Gearing Up For The Hunt!

In this post I’d like talk about some of the gear I use when hunting. I know I’ve covered this topic in other post a while back, but I’ve gotten a lot of request since then to revisit the subject. This list could get very long because I hunt a variety of species, in diverse terrains, under a wide range of weather conditions.

When it comes to small game rifles, the Brocock Compatto is a great example of the features and attributes I look for. The first two requirements are accuracy and power, of which accuracy is the most important. If I can shoot a ¾” 50-yard groups off sticks, but start to see outliers at 60 yards, then 50 yards is my maximum hunting range for that gun/pellet combination.

Shooting in the States gives a somewhat different perspective on the question of power. In the UK where you must deal with power restrictions and obtaining an FAC, the merit of FAC vs Legal power is a valid discussion. In the absence of regulatory hurdles, we look for the best combination of accuracy and power. Outside of some specialty applications, such as shooting inside of buildings, there isn’t really another compelling reason to limit power.

The Compatto meets almost every one of my criteria for a small game hunting rifle. In this photo the gun is shown with a few squirrels strung on my game carrier.
A small 4500 psi carbon fiber air tank is lightweight and will permit several refills on even air hungry rifles. The buck sheath knife is one of my all-time favorites.
The portable electronic call has limited range, but is compact, has a good library of sounds, and easily fits into even my smaller packs.
In my view a must-have gear combo, quality binoculars and a range finder will improve your results, especially on longer shots.

Other features I prefer in my hunting rifles are; multi-shot magazines, sidelever action, a crisp (adjustable) trigger set at about 3 lb, a compact and lightweight design, and a sling system that is comfortable and makes the gun quickly accessible. I’ll pack a replaceable air cylinder or a small tank when I think a refill might be needed. I like to carry a couple loaded magazines, and extra pellets are carried in a small aluminum box, that protects and makes them accessible.

I generally opt for scopes with moderate magnification; a 3-9×40 scope built on a 1” tube has worked well for me. I don’t need more magnification than 9x when shooting small game at 50-100 yards, and often carry my rifles over very long distances in some harsh terrain. Why carry the extra weight when it’s not going to be used? The other point for me is phycological: at higher magnifications, the apparent motion/jitter is (for me) a detriment.

With respect to clothing, I have reached the conclusion that for many hunting applications camouflage is exceedingly useful.  At the very least I’d suggest earth toned trousers, camo shirt, hat, with face mask and gloves. When wearing camo, I try to match the environment, which sounds obvious but presents some challenges when you hunt as many places as I do. One solution I’ve found are light-weight camo coveralls in a variety of patterns: from desert to forest to snow. I can pack several sets in a very small space, and pull them over my jeans once I get onsite, allowing me to match the local color.

A couple of years back I started packing a 3D Leafy Poncho, which I’ve used all over the country as well as Africa. This is as close to a wearable blind as you’ll find, and I’ve also used it to construct a makeshift blind on more than one occasion. For hot weather clothing I use my fishing and backpacking technical clothing in natural colors. The advantage of these for desert and plains hunting is that they have built in UV sun protection, they are vented which permits optimized airflow, and they breath and dry out quickly.

Boots can make or break a trip with respect to comfort, too heavy or too light, too much or too little insulation, not the right amount of support for the conditions, can have a big impact on your wellbeing in the field. In the cold northern forests with lots of snow on the ground, my heavily insulated high profile boots will keep my feet warm and dry. In the arid scrub of Texas, I want something light and breathable, but I also need support for my ankles while climbing through rock formations, as well as protection from cactus thorns and rattlesnakes. For this environment, I will often opt for ankle high boots coupled with knee high snake guards.

Packs are an essential gear component that I carefully match to the expected conditions, I make it a rule not to carry more weight than necessary. So, if the plan is for a long hike and all my gear fits into a small pack, that’s what I’ll use. But with the same amount of gear where long distance hiking isn’t required, my preference is for an over the shoulder messenger bag. Messenger bags are not as comfortable over the long haul; however, they allow easy access to packed gear without having to dismount the bag or unsling my rifle. A more substantial pack comes out when I need space for larger volumes of hunting gear.

Optics are another item often overlooked by airgun hunters. Many think that since we are hunting at closer ranges we don’t need binoculars. However, I find them useful for spotting quarry from a long way off, which allows me to plan a stealthy approach. Additionally, no matter how great your eyesight is, you will pick up more partially hidden quarry while glassing than you will with the naked eye.

My daypack holds a bit more gear, but by virtue of better weight distribution on both shoulders, is more comfortable to carry.

Another item of gear often overlooked is a range finder. No matter how good you believe your natural range estimating abilities are, they are not as good as you think! The difficulty is greater at longer ranges, and when shooting prairie dogs at 40-100 yards it is a must-have item of gear. The trajectories we airgunners deal with, coupled with the difficulty of making accurate range estimation over small increments in distance, would argue for this device be included in your pack!

The most important aspect of field shooting is accuracy. Once you’ve established the rifle has the intrinsic accuracy to do what is required, you must ensure you can keep up your end. I am a decent offhand shot, but to consistently hit the kill zone of a small game animal at 50 or more yards, some manner of rest is required. For this reason, shooting sticks are another essential component of my hunting kit. I currently favor the Primos Pole Cat shooting sticks, which work well when sitting or kneeling, are very fast to deploy, and extremely compact and lightweight to carry.

I use calls when hunting crows, turkey, and predators, the simplest and least expensive being mouth calls. These can be effective and some, such as distress calls, are easy to use. But others, such as crow and raccoon fights or predator vocalizations, are difficult to replicate and better produced with electronic calls. The other advantage is that electronic calls can be positioned away from the hunter so as not to call attention to your hiding spot. I will often carry a mini-electronic call in my pack when and where appropriate.

