American shooter John Hooper dispels the myth that his countrymen all spend thousands on their guns – and offers some budget ‘stalking’ tips too.
In today’s new world of airguns, there is a plethora (a highbrow word for bunches and bunches) of high-energy, high-technology, and let’s face it, high-dollar choices available. Gone are the days that a $300 German or English air rifle made you one of the elite.
With the recent shortage and higher prices of powder ammo, the dwindling of public lands with liberal gun restrictions and laws of ‘political correctness’, we have seen a boom of high-end air-powered arms.
The reason England and Germany got a head start on the US was due to the same reasons, and we are now starting to catch up with them. Over there, airguns are the only option for many, and it is getting more and more like that here on this side of the pond.
Fifty years ago, there were very few Americans that even knew there was anything but a Daisy or a Benjamin when it came to airguns. Even today, when talking about airguns to the uninformed, I hear ‘they make pellet guns in .22 calibre!’.
They are truly astounded when I tell them there are many options, even in the .50 calibre size, that can take a full-sized buffalo – at least here in the United States, if used properly.
This new age of high-end airguns seems to have taken over the pages of all the publications that even discuss air-powered arms. This is natural for the enthusiast to want to read more about the latest and greatest – and that is all fine and good.
But what about the Saturday afternoon shooter who just wants to get out in the backyard or patch of woods for some plinking or pest control? Or maybe a dad that just wants his kids to grow up knowing the enjoyment you can get from the shooting sports? He might not have the time or resources to load up the young ’uns, the Browning rifle and the SIG Sauer pistols and hop on down to the club. He just wants to set up a few soda cans, or maybe a spinner, and simply enjoy an hour here and there with junior, teaching some fundamentals.
This ‘Saturday afternoon shooter’ may like to do a little light reading on the airgun options available today for less than two months’ salary. Also the modifications that he can do to improve these options without a full-blown machine shop set up in the garage.
If you think about it, there are probably a thousand Crosman 880s sold for every Benjamin Marauder, and the Marauder is on the lower end of the airguns written about in the current US publications. People with limited disposable funds and casual interest like to read as much as the serious airgun enthusiast.
I like to read articles that cover materials I can relate to, as well as articles about things I can dream about. Someday my ship may come in and I can study whether I want to pick up a Daystate Wolverine or an Air Arms S510, but until then, how about a Hatsan 95 or Crosman Prowler?
Maybe something that I could pick up at the Big Box Store after a week with a couple hours of overtime on the pay cheque, then with a few hours tinkering with some basic tools from the garage, turn it into real sweet shooter I would be proud to own? Or maybe a story about a couple of handy items you can throw in your shooting bag to make shooting sessions easier and more enjoyable.
I decided to put my money where my mouth is and start writing myself, covering air rifles, air pistols, optics, modifications, and the tips and tricks of the trade that the average guy or ‘newbie’ can relate to and broaden their enjoyment of the hobby. Let me begin by telling you about one of my recent shoots.
I estimated the distance to my quarry, which was sitting still on the side of a large oak, at between 30 and 35 yards, and I knew from hours of practice this was a zero holdover for my 900 feet per second .177 Crosman Premier hollowpoints.
I carefully centred the crosshairs over the killzone of my prey and slowly squeezed the trigger on the tweaked-out Optimus springer. Then came the sound of solid contact and the frantic dance caused by a direct hit. My quarry finally stopped moving, and it was time for me to move on.
That day, there were no fur or feathers on my ‘quarry’, just plain old stainless steel. My favourite target these days is the ‘four for a dollar’ teaspoons that are available at any discount store.
The normal-sized teaspoon is just about the same size as a headshot on most air rifle-sized game, so you can expect a clean kill at any distance you can readily hit the centre of the teaspoon.
Now for you expert snipers out there, you are still limited by the amount of energy needed for a humane kill on live quarry, but it doesn’t take much energy to score if it is only the elusive spoon spinner you’re after.
I have a small patch of woods right behind my home, and over the years, I have attached about a dozen spoon spinners in various locations. On lazy days, I take my folding stool and do some plinking, along with a bit of nature-watching.
Where I normally sit, I have memorised the distance to the five or so spoons that I can see from that location. This is a great way to ‘dial in’ a new acquisition, or zero in after changing a scope. To keep sharp for hunting or competition, the ‘stalk and estimate game’ gives me some needed practice.
I will randomly ‘stalk’ through these woods, stopping at a different location each time. From that spot, I will try to judge the distance to any visible spoons, then take a couple of shots freehanded, then with a prop, either on a nearby tree or with my shooting sticks.
It can be very humbling and educational trying to estimate yardage in thick cover, or trying a freehand shot at 30 yards on spoon-sized quarry.
Teaspoon spinners are one of the cheapest and longest-lasting of the reactive targets out there. All you need is a drill, a 3/16” drill bit, some 3” drywall screws, some ¼” tubing of metal or plastic, and a handful of teaspoons.
Do yourself a favour and buy them at a dollar store (that’s a pound shop for our UK readers!) – don’t steal them from your wife’s silverware drawer. Usually, the cheaper ones will be thinner and easier to drill the holes in the handle. Drill a 3/16” hole in the largest part of the handle, then twist it 90 degrees from the spoon section.
Cut a one- to one-and-a-quarter-inch piece of tubing. Stick a three-inch screw through the hole in the handle, then slip the piece of tubing on the screw. Then screw the assembly to a handy tree or fence post. The piece of tubing will act as a spacer so the spoon can spin freely when hit.
If you’re hitting them at closer ranges, you may have to do some occasional ‘bodywork’, but just bend the spoons back into shape and keep on shooting.
When you get bored with just punching holes in paper and want some reaction from a solid bullseye, or want to raise your level of hunting skills, then get yourself some new eatin’ utensils and have some fun. Until next time, keep them in the X ring, this is the Saturday Afternoon Shooter signing out.
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