Hard­man’s Hunt­ing

Phil Hard­man takes us back to the ba­sic facts of a hunter’s life

Airgun World - - Contents -

Stop, look and lis­ten, says Phil. It costs noth­ing and it’ll pay off big time

Asuc­cess­ful hunt, that’s the aim, right? That’s what we all strive for, what we all dream of, that per­fect, suc­cess­ful hunt­ing trip. Ev­ery year, hun­dreds of thou­sands of pounds are spent on ri­fles, pel­lets, scopes, night-vi­sion, cam­ou­flage cloth­ing and ev­ery other thing that any of us spend money on, in an ef­fort to im­prove our suc­cess rate, and that’s the ba­sis of this month’s ar­ti­cle. We’re go­ing to take a look at what we can do to help us to achieve suc­cess – and what def­i­nitely won’t help!

Suc­cess is rel­a­tive to the in­di­vid­ual, that’s the first thing to re­mem­ber, and it’s pos­si­bly the most im­por­tant les­son. If your idea of hunt­ing is a lovely evening out in the coun­try, then that is why you do it, so draw­ing a blank is not a fail­ure. You didn’t fail be­cause you missed that one rab­bit, be­cause your pri­mary goal was to go out, re­lax, get away from the world and recharge your bat­ter­ies. You can take pride in the kills you do get, and you can for­get the ones you don’t, be­cause suc­cess to you, is just be­ing out there.

To oth­ers, suc­cess can be a hand­ful of rab­bits, a 100% ac­cu­racy rate, or a de­cent stalk, and the mea­sure of suc­cess will dif­fer on each trip; two rab­bits one day, or 20 rats the next evening. It’s not al­ways about num­bers. Those two rab­bits might have been a big­ger achieve­ment than the rats in dou­ble num­bers – it de­pends on your land. You can only hunt what is there.


You can­not buy suc­cess, trust me, I’ve tried! It can’t be done. No one can go from be­ing a novice, to in­stantly world cham­pion level of marks­man­ship sim­ply by buy­ing a bet­ter, more ex­pen­sive ri­fle. It doesn’t hap­pen. It will never hap­pen. If I laid out a mid-level pre-charger, and a top end, ‘all singing all danc­ing’ ri­fle, and asked you to shoot one and then the other at the same tar­gets, I bet you’d score roughly the same with ei­ther ri­fle, all other things be­ing equal. Un­til you reach a cer­tain level of marks­man­ship, both ri­fles will eas­ily out-shoot you, and that level is out of reach for most ca­sual air­gun­ners.

What’s more im­por­tant, and could help, is how well a gun fits you. A ri­fle that is com­fort­able to shoot is go­ing to be eas­ier to shoot, so, yes, if you want to buy a more ex­pen­sive ri­fle go ahead, but, it won’t in­stantly make you a bet­ter shot just be­cause it cost more. Any de­cent hunt­ing ri­fle from the main man­u­fac­tur­ers will eas­ily be ca­pa­ble of putting pel­let on pel­let at hunt­ing ranges. The same goes for your scope, or any other thing you can buy. You sim­ply can­not buy ac­cu­racy; it must be earned, by prac­tice, hard work, un­der­stand­ing bal­lis­tics, tra­jec­tory, build­ing mus­cle mem­ory … You need to shoot your gun, then shoot it more, and that costs you noth­ing but time, plus a few quid for pel­lets, and that WILL im­prove your ac­cu­racy, fact!


Cam­ou­flage cloth­ing is an­other area where peo­ple ex­pect mir­a­cles. It’s not an in­vis­i­bil­ity cloak. It doesn’t mat­ter how much it costs, or how fancy it looks, it will not en­able you to walk around un­de­tected, any­where, ever! For­get it, it’s not hap­pen­ing. Camo is great for com­ple­ment­ing, your field craft, but that’s all it does. It helps you – helps! You still have to do it right. You still have to choose the routes with the most cover, know when to move and when not to; you have to use the shad­ows, you still need to hide, to be hid­den.


All camo does is helps to make you feel hid­den, and if you feel hid­den, you will tend to act hid­den, and so it works, and you say to your mates, “Wow! This pat­tern is great!” – but it’s partly a placebo. If you acted like that in a solid green jumper and brown trousers, you’d have pretty much the same lev­els of suc­cess, but you don’t be­cause when you’re dressed in highly vis­i­ble cloth­ing, you tend to be­have as if you’re vis­i­ble. So buy the best camo by all means, but re­mem­ber, with­out you do­ing your bit, you might as well wear a pink shower cur­tain. They’ll see you move, they’ll see you in the sun­light, they’ll hear you, and not one of them will care what you were wear­ing. Prac­tise

“One day you will get the shot on a real an­i­mal and you won’t miss it ”

your field craft, buy clothes that keep you warm and dry, and worry about the pat­tern af­ter that.


