be hunted. But for me it’s because California was one of the first states to embrace airgun hunting. You can hunt any of the small game species, but the real draw is that it one of two states in the country that I know of that permits airguns to be used for turkey! They also have a generous limit of 3 turkey in the gun spring season with a one bird per day limit, and long seasons.
On day two I already have two long beards in the freezer; the first I took with a .22 from a blind and the second with a .30 on a stalk, and I’ll write about these in more detail later. I’ve got two days left to see if I can limit out before returning home. I have been seeing large numbers of birds, easily 50 per day, including some very big toms. The birds I shot are Rio Grande, though I am told there are also Merriam and hybrids to be found in the area. And the area is beautiful, coastal hills one one side and the Sierra foothils on the other, weather sunny and in the 80′s. It’s a bit on the warm side, but after two years in Minneapolis you wont catch me complaining about warm weather!
If you have ever wanted to hunt turkey with and airgun, head west. My season license and three turkey stamp came to $170.00 and you can find some reasonable priced guide services or do it yourself. If you want to try this and need more information let me know, I’ll be happy to point you in the right direction. I think this is one of the coolest airgun hunts you can do, and believe it or not, California is the place to go.
I booked a hunt through 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! I will leave this part of the story by saying, I am still after my javalina and believe that when I finally bag my trophy it will be one of the most expensive trophies on my wall! But the side of my hunt I want to relate here is the airgunning side of it.
The plan was to fly in on Friday and get in for an afternoon stand, and on following days hunt morning and afternoon 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 Black Berry) 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 prototypical small game species of the South Texas Senderas.
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 legally and morally freed 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 guide) 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 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 a bout 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 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 bob cat 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. Oh well, what can you say, it will have to wait until next time.
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.
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!
When heading off on an airgun hunt, regardless of the type of game, the type of gun being used, or even the conditions I expect to encounter, my gun will almost always be equipped with a scope. There are several reasons for this; as the acuity of my eyesight diminishes with age a scope helps me pick up my target more quickly and more clearly, it permits shooting in conditions of low ambient lighting (which us common when hunting). And the selection of the appropriate magnification allows the very small kill zones to be honed in on, even at a distance.
There are several considerations when selecting a scope for your hunting air rifle; is the gun a springer or a precharged pneumatic, what is the size of the kill zone on your intended game, how far will you be shooting, what light conditions do you anticipate? The attributes I look for are dependent on the application, but as a rule I prefer a compact scope with medium magnification and a thin wire reticle with mildots or other ranging reference points. I also prefer an adjustable aperture to correct for parallax distortion, with a side turret on the tube rather than a front aperture ring. But if an adjustable objective is not present, the gun needs to be parallax corrected for typical airgun distances in the 50 yard range. But these characteristics are not a hard fast rule, and for certain guns and situations I may look for a large aperture high magnification scope, or lower or higher magnification. I’m going to take a look at the features found on many of today’s airgun scopes, but will start with a quick look at some of the key manufacturers.
Hawke Optics have been around for several years and have a big following with airgunners in the UK, and in recent years have made significant inroads to the US market. The quality of the glass they use provides crisp, clear images across the range of scopes. With heavy field use, I have found the construction very rugged and able to stand up to the abuses of hunting in rough conditions. What I also like about the Hawke scopes is the number of reticle designs available, which can be used in conjunction with Hawkes Chairgun Ballistic Calculator. Chairgun is available free of charge and can be downloaded from their website. The companies Airmax 3-9×40 is one of my favorite all around scopes, it is compact, good optical quality, robust, and it utilizes the companies MAP6 parabolic aiming points that can be calibrated to a specific gun/pellet combination using the ballistic calculator. On a couple of my longer range guns I am using the Sidewinder 4-16×50 10x mildot, the fully multi-coated glass is very good and I Like the side-wheel for AO.
MTC is a British manufacturer that has just emerged on the domestic market, and the couple models I’ve used in the field have provided very good optical quality. MTC OPTICS is a UK-based distributor of high-quality riflescopes and optical products. With a reputation with UK shooters I’ve spoke with of producing quality products at a reasonable price point, and providing good customer service. One of the scopes I’ve been hunting with the last few months, and more recently on my Bushbuck .45 is the MTC Genisis 5-20×50 scope. The optical quality provided by the fully coated lenses is very good in low light, the quality at high magnification is also very good….. how ever on my big game guns I’ll probably move to a lower magnification scope and use this one on one of my long range prairie dog guns. The scope is built on a 30 mm tube, and uses an illuminated AMD reticle with a second focal plane. On a recent hunt the scope stood up to some exceedingly rough use and bad weather, and performed flawlessly when it came tome to take the shot. I will be looking at these scopes a lot more, and as mentioned, I will use on at least one of my long range rigs.
