I have often said, I am a lucky guy; I’ve got a great family, strong faith, an interesting and fulfilling professional life, and I’ve had a chance to let my hobby grow into a second career of sorts. And it is the latter that I want to talk about in this post. If you’ve read my writing you’ll know that I started shooting airguns seriously while living for more than a decade in Europe. It was a combination of not having much opportunity to shoot firearms, an availability of quality airguns built for adults, and happening to come across the British airgun magazines carried by my local newsstand in the Netherlands. I was really captivated by the writing of John Darling and what he was doing with airguns, and I’m a guy brought up out west with firearms and a love from the classic writers in Field and Stream, Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, Fur-Fish-Game, and the adventures of big game hunting in those pages. I moved back to the states for a couple years before leaving the country for Japan and Australia and other stopovers before coming back a few years later. In this period back in the states, my company was sending me to Eastern Europe or Asia for a month on, then back to my high desert home for a month off work. During my month on I went hunting almost every day, and over a two year period I shot literally hundreds of rabbits, ground squirrels, and other varmint with my airguns, and got the first taste of predators with air power. This is the time that made me a confirmed airgun hunter, and I only used my firearms for big game, predator, and wingshooting. And once I found out about the new big bores and jumped on the early train, this started to diminish as well. The problem was, there were not many places to hunt……. but that’s also been changing! More and more states have been expanding their regulations to allow airguns as a legal method of take. And a few of these places have become destination trips in my opinion, and that’s what I want to talk about this week.
What makes a place a destination spot? For me it’s defined by opportunities to hunt game that can’t be hunted in other places, hunt animals in a quantity unavailable in most places, or in a variety unavailable elsewhere. My top five are West Texas, Northern Arizona, California’s high deserts, Virginia, and a tie between Missouri and Alabama. I’ve been hunting most of these places for a few years, as hunting laws have been put on the books.
Texas was one of the first places where we could use airguns to take larger game; their regulations don’t allow any game animals to be taken with air, but that leaves jackrabbits, cottontails, prairie dogs, ground squirrels, pigeons, raccoons, ringtails, fox, bobcats, coyote, hogs, and all the exotics. You can find places to shoot rabbits all over the state, and the same can be said for hogs and predators as well. The trick with Texas is that there is not much public land, so you’ll need to get access to private ranches. The easiest way is to hire a guide, because they have land to hunt on. If you book a couple days to hunt predators or hogs (usually at night), it is almost always possible to go out and hunt varmint in the day for no additional charge. It’ll cost a bit, but a fraction of the price of a deer or elk hunt….. and you’ll get a lot more hunting and shooting in. And if you want to spend a bit more or you find a place that lets you on for a trespass fee, free ranging Aoudad, Axis deer, black buck and other free ranging exotics are a possibility.
Arizona has probably come on this year as THE destination; because for small game / varmint you have jackrabbit, cottontail, prairie dogs, ground squirrels, pigeons, Eurasian doves, and predators. And as of this year, almost all bug game is on ticket: javalina, whitetail, coues, mule deer, pronghorn, bear, mountain lion are all allowed. As a matter of fact, it is the only place you can take javalina, coues, mule deer, or pronghorn….. and there is a lot of public land to hunt.
When people think about a gun friendly or hunting friendly State, California does not come immediately to mind. However they were one of the first places that allowed airguns for small game; you can take turkey, quail, chucker, cottontail and jackrabbits, ground squirrel ,,,, any small game you can take with a firearm is permitted with an airgun. And the great thing is that there are cast areas of public (BLM, Nat’l forest) land to hunt over.
I started hunting Virginia a few years back, they allow squirrel, rabbit, turkey, whitetail, bear, coyote to be taken with airguns. I love squirrel hunting, and the beautiful forests on the rolling hills hold big populations of fox and gray squirrels. They also have good populations of whitetail along with generous limits. It also one of a couple places country wide where you can bag a turkey with your airgun! I haven’t shot a bear with my big bore airgun yet, but I’m going to try in Virginia next season!
Missouri and Alabama are a tie for number five, and both make it in on the basis of being a place where the airgunner has the opportunity to bag a nice whitetail buck. Missouri has probably become the region in which the most whitetail have been taken since they opened the season a few years back, and Alabama just made airguns legal this year. They both also are great venues for squirrel hunting, which if you haven’t done it with an airgun you need to get out and give it go!
All of these States require that you buy a license, and most have a provision to allow a short term license if you’ll only be hunting a few days in the year. The cost, depending on what and how long you’ll hunt, will be between $50-$100. You notice that I have emphasized more of the big game spots as destinations, and this is not because I like big game hunting more, but because it is often necessary to travel to find a place permitting big game with an airgun. But you can find small game opportunities wherever you live.
But still. I’ll travel for a squirrel or rabbit hunt as well. If you look for deals you can find some good ones, I recently found that I can get a flight on a budget carrier from Minneapolis to Phoenix for about $150, I’ve bought a yearly license for $150, and it adds up to an inexpensive weekend trip. As a matter of fact, it’s worth it to go for a pigeon or dove shooting weekend.
What’s Coming Up?
I’m on my way to Texas on Thursday for a predator hunt with my friend, guide, and outfitter Don Steele. We’ve got a weekend to see how much fur we can put in the truck, and I want to try for the grandslam; coyote, bobcat, fox, and raccoon. I also have a lot of new camera gear for capturing video of the hunt …. so maybe something will make it up on my youtube channel! Talk to you all next week!