The Perfect Small Game Hunting Gun: Daystate Huntsman Classic

I get a lot of questions about my favorite rifles for small game, predators, big game, long range shooting, etc. This is a very hard topic to answer, because quite frankly I like many airguns. But also because in the situation I am in as a writer, I have to try to move the answer away from my personal bias and get to the root of what I think the person asking the question it trying to figure out. If my answer is a high end $2000.oo rifle that would melt the shooting heart of any hardcore airgunner, is this the right answer to a 15 year old who is working on his parents to get him (or her) their first air rifle? Should I point to a .45 power house that’s generating 600 fpe, to a guy that wants a squirrel gun he’s going to fill with a hand pump? Of course not. But for this reason I almost always qualify my response by talking about 2-3 different guns that might fit the bill. I receive many guns to shoot, hunt, and write about. All the companies know that if I don’t like a gun I won’t write about it publicly, though I will fill their ears about what I think the deficiencies are. And while I obviously have guns I prefer, quite honestly I try hard not to show a bias.

But for this article I’m going to talk about one of my all time favorite small game rifles, the Daystate Huntsman Classic. It achieves this distinction by meeting several criteria; it is very accurate, moderately powerful, ergonomic, compact, quiet, fast to cycle … though there are quite a few rifles that can meet these same criteria. The reason this particular rifle resonates with me I that it is to my eye, the most well designed, shootable, and well….. prettiest production air rifle ever built. The stock is manufactured from a nicely figured walnut blank, the cheek piece provides solid contact and great sight alignment, the checkering on the grip and forestock is sharply cut and in just the right location, the forestock is shaped to fit the hand perfectly.

To my eye, the Daystate Huntsman Classic, now out of production and replaced by the Regal, is the most beautiful field rifle ever built.

To my eye, the Daystate Huntsman Classic, now out of production and replaced by the Regal, is the most beautiful field rifle ever built.

Is the Huntsman really perfect? Well you could argue some points depending on your preference and what’s important to you. If most of your shooting is doves at a dairy farm or out for prairie dogs where you’ll get hundreds of shots in a day, a bottle forward design like the FX Royale might make more sense. This gun has most of the functional attributes plus a better shot count, and while it is also a very ergonomic hunting rifle that is high on my list, It doesn’t make my heart skip a beat in the looks department like the Huntsman does. If another airgunner argued this was their choice for their favorite gun, I could completely understand their reasoning. Another place that I’ll forgive the Huntsman, because I love the overall package so much, is the bolt action. It actually looks “right” on this rifle and functions well enough, but to be honest I prefer side lever actions these days; they are smoother, quieter, and faster to cycle than a bolt. And yet, as I carried this gun through the woods, the compactness, balance, and shootability let me overlook this little failure to meet my ideal.

The Huntsman Classic balances perfectly, has an excellent trigger, great accuracy, medium power, and is very ergonomic .... and did I mention it looks great!

The Huntsman Classic balances perfectly, has an excellent trigger, great accuracy, medium power, and is very ergonomic …. and did I mention it looks great!

The fact is that the squirrels in the photos would be just as dead if I’d shot it with a Marauder or an AT 44, both much less expensive but perfectly legitimate hunting PCP’s that I’ve used a lot and like a lot, instead of my Huntsman Classic. But man, I loved being out on that day with that rifle, feeling as close to a custom gun built specifically for me as any production gun I’d ever held.

Another squirrel for the bag, it's great when form and function are at the optimum.

Another squirrel for the bag, it’s great when form and function are at the optimum.

But that the point isn’t it? Each of us has their own ideal of the perfect (or as close as reality gets to the ideal) hunting rifle. I think that once you meet some key points; accuracy, appropriate power, reliability, solid trigger, high level of craftsmanship, the rest becomes quite subjective. I always get a laugh when I come across an argument between two guys debating which of their preferred rifles are the best; often both are right, sometimes both are wrong (to my way of thinking), but in the end it doesn’t really matter to anybody but themselves. Remember, in the end the only perfect rifle that is important is the one that is perfect for you. Make sure all of the key elements I’ve mentioned are found in the gun you like, then you decide if its the best for you.

Other Stuff

Not a lot going on, have a couple new guns I’ve been shooting, been working on my basement range and shooting studio so that when winter roles back around I’ll be set for months of indoor shooting. Got my scope mounted camera sorted out, and will be taking that with me to Arizona on a bird shoot and then to South Dakota on a multiday prairie dog and predator shoot.

I’ve added a couple more magazines that I’ll be writing for, and will fill you in on those later. I had my first article in the UK publication Airgunner, on a turkey hunt in California during the spring season. Next month is an iguana shoot in Puerto Rico I did a few weeks back. Also have an article in Fur-Fish-Game on a deer cull with big bore airguns, then in Game&Fish/Sportsman have a gear review on several ny guns to come to market recently. Check them out if you have a chance!

Finally, want to remind you all about the Extreme Bench Rest (EBR) this year. Check out the link on the AoA website, and sign up! This is one of the coolest airgunning events in the world, the competition is outstanding, the people are great, you really need to be there if you’re serious about airguns!

That’s all for now, I’m going to look at some pellets that have been impressing me next week…… and we’ll have more hunts coming!