Another company I like is Leapers, which is based in Michigan. They have one of the most extensive lineups of scopes, many of which are springer rated, on the market. This company fills an important niche for airgunners, not only because they have a product for virtually every conceivable application, but also offer one of the best values around. The glass is good, maybe a little less crisp than achieved by the very expensive scopes under low light conditions, but they are built like tanks, they are feature rich, and they are a fraction of the price of many scopes at a similar quality/performance point. Another positive point for American hunters is that Leapers is moving the manufacturing of their scopes back to the USA, which is a reversal of the normal flight of manufacturing operations abroad, and will build scopes in their Michigan facilities. An example of a Leapers scope that I use on my springers is the UTG 3-9×40, which combines optical quality with an illuminated mildot reticle that has been able to stand up to my scope eating magnum springers. I also use the UTX 1-4.5×22 CCB built on a 30mm tube on my big bore airguns, where I want lower magnifications and rapid sight acquisition.
There are several other manufacturers with product I use and like; Niko Stirling offers high quality glass, and maintains clear, crisp images even at higher magnification. I use these scopes on some of my long range rifles and love them, though they are fairly expensive. Gamo owned BSA offers a range of scopes, some of which, such as the AR 3-9×40 AO are quite good and can stand the pounding of a magnum air rifle. I haven’t been as impressed with the ones bundled with their gun kits; however this can be said with virtually all of the vendors. If possible, I’d buy my gun and scope separately and opt for one of the premium level products. When bundling an off the shelf kit, a manufacturer needs to contain costs and a lot of shooters, especially those new to the sport, tend to recoil from the higher price a premium scope would add to the package price.
Scope tubes come in 1″ or 30 mm dimensions, and until recently the vast majority was of the 1″ persuasion. A lot of people think that the 30mm is more effective in collecting ambient lighting, and while this does play a minor role, it is a small term in the equation. The elevation and windage are adjusted using the turrets, and I prefer those that are easily adjusted with fingers as opposed to those requiring a screwdriver or a coin. I also like a tactile response, a solid “click” as adjustments are made. A trend in recent years is towards adjustors that can be locked down once the optimal setting is determined. Some shooters like this feature, though I’m personally ambivalent and don’t mind if they lock down or not.
The manufacturing quality and dimension of the objective lens, along with the polishing and coating (types and number of coats) has a pronounced impact on the clarity and consistency of the image and ability to transmit light under low light conditions. A fully multi-coated lens achieves reduced flair and maximum light transmission, but increases the manufacturing cost (and end user price) of the scope. You might think that the largest objective lens would be preferred, but it does come at a cost above and beyond the price tag: scopes with a large objective are bigger, heavier, and require a higher profile mount which may hinder slight alignment, depending on your rifles scope.
When it comes to reticles, I like a system that provides a reference that relates to the trajectory of my gun/pellet combination to the scopes aim-points. Knowing where the pellet will hit is critically important when you start to extend the range out past 40 yards. Remember, airguns are generating lower velocities than a firearm, so the drop of the projectile is much more pronounced.
When discussing scopes, magnification is usually one of the first items to come up. Scopes come in either fixed power or variable power with typical ranges for the former being 4x or 6x, and for the latter 3-9X, 4-16x, and 6-24x. A question that often surfaces is what magnification is best? The underlying assumption is that more is better. My opinion is “only as much as you need”, because you pay that size /weight penalty as you go to high magnification glass, and you increase the complexity of usage. I had a professional hunter in Africa tell me that outside of clients using magnum guns they couldn’t handle, the wrong magnification settings (too much or too little) was the biggest source of flubbed shots. A 3-9x magnification is the all-around best choice for hunting, with the right balance of size and performance in the vast majority of situations. I personally like fixed or low magnification variable scopes on my big bore guns; the shots are closer, come up faster, and the targets are larger. The other reason I keep the magnification dialed down is that at 12X the scope jitter is more apparent than at 4x. While the scope isn’t moving any more than when at lower magnification, it seems to be jumping all over the place, and can blow your confidence right when you need it most!
Rings and mounts are an integral component of the sighting system. They need to hold the scope in place and present the scope so that the shooter can achieve a good sight alignment. Most mounts for airguns will need to fit a 11mm dovetail, though I’ve noted a trend (a good one I think) towards the use of Weaver style rails. Some guns actually have both incorporated into their design. On springers I’ll often use a one piece mount as they tend to stay in place and not “walk back” on the dovetail under the force of bidirectional recoil. If you use a two piece mount on a springer you may need to use a scope stop to prevent this rearward travel. The design of the rifles stock and cheekpiece, the height of the receiver, the scopes objective, and the shooters style will determine the height profile of the mount, which generally come in low, medium and high profile configurations. I like to us the lowest possible mount height on my guns, as I feel that I shoot more accurately when able to snug my cheek down and “tuck” into the stock.