On an overnight hunt, the addition of a tent, sleeping bag, food, stove and other gear in addition to hunt equipment, requires a larger bag. As I load up my camp, note my high top insulated boots, these kept my feet toasty warm as I snowshoed through even deep drifts

A headlamp and a small flashlight is always in my pack, because I am often out well before daybreak and after sunset. These lights can be fitted with red filters to avoid spooking game as I move in the field. Additionally, in jurisdictions where it is legal to hunt at night with lights, I will pack a high-power light that mounts to my scope or to an accessory mount on my rifle. Recently I have been using a thermal monocular for night hunting, and add them to my pack when I’ll be out after the sun sets.

For a long time I looked for a good way to carry small game after harvesting it. When I slipped rabbits or squirrels into my game bag or pack, I ended up with a real mess. The solution I finally arrived at was using a game carrier of the type employed by waterfowl hunters. Several lengths of webbing with a ring affixed at either end, and joined at the midpoint, can be formed into a loop and slipped over the heads of virtually any small game animal you’d like to haul back to camp.

To process small game I pack a dressing kit that contains: a small narrow blade knife, a larger skinning knife, sharpening stone, plastic bags, and some cleansing wipes are the basics, though I’ll add a camping knife, a hatchet, a gut hook, and spreaders and a hoist for bigger game.

Of course the gear you select to pack for your hunts will be dictated by the game and environment. Whilst it is completely possible to grab your favorite air rifle and a handful of pellets for a great day of hunting, having the gear you need when its needed will improve results and make you more efficient, effective, and comfortable in the field.

There are other specialized bits of gear I’ll pack for specialized hunts, such a slights or thermal imager for night hunts.
Categories: Airgun Expedition, binoculars, Brocock, Camping with Airgun, cold weather hunting, compatto, distress call, electronic calls, fall hunts, Hunting Accessories, mouth calls, Optics, Small Game Hunting, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Squirrel Hunting Tactics

In past I’ve shared several of my hunts for squirrels, which have taken place across North America. Fox and grays squirrels in the deep woods of the Midwest, and the tufted eared Abert’s squirrel in the rugged Rocky Mountain regions of the Western states. And even though these species are similar, the ways in which they are hunted can be as varied as the terrain they inhabit. As a traveling hunter, I’ve built up a repertoire of techniques that have proven useful wherever my hunts have taken me. In this blog post I’m going to share some of these tricks of the trade and discuss when and how I apply them in specific situations.

In spring and summer the thick foliage will cover your approach. But make the squirrels harder to find. Still hunting and blinds work well in these conditions
Late fall and winter the leaves are off the trees you and the squirrels can see each other from a long ways off!

The type of squirrel suggests where you’ll find them, in much of our Midwestern woods the gray and fox squirrel overlap. In fact, a small stand of 10 acres may find an equal proportion of these two species. Both Grays and fox squirrels may be found on the ground or high in the canopy, and regardless of the species both vary the mix of ground/tree time based on season. As a rule of thumb, fox squirrels spend more time on the ground, and grays spend more time aloft. During the late spring through early fall, both spend more time in the canopy where they are feeding or cutting. There is simply little reason for them to drop to the ground, the food is up high and many (but not all) of their predators are down below.

But later in the fall through the winter and into early spring, both come down to either bury or retrieve acorns, beech, and other nuts from their food caches.  I’ve noticed that in these conditions, grays tend to stay on the ground long enough to grab a nut and get back to a higher vantage point to dine in relative safety. Fox squirrels are more likely to stay on the forest floor longer, collecting multiple nuts on the ground or perching on a fallen log to eat before returning to the treetops.

When foliage is thick being able to reposition and look for a shooting lane is key.
When there is little cover above, waiting for them to come to you is advantageous.
Identify trees where the squirrels are denning up, and mark them in you notes because they are reused year to year.
Even when dreys aren’t used in deep winter, they are often situated near den trees.
Keep an eye out for food sources and set ambush/blinds between dens and food.

As a result, the season influences my approach in the field, certain techniques work better in certain situations. In the late fall and winter when squirrels are spending more time on the ground collecting food, they are using the trees as a highway to get from their dens to their feeding areas. Because there is less foliage in the trees, it is much easier to see how and where the animals are moving. But it is a double-edged sword, as it is also easier for the squirrel to see you approaching.

In the spring through early fall, these arboreal rodents are spending more time up in the canopy and looking for cuttings raining down from above or the shaking of a clump of leafy branches is a dead giveaway to their location. And because there is so much leafy material between you and your quarry, it allows the hunter to move in closer without being detected. But again, the double-edged sword, because once you get in closer it is difficult to see the squirrel through all the vegetation, let alone get a good shot.

Still hunting is at its core, a slow walk through the woods. Done right, it is a very slow walk through the woods, punctuated by long pauses to look and listen. I’ll pick trees that are perhaps 10 yards apart and stand in a fixed spot searching the trees and ground from where I stand to perhaps 40-70 yards ahead. Slowly moving forward with frequent stops in-between, I’ll pause at the next tree and scan ahead before moving to the next landmark. I find binoculars useful for sweeping the woods, because seeing a moving squirrel or one perched out in the open is not difficult inside of 75 yards, locating one that is nestled into the fork of a tree trunk or peeking out from a pile of twigs is.

When still hunting, move very slowly. Look and listen more, walk less!

In this type of hunting, you are trying to find your quarry and get a shot while on the move. You are looking from where you stand to slightly outside of your shooting range, to ensure you don’t blunder into a squirrel as you move.

In my view, the difference between still hunting and spot and stalk, is subtle but important. In spot and stalk the hunter is scanning the woods much further out than their immediate shooting range. The intention is to locate a squirrel at some distance, then move quickly and quietly into range to take the shot.  Moving through the woods in this manner requires that the hunter uses natural cover to shield their approach.