Categories: Airguns of Arizona, Daystate, Pest Control, Rabbits, Rifle stocks, Small Game Hunting, Squirrels | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Squirrel Hunting With The FX Royale

The last couple of years I have more used more guns and been on more hunting trips than I could write about, so this month I want to reach back to a gun I used a lot and really enjoyed taking into the field. One of the great things about writing is that I get to try just about every gun that comes onto the market. The downside is that even when I find a gun I could settle down with, it’s time to move on to the next. And even in the case of guns like the FX Verminator, and Royale, Daystate Huntsman Classic and Wolverine type B that I continue to use for my personal hunts, I don’t get the time to write about each one as much as I like. In upcoming posts we’ll mix it up a bit with a look at some old favorites as well as a look forward with some new guns.

The FX Royale .25 has a smooth as silk trigger that breaks,  like a glass rod, outstanding ergonomics, accuracy, power, and a high shoot count.... a great gun for small game.

The FX Royale .25 has a smooth as silk trigger that breaks, like a glass rod, outstanding ergonomics, accuracy, power, and a high shoot count…. a great gun for small game.

I’ve used the  FX Royale for several hunts over the last few seasons, prairie dogs in Kansas, jackrabbits in California, groundhogs in Michigan, Raccoons in Indiana, and squirrels… lots of squirrels in Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Kentucky, Virginia… and this rifle continues to impress with it’s accuracy, power, inexhaustible shot count, smooth action, and overall shootability. It goes right up there with my other favorites from the top end manufacturers. I’ve written a couple articles on this gun, based on range work and using the gun for long range varminting, and in these pieces the gun is covered is some detail. So this time, I’m just going to jot down notes from a short notice and short duration squirrel hunt.

The Royale is not a small gun, but fairly light and I can shoot it well from any position.

The Royale is not a small gun, but fairly light and I can shoot it well from any position.

This hunt was on a 10,000 acre state recreation about an hour north of Indianapolis, where I do quite a bit of hunting every year. This year has been tougher than most, squirrel populations seem down and I’ve (for the first time) come across other hunters when I’ve been out. As a matter of fact I’ve gotten skunked a couple time, and wondered if I should move my hunting activities to the Southern part of the state to see if it’s any better. However, I didn’t have a lot of time as I’ve been traveling on business a lot, so figured I’d try this well known area once more. I loaded up my day pack with water, range finder, binoculars, granola bars, and hit the road early so I’d be in the woods at daybreak.

Arriving onsite I parked the car on the side of the road, slipped a camo windshirt over my fleece, and worked my way about a quarter mile into the woods following a horse trail, kicking up a nice little buck on the way. I found a spot were there was an abundance of mast producing trees, and sat down leaning back into the base of a tree that had a scooped out depression in the trunk which fit me like an easy chair, and dozed off. I woke up about a half hour later with the sun coming up behind me and lighting the woods. A lot of the leaves were off the trees, though some were still pretty well dressed in orange and burnt red colors. Hoping I hadn’t missed anything with my unplanned nap I got ready to start the timer; a method that has worked well for me is to sit a spot for 20 minutes and if nothing is seen or heard, move a couple hundred yards through the woods and repeat.

Nothing happing here so I slung my pack, shouldered the rifle, and worked along a deer trail to the next likely looking spot. On a small hill overlooking the adjacent rolling hillside I pulled my pack in front of me (one reason I like a messenger style bag) and pulled my binos out. Glassing the area didn’t show me any squirrels, but I did see a lot of nuts carpeting the ground. I sat and waited seeing nothing, and after 20 minutes was getting ready to leave when turning to my left (always scan the area before you get up) saw a fox squirrel on a fallen log forty yards away looking at me an twitching its tail. I slowly brought the rifle up and squeezed off the shot, watching the pellets flight as it smacked dead center in the head. The .25 pellet, a JSB Exact roundnose, hit the little rodent with authority, he flipped backwards and was dead when he hit the ground.

These fox squirrel are fairly large and very tenacious, but this gun pellet combination physically flung the out of the tree on impact.

These fox squirrel are fairly large and very tenacious, but this gun pellet combination physically flung the out of the tree on impact.

I had four more sets with nothing happening, so decided to start back in the direction of the car. I pulled out my binos and started glassing the trees, and spotted an odd lump in the upper branches that turn out to be the top of a squirrels head in a tree about 100 yards away. As I stood looking something warm and wet hit my arm, looking up I saw some little bird had used me for target practice! I guess fair is fair, but this stuff burned like it was acid. I wiped it off and rinsed of with my little bottle of water free sanitizer, then slowly started moving towards the tree where I’d seen the squirrel. I sat at the base of a tree about 30 yards away from where I’d seen the squirrel, who was no longer visible. After a few minutes I saw a tail hanging down from a branch in a tree about 10 yards behind the one I was watching. I waited for several minutes more, with no movement at all, when all of the sudden the squirrel came running down the tree, hit open ground racing for the next tree and ran 10 feet up a small sapling and jumper to a big oak standing next to it. The squirrel was wide open with its head pointed up and its back to me, when my second shot of the day nailed him on the top of the noggin. He dropped like he’d been smacked with a brick.

