59 Jamie dis­cusses the prob­a­bil­ity - or not - of the long-range kill shot

Jamie Chan­dler gets to the bot­tom of the prob­a­bil­ity of a kill at long range

Air Gunner - - Contents -

Ilove the In­ter­net, so­cial me­dia and all the rest of it. Through it, for ex­am­ple, the airgun world is far more con­nected than even 10 years ago. Ideas and knowl­edge can be shared, dis­cussed and im­proved within min­utes, not months and mis­truths un­cov­ered and dis­missed.

That said, put any group of peo­ple to­gether and you will al­ways get that awk­ward mi­nor­ity who want or need to feel bet­ter than the rest and will ex­ag­ger­ate their abil­i­ties to get no­ticed. Ev­ery week on Face­book groups and In­ter­net fo­rums there are dozens of claims about shots dis­patch­ing a rab­bit at 80 yards, or drop­ping a pi­geon in gale force winds at 70 yards with the shooter’s dad’s old springer, then even bet­ter, ask­ing what pel­lets oth­ers find work best for ‘ killing stuff’ at that range, whilst post­ing a pic­ture of a 3-inch group they shot at 30 yards the next day. It’s all quite scary when you think about what they claim to have done with clearly lim­ited knowl­edge and worse still, that oth­ers may then think that’s the norm. The rea­son I love airgun hunt­ing so much, and what keeps me re­turn­ing to it week af­ter week, is the field craft chal­lenge that hunt­ing with a 12 ft. lb., UK le­gal limit airgun gives me. When hunt­ing, I’m at­tempt­ing to chan­nel the dark arts of re­con­nais­sance, cam­ou­flage, con­ceal­ment, stealth and pa­tience, prac­tised by hunters for mil­len­nia. I’m far more im­pressed with a story about a hunter stalk­ing within 20 yards of a rab­bit, or a hide work­ing so well that a pi­geon lands 15 yards from it, than I am about an al­leged 80-yard shot on a rab­bit.


Whilst most mod­ern air­guns, be they PCP or springer, are very ac­cu­rate and ca­pa­ble of out-shoot­ing the flesh bag pulling the trig­ger, I still stick to my 35 yards max­i­mum range when hunt­ing live quarry. It’s not that the gun isn’t ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing a pel­let with deadly ac­cu­racy fur­ther than that, it’s be­cause I know that real-world con­di­tions con­tin­u­ally change and throw in fac­tors that would an­noy­ingly ruin my group­ing at the range, but dis­as­trously cause un­ac­cept­able wound­ing in the field.

So, to show you what I mean, I thought I’d head out to my range on a ran­dom day and try to shoot real groups from my most used, seated, free­hand po­si­tion. No bench rests,

bipods, bags or sticks, and hav­ing to aim off to com­pen­sate for breeze, just as I most of­ten hunt. All I had to do was shoot a group of six shots, no larger than a 20p piece at var­i­ous ranges past my 27 yard zero.

Why 20p (20mm) and six shots, you ask, and not an inch (25mm) and four or three shots? Well, if you look at the skull of a rab­bit, pi­geon or squir­rel, that’s about the size of area you have to guar­an­tee a clean dis­patch with a head shot. Add an ex­tra 20mm each way and you have a se­ri­ous chance of wound­ing, and six shots is sim­ply to add real-world fac­tors like the chance of a breeze whip­ping up, or one pel­let be­ing a flyer, or a gnat sud­denly bit­ing your fleshy bits – in fact, any one of the many real-world fac­tors that could cause an in­ac­cu­racy. What I was look­ing for is not how many shots I could get on tar­get at that range, but rather how many pel­lets go wide and at what point in the shot string. What I hoped to show was that whilst air­guns are far more ac­cu­rate than most re­alise, it’s the real world that will cause one in six shots or more to drift at range, and that will po­ten­tially cause in­jury to our quarry and there­fore demon­strate why we shouldn’t shoot fur­ther.