With any of these techniques, cover your face and hands in camo at minimum.

I find that when the leaves are on the trees, still hunting works better. It is more difficult to locate a squirrel high in the canopy at longer distances, and the hunter is more likely to walk up to game at close quarters. Conversely when the leaves are off the trees, and you and the squirrel can see each other from afar, sighting the squirrel before he sees you allows a considered approach using natural cover, to get into shooting position.

When spot and stalking keep trees between you and the squirrel until the last minute.

The tactics of setting a blind and ambush hunting are similar, but again with important differences. When setting a blind, the objective is to identify a route between a den tree or nest, and a food source. When scouting new areas, keep a look out for den trees or dreys, and for stands of mast producing trees with nut shards lying about. The hunter should keep a lookout for other animals such as deer, turkey, and woodpeckers in the area, as they utilize the same food sources. With these landmarks pinned down, the next step is to look for a place in-between where you’re likely to intercept a mobile bushytail.

When setting up a blind, locate it where there is a likelihood of intercepting multiple travel routes to ensure the effort is warranted. Even pop up blinds, or quickly constructed natural blinds, take time to set up and limit mobility. However, if you are in a high traffic area, this can be a very effective approach. I find a blind a productive technique for hunting smaller areas with less dispersed populations.

Two key tips for ambush hunting, be patient and be still.
My squirrel kit contains binoculars, range finder, and a bellows call on most outings.

However, applying the same basic principles to ambush hunting is generally more practical in the areas I hunt. You still want to locate the traffic routes, but rather than setting up a blind the hunter relies in camouflage. To do this well, you need to be well covered with an appropriate camo pattern, you need to keep your hands and face covered, and you need to be very still. This sounds simple, but sitting on hard, cold, and sometimes wet ground for 30-40 minutes without moving can be a challenge. Once finding a likely spot, try to stay put for 20-30 minutes before moving on. The main advantage of this technique is that the hunter can be mobile and cover large areas of terrain. Any of these techniques requires that the hunter has their shooting dialed in for both ground shots and those elevated shots up into the trees.  I started hunting squirrels with many years of big game, predator, and small game experience behind me, but was unskilled at shooting quarry that lived high up in the trees! This is a skill that an effective squirrel hunter must practice and become proficient at. Though I didn’t cover the use of calls in this article, my experience has been that calling works at specific times and in specific situations. We don’t have time to cover this topic in the detail it requires, but that might be an interesting topic in future, what do you think?

Categories: airgun ammo, binoculars, compact guns, fall hunts, Hunting Guns, Pest Control, Small Game Hunting, Small game in winter, Spring Piston Airguns, Squirrels, Uncategorized, where to hunt, Winter hunts | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Turkey Hunt in Texas

In recent years, many states have crafted airgun friendly regulations for small game hunting with an airgun. There has also been a trend, but moving slower, to add regs on the book to allow big game, and there are currently several states where an airgun hunter can take a deer. However, turkey are another matter. At the current time there are only a handful of states that allow this great game bird to be taken with air. California, Virginia, Maryland (in the fall season only), but now Texas has joined the ranks.

This season I went to Texas with the goal of bagging my first Rio Grande turkey in the first legal season in the LoneStar State! I was actually hunting for deer, however the fall turkey season overlaps with deer, and I read a report in Texas Parks and Wildlife that stated more turkey are taken with deer rifles during deer season than shotguns

I was using the AirForce Texan .357 for deer, and passed on a couple smallish bucks early on, since I had a few days to hunt. But I’d seen where the turkey had been roosting and feeding, and knew from tracks they were coming in to the deer corn. Later in the morning, after the peak hours when deer were on the move, I watched some birds come down and start feeding toward me. I decided if they got in close, I’d take one.

After watching for about a half hour, two toms split from the flock and feed into range. When they got to about 50 yards, I laid the crosshairs on the lead bird, and as I sensed they were getting ready to move off, squeezed off the shot while thge bird was on the move. I hit the bird a bit further back than anticipated, and watched him spring up into the air, then do a kamakazi nose dive on the other side of the ranch road.

Now it’s obvious you don’t need a big bore 250 fpe gun to kill a turkey, and in fact if I’d been out specifically for one of these birds rather than mixing it with a deer hunt, I’d have used a .25 or .30 caliber mid power gun as my preferred bird gun. However, unlike not using enough gun, there isn’t a significant down side to using more gun than is needed in most cases (unless there are safety reasons).

I will definitely be returning for the spring season. I think that Texas is right up there with Arizona, maybe surpassing it, in the variety of game available to the airgunner. However, many of the animals that have to be drawn for in AZ, have over the counter tags and larger bag limits….. not to mention the huge populations of ferals, exotics, and predators.

Categories: Airgun Expedition, Big Bore Airguns, bird hunting, Destinations, fall hunts, turkey, Uncategorized, where to hunt | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Road Trip for Prairie Dogs: Out with the Renegade!

Deep in the throws of winter, and having gone through multiple days of -25 degree weather, I started daydreaming about warm weather hunting and a prairie dog shoot we’re in the process of planning. This will be the third year my friend Brett Waibel over at Bad River Birds and Bucks in South Dakota has hosted this airgun hunting event, and it’s always a blast!

I selected the Daystate Renegade for this outing as I wanted something easy to carry, and a rifle I felt comfortable shooting off sticks at longer ranges. During many hours of plinking with this rifle I knew it was capable if I was up on my game!

Last year in advance of our hunt, I loaded up some gear, and made the five hour drive from Minneapolis, to look over a few of the towns and discuss some details with Brett. Along the way I stopped at the Cabela’s in Mitchel to pick up my small game / varmint license and a few other bits and pieces, before moving on. You can always get the licesnse online, but I use this as an opportunity to stop and stretch my legs, plus a layover at this store is never a bad thing!