I generally impose a two squirrel limit on myself, as I’m not overly fond of eating these things, and really only want the tails for fly tying. The meat is dressed, quartered, and given away to an acquaintance who grew up eating squirrel and dumplings, so everyone is happy … well except maybe the squirrel. This is one of the great things about airgun hunting for small game; I leave home at 6:00 and am back, showered, and ready to go out for lunch with my family by noon. It only takes a couple of squirrels to make me feel like it was a productive trip, and I don’t know what I’d do with a large number of squirrels every season if I tired for a 5 squirrel limit every time I went out. For me, it’s better to have three short trips with 1-2 in the bag than one all day trip with a limit.

Have a few trips coming up that I’m looking forward to; heading out to South Dakota on a prairie dog shoot, Arizona for pest birds, the California for ground squirrels. With so much shooting, I’m hardly getting time to go fishing, and am going to try to work in a kayaking/camping/hunting trip as well.

The next thing is to start getting ready for the Extreme Bench Rest in October, this has become my favorite non-hunting airgun event in the year. The competition and organization is great, the people you meet are a quality group, and it’s three days of airgunners heaven. If you haven’t come before, you should give it a go this year!

Categories: Airguns of Arizona, binoculars, Competition, Daystate, Destinations, EBR, Extreme Benchrest, Ground squirrels, Jackrabbits, pest birds, Pest Control, Prairie dogs, Small Game Hunting, Squirrels, summer time hunts | 1 Comment

Urban Hunting Revisited

I have spoken in the past about the fact that airgun hunting is gaining popularity in the US, in part because of increasing urbanization which has resulted in less land available for traditional hunting pursuits. If you look in fields, small woods, areas around railway tracks and industrial buildings you’ll find these areas often become the home territory and feeding grounds for a variety of pest and small game species. Just as frequently you’ll find that a firearm, even a .22 rimfire (if you can find ammo) is not a practical method because of the noise, power, and carry range. Airgun hunting for pest animals provides a service to the property owner while allowing the hunter to get in some exciting hunting and a little off season practice close to home. It is often possible to obtain permission from owners and facility managers to remove pest species that cause financial damage or present a health risk using a hunting tool that minimizes or negates the risk of damage to people or property. When I am asking permission to shoot on a property, I’ll often carry along a gun stowed in the trunk of my car that can be demonstrated on request, you don’t want to make an initial approach with gun in hand so leave it in the car. This has led to more than one impromptu plinking session and a new airgunning convert to boot! When asking permission the landowner will sometimes voice concern over liability; I carry a form letter which assumes responsibility for any damage I might inadvertently cause and to release the owners from liability for any injury that might befall me while on their property.

A gun to be used in an urban setting should be compact, quiet, offer the appropriate power, and be very accurate. Some guys that are starting to run urban trapping lines have found an airgun to be a great bit of equipment to include in their kit.

A gun to be used in an urban setting should be compact, quiet, offer the appropriate power, and be very accurate. Some guys that are starting to run urban trapping lines have found an airgun to be a great bit of equipment to include in their kit. The FX Verminator is one of my favorite Urban hunting guns, Extremely accurate, adjustable power, many configurations, a take-down design, it has it all going for it!

The guns I prefer for urban hunting duty have changed with new guns coming to market, but the criteria for choosing an urban hunting gun has not changed much over the years. It depends on what type of game, what is the range, is there more than a normal concern about collateral damage, do I need to be discreet? Answering these questions caused me to consider what constituted the perfect hunting gun for urban hunting/pest control, and I formulated my own set of requirements. The gun must be accurate, quiet, compact, generate appropriate power for the intended use, accept various accessories such as lights, lasers, and these days even cameras, and I prefer a gun that can be taken down, folded’ or telescopes. Often times you need to make either a stealthy approach to the shooting area or keep a low profile while shooting so a compact and quiet gun is a basic requirement, along with accuracy and appropriate power.

Unless you getting into an unshrouded big bore, most airguns are quieter than firearm, some more than others. The Pre-charged pneumatics that I am focusing on in this post tend to be louder, producing a firearm like crack though at a substantially lower volume. While the report of even a high power air rifle is much quieter than a rimfire, a shrouded barrel can be made very quiet.

Urban hunting for pest such as pigeons, starlings, rats and smaller species typically occur at closer ranges, say inside of 25 yards. So a great deal of power does not need to be generated to achieve fast clean kills. One could argue that a gun producing 12 fpe is adequate for most pest control duties, and it won’t cause damage in the case of a missed shot. If you need to shoot something bigger such as a groundhog or raccoon a more powerful pcp rifle makes sense.

I mentioned that the gun should provide a means of mounting targeting accessories such as scopes, lasers, and lights. In my opinion a scope is essential gear on an urban hunting gun, both because surgical precision is required and urban pest control often takes place in darker conditions where a scope will collect light and enhance accuracy in low ambient light situations. A high power scope is unnecessary for the ranges typically associated with urban hunting. There are a couple of other pieces of gear that are of use in these conditions; such as a laser and a flashlight mounted on the gun using a specialized mounting system with remote switches that permit them to be easily set up and quickly deployed.

