High Powered PCP Hunting Rifle: .22 vs .25 Part II

The effect of wind on any pellet can be significant, and the presence of a strong breeze is a good indication that you should dial the range in and save the long shots for another day. My experience has been that at longer distances the .177 will get blown off target, and is much more difficult to manage than a .22. I have postulated that because the smaller caliber sheds velocity more quickly, the longer time of flight amplifies the effect of wind on a very light projectile. Whether I’ve got this right or not, what I have further observed is that there is a major difference between the horizontal point of impact obtained with a .177 and .22 at 60 yards in even a light wind. The difference between the .22 and .25, while present, is not as pronounced. I think the .25 will let you stay out a little bit longer as winds pick up, and maybe the windage drift is slightly less, but I am not as sure as I once was that there is a practical impact. If the wind starts to shift the POI, especially in variable winds, it’s time to move it in closer regardless of caliber.

Fig_6: The FX Royale .25 caliber is one of the best all-around long range small-to-medium games guns in my line up. Accurate and hard hitting, it is a gun I use often for the bigger stuff. This jackrabbit was bowled over at 75 yards.
Fig_7: With careful shot selection and placement, the .22 caliber is a capable round on moderate sized quarry such as these Guinea fowl taken with the MRod .22.

The terminal performance is what sways me in this discussion, the .22 is good but the .25 is better when you’re shooting in the uber 40 fpe realm. For instance, I have my Benjamin Marauder .22 and .25 both set up to generate about 42 fpe, and both like the JSB Exact pellets in their respective calibers. I have taken literally hundreds of ground squirrels, tree squirrels, jackrabbits, and prairie dogs with both of these rifles. Both will do the job with a perfectly placed shot, most of the time. I will use chest shots as well as head-shots, and think a well placed chest shot is a very effective and efficient. But even with the perfect shot the animal may run a few feet before dropping. When hunting the wide open spaces this is fine, however when hunting in heavy brush, swamps, or taking shots high in the forest canopy it could result in a lost animal. I do not believe that a chest shot leads to undue suffering, and in fact the conventional wisdom for big game hunting is that these are the only ethical shots. In my opinion it comes down to the ability to cleanly kill and retrieve the quarry.

The .25 hits much harder than the .22 even at the same power outputs, which is why I especially like the larger caliber for body shots. The larger caliber drops every kind of game I hunt (birds and mammals) more immediately, with more authority, and it also gives the latitude to still be effective if the shot is not perfect. Understand that I am not advocating sloppy shooting, but every one of us that hunts long enough, will have those less-than-perfect shots happen. Consider that I often go out after prairie dogs or Eurasian doves, where I might have hundreds of shots in a day. I am a decent shot, serious about hunting, and believe it is important to kill cleanly. I try to make the right shot selection, pass on low percentage shots, but still appreciate that the .25 caliber gives me a greater margin of error if I fluff a shot.

Fig_8 : The .25 bucks the wind a slightly better than the .22, allowing you to stay in the field a little longer than with the .22. But as a rule of thumb, when you start seeing your pellets being blown off course, it’s time to dial in the range!

Why does extra power and improved terminal performance matter? Well besides the reasons already stated, the larger caliber lets me reach out a bit further which is relevant for some of my hunting/varminting applications. Also the .25 allows me to shoot larger game, which is probably more of an issue for North American hunters; raccoons, woodchucks, turkey, 11 lb jackrabbits are all on the airgun hunters license (depending on the state).

My personal caliber choice? Looking over this article it seems like a love letter to the .25, so my answer may surprise you; either one can be the right choice. First, if we are talking legal limit guns I probably would not consider a .25 caliber, unless perhaps looking for a close range ratting gun. If I was going to keep my range inside of 45 yards and take rabbit sized game, I’d be happy with either but would probably tend towards the .22. A little less expensive, a little more available (guns and ammo) and a bit flatter shooting at medium range. However in situations where I might start for squirrel and have an opportunistic shot at a woodchuck along the way, or use the same gun to hunt rabbit one day and call raccoon the next, the .25 caliber fits the bill. Of course as I often explain to my wife, this is my justification for “needing” multiple guns.

Fig_9 : The AirForce Talon-P carbine is a hard hitting (40 fpe) .25 that I use for small and medium sized game hunting. On occasion when a squirrel distress is used to pull in inquisitive squirrels, a hungry raccoon will charge in instead, and this gun is great for either!

So there you have my “opinion” on the question of what serves better in the hunting fields, the venerable .22 or the up and coming .25. It really comes down to the application; type of game, distances shot, the power output of the gun, and at the end of the day, what the individual shooter wants in his kit. Any time I think that there is a clear answer to the .22/.25 debate, I have an experience with one or the other that has me rethinking my position. I have come to understand that for me anyways, the solution is to have both!

Since writing this I’ve had a slight shift in my position, and while I still believe the essence of this article is correct, have found myself gravitating more to the .30 caliber. For many airgun hunters, I think the .25 is undoubtedly the superior caliber between the two discussed in the article, so long as the rifle is adequately powered (at least 40 fpe). In most cases you really can’t have too much gun in my opinion, which is not to say you need to have more power or a larger gun to be effective. But I do think the larger caliber is more effective and efficient at anchoring game. This is one of the reasons I’ve started to gravitate to the .30 as more guns in this caliber have become available. The reason this caliber works better for me is the variety of game I hunt. I might use the same gun on a rabbit hunt in Texas, but use it to take a predator or small hog if the opportunity presents….. and for these applications I like the bigger pellet and increased power. Again, I must state that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the .22 as a small game caliber in general, and in my many years of experience have probably taken more small game with the .22 than any other caliber. But for my current situation the .25 or .30 works best for me.

Categories: .22 caliber, .25 caliber, .25 vs .30 caliber, .30 caliber | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

High Powered PCP Hunting Rifle: .22 vs .25 Part I

This is excerpted from an article I wrote for the British magazine “Airgunner” a few years ago, discussing the .22 and .25 as hunting calibers. In more recent years I’ve written several articles for this and other magazines examining the .25 and .30 calibers in the same context, and at the end of part II, I’ll discuss my current views on all calibers. I got the release of the articles a bit out of order, the later discussion on calibers was posted on June 23rd, but I think this is still of interest in outline the foundation of my thoughts on the subject.

