In the blog this week, I’ll carry on with the airgunning adventure started last week. I am spending more time in Arizona for a couple reasons; first I have always loved this state; from the pine covered mountains up north to what I consider the most beautiful desert in the world, the unique Sonoran with its stands of saguaro cactus, holding a lot of the species (jack rabbit, squirrel, prairie dogs, and as of last year you can hunt quail) airgunner target. But the laws are expanding to allow larger game with airguns as well, and this may well be the first place to legally take a javalina with air power, which has been something I’ve been waiting on for years!
So the other part of my trip out to AZ last week, was to shoot rockchucks. The areas we hunt jackrabbit, cottontail, rockchuck and prairie dogs has some overlap, that is to say when out hunting cottontail in the hill areas there is always a chance that you might kick up a cottontail, or when chasing cottontail in the jumble of rock and blown down cedars you may find a small group of rockchucks, etc. However, there are very distinctive landscapes where the majority of game you’ll find is one or the other. Last week I spoke a bit about the rabbit hunting, and this week I’ll talk a bit about the rockchuck focused hunts.
First let me say, that when I talk about rockchucks the animal I’m talking about is a marmot like critter, a compact version of the eastern groundhog. I’ve shot these in Colorado and the western mountain regions, they are solitary animals that live at higher elevations in my experience. That is not what we’re hunting in Northern Arizona, what they call a rockchuck here is a larger ground squirrel that lives in the jagged rock outcroppings and in less rugged hilly regions makes it’s home in the boulders and flagstone heaps scattered through the country side. If there are some blown down cedars or junipers all the better. Besides being somewhat larger than the coastal and high desert California ground squirrels I grew up hunting, these have a more colorful coat. But the main behavioral difference I see, is that the coastal California ground squirrels (that we called gray diggers) were communal animals. Where you found one you’d find lots. However the AZ variety appear more solitary, we’d never find more than a few in an area. But now that I think about it, the gray diggers in the high desert area were usually in smaller clusters than those in the coastal regions (in towns like prairie dogs), maybe its more a response to the environmental stresses more than a behavior of the species.
At any rate, the gun I choose will not be a surprise if you read last weeks blog post, I took the Brocock Specialist again. The area I was going to hike over was rugged, the temperature high, and I wanted to be as unencumbered as possible. This little gun is about the lightest full power (20 fpe) rifle I’ve ever carried, and fitted with my emergency sling which requires not studs to use, this gun could almost be forgotten when I was climbing up the rocks. Some of the rockchucks we’d spot while driving down a road, which we’d pile out of the truck and try to creep up on. Others could be spotted up in the rocks and still others you’d walk up on while on a walk about, but for the most part if you scared them they kicked it into high gear and you didn’t see them again! The .22 caliber Specialist had been sighted in with a 50 yard zero using the 14.3 grain JSB Exacts, and man is this little gun accurate!
I won’t go into a blow by blow on the squirrels taken, but I will tell you that the gun was a hammer on those I shot out to 70 or 80 yards. I look forward to bringing this out for prairie dogs in the near future, so I can get in some high volume long range shooting with the gun. Small, powerful, accurate …. sounds awful 🙂 . What’s the downside? The only one I can honestly point out is that at 20 full power shots it is a lower shot capacity than most guns in this range. That may be a nuisance in high volume shooting, and in this cases I’ll simply slip a buddy bottle into my pack or plan my hunts so I sweep back by the truck for an occasional top off. But for most of my hunts where I want a gun producing to the Specialists performance spec, 20 shoots is a days hunting even if I screw the pooch on a lot of shots (we have a 5 squirrel 5 rabbit limit where I live) and even if I miss every other shot, this should get me through. Also it’s a lot easier to fill if I’m on the road and using a handpump…… which is a consideration that came home hard on a recent trip where I had a bottle fed gun that need to be manually filled……
At the end of the day, we shot several of these rock jumping rodents, I got my exercise in climbing the rocks in the 90+ heat, and I really enjoyed using this rifle. It’s worth mentioning that because of my limited time, when I go on a hunt I hunt hard day and night, needing to get as much experience/photo/video material as possible. As a consequence I’m often out in the less productive times of the day, and one of the things I love about prairie dogs and ground squirrels is that they stay active during the heat of day. As a matter of fact this is often the most productive time to be out, so when the rabbits or predators start to slow down later in the morning or before dusk sets in, a hunter willing to deal with the heat and burning sun can get some incremental shooting opportunity in!
I’d also mention that on a trip like this, a good quality binocular is a fantastic piece of gear to have along. You will be surprised at the number of squirrels you’ll find watching you from within a cluster rocks or blown over trees, that you will miss with the naked eye. The glass I’m using right now is Hawke Optics Frontier 10×42, which I am a huge fan of for a few reasons: first and foremost this quality of glass in a sub $800 binocular is mind blowing to me, I’ve used a lot of binoculars in this lower/mid tier price point over the years, but this is optical quality I expect out of a much more expensive product. But the other part is that they are ergonomic, lightweight and easy to hold for long glassing sessions, and easy to adjust. Binoculars are an item of kit a lot of airgunners don’t carry, but along with a range finder and a knife is one I never leave home with out.
So next hunts coming up, think I’m going to head up to North Dakota next weekend to see if the prairie dogs are popping up yet….. I’m working on the details right now…. camp or motel, what guns and gear, and the logistics for the trip? With my new base in MN and SD/ND right up the road, I’m like a kid in a candy shop trying to decide where to next…….