Run­ning and gun­ning

Jim Chap­man scouts a new ranch with his cam­era – and a ri­fle, of course

Air Gunner - - American Hunting -

I’ve been con­tribut­ing to Air Gun­ner for a cou­ple of years now, and read­ers may have picked up on the fact that I like my gear. I find that hav­ing the right kit can lead to a more suc­cess­ful hunt, mak­ing me more com­fort­able under some­times harsh con­di­tions, which in turn keeps me in the field longer. Hav­ing said this, an ap­peal­ing at­tribute of airgun hunt­ing is that you can make it as sim­ple as you’d like.

I had a few days free, so I jour­neyed to South Dakota with the in­ten­tion of hunt­ing prairie dogs on a new ranch prop­erty to which I’d been in­vited. A cou­ple of friends were driv­ing up from Colorado to join me, but wouldn’t ar­rive un­til the next day and I didn’t want to waste any field time so I de­cided to go as light as pos­si­ble, and do a com­bi­na­tion hunt and scout­ing trip to put in some ad­vance ground work for when the guys ar­rived.

The gun that I’d brought along in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a highly mo­bile, solo ex­cur­sion was the Air Arms, Take Down Ri­fle, bet­ter known as the TDR. The ri­fle is an evo­lu­tion­ary branch of the Air Arm 410, and this par­tic­u­lar gun had been ad­justed up in power for the US mar­ket. My TDR was in .22 cal­i­bre, gen­er­at­ing 22 ft.lbs. and yield­ing 18 shots on a 3000 psi fill. On a squir­rel or rab­bit hunt, this is more than enough shots for a day out, but in a tar­get­rich, prairie dog set­ting I’d have to be very se­lec­tive on the shots taken. I could have car­ried a buddy bot­tle, which would have pro­vided all the air needed, but my pri­mary goal was scout­ing and I had my cam­era, so passed on this op­tion.

GOOD AC­CU­RACY

In terms of ac­cu­racy, the TDR prints con­sis­tent 1” groups at 50 yards, shoot­ing off sticks, so this was set as my max­i­mum range. Like all the Air Arms ri­fles I’ve owned, the trig­ger on this ri­fle is quite nice, break­ing crisply and pre­dictably at just a tad under 2lbs.

The pel­lets cho­sen for this hunt were the JSB Jumbo Ex­acts, weigh­ing in at 18 grains. As men­tioned in the past, I pre­fer a heavy round-nosed pel­let for most hunt­ing ap­pli­ca­tions, es­pe­cially if reach­ing out a

bit fur­ther. I also tried the H& N hol­low points and their hy­brid al­loy tip/ hol­low­point pel­let de­sign, ob­tain­ing de­cent re­sults with both. How­ever, as is of­ten the case, the round­nose pel­lets pro­vided solid ac­cu­racy in this ri­fle and the ter­mi­nal per­for­mance is one in which I have a great deal of con­fi­dence. The Ex­acts of­fered a good bal­ance of pen­e­tra­tion and trans­fer of en­ergy on tar­get, and anec­do­tally, seem less sus­cep­ti­ble to the in­flu­ence of wind. Of course, if the wind in­creases too much, no pel­let can avoid drift, and if con­di­tions get bad it’s time to ei­ther dial in the range or put off the shoot for an­other day.

UL­TRA­LIGHT

For this out­ing, I car­ried the Osprey day­pack that I typ­i­cally use for ul­tra­light camp­ing, and min­imised the other gear taken. I packed a rangefinder, which is in­dis­pens­able on the open grass­lands where dis­tances can be dif­fi­cult to es­ti­mate, a bot­tle of wa­ter, a cam­era, and a wind­breaker. Atyp­i­cally, I chose not to pack my shoot­ing sticks, and in­tended to shoot off my pack, my knee, find a nat­u­ral rest, or pass on the shot. I know that over the course of a few days there is op­por­tu­nity for hun­dreds of shots, so pass­ing on a few comes with­out too much heartache.