Fig_1: A look at five of the calibers I frequently hunt with, the .35, .30, .25, 22, .177. I’ll use the .177 in my springers, the .22 in just about any gun, but the others only in the higher FAC power range.

Having been a fan of the British hunting magazines for several years, I have seen the topic of .177 vs .22 covered many times. Most frequently the subject is discussed in the context of legal limit guns, which places boundaries around the efficacy and performance of the larger calibers. But in the absence of power restrictions, the balance shifts towards the larger calibers for the type of hunting I do. In this article I’d like to discuss my field experience using .22 and .25 caliber in higher powered guns.

Fig_2: A series of targets shot with my Benjamin Marauders in .22 and .25. On any given day one may outperform the other, but only slightly.

From an historical perspective, the .177 was, and probably still is, the most widely used airgun caliber. However, it is probably fair to say that over the years there has been a shift amongst hunters towards the .22. This is definitely the case in the US market, though the feedback I get would indicate this is a global trend (where legal). The .22 out of a high-powered gun is relatively flat shooting, hits hard, can be very accurate, retains energy better than the .177, and there is a huge selection of guns available with an equally extensive line of pellets on offer. Not a surprise then that hunters wanting the most effective high-power field rig have gravitated towards the .22.

The .25 caliber has also been around for many years, but as it is even less effective in legal limit guns than the double deuce, never really caught on in a major way. With the availability of PCP’s the caliber became more practical, but initially there was a limited selection of guns and pellets. As most of the PCP’s were being spec’d for legal limit rifles in the early days, they were still underpowered for the caliber. A .25 caliber pellet out of a sub 12 fpe power rifle has the 30 yard trajectory of a brick tossed underhand. But as more powerful rifles hit the market, the .25 started gaining traction. This in turn led to more guns being built and brought to market along with a much wider selection of pellets. Currently in the US, the .25 has a grown a strong following, because paired with the right shooting platform it can be very accurate, powerful, and it hits with authority creating a large wound channel.

Fig_3: This photo shows my Marauders in both calibers, on traveling hunts I’ll sometimes takes both actions and one stock for more efficient packing.

There are many excellent guns chambered in both .22 and .25, some are high dollar outfits while others are more modestly priced. On the less expensive end two models I’ve used extensively for hunting are the Hatsan AT-44 and Benjamin Marauder. Another rifle that I’ve hunted a great deal with is the Evanix Rainstorm. These three gun models helped shape my views on the .22/.25 issue, in that I have all three in both .22 and .25. This has enabled me to make some direct observations, not only on the bench, but also to assess effectiveness on game under field conditions.

Fig_4: I took the Marauder .22 as my small game gun on one of my South African hunts; and took hundreds of pigeons, but used the same gun for larger Guinea fowl and Egyptian geese as well.
Fig_5: My .25 Marauder (wearing a Chaska custom stock) has been responsible for many raccoon, woodchuck, and larger game, while at the same time being a great long range prairie dog gun. This big dawg dropped within 5 feet to a chest shot at 110 yards.

There are many other guns I use in either .22 or .25; the FX Verminator .25, the Daystate Huntsman Regal .22, the Daystate Wolverine .25, the FX Royale .25, the AirArms S510 FAC .22, The BSA R10 .22 and the Walther Rotek .22 to name a few. All are great hunting guns; I don’t believe the accuracy of one of these calibers is intrinsically better than the other, rather it’s all about getting the right gun/pellet pairing.

In lower powered guns the trajectory is a more pronounced arc in the larger caliber, which requires a bit more compensation. I shot several 50-yard groups with my three .22/.25 rifle sets and could not find a clear winner, though noting that the flatter shooting rigs are easier to coax the accuracy out of.  Sometimes the .22 group was a little tighter and sometimes the .25 carried the day, but they were never significantly different. On a practical note, when shooting in denser brush or heavier foliage, the flatter trajectory is much easier to thread through the twigs and branches.

Categories: .25 caliber, airgun ammo, best hunting caliber for an airgun, Pellets | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Airgun Hunting by Night

One of my favorite predator hunting venues is Texas, where the variety and the sheer numbers of predators is incredible:  coyote, bobcat, fox, and raccoons, and the possibility of a mountain lion always present. I’ve been traveling to the Lone Star State to hunt for about 15 years, and for the first five I only hunted in daylight. While I had fair results, it wasn’t until I started hunting at night that the big numbers started rolling in.

Light options (from left to right) scope mounted lights from Optronics with external battery packs, handheld laser Genetics, and under barrel mounted Laser Genetics lights.

My night time hunts began out in Midland with a gentleman that was a guide and competitive predator hunter, by the name of Cody Brunett. We spent a good deal of time cruising back country access roads, shooting off a high rack equipped with lights that let us spin in circles while calling, and we got on a lot of coyotes with the occasional fox and bobcat.

Then a few years back I started hunting with a trapper and predator hunting pro by the name of Don Steele, it is fair to say that he is one of the best callers and predator hunters I’ve ever met. Don has a Humvee equipped with a rooftop shooting platform, lots of land to call, and he gets on predators virtually every time we hunt. His method is to do a set every half mile, and he works the call and the lights, while the lucky ones get to shoot.

Both Cody and Don hunt the wide-open spaces, cover a lot of ground, and shoot from high racks that are equipped with lights and enough hands to operate them. While there is no doubt predator hunting at night is the way to bump up your numbers, for the guy that hunts small parcels of land by themselves, the logistics can be daunting.

One of my hunting partners down in Indiana, Brian Beck, is the king of Airgun coyote hunters and he spends a lot of time out on his own with an Airgun and lights. When we hunt together, one guy operates the call and lights while the other is on the trigger which works fine, and Brian has his system dialed in for managing all the equipment when he hunts alone. Me on the other hand, not so much. I find myself cluttered in gear, wrapped in cables, holding the wrong gear in my hand at the wrong time. So, over the last few years I’ve been trying to narrow down equipment and refine techniques, to find what works for me when I’m out on my own.

