Let’s see if this post generates any comments. I’ve taken small game with airguns on and off for many years. I’ve shot squirrels, rabbits, pest birds, ground hogs, jack rabbits, etc. I’ve used everything from .177 up to .35 cal airguns to take all the game listed above. I just returned from a hunting trip where I had to come to a very humbling conclusion.
Paper is not the same as live game
Hunting game is not the same as shooting paper targets at the range. I know this to be the case but I wonder how many other airgunners understand the difference? The truth is that there’s very little that’s similar about the two types of shooting. Shooting paper at the range is one of my favorite things to do. There are a lot of things that are “under control” when you are in that kind of environment. Paper is not going to move if you break a twig or cough or turn your head. I have all the time in the world to line up my perfect sight picture and steady my hold before taking the shot. You just don’t have the luxury out in the field. You need to process information very quickly and then determine “should I take this shot or not?” I’m happy to say that most of the time things work out just fine. But if I’m going to be honest, there are times that it just doesnt.
Best laid plans?
It’s about those times where things dont go as planned that I want to talk about in this article. Before my trip I had proved my gun, the Hatsan .35 cal Carnivore, from 10 out to 50 yards. I knew that I could hit the kill zone on basically anything in that range. What I was not counting on was varying elevations, angles and NOT shooting on the bench. This is certainly where I need to spend a little more practice time.
Now, I was not hunting alone. I had my buddy Cecil who was carrying his customized Hatsan AT44 QE Long .22, and my buddy Aaron who was using the Gamo Coyote .22. We had a wide representation of airguns that delivered various power levels and calibers. While we were all hoping to take down a predator with the .35 cal Carnivore, we wound up settling for several large jack rabbits, a big ground squirrel, and a couple cotton tails. Each of us took a couple of game animals with our airguns.
Bigger is better
At the end of the day, we all got to see the difference between the one shot kill effectiveness of the .22s and the .35. Hands down the .35 did a better job. Now, one could argue that with perfect shot placement it would not have mattered, and they would be right. But here’s the controversial part, perfect airgun shots are like perfect golf shots. Sure we all want them, remember them fondly when they occur, and hope to have repeats as often as possible. But they don’t happen as often as we like unless maybe we are professionals. All the game was taken pretty cleanly with 1 or 2 shots from 10 to 65 yards with the occasional wind gusts. The difference between game hit with the .35 and game hit with the .22 was simply undeniable. The .35 hit with so much more authority and was much less affected by the wind. I came away with the impression that bigger is certainly better. That’s not to say that the smaller calibers are not effective, they were, but if I’m going to be honest about it, I had a lot more confidence pulling the trigger on the .35 over any of the .22s.
For the next trip…
Since we only live about 2 hours from our hunting ground, we are already planning our next trip. This time I’m going to settle in with the .30 cal Carnivore. While I like the .35, the .30 gives me a much flatter trajectory and range out to 100 yards. The power output is more than sufficient at 75+/- foot pounds which simply dwarfs the .22s we were carrying that topped out between 30 and 40 foot pounds, depending on the rifle and ammo choice. There was a day where .25 caliber PCPs were king of the affordable hunting airguns. I think that day may be coming to a close. After seeing what these new affordable big bore airguns can do, I’m fully convinced, that for me at least, they are the way to go. They can certainly make up the difference for those less than perfect shots.