So what’s sitting on my guns? I’ve got a gunroom full of springers and PCP’s and most if not all are always wearing a scope. I use a lot of the Hawke and the Leapers products and trust them both. I al also starting to use the MTC products more. I have a few Niko Stirlings, Buris, BSA and Leupolds that I like. When I get a kit gun to review, I do so with the scope that comes with the kit. But for the guns I end up buying will invariably swap the scope out. For the mounts I mostly use those from Leapers, Hawke, or BKL industries (owned by Airforce Airguns). My advice is that you don’t underestimate the impact of a scope on your ability to wring the best accuracy out of your gun, and budget for some good quality glass when buying a new shooting rig. You don’t need to spend a fortune, but an investment is required. All scopes tend to look good on bright sunny days, but it’s in the low light of dawn or dusk where the difference in quality really becomes obvious. And that’s often when you’ll be in the field with your airgun hunting!
Winter hunting seasons are winding down; in a few weeks the predator hunting will get more difficult and all the big game is pretty much done. I’ll probably get a couple more hog hunts in, but I’m getting ready for the transition to spring and summer shooting; prairie dogs, rabbits, ground squirrels, ground hogs, turkey, and pest birds will be the order of the day. I’ll be heading to South Africa, Puerto Rico, and maybe Mexico to hunt before next winter rolls around, though SA will throw me right back into winter time hunting :). I’m kicking up my gym time and getting in shape for these trips, and it won’t hurt to knock of the excess weight before I hit the water on my kayak to fish and camp either!
There is a lot of great new gear coming to market from manufacturers around the globe, and we’ll get some of the earliest news on these products, plus I’ll be getting in a lot of hunts to share. So stay tuned!
It’s been a busy few weeks, I’m sitting on a plane as I write this, traveling back from Scotland. I was in Edinburgh and tried to find an airgun shop to visit, but no luck. I think the restrictions, or risk there of, must be having a negative impact. We’re in much better shape in the States than our cousins across the pond, from what I was told they can no longer buy airguns online. That means if physical stores are closing and online shops are restricted, access will become an issue.
The question of restrictions on airguns (in the USA) comes up on the forums on a fairly frequent basis…… every time a new big bore is released, a semi or full auto action, a more powerful gun is released, you get a small group fretting and moaning that it’s the swan song for airguns. I stop to consider a few specific details when I think about this; a) what would be the basis for airguns being restricted, b) what would these restrictions look like, c) can analogies be drawn with other devices, d) how can we best protect our use of and access to airguns, and e) if we restrict ourselves (on caliber, power, action type) to fly under the radar (which I don’t think is possible) haven’t we in fact done the same thing we want to fly under the radar to avoid? Namely, removing these guns from the market.
I think that airguns could in fact, come under pressure to regulate at some point in time. But I think this would be done by anti-gun proponents and safety police regardless of power output or caliber. They have tried it with airsoft and in some jurisdictions anything more than a a Daisy Red Rider is considered a firearm or prohibited in some fashion. They have tried to regulate the color of toy guns…. so I wouldn’t doubt there will be more attempts. The fact is that the people that want to take your guns away, don’t really understand the differences between 10 or 100 fpe, a .177 and a .50 caliber, airsoft or PCP….. they just know guns are bad and they have to be controlled.
On the other-hand, It can be argued that a muzzle loader is much more powerful than any airgun, and that the rate of fire in many ariguns is less than a competent archer can get with their bows. One of the ways that you can protect the right to have access to these tools, is to offer examples of valid uses: hunting, long range shooting competition etc. This is what has been done with muzzle loaders and archery, and there is very little regulation in these areas.
If there are restrictions what would they be? An arbitrary and meaningless limit on power such as our British counter parts? That we can’t have certain calibers or certain powerplants? Again, I think the way to protect these is to show you have a valid application….. I need a big bore because I hunt deer or feral hogs, I need a 50 fpe gun because I shoot long range target competition, etc. That’s one of the reasons I think expanding the hunting laws is a positive factor for all airgunners, hunters or not. In a true chicken and egg scenario, having larger caliber and more powerful guns then helps justify expanding hunting regulations to include airguns. The potential regulation that is troubling is if airguns could not be sold online and shipped without restriction. The limiting of access would damage the sport in this country in a major way, because unlike the UK for instance, airguns are a very small niche compared to firearms and it takes a certain population to support a physical shop. We need to be prepared to lobby and stand against proposed regulation, but trying to hide or fly under the radar just does not work. The fact that firearms are regulated does not stop me from using firearms, it does however restrict where I can buy them. The fact that I can’t buy a 30-06 online is no problem, because I have 10 physical locations within a half hours drive where I can buy them.
The other thing that I’ll mention, there is no “right” to have an airgun, same as there is no “right” to hunt in a constitutional sense. Airguns, if regulated, would be done as with any other consumer product, probably a risk based decision. At some point I would hope we had an organization that would serve as a voice for airgunners in this country. But the logic that we should self regulate ourselves with respect to power or caliber to avoid being regulated escapes me, because the outcome is the same.
