Can Air­guns Make a Dif­fer­ence?

Jim Chapman is back in Puerto Rico af­ter prob­lem lizards

Air Gunner - - International Hunting -

M y un­der­stand­ing is that in the UK, all species hunted with air­guns are clas­si­fied as ver­min or pests. In the USA, we have two pri­mary types of small quarry avail­able to air­gun­ners; game species, such as squir­rel, rab­bit, turkey, quail; and ver­min, such as prairie dogs, ground squir­rels, pi­geons, and Eurasian col­lared doves. There are also larger species clas­si­fied as preda­tors, such as coy­ote, fox, and bob­cats. It might seem a lit­tle con­fus­ing, but an­i­mals can tran­scend clas­si­fi­ca­tions: In some states, bob­cat and fox are also fur bear­ers, and in cer­tain sce­nar­ios rab­bits and squir­rels be­come pest an­i­mals. What’s im­por­tant is that when an an­i­mal is clas­si­fied as ‘game’ it has cer­tain pro­tec­tions; lim­its, sea­sons, and meth­ods of take, whereas an an­i­mal clas­si­fied as a pest, varmint or predator can gen­er­ally be taken at any time, in any num­ber, by any method of take.

An­i­mals that tend to over­pop­u­late, cause dam­age to the en­vi­ron­ment, be a vec­tor for dis­ease, cause dam­age to prop­erty, or are not indigenous and dis­place na­tive species, are typ­i­cally – but not al­ways – clas­si­fied as pest species. There are lim­ited meth­ods avail­able to con­trol these pest pop­u­la­tions; trap­ping, poi­son­ing, or shoot­ing be­ing the most com­monly em­ployed. Trap­ping can be ef­fec­tive for some species and poi­son­ing is ef­fec­tive, but non-spe­cific and neg­a­tively im­pacts other species. In our coun­try, these species are of­ten shot with firearms, but there are sit­u­a­tions where firearms can’t be used due to safety con­cerns, noise con­trol, or le­gal­ity. I am of­ten asked whether or not I be­lieve air­guns are ef­fec­tive enough to make a dif­fer­ence.


There are cer­tain sit­u­a­tions where I be­lieve air­guns can con­trib­ute as part of a broader man­age­ment strat­egy. Prairie dogs can oc­cur in the thou­sands, and the ma­jor­ity won’t let a hu­man within 100 yards be­fore div­ing down their bur­rows. With the right tech­niques, air­gun hunters can get in close enough for a shot, but the process is time con­sum­ing, and where a hunter us­ing a small bore cen­tre­fire might take 300- 400 of these bur­row­ing ro­dents in a day, 50 is a great day’s bag for an air­gun­ner, but there are ar­eas around live­stock, ac­tive farm­ing op­er­a­tions, and out­build­ings or equip­ment where a firearm (even a rim­fire) is not prac­ti­cal. These are usu­ally smaller dog towns over a more lim­ited range, which are ideally suited for air­gun hunters, and whilst it is ad­mit­tedly anec­do­tal, I have seen sev­eral pas­tures re­claimed by us­ing air­guns, where in the past poi­sons would have been laid.

I’m go­ing to tell you about a sit­u­a­tion in which air­guns alone have pro­vided a so­lu­tion, and I think rep­re­sents a great ex­am­ple of our ef­fi­cacy as pest con­trollers. This week, I have been in Puerto Rico at a Hat­san- spon­sored iguana shoot. I was last on this farm three years ago, and there is a marked dif­fer­ence in the scope of the prob­lem be­tween these trips. On my first visit, there were lit­er­ally hundreds of igua­nas across the en­tire farm, which sig­nif­i­cantly im­pacted the abil­ity to raise crops. We would shoot a hun­dred one day, and on re­turn­ing to the same area the next, would not see a dif­fer­ence. It was not un­usual to walk by a tree and see 20 igua­nas aloft in the branches. Be­sides crops be­ing de­stroyed and struc­tures be­ing un­der­mined by these lizards bur­row­ing, they were also de­nud­ing the sur­round­ing forests.


A per­fectly rea­son­able ques­tion is, ‘ Why are igua­nas out of con­trol and why kill them?’ The an­swer is straight­for­ward: On the is­land of Puerto Rico, igua­nas are not na­tive. It is be­lieved that pet own­ers let a few go and the pop­u­la­tion is now es­ti­mated at ap­prox­i­mately four mil­lion. That’s more igua­nas than peo­ple on the is­land, and they are ev­ery­where! There have been ar­ti­cles on the Na­tional Geo­graphic web­site, Wall Street jour­nal, and New York Times about the dam­age be­ing done to Puerto Rico’s en­vi­ron­ment, econ­omy, and in­fra­struc­ture.

