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Getting Started in Rough Shooting: Airguns

Getting Started in Rough Shooting: Airguns

Taking up pest control with an air rifle, or ‘hunting’ as many people call it, is a serious undertaking and is not something that should be entered into lightly. You will be setting out to kill something and most people have never been in the situation where they’ve killed anything larger than a fly! Taking the life of a living creature is completely different to knocking down an inanimate steel target on a Field Target or Hunter Field Target course, or plinking at tin cans and other reactive targets in your back garden.

The brain of a rat, pigeon, squirrel or rabbit is very small but is the best thing to aim for if you want your quarry to have a swift, humane exit from this world. The prospective hunter needs to be able to get his pellet to that small target each and every time, at varying ranges in conditions that may include mud, rain and wind.

First of all, are you actually good enough? Being able to hit targets at a known range at a club, or using highly sophisticated FT scopes to rangefind to the nearest yard is completely different to having to quickly assess the range to your quarry in less than ideal conditions in a field or wood before it’s gone.

In a hunting situation, you will also have adrenaline pumping around your bloodstream, adding to ‘buck fever’ and it’s something all hunters must overcome, no matter how experienced. Hunting isn’t for everyone either and there are hordes of shooters who have bought all the gear, got the shooting rights and then ended up selling all their stuff at a loss when they’ve realised that they just didn’t enjoy the experience. I’ve known people who have given up shooting altogether after their first couple of forays.

What if you get it wrong and wound the animal? Could you cope with that? These are all things that the would-be hunter needs to think about. Also, where is all this going to happen?

The permission

A lot of new airgun shooters think that getting permission to shoot vermin is easy but in reality it isn’t that easy at all! Some people seem to think you can pretty much turn up at any farm, golf course or stable and the person in charge will immediately give permission, only too glad to welcome someone with a gun onto their land.

However, it’s not a simple as that and when you think about it, it’s not surprising. After all, the prospective air rifle hunter or pest controller is completely unknown to the farmer, groundsman or landowner and they may have bad experiences in the past. If someone turned up on your doorstep, completely un-announced and asked if they could fire an airgun in your garden, would you let them? Of course not! You’d want to get to know them first, find out about them, why they wanted to do it and if they would do it in a safe way – it’s the same with the farmer. Also, farmers and groundsmen etc. are very busy people, so if you’re going to pay them a visit, it’s best to know when they will be less busy than usual and it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the sort of location you’d like to shoot on. There’s no point trying to make contact when the farmer is busy harvesting or ploughing the fields and he probably won’t take too kindly to you turning up when he’s eating his dinner! Assessing when to pay a visit is down to the individual farm etc. so judgement must be used.

The best thing to do is pick your moment, turn up smartly dressed (not in headto toe camo holding an air rifle!) and be as polite and courteous as possible and ask if they are having any problems with vermin around the farm buildings, fields or woodland. Also, make it clear that you’re an experienced shooter and is fully insured. BASC can provide affordable cover for rough shooting and covering yourself is vital. Any landowner will insist on it, just in case.

The farmer etc. may just politely say no and shut the door or, if they’ve had a bad experience previously, they may not be as polite! It’s the gamble that you’ll have to take but be positive in your attitude and approach and it might just go your way. If things are positive and it looks like your luck is in, show them your insurance documents and any references you may have and take it from there. You may be asked to come back later and if arrangements are made, they should be stuck to. Having a pre-typed letter of permission is a good idea and is one thing less that the landowner has to worry about and once quarry species are agreed, these should be written down. The usual species, such as rats, feral and woodpigeon, rabbits, squirrels, magpies and crows are to be found on most farms but some people may not want some species shot; jays, for instance, may steel bird’s eggs and chicks but if there aren’t many about, are they really worth targeting? In some areas, such as the South East, ring necked parakeets are a huge problem, so they may also be added to the list.

Gearing up

The prospective hunter obviously already has his or her air rifle and it should have the scope zeroed and be using suitable, accurate pellets. It doesn’t really matter what the power source is, spring or pre-charged air but PCPs can be easier to shoot from various positions, as there’s nothing moving when the shot is taken; a springer rested directly on a fencepost or gate can behave very differently from one cradled in the hands, so if a spring gun is to be used for vermin shooting, the owner really needs to do their homework. One thing that I use all the time whilst shooting vermin are an FT-style beanbag.

