Here’s an entry I pulled out of my log book from a hunt I did awhile back. I’d time before the SHOT Show and decided to use it on a jackrabbit hunt out in a corner of the Mojave desert I’d been tromping through most of my life. Initially I roamed this area primarily to collect reptiles, which was legal back then, to sell to pet stores and herp collectors. It may sound like a strange thing to do, but I made enough money through high school and my undergrad studies that I didn’t need a “real job” most of those years. Only got bitten by rattlers twice, but that’s a whole other story. When I wasn’t chasing lizards and snakes, I was out hunting birds with my shotgun and small game and predators with my centerfires. On moving back to the US almost 18 years ago (time flies) I started chasing small game with my airguns instead of firearms, having picked up a serious airgun habit while living in Europe. So the chance to revisit my old haunt, for even a short time, was something I did whenever I got the chance, and this was too good of an opportunity to miss.
It’s true what they say out west, everything in the desert wants to stick, sting, or bite you, and to some people it may look barren. But if you know the natural history of the plants and animals, the place is full of life. As far as hunting goes, this area contains cottontail and jackrabbit, crows, quail, predators. There is a water tank way up above one of the played out mines that I’ve long chased desert quail drawn in to drink, at first with a shotgun and later with air. This area also contains herds of wild burros, and though I have an aversion to invasive species have a grudging respect for these animals ability to survive in this harsh climate. Besides the Joshua trees, the other keystone plant species are the cacti; the cholla or jumping cactus that if even barely brushed against would seem to propel themselves directly into your flesh, and the large red barrel cactus that look like…. well, barrels with spines.
On this trip I decided to take a spring piston rifle, my reason was quite simple; I didn’t have a lot of time and didn’t want to waste any that I did have trying to organize air tanks. Flying with tanks is a real hassle, they need to be completely empty with all fittings removed to allow a visual inspection, then when you land you need to find a place to fill them. You can call ahead to a dive shop and rent tanks, but this takes a lot of time once you arrive on destination. By the way if you do this, bring your own yoke and fittings or you may find yourself with a gun, a tank full of air, and no way to connect the two. I’ve learned this the hard way, and it is frustrating. You can also bring a handpump, but that a lot of extra stuff to pack. I had one day to hunt and didn’t even want to loose an hour, so a springer was the perfect solution. Fully self contained, no extra gear, just grab it in baggage and go! The gun I opted for on this trip was my Webley Patriot in .25, which is a huge handful of powerful airgun, that hits like a sledgehammer. I was going after jackrabbits and didn’t need all that power, but hey, why not?
I arrived in the desert at daybreak and parked my rental SUV on a dirt road about a mile off the freeway, at the base of a long desert valley that started a gradual climb up into the rugged mountains that spread into the interior. I had my gun, pellets and a daypack with a couple liters of water, some jerky, my sheath knife, binoculars and a little emergency kit I always carry, otherwise I was packing light. At one point about an hour into my hike I sat on a rock and took a drink. As I pulled the water bottle away from my lips, I noticed four wild donkeys eyeing me from 60 yards away, which I’d somehow not seen until that moment. I’ve never figured out how these things seem to pop out of nowhere in this wide open landscape. Sitting on the rock re-hydrating, I pulled by binos and started glassing the gently climbing desert. About 150 yards away I caught a soft amber glow from under a clump of scrub brush, which is a telltale sign of a jackrabbit. They lift there ears to listen for danger, and the sun passes through them, at times almost seeming to light up.
I picked a stand of yucca to use as a land mark and side stepped into a wash that I used to hide my approach. When I reckoned I was about 50 yards from where I’d spotted the desert hare, I worked my way out of the shallow depression….. and couldn’t find the rabbit. I pulled my glasses out again and started to search, and thought I’d located the rabbits scrape under the scrub, but there was nothing!, As I dropped the binoculars, I caught a motion not more than 30 yards away…. it was the rabbit slowly sneaking through the brush to pass me and take off behind me. He must have heard me coming, but instead of running away from me, decided to work around my position and depart to the rearward. It almost worked, I stood tucked into the sparse vegetation already bringing the rifle to shoulder, and when the jack stepped out from behind a tree and stopped briefly. I sent a .25 pellet flying at his head. The rabbit dropped like a brick, and I had number one in the bag. I stayed out the rest of the morning, pushed a couple more and finally got my second of the morning before calling it a day.
I got back to my hotel after about a 90 minute drive, showered, went down to the pool before dinner, and then got on with the rest of the SHOT Show. Great thing about this type of hunting, simple, cheap, challenging, great exercise and a lot of fun …. and I could piggy back it on to an existing trip. People often ask me how I get so much hunting in around a pretty intense professional life, and this is my secrete…. the little trips. I’ll do a little two hour squirrel hunt before going to work in the morning, or stop and do a coyote set on my way home from the office. If I have a business trip that ends on a Friday, I’ll bring my rifle and hunt Saturday before flying home. If you have the urge to hunt, I really don’t think there is an easier way to get in the frequent short hunt than with an airgun!
But these days airgun hunting has also become something of a job for me, my children are mostly grown, and luckily I get a lot of vacation time, so now I also get to do several major hunting trips in the year as well. But in the decades leading up to finding myself in this enviable position, it was these little hunts that kept me sane and in the game!