Anyways, enough of the rant for now. When I get home I have a few new guns awaiting me, so I’ll be getting in some serious coyote hunting over the next few weeks. I finally have the Bulldog being shipped to me and it should be available to use this weekend. Catch up with you all next week!
We have a fairly large community of hunters in the United States, and are favored with a lot of game and plentiful land to hunt on. In addition, there are few restrictions on gun ownership and the price of firearms is fairly low. As a result, airguns have remained relatively unknown here as they have not historically filled a need. But in the last couple of decades the visibility and availability of air powered guns has been on a steady upswing. This increase in awareness was especially apparent at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas in January. Where in the past only a few airgun relates businesses were around, and they were not heavily trafficked, this year there were several vendors and a lot of interest from the mainstream hunting/shooting community!
This is to some extent driven by the fact that airguns are now being distributed through shops online, so a specialty store with a physical location is not required to obtain a selection of guns and ancillary gear. I assume all the readers of this blog are familiar with the AOA shop, which is both an online business and a physical shop. As an aside, I think a physical location is especially important for an importer, because it indicates stability and longevity, I am uncomfortable with an import business that is run out of a garage or spare bedroom. I don’t want the company I just purchased a $1200 rifle from to go belly up and one day not be there to answer the phone.
Many mainstream hunters have come to realize that based on the lower power, range, and sound signature, airguns open up new hunting territory for the urban and suburban sportsman. I am an avid big game and upland game hunter, and have several places to hunt within a few hours drive from my home. But by using air rifles to harvest small game and pest species I can be out in the field after squirrel, rabbit, or calling raccoons and coyotes in twenty minutes from doorstep to shooting area. I shot one of the biggest coyote I’ve seen 20 minutes from house a couple weeks ago, where there is no way I could have used a firearm. A two or three hour small game hunt on Saturday morning becomes possible, and is well suited to a busy schedule. It is also something that is possible just about everywhere in the country, west coast to east coast, urban to rural, to open country.
There are some local regulations which control sales or usage of airguns, but these are the exception rather than the rule. This means that regardless of their geographic location, all shooters have access to online shops and products purchased from these businesses can be shipped directly to a private home address. The other impact of the regulatory status is that the power of airguns is not restricted. This is why sub FAC power levels are not as popular with the hunting crowd, and most of our field guns are in the 18 to 30 fpe range. It lets us hunt the bigger animals at greater distances than say British airgun hunters. This is a reason we see the trend of European manufacturers building guns expressly for the US market growing at a rapid rate.
Guns and Gear
As previously mentioned, firearms are readily available and inexpensive here. The average spring piston airgun will be priced at around $300 – $400 and a precharged pneumatic hunting rifle will cost $600 – $800 (add another $400 for an air tank and fittings). However one can walk into a gun shop and after an instant background check, walk out the door with a semi auto rimfire and a brick of ammunition (well they used to be able, though rimfire ammo is now scarce and expensive) for under $400.00. The attractiveness of air powered rifles is therefore not a low cost of ownership or to circumvent legal restrictions, but rather all those attributes (low power, limited range, and reduced sound signature) that are unique to airguns. Most of the rifles that are popular here are in line with those used by our British counterparts; indeed many of our most popular quality guns are of British, Swedish, and German manufacture. There is increasing availability of American made guns as well, in both small and big calibers though mostly PCP’s. As in the UK, the trend in this country is moving toward PCPs for most hunting applications, I have several springers that are pulled out a few times a year for a squirrel or rabbit hunt, but I have to admit this does become less frequent and a conscious decision to keep up on my springers with each passing year.
The production pcp rifles in my gun rack provides a snapshot of the models many of us are hunting with. I have many guns from Daystate (Wolverine, Wolverine C, Huntsman Classic), Brocock (Specialist, Concept Elite), FX (Verminator, Boss), AirForce (Talon, Talon-P, Escape, Talon, and Texan), Crosman (Discovery, Marauder, Rogue, Bulldog) and many others from RWS, AirArms, Weihrauch, BSA, Falcon, Evanix, Hatsan, Walther, Gamo, etc. in a range of calibers from .177 to .50.
