Power isn’t what hunting is about, the editor says
Are airguns powerful enough for hunting? Phill Price debates and then answers the age-old question
As many readers know, my shooting interests extend beyond the wonderful world of airguns so I meet many people from the wider shooting world. Almost everyone I meet has their own airgun story, from those beloved memories of their father’s English-made break-barrel, to their own first airgun, and almost to a man they tell the stories with heartfelt affection. However, every now and then I get confronted with a shooter who says that airguns are just not powerful enough to make them humane sporting rifles. This is usually backed up with an anecdote about how he once shot a rabbit, pigeon or squirrel and that it didn’t die on the spot.
If the teller of the story allows me to explore the circumstances of that shot, it can usually be explained. I ask was the rifle zeroed? The answer is most often ‘no’, or ‘what do you mean?’
Was the rifle in good working order, and had the power been checked recently? Answer ‘no’. How far away was the quarry? “Oh, only about 55 yards.” This one always upsets me.
All these answers tell me that that the shooter didn’t know what he was doing, and ‘ just had a go’. Well, I’m sorry, but that’s not good enough. Often, these people are shotgun shooters who see their guns with 2000+ ft.lbs of muzzle energy launching 250 pellets at a time as invincible, but the proof of my own eyes shows that they are not.
I work labradors on game shoots, and the most important job I do is to use the dogs to gather in quickly any shot bird that is not killed outright. The ones that are dead in the air can be collected at any time, but a wounded bird must be ‘picked’ now, so that I can deliver the coup de gras, a quick blow to the skull with a ‘priest’ or cosh that dispatches the bird as speedily as possible.
The truth is that we all need to understand the limitations of whatever type of rifle or shotgun we use if we’re to call ourselves sporting gentlemen or ladies. The overconfident shotgun shooter having a go at a 60-yard pheasant is every bit as unsporting as an airgunner attempting a 50-yard squirrel.
Shotguns may deliver massive power and multiple shot loads, but just like airguns, their killing ability drops off rapidly as range increases, and the further away our target is, the more aiming errors are multiplied.
It’s a fact that some of our quarry will be shot and lost, but it’s our duty to minimise that with every ounce of effort we possess. Getting closer is much more impressive than shooting further, and if we want to be called ‘sportsmen’ then displaying our fieldcraft skills is what it’s all about, for me. Avoiding windy days, never shooting rabbits close to their warrens, and ensuring that our rifles and skills are tip-top condition are key to reducing the chance of wounding.
You’ll be unsurprised to learn that I believe having a gundog by your side is also a very good idea. Not only will you have a loving companion to accompany you into the countryside, but also their ability to find quarry that could otherwise have been lost and wasted is quite incredible.
Power is only a small part of a successful kill. A pellet through the brain will drop any airgun quarry where it sits, but a badly placed shot may not stop it at all. This is why getting closer is so important. The closer you are the more likely you are to shoot accurately and put the pellet where it needs to be to do the right job. At long range, the wind becomes a huge factor in accuracy. The difference between five and ten mph is hard to judge, but will have a huge affect on our pellet’s flight. At 25 yards it might not matter too much, but at 50 yards, the deflection will be huge. If that causes you to miss, then tough luck. If it causes a wound, then shame on you.
IT IS ENOUGH
Over my shooting career I’ve killed literally thousands of rabbits, squirrels and pigeons, with a good amount of rats, ferals pigeons and corvids thrown in for variety. I know very well that the 12 ft.lbs. airgun was capable of killing them all cleanly as long as I did my part correctly. I’ve also used 50, 60 and 90 ft.lbs. airguns alongside 100ft.lbs. rimfire .22s and I can assure you that the higher power made them no more dead, and that irresponsible shooting still risks wounding.
The honesty, integrity and knowledge of the man have always been more important than the equipment, and I believe that stands true today, whether you’re holding a modest 12 ft.lbs. airgun, or a 3-inch magnum shotgun.
“Shotguns may deliver massive power and multiple shot loads, but just like airguns, their killing ability drops off rapidly as range increases”
I know airguns can kill cleanly because I’ve done it thousands of times
Having one of my dogs by my side is insurance that I value highly
2000 ft. lbs. works well if you keep the distances sensible
It doesn’t take much power to kill a rabbit if the pellet is accurately placed