It is probably safe to say that most of the Airguns that are purchased domestically would be for plinking and target shooting. But the guns purchased expressly for harvesting animals, are most frequently used to shoot vermin and pest species. This can range from shooting the squirrel or starling raiding the backyard bird feeder to professional pest control removal of roosting pigeons or rats in an agricultural setting. Most states permit the culling of pest species with an airgun, and many will allow some game animals to be taken out of season under a depredation permit when they are causing damage to property.
There can be a thin line between pest and game animals which is often situational. Some species by their very nature are considered pest animals across the board, ones that are vectors for diseases or cause damage to property such as brown rats. Other animals are usually not considered a pest species, but due to population explosions caused by an abundance of food or lack of predators, become pest. The most common pest species shot with airguns are rats, ground squirrels, sparrows, starlings, black birds, pigeons and other animals causing a nuisance or depredation on private property. Under certain conditions, a small game animal such as cottontail rabbits on a golf course or tree squirrels in the attic become a pest animal …. Once again you need to check your local ordinances, driving across a state line can be enough to turn a game animal into a pest.
Shooting pest animals can be an effective solution to pest control that may offer some advantage over other options, such as setting traps or laying poison, both of which have many negative attributes. Traps and poisons are often indiscriminate, you don’t want to poison the barn cat along with the rats, and you don’t want your dog sticking his nose in a rat trap. Shooting can also be more effective allowing several individuals to be culled in a single session and a whole population eradicated over a short period of time. To be successful the shooter needs to keep the pressure up, as these animals tend to breed very rapidly and can quickly build the population back up if allowed to.
For the most part, the objective of pest control is to kill as many animals as possible, effectively removing the population from a specific area. It is not hunting in the purse sense of the word, you are not interested in sport or giving the animal an advantage, only in removing them (or significantly reducing their numbers) from the ecosystem. In this context, the pest control shooter should not hesitate to cull young animals or females, and unless there are local regulations there should not be a concern over season. Unless there is a conscious decision to leave a managed population, a few rabbits hopping around and squirrels sharing the bird feeder, but not so many as to have a negative impact, the purpose of true pest control is to remove every member of the pest specie that you can. As a matter of fact, if a farmer or facilities manager gives you permission to shoot his property, it is generally your responsibility to clear every varmint you can.
When I talk about pest control, I mean real pest control; a pasture that has become dangerous to livestock because there are so many burrows the farmers horses are at risk of breaking a leg. Or pigeons that are nesting in a factory building and spreading a layer of filth over feed and equipment, or blackbirds and crows causing crop damage, are real pest. There is another type of pest control, which is justifiable but not for the same reasons. Let’s face it, the odd starling raiding your bird feeder is not causing that much damage. The justification for removing this type of pest animal is simply that, they don’t belong in North America. Every English sparrow, starling, or pigeon that lives here is displacing a native species and should be eradicated for that reason.
Using airguns to shoot pests makes a lot of sense, as they are uniquely suited to the task. They are powerful enough to effectively dispatch a pest animal at the appropriate ranges, and many are capable of surgical precision. When hunting in or around buildings, equipment, or livestock you can use a lower power gun or one with adjustable power dialed down, so If you do happen to miss, the projectiles will not travel on to cause excessive damage to surrounding equipment or buildings. And lastly, the guns are quiet, and with a shrouded barrel can be almost silent. This means that you will not become pest yourself as you move around the yard clearing out the starling populations, remember your pest might be your neighbor’s cute little bushy tailed squirrel … so stealth has its place.
The guns appropriate for pest control are at least as diverse as the species themselves; a sub 12 fpe spring piston gun (or even less depending on the situation) might be perfect for shooting pigeons inside a warehouse. A 30 fpe tackdriver used to clear ground squirrels or prairie dogs from a pasture at 75 yards addresses a whole different set of issues. There are time when stealth is a key requirement, and having a shrouded barrel and/or a takedown design for transporting the gun onsite is mission critical. I’ve talked a lot about many of the guns I’ve used in pas blog posts, especially for shooting prairie dogs, jackrabbits, ground squirrels, crows and the like, but in future posts I’ll take a look at some specific pests such as starlings, pigeons, and I’ll get out to do some ratting. I’ve gotten several request from readers asking that I take a closer look at some of the lower power guns that fit the bill for this common application.
Just a reminder, if there are any topics you’d like me to cover regarding guns, gear, quarry, techniques or anything touching the airgun hunting topic, please let me know!