Now that Summer rapidly looming upon us at last, Simon Everett discusses how the warmer weather will affect your airgun shooting
Q. How will hot weather affect my airgun shooting?
A. The summer brings its own set of problems for airgun shooters. Or instead of “problems”, I should say “situations in need of a solution”. There are various ways that hot weather will affect your shooting and it is as well to be aware of them beforehand.
The rise in temperature has consequences for you, your rifle, your ability to aim and ultimately, for the hunter, in how well your harvested meat keeps. But there are ways to either avoid or work around these problems.
The most important link in the chain is you, so we shall cover the personal aspects first. Regardless of how good your rifle outfit is, unless you are comfortable you will not be able to use it to any degree of competency. Overheating can be a danger when you’re out in searing heat, causing heatstroke, which can be serious in extremis. Even just normal overheating will cause your breathing and heart rate to increase, which will reduce your effectiveness. Nobody can shoot at their best while sweat is running into their eyes, or if they’re panting from the heat.
For the outdoor target shooter, having a steady heartbeat and breathing pattern is essential. For the hunter, staying covered up to avoid the flash of flesh is just as vital, again without turning yourself into a boiler. The easiest measure is to simply stay in the shade. A sensible choice of clothing, with light, well-ventilated outer layers is the way to go. Daft as it sounds, a wide-brimmed hat will also help, especially if you wet the crown: the evaporation of the water will cool you, while the brim will help keep your face in the shade.
Dehydration is a distinct possibility. If you feel thirsty, you are already 10% down and need to drink water to maintain concentration and sharpness, and to keep headaches at bay. Take at least a litre of fluid with you. A flask will keep squash cool. Avoid sugar-laden drinks as they will accelerate dehydration: plain water or sugar-free squash is far better.
High temperatures will also affect how some rifles perform. Normal spring-powered rifles alter little because they use ambient air, but those rifles which use captive pressure (gas ram and PCP actions) can alter in output due to the temperature affecting the pressure. Different rifles behave differently, so you’ll need to check yours to see how much change there is in velocity. You may need to adjust your zero accordingly to shoot accurately.
Have you ever noticed when out in the heat that the ground seems to shimmer, especially on a piece of higher ground, a rise or a hump? This is caused through the heat rising from the ground. If your target is the other side and you have to shoot through it, how do you know if you’re aiming in the right place? The shimmer is constantly changing refraction, so your target is not actually where it appears to be.
The first stage in combating a haze-induced miss is to recognise that it is there in the first place. It will be more apparent low to the ground, so to combat it, get on your feet and shoot over the top of it. The angle of view alters how much effect it has, so lying prone on a similar level is the very worst thing to do. These atmospheric distortions are amplified by magnification too, so turning your scope down to about 6x will help a lot.
Finally, hot weather will very quickly cause your shot quarry to deteriorate. Flies are present all year round, but they are more active in warm weather and will home in on any blood within minutes, so you need to take care of your harvested rabbits quickly. Thumb the bladder and paunch any rabbits as soon as they are shot. I use muslin bags to put them in, this allows them to cool while creating a barrier that keeps flies off.
A cool box with freezer blocks is an excellent way of keeping the meat in good condition, provided you are not having to carry it too far. You can always leave it in a nice shady spot, rather than your car, which will be like an oven. Failing that, keep your shot quarry out of the sun and just cover it with a thin cloth; cheesecloth is ideal because it’s lightweight.