Lamping requirements are somewhat different for an airgunner than for a firearms hunter: the animals need to be called in closer, and shot selection a bit more precise. Additionally, airguns let you hunt in more built up areas because of their low sound signature and reduced carrying range, where stealth is advantageous. A lighting system that lets you discreetly hunt on a golf course, the edges of town, or suburbia, will be very useful. In the quest to find a rig that suited my hunting needs, I tried various approaches and found a few that worked quite well for me.

There are many handheld and scope mounted lights that serve the purpose: some use an external battery pack with cables to the light, and some are self-contained. In the past, the self-contained units could not produce the level of intensity those lights with an external battery pack achieved. However, that is no longer the case, especially when it comes to the shorter ranges at which Airguns are used. My preference is a hands-free scope or barrel mounted light powered by internal batteries. A red filter is most commonly used, though I’ve had acceptable results with amber filters or even white light, and the green light put out by the Laser Genetic laser lights doesn’t seem to spook predators either. The down side of scope and barrel mounted lights is that they are not easily swept while calling, and for this reason I generally pack two lights; one mounted on the rifle for shooting and one that is handheld for locating incoming targets. This is the least expensive way to outfit yourself for night hunting, and it works well.

The Nite Site is an IR device that is comprised of several components: an IR illuminator module, a viewing screen, a tubular scope sleeve to connect the illuminator to your scope, an attachment for mounting the view screen so that it sits atop the scope, and a battery pack to power it all. This system mounts to almost any standard scope, and does a good job of letting you see your quarry even in exceedingly low light. On the downside: earlier versions throw considerable backlight onto the shooters face from the viewer, but newer models allow you to reduce the intensity. Secondly it forces the shooter into a “heads up” position which takes a little getting used to. On the upside: it works very well in situations with no ambient lighting, it mounts on any scope so you don’t need to switch optics and re-zero between day and night, and it is the most cost effective night vision solution to be found. I like this product, and use it frequently.

IR Scopes are probably the single best technology solution for night hunting; you get a normal line of sight from a typical shooting position. I mounted the Sellmark Digisight digital night vision scope on my Evanix Snipper .357 PCP rifle, which is my go to suburban coyote gun, and have been getting outstanding results with it. On the upside, it works very well, is easy to zero, and while larger than a standard scope still feels like I’m shooting a “normal” rifle. I did run down the batteries on a couple of all-nighters, but generally get around this by carrying backups and swapping them when needed. The only real negative for me (outside of a hefty price tag) is when I need to use the same rifle for daytime and nighttime shooting; even though there is a setting which allows the scope to be used in daylight, for clarity and magnification I preferred my regular optics, requiring a swap and usually some readjustment. However, if you are building up a purpose designed night time airgunning rig this approach is hard to beat.

A Thermal Monocular, while not technically used during shooting, has become my favorite article of night time hunting gear. Before I tell you why, let’s look at what this device is. I have been using the Sellmark Quantum Thermal Imaging Monocular, which delivers “white hot” and “black hot” target viewing at distances of almost a thousand yards. This device can detect heat signatures and provide images with far greater sensitivity than IR night vision. On the upside, it offers truly spectacular results at picking up incoming predators from a long way off. The only downside (besides price again), is that even when the intensity is turned down, I find my night vison is off for a brief instant when I pull my eye away. But the ability to see and track incoming coyotes is nothing short of mind blowing!

A close-up of the Sellmark Pulsar Thermal Monocular, in my opinion the most useful adjunct to night hunting in years.

The reason the thermal monocular is my favorite night time hunting tool is based on how I use it on solo hunts: which quite simply is to combine it with a traditional scope mounted light. When calling predators into airgun range, I’ll call as usual while scanning the area with the monocular. My rifle is equipped with either a red filter or green Laser Genetic barrel mounted light, which I leave switched on and pointing towards my call. This allows the incoming predator to be tracked until it gets into range, at which time I drop the monocular and get on target using the scope (set at low power). The reason I like this setup is that it permits me to use the same gun and scope at night that is used during the day, I believe that it is less disruptive than scanning a light all over the field, and it has worked brilliantly for me when hunting alone.

So, I’ve presented a few of my approaches to night time hunting with my airguns, the one I use depends on the type of quarry I’m after (coyote, hogs, rabbits), the gun I have along and whether it is doing shared service (night and day hunts), and how I’m moving from set to set. One thing I know for sure: you have more success when you’re out while your prey is out, so night hunting is something you’re going to want to check out if it’s legal in your neck of the woods!

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Does Camo Clothing Improve Success for the Airgun Hunter?

Part II

I’ve used many different camo patterns over the years, as I’ve hunted deserts, plains, mountains, tropical swamps and jungle, and waist deep snow fields. I’m not sure an exact match between the camo pattern and the natural surroundings is mandatory, but blending in helps. This is the most obvious when hunting in snow; if there are no branches or grass showing through the snow drifts a pure white covering will make you almost invisible. If grass and/or branches are showing through, having the white camo pattern broken up with a branch pattern is even better.

I don’t knd breaking up and mixing patterns as long as they fit the colors found in the terrain I’m hunting.
Match the pattern to the conditions, in this case there is a lot brown and twig patterns in the background, and the match of my camo really lets me blend in.

And this is the crux of it, once the color of the camo is roughly matched, what is much more important in my experience is that the pattern serves to break up your outline. One of the best examples of this is when a hunter wears a ghillie suit with branches, vines, and leaves stuck into it to further break up their contour, which allows the camo pattern to optimally do its job.

The options for camo are quite varied, especially here in the states where you can walk into a big box discount department store and find a range of camo that matches local conditions fairly well. You can walk in and get a pair of matched camo jeans, shirt, gloves, face mask and a hat for a few bucks. Its not technical quality clothing, it won’t last forever, but it works. On the other end you can walk into any sporting goods store and be faced with a huge array of expensive technical camo gear that is more comfortable and handles the elements better, though I don’t think it has vastly improved efficacy with respect to making the hunter blend in better.

