HUNTING US STYLE
Jim Chapman discusses the virtues in the field of this lesser-known calibre
Jim Chapman takes his .30 calibre FX Impact on a trip to South Dakota, in search of prarie dogs
Leaving behind a brutal winter, I was ready for my first prairie dog hunt of 2018. Last year, I wrote about a prairie dog shoot out in South Dakota that my friend and outfitter, Brett Waibel, had hosted for several airgun hunters, and we’d scheduled a follow- up event for this year. It’s a six- hour drive to Brett’s ranch from my home base in Minnesota, and as I checked the weather forecast, I could see the conditions would be challenging; intermittent rain, cooler weather, and some gusty winds would be the order of the day on Saturday, the rain letting up on Sunday, although the wind would continue to blow.
I’d originally opted to bring a couple of smaller- bore rifles, one in .22 and one in .25 calibre as my primary arms, but in consideration of the winds I decided to bring the .30 calibre FX Impact instead. This rifle is intrinsically accurate, due in part to the Smooth Twist barrel, a trigger that breaks like a glass rod, and unparalleled adjustability. The regulator on my rifle was set at 1450 psi, which on a 3600- psi fill would provide around 40 very consistent shots. I reckoned the .30 calibre would be a better choice for longrange shooting, due to the heavier projectiles conserving energy more efficiently and being less influenced by the forecast winds. I also packed the .25 calibre barrel, so I always had the option to swap over to the smaller calibre if desired.
THE LONG ROAD
The drive took me through Minnesota farm country dotted with lakes and marshes, over several large rivers – the Mississippi, Missouri, and Minnesota – and into the sprawling ranches of South Dakota. Along the highway, I saw deer, antelope, turkey, coyote, countless pheasants, and watched a badger tearing up a prairie dog burrow on the side of the road.
I was the first to arrive and used the time to fine- tune my rifle with the .30 calibre barrel. After some initial adjustments, I set the target at 75 yards, assumed a prone position, and resting the Impact over my daypack, easily put 10 shots into the kill zone of a prairie dog. I spent a couple of hours moving the target from 30 to 100 yards to note the point of impact; the wind was blowing a steady 15mph, and although I need a little Kentucky windage to get on target, once I had it dialled in, I was able to place my shots consistently on target.
I felt very confident with this rig: the only variable I was not completely comfortable with was the wind. The sighting- in process had demonstrated a need to give due consideration to the effect of wind, particularly as the range was extended. When hunting, my approach was to take a shot at a dirt clod sitting near a burrow, to estimate necessary windage adjustments before shooting at live quarry. This did not interfere with hunting because when I walked into an area, every prairie dog within a couple of hundred yards would dive down their burrows. I’d quickly set up, take my test shot(s), then wait for these burrowing rodents to start popping up.
FEWER SHOTS PER FILL
The downside of the .30 is the additional air required, with only 40 shots on tap and the potential to take over a 100 prairie dogs per day. The carbon-fibre air bottle on the Impact is removable, which allows an extra bottle to be carried and swapped over in the field, but I don’t have an extra bottle yet, so I slipped a small 4500 psi CF buddy bottle into my daypack, giving me a couple of hundred additional shots. I’d brought along an Omega Compressor, and a half a dozen carbon-fibre tanks of different sizes, to make sure that everyone had enough air, but as it turned out, we had several extra tanks and three other compressors in our mountain of gear!
Besides multiple filling stations, this group of airgun hunting aficionados – fanatics? – brought a couple of truckloads of gear along; multiple rifles, sleeves of pellets, shooting benches, target stands, chronographs, tools, and just about anything else that might be needed. The most well-represented brand of gun was FX; there were four Impacts (all .30s), three Wildcats (all .25s) and a Royale. Next were Daystates, with a couple of Wolverines and a Renegade, a couple of Brocock Compattos, and a few miscellaneous guns from Hatsan, Air Arms, and Ataman.
I found it interesting that in such
a small group of shooters, there were so many FX Impacts being used. Three of the four guys shooting Impacts also had Wildcats with them, and all had a similar outlook when discussing their shooting rigs. They stated that the Wildcat was a favoured gun, but when they’d seen the weather conditions and the fact that we’d be shooting in wind, they’d wanted a .30 calibre. This was invariably followed by the comment, ‘FX needs to do a Wildcat in .30!’ More to the point, the common view of this group of shooters was that the Impact .30 calibre was a longdistance shooting machine, some preferring the 40.75 grain JSB Exacts and some the 50.15 grain Heavies for long- range shooting applications.
I ended up using the Impact most of the weekend and was well pleased by its performance. Whilst the gun has a minimalist look, the design is very ergonomic. Walking several miles daily, I found the gun lightweight and compact to carry, but more importantly, it was shootable from sitting, kneeling, or prone positions and either being rested on sticks or laid over my daypack. The 14- shot rotary magazine functioned flawlessly, and the side- lever action was very smooth and fast to cycle.
The most productive method was to walk up to a town, sit down and watch the activity for a few minutes, then walk into an area where these burrowing rodents had been seen and settle in for the wait. On being approached, prairie dogs will drop down into their burrows, where you can hear them barking a warning call underground. After 10-15 minutes, some of the braver animals start to resurface, usually further away, but if the hunter stays still they’ll start coming up closer.
At this time of year, and under these conditions, most of the prairie dogs did not come all the way out of their burrows, but rather poked their head just over the lip of the burrow mound. There was not much of a target, but as a result, shots tended to be clean hits or misses. When a dog was hit, they’d slide directly down the holes, which often dropped several feet straight down. Most of the dogs shot are eaten by various predators/scavengers, not to mention being cannibalised by their den mates.
MORE VELOCITY DOWNRANGE
As previously mentioned, the Impact performed flawlessly, but it was the .30 calibre performance I was specifically interested in. The JSB 50.15 grain Exact pellet was being propelled at 850 fps, which is only 35 fps less at the muzzle than is being achieved with the .25 calibre barrel shooting 25 grain JSB Exacts. I didn’t find a substantial difference in the trajectory between the two calibres, and suspect that at longer distances the .30 calibre pellet is travelling at a slightly higher velocity. A definite advantage of the .30 is the outstanding terminal performance on quarry, clearly hitting harder than the .25.
The trade- offs are twofold; first the .25 calibre working at maximum power settings is providing about 90 shots per fill, whilst the .30 calibre yields 40. For most hunting applications this is a non- issue, but in high- density target situations such as prairie dog hunting, the lower shot count needs to be taken into consideration. Additionally, the pellet availability is more limited, and the price of pellets is higher. My feeling, and this is admittedly anecdotal, is that the .30 has a slight edge in windier conditions and longer- range shooting. If the wind is not blowing, or the range is inside of 50 yards, I don’t think it really matters – on prairie dog- sized quarry. However, I do like the fact that the .30 hits much harder ( 80 vs. 40 ft.lbs.), generates a larger wound channel and could be used for larger game, providing a slight edge when longer shots on quarry are needed.
When the grass is short, the prone position gives the best mix of mobility and stability
TOP LEFT: I took my Omega compressor and various carbonfibre tanks
BELOW: Jim put in the miles and found the Impact easy to carry
BOTTOM LEFT: Jim lines up with the other guys who had brought .30 calibre FX Impacts for the shoot
RIGHT: The .30 calibre was a strong performer for this long- range pest control
LEFT: When the grass is long and the weather warmer, the dogs come out in numbers.