I could have purchased my license online, but always like stopping at the Mitchel Cabelas about 3 1/2 hours into my drive…. its a good way to break up the drive. A non resident Varmint/Predator license is only $40.00.

Leaving the paved high way for a small country road, then turning off on a dirt ranch road for my last eight miles, I rolled along. There’s an old abandoned homestead a mile or so before turning off at the Ranch gate, that always signals the drives about over. Arriving at the lodge, I unpacked my compressor and topped off my tanks then headed off for a quick scouting trip.

I wasn’t planning to do much shooting on this trip, and still I packed several rifles……. my name is Jim and I have an airgunning problem…….
I have an Omega Compressor source from Airguns of Arizona that is one of the most useful bits of airgunning gear I’ve ever owned. This freed me up from dependency on dive shops and paintball stores. I coupled it with small carbon fiber buddy bottles this time around.

The rifle I carried on this quick outing was the Daystate Renegade: A high performance, compact bullpup hunting gun, mine is a .22 caliber version that is an absolute tack hammer with the JSB Exacts. It was early in the year, a bit cold with on and off again rain. I hiked a town carrying minimal gear in my day-pack; range finder. binos, shooting sticks and pellets.

Planning on a short scouting trip, I went light on the gear carrying only binos, range finder, pellets shooting sticks and a bottle of water.

I saw a few mature dogs up out of their burrows for a quick look-see, but nt anything like the number that would be out as soon as it warmed up a bit. Shooting off sticks from a sitting position, I was offered a couple long shots between 75 – 150 yards, and managed four hits with two clean misses. My longest successful shot of the day was a good sized PD at about 125 yards, that rolled over on a head shot.

I like the Renegade a lot: very accurate, powerful, a great trigger, ergonomic design, fast cycling side-lever action with a very reliable magazine that smoothly auto-indexes, high shot capacity. It has a lot going for it. My only hangups I have are; the side lever is situated further rearwards than I prefer, and the gun has some heft. However, the cocking action is so smooth, I can’t really complain about how quickly I could get off subsequent shots. And the weight is not oppressive, plus the bullpup design pulls that weight into the shooters center of gravity making it very stable to shoot offhand.

I only saw a handful of dogs where normally (and in fact a month later) I’d see hundreds. But I did get a few long shots in, and thankfully the conditions were calm with virtually no wind.
The Renegade with one of my prairie rats, this gun is a great choice for this type of hunting!

I scouted out a couple towns with low hunter impact, and when the 2nd annual event kicked off, I guided one of the visiting hunters for a day of great shooting. I’ll post more on this years shoot over on my YouTube Channel, stop by for a look if you’re interested in joining us this year!

Tomorrow morning I’m off to Texas for a few days of hunting, going to do rabbits, predators, and hogs. I’ve got another Brocock Sniper being shipped out, and want to use it for both jackrabbits and a fox or bobcat…. we’ll see how that goes. Besides the regular hunting videos, my plan is to do a kill it and grill it segment ….. wait and see what culinary masterpiece I come up with….. I can guarantee it will be simple, we’ll see if it is palatable, I’m not a very good cook.

Categories: Airgun Expedition, Airguns of Arizona, Announcements, binoculars, bullpup, compact guns, Daystate, Ground squirrels, Hunting Accessories, Hunting Guns, Long Range shooting, offhand shooting, Pest Control, Prairie dogs, shooting sticks, where to hunt | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Wildcat Hunts Jackrabbits

West Texas is a very arid region of the country, primarily scrub brush and cactus. It’s been said that everything in the Texas brushland wants to sting, stab, or bite you, and there’s some truth to that folksy adage. There is cactus everywhere; from jumping Cholla cactus, to creeping vines of beehive cactus, to clumps of prickly pears. Don’t even get me started on the animals; ants that can leave welts, scorpions that can lay you low with cramps, and rattlesnakes that will at the very least send you to the hospital for a few days. I don’t mean to imply your life is at risk every when you step into this desert-scape, however these all serve as incentives not to sit, kneel, or put your hands on the ground. I did a few times last week and am still pulling thorns out of my hands, my knees, my…….. well you get the picture.

You have to watch out where you sit or kneel out here! One wrong move stays with you for days!

This landscape is home to both jackrabbit and cottontail rabbits and Texas is overrun with them . Both are viewed as pest species, which means there are no limits and no seasons. In the daylight hours they   tend to lay up in scrapes, depressions scraped out under clumps of cactus or brush, though cottontails will rarely hijack another animals burrow when trying to escape danger. Considering the possibility of running into a badger, fox, or rattlesnake when dropping down a strange hole, it’s understandable that evolution seems to have led them away from a subterranean life. Besides these threats, rabbits out here are on the menu for bobcats, mountain lion, hawks, owls, and eagles, though coyotes are probably their main predator.

I can shoot this gun well from almost any position. This is one of the most ergonomic field guns I’ve shot, and probably my favorite bullpup of all time.
The accuracy and power of the Wildcat are outstanding. I’ve taken everything from prairie dogs to feral hogs with mine.

Cottontail rabbits rely mostly on their camouflage, tucking in tight to brush or deep in tangles of paddle shaped prickly pear cactus, they will hold tight allowing a hunter to step right over them without moving, then scurry away once danger has passed. They will run when pressed, often moving in a large circle while looking for new hiding places along the way. Jack rabbits will often sit and watch the hunter approach through the brush. When their safety zone is breeched, they may bound away in long strides. Or they may start a chess game in which they move around and behind the hunter, slowly walking and watching as they maneuver away from the source of danger. When they choose to bolt, they have a habit of stopping at a short distance for a look back before kicking it into high gear. It’s unfortunate for the rabbit, but an opportunity for the hunter!