There are other approaches to covering up, I have many sets of light mesh camo made for summer and spring hunting. These were purchased in a size larger, so they can be worn over my street cloths. We were hunting in Texas last week and walked into a restaurant for lunch, and every person in the establishment was clad in camo. However, in some areas where we are jumping from property to property in less camo friendly environs, being able to slip full camo on or off over a pair of jeans and a t-shirt is advantageous.

The 3D leafy poncho lets me wear regular jeans and a t-shirt as I travel from site to site when predator hunting, but easily cover up when going back into the field.

Another similar approach is a large 3D leafy camo poncho that is a cross between a wearable blind and a ghillie suit. This is a large square camo netting with artificial leaves and grass affixed, with a center opening and hood that allows it to be draped over the hunter’s shoulders. The advantage of this system over a conventional fixed blind is that it allows mobility, and the advantage over camo clothing is that it allows a certain amount of movement without giving away your position. The downside is that if you are moving through thickets or thorn bush, you can get pinned in place!

If my intention is to go deep in camo, besides my clothing, gloves, face cover, hat, boots and socks, I camouflage my rifle. A few of my rifles have been painted or dipped in various patterns, while others are simply wrapped in camouflage tape. The cloth tape I use comes in a variety of colors and patterns, and can be removed without leaving a residue. The advantage of this approach is that it can be changes as I travel to different hunting grounds: I’ve used the same rifle in grasslands, forest, and snow by simply switching out the tape. Often, I’ll only tape the barrel and forestock, which gives enough coverage and is easier to remove.

I typically wear camo when airgun hunting, as I can’t think of a time when breaking up your pattern is going to be a bad thing. I think that there are hunting applications such as squirrels, crows, turkey where it has a huge impact on success. There are other applications; night hunting, pest control in certain industrial or agricultural settings where it is less relevant. However, in any situation where camo is called for, covering your face and hands with camo face mask and gloves will pay off in the results you achieve. And it is important to remember that regardless of what you are wearing, the successful hunter will move slowly, refrain from extraneous movement, and use natural cover, the shadows, and the wind to their advantage. Nothing you wear will be as important as honing your field craft, but together they will allow you to up your game!

Categories: camo, camo clothing, cold weather hunting, effectiveness, Pest Control, Small Game Hunting, Small game in winter, Spring time hunting, stealth hunting | Leave a comment

Does Camo Clothing Improve Success for the Airgun Hunter?

Part I

Several years ago, when I started hunting in South Africa, I found that I’d usually be the only hunter in the group wearing camo. There was some good-natured ribbing about the camo clad American redneck, but my local friends would tell me that if you worked the wind and shadows properly it wasn’t necessary. As time went on I started dressing in more traditional khaki hunting cloths and using the natural cover to my favor, and had good results in the field. Ironically, on a recent trip most everyone else was wearing camo and I was the odd man out! It gave me a chuckle, but also got me thinking about “if and when” camo made a difference.

I think that while hunting with a centerfire on the Eastern Cape of South Africa for plains game, where shots are generally over 100 yards and there is plenty natural cover, working the wind and staying in the shadows is more important than clothing. That is so long as common sense prevails and you’re not marching about in colors or shades that make you stand out as a moving mass with a rifle. But for this particular type of quarry and hunting application, using the wind to your advantage has a far greater impact in my experience.

In South Africa I moved away from camo when hunting big game, but still found it improved success when small game and varmint hunting.

But the statement above does not hold true when the rules of engagement change: when the hunter is intent on getting in very close to their quarry for instance. This is the name of the game when it comes to airgun hunting, which like bow hunting is all about getting into 40-50 yard range. For me, the notion of hunting with an airgun is predicated on field craft, getting into the right position at the right distance and selecting the right shot. Many of the quarry we hunt as airgunners do not have a well-developed sense of smell, but rely on excellent vision and the ability to detect even slight motion. And with everything in the forest out to eat these smaller animals, survivors stay on high alert, relying on that outstanding visual acuity to avoid becoming a menu item.

I think the terrain and type of game dictates whether camo is mandatory. Often when hunting jackrabbits in the deserts, I’ll wear earth colored clothing so I’m not waving a bright flag…. but I don’t think it is nearly as importasnt as setting up a steal;thy stalk using cover.

The short answer to the question I opened with, does wearing camo improve an airgun hunter’s results, is that I believe it does. At least it does for certain game and in certain conditions. When squirrel hunting for instance, the quarry is often sitting in the trees with a clear line of sight from above. A hunter that is sitting at the base of a tree waiting for a squirrel to come out, will be busted if not able to meld into his surroundings. Even minor movement will be enhanced and easier to detect if the hunters outline is not broken up. Not only should camo clothing be worn in this setting, but gloves and face mask as well. From a tree dwelling squirrel’s perspective, a hunter’s face staring up from below is like a warning flag no matter how much body camouflage is being worn. And consider that the parts of the body that typically move the most are the head and hands. It stands to reason then, that covering these body parts will result in better concealment.

When setting up an ambush, such as squirrel hunting in the spring or fall forest, I almost always wear camo and believe it makes a big difference for this application.

Next week I’ll pick up on the topic of camo clothing

Categories: camo, camo clothing, effectiveness, Jackrabbits, Pest Control, Shooting technique, Small Game Hunting, Small game in winter, Spring time hunting, Squirrels, turkey | Tags: | Leave a comment

Is the .30 the new .25?

This is excerpted from an article I wrote for Airgunner Magazine in the UK a couple years back. I’ve found myself gravitating to the .30, and for many of the same reasons I drifted away from the .22 to the .25 a few years earlier. BTW: Airgunner is a great magazine available either as a hard copy or a digital download, and is a great shooting resource.