The types of quarry we can pursue in the US include several pest species, some the same as those shot in the UK; rats, pigeons, rabbits, squirrels, crows. It is interesting to note that rabbits are considered game animals in most states, whereas the most abundant hare (jackrabbits) are considered pest species. Pest species do not receive protection whereas game species have bag limits and seasons that offer a higher degree of protection and allows management of the resource. Tree squirrels (fox squirrels, gray squirrels, etc) are also considered a game animal, while ground squirrels are considered a pest species through most of their range. Ground squirrels can be found in towns that contain hundreds of individuals and can cause a great deal of damage to pastureland. Other species we hunt include prairie dogs, marmots (woodchucks, groundhogs, and rockchucks), possums, nutria, European starlings, crows and pigeons. Some states permit game birds such as quail, pheasant, and turkey to be taken by airguns, while others expressly prohibit their use. Other animals such as raccoons, fox, and bobcats, ringtail are considered furbearers and depending on the state have different regulations, some allow airguns and some do not. As you have probably noted, each state has their own set of regulations which range from enlightened and pro airgun to those that expressly prohibit their use (which is thankfully the minority position). We also have a growing number of big game hunting opportunities opening up to big bore airguns, MO, VA, MI, AZ, MI, AL allow deer to be taken by air, and many (if not most) allow predators, feral hogs, and exotics to likewise be taken by air. There seem to be a couple new states opening up every year and I expect the trend will continue. You do need to be careful to check, understand, and follow state regulations when hunting.
State of Airgun Hunting in the States
So while we do not have the tradition of airgunning that our British friends have, we do have a range of quarry species, plenty of land to hunt, a growing selection of guns and airgun specific gear, and a developing distribution network across the country. As mentioned any states are adding regulations to the books which make airguns a legal method of take, and there is a growing awareness by both hunters and wildlife management professionals that airguns are uniquely suited for use in more built up areas where pest and small game populations need to be controlled.
Travel to Hunt
Another aspect of airgun hunting to consider is the ability to travel for hunts. Traveling for big game can be very expensive, in fact more than a couple of out of state trips is not within the reach of most hunters. The cost of licenses and tags, outfitters and guides, limited access to huntable land are all impediments for many hunters. However, the cost of small game / general licenses tend to be pretty reasonable, distances and cost of travel lower (you don’t have to go to Montana to hunt rabbit or squirrel) are doable around a normal schedule, and there is a lot of public land spread across the country where the big game populations are under a lot of pressure but small game and varminting is there for the asking. And yet, the excitement and adventure of traveling to hunt, and the challenge and fun of the hunt is still very high. If you don’t have feral hogs in your state, you wont have to travel far to find one that does. If you don’t have prairie dogs or jackrabbits where you live, go to a place that does! Last year I hunted with my airguns in Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, Virginia, Alabama, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, California, North Dakota, South Dakota and a couple others for all type of game…… and it was a blast! OK it’s true that this is kind of a second career with writing, etc. for me… but I will bet almost everyone here could manage a couple out of state trips in a year. Plan something, do it, and let us hear about the trips…. I’m sure you’ll have some stories!
If you read my posts or saw the videos from the SHOT Show, you know two of the areas generating a lot of interest were the new big bores and the new bullpups. I like bullpups and think they serve a purpose, though truth be told I am more of a traditionalist when it comes to my hunting guns. But the abundance of new mid and big bores, now there is something that gets me excited! BY the way, I’, going to return to the topic of mid bores at the end of this post…. And a big bore I got really excited about was the AOA .45 Bushbuck, which is the most powerful production big bore on the market, but to hijack (and modify) an old saying, only accurate airguns are interesting. So I could not wait to get my hands on this gun.
One of the reasons I was looking forward to this gun, was that the driving force behind it is my good friend and AOA’s resident hunting expert Kip Perow. Kips one of the best airgun hunters around, he is a professional hunting guide, he is an airgunning expert, and he owns and shoots many of the big bores on the market. So when a guy likes this says he is going to focus on developing a big bore hunting gun, it warrants attention! I got a chance to shoot this gun when I was down in Arizona after the EBR, and though we only had it on the indoor range, I was able to appreciate the craftsmanship that went into the gun, note the nice trigger, smoothness of the action and firing cycle, and was impressed with the ergonomics and the fit of the gun. I also appreciated the stability and the light rearward recoil on a gun generating a whopping 600 fpe.
AOA had quietly informed a select group of customers about the gun, and the first production run sold out before the gun was released to market. I reserved one last year when they started development, at that time based only on Kips involvement. Like I said, the involvement of a serious hunter and airgun expert, was all I needed to have my interest piqued! Through a fluke AOA could not put the gun out on display at their booth at SHOT, as a ruling had come through that only British built products could be shown …. which is a shame because this rifle would have been a major draw! Now here’s a bit of back story, the gun at the SHOT show was my gun and was going to be shipped to me afterwards. So when I’d passed by the AOA booth and saw somebody holding my gun a saying how beautiful it was, I wanted to yell “hands off, that’s my gun”!