It doesn't take a lot of power, in fact lower is better, for taking small pests around the yard or small farm. I used this 12 fpe pistol/carbine conversion a lot on squirrel and pigeons.

It doesn’t take a lot of power, in fact lower is better, for taking small pests around the yard or small farm. I used this 12 fpe pistol/carbine conversion a lot on squirrel and pigeons.

As I’ve pointed out many times before, one of the most compelling advantages of hunting with airguns is that they open up new hunting grounds closer to home. Urban settings are all around us and offer up opportunities in target rich environments that can provide a lot of shooting fun and practice.

Categories: adjustable buttstock, air pistols, Airguns of Arizona, compact guns, pest birds, Pest Control, stealth hunting, Urban hunt | Leave a comment

Shooting sticks

I was in Puerto Rico hunting iguanas a few days ago, and brought a fair bit of gear with me. But I forgot a key piece of equipment, my shooting sticks. I made some and got by, but made me think about this critical yet often times neglected article of gear.

Lining up the shot with the FX Boss, the .303 and this rifle were a great combo for long range shooting,

Lining up the shot with the FX Boss, on my Rhino bipods, which are not fast to deploy but are rock stable.

I think that shooting offhand is one of the fundamental skills any hunter needs to develop, and work to maintain. I have a small indoor range in the basement of my house, and almost every day that I am at home I spend a few minutes shooting from standing, kneeling, and sitting positions without any external support. There are times in the field when these are the only shots available, especially for spot and stalk style hunts. I was a better offhand shooter in my youth, I was stronger, steadier, and spent a lot more time every day with my rifle in hand. I still shoot well enough offhand and don’t hesitate if this is the shot I need to take.

However, when given time and choice I prefer to shoot off sticks. I had never used them much until several years ago while getting ready for a hunt in South Africa, the PH I was hunting with told me to practice off sticks before our hunt started. I was really impressed how tight my groups became and how dramatically long range shooting improved. This is especially useful when hunting small game with an air rifle because the kill zone is small and shot placement critical. I’ll still shoot a squirrel sitting in a tree 30 yards away offhand, but if the shot stretches out to 55-60 yards I want sticks. Of course you can always rest or brace against a natural object, a tree trunk or rock, but sticks are always there when you need them. This is even more the case when shooting in the wide open spaces such as on a prairie dog shoot where naturally occurring rests are far and few between.
A monopod is the least stable, but is fast to deploy.

A monopod is the least stable, but is fast to deploy.

I prefer shooting sticks over bipods because they are easier to use under a variety of conditions, are out of the way when you don’t need/want them, and adapt to multiple shooting positions. I have used monopod, bipod, and tripod sticks and all have pros and cons: the mono is the fastest to deploy and most flexible, but least steady. Bipods are much steadier, are not as fast to deploy or move around but still fairly maneuverable, and their are some compact versions. Tripods are the most steady, but the slowest to set up, the most unwieldy when a shift or change in position is required, and generally the bulkiest. I have settled on the bipod for several reasons; I like how fast I can deploy the sticks I carry, I can turn and move around with little commotion, and With technique you can get a rock solid hold. Sometimes I’ll go with a tripod if we’ll be fairly stationary and my shots will be especially long.
The other thing that I want is a rest for the rifle that is easy to mount the gun in, that grips and protects the stock, and let’s me rotate and make adjustments with minimal fuss. The height also needs to be adjustable for the three main shooting positions, standing, kneeling, and sitting. If shooting prone I prefer to simply use my backpack, though if this will be my primary shooting position is one of the few times I prefer a bipod for field work. The most common method of adjusting the height are mutlipiece legs locked into place with integrated clamps, though some use a grip release. These are very fast to deploy, the only problem is most that I have tried don’t pack down very compactly. In the end the stick that has become my favorite is the Gorilla  bipod, which is a heavy duty, solid bipod that I can put my weight on and lock down steadily.
What I really like with these Gorilla sticks is that I can use them as they were intended and move them about, but if I’m set up to shoot squirrels high up in the trees but one pops up on the ground, I just slide my hand down a leg and brace the gun. This allows me to cover a wide arc with any vertical adjustments that might be required. With some of my light weight sticks this is not as easy nor effective.
Again, I am not in any way implying you shouldn’t practice and take offhand shots, but if you have the time and situation that allows the use of sticks, unless you are one a truly excellent offhand shots, you will achieve better shot placement and more game in the bag with them than without.
Categories: adjustable buttstock, Hunting Accessories, Long Range shooting, offhand shooting, Optics, Pest Control, shooting sticks | Leave a comment

Random notes: shooting my guns and visit to new gunshop

I’ve been traveling a lot lately, and haven’t had time for as much shooting as I like. I was home for a few days last week, and was out with two of my favorite guns for some target shooting and plinking. I had my Daystate Huntsman Classic .22 and my FX Boss .303 aired up and nailing spinners set between 30-125 yards. These guns are as different as chalk and cheese, with the Huntsman a classically styled sporter (and probably the most beautiful example of the breed), while the Boss is a synthetic stocked, bottle forward design that is all about performance. The former is chambered in one of the traditional standards calibers, while the later was built around the new .303. The Huntsman is just about the perfect small game gun, while the boss lets you step it up to larger game such as bobcat or even coyote. What both of these guns have in common, is great performance. Both rifles are very accurate, with purpose built and finely crafted barrels, and equipped with great triggers. What makes these triggers great? They are two stage, match grade, fully adjustable and can be set up the way I like with a slight take up, light weight and a crisp break. Both stocks are ergonomic, the Huntsman compact and light, the Boss is more of a handful yet still fairly light.