The most productive way to hunt these desert rabbits is still hunting: slowly walking (with frequent stops along the way) while searching the base of brush and looking into the patches of cactus and desert grasses. Cottontails will tuck themselves in, while jacks will often sit with their ears held erect listening for danger. As a matter of fact, it can be hard to see a jackrabbit sitting 40 yards away watching you through the branches of mesquite, but if the sun is behind them their ears may take on an amber glow as the light passes through. The real challenge, and key to success, is spotting the rabbit before you push them. Cottontails may eventually circle back but, spook a jackrabbit and he’ll be a mile away before you know what happened.

A combination, I dropped both a jack and a cottontail on this pass.

I’d say that most of my shots at cottontails in this region take place between 8-40 yards. If they are holding tight, the main problem is not getting close, but rather finding a clear shooting lane. I’ll often step lightly on the periphery of the cover, not too aggressively or loudly, but enough that they start to think about sprinting off. When this happens, the rabbit will step to the offside of the bush or cactus in preparation of taking flight, and this may be the hunters only chance at a clean shot.

Jackrabbits tend to be taken with shots that are longer, in the 40-70-yard range. They may let you inside of 50 yards, but once spooked they usually stand and watch momentarily before taking off in rapid bounds. This brief hesitation is the best shot opportunity, however as mentioned earlier jackrabbits will often run a short distance and pause to look back, and this is typically the last chance for a shot before they are gone for good.

These jacks fell to the Wildcat at ranges of 30 to 120 yards….. then gun makes a statement on small game!

Had a great time hunting them with the FX Wildcat, I find this a compact and ergonomic field gun, and while bullpups aren’t my favorite style of gun in general, I do appreciate a well designed on and this is one of my favorites. I shoot it well from any field position, can cycle it very quickly, and the power and accuracy are top rate. My Wildcats are both .25 caliber, and it is a truly impressive small game getter.

On another topic: I’ll be posting information on our annual prairie dogs shoot in South Dakota in the coming days. Working out some of the final details, but the dates will be May 16 arrival, 17&18 shooting, and departure on the 19th. We’ve had a blast every year and expecting the same again!

Categories: Airguns of Arizona, compact guns, FX, Hunting Guns, Jackrabbits, Long Range shooting, Pest Control, Power, Small Game Hunting, Uncategorized, Wildcat | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Pest Control with the Bantam

For this pest control session there were several requirements for the rifle I’d use: it had to be light and compact in anticipation of shooting in confined spaces, it had to have a high shot count as there would be many shot opportunities in such a target rich environment, and for the same reason I wanted a multi-shot magazine with an action that could be rapidly cycled. Because there would be workers in the area and I’d be shooting inside as well as out, a low report and adjustable power setting were also deemed important features. Selecting my small game gun for the trip, and knowing that this pest shoot was a possibility, my eyes settled on a newer arrival in my gun room that had been doing well for me in the squirrel woods, the Brocock Bantam.

The Brocock Bantam and Compatto are two great little hunting rifles: compact, lightweight, accurate, powerful, ergonomic… what I look for in a small game gun!

The Bantam has all the attributes of my much loved Compatto, and though I personally prefer the looks and balance of the Compatto, it was the high shot count from the bottle up-front configuration that cinched the decision for me. So, function won out over form, and the Bantam it was! I’d shot at this facility in the past, and in preparation sighted the Axion scope at 50 yards, making note of the aim points at 20 yards at a lower power setting in preparation for indoor shooting. The pellets selected were the 15.3 grain JSB Exacts, because they shoot accurately in this rifle and because I’ve had good experience with their terminal performance.

So with my cased rifle in the back of the truck, I left the ranch and headed to the feedlot about 10:00 am. There were birds everywhere as I drove in:  pigeons, cowbirds, and doves in quantity, but pigeons were to be my primary focus. You can shoot the invasive Eurasian doves, but morning and white wing doves (which are similar in appearance) are game birds and not on the ticket at this time of year (or with an Airgun). If hunting in an area where there are similar species with different game laws applicable, you need to do a little homework and be able to tell them apart. Penalties can be steep for shooting the games species out of season with prohibited method of take!

I shot several 50 yard groups with JSB Exacts, and was really happy with the results.

As I’d been here only once before, and that was several months earlier, I did a walk about to get the lay of the land. I wanted to note where the workers were, check if there were “no-shoot” zones, and see where the birds were congregating. It was interesting to note that there were areas around the buildings where the pigeons were thick, areas in the feedlot where doves constituted the avian majority, and grassy areas blanketed in blackbirds, cowbirds, and grackles. I decided to stick to the buildings and and adjacent sheds where the pigeons were creating the biggest problems.

The feedlot offered varied and ever changing shooting conditions….. and lots of birds.
A lot of birds dropped to the Bantam!

I found one area in the back of the complex where as wall panel was missing, and the birds were flying in and out, using nearby roofs and pipes as staging areas. I could keep shooting here with very little repositioning, the birds would fly off after one was hit, but would be replaced by a new flight a few minutes later. In the first hour I’d dropped 20 birds, with several falling onto the roof and out of reach for body retrieval. But I soon found that I needn’t worry, as I watched a feral cat run out and snag one of the fallen birds and carry it off.

As the morning rolled along, the birds slowed down at this location and I noticed more flying inside a shed where feed was being shoveled into piles before being scooped onto conveyor belts. I walked over to the equipment operator and asked if I could shoot at the other end of the shed while he worked, saying that I’d be aiming away from his work space. He seemed to appreciate the heads up and said “sure thing buddy, clean those flying rats out! And I did, a half hour latter I had several more birds down.

The Bantam was a well behaved and enjoyable rifle to shoot. The semi-bull pup configuration is really a very clever design. It is compact and well balanced like the best of the carbines, but with a full-length barrel. This is anecdotal, but it seems to me that barrel length becomes more important in high power guns with respect to efficiency, power, and to a lesser degree accuracy.

