In terms of airgun hunting, the last 12 months or so was one of the most experimental periods I’ve ever experienced.
I began and ended a protracted FAC hunting project, laying aside my sub-12 rifles to see if I could achieve everything I needed to using a high-powered air rifle. In a nutshell, I couldn’t.
I then put aside my lifetime favourite calibre (.22) to experiment seriously with the .177 calibre. Again, I was seriously unimpressed. I even played with .177 at FAC level, which was an absolute disaster.
Some months ago, I went back to ‘simple’, walking wood and field with a little .22 BSA Ultra SE. A period which restored (I must confess) my waning interest in hunting at that time. I enjoyed a cracking summer and autumn, with a cracking and deadly-accurate little rifle.
Then, a few weeks ago, I dusted off my .22 Weihrauch HW100K-S – I’m speaking figuratively, of course, as I look after my guns!. We went for a walkabout. Sometimes, as they say, a change is good as a rest…
After a few months using the Ultra, which you can almost spin on your finger like John Wayne with a Colt revolver (but don’t try that at home!), my HW initially felt really heavy; it’s a stocky gun.
But as soon as I lifted it to the shoulder to look through the scope, I got that old, familiar feeling of supreme confidence.
Do you ever pick up one of your guns and get a warm shiver down your spine? I have shot the HW100 model in various guises now for 10 years, and every time I lift one up, particularly after a deliberate parting, I get that ‘buzz’.
Helga (as my HW100K-S is christened) has been married for some years now to a Hawke Sidewinder SR6 scope – a point, shoot, kill combo. The only potential weak link in this sequence is the shooter; the equipment is fail-safe.
I took the motor and gun into a quiet field corner and set up on some PDT zeroing targets from Gr8fun Targets. Dylan, my lurcher, looked on from the tailgate and I’d swear he was excited to see the Weihrauch come out of the bag.
Surprisingly, there had been a bit of zero creep, but a few clicks on both windage and elevation soon had the pellets zipping through the cards in 10mm groups at 30 yards.
Scope creep can happen in storage, even if only through temperature changes in your home. Happy that this was now resolved, though, I topped up the air from the 3-litre air bottle in my X-Trail and set off on a walkabout along the field margin, Dylan trotting happily at my side.
Without even shooting or spotting quarry, I lifted the gun regularly to set up imaginary elevated shots or standing shots, just to check that my arm muscles were still tuned to the weight. Thankfully, they were. Very little shake; none with a controlled breath. In fact, the extra weight felt comfortable, the balance good.
My mind slipped back to the elevated 40-yard shots I’ve taken at lofted crows and magpies with this combo. I’d never have attempted that distance with other legal limit guns, but this combination is so familiar to me, I can test my capability without conscience.
Not to mention the practice at horse chestnut kernels and pine cones at the top of distant trees. Every time I mounted the rifle, Dylan went into ‘alert’ mode, thinking I’d spotted his mortal enemy, the grey squirrel! Conscious I was teasing my faithful companion too much, I stopped the play-shooting.
We stole from the low-sunlit stubbles into the gloom of the pheasant coverts. Even in the midst of winter, the close-growing beech and hazel, scarved in ivy and mistletoe and interspersed with holly bushes, was a dark sanctuary. I stayed the dog in his tracks and crouched to let my eyes get used to the darker panorama of the lush wood.
A tinkling sound, like a light waterfall, surrounded me. Dylan’s ears pricked and, like me, he looked into the holly bushes around us seeking the source of this magical sound.
There were tiny sprites dancing in the holly and yew, too fast to identify. Then, a few feet away, a couple of goldcrests alit on a branch. As they scolded us, more fluttered about, clearly distressed at our presence. Their song was like a glass wind-chime.
Too close to the dog for comfort, I whispered a firm ‘leave!’ command and, reluctantly, stood up to disperse them.
We had pest control work to do – which, of course, was in their best interest, too (even though they could never know that). I have never seen a winter flock of goldcrests before, and there must have been 20 or more here.
If nothing else happened today, I was already happy. We moved on…
The chatter of magpies on the far side of the wood had me watching the treetops. These bandits gather in flocks of a dozen or more during the winter, collectively known as a ‘murder’ – and for good reason.
It’s common to see them chasing across the crowns of bare trees so the opportunistic hunter should stand still, in cover, and watch them pass over, gun at the ready.
The magpies will take turns on ‘point patrol’; one will move to the front and pause to look about, then the next flies past and does the same until the whole flock have leapfrogged each other.
You need to be quick on the scope and range – and I prefer it when they pass across at a distance of about 30 yards.
As I waited today, pulling the dog close into the tree with me, a murder tribe of about 15 fluttered and cackled directly overhead – but none presented a responsible shot, so they passed untouched, much to my frustration.
Dylan went back to work, nose down and scenting for squirrel sign. In a wood like this, a mixture of coniferous and deciduous trees, that sign is prolific.
Before long, the dog’s nose came into its own and he ‘marked’ by lifting his left foreleg while he looked about.
That told me he was on to fresh scent. He looked at me, and in that telling exchange between master and dog, I instantly knew that there was a grey squirrel somewhere within 50 yards of us.
We moved on slowly, my eyes flashing side to side and ears listening for scurrying. Dylan was doing the same, but much more efficiently, as always.
He halted, paw waggling and staring up into a nearby tree. I followed his gaze to see a grey, frozen on a branch, outstretched. Dylan was trembling, both creatures staring each other out.
I raised the rifle, lined up the scope and allowed for the elevation. I whispered another firm ‘leave!’ Due to the movement, the squirrel was looking at me when the pellet struck.
The dog obeyed and stood his ground as the grey toppled and hit the ground. As it did so, I was conscious of other movement in the surrounding trees. I scoped the creature on the floor and, happy it had expired, released Dylan to retrieve.
I looked about and watched a second grey tracking quickly away. I released a shot at its first pause, but my pellet flew way over its head and it leapt to safety.
I stood looking at the end of the rifle, realising that I had just marked the animal on the reticule as if I was using the little Ultra SE. A minor difference, but enough to be inaccurate.
My HW100K-S has a much lower power curve than my BSA Ultra SE and it was still at full charge (200 BAR).
I’d just fallen foul of one of the oldest shooting preachings: Beware the man with one gun, for he knows how to use it!
I didn’t have any further misses after that because, before moving on, I took some time to plink at natural targets and familiarise myself again with my older rifle over random distances. We ended up bagging a hat-trick of greys, so I was happy.
Truthfully, though, there’s a lot to be said about constant practice with just the one, reliable rifle.
When my lad, Sam, was younger and out with me, he would constantly challenge me with targets at random distances – and look amazed when I hit them first time. That was at a time when I was shooting an HW100K-T, again .22, and shunning all other guns.
Recent experimentation with different powers, calibres and rifles has, without doubt, added some confusion to my addled old shooting brain. A wiser man than me would now sit back and settle into that ‘one gun’ discipline again, casting off temptation to experiment. I am fast approaching that time again.
Yet, before I do, there is just one more calibre that I feel the need to test in the field. Regular readers know how much I love the .22 for its lack of over-penetration and its terminal ‘punch’.
They also know my disdain for the .177 after much trial. Unsurprisingly, it’s been suggested by some that I should try .20.
Hmmmm… I may just be tempted!