This is why I have such a hard time when asked about my favorite rifle: it could be either of these rifles, depending on what I wanted to do with it and what I happened to be shooting when you asked me. There are other guns such as the AirArm 510, the BSA R-10, Falcon Prairie, RAW H1000, and don’t even get me started on the custom big bores……. Back to the Boss and the Huntsman: if I had to sell one it would take me long and anguished hours to decide what would go and what would stay. I’d be second guessing my choice and once the choice was made and the deed done, I’d be plotting how to get the gun I let go back into my collection.
So rather when asked about my favorite rifles; I’ll say something like “this is one that does a fine job”, “this rifle is compact, fast to the shoulder, cycles quickly, a great small game gun” and give the reasons when and why I would choose a specific model. I’ll say “this is a solid performer in the field that I’d be happy to use” or “this is a beautifully designed and finely crafted rifle that I want to use in the field and keep in my display case”. If I don’t like a gun, I don’t write about it, because I just don’t have the time to waste on a gun I wouldn’t use or own. But the most important component in determining what’s the best rifle, is that it’s the best rifle for you! It does what you want, it feels good on your shoulder, you love the looks and it is your ideal, it’s at the right price for your wallet. This is why it drives me crazy when I see guys arguing or making disparaging remarks about another’s ideal gun.
That’s why if you ask me about a specific gun I can tell you what I think about it, and if you tell me more about you as a hunter and what you’re looking for, my answer will be that much more useful. And my answer will be consistent, it won’t change if asked the same question by the same person months later. But if you ask me what’s my favorite rifle, that will change frequently. Ask me my top ten and why …. I can manage that one!
Other Stuff
I’m sitting at a restaurant in Edinburgh eating peri-peri chicken wings as I write this. Had a free afternoon after my flight in and went to an airgun shop to see the selection. I know Scotland is under pressure regarding airguns, but I was a bit disappointed by what I saw. The shop was a combined hobby and airgun shop, there were only a few low end springers on the wall, a few more CO2 models, a few tins of pellets. No suppressors, no PCP’s…… Quite honestly with 70 or so PCP’s and a couple dozen springers in my collection, not to mention cases of pellet tins in every caliber, I have a better stocked store in my basement and gun room. The guys I spoke to were very nice, not experts on airguns, but were able to order anything I wanted. But besides the lack of restriction we have on airguns in the USA, it makes me aware of how lucky we are to have shops like Airguns of Arizona where we can get just about anything we want, either at a physical store or delivered right to our door.
Along these lines, Robert Buchanan told me that they have launched the AOA demo truck that will travel the country attending shooting events and visiting dealers to give airgunners a chance to see and handle quality airguns they might not experience otherwise….. A great Idea! And a great service to the Airgunning community!
When I get home from this trip, I have a couple new guns on the way to shoot, then heading out on a very interesting hunt that I can’t talk about yet…..and a lot of other airgunning activities planned……..catch up with you all soon!
Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Head or Body?

I have answered this question several times in several venues, but it is still one of the most common questions I get.  Headshot or body shot?? This seems to be a never ending debate related to airgun hunting: whether you should use a headshot or a body shot. My position is that it depends, but overall I use both placements and believe both meet the three E criteria: they are effective, efficient, and ethical. But the results are dependent on several variables; what type of game are you hunting, what are the specifications of the gun being used, and are there situational influencers.

The effectiveness of headshots and bodyshots are in my experience. A common statement you’ll hear when this topic is debated is that if you take a headshot it’s either a clean kill or a miss. In my experience both personal and watching a lot of hunters shooting a lot of game, is that I’ve seen my fair share of flubbed head shots. Remember what you are trying to hit is the brain, which is a relatively small portion of the head in most animals. But I’ve probably seen more game lost to bodyshots, not because they didn’t kill the animal, rather they were used in the wrong situation
It does not take a lot of power to kill a rabbit or a squirrel, when the vitals are hit properly 6-7 fpe will do the trick on rabbits, squirrels etc. But its delivering the pellet to the right location. A brain shot if done right will drop an animal in its tracks, while even a perfect heart lung shot may let the animal run a ways before dropping. I think the idea of a humane and ethical kill, while being the correct objective, is not being correctly interpreted or applied. I think the idea that an animal hit with a double lung shot that runs a few yards then lies down and expires is less traumatic than a headshot is much more an emotional issue than a practical one.
The situation is more impactful on deciding shot placement, because in some environments an animal running twenty yards before giving up the ghost can mean the quarry is lost. If I’m shooting a rabbit in the desert he can run twenty or even fifty yards and it doesn’t matter, I can follow him and retrieve my game. But a squirrel running 20 yards means I he may die up in the fork of a tree, in the drey, or in a den. So does this mean for squirrels I’ll only use headshots? No it does not.
Another variable to consider is the terminal performance of gun/pellet with respect to power and caliber. All things being equal, a harder hitting projectile will generally have more stopping power. And a larger caliber will not only impart more power, but will open a larger wound channel. So if I’m using a .177 springer in the fall woods, I’ll stick with head shots. But with a .25 caliber 40 fpe PCP I won’t take a second thought about a body shot, this is actually why I prefer the .25 and .30 calibers for small game.
Another situation in which I like a body shot is for this precise reason… so that the animal will move after being hit. An example is when shooting pigeons from the roofs of sheds and barns. I want them to flop off the roof, and a body shot is effective in killing them but they will generally flop of the roof before expiring.
An interesting discussion around shot placement is what I call the big game / small game dichotomy. Many small game hunters say that the only ethical shot is a body shoot, that you are likely to loose animals to a body shot and they are less humane. On the other hand many big game hunters say only body shots are ethical, head shots are likely to inflict wounds and are inhumane. To me it makes sense that whats right for one is right for the other, and both are right for both in the proper situation. So my view is use common sense, look at your surroundings, and make sure that you place the shot where you want it to go. Remember, a body shot means the heart/lungs and a head shot means the brain.
Categories: Big Game, effectiveness, ethics, shot placement, Small Game Hunting | 2 Comments