At any rate, the Bantam performed very well for me (again); the adjustable power let me dial it in for specific shooting situations, and the accuracy was dead on. I could cycle the action rapidly, and the magazine indexed and fed flawlessly. The compact and ergonomic design let me shoot well from any position I found myself in and using the architectural structures I found along the way, never missed my shooting sticks.

Categories: Airgun Expedition, bantam, Brocock, bullpup, compatto, Daystate, pest birds, Pest Control, Small Game Hunting, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

I’m Back!

Hello Everyone! As you’ve probably noticed I’ve been absent for a couple months now, and just wanted to say I’m back and the blog will be back to regular postings again. The last three months has seen me out of the country quite a bit, but also on a lot of hunting trips when I was back in the states. During this period there were also a half dozen trips to Texas, as well as a couple Midwestern small game and predator hunts, between October and December. There is a lot of content coming your way on small game, pest control, predators, and big game.

Returned from the SHOT Show this morning, after a Redeye flight that had me departing Las Vegas in the middle of the night…….. seems I can’t tell the difference between 12:30 am and 12:30 pm when booking flights…. I did have the chance to join the AoA annual dinner before running off for the airport, which I was very happy about. It’s a great opportunity to meet the movers and shakers from the industry, especially many of my old friends from Daystate (as well as AoA)!

Shane and Marco making sure everything is perfect before the day kicks off.

The show was quite interesting, I don’t typically do a review as there are so many guys providing that content and doing it well. But I do use the time to look at the industry, business and product trends, see whats new in the market, and decide what projects will make the To Do list for the year. Airguns continue to gain market-share in the hunting sector every year, with more exposition real estate being set aside for these products.

Several companies were showing new multi-shot springers, and I’ll be taking a look at several of these in the coming year. One of my earlier pet peeves with these guns is that the feeding systems were big, bulky and looked kluged, but in some of the newer designs its appears as though they are coming up with more streamlined and unobtrusive mechanisms. In general, I am going to do more with springers this year because I still believe these guns have a lot to offer small game hunters.

There was also sustained interest in big bore airguns, and I think much of this is directly related to Texas joining Arizona and Virginia as destination states to hunt where airguns are completely integrated into the regulations. I’ll do a blog post on one of my Texas deer hunts soon.

Claudio was up from Chile and was showing off his baby!

The three Brocock rifles I’ve been using a lot: the Compatto, the Bantam, and the Sniper garnered much interest. I had a chance to see the Claudio Flores (2018 EBR Champion) signature Brocock Bantam, which will be talked about in a later post. Also caught up with Lauren Parsons and discussed the Daystate Red Wolf she’s been shooting lately. Though not my focus, the growing interest in airgun competition globally and in the states is a very positive trend in the sport, and if you look at the people in these pictures, Claudio, Shane, and Lauren, you’ll see that AOA and Daystate have some quality people representing.

Former World Champion Lauren Parsons is shooting for Daystate and working fulltime at AoA as the newest meber of their team.

At any rate, this post is just to say hello, sorry I’ve been away, but we’ll be back in it again from here on out. My post will be on a weekly basis, but for those weeks where I will be out in the field hunting we’ll dig back in the archives and share some historical photos and hunts. I just realized recently that I have over a Tb of images going back 25 years, with a lot of the people that contributed to growing the sport of airgun hunting and the early gear, on display. If there is anything in particular you’d like to have covered, just give a shout and let me know!

Categories: Airgun Expedition, Airguns of Arizona, Announcements, Big Bore Airguns, Big Game, Brocock, compatto, Competition, Daystate, SHOT Show, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Down in Puerto Rico Another Iguana Hunt

Hello Everyone, sorry it’s been a while since I posted! I’ve been on the road nonstop, and much of it out of the country the last couple months, but managed to get a bit of shooting and hunting in as well. I spent last week down in Puerto Rico working on the serious iguana problem, one in which the importance of airguns cannot be understated. My first trip to PR to shoot iguanas was about 3 1/2 years ago, after being invited on a shoot with writers from several American hunting magazines: Outdoor Life, Petersen’s Hunting, NRA’s American Hunter, Predator Xtreme, and Sports Afield. PR wanted to bring viability to the problem, and one of the solutions they wanted to launch was a commercialized hunting of these tree dwelling pests.

These iguana have been pressured, when they saw a human they started moving for cover. When caught in the open you needed to shoot fast.

Flash forward a few years, there are a lot of people going to the island for iguana hunts, either specifically to hunt iguanas or fitting a day hunt into a vacation filled with fishing, laying on a beach, or sight seeing. The hunting is making an impact in specific areas, for instance I hunted on the same 300 acre farm visited on the first trip, and this place is getting continued pressure. And the numbers are way down…… don’t get me wrong, three of us removed between 350-400 iguanas in two days of shooting. But where I saw thousands the first trip I saw hundreds on this one. There is no doubt that the hurricane altered the landscape making it harder to access these critters, but numbers were being pushed down before the storm hit.

Why do iguanas need to be culled? The reasons are simple: they are non-indigenous, populating out of control, causing environmental, financial, and infrastructure damage on a significant scale. Why are airguns important to the effort? Because trapping an poison don’t work, firearms can’t be used for legal reasons, and airguns are effective and efficient. Another big plus is that visiting varmint hunters will pay to hunt them, creating a revenue stream for locals at the same time.

The method I employed was to be dropped at a shady area where I could tuck away an airtank (you’ll do a lot of shooting), and ice chest full of water, Gatorade, and diet Coke (it is HOT and HUMID), and my extra shooting and camera gear. I liked to set up in the banana grooves because they are shadey and give off a cool tropical vibe :). I’d go out and shoot for a couple hours, come back to cool down and re-hydrate, then head back out.

