HFT pest control with Pete Muir

Reigning .22 class world HFT champion Pete Muir takes on a different course of fire after being asked to help out with a local vermin problem.

The airgunning community as a whole has many different facets to it, be it hunting, pest control, benchrest, HFT/FT, bell target or plinking. How many shooters of these disciplines could lend a helping hand to one another with a transfer of skill set? Probably more than you might think, as I was about to find out.

With the HFT scene at a standstill I’d been at a bit of a loose end in terms of my shooting, so when I received a call from one of my near neighbours to help him out with some pest control I thought it was a good excuse to dust off the cobwebs. Even though pest control expert Andy Corbett and I live near each other we hadn’t actually shot together other than at the Northern Monkey HFT shoots that we both attend.

The popular opinion of a lot of people is that Hunter Field Target competitions don’t reflect the true nature of hunting. I’ll take this opportunity to point out that it isn’t meant to do this. HFT is merely a style of target shooting with the added “Hunter” part differentiating it from standard Field Target. Either way, I think plenty of hunters could do a lot worse than trying their hand at HFT.

Guns And Gear

I don’t own any camo, so I wore my usual competition outfit of my dependable North Face jacket and trousers. Rifle-wise I went with an HFT setup that I knew was ready to go. Now at the risk of expulsion from the .22 Brotherhood I must confess publicly that I bowed down to the piddly cal and took my .177 Steyr LG110 with MTC Connect 3-12 x 24 scope. This was fitted with a Weihrauch silencer.

My reasoning being that seeing as every hunter should shoot as humanely as possible and within his or her capabilities, the flatter trajectory of the .177 gives me more confidence than the .22. Now both calibres will do the same job, but as I was expecting to be rangefinding by eye I went for the more forgiving calibre.

Pete uses the reverse kneeler position he adapts for HFT positional shots with an old mining truck as a welcome support

We met just before first light at Andy’s permission on a very cold morning. Andy is well known for his vermin control around our area and does a lot of work for the horse and stable owners. This was one such place with the problematic rabbits coming out of a woodland.

Now here is where our setups differed. Andy was dressed in camo and was equipped with his FX Dreamline in Saber Tactical stock fitted with a Hawke Sidewinder FFP scope and side-mounted rangefinder, a lot of the additional parts being 3D-printed at home to suit Andy’s needs.

A quick zero before we started ensured we were good to go and off we set. Andy explained how he lets the breeze dictate which way he goes as he wants to keep downwind, the first of many tips I would have been blind to. But this morning it was a fresh minus four degrees with zero wind, so we didn’t have that problem. 

On The Permission

As we walked round a field Andy stopped us. I was staring with my Mk 1 HFT eyeball, trying to spot something, but my companion on the other hand was seeing rabbits quite easily with the aid of his thermal spotting scope. This is an impressive bit of kit and not the sort of thing I was expecting.

To try to get within distance we went down a hedgeline, but my stalking skills were restricted to walking an HFT course as every one of my moves seemed to spook the bunnies as I crunched and snapped my way across the frozen ground.

Pete and Andy enjoyed this beautiful winter morning sunrise in the countryside – one of the many additional benefits shooting brings

It wasn’t a good start for the HFT man, so Andy took us to some woodland where he expected we’d be productive. An old mining truck from the drift mine days lay between myself and a rabbit approximately 60 yards away. I managed to get to it for a shot of about 30 yards which was conveniently my zero. Using the truck for support I put the crosshairs between the eye and ear of the rabbit and then waited an eternity to make sure it wouldn’t move. It moved.

My arm was aching by now, having been carrying the Steyr, which I also had to be careful with due to the unusual length thanks to the silencer I’d added. Being a single-shot target rifle, with a featherlight trigger and no safety catch, I wasn’t loading until a shot presented itself.

My choice of setup wasn’t turning out to be as adaptable as I expected, whereas I noticed Andy had a simple and short single-point sling attachment and a magazine-fed rifle with a safety catch. After some whinging on my behalf we had a brief sit up against a couple of trees using our HFT kneeling cushions. The darkness was disappearing, giving way to a beautiful sunrise that I hoped would bring some welcome warmth.

I was assured the wildlife would soon be confident enough to venture out if we remained silent, and sure enough I
was greeted to wrens, robins and even a quizzical blackbird that stood between my feet looking at me with its head to one side. I turned around to see if my shooting partner had witnessed this, but he was gone. 

I hadn’t even heard Andy move. I watched as he silently moved towards a tree and then heard a familiar thwack. He explained that he had taken a bunny at 25 yards that was destined to  make its way into one of his famous slow-cooked rabbit casseroles.

Andy’s FX Dreamline has been personalised with some useful accessories that were made using a 3D printer

After more whining from me about my frozen feet, we moved on to warm up some. As we came to the end of the woods Andy held a flat hand signal for me to wait. A shot presented itself that he took, which left the HFT shooter feeling more like a hindrance than a help.

To finish off we went to part of the permission that attracts grey squirrels to feed. Now our part of Northern England is borderline red squirrel territory, so it is vital that we do our utmost to try to help stem the spread of the non-native grey. 

Just as we were about to leave we spotted a bushy-tail in the canopy. Using the technique of positioning one shooter each side of the tree, a shot was presented to me. Andy nodded and I prepared to dispatch a squirrel with a relatively simple shot. 

So I then fumbled in my pocket for a pellet, moaned that my hands were numb, the pellets too small and the cocking lever got in the way of loading when I was pointing the rifle down. I then looked up to take aim.

“Oh Andy, it’s buggered off!” I explained to my friend, who merely shook his head and called it a day. 

The Pest Controller’s Take On Things

Andy Corbett shoots HFT but controls pests as well, and reckons the hunter has something to learn from the target shooting fraternity. He explained: “I’ve picked up a lot from HFT that has helped, things like being more proficient taking standing and kneeling shots.

“The use of a hamster is very handy when out hunting as it can be used for resting on your knee when taking sitting shots and can be used instead of a bipod in conjunction with a shooting cushion. I even use a windicator – who would’ve thought a hunter would find that useful? But it works pretty well for me.

“My maximum range depends on the weather conditions and also if I’m shooting prone or sitting. My spotting scope is a thermal FLIR Scout II and this helps immensely if I’m sitting in a single position and watching targets come into view. Last, but not least, the plethora of knowledge that HFT shooters bring to the table is always helpful. Even if some of them do tend to moan a lot!”

More on pest control from Airgun Shooter Magazine

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