The amount and va­ri­ety of wildlife one en­coun­ters in th­ese vast grass­lands is im­pres­sive; over the course of this 4-5 mile hike I saw sev­eral deer, in­clud­ing a nice buck in vel­vet that seemed to ap­pear out of nowhere; a badger ran right in front of me; a fox sat on a hay bale watch­ing my progress, and snakes, pheas­ants, quail, hawks, ea­gles, and jackrab­bits all made ap­pear­ances – not to men­tion prairie dogs as far as the eye could see. The sound­track to all this was the con­stant barking of prairie dogs mark­ing my pas­sage, above ground from 100 yards away, and un­der­ground from those that had dropped at my ap­proach. The sound en­velops you from every di­rec­tion but above, and the au­dio and vis­ual sen­sa­tions that this pro­duces is hard to de­scribe

As an­tic­i­pated, the shots I took were from a va­ri­ety of po­si­tions; kneel­ing, prone, and stand­ing. My first shot came as I topped a hill, walk­ing along a stretch of di­lap­i­dated barbed wire fence. As my head came over the rise, I saw a num­ber of prairie dogs on mounds scat­tered be­low on the hill­side. Drop­ping low, I slowly moved for­ward and took to a knee, brac­ing the ri­fle on my lead leg. Lin­ing up the crosshairs on a fat prairie dog perched on a mound 40 yards out, I breathed out and squeezed the trig­ger, watch­ing the pel­let strike as the an­i­mal flipped over, an­chored to the spot.

I hiked on­ward, pass­ing on many shots, un­til I reached a spot on a rolling hill­side that was dot­ted with mounds. As I ap­proached, sev­eral dogs had dropped down into their bur­rows where their barks could be heard drift­ing up­wards. I lay down and rested the TDR on my back­pack, whilst await­ing the ‘all clear’ vo­cal­i­sa­tion

“The amount and va­ri­ety of wildlife one en­coun­ters in th­ese vast grass­lands is im­pres­sive”

that would sig­nal a resur­fac­ing of the wary an­i­mals. Af­ter about 10 min­utes, the first one came out at about 50 yards, but I wasn’t in a hurry, or in a se­ri­ous pest con­trol mode, so I waited and watched. Even­tu­ally, there were a cou­ple of dozen dogs around me, from 20 to 100 yards away. Fi­nally, I lined up a shot at about 50 yards off, and with the ri­fle perched on my pack, let a pel­let fly – an­other prairie dog down. I re­mained prone for about half an hour watch­ing sev­eral prairie dogs graz­ing, with­out tak­ing an­other shot, be­fore sling­ing my pack and mov­ing on.

I spent a great af­ter­noon on the prairie, cov­er­ing the bet­ter part of a sec­tion of land pre­vi­ously un­known to me. I was able to map out where the dens­est con­cen­tra­tions of prairie dogs ex­isted, sorted out a few nat­u­ral hides with good shoot­ing lanes, and when my friends ar­rived and we started our hunts the next day, I could set them up in pro­duc­tive ar­eas.

The Air Arms Take­down Ri­fle was a solid 50-yard per­former for this small game ap­pli­ca­tion; pro­vid­ing ac­cu­racy, power, mo­bil­ity, shoot­ing er­gonomics, and al­though not hav­ing a large airstor­age ca­pac­ity, it was suf­fi­cient. The fact that the ri­fle breaks down into its own car­ry­ing case, makes it easy to fit into my over­packed cargo space, but it was the com­pact and very light­weight di­men­sions that made it a plea­sure to carry as I cov­ered a lot of ground. This was a fun hunt! I didn’t hit the num­bers I gen­er­ally do on a prairie dog shoot, and at the end of the day I’d taken less than a dozen shots, each re­sult­ing in a clean kill, and yet this stands out as one of my most en­joy­able out­ings of the year, so far.

In­stead of my usual sticks I rested on my pack

The rich grass­lands are full of life

Rusty barbed wire tells of cat­tle ranch­ing in the past

Trav­el­ling light ap­peals to me

As ever, high-qual­ity round­heads of­fered the best per­for­mance

At 50 yards the ac­cu­racy was su­perb

Af­ter wait­ing a few min­utes dogs popped up all around

Bro­ken down into its car­ry­ing case, the TDR is easy to pack

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