Three or four years ago, the pres­i­dent of Hat­san USA, Blain Man­i­fold, was meet­ing with his dealer in Puerto Rico, who ex­plained that the up­swing in air­gun sales was re­lated to groups try­ing to re­duce the iguana num­bers. He was taken to a small farm and had the op­por­tu­nity to see the dam­age done first- hand. A cou­ple man­age­ment schemes were un­der­way; one was to ex­port the meat to Cen­tral Amer­ica where it is con­sid­ered a del­i­cacy, and the other was to set up varmint hunt­ing out­fit­ters. These op­tions served a dou­ble pur­pose; to re­move/re­duce the out- of- con­trol pop­u­la­tion, and se­condly, to pro­vide a rev­enue stream to the lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. Blain started work­ing with lo­cals to put on events to show­case his prod­ucts, but also to bring

aware­ness of the prob­lem. The first event was at­tended by writ­ers from sev­eral of the well- known Amer­i­can hunt­ing pub­li­ca­tions, with the ad­di­tional ob­jec­tive of help­ing to spread the word about the use of air­guns as valid hunt­ing tools.


We hunted iguana, wrote sev­eral ar­ti­cles and ac­com­plished our goals, im­proved aware­ness of air­guns, started the re­duc­tion of igua­nas on this one farm, and got the word out. There are now sev­eral guides bring­ing vis­i­tors on iguana hunts, which has turned out a much more prac­ti­cal so­lu­tion than the ex­port of iguana meat, due to reg­u­la­tory red tape. Al­though the large num­ber of igua­nas har­vested on that first hunt hardly put a dent in the pop­u­la­tion, it was a start. There have been sev­eral iguana shoots and con­tin­ued pres­sure on the farm, and where the pop­u­la­tion was counted in the hundreds three years ago, it was counted in the tens this year.

Now it’s true that the hur­ri­cane wreaked havoc on the is­land, and they still haven’t re­cov­ered, but other farms and prop­er­ties with­out hunt­ing have not seen an ap­pre­cia­ble de­cline in the pop­u­la­tion. The ma­jor dif­fer­ence is that two or three times per year there is a large- scale iguana shoot. No poi­son has been used, trap­ping doesn’t work, but culling them with an air­gun does. Another ques­tion that bub­bles up in this dis­cus­sion is, ‘ Why not use a rim­fire?” In Puerto Rico the use of a firearm out­side of con­trolled en­vi­ron­ments, such as gun clubs and ranges, is pro­hib­ited so air­guns are the only prac­ti­cal op­tion.

I re­ally had to work for my shots on this trip. The igua­nas were sparser, the post- hur­ri­cane land­scape looked post- apoc­a­lyp­tic in some ar­eas. Com­plete forests were re­duced to tan­gles of over­turned trees, and the lit­tle stream that had run along a gen­tly slop­ing river bot­tom was now at the bot­tom of a huge ravine with 50 foot sheer walls con­tain­ing it. It was also hot and hu­mid and I was as close to heat­stroke as I’ve ever been.


I found that when walk­ing along the road, or through the plan­tain groves bor­der­ing the edge of the ravine, I was at eye level or shoot­ing down into the re­main­ing trees. Whilst I did oc­ca­sion­ally find a tree with sev­eral lizards, for the most part there were no more than a cou­ple. On the last trip the ma­jor­ity of my shots were straight up into the trees, braced against the trunk – on this trip the ma­jor­ity were ei­ther prone or sit­ting.

I used the Hat­san AirMax .22, the Bul­lBoss .25, and the FlashPup .25, and for all three guns shot H& N Hunter Ex­treme pel­lets. All three of these ‘pups worked well, but I es­pe­cially liked the AirMax, al­though would have pre­ferred it in .25 cal­i­bre. I stuck with head­shots, and while the .22 hit hard and pen­e­trated well, on the large five­foot-plus igua­nas, a sec­ond shot was some­times needed, whilst the .25 was much more ef­fec­tive in pro­duc­ing oneshot kills. On the smaller lizard in the three-foot range, cal­i­bre didn’t seem to mat­ter much.

So, to revisit the ques­tion posed at the be­gin­ning of this ar­ti­cle, I would say, ‘Yes, air­guns can be an ef­fec­tive means of re­duc­ing pest pop­u­la­tions.’ I’ve heard non-hunters ac­cuse us of us­ing the ‘pest con­trol’ card to jus­tify what they see as mean­ing­less slaugh­ter for fun, but I would ar­gue that when done at the ap­pro­pri­ate scale to place pres­sure on pest species, it is very ef­fec­tive and can re­duce or re­move the re­liance on poi­son. Fur­ther, I would ar­gue it is the most hu­mane method that al­lows spe­cific tar­get­ing of the prob­lem species.

MAIN: I re­ally en­joyed the Hat­san FlashPup in .25 BE­LOW: Rolling up to the farm with a truck­load of gear!

BE­LOW: I set up a rest sta­tion in what­ever shade I could find, with cooler, air, and other gear

LEFT: it was far less com­mon to find them out in the open, com­pared to my pre­vi­ous visit

ABOVE: Igua­nas would pop out of a clump of leaves, then just as quickly drop out of sight

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