Prac­tise the shots you never take! I know, you’re think­ing, ‘Why prac­tise them if I never take them?’ but you need to prac­tise those more. Think of it this way; the shots you reg­u­larly take, you are al­ready prac­tis­ing of­ten – be­cause you take them of­ten – but the shots you never take, you haven’t ever prac­tised, and one day, a tar­get will present it­self at an odd an­gle, or a range you never shoot, and you will have to take the shot as you are.

When was the last time you shot at a two-yard tar­get? Do you know where to aim for that? High, you need to aim high. If it’s that close, you need to aim high by roughly the same dis­tance that the cen­tre of your scope sits above the cen­tre of your bar­rel. Do you know what that dis­tance is? It de­pends on your mounts, and your scope, so mea­sure it and then go out and try a two-yard shot. Prac­tise it! One day you will get the shot on a real an­i­mal, and you won’t miss it be­cause you will have prac­tised it.


Have you ever shot straight up at 90 de­grees? Do you know where to aim? If not, go out and do it, and find out! If you’re hunt­ing, these shots will be pre­sented to you sooner or later, and they could make or break your hunt­ing trip so it’s bet­ter to know where to aim. Go out and prac­tise un­til you know it, all of it – any an­gle, any dis­tance. If you don’t, then there’s no point spend­ing a sin­gle penny buy­ing any­thing in the search for suc­cess. No ri­fle, scope, or fancy lit­tle gad­get will help to make up for lack of ex­pe­ri­ence. You will miss be­cause you will have to guess, and guess­ing never leads to good shoot­ing, and against live an­i­mals it’s not ac­cept­able.

When it comes to hunt­ing, you are the weak link, not your gear, and only you can make a dif­fer­ence to that. Com­pa­nies put mil­lions into R&D to make sure their ri­fles per­form at the max­i­mum, in an ef­fort to help you. What do you put into mak­ing sure you re per­form­ing at your max­i­mum, so you don’t let that ri­fle down?


The fi­nal tip I have for to­day, is one of the most im­por­tant. No mat­ter how well you can shoot, or how ef­fec­tively you can re­main un­de­tected, you won’t be suc­cess­ful if you’re look­ing in the wrong places, so learn your land! I can­not stress this highly enough; go out, leave the gun at home so you can con­cen­trate in­stead on look­ing around prop­erly, for signs of quarry ac­tiv­ity; foot­prints in soft mud, drop­pings, holes dug in the edges of field, ar­eas where grass has been worn down by rab­bits, ex­cess food, any­thing that can point you in the right di­rec­tion – then watch, sit back some­where and ob­serve for a while. All land has ar­eas that are well used by an­i­mals, for feed­ing, as a home, breed­ing, what­ever. Other ar­eas are not so well pop­u­lated. On each hunt­ing trip, you will have a lim­ited amount of time, to get the max­i­mum re­sults for your work, so work out the ar­eas of land that are quarry ‘hot spots’, and which can be avoided. Why spent an hour stalk­ing a hedgerow with a very slim chance of a rab­bit kill, when you can spend 20 min­utes stalk­ing a dif­fer­ent area that al­most guar­an­tees you a shot or two?


Lastly, I wanted to cover what is, for me, the most an­noy­ing dis­cus­sion in air­gun­ning – the cal­i­bre de­bate, .177 ver­sus .22. The sim­ple fact is, it doesn’t mat­ter – it re­ally doesn’t. I use .177 these days, be­cause I’m con­vinced it helps me place my shots more pre­cisely, but I used .22 for 15 years. You should be shoot­ing your quarry in the brain, and a clean hit there, no mat­ter the size of the pel­let, is fi­nal and in­stant. Yes, they do dif­fer slightly, which is why there is a never-end­ing ar­gu­ment, but once you know your tra­jec­tory, and where to aim for any given range, then you’re good to go – a head shot, is a dead shot, be it .177, .20, or .22.


That’s enough lec­tur­ing from me, this month, and I’ll sign off by re­peat­ing the ba­sic mes­sage. The only way to bring your ef­fec­tive­ness as a hunter to its ab­so­lute peak, is to get your part right. Of course you need suit­able hard­ware and cloth­ing, but un­til you’re do­ing your best to match the qual­ity of your gear, you’ll never be as good as you could be.

See you next month. I

Binoc­u­lars will help with ob­ser­va­tion from afar, but it pays to walk ev­ery inch of the land so you don’t miss any­thing.

Camo cloth­ing will not make any dif­fer­ence if you do things like sil­hou­et­ting your­self against the sky.

Some­times you just have to stop. Just stop what you’re do­ing, and watch – it’s the only way to learn.

Learn­ing how to get the best from the ri­fle you al­ready use is far bet­ter than con­stantly try­ing to buy new ones to im­prove.

Food stored in this amount is sure to at­tract ver­min of all kinds.

Ce­re­als and grains will at­tract ev­ery­thing from rats to pi­geons, and even mag­pies.

Some signs of ver­min ac­tiv­ity are glar­ingly ob­vi­ous.

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