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Airgun Hunter: Taking it Easy

Airgun Hunter: Taking it Easy

It was a warm summer’s day and I had a day off work. There was only one thing on my mind and that was to head out with the airgun to bag some pests. The permission I decided on was a local farm, which hosts a large pheasant shoot over the winter months. In the spring and summer, I have free-rein over its 2000-acres. I’ve shot countless pests, including the usual rabbits, squirrels, pigeons and corvids during the few years I have been shooting there. The gamekeeper likes me to keep on top of the squirrels, as they do the most damage to the shoot, by chewing up the feeders and eating the grain put out for the game birds. I believe we are having an impact, because I have noticed a reduction in the numbers of squirrels seen whilst stalking through the woods. For this outing, my attention would be focused on feathered pests.

Combo of choice

My rifle of choice for this job was the Air Arms S200 with Hawke Airmax scope. This is a short, light ‘combo’ that has served me well on many successful outings. I parked the car and took all the kit I would need, which consisted of my gun, pellets, range finder and bean bag (in case of some static shooting). Straight-off, I headed for the woods, where I’d had good success. This patch is made up of evergreens and deciduous trees, which provides a nice variety of cover for all kinds of quarry; so, a mixed bag seemed likely.

As usual, I took care not to tread on any of the dry, fallen branches and twigs that littered the woodland floor. It was bad enough having to walk on the ‘crispycornflake’ leaves, which made an unavoidable soft crackle, no matter how gently I rolled my foot. It wasn’t too long before I was on the trail of a pigeon. I could hear one a little deeper in the wood; so, I went into stalking mode and began moving in. I could not pin-point it, but knew which tree it was likely to be in. I walked closer, carefully using the trees as cover.

 

Where?

In the winter, I could have spotted the pigeon from a good distance, but with all the cover up in the trees at this time of year, locating it was proving a challenge. I was now directly beneath where I believed the bird to be, but I was still guessing where it exactly was. I stealthily edged my way round the tree, looking out for any movement that could give it away or the tell-tail feather sticking out from behind a branch, a parting in the leaves revealing a smooth silhouette…. anything at all! But try as I might, I simply could not spot it.

I hate the doubt which follows: ‘do I spend more time on a pigeon, which I may never find, only to hear it fly off when it finally spots me, or do I give up and move on?’ Then I heard wings. Gladly, it was not a pigeon flying off but one inbound. Bonus! I looked up just in time to see it land and slowly moved to a position where I could see the head and braced myself against the well-positioned trunk of a pine tree. The crack of the S200 sounded through the wood and both pigeons were off! This one was hit hard and as it flew, I noticed its feet hanging. This is classic sign when the pellet has entered the lungs and not the heart; The bird has enough oxygen in its blood only to make it a hundred yards or so. I always follow its path as they often drop out of the sky mid-flight, as their air reserves run out. As suspected, it tumbled mid-flight and came to rest in a grass field just outside the wood.

 

Sit down

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I put it in a prominent place, for pick up on the way back. I decided I would sit in the shade for a while under a ‘sitty tree’ and just wait. Already, the temperature was getting up and like so many of our fantastic 2018 summer days, walking in the sunshine didn’t feel like fun. I walked over to the perimeter of the wood and spotted a tree out in one of the fields and lasered it. It was 40 yards away, which is just within range on a calm day like this. The spot I found to sit was ideal, with a branch in the perfect position for me to rest the rifle, in addition, a well-placed trunk provided a back rest; it’s not always this luxurious!

I made sure I was nicely concealed by pulling some branches in front of me. This way, anything landing in the tree would have no idea of my presence. Luckily, it wasn’t too long before birds landed. There were two crows sitting nice and still for a shot, but I resisted taking one. Instead, I took out my camera and grabbed a quick snap for the article and prayed that they would not fly off before I could set the cross-hairs on one of them. They didn’t appear to be in any hurry and stopped there, unaware that I now had the gun on aim. I needed to give the shot 2 Mil-Dots hold over and no wind. With the help of the tree I was using as a rest, the shot was away and fell bang-on-target. The hit crow let out one last short and sharp ‘caarrwww’ before dropping to the ground. Its buddy left the tree and began to circle high over ahead sounding an alarm call. It always seems a bit odd when they do this and like they are asking for the same treatment. It continued to circle for some time and slowly began to drop altitude before coming to rest on the same branch as before. It peered over to get a closer look at its dead mate below. In the meantime, I was getting ready, I sighted up for a head shot and in no time at all, there were two corvids down.

 

Decoy detour

I broke cover to ensure that they were dead and to sit them upright as decoys. The last thing I wanted was for them to lay on their backs, spooking any others that may have otherwise landed, as corvids are drawn to other corvids. When I am out, I will often see fields just rammed with magpies, crows, jackdaws and rooks. On the wing, they see others feeding and pile in. I wanted to create something similar with my dead birds by setting them up. Once back in the hide, I began to wait. It was a little longer this time before I had even the slightest hint of a shot.

Anything flying over was on a mission and wasn’t stopping for anything, especially not my dodgy looking decoys. I persevered, confident in the chance of another shot not being too far away. A lone jackdaw called, overhead. I didn’t want to look straight at it in case it spotted my movements. They have extremely sharp eyesight and can easily spot anything out of place or unnatural movements. They are very hard to shoot, so field craft and concealment must be spot on. It circled the tree before landing on the same popular branch as the now-dead crows.

 

Right speed

I slowly began to shoulder the rifle, knowing that if A - I moved too fast it would spot me and be gone or B - if I moved too slowly, it will spot that the bird was a decoy and scarper. Thankfully, I was soon on aim and the cross-hairs hovering above its head. It was very warm, and I could feel the sweat trickling down my face. The distracting high pitch buzz of a mozzy round my ear was just what I needed at this peak time.

I gently moved my head to get rid of the mozzy before once again focusing my attention back on the bird. The jackdaw, still sat at the top of the tree, was peering down at the decoy. I held off the same as the last shots and sent the pellet down range. It fl ared its wings as the pellet impacted its upper chest, before tumbling through some dead branches to the ground.

I did manage to shoot one more crow after this but there was nothing different about the shot from the last two, so I’m not going to use different words to tell the same story. It was a nicely successful afternoon with four corvids in the bag and a pigeon for the freezer. This outing re-enforced my thinking that sometimes it’s worth changing tactics for success in areas which have either proven productive in the past or are clearly popular locations with pest species. There are also some days such as this, when, for whatever reason, it simply makes much more sense to reduce the leg miles, put yourself under a tree, take it easy, exercise some patience and see what happens.

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