Mat Manning says aspiring air rifle hunters should focus on long-term learning rather than chasing quick results
While it’s great to see so many new recruits embracing our sport, I can’t help but feel slightly saddened by the desperate craving for instant success that many of them seem to suffer from. Although it’s quite understandable, it’s a yearning I fear will only lead to disappointment in many cases.
Achieving success in live quarry shooting usually involves a long and patient learning process – it certainly did for me. And after almost 30 years and thousands of hunting trips, the only thing I know for certain is that I’m never going to come anywhere close to knowing it all.
I’d been shooting for several years when I made my first kill. The many sessions that led up to that momentous occasion all concluded with an empty game bag – or, more accurately, an empty carrier bag because I didn’t have a game bag back then – but I enjoyed every single outing, and learned something from each and every one of them.
I remember reading shooting magazines and wildlife books from cover to cover, then reading them again. I recall many fruitless days in the field and long hours on the garden range, ragging paper targets in readiness for the fateful day when I would eventually get myself close enough to some unsuspecting rabbit or woodpigeon to be able to contemplate pulling the trigger.
My chance eventually came one summer’s evening when I slipped through a gap in a hedge and caught an unusually gullible rabbit off-guard. At about 15 metres away, it was close enough for me to tackle with my not-so-accurate Webley Vulcan and, with some disbelief, I felled it with a headshot. Many years have passed, but I can still remember that moment as if it were only yesterday.
Today’s airgun shooters appear to have it a lot easier. Their rifles, clothing and accessories are streets ahead of the basic hand-me-down gear I started out with and, thanks to the internet and publications like Airgun Shooter, they have a wealth of information at their fingertips.
But having hi-tech gear and a vague understanding of the latest tactics can falsely inflate a newcomer’s expectations – and most seasoned shooters will know they count for nothing unless backed up by knowledge and experience. The only way to accumulate that is to get out there and find out for yourself; first-hand observation, backed up by a generous helping of failure, is the key to overcoming any challenge, especially when you’re dealing with the whims of nature.
My main piece of advice to anyone who’s just setting out on the exciting path to airgun hunting is to manage your expectations, and be patient. Enjoy every day in the field, and don’t be disheartened when you go home empty-handed.
Each moment spent in the countryside is an opportunity to observe wildlife habits and the way they are influenced by your presence, the changing of the seasons and countless other factors.
Over time, these experiences will accumulate to give you a rich bank of fieldcraft to draw upon. (It’s about so much more than being able to build a hide or creep quietly through the woods.)
Put in the hours – at home, on the range and in the field – and it will come good, and the hard work you put in to achieve that goal will make it all the sweeter when you eventually succeed. The learning curve that gets you there will make you a far more effective hunter than one who relies on the latest gear.