Because of the wide-open spaces found in much of the USA (from the Western deserts to the Midwestern plains), longer shots are often required. It is also fair to say that there is a broader selection of game available to hunt, some of which (even limiting the discussion to small game) can be quite a bit larger than that encountered in the UK. An American cottontail rabbit is about the same size as the rabbits on your side of the pond, and a crow is a crow, but a jackrabbit may weigh in at twelve pounds and the average adult turkey is around sixteen pounds. And with no limitation on caliber or power in most of the country, the .25 has become quite popular over the last few years, with a growing number of airgun hunters migrating to the quarter bore.

If you try to keep a .25 pellet under 12 fpe, the resultant trajectory is akin to tossing a brick down range with an underhand toss. This limits the utility of the caliber in legal limit guns, but get it blazing downrange at 900 fps and it’s quite a different story! If both a .22 and a .25 are propelled at the same velocity, the .25 caliber has a trajectory roughly equivalent to the .22, perhaps a bit flatter because it retains energy more efficiently as it travels further from the muzzle. Some will argue that the .25 is less influenced by wind, though I personally feel it’s a matter of degrees. This might be the case in light winds, but if the wind is howling I either move the shots in closer or put my rifle away until the weather moderates. There is undoubtedly a difference in terminal performance; the larger surface area of the .25 in conjunction with the higher energy delivered on impact can make a substantial difference in knockdown power, especially on body shots when compared to the .22.

If hunting prairie dogs, where the range may exceed 100 yards, the knowledge that a body shot will anchor the quarry makes it a viable shot placement and increases the effective kill zone substantially. To those that would argue that the joy of airgun hunting is getting up close and personal to one’s quarry, I agree. But I would also remind them that firearm hunters often shoot prairie dogs at 700 yards or more because they are so difficult to get close to, and in this context 75-100 yards is a fairly short range.

So, the .25 has gained popularity in the American market because it is efficient out of high powered PCP rifles, offering both a relatively flat trajectory and improved velocity retention. Furthermore, it offers excellent results on game because of the increased energy delivered on target, and the increased size of the wound channel created. This results in an effective longer range hunting tool for small game, but also allows larger game to be taken at closer ranges.

Now if you take the same set of factors into consideration, and apply them to a comparison of the .25 and .30 calibers, I believe the same results will be noted. If the .30 caliber pellet, which in the context of this discussion is limited to the conventional Diabolo pellet design, is propelled at 900 fpe the same results are noted; the trajectory is flat, velocity retention is improved, the larger surface area delivers greater energy on target and creates a larger wound channel than noted with the .25.

I don’t really need a .30 to hunt squirrels or most small game because I can invariably close the distance to my prey. But some smaller pest species such as prairie dogs, crows, and ground squirrels may require longer shots in some terrains. If a varmint with greater mass, such as a ground hog, raccoon, or nutria provides an opportunity for a shot, the same gun can be used with confidence. And for quarry of any size, the body shot becomes a much more attractive option as a result. The gist of this is that a hunter can buy a single rifle, and use it for a wider variety of game. In the areas where I hunt, there are more than twenty species that can be harvested with an Airgun, that range in weight from a half pound to twenty pounds. There is an advantage to one gun that can do it all well!

The biggest disadvantage of the .30 is that it will carry further than either a .22 or .25 propelled with the same muzzle velocity. Note that I am limiting this discussion to Diabolo style pellets, which have an intrinsically poor ballistic coefficient. The .30 pellet still sheds energy relatively quickly, when compared to even a standard .22 LR rimfire bullet. You might ask why not just use a .35 justifying it with the same arguments? The short answer is that it doesn’t fit the application. There is a point of diminishing returns; shooting a squirrel or rabbit with a .30 is not over the top, but a .35 is! It tends to carry too far, over penetrates, and will tear up small bodied game at close range. To my way of thinking the .35 is a better shared-service caliber bridging medium and bigger quarry, as opposed to the .30 for small to medium sized game.

Another disadvantage that has been cited in the past, is the limited availability of guns chambered in .30 caliber and difficulty in finding ammunition. However, in my gun room I currently have an Evanix Rainstorm, an Evanix Snipper, an FX Boss, a Daystate Wolverine, the Hatsan BT Carnivore, the Evanix Max Bullpup, the Hatsan Hercules, the MROD Velociraptor and the Ataman M2R Carbine all in .30 caliber. And there are more rifles coming to market! Obviously, when it comes to shooting platforms we are not starved for .30 caliber options! The rifles I’ve mentioned are designed to shoot standard pellets, and tend to generate around 70 – 95 fpe though some will do a bit more. A couple of these rifles can handle shorter lightweight cast bullets, and I have rifles in my collection that will exceed 200 fpe (such as my Quackenbush and Pro Big Bore .308’s). But this is accomplished with cast bullets using higher fill pressures, more air per shot, and a resulting reduction in shot count. I believe these comprise a different category of air rifle which address a completely different use case, and for this reason have excluded them from this discussion.

As far as pellets, there has been a limited selection, primarily the JSB Exacts and private label variations thereof. This does not trouble me greatly, because these pellets tend to work well in every .30 caliber rifle I have, and provide excellent terminal performance on game to boot! There are however, also new pellets coming to market; at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas last month both H&N and Hatsan had released new .30 caliber pellets, and the Predator Polymag pellets are now available in this caliber as well. Having made my case for the .30 caliber, I will now qualify my position. If I was living in a region where there were power restrictions in place, where there was not a need to reach out over longer distances, or if there was not legal game available that required more energy or a larger wound channel to ethically harvest, there is less reason to opt for this caliber. However, in those places where higher powered rifles are permitted, where there is no limitation on caliber, and there is either larger quarry or a need to reach out further, I would expect to see interest in the caliber grow. There may also be a small subset of target shooters that are interested in long range bench rest competition that might gravitate towards the caliber, but I would expect it to gain the most popularity with hunters. So, if you see companies promoting yet another caliber and ask yourself why?? I hope this provides some insight from a “foreign” shooters point of view!

