A VIEW TO A KILL
Gary Chillingworth is asking if a .22 is better suited to the long-range hunter
Gary Chillingworth answers the question: Do you need a .22 rifle for long-range hunting?
Afew months ago, I wrote a piece about long-range hunting. I looked at whether or not it is genuinely possible to hunt at ranges beyond 45 yards with a sub 12ft.lbs. air rifle, and still get a clean kill every time you pull the trigger.
I used the best kit I had, a HW100 target rifle and Hawke Varmint scope with a bipod, an anemometer – device for reading wind speed – and a laser rangefinder. I found that, for me, a distance of about 40 yards was the maximum that I could accurately hunt at, provided the weather conditions were perfect. This article caused a big debate on shooting forums like Shootingthe-Breeze and on many of the Facebook sites that I frequent.
The vast majority of this debate was very positive and I am glad to say that most of the dedicated hunters I know agreed that shooting at a target the size of a rabbit’s brain (20mm) is only possible out to about 40 yards, to guarantee a 100% clean kill rate, but a few things came up that I thought would be worth looking into.
The first of these is our perception of what is OK and humane. I had a massive argument with one chap who very forcefully told me that he shoots rabbits at 60 yards with his BSA Lightning XL, free-standing, and he never misses. He went on to explain that he only ever went for a head shot and this was fine. After banging my head against a wall, I tried to explain to him that a head shot was not good enough, and that for a clean kill you need to aim at an area that was between the eye and the base of the ear, but he would not listen. He told me that it was all down to the skill of the shooter – he had it, and I did not.
So, this was my message to him. Set out a piece of paper, try to shoot a 20mm group at 30 yards and then get back to me.
“one chap who very forcefully told me that he shoots rabbits at 60 yards with his BSA Lightning XL free- standing”
Strangely enough, he refused to do this and I haven’t heard from him since. This person obviously had a case of the Walter Mittys, but there is a danger with this sort of storytelling. We all know the person who caught a massive fish, just as their camera broke, and this sort of bragging does no real harm, but if we, as shooters, talk about these super-long-range shots, people with little experience in the field might be tempted to emulate what they hear and read. So, this is my request; if you see anyone on the forums or hear anyone telling tall tales about legendary hunting ranges, ask them to prove it, question what they claim, then see how quickly they back down.
The next thing that came up was my choice of calibre. Most of the dedicated hunters stated that I should have been using a .22 instead of a .177 because they transfer more energy into the quarry and give a cleaner kill. There is no doubt that .22 will certainly make a bigger wound, (not necessarily so, Ed.) so I understand the theory, and as I didn’t own a .22 it was a perfect excuse to go to the Airgun Centre in Rayleigh and give my credit card a good hammering. I asked Ben and Terry there
“Most of the dedicated hunters stated that I should have been using a .22 instead of a .177”
what they would recommend, and both pointed me toward the HW100 laminate in .22. I must admit, it is a stunning rifle.
I decided to scope my new rifle with Hawke Sport Optic’s very latest offering, the Sidewinder FFP 4-16 x 50. Now, the important part about this scope is the initials FFP, which stand for (First Focal Plane) and for the hunter this can be a real boon. This means, when you increase the magnification of the scope the reticle stays the same size and just the image gets bigger. With a first focal plane scope, the reticle changes size relative to the image. The advantage is, if you see a longer range target, you can increase the magnification to get a better sight picture and all your aim points will remain the same.
The first thing that I needed to look at was pellet choice. I have always favoured either JSB or Air Arms Diablo Field pellets, and for this test I decided to go with JSB Jumbo RS (weighing in at 13.43grn) these are some of the lightest .22 pellets on the market and after a small amount of leadingin of the barrel, I was getting some tight groups out at 40 yards.
BEYOND 45 YARDS
The issue I found was going out past 45 yards. A .177 pellet flies flat and fast and this is mainly because the .177, 8.44grn pellet is travelling at just under 800fps, and the pellet is slapping into the target almost before you have finished pulling the trigger. The .22 is a different beast, though, because the flight time is considerably longer and so the wind has more time to affect the way
the pellet flies.
My initial testing was done just before dusk and my anemometer showed a wind speed of just 2mph. I logged my aim points and I was happy with my set-up, but the following day, the wind had picked up and I had a headwind and constant speed of about 13mph. With my .177 this made a difference at 45 yards, the pellet dropping about a pellet width below my normal aim point. With the .22 the extra drop at 45 yards was over ½”. I quickly changed ends so I was now shooting with a tail wind, and again, the .177 had very little change, but the .22 was now hitting high, this time only about ¼”.
I THOUGHT I KNEW
When I started to write this article, I thought I knew which way it would go, but this wind effect has me concerned because I am not 100% sure of what is happening. I’ve spoken to Phill, our editor, who has spent a vast number of hours doing airgun ballistics research, and he told me that the longer flight time of the .22 compared to a .177 pellet means the wind has more time to affect the trajectory.
I hoped that this piece would be easy to write because I thought I knew what the answer would be, but as I have always said, we never stop learning and this is one of those cases when I hope you can educate me and I will pass it on. So drop me a line at: email@example.com and let me know your experience when using a .22 to hunt, and how the wind affects you. If you can add a picture of you with your rifle, that would be even better. Next month, I’ll bring you my final test results and wrap this all up.
Using a bipod for maximum stability and reduced human error
Only the black area will give a clean kill, anything else is a wound
Me and Terry from the Airgun Centre, I’m a happy chappy
An anemometer is a great piece of kit for a competitor and a hunter alike
I have some interesting ideas for next month’s testing
I wondered what caused the difference in impact point between the two calibres
This is my 5- shot string at 45 yards, the shot below was when I shot into a headwind