HUNT­ING US STYLE

Jim Chap­man dis­cusses the virtues in the field of this lesser-known cal­i­bre

Air Gunner - - Contents -

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.

VERY SHOOTABLE

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.

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