Tips & Hints for February 2013

Just Bought An Air Rifle?

Just Bought An Air Rifle?

25 February 2013

Well! You've done it! You’ve just bought a legal limit, sub 12 ft/lb air rifle. It spits out about 11.5 ft/lb of power. Sufficient force to knock down (terminally) crows, magpies, squirrels, wood-pigeons and rabbits at close ranges. It’s light, it’s quiet and you don’t (at present .. and let’s hope this endures and we rely on your help with this) need any special license for it. Nor does its ammunition. You will need to ensure it is securely locked away from under-18 year olds .. but that’s just common sense anyway. All you need now is a lot of practise at static targets and, when you are efficient with the gun, perhaps some land on which to hunt?

 As you build up your shooting skills .. accuracy, safety, quarry knowledge, fieldcraft .. your big calibre shooting buddies are perhaps taking the mickey out of you. They call you a ‘pop-gunner' or perhaps a ‘lightweight’. Ignore it. You will eventually be tempted up the FAC airgun route (as I was). You will try rimfire or centrefire (as I have). You will probably dabble with the shotgun (yep .. been there too!). If you are a true small vermin hunter you will go right back to the beginning and pick up that sub-12 gun again. And I’ll tell you why. Because we air-gunners are probably the most contented hunters on the planet. A bold statement, I agree .. but please let me qualify it.

The legal-limit airgun is a useful hunting tool in just about any rural environment. Even around the farmyard. It also has its applications in some urban environments (such as culling feral pigeons in factories or stadiums). It is quiet, reliable and, in responsible hands, very safe. Air-gunning is an affordable form of hunting too. After the initial outlay on the rifle, pellets are dirt cheap. Unlike the small-bore bullet rifle, you can practise on targets ad-infinitum to hone your skills without denting your pocket .. and you only need a small patch of land on which to do this. If you use a spring powered gun, air is free. If you use a pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) with a hand pump, air is free. If you choose a divers bottle for your PCP, refills are cheap .. though the bottle is expensive.

Now you just have to get near enough to vermin to use the guns terminal power effectively. Airgun hunters are ‘true’ hunters in this sense. They have to get up close and personal. The stealth and fieldcraft involved in moving up close to your quarry without disturbing it and taking a successful shot gives an immense sense of achievement. It takes learning .. and a few mistakes along the way .. to master this. That learning is free .. no expensive coaching lessons or hiring time on a range. Your choice of clothing will be important. You won't catch a rabbit unawares wearing your weekend glad-rags. That's why we air-gun 'practitioners' generally wear camouflage .. and why your reading this. Jack Pyke happen to make some of the best British patterned clothing available, which is why I use it.

When you’re skilled enough you will not only get close enough but you will despatch your quarry with a single accurately placed projectile. You will do so almost silently, without disturbing the surrounding environment or other wildlife. Far more satisfying than blasting your target with a scattering of random shot and making enough noise to clear any living thing within two acres of your position. You will have checked diligently for a safe backstop in case you miss, though the margin for error is tens of yards .. not the mile you would need to consider with a centre-fire rifle. When you recover your quarry, if it is edible (perhaps a plump rabbit) your pellet hasn’t smashed the meat or peppered the carcasse. It will be fit for the table.

There will be times when you prefer to sit quietly in a hide, an outbuilding or behind a net and wait for your quarry. Ambushing requires patience but can be a rewarding experience. Just sitting in wilderness, watching bird and beast pass by, is terrific stress relief. The tranquility of birds singing and insects humming washes over you. Listening to the patter of light rain or perhaps the rolling of thunder is sanctifying. Your hide will have been selected knowing (from previous observation) that your quarry will pass by at some time. When it does, the adrenaline will course through your blood and you will move from a passive state to an attentive one. The shot, the kill, will satisfy the hunting urge and you will sit back and relax, to wait again. You will watch the fox swagger past or the buzzard soar overhead. You will see the barn owl abroad or the pipistrelle bat hawking.

When the demand for vermin control presses hard .. the demand from the farmer to protect crops or food stores .. you may need to resort to other means. Perhaps drawing your quarry in close to you through baiting. The gutted squirrel to tempt the crow or the decoy bird to pull in the magpie. This too will need to be learned .. where and when to deploy, how to make a scene realistic. You may have to use a gun-lamp to gain advantage over the nocturnal rabbit or the invading rat. Another efficient method for the airgunner where only the random beam of light along the margin or within the barn will disturb the night. The shotgunner, of course, will be snoring loudly in his bed. The small-bore rifleman may be lamping nearby after his fox, so make sure you both know you are abroad with a gun!

Another reason you will be smug about your sport is that you will never be restricted by season. Your presence is necessary all year round. No close seasons for you .. unless self imposed. No buck dates or doe dates. No ‘cocks-only’ or ‘hens-only’ days. You may choose to spare the rabbit kit, perhaps the magpie fledgling? Your choice entirely .. though I would spare neither unless I want to ‘farm’ a warren for meat or target parent birds (for magpies martial their young closely).

Formality counts for little as an airgun hunter though manners, safety and good sense certainly do. You can wear what you want when out with your gun (though as stated, I would recommend subtle woodland colours or camo). No regulation dress wear, no tweeds, no plus-fours. There’s another bonus too. You won’t be stuck on a peg next to a stranger whose skills may be suspect. You select your quarry, it isn’t driven to you by a beater. There is absolutely no snobbery, no class factor and no servitude in air rifle hunting.

As an airgunner you don’t usually need accomplices when shooting. You can choose your own company or invite it as needed. Two’s a crowd on most airgun outings. If you’re decoying crows it’s useful to have someone to help set up but then leave .. kidding the corvids that the area is now clear of humans. You don’t (like the rimfire fox controller) need a driver or a lamp-man at night. You can go alone .. which is much more stealthy .. though you may choose to take a dog.

On the subject of dogs? The shotgunner definitely needs one (to find and retrieve moving, pricked quarry). The airgunner generally doesn’t need a hound. The deerstalker needs a tracker. I run my lurcher, Dylan, next to me only in certain situations.

He is expert at marking squirrels and moving them around a trunk into the line of fire.

He retrieves rabbit or squirrel well, allowing me to save energy and use his nose to search in scrub or briar.

When bird shooting or in a hide he is a liability. He won’t retrieve feather or lie patiently. That’s not his fault .. unlike a Labrador it’s not in his genetic make-up. Again, though, the airgunner has a choice .. if a dog, almost any dog .. yet he doesn’t have to rely on a dog at all.

Airguns are certainly capable of harm, don’t ever believe they aren’t. They are a firearm in the eyes of the law for good reason. Yet the risk of serious injury is significantly lower for air rifles than any other form of gun .. unless malice is intended. No ‘blow-outs’. No loss of toes or fingers through mis-use or malpractice. Most guns have anti-bear traps and safety mechanisms to ensure that only a complete fool could injure themselves. A pellet can’t corrode if left in storage for ages and become ‘volatile’. In fact, a pellet without an airgun is an inert missile. That can’t be said of a shotgun cartridge or bullet. In stating this, I’m certainly not advocating casualness around owning or carrying an air rifle. Quite the opposite .. I’m saying that if you want to minimise risk yet want to shoot, choose an airgun and learn how to handle and store it safely.

So, you’ve chosen to join a rather special club, my friend. Look after that rifle well and it will look after you. It will last you a lifetime, with proper care. It will rarely let you down. So don’t you let the gun down .. use it safely, always.

Ian Barnett

Feb 2013