I found my “Happy Place” tucked in the shade of a banana grove!

I think a powerful .25 or .30 caliber is about perfect, a .22 while effective in most instances, did not anchor a couple of the really big lizards even with a solid head shot. I learned on my earlier visit that headshots were the only sure way to anchor iguanas.

Getting a stable shooting position and focusing on headshots is the key to success!

It was a great trip, I’m going back in September for 9 days to hunt with a few different outfitters, and when I get back I’ll post some information on options to do your own hunt! I’ll tell you about flights, transportation, hotels, and outfitters…… I think this is one of the really cool hunting experience for airgun hunters…. and it’s only available for airgun hunters!

Hope you are all having a great summer, getting in some shooting, and loving life! Talk again soon.


Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Trend Towards Larger Caliber Airguns

About a year ago I wrote an article for Airgunner in which I asked, Is the .30 the new .25? I was looking at the reasons hunters used the .25 caliber, and discussing whether the .30 was a better choice than the .25 when measured against the same criteria. The intention of this article is to take closer look at why so many shooters on this side of the pond are moving to larger caliber shooting rigs. Note that I’m not talking about the very powerful big bores shooting cast bullets, but rather the major calibers shooting Diabolo style pellets.

A compact .25 that is accurate and powerful is a great small game hunting gun that will let you take a predator or hog if the opportunity comes up!

This is not an argument of whether a legal or FAC power is better, rather a simple statement of fact that there are more high-powered airguns being manufactured than ever before. In the U.K. it is possible to purchase and use high power airguns, and the question of whether an FAC gun provides the shooter any advantage becomes an important one. In north America however, where there are few or any limitations on airgun power and the potential market is huge. For this demographic it’s fair to say most shooters and hunters own more than one firearm, and for these shooters even an FAC rated air rifle appears to be low power. I know very few airgnners that shoot sub 12 fpe guns here, even if they focus on springers.

Regardless of the power plant employed, if you are limited to 12 fpe, larger caliber pellets become less viable. Shooting a .25 or .30 caliber at 12 fpe would result in a pellet trajectory akin to pitching a shotput underhand, with such a range dependent shift in the point of impact you’d need a ballistic calculator to know where the pellet would hit along a 40-yard flight path. But if unconstrained by power restrictions, the logical design step when moving to a larger caliber is to increase the power output of the rifle.

A .25 will let you take head or body shots, and stretch out further than you could with a .22.

If I want to use a 25 grain .25 caliber pellet in a “Legal” limit rifle, the velocity would have to be kept at around 450 fps to generate 11.2 fpe. Such a slow-moving pellet would be of limited use outside of a dozen yards. On the other hand, use the same pellet but keep the velocity at around 950 fps, generating an energy output of 50 fpe, and it’s a completely different story. This pellet is now zipping along with a flatter trajectory than an 8 grain .177 pellet with a muzzle velocity of 800 fps (generating 11.3 fpe).

Since gravity works at a constant rate, the trajectory is a product of the velocity at which the pellet travels. So, remove the need to limit the power output the logical step is to increase the velocity and resulting power output as caliber is increased. But there is more to it than the muzzle velocity, the smaller caliber pellets generally have a poorer ballistic coefficient and are always much lighter. The effect of resistance on lighter pellets in flight is that they shed velocity more rapidly. This means that even if the .177 pellet was launched with the same muzzle velocity as the much heavier .25 caliber pellet, at 50 yards the larger pellet would be traveling at a higher velocity than the lighter. The trajectory of these two pellets at closer range would be similar, but the drop would be greater in the light weight smaller caliber pellet at longer ranges.

The intrinsic accuracy of the two pellets might be fairly close: but the need to compensate for pellet drop with the smaller caliber pellet makes it harder to shoot accurately, especially under field conditions. This is one of the reasons that many shooters competing in long range target events, as well as those hunting in conditions requiring longer range shots, have been moving to .25 and even .30 caliber rifles in recent years.

Another reason you’ll hear given for the .25 caliber preference, is that the heavier pellets, even though they have a larger surface area, are less effected by wind. Whether this is due to the weight being less influenced by wind, or the fact that at greater distances the heavier pellets are moving at a higher velocity and thereby reducing the time available to exert influence, I don’t know. But my experience shooting on paper and on game leads me to believe this is true, though let me add that if the wind picks up to the point its pushing your pellet off course, it’s time to either move your range in closer or quit shooting.

So far I’ve focused on the trajectory of the larger caliber pellet, and not the power delivered on target. For target shooting this is not a high priority, for hunting applications it may or may not be, depending on several factors. If hunting 1-2 lb. cottontail rabbits on one of my farm permissions, where most shots are inside of 40 yards, a 50 fpe .25 caliber rifle is not necessary. However, if pursuing a 10 lb. jackrabbit at 75 yards, the powerful .25 caliber pellet will be much more decisive in anchoring my quarry. In both scenarios, a more powerful and larger caliber gun gives me the latitude to effectively take both brain and heart/lung shots.

One other consideration is that for many of us hunting in North America, there are more species to hunt that found in many regions. An airgun hunter might have the opportunity to hunt smaller cottontails or larger jackrabbit, large body animals such as turkey or raccoon, or quarry such as prairie dogs that require long range shooting. A .22 could be used for all of these but is a more marginal performer with the larger animals or at longer distances. And while a powerful .25 caiber might be overkill for a squirrel or rabbit at closer range, it is effective, and allows me to have one gun that does it all.