Categories: .25 caliber, .25 vs .30 caliber, .30 caliber, airgun ammo, best hunting caliber for an airgun, effectiveness, Pellets | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Hunting Hogs with an Airgun

I’ve been going down to Texas quite a bit this year, and even though you can now hunt all game species with an airgun there, I still make trips specifically to hunt feral hogs. It is possible to hunt hogs in several states, but Texas is my favorite because of the varied hunting terrains, and the sheer numbers of hogs. There is no place quite like it. I get a lot of mail from airgunners that would like to hunt pigs, and the frequently asked questions are: a) where do you go, b) how do you book a hunt and what does it cost, c) what guns do you use, d) what techniques do you use to hunt hogs, and e)what do you do with the meat? I’ll give you a quick answer to each of those to get you started on planning an airgun hog hunt of your own!

I shot this big boar on a property I pay a trespass fee on. I was given a tour of the land on my first trip, and now I call and reserve days and pay a daily fee. There are a couple blinds and feeders, I can set up my own blind, or spot and stalk. This arrangement is somewhere between a guided and a DIY hunt.

I’ll start with the questions on the where: where do you go, how do you book a hunt and what does it cost? Unless you live in a state that has populations of feral hogs, you will probably have to travel to areas that you aren’t familiar with. Even if you have hogs in your region of the country, you may not have any contacts that can aim you in the right direction. The first thing to work out is if you intend to hunt private land or public land. Some states have feral pig populations on public land, though the animals tend to be more heavily pressured and have lower population densities. To find potential locations to hunt, I start by looking at state fish and game / wildlife management resources, as they will often tell you if hogs are found within the boundaries of a national or state forest, wildlife management areas or on BLM land. You can then call a local wildlife district and do a little detective work, sometimes they are helpful some times not, it’s luck of the draw and depends who you reach to speak with. You can also ask on forums or do on line searches, but we’re all protective of the places we find, and unless you know somebody well it’s atypical that they’ll share their secret sites with you.

Even if you find a place with a huntable population, another challenge is that it is not productive to walk into a tract of forest or swamp you’ve never been in, and start hunting. You may spend the first few trips scouting and getting the lay of the land, but you’ll still want to carry a rifle as an opportunistic shot is always a possibility. Some states have quite a bit of public land, while others such as Texas, have virtually none. The pros of public land are that it cost less than most private land hunts, you can do it yourself, there are often times camping opportunities available, and it’s an accompaniment hunting public land. The disadvantages are generally lower game populations, the populations are more pressured (which often drives them nocturnal, it can take a lot of time to familiarize yourself with the terrain and localizing potential hunting spots. I don’t typically hunt public land anymore, unless I hire a guide that has local knowledge. Such a guide can offset most of the cons of private land hunting, though the costs do rise. But you have to ask yourself, what will cost more, several “dry” scouting trips or paying for a guide. If you have a long way to travel or have limited time, avoiding guide services may be false economy.

Private lands often have larger and less pressure populations of big hogs.

Another strategy is to hire a guide to take you on a public land hunt, and use it as an opportunity to learn an are that you can come back to do a DIY on future trips. Not only will you get insight as to the terrain and local natural history, but also see what equipment is required. This could prevent you from showing up for a swamp hunt in Florida and finding out you need an airboat or a canoe to get to the right place.

The other approach is to hunt private land, and again there are two basic options: find a place that charges you a trespass fee, then lets you hunt on your own, or find an outfitter that provides you with a guide, the land, and transportation in the field. This will cost you a bit more, but your chance of success are greatly improved. The cost are not too high when compared against paying for an outfitted deer or turkey hunt, and if you shop around finding something in the $400 – $700 range, that includes a pig or two and a place to stay, food or a place to at least cook your own supplies, and often lets you go after predators or small game in your down time is not too bad.

A good thing about a guided hunt, besides access to local knowledge and land, is that you’ll have the right equipment to haul game and a place and equipment to do your field processing.

So how do you find a guide or outfitter? Word of mouth is the best way, if somebody you know and who’s opinion you respect has had a good experience and gives a recommendation, it’s probably a safe bet. Or you can go online and start searching outfitter websites, looking for someone that hunts for the animal species you’re interested in, and is priced in your price range. I then call them and ask several questions about the hunt: what type of hunting do they do (spot and stalk, blinds, etc), how much land do they hunt over and what are the game populations like? How many hunters do they have at any given time, what is their success rate, is there an opportunity to hunt predators or small game? I ask about bow hunting success specifically, as airgun hunting is some where between archery and firearms in terms of range and methodology. You can ask for references, though going online and finding reviews is probably more helpful. I go by my gut feeling, if I get a sense that this guy is trying to con me, seems disinterested, or comes across as a jerk, I move on.

You can check out my website as well americanairgunhunter.com, I have a section on guides and outfitters that I recommend, and I’ll be adding to it as I hunt with new outfitters in different regions. When I find a place I like, I tend to keep going back. I will say, to be completely transparent, that in recent years I’ve met several land owners around the country that provide me with places to hunt. However, for many years I used the methods above to find my hunting grounds.

In the next installment I’ll talk to you about the guns I prefer and the methods I use to hunt feral hogs, catch up with you next post!

Categories: Airgun Expedition, Big Bore Airguns, Big Game, Destinations, Hog hunting, Uncategorized, where to hunt | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Trophy is What’s Important to You!

I was at a friends house looking at some mounts he had of truly impressive bucks, and in my mind I compared it to my own trophies of past hunts. I’ve got a few nice representative animals on the larger side of the scale, but nothing that would impress a hard core trophy hunter. But having said that, they are trophies to me because of the memory and accomplishment I attach to them.

For instance, the first buck I shot was in Kentucky while hunting with my friend Randy Mitchell. This was back in 2006, and at that time there was no where legal to deer hunt, we’d been focusing on hogs and exotics in Texas for the last few years before. But that year, Kentucky did allowed airguns to be used, with the proviso they be muzzle loaded and used within the primitive weapons regulations.

Dennis Quackenbush had made a replacement bolt to convert our DAQ’s into muzzleloaders, and so armed Randy and I went to his lease and climbed into his side by side tree stand. This was another new experience, I’d done most of my hunting out west and had never even seen a tree stand. It was a cold drizzly morning, and before long the first couple deer walked by…. a doe and a little spike. The a little four point came by, but the club that held the lease had a 6 point rule, so as I tried to will a couple more points to sprout, I had to let him walk.