Getting time to hunt??

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.

A lot of people ask me how I get in so much hunting every year, especially the people who know me and know my work schedule ……. it’s not all airguns, hunting, and writing, I have a professional life completely dissociated from my outdoor activities! For instance, I’m flying back from a meeting in Houston as I write this, and leave the following Saturday for a conference in Japan, I’m back for a couple weeks, then flying out to Scotland for more meetings with colleagues. Then will be back in Japan a month  later, and so it goes. In the meantime, my older kids are away at University, but I have a daughter and of course my wife at home and want to spend as much time as possible with them. In the time window mentioned above, I am fitting in a prairie dog shoot in ND, jackrabbits in AZ, a sponsored hunt outside of the continental US I can’t talk about yet, and a studio taping session for American Airgunner. I also have deadlines for several columns and articles, and commitments to review and provide a feedback report on two new guns.
My bags all packed and sitting in the hotel on my way back from a Texas hog hunt. Sometimes with the cost of checked baggage it less expensive and less hassle to ship your guns on ahead. If you don't have a ranch, guide or friend in the area to ship to, they will hold it at UPS for you.

My bags all packed and sitting in the hotel on my way back from a Texas hog hunt. Sometimes with the cost of checked baggage it less expensive and less hassle to ship your guns on ahead. If you don’t have a ranch, guide or friend in the area to ship to, they will hold it at UPS for you.

So how is it accomplished? Well first, I do get a generous amount of vacation, and with my travel schedule some flexibility in setting up my work week. The other thing, if I have to fly to Texas for work towards  the end of the week, I will sometimes ship my gear ahead of time, and when I finish working ship my business attire back and pick up my hunting gear on Friday afternoon. I’ll then hunt Saturday and Sunday, before flying home on Sunday evening. Other times I’ll keep an eye out for cheap flights (have several apps for this), and when I find a $120 flight to Phoenix, DFW. LV or some such location, I’ll buy it then start calling people I know looking for a hunting opportunity. If it’s in a good place for laying by the pool, shopping or shows, and I’ll have my nights free, I’ll bring my girls along (they are not hunters so need other enticements).
To get the time free, and enough of it, I use my vacation/PTO time wisely. I’ll take a Friday off with a half day (Monday morning) off, fly out after work on Thursday, hunt Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and fly home early Monday morning to be back in my office by lunch. In this way I can turn a week of vacation with a couple comp days into three separate trips. On top of that I might break down one four day trip into two separate hunts: hogs at one ranch, then shift gear and go after predators at another when I have a few days in Texas for instance. Then  I do a lot of short hunts near home, squirrel, rabbit etc for a couple hours early on Saturday or Sunday before my family wakes and our weekend activities get started ….. or a couple predator stands after everyone else goes to bed. For shooting and initial testing, I have a pretty well equipped indoor range and video/photo set up in the basement of my house…. 20 yards as is, 25 if I set up at a wonky angle. When I need to test a lot of guns at longer range I’ll get all the chrony and initial pellet evaluations at closer range, then bring several guns out to my outdoor bench to shoot longer range and get a lot done at the same time. Organization is key.
If not to far, I'll drive and can carry a lot of gear. On this week long trip in Kansas I had eleven guns, 5 airtanks, 25 lb of ammo. When I met up with my buddy Eric who had driven up from Texas, he also had a pile of guns and a compressor. Without the cost of air tickets and shipping, I'm always willing to take a chance on private land for these hunts!

If not to far, I’ll drive and can carry a lot of gear. On this week long trip in Kansas I had eleven guns, 5 air tanks, 25 lb of ammo. When I met up with my buddy Eric who had driven up from Texas, he also had a pile of guns and a compressor. Without the cost of air tickets and shipping, I’m always willing to take a chance on private land for these hunts!