At any rate, I was heading off on a hog hunt in Texas and had the gun shipped down and waiting for me. Kip had hand casted two .451 bullets for; me a 405 and 420 grain solid bullet with a large metplate. He had mounted an MTC 5-20x scope and sighted the gun in, and everything was shipped in and waiting. I am writing this trip up for an upcoming article in Fur-Fish-Game so won’t go through every detail here; but will mention a few things I noted while hunting the gun. I hunted from a brush blind in the morning and evening, but where I had my success was still hunting the very heavy brush in the mid day, where I saw more hogs, and bigger ones, than anybody else at the ranch. This meant I carried the gun a lot, and it is a big rifle that could be a challenge in the tight vegetation coming in from every side and top and bottom. At one point I shot a 205 lb boar and it was one of the more adrenaline inducing hog hunts I’ve had. We stalked the pig for well over an hour, but at one point thought we had lost him, until I spotted him partially hidden behind some bushes. I found a spot at about 65 yards where I could sit with my pack on a dirt mound, and get lined up for a broadside. When I shot, it knocked the pig back, he wobbled, then ran on a beeline directly at me. I will tell you that sitting on the ground at eye level with a hog that big, with tusk you could see and sharpness you can imagine, Is a motivation to take action. Almost immediately after my shot I started to reload and pulled the gun up and shot him in the head at about 25 yards dumping him on the spot. When we dressed this pig we found the fist bullet had passed side to side coming to rest just under the skin line on the off shoulder. The shields on this pig were an inch thick and as hard as rock. The second shot had taken him right between the eyes. The cool thing ……. we got this all on film. The sow I hit on the run, she was moving towards me but unlike the boar didn’t know I was there. I don’t know where she was heading or why, but she didn’t seem interested in stopping. It was a front quartering shot that broke the left front shoulder, traveled transversely all the way through and broke the rear right hip. She went down and didn’t get back up.
I can’t imagine how this gun could have served me any better; it was dead accurate, very powerful, very shootable. The trigger was fine by my hunting standards; heavy enough that even with gloves it had a good tactile response, but light enough that it facilitated accurate shooting. If i was going to change anything, I’d go for a carbine version even at the cost of some power and a lower shot count….. but that seems to be the first thing I say with every new big bore I shoot! This gun has the potential of becoming my favorite big game big bore to date!
What I wanted to mention about the mid bores; while taping a recent Round Table at the SHOT Show, my friend and airgun guru Tom Gaylord and I had a difference of opinion. I said that I differentiate big bores (.40 and up) from mid bores (the .30′s) because in my application I think of the mid bores as predator guns and big bores as big game. The complicating factor is some mid bores start to cross over into big bore performance. Here is my rationale; most of the .30′s are in the 90-120 fpe range, and I believe the relatively low power and small caliber make it suboptimal for larger quarry (but perfect for coyote sized game). On the other hand, my preference for big game is a gun doing at least 250 fpe and with a larger (.40) caliber because a bigger bullet produces a larger wound channel and a) better killing power and b) produces a better blood trail when tracking is necessary. If you don’t seperate these guns out and classify them all as big bores, a guy with a 90 fpe .30 may be lead to believe they have a viable deer gun. Where I gets murky is that Sam Yang and Benjamin produce .35′s that are pushing up against the lower levels of power for big game hunting, so grouping them as mid bore with the associated understanding that this is a lower power predator gun may do them a disservice. I have no doubt that a .30 can take deer and hogs, I have done so along with impala, springbuck, and warthogs, but think the majority of guns in this caliber are not the right choice, and those guns that are, are more of an experts gun. Having said this, I still believe that differentiating the mid bores and big bores makes sense from a hunters perspective, and as these guns are built for hunting not paper punching, this is the perspective that matters.
The raccoon is a medium sized mammal that can be found in virtually every state in the continental United States. It has a ringed tail and a masked face, by which everyone knows this animal. The tail is 10-12 in. long and has a series of rings. They measure 9-12 in. at the shoulder and 30-33 in. body length. The average adult is 12-15 lb, but they can get much larger. I was out calling the other night and dialed in a raccoon fight, over my shoulder I saw what looked like a black bear heading at me on a dead run. I was sitting at ground level between the coon and the call (rock and a hard place?), and if you said that thing was under 30 lb I wouldn’t have beleved it! Their eyes are black by day and orange by night, and can be seen glowing when hit by a lamp at night. The raccoon is unusual in that they can see equally well in the daylight or at night, and can be difficult to spot at night due to their coloration.
People tend to think of raccoons only as scavengers and in fact the diet of the raccoon is aggressively omnivorous. They will eat fruit, berries, grain, eggs, poultry, vegetables, nuts, mollusks, fish, insects, rodents, carrion, pet food and garbage. Individual animals may learn to use specialized foods such as poultry, fruit crops, small livestock, or garbage by watching other raccoons. But what I’ve come to find over the last few years of going out to hunt raccoons is that they are a predator of note. When firing off a small mammal distress in the vicinity of a den tree, coons will poor out of the den and down the tree. And they charge more aggressively towards the call than coyote, bobcat, or fox when in the mood. I’ve had the bloody things just about run me over when using mouth calls.
These animals are nocturnal and become quite active as the sun sets. Urban raccoon populations are often underestimated because people seldom see them traveling during the daytime. Where I live I see new road kill raccoons as I drive to my office almost every day, which would indicate a pretty healthy population. But I reckon out in the country areas if there’s a small wooded area, I’ll pull a coon from it.