I’ve shot maybe 40-45 deer with a air rifle since this buck dropped to my Quackenbush in 2006, with some much nicer bucks in the mix. But this will always be my airgunning wall-hanger!

After a couple hours with not much else happening we talked about heading back in for a cup of coffee, when I saw another buck coming down on my left, and he had plenty of points! I told Randy to take the shot, and he said no it was on my side and my buck. That’s the kind of guy Randy is, he wanted his first airgunning buck too, it was his lease, but he made the call for me to shoot.

I did, and the deer ran about 20 yards up a hill, and half way up did a partial back flip and was dead on the spot. That was not a huge buck, but to me it was a real trophy and the antlers are still hanging in my man cave. It was the first legal buck that I know of taken with an air rifle, the first in Kentucky, my first, and I’ll always think fondly of Randy letting me have the shot because he thought it the right thing to do. In my mind trophies dont get much better than that.

In future post I’ll pull out some of the other airgunning first that stand out in my memory. It’s not only that they were first, but more that we were helping to lay the foundations for a new hunting sport, and how often do you get a chance to do that?

Categories: Big Bore Airguns, Deer hunting | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Fall Squirrel Hunt

I like squirrel hunting in the fall when the leaves are coming off the trees, because the squirrels are moving, both up in the bare branches and also on the ground. You can spot them from a ways off and plan an approach…. on the other hand they can see you from a long ways off if your not smart about it, and plan their exit! It’s this cat and mouse game that makes hunting this time of year so fun, and potentially productive. Gray squirrels tend to spend more time aloft and fox squirrels more on the ground, but in fall this conventional wisdom goes out the window and you’re likely to find either in either place at any time.

Look for drays, as they are typically close to den trees, and often still in use at this time of year. Then find where they are eating, look for gnawed husks and where the groud has been disturbed by digging and settle in to wait!
Look for theil fur blowing in the wind, an easy tell even when the squirrel is tucked into the shadows.

I look for drays and nest trees, then look for food trees, and try to set up an ambush point along the way. Earlier in the year I’m sweeping the canopy looking for motion out of sync with the wind, but later in fall I’m glassing the ground well ahead of me looking for bushytail on the ground digging up nuts. If setting up an ambush, I plant myself with my back against a tree and get comfortable, I might be here 30-40 minutes and it is important to stay as still as possible. Squirrels pick up on even slight motion, and it’s frustrating to sit still for 25 minutes then stretch your legs only to scare off an approaching squirrel.

When looking for squirrels on the ground, they are pretty easy to locate because the tend to be on the move, however when up in the trees they may sit very still for long periods. I keep a sharp eye out for atypical motion, a common give away is when you see the tail fur outlined against the sky blowing in even a light breeze.

You’d be surprised how often a squirrel is watching you and you miss him when search with the naked eye. No matter how good your eyesight, I’ll bet you success goes up when you bring a good set of low light binos to the game!
Love the way my Huntsman Classic points, even when bogged down with a camera.

In the woods where I hunt it’s possible to get a mixed bag. I spent a couple days at the farm and limited on grays Saturday, and fox squirrels on Sunday….. not planned, just the way it worked! On this trip I used my Daystate Huntsman, one of the prettiest air rifles ever built to my eye. Mine is a .22, and it is very accurate, a great gun to wander the woods with: a please to carry and to shoot.

A coupe days in a 40 acre woods produced limits of grays and fox squirrels. I don;=’t normally take full limits, but I had committed to provide meat for a couple friends that wanted to try a recipe they’d read about.
Squirrels are easy to clean and dress, I can do the full job in less than five minutes, and I’m slow compared to a lot of guys.

At the end of the day I dressed the squirrels, skinning the first, then gutting and quartering them before packing on ice. I also keep the tails and cure to use for fly tying….. another one of my hobbies.

Categories: Airgun Expedition, binoculars, cold weather hunting, Daystate, fall hunts, Hunting Accessories, Small Game Hunting, Squirrels, Uncategorized, Winter hunts | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Calling Raccoons!

Many years ago I had an experience that opened my eyes to a new hunting opportunity that I’d not realized existed. I was out squirrel hunting in the woods of central Indiana on an overcast and very cold morning. Sitting in the shadows at the base of a shaggy oak as morning broke over the forest, I thought I’d heard a squirrel moving through the trees. But after a half hour of searching the canopy, could not locate the bushytailed rodent. After what seemed an inordinately long time with no squirrels showing themselves, I decided to break out a call. In the past this approach had yielded less than stellar results, but I figured there was nothing to lose. I don’t remember why, but rather than the using the bellows to create some chatter, I flipped the call over and blew a baby squirrel distress sound. After a few minutes I took a short break to look around, and picked up some movement heading in my direction. Out of the early morning gloom emerged a big boar raccoon heading directly at me. Either he didn’t see me sitting at the base of the tree or didn’t care, but at any rate didn’t seem inclined to turn or slow down. I had my gun up and was not hiding my movement, and still he came on, until at about 5 yards it apparently sank in that I might be a problem best avoided. He spun around to run, and before moving two steps my pellet slammed into the back of the coons head dropping him. So raccoons will come running to a call, who knew? Well I guess some of the more experienced predator hunters even a few years back did. But I didn’t, and was really impressed by how aggressively that masked bandit made his approach!

I was out hunting squirrel one morning when I spotted a tuft of fur up in a tree. I started calling and this coon poked his head over a branch for a look-see, and down he went!

Up until then, I’d shoot these animals opportunistically around grain bins, trash cans, or would sometimes lamp up in the trees for them. My approach towards raccoons had been in the context of pest control, and no doubt airguns are great for this application because they are quiet and effective and can be used in more populated areas. And this is exactly the type of environment where you’ll often find raccoons. After this initial experience, I started approaching raccoons as a predator rather than a garbage raiding pest, and began working in earnest to call them in. I had some immediate success with distress sounds produced on simple mouth blown calls.  About this time I started hunting with a really outstanding predator hunter by the name of Brian Beck, who was already seriously into calling coons. Brian introduced me to using the raccoon fight sequences on my FoxPro, which until then I’d only used occasionally when trying to throw something new at the coyotes. I now prefer the e-caller for a couple reasons, first it’s the only practical way to get a coon fight sequence (at least for me), and it allows the sound source to be moved away from where I am sitting. This appeals to me because that first raccoon was not the only one that has almost landed in my lap!