So I talked a bit about  how I travel and how I get the time, but a big question is how do I find a place to hunt? There Are a couple ways, I’ll search the classifieds in a magazine like Predator Xtreme or look online for Outfitters/Guides that are advertising hunts. I’ll call them and ask about hunting with an airgun, prices etc, then if it’s a hog hunt for instance I’ll ask if I can hunt rabbits, coyote etc in my down time. The answer is often yes and I can get a lot of hunting accomplished for a reasonable price in a short time. I’ll also look around for land owners that will let me pay a trespass fee, especially to hunt varmint and small game. You can call local sporting goods shops, pubs, and B&B’s to seek out leads, and this is especially productive for less frequented destinations. If I’m driving rather than flying I’ll take more chances, and look for public land: WMA, BLM, Nat’l forest etc and use google maps to select an area to hunt. This can pay off sometimes, and even when it doesn’t its still fun and the cost is a tank or two of gas.
As I started getting more visibility in the media, a lot of invites to hunt with people all over the country started coming in, actually more than I have time to do. Sometimes other hobbyist, sometimes outfitters and guides that hope we can get an article out of a hunt, or sometimes an airgun company will set it up for me to try out a gun. Believe me, I know how lucky I am. I’ve been airgun hunting for the last 25 years, and it’s only that last few years that I’ve been getting these perks. I’ve carried the cost and paid the dues over the years, and even with the perks almost everything I make from writing gets plowed right back into the sport. But I’ve also made some strong friendships along the ways, guys like Brian Beck, Chip Sayers, Scott Dellinger, Randy Mitchel, Eric Henderson, Kip Perow, that I’ve been hunting with for years now…. can’t put a price on that!
IN any given year I'll move from  East to west and north to south border states to hunt my airguns. There is a world if airgun hunting opportunity in the US!!

IN any given year I’ll move from East to west and north to south border states to hunt my airguns. There is a world if airgun hunting opportunity in the US!!

The hunts I have coming up this year? I’ll be going to Texas for several hog and predator hunts, and will get some small game in there. Also going to Georgia and Florida on hog hunts. Have deer trips planned in Virginia, and Alabama… will try for a tag in Arizona for the little desert Coues deer, javalina and bear. Maybe back to California for the fall turkey season, spring was a blast! Have a couple dairy farm shoots for pest birds in Arizona, prairie dogs in Kansas and South Dakota, squirrel and jackrabbits in several states. i’m heading back to South Africa on airgun safari with my buddies at Hounslow, and I’m trying to organize a javalina hunt in Mexico. I have a lot of new guns and ammo to use…….this is going to be a great season!  Hope to keep in touch with everyone through the blog, and also say thanks to you for reading and continuing to support this blog! If there are any hunts, equipment, discussion of methods or techniques you’d like to see me cover, please let me know.
Categories: airgun ammo, Airguns of Arizona, Big Game, Destinations, Jackrabbits, Prairie dogs, Rabbits, Safari, Small Game Hunting, summer time hunts, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Finding the right hunting rifle for you

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.

No matter what you hunt or where you hunt it, you need to have the appropriate accuracy first and foremost, and then you need adequate power. Of the two the accuracy is the most important for an airgun. For instance the difference between a 12 fpe and a 25 fpe gun shooting a rabbit with precise shot placement is minimal …. the rabbit can only be so dead and both guns will do it if the shot is right. The reason I’d go with the 25 fpe gun, all things considered, is that the trajectory is less, and the flatter shooting characteristics allow you to reach out further with confidence.
Matching the right gun to game; Kip and I are out with a couple .25s for some longer range pigeon shooting

Matching the right gun to game; Kip and I are out with a couple .25s for some longer range pigeon shooting

What is the required accuracy? For small game I’d say 1/2″ at your maximum hunting range and for predators and big game I want 1″ at the maximum range. Remember that with an airgun you are cleaning taking game by precise placement to the vital organs. With respect to power, in most cases I like as much as I can get without sacrificing accuracy. Besides range, increased energy delivery to target allows more latitude in shot placement, making broadside and quartering shots more effective.
While there is never a time I want less accuracy, there are times I want less power. If shooting pigeons in a barn, I don’t want to worry about pass through or collateral damage if I happen to miss. This is one of the reasons I do like a gun that has an adjustable power setting.
It also depends on the powerplant you want to use, for hunting this is either a spring piston or a PCP. The springer is self contained, the gun and some pellets and your ready to go. With a PCP you need an airsource, connectors and a place to fill that air tank. The PCP is recoilless, easy to shoot accurately, and generally more compact. The springers take qmore practice to shoot accurately and tend to be larger and heavier, especially when you get into the magnum springers. PCP’s are very efficient in the larger calibers while the springers are restricted to .25 and under.
There are other features that might be important to you. Almost all springers are single shot while many (if not most) of todays PCP’s are multishot. I don’t mind a single shot, except for the fact I hunt a lot in very cold weather and fumbling for an individual pellet with cold/numb fingers or while wearing gloves is difficult. However, when hunting far from support I either want extra magazines (which can be expensive) or a single load tray conversion, as I’ve been in the middle of nowhere and had a magazine fail or be damaged.
I like a compact rifle, this Quackenbush .452 gave up some power to go to a 20" barrel, but its great in heavy brush.

