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