Brian Beck lives out in the farmlands of central Indiana, and this guy knows where to go and how to call. He was using his marauder .25 the night he shot these (the picture was taken the following day).

You can hunt raccoons in daylight or at night, though where allowed hunting at night is far more productive. However, I have had pretty good results early in the early morning and later afternoon leading into dusk. I’ve even managed to coax them in (though infrequently) in the middle of the day, especially when it’s overcast. I like calling at night when there is snow on the ground and the moon is reflecting enough light to allow them to be picked up in the scope without artificial light. If calling in daylight I try to find a den tree, finding that a fight sequence will bring the big boars charging down the tree in daylight, if he’s in an aggressive mood.

Lamping is an effective means of hunting raccoons, that I’ve often employed on the large ranches in Texas (where the use of spotlights is legal). This falls into the category of pest control, but is a more active approach than shooting pest animals off the trash heap. The method consists of covering large areas in a truck while lamping the treetops, brush, and agricultural areas. We will drive likely looking areas with a high powered spotlight sweeping the tree branches, surrounding brush and fields, looking for the telltale orange glow reflected from the eyes of watching raccoons. This can be done with or without the use of a call, however combining the two methods (lamping and calling) will often produce the best results. When the glow of eyes are spotted, the hunter jumps out and follows up on foot. I have taken some of my biggest hauls of raccoons this way, and on several occasions have racked up well over a dozen in a night. Another cool aspect of this is that depending where you are calling, you never know what’s going to show up. I’ve had the usual suspects come in; coyote, bobcats, fox, but also some unexpected visitors such as ringtail cats and coatimundi!

A good electronic call that can do not only prey distress, but also raccoon fights, is very effective.

The Airguns that I think are appropriate for these tough little critters generate at least 25 fpe of energy, and can be either spring piston or precharged pneumatic power plants. My preference however, is a PCP generating 35 fpe or more, and while I’ve taken many with .22’s I much prefer the .25 caliber. And more recently the .30’s are impressing me with their outstanding terminal performance. One reason I prefer a PCP is that they are more powerful and easier to shoot accurately, but more importantly springers are single shot and many of the PCP’s are magazine fed multi-shot. In the cold weather and dark shooting hours when coons are often hunted, you don’t want to fumble for pellets with frozen fingers or when there’s not enough light to see what you’re doing. Additionally, raccoons will often come in two or more at a time, and a fast follow-up shot can be a good thing to have.

Just about any air rifle generating 35 fpe or better, with the accuracy to print sub one inch groups at 50 yards would be a reasonable coon hunting option. As a point of reference, I’ll give examples of guns that I use and can recommend for those wanting to hunt raccoons. My little AirForce Talon-P was designed as an air pistol, but to my way of thinking serves much better as an ultracompact carbine. Though it’s a single shot, this .25 caliber gun has adjustable power and is capable of generating around 50 fpe. It’s perfect for jumping in and out of trucks, has an accessory rail for mounting lights, along with the accuracy to deliver consistent kills at 50-60 yards. The Hatsan AT-44 QE and the Benjamin Marauder in .25, are both moderately powered, quiet, full sized rifles that are attractively priced. My go to gun for raccoons is the Brocock Bantam or Compatto, though I’ve also been using the Daystate Renegade quite a bit lately. I’ve taken many raccoons with all of these guns, and even though not as compact as the Talon P, the fact that they are so quiet makes them the perfect options for use in suburban settings or around small farms where you want to keep the noise down.

Another call I’ve quite liked is the Primos Alpha Dog series, good sound quality, an extensive sound library, and effective pre-programmed call sequences.

The scopes I use on my raccoon rigs are in the lower magnification range, as shooting can be close and fast, and this type of optic deploys quickly. Quality glass that has good low light transmitting characteristics is a must. And an illuminated reticle is also helpful; on a moonlit night with snow on the ground it is bright enough to hunt without artificial light. But it is easy to lose the crosshair against the dark silhouette of your quarry, and a red or green illuminated wire can fix that problem right away!

For projectiles, my choice is generally a Diabolo roundnose of mid to heavy weight down the lines of the JSB Jumbo/Kings. These are accurate, hit with authority, and provide the right balance of penetration and energy transfer. As always, accuracy is the primary concern, so achieve that first then worry about other factors. I have been using a couple of the hollowpoints recently with good results; H&N Hunter Extremes are a hollow point with a small mouth and a crosshatch cut into them. I have found this pellet very effective on heavier bodied quarry when coupled with a powerful gun, they hit hard, penetrate well, and expand to increase the size of the wound channel. Another pellet worth looking at for use with mid-powered guns is the Predator Polymag; which is a hollowpoint that has a polymer tip bonded to the head. This pellet penetrates well and expands on heavier bodied animals, and when shot from a gun that digest them well can be devastating.

With respect to shot placement, my preference is a headshot when available. However with the more powerful rifles a chest shot will work fine, so long as there is not an immediate risk of losing the animal if it runs a few yards before dropping. Whether you are doing pest control in an urban environment, or calling in the wide open spaces, airguns are an effective, efficient, and quiet method of take. My respect for the raccoon has grown tremendously: this is the perfect starter predator for airgun hunting. They’re the right size, they can be found almost anywhere in the country and in sizable populations, and they come aggressively to the call. Not everybody has the opportunity to pursue coyote, bobcat, or fox close to home: but almost everyone, no matter where they live, can grab an airgun, a call, a light, and be onto raccoons without traveling too far from home!

Categories: bullpup, compact guns, distress call, effectiveness, electronic calls, Pest Control, raccoon, Small Game Hunting, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment