If they happen to pick up the wrong magazine or book, an inquisitive, budding hunter could be forgiven for thinking you need to be a city stockbroker or herald from the ‘landed gentry’ to take up shooting!
Unfortunately, many of the newcomers to high-end driven and grouse shooting take up the sport more through social pressure than a real desire to get ‘in-country’ and hunt. A bit like joining the golf club, it’s something to be seen to be doing, a status statement.
But the real hub of the shooting world operates at an income level significantly below the £30,000-shotgun owner – yet often it exists to serve him or her. Long may this continue.
The shotgun coaches, the gamekeepers, the shooting agents, the sporting artists, the ghillies, the guides, the auctioneers, the gun shop owners and their staff, the photographers and writers… all owe an existence to the wealthy shooter.
There’s a sub-species of shooter that operates at the very base level of shooting sports: the airgunner. He’s often maligned by the media (and those who believe its every word), and sometimes sneered at by the socially elite. Usually tolerated by landowners, however and able to go about their business with no other agenda than simply to shoot!
I belong to this sub-set. Yes, I could own shotguns or smallbore rifles, but I choose not to. I prefer to keep my costs down, my exposure to noise low, my safety high… and my hunting options wide.
Let me cover each in turn, to explain why I’m happy to be in this sub-set of shooting.
Good air rifles aren’t cheap by any means. Yet they will last a lifetime with regular maintenance.
If, like me, you opt for a PCP then there’s charging equipment to buy, too – though these are one-off costs.
As a dedicated airgun hunter, I choose the best, so even my cheapest PCP costs twice as much as a budget shotgun. But my ammo costs pence per unit, and doesn’t deteriorate with age.
Plus I don’t need a license to purchase it, and there’s no limit on how much I can buy.
I’m currently shooting one of the UK’s least expensive PCP air rifles (a .22 BSA Ultra SE) as part of a back-to-basics project – and it’s left me wondering why anyone ever pays upwards of a grand for a legal limit air rifle for hunting. This little baby is like John Lennon’s iconic ‘warm gun’ – she doesn’t miss much.
I don’t need to pay to practise at launched targets, because I only shoot static quarry. My targets are usually natural or home-made; conker husks or fallen pine cones, for instance, make excellent targets.
Perhaps a parasol or fly agaric fungus in a moment of boredom. I make up paper targets to zero my guns using luminous Pathfinder discs (£4 for 50), stuck to glue sticks from a craft shop (£1 for 50).
I’m a hunter, a field and woodland stalker. My quarry is wary, never far from flight or cover. I have to work hard to get close to it; it isn’t driven toward me, nor does anyone lead me to it.
I find it myself, or ‘bait it in’ with cunning and guile. True hunting. The only tool at my disposal (bow-hunting being illegal in the UK) to give me control over the noise I make is the silenced PCP air rifle.
Whisper quiet, it allows me to take shot after shot on the same small area of hunting ground. Unlike the shotgun – which will empty a wood with one discharge, and with just a single kill to show for it.
Used properly, an air rifle is highly unlikely to kill or maim you accidentally, though like any gun, it’s still potentially lethal – so disciplined use of its safety catch (and following the BASC Code of Practice) is necessary to negate accidents.
Actually, there’s no such thing as an ‘accident’ in shooting; only negligence.
If you read my books, you’ll know I take shooting safety very seriously. Risks of ricochet or long distance travel of pellets are minimal in a legal limit air rifle, though we must still pay full attention to safe backstops before shooting. Safety disciplines learned by newcomers with an air rifle will carry through to more dangerous firearms.
Many farmers will allow an airgun around the farmyard, knowing it can cause little harm in the right hands. It’s certainly not an arena for the shotgun, though!
Season? What season? The airgunner can shoot all year round, night or day, rain or