Long-range expert Lee Watts shows that a tricky wind doesn’t have to mean game over – as long as you have the knowhow and the right gear for the job
Modern airgun shooters are spoilt for choice when it comes to high-performance hardware and ammunition. Success in the field hinges on much more than just having fancy kit – it is knowing how to get the best from your gear and the fieldcraft choices you make.
I was reminded of the importance of choosing the right tools for the job when I received a call from the farmer of one of my permissions regarding a rabbit warren on a large field.
He was concerned about the damage its growing population of residents was causing to the embankment and asked if I could stem their destruction by thinning them out.
He informed me that he had tried to shoot a few with his .17 HMR, but its loud muzzle crack spooked the rabbits after just one or two shots, making it impossible for him to amass any sort of a bag.
Judging by my past results on his land, he reckoned that a stealthy airgun approach should be the best way to go.
Getting good results with pest control is all about using the right tool for the job. I like to prepare accordingly rather than turning up blind and ending up wishing that I had approached things differently.
The process entails asking myself what would lend itself best to the situation and be the most effective method to get the job done efficiently and humanely. As the saying goes, failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
Experience of the land on this particular permission told me that getting close to the rabbits would be the biggest challenge, especially during daylight hours. It is a very open landscape offering minimal cover, so long-range tactics usually work best.
That factor combined with a stiff breeze suggested to me that slug ammunition would be the right choice as slugs’ high ballistic coefficient and retained energy make for improved performance at range and in the wind.
My gun of choice for this specialised ammo is a tuned FAC-rated FX Impact M3 Sniper in .22 calibre. This airgun delivers a fairly flat trajectory with .22 slugs right up to 40 grains, although for this hunt I would be using 30-grain Wildman ammo, which I expected to buck the wind nicely.
Safety has to go up when using this high-power setup, so I made a preliminary visit to check around the fields and familiarise myself once again with the lie of the land and the location of any footpaths.
The M3 is tuned for slugs, with a power kit fitted to achieve the required velocity to keep the projectiles stable. Slugs can be amazingly accurate but it is all about getting the tune right. Tweaking power output and familiarising yourself with a combo’s performance is imperative before you even consider live quarry.
My preferred optic for this assignment was an ATN X-Sight 4K night vision unit, which would see me through daylight and into darkness. Paired with an ABL rangefinder, it means I know the exact range to my target so I am able to apply correct aim off when shots present themselves at different distances. The X-Sight also enables me to film my shots and I have learnt a lot by looking back at the footage.
With all my preparations in place, I headed out to the farm for a weekend foray, arriving on my permission during the late afternoon, a couple of hours before sunset, in the hope of getting into position without spooking too many rabbits. I set myself up so the wind was nearly straight at me.
This was for two reasons. Having the breeze in my face would prevent my scent from being blown in the direction of the rabbits, who would quickly spook, and it also meant that I wouldn’t have to steer my slugs through a tricky crosswind.
I decided to position myself around 70m from the rabbits’ burrows, in a spot where a slight undulation gave me a bit of cover in an otherwise featureless field.
It wasn’t much, but by peeping over the top to shoot, I would be able to keep most of my silhouette hidden, and there was just about enough of a screen for me to be able to shuffle myself around left and right a little bit without being spotted by the wary rabbits.
The ballistic coefficient (BC) of a slug, pellet or bullet is a measure of its ability to overcome air resistance. A projectile with a high BC is desirable because it will retain more energy than one with a lower BC.
All other factors being equal, a projectile with a higher BC will travel further, faster and flatter, and will be less affected by wind.
These factors benefit both the target shooter and the hunter. If the shooter makes a mistake in range estimation, the projectile will land closer to the point of aim than one with a lower BC.
Nevertheless, range estimation should always be impeccable when targeting live quarry.
BC depends on the mass, diameter and drag coefficient of the projectile. It’s expressed in units of lb/in², but those ammo manufacturers that do list the BC of their projectiles rarely state the units.
However, all the shooter needs to know is that a typical BC will fall between 0.12 and 1.00, with anything closer to the latter figure being more desirable.
Another benefit of this spot was that it meant the bank rising up behind the rabbit warren would serve as a safe backstop for my shots, which is a very important consideration when using slugs.
After settling in, making myself comfortable and running a few final checks over my kit, I didn’t have to wait very long for the first rabbit to show itself.
The rangefinder marked it at 73m, but this skittish bunny was moving from left to right and I had my doubts as to whether it was ever going to stop.
To my relief, the rabbit finally felt safe enough to pause at the field’s edge, where another ping of the rangefinder set it at 79m. I had set the ATN’s ballistic programme for my chosen slugs, and the reticle had already automatically adjusted for the distance.
However, with a fairly strong headwind, I aimed slightly higher still to allow for the breeze pushing down on the slug.
My judgement of the shot was correct and the first rabbit of the session rolled over after a direct strike to the head. The Impact M3 is a very quiet airgun but that slug hit home with quite a crack and I hoped the noise wouldn’t discourage other rabbits from coming out to feed as the evening wore on.
I needn’t have worried as the farmers’ account of “dozens of rabbits” appeared to be fairly accurate, and another one soon emerged and was added to the bag. By this time the wind had swung round to come more from the right so I held the shot a little that way to keep it on track for another clean kill.
More rabbits followed as evening turned to night and I closed my four-hour session with a haul of 14 rabbits for the pot, thanks to the X-Sight enabling me to carry on after dark.
I would have stayed longer but that’s about as long as I can last before the cramps start to set in, and a late downpour convinced me that it really was time to get moving.
Shooting at long range in a wind like that would have made shot placement almost impossible to estimate with normal airgun pellets, so slugs proved to be the right choice. I’m not saying that some shooters wouldn’t have been able to do it but I see no point in making the task any more difficult than it needs to be. I pride myself on delivering clean, ethical kills when targeting live quarry, and slugs certainly seemed the best way to achieve that end on this occasion.
Looking back on this hunt, I believe that I made the right choice for the situation I was presented with. The slugs definitely played a key part in not only helping the farmer to reduce the rabbit damage on the land but also in harvesting some free-range rabbit meat for the table, which is always a welcome bonus.
The simple fact is that my ammo choice optimised my chances by enabling me to keep well back and still shoot with precision.
In a different situation, I may have opted to get in much closer and use pellets. As I said at the outset, it is all about making the right decisions based on what is in front of you. Modern airgun shooters are lucky to have the choice of two very different projectiles which are both extremely effective in their own right.