I was us­ing my .22 BSA Scor­pion SE, my favourite hunt­ing ri­fle at the mo­ment, and 15.9 grain Air Arms Field Di­ab­los in 5.52, but will re­turn in a cou­ple of weeks just our of cu­rios­ity, to try with a .177, to see if there is much vari­a­tion be­tween the dif­fer­ent cal­i­bres.


On ar­rival, the wind was gusty and swirling with a pre­vail­ing left to right, so all very real world so far. I used an open barn to check zero at 27 yards, as far out of the breeze as I could get, and af­ter a cou­ple of clicks left, all was good.

So, at 27 and 30 yards, all was pretty stan­dard with shots hit­ting as ex­pected and no great de­vi­a­tions, and the breeze stayed light enough to en­sure noth­ing un­to­ward.

At 35 yards, things started to drift; not that far, but there was one pel­let that was clearly a few mil­lime­tres off to the left of the group. The breeze had picked up slightly and I’d been sit­ting for about 20 min­utes in it and the am­bi­ent 4 de­grees Cel­sius tem­per­a­ture, but again, all real-world stuff and noth­ing I wouldn’t nor­mally do on an af­ter­noon foray at this time of year. The shots would have all been clean dis­patch shots, but things were open­ing up.


At 40 yards, the wind was be­com­ing hard to read and con­sis­tency was drop­ping

con­sid­er­ably. Look­ing at the group I could see that al­though I could still make the shot with some ac­cu­racy, there was enough of a group open­ing to cause me to think se­ri­ously about the breezy but not blus­tery con­di­tions, and the im­pact on my abil­ity to be 99% pos­i­tive of a clean kill shot ev­ery time. The third and fifth pel­lets had se­ri­ously drifted off my 20p limit, giv­ing me a 33% chance of po­ten­tially wound­ing my quarry, which to me, is uneth­i­cal. Re­mem­ber, I’m not try­ing to find out if a kill shot can be de­liv­ered at longer range, but what the chances of wound­ing at that range could be and there­fore, when I would say the shot wasn’t on.

At 50 yards, things had opened up to the point that my se­cond shot went wide. My third hit the mark and my fourth was just off. I couldn’t have any­where near the level of con­fi­dence re­quired to take a head shot and as close as guar­an­tee not to wound my quarry.


What I have proved to my­self in this non­sci­en­tific, sim­ple, real-world ex­per­i­ment, and I hope to you guys, is that the dis­tance at which you suc­ceed in shoot­ing a bot­tle top on the range has no cor­re­la­tion to how far you should at­tempt a shot at live quarry. There aren’t the eth­i­cal pa­ram­e­ters in shoot­ing a bot­tle top at the safety of the range, that we must have to hu­manly dis­patch quarry. In per­fect con­di­tions, I can hit an empty car­tridge brass at 65 yards, two out of three times, but I never know if the miss will be the first, se­cond or third shot, so to try to shoot a rab­bit at 40 yards not know­ing if I can of­fer 66% guar­an­tee of no suf­fer­ing on an av­er­age day, is surely wrong.

To con­clude, eth­i­cal hunt­ing means hav­ing enough re­spect for our quarry to en­sure a swift and pain­less end, as far as hu­manly pos­si­ble. So, when hunt­ing, if the risk of in­jury to our quarry is 2% or more, then for me, the shot isn’t on.

A sim­ply stun­ning day to be out plink­ing and learn­ing

The Scor­pion SE in .22 will far out- shoot the ‘flesh bag’ at the trig­ger end

35 yards is my self- im­posed eth­i­cal hunt­ing limit When hunt­ing, if the shot feels wrong, the safety stays on

Real-world hunt­ing con­di­tions for me means seated, free­hand off my knee

The smoke from my fire rope gave an ac­cu­rate wind read­ing

An un­no­ticed dam­aged pel­let can have se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions down­range Any­where can be turned in to a plink­ing range with some card and draw­ing pins to go into a stump

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