To this point I’ve spoken primarily about the .25, but many shooters are moving to the .30 caliber for many of the same reasons. As far as competitive shooting, some events set .25 caliber as the maximum in the standard caliber class, and the .30 as the gateway into the big bores. My primary reason for moving to the .30 caliber centers more on the need for a rifle I can use for the larger game sometimes encountered on small game hunts. I am going out on a prairie dog shoot next week in South Dakota, and there will be an opportunity to do some long-range shooting on paper and then on live quarry. I will use this opportunity to get my thoughts in order on where the .30 caliber fits into my shooting worldview then, and hopefully Phill will let me do a follow up afterwards!

What has made this discussion relevant, is that there are now many outstanding guns being offered in both .25 and .30 caliber, I’m using the Daystate Renegade, Brocock Bantam, FX Wildcat, and Hatsan BullBoss in these larger calibers, and importantly, have had the opportunity to shoot them all in .22 as well. I will make two general statements: in every instance my long-range shooting (on paper) has been better with the major calibers. And on game (granted this is anecdotal) my impression is that kills have been quicker and cleaner, especially on body shots and at longer range.

Let me windup by saying that the rationale for migrating to larger calibers is situational, but I think for North American hunters there is a lot to think about, for me the .25 has become my all around favorite small game caliber.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tips for Spotting Small Game

First look for the right habitat and signs of quarry (tracks, droppings, scrapes, feeding), then carefully and slow survey the area.

I recently posted some videos of rabbit hunts I’d done out in Texas, and received a lot of questions that I thought I’d answer here on the blog. Small game hunting is a lot of fun, and is a good place for new hunters to get started, a way for experienced hunters to get in a lot of field time to keep sharp, and for everyone, a great hunting experience that stands on its own.

Small game can be easier to locate than larger game like deer or turkey, at least in part due to the much higher populations and a propensity to come out in the open. Smaller game animals such as rabbits and squirrels depend on speed or camouflage to protect them. But much of the mail I receive comes from new hunters that are having trouble locating quarry when they get out in the field. In this week I will give you a few hints that can help.

The first one sounds way too simple …… hunt where animals are. If you go into the wrong habitat, or to a place that is over pressured, you are not going to be successful. When hunting public land, get as far from roads and easy access as possible, since many people don’t want to work to fill their bag. I’ve seen many areas in the high desert where nothing is around within half a mile from a dirt road, but hike in a mile and you’ll start to see jackrabbits in numbers.

Also, look for signs of activities: cuttings on the ground when squirrel hunting, droppings scattered about the area, jackrabbit scrapes under cactus or mesquite brush. Often you can find tracks, so know what the prints of your quarry look like, imprinted in soft sand or snow. Look for the types of cover your prey prefers: cottontail rabbits like brush piles, fence lines, and abandoned buildings and equipment they can hide around or under. Jackrabbits like to lay at the base of mesquites on a slight rise that allows them to watch danger coming, with adjacent flats with sparse cover where they can open up when the need comes to flee.

And importantly, when looking for game do just that……. look! It’s not just new hunters I see ignoring this rule, I see guys that get out into the field and just start plowing ahead burning up ground. There are times you want to motor ahead, when getting from one likely spot to another but when you are actually on the hunt you should move slowly. Very slowly, stopping often to look at your immediate surroundings, then looking further ahead to where you are headed to survey all likely looking spots along the way. A set of binoculars can be very helpful, even if your eyesight is good, you might be surprised how much more game you can glass than see with the naked eye. This is especially true in lower light conditions early in the morning, towards evening, or when looking into shadowed areas.

Rabbits and other small game often require on camouflage before relying on speed…. look closely!

When you spot an obvious target, look for others before starting your approach. I can’t count the number of times I’ve almost tripped over a rabbit while fixated on approaching another.

When searching an area, look for telltale signs: a smooth contour that doesn’t quite fit in, a bit of hair being blown at a different speed than the surrounding grasses or leaves, a slightly different color of fur or the amber glow of sunshine passing through a rabbits ears……… and the big one, look for any motion that is inconsistent with the majority of motion. What I mean is that if the wind is blow the grass to the right, and you see something move to the left, zero in on it.

Your objective is to see game and get into range, while your preys objective is not to be seen and to stay away from perceived threats. When everything in your environment wants to put you on the menu, staying alert becomes the key to survival. Rabbits and squirrels see better than you, tend to always be on high alert, and has a safe zone they will try not to let you intrude on, and this is the game you need to play to be consistently successful in the field!

Move slow and use natural cover to your advantage

I hope if you’re just starting out this helps, it is more important than with traditional firearm hunting because your ranges are a bit closer and shot placement more critical. The main thing is don’t get frustrated and/or give up. When I first moved to the Midwest and started hunting tree squirrels, I’d been hunting all my life. But I didn’t have the skill set to consistently go out and limit. Sure, I bagged a few, but it wasn’t until I started watching really experienced squirrel hunters in the woods, that I progressed. They moved much more slowly through the woods than I did, were much more methodical in scanning the trees, and more cognizant of signs than I’d been when small game hunting. Even though I knew how to hunt, modifying my field behavior to slow down, look more, and be more specific in what I was looking for…… paid off in results!

Keep at it and think through your hunts: where to hunt, how to cover the landscape, look at habitat and figure where you’d go if a jackrabbit (view of incoming danger with cover to hide, but enough open ground to take off if spotted).

I just got back from another small game hunt in Texas over the weekend, and though brought back a case of flu, had a great time in the field. In a couple weeks we’ll be heading down to South Dakota on our (now) annual prairie dog shoot with several other Airgunners, which is going to be a blast if last year was anything to go by. Seems like winter is finally over up in the fast north, and I look forward to a summer of varminting, shooting, and getting out for some fishing! Catch up with you all next week!

Categories: Airgun Expedition, Airguns of Arizona, bantam, Brocock, compact guns, compatto, Daystate, Destinations, Jackrabbits, offhand shooting, Pest Control, Rabbits, Small Game Hunting, Spring time hunting, Uncategorized, where to hunt | Leave a comment