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It’s filled with polystyrene beads and is very comfortable to sit on obviously whilst shooting but it can also be used to rest a rifle on instead of the ground and can protect the rifle’s woodwork when resting it on something when actually shooting.

Single shot air rifles are obviously capable of being used in the field but many shooters prefer multi-shot rifles for several reasons but the main one is ease of loading; once a magazine is fitted, it’s just a case of cycling the bolt or sidelever to load a pellet and there’s no fumbling involved to get a pellet into the breech. It’s also much easier to use a multi-shot PCP in the dark, when rabbiting or rat shooting for instance. A quick follow up shot is also instantly available if required.

Optical accessories

It’s a fact of life that an air rifle’s ammo has a curved trajectory, so knowing the distance to the quarry is vital for a humane shot. Most scopes have some form of parallax adjustment these days, either on the front on side of the scope and these can be used to assess the distance to the animal that is being targeted. This takes time obviously, so sometimes it’s easier to pre-range various features in a wood or farmyard before you start shooting. A laser rangefinder is another great tool to have available and a quick ‘zap’ or ‘ping’ with a laser can be an excellent way of knowing how far quarry is away.

Dress for success

There’s all sorts of camo clothing available and gone are the days of having to rely on clothing bought from an army surplus store. There are numerous realistic looking patterns that and is very comfortable to sit on obviously whilst shooting but it can also be used to rest a rifle on instead of the ground and can protect the rifle’s woodwork when resting it on something when actually shooting.

Single shot air rifles are obviously capable of being used in the field but many shooters prefer multi-shot rifles for several reasons but the main one is ease of loading; once a magazine is fitted, it’s just a case of cycling the bolt or sidelever to load a pellet and there’s no fumbling involved to get a pellet into the breech. It’s also much easier to use a multi-shot PCP in the dark, when rabbiting or rat shooting for instance. A quick follow up shot is also instantly available if required.

Optical accessories

It’s a fact of life that an air rifle’s ammo has a curved trajectory, so knowing the distance to the quarry is vital for a humane shot. Most scopes have some form of parallax adjustment these days, either on the front on side of the scope and these can be used to assess the distance to the animal that is being targeted. This takes time obviously, so sometimes it’s easier to pre-range various features in a wood or farmyard before you start shooting. A laser rangefinder is another great tool to have available and a quick ‘zap’ or ‘ping’ with a laser can be an excellent way of knowing how far quarry is away.

Dress for success

There’s all sorts of camo clothing available and gone are the days of having to rely on clothing bought from an army surplus store. There are numerous realistic looking patterns that can help you blend into almost any situation but anything that breaks up the shape of the human body is of use. There are even lightweight ‘leaf suits’ and ‘ghillie suits’ that can be worn over normal clothing and for the colder months, warm, padded suits are great! Gunshops and online retailers have a huge selection and companies such as Ridgeline, Jack Pyke and Deer Hunter and Gun Mart has numerous adverts each month, so check out the pages to see what’s available.

A decent pair of boots is essential and ones with some form of waterproof and breathable membrane are worth their weight in gold and even in summer, just walking across a dew-covered field can soak feet and socks in no time at all if the boots aren’t up to muster.

Bits and pieces

There are all sorts of accessories available to make life easier when tackling vermin and some decoys, suitably situated can be a great way of bringing down pigeons, crows and magpies, as are suitable calls for the latter. A full-face mask is also great for stopping wary quarry seeing your face, as are gloves that match your camo clothing; human skin seems to scare away a lot of quarry, so keeping it covered is a great idea. A bush hat or baseball cap is also a good idea. If the intended quarry is to be eaten, then a game carrier or bag is something to consider, as is a good knife for paunching rabbits and breasting woodpigeons. Targeting rabbits and rats at night will require some form of lamp and there are loads that are suitable.

Conclusion

As you can see, rough shooting with an air rifle isn’t as simple as some think but with the right approach and the right equipment, it can be a great way to spend time in the countryside and can produce a few tasty meals too. Safe shooting!

Useful contacts

BASC: www.basc.org.uk
Beanbags: www.customsportingmatsandhides.co.uk, www.rangesports.com
Laser rangefinders: www.hawkeoptics.com, www.mtcoptics.com
Clothing: Highland Outdoors (Ridgeline): www.highlandoutdoors.co.uk, www.jackpyke.co.uk, www.dearhunterclothing.co.uk

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