Raccoons can cause substantial damage to buildings (particularly attics and roofs), gardens, fruit trees, lawns, garbage cans and trash containers. They are also attracted to pet food left outdoors and will attack pets. In rural areas, raccoons may feed on farm crops or raid poultry houses. Raccoons have been known to mutilate poultry in cages by pulling heads or legs off. Several kills may be made during a single night raid with part of one or more carcasses fed upon. Dead fowl may be consumed at the kill site or dragged several yards away. Raccoons are also serious predators of wild bird populations. I have read that raccoons have been responsible for eliminating local populations of some nesting waterfowl. In these situations raccoons may be classified as a pest species, but in most jurisdictions they are classified as a furbearer so check the laws for method of take, seasons and limits.
As a rule, when I talk about raccoon hunting I am talking about calling them in rural areas, approaching them as a predator. I have started pursueing them in a more focused way over the last couple years. Hunting raccoons can be done with dogs, and this is how most firearm hunters do it. My method is quite simple, and consists of setting up an ambush then waiting. The gun that I found to work well was a .22, .25, and more recently the .30 caliber PCP rifles scoped with a fixed 4x powered scope and a mag light fitted under the barrel. Heavy roundnose pellets give a good combination of penetration and energy dump. With these guns either a head shot or a heart/lung, but raccoons are tough and can carry lead when a body shot is taken.
However, two things happened which tweaked my interest in raccoon hunting. The first was that on a couple trips for large game in Texas, ranchers asked us to thin the populations on their properties as there were just too many coons causing way too much damage. We pursued these animals with lamps at night (legal on private property in Texas) with the aim of removing as many as possible. We drove the ranch roads with high power lamps searching the trees and scrub looking for the telltale glow of eyes, hopping out of the truck and moving in on the spotlighted animals for a twenty five to forty yard shot. This was pest control, pure and simple; the objective being to remove a large number of critters, and this approach worked well. On one nights outing with a couple hunting buddies we took a dozen raccoons on a local farm situated north of Dallas in just a few short hours, I was using an FX Gladiator on that outing.
The second factor which increased my raccoon hunting interest was when I accidentally discovered they will aggressively come in on a call. I was squirrel hunting and using a distress call to locate bushy tails, when out of the corner of my eye I picked up a big male raccoon moving rapidly towards me. He froze on detecting something was out of line, but then it was too late. Since that time I have called in many more masked bandits, and find that unlike night time pest control, this is exciting sport which offers some real challenge. Anybody that tells you raccoons won’t come to a call, or won’t come at it in daylight has not tried it. The other thing that I’ve found as I’ve gotten more experience with raccoon calling, they can come charging in without a second thought to wind direction or scent. I almost ended up with a raccoon in my lap on one occasion, and for that reason alone prefer an electronic call so I can get a little distance between my person and the source of sound. But another, more important reason is that I have found the best way to get a raccoon to come to the call is by using raccoon fight sequences which I cannot do with a mouth call.
The distress calls which I’ve found most productive are woodpecker distress, baby squirrel distress, and rodent squeakers. I have many e-callers, but the two I like best for raccoons are the FoxPro Wildfire and the Primos Alpha dog. Almost any call will give you a good selection of distress calls, but these two offer a better library of coon sounds than most others.
If you plan to take raccoons, check the local laws; in some jurisdictions raccoons are pest, in others they are a furbearer with seasons and limits. Sometimes they become a nuisance or pest animal, and depredation permits or special requirements may or may not be required. Raccoons are fairly robust animals that can be hard to kill, and I therefore prefer to use more powerful guns in the 30 fpe plus range. A solid, heavy pellet is a good choice and I have found the JSB round nose (in .22, .25, and .30) and Beeman Kodiaks work very well, yielding both penetration and an effective transfer of energy. If you want an exciting hunt, with a good chance of success, that is available almost anywhere in the country, give raccoons a try!
I’ve staked out about a dozen likely spots, and am going out to call a couple of them when it gets dark. There’s a full moon and with snow on the ground, I don’t even need a light.
I just got back home from Las Vegas on Friday morning …. it was a killer trip and not for the reasons one might associate with this town! I was at the SHOT Show, and as in years past it was a hectic schedule for me. But unlike last year, though I missed media day due to family obligations, I was there for three full days. I caught a late flight in and arrived in Vegas just before midnight on Monday, grabbed a cab to my hotel, and got a decent night sleep. I arrived at the show at 8:30, and as I’d preregistered went straight to the press room. I had a couple quick preliminary meetings with magazine editors, got myself organized, then hit the exhibit floor.