I like a compact rifle, this Quackenbush .452 gave up some power to go to a 20″ barrel, but its great in heavy brush.

For me, compact guns rule! I like to go out hiking and stalking, and often hunt in heavy brush, or sometimes from a blind our out of a vehicle (for pest control), and find a short barrel gun suits me best. In my big game guns, I’ll often give up some velocity/power to get a more compact package. At the same time I know a lot of guys that go for extremely long barrels to get every last ounce of energy out of the gun. But for me airgun hunting is about getting in as close as possible, for you it might be reaching out as far as you can.
Air capacity is another aspect that depends on what, how and where you hunt. On my big game gun I’m fine with 2-3 shots per fill, and will carry a buddy bottle if I think more air might be required, because I don’t expect to take more than one shot when hunting deer. For predator hunting I like 6-10 shots because I may get more opportunity, and for prairie dog I want at least 30, more is better.
A good trigger is always a plus, it doesn’t have to be match grade and it doesn’t have to be ultra light weight, but a crisp, clean and predictable break is required. I like a very light trigger on a target rifle, but again, when in the field on a frigidly cold day with cold or gloved trigger finger a 3.5 lb -4.5 lb pull is fine with me. But another shooter might disagree and shoot in warmer climates or simply want a much lighter trigger.
I like a shrouded or suppressed rifle, especially on a compact urban hunting gun, as it helps in being discreet while shooting. But if your shooting is for jackrabbits in the desert, any airgun is quiet enough.
Likewise, caliber selection depends on your application. For small game such as squirrel and rabbits, I like a .22 or .25. The caliber is efficient, and provides the reach and impact required for small game. I am liking the ,25 better these days because the larger wound channel is more effective at anchoring game with body shots. The .25 is also effective for stepping up to medium sized game when needed, but lately I’ve been gravitating towards the .30 for medium game, which can step down to small game as required. For predator hunting, coyote, bobcat, fox I like the .357 caliber, sometimes in a gun set up to shoot pellets at medium power other times cast bullets at higher power.
A lot of guys swear by bullpups, and while I use them and like a few, really view them as form following function.

A lot of guys swear by bullpups, and while I use them and like a few, really view them as form following function.

But when I want a compact gun I gravitate towards a carbine rather than a bullpup, as I find they tend to be more maneuverable and lighter weight.

But when I want a compact gun I gravitate towards a carbine rather than a bullpup, as I find they tend to be more maneuverable and lighter weight.

In terms of style of gun, my taste run more towards the look and feel of a traditional sporter in a carbine length and I prefer a wood stock. But a synthetic can be a better option if you hunt in wet or extremely cold conditions. Some hunters prefer a bullpup, because of the compact dimensions and/or shooting characteristics. I can appreciate this view, but from a sense of aesthetics, not my choice. This is part of my connudrum when answering the question “what gun should I get”? I would not want to suggest to a hunter that a bullpup is not the right solution if that is the gun they like best.
So my advice on the right hunting gun; accuracy is king and the gun must be capable of precise shooting. More power is generally better, but only so long as accuracy is preserved. Pick the features important to you and give each weight in prioritizing your needs. Pick a gun that appeals to your sense of aesthetics, as you will spend a lot of time looking at that gun, and having one that appeals to you makes the whole experience that much better.
And finally, do your homework and make your own choice. Take any advice, no matter how much you trust the source, with an understanding that there is a bias there which may not align with yours. I give everyones opinions due consideration, but find those that say “this gun is best” or intimate there is only one option that makes sense for you, to be suspect. For my part, I am always happy to give my thoughts, but in the end encourage you to think through what you want the gun to do, how you are going to use it, and what your idea of the perfect airgun is, then make your own choice!

Categories: adjustable buttstock, Brocock, Daystate, Hunting Accessories, Predator hunting, Rifle stocks, Small Game Hunting, Spring Piston Airguns, springers, Uncategorized | Tags: | Leave a comment

California Turkey Hunt

Opening day and a bird in the bag. The reason I'm wearing black is thgat we're hunting from in a blind, and the dark cloths blend better. I wore full camo when stalking.

Opening day and a bird in the bag. The reason I’m wearing black is thgat we’re hunting from in a blind, and the dark cloths blend better. I wore full camo when stalking.

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.

Categories: bird hunting, Brocock, Destinations, turkey | 8 Comments

Texas Night Hunt

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.

This was my base of operations for 4 days, no luxury but everything I needed!

This was my base of operations for 4 days, no luxury but everything I needed!

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.

Lot of high grass, brush, cactus, and a scattering trees. And lots of land!

Lot of high grass, brush, cactus, and a scattering trees. And lots of land! There were feeders spread thought out the ranch property to pull the pigs out of the dense thickets.

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.

At night I pulled a mixed bag; raccoons, ringtail cats ... came into the call

At night I pulled a mixed bag; raccoons, ringtail cats … came into the call

Also got a couple porcupine, lots and lots of raccoons, and a couple possum (not shown).

Also got a couple porcupine, lots and lots of raccoons, and a couple possum (not shown).

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!

Categories: Hog hunting, Jackrabbits, mouth calls, Pest Control, Predator hunting, Rabbits, Small Game Hunting, Uncategorized, where to hunt | Leave a comment