Back to Basics With Airguns
Adrian Kenney has reverted to using a springer to take small game, taking some getting used to.
Over the last 12 years or so I’d been spoilt with the modern accuracy and power of a high quality PCP air rifle. My Air Arms S410 came complete with a 10 shot magazine and 200 BAR of pressure pushing those bolt fed pellets down the quality barrel with excellent accuracy. To make things easier it had little to no recoil which facilitated accurate groups even for an ordinary shot like me.
After thousands of pellets and years of use it began to leak air and eventually wouldn’t fill at all. With few competent gun smiths willing to work on a PCP air rifle in my area I simply moved onto other hunting pursuits and left the S410 in the gun safe.
Years later I lashed out and purchased a spring powered air rifle – a Weihrauch HW97 KT.
I did my research on the pellets that most HW 97’s find appealing and chose some HN barracuda pellets. A large cardboard box was placed at a distance of 30 yards. A daypack was used for a rest and a sand bag beneath the butt stock. Clearly the first process was to sight the rifle inn and the first pellet hit low and to the left. As can be seen in the photograph; the pellets gradually lifted upwards and right towards the circle next to the ten cent coin. I then fired 5 shots into the group in the circle next to the coin. Now, to me, for a spring powered air rifle straight out of the box that isn’t bad! To be honest I didn’t get better accuracy out of my PCP.
After I’d shot a few pellets through the HW97 I was also reminded that the safety catch cannot be reapplied once switched to the fire position. Given that in the field it is a fairly common occurrence for the safety to be flicked off for a shot only for the opportunity to vanish down a burrow or into brush this could be troublesome.
Next step was to camouflage the stock with camouflage tape for close quarters hunting that’s commonly required with airgun hunting. The camouflage taped stock wasn’t too dissimilar to the camouflage scope so it turned out ok. With the rifle sighted and camouflaged up it was time for some hunting, well I thought so anyway.
The first couple of opportunities were more by chance than anything in the form of starlings perched upon the powerlines near my father’s farm house. Grabbing the Weihrauch out of the gun safe and slipping a pellet into the loading port, the under leaver would be clicked shut beneath the barrel. Sitting down next to the brick wall of the garage the safety would be pushed across to fire and the crosshairs would settle upon that greasy, lice infested feral preening itself upon the wires. The Weihrauch would cough and shutter like all spring rifles do and the starling would burst into flight leaving me wondering where I should be aiming. They were around 30 yards with about a 45 degree angle. Annoyingly I started to notice them coming out from under the roof near the garage as it was early spring and nesting was about to begin. Still thinking my poor shooting may be to blame I kept aiming at the centre of the chest on subsequent candidates and bugger me if one of them didn’t drop like a rock. Sh.t I hit it!
On retrieving the unlucky victim I was amazed to see the pellet had passed straight through the eyes. Ok, it was shooting high due to the angle. The next sucker is in trouble! Every now and then I’d sneak out the front door to peak under the carport roof to see if there were any black blobs sitting upon the wires. Eventually, there was. With the crosshairs settled low on the black body and slightly to the right for wind drift – thwack! Although instantly dead his foot held onto the wire briefly before he dropped to the ground like a stone. Starlings still appeared periodically throughout the day at different distances along the wires and were missed cleanly. Sighting the rifle in over the daypack with the help of a sand bag for a stock rest is one thing but when taking shots without these aides the challenge of returning to spring powered airguns was becoming apparent. Indeed, I’d been spoilt with the multi shot smooth shooting PCP. Now, the slightest fault in taking the shot be it breathing, trigger pull or rifle movement was amplified by the shudder and shake of the powerful spring.
A few weeks passed before I headed out mid morning on my first proper hunt with the HW97. It was a sunny winter’s day with a very light wind. The relatively slow travelling pellets can suffer from wind drift when conditions are unfavourable so today was perfect for airgun shooting. Kangaroos basked in the mid morning sun with their light-coloured underbellies standing out amid the greenery of the gully. Reluctantly they lifted from their beds and bounded slowly off towards the neighbouring property. As my boots fell softly upon the hillside I passed by rabbit burrows that brought little hope to the wishful eyes of a hunter. Leaf litter and twigs clogged and lined the burrow mouths depicting little use and empty warrens. The calicivirus, I thought to myself, that’s what’s gone on here! Numerous sambar tracks cut through the gully across the green grass forming into cloven trails lining the cover of shrubs and blackberries in the gut of the gully.
Continuing around the head of the gully onto the opposite face fresh rabbit scratchings were here and there and even a couple of well worn rabbit burrows – things were looking up! The few resident rabbits that were present had been raiding the grass fields in the neighbouring property so later in the day I’d lay in ambush as they made their way towards them. Blackbirds emitted their alarm calls from the blackberry bushes below as I contoured down the gully with the rabbit sign fading out again leaving one narrow avenue of hope for later in the day when hungry rabbits would hopefully emerge from burrows and blackberries to feed.
In the meantime since nothing was about I decided to put a target up and just check the accuracy again – after all it’s not like the airgun will make a lot of noise and disturb the area. Bugger me dead it was way off; shooting high and to the right by about three inches. Lucky there hadn’t been any rabbits to shoot at! After checking the screws on the mounts I was leaning towards the most likely scenario; that being the scope had been shaken up with the shudder and shake of the hard hitting spring. I’d been slack in not ensuring the scope was airgun proof and simply placed an old one I had handy on it. Well, apart from my poor shooting, that was the most likely culprit anyway. For now, it was shooting well again.
The afternoon shadows lengthened as I lay prone upon the hillside between the cover in the gully and the lush field of grass. A mature buck leapt from cover immediately in front at only ten yards. His head turned in my direction as he checked out the fully camouflaged form lying nearby. He quickly settled and began feeding as I slowly lifted the stock of the Weihrauch until the scope met my eye. The crosshairs crested the top of his head to allow for the difference between the scope and barrel at such close range. Thwack! His back leg straightened up into the air before laying at peace on the hillside. The next candidates that emerged further along at distances of around 40 yards were promptly missed. Clearly my new rifle had awesome potential I just had to sort out the scope and or my shooting technique. So I headed home with a single rabbit. Oh well, I’d just have to chew him nice and slow.