I was working on an article over the weekend, and was thinking back over my perspective of the growth of airgun hunting in North America. In the 15 years I’ve been back in the States (after almost 20 years abroad), I have seen change. When I came home I thought I was about the only one hunting with airguns, until surfing the web showed that there was a hardcore group of airgunners hunting their airguns. Based on many years in Europe my worldview on airgun hunting had been formed around the British sensibilities at that time, with respect to my opinions on power, range, shot placement, etc.
I came back thinking only head shots should be taken for a clean and effective kill, that body shots were not consistently effective enough to guarantee a clean kill every time. I thought 35-40 yard shots were as far as anybody should (or needed) to reach out on live quarry, I thought 12 fpe was probably adequate for most hunting applications …. I was in agreement with all the conventional wisdom that still holds true for many of our cousins across the pond and think they hold true to this day.
But as airgunning in the USA started to evolve it also started to diverge in a direction that was sometimes in direct opposition to the core beliefs of the guys that arguably invented the sport. Why are these changes happening? I think there are a few important reasons; the first is the advent of precharged pneumatic gun designs, the second is that we don’t have restrictions on the power output of our airguns, and finally we have a much broader range of quarry species and hunting environments than most airgun hunters in other parts of the world.
The first two points are related, the development of PCP airguns that were able to generate substantially higher power outputs than spring piston airguns and work efficiently with larger caliber projectiles. The second part of this is that we have no legal restrictions that place constraints on our ability to capitalize on the potential of the PCP design. This has a direct correlation to our ability to reach out to greater ranges than thought appropriate in the past, to have more latitude in shot placement, and to take larger game.
If I was hunting in the UK, for the species they pursue, in the agricultural environments they frequently hunt, and was limited to a 12 fpe gun; I’d typically stick with headshots, I’d stay inside of 40 yards, I would probably stick with .22 as my go to caliber. There is another element that the British hunters have to deal with, which is a very emotional and uneducated general public when it comes to understanding nature or management of a natural ecosystem. The UK based hunters are in a position of having to placate a generally anti-hunting population that can’t be reasoned with, and yet they must try. They have to convince that general public that the animal felt no pain and died in an instant, they have to vilify the animal as a vermin that threatens health and the ability of the British farmer to produce crops, and heaven forbid they come out and say they enjoy hunting for the pure sport of it. There’s a lesson to be learned, but that leson is not the focusof this post. I mention it to highlight some of the differences.
So without these constraints and with the quarry species we have, along with the vast array of hunting environments, we’ve started to reach out further ……. Sometimes a lot further. In the woods after squirrels I like to stalk in close, when hunting cottontails in agricultural areas I also prefer to move inside that 40 yard mark. But if I’m using a 25 fpe .22 or .25 I don’t have any problem taking body shots. When I’m out in the wide open grasslands after prairie dogs, ground squirrels, or woodchucks, I want to be able to reach out 100 yards and change. With higher power guns and heavier large caliber pellets, these are completely ethical shots to take.
And moving up to mid bores and largebore guns putting out 100 – 600 fpe guns, allows larger quarry species to be taken, plus there is a growing list of states allowing appropriate airguns for predators and big game. For our European counterparts the limited games species, associated costs, gun restrictions, lack of access, all converge to preclude the growth of this side of the sport.
So for me, Britain is the birthplace of serious airgun hunting and has a special place in the history of the development of the sport. There are large numbers of dedicated enthusiasts, there is a great infrastructure to support the airgun culture, and it’s where some of the most talented and knowledgeable airgun shooters and hunters come from. It’s also where many of the finest guns are designed and manufactured. However, it’s for all the reasons listed above that I think the future of airgun hunting is centered right here in the USA!