I am contracted to deliver reviews or commentary on SHOT for Predator Xtreme (my publishing home base), for Fish and Game (doing an annual gear guide), Airgun Hobbyist, and Airgun Shooter (UK) on big bore airguns. So in my blog today, so that I’m not stepping on my own toes and plagiarizing myself while trying to write four different articles on the same event, I am going to stick to guns and happenings at AoA. And there was a lot happening there with two of the major releases in the booth; the release of the new Daystate Bullpup called the Pulsar, and AoA’s first foray into manufacturing with the big bore called the Bushbuck! The other two areas of extreme interest (for me) was the further integration of Brocock product line into Daystate, and AoA’s management of the MTC scope line.
The AoA booth was, as in years past, in the British Pavilion and by virtue of that had to only shot British products. Fair enough and there was enough to show that this wasn’t a major setback, except that the AOA Bushbuck couldn’t be actively displayed. This was a shame, in that it is the most powerful production big bore gun in the world, and at a SHOT Show this year with the emphasis on all the new big bores the rifle wasn’t given a chance to shine. Robert, Greg, and Darren were manning the booth for AOA, with Tony Belas (Daystate Dir of Sales and Marketing) and his team in attendance. A great group of guys and a vast amount of airgunning experience between them!
Tony Belas told me that the Pulsar redefines airgun design as we know it. The gun is built on more than a decade of electronic airgun design which has proven very successful in both hunting and competitive shooting, stating that Daystate’s revolutionary CDT system has a significan place in sporting airguns. He also told me that the Pulsar represents the 5th generation of this technology and provides the next major step forward.
The Pulsar brings together Daystate’s established CDT and MCT systems, and updates them into one of the most compact, ergonomic, and advanced firing systems ever seen. The Pulsar’s new electronic GCU system is housed in a rugged waterproof box for total protection against the elements. The ergonomic design is fast to deploy and looks to be a shooter-friendly bullpup packages, which I hope to comment on from an experience users perspective soon. Some of the other features are an integral laser sight to allow the user to wholly concentrate on the shot. The gun is rich in safety features with a sophisticated and multidimensional electronic safety system – a crossbolt safety catch, anti-double loading mechanism, and bolt-open deactivator. All of these features should add up to make the Daystate PULSAR THE gun for shooters that want a bullpup …. and can afford the cover price to the dance . I like the concept of a bullpup, but the realization of most designs leaves me less enthusiastic; if I am going to use a bullpup it’s because I want a compact, light, easy to deploy gun. A lot of bullpups feel like a fencepost in my hands, but I was impressed with the fit and feel of this gun and am anxious to hit the field with it.
The AOA Bushbuck is a massive gun, and is producing massive power. The bolt action has two cocking position, pull it halfway back and you get 3-4 shots at 400 fpe, or pull it all the way back and get two shots at an incredible 600 fpe! This is the most powerful production airgun ever built. I shot this gun in Arizona as it was being prototyped, and think it may well represent the apex in big game hunting airguns. It has a solid trigger that is one of the most tactile and smoothest I used on a big bore out of the box. I’m taking this gun hunting soon and will report more then!
Brocock has been coming up with guns that I really like, they are compact, simple yet elegant in design, great performers, and tend to be very compact. A gun I got my hands on la couple years back, hunted with a lot in the squirrel woods of the Midwest, desert rabbits out west, and pest control all over, was the Specialist. I groaned when I heard the gun was discontinued, but was happy to see that it has been resurrected with a new ambidextrous stock, which is more substantial than the original stock but still weighs in at 4lb and some change. Now here’s where I’ll weigh in with an opinion, when I want a compact hunting gun to carry on long hikes this is what I reach for, not a bullpup, but a well designed, lightweight, compact carbine. And for this type of gun, Brocock is producing some of the best of breed.
I can’t give you a lot of details on the MTC Scopes yet, there was not a wide range at the show, but I will say that the couple I looked at impressed with the clarity of the image in the lowlight environment. These scopes have a very short eye relief, which may take a little getting used to, however if the field performance is on par with what I say at the show, it will be worth the effort of acclimation!
Other fun things for me at the show; we filmed a segment of the American Airgunner Roundtable from the floor, setting up a mobile studio at the Pursuit Channels booth. I was joined by the usual suspects (Rossi, Tom, and Rick) and we each spoke about some of our favorite finds from around the exhibit hall. I also did a full blown photo shoot for Game&Fish/Sportsman magazine, which was a bit wild. I met in a studio they’d set up in the convention center, replete with all the lights and gear, and a staff consisting of photographer, director of photography, makeup artist, etc. I had to change into my camo and strike heroic poses in front of a white screen with an air rifle over my shoulder to calls of ” a quarter turn, raise your chin, look into the camera, look serious, be the expert”. Will see how it turns out, I think my face is better suited for writing or radio!
Have lots of guns coming to me over the next few months, one of the first things I’ll do is an upcoming hog hunt with the Bushbuck…. I’ll keep readers up to date!
BTW: If you want to get a broader look at the SHOT Show, I’ve got a two part video posted, stop by for a look