I’m sure I’ve frustrated many readers down the years with my frequent dalliances into hunting with the .177 calibre; I’ve documented my disappointments with over-penetration and downrange deviation owing to wind with the smaller pellet. Just as every time I’ve played with FAC-rated rifles and drifted back to legal limit, I have parked .177 guns in favour of my trusty .22s.
Some time ago, a reader asked in the letters section if I’d ever used the ‘in-between’ .20 calibre. The truth was, I hadn’t – but the editor’s since goaded me into giving it a try. Initially I was sceptical – until I played around with a few scenarios on the Hawke ChairGun ballistics program (it’s free at www.hawkeoptics.com). The stats showed that an 11.5-grain pellet in .20 producing 11.4ft/lb delivers a fairly flat trajectory with good downrange smack.
The editor arranged for Weihrauch’s official UK distributor, Hull Cartridge Company, to loan me a UK-prepared HW100K-T and Chris Horner advised a diet of H&N Sport’s Field Target Trophy (FTT), duly supplied for my field trials courtesy of importers John Rothery’s along with some .20 H&N Baracudas to also experiment with.
In the absence of a home range on which to zero, I always use a field edge, my knee and collection of spinners. Having mounted one of my Hawke SR6 scopes and taken an air bottle, I set about zeroing up at the 35-yard mark I’d decided on, courtesy of ChairGun.
Big mistake! I couldn’t get anywhere near the target and was wasting both air and pellets. So I pulled the spinner back in to 13 yards – a ‘secondary zero’ distance for the 30-yard primary zero I’m more familiar with, and which is close enough to see where a ‘new’ combo is actually grouping in relation to the aimpoint.
Within five shots, I was close enough to a zero, further refined by checking on a metal rabbit head with a Shoot-N-C target stuck to it, and a 30mm spinner out at 30 yards. Casey’s self-adhesive Shoot-N-C targets are brilliant because every pellet impact turns orange, letting you make adjustments from a distance without using binoculars or walking back to the target each time.
Having zeroed a little closer than anticipated, I opted not to hunt that evening and went home instead to do some homework on ChairGun as well as print off a new reticle ‘map’. The weekend couldn’t come quickly enough, though – those ChairGun stats had certainly got me fairly excited about the prospects for this in-between calibre.
I believe in three solid tests for any air rifle barrel, pellet and calibre combination. One: can it kill a woodpigeon without passing through the bird? Two: can it flip a rabbit with a clean head shot? Three: can it despatch a grey squirrel – either by penetrating the walnut-hard skull or with a heart/lung shot – without passing through? The .22, my favourite calibre for nearly 40 years now, can pass all these tests. I’d found that the .177 could, too – though not always. In my hunting world, I dislike ‘not always’…
The weekend finally arrived with a light drizzle as I pulled up at the Old Hall. Heavy downpours were forecast for later, so I drove the X-Trail right down next to the wood, ready for a sharp exit if needed. Dylan was panting in the back, getting excited at the prospect of retrieving some squirrels or rabbits.
I loaded up the HW’s two magazines under the cover of the tailgate. The pellets felt smaller (because they are!), but not so noticeably as a .177 does over a .22. I’d coated them with Napier’s Power Lube as I always do, and with the rifle now armed – safety ‘on’ – I slung it over my shoulder (I’d been allowed to drill swivels into the loan rifle’s woodwork) and set off with a restless Dylan.
We hurried into the wood, out of the drizzle. I stood still for a bit, letting my eyes adjust to the gloom by simply closing them for a minute and then re-opening them. When I did, I saw Dylan standing with one paw raised and his long nose pointing – a grey squirrel sat on a bough about 15 yards away, frozen.
I raised the rifle gently and mentally recalled that .20 reticle map. I placed the squirrel’s forehead just slightly above crosshair and fired. It dropped like a stone and I sent in Dylan to fetch. I don’t think I’ve ever blooded any rifle so fast!
Having bagged it, we walked on another 20 paces and saw, despite the rain, a pair of squirrels chasing each other. I called Dylan to heel, aware that he was in the mood to join the chase. I clicked loudly and the pair froze, one hugging the bark of a beech just 20 yards off. It was too tight to the tree to get a head shot, so I swiftly chose the engine room.
All of this within five seconds or so… and shot number two knocked the grey off the tree. I ran in, half expecting to watch it scrabble away. But that grey lay lifeless at the base off the beech and I was, to say the least, somewhat impressed. I bagged up the second squirrel as the drizzle turned into torrential rain (and I wasn’t wearing rain gear as it was too hot). Rain doesn’t always stop play – but it does when it’s not my gun to get wet!
Next day, Sunday, saw me out and about with the .20 again. When Chris Horner sent it down to me (and knowing I always name my guns) he had christened it ‘Timo‘ for some reason. I happen to think Timo is a Scandinavian boy’s name… and my guns are female. Fact. So while she’s under my foster care, she goes by the name of Katie. (K-T, get it?)
After a time-out from my own HW100 (in preference for the BSA Ultra), I was certainly enjoying all those natty features that make Weihrauch’s PCP so ergonomic. The luxurious walnut thumbhole stock is comfortable and comes sweetly to the cheek and shoulder. I like the metal 14-shot magazine with its double-load prevention system; the firm safety switch, conveniently placed above the trigger hand enabling you to slide it on and off with your thumb; the sidelever cocking mechanism (now much copied) that assists fast reloading when needed. The manometer on the face of the air cylinder is still a garish feature though – albeit very legible – and I usually prefer to cover this when I’m hunting. Up front, of course, is a Weihrauch silencer – one of the best on the market, in my opinion.
With dry, windless conditions, I spent a couple of hours just playing with the calibre and getting used to the trajectory. The ChairGun reticle map proved pretty accurate and for this reason I’m not sure if I’ll have cause to ever adopt the heavyweight (for a .20), 13.6-grain Baracudas. ChairGun’s predicted ‘lob’ would, in theory, take me straight back into .22 territory, which rather defeats the object of an in-between calibre.
One thing I was enjoying about the .20 was the ‘zip’ of the pellet as it travels through the air, and the reassuring ‘thump’ of the downrange contact. At 30 and 40 yards, it was punching a clean hole through paper, and spinning metal very vigorously. My worry, of course, is over-penetration – but on this weekend’s evidence, that’s looking not to be an issue.
Bored, as I (and Dylan!) always get with target practice, I packed away the targets and we set off for a tour of the coverts, desperate to test the calibre on my softest quarry, the woodpigeon. The trees ahead were full of crooning birds, but trying to spot them in a full canopy is no easy task. With a white/grey lurcher next to you, that task becomes harder by a factor of 10.
Further on, Dylan sent me the grey squirrel signals – and just like yesterday’s brace, the third grey to fall to this gun did so without a twitch. A clean head shot, side-on at about 28 yards – sweet. Soon after, a fourth was added.
In fact, as I pen this article for submission, I’ve finished three concurrent weekends with the .20 calibre and have amassed 20 grey squirrels with a 100-per cent clean, clinical despatch. The accuracy of the HW100KT and the punch of the .20 pellet certainly make for a sweet nutcracker – but as impressed as I am, I can’t yet say that .20 is the perfect calibre. I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve seen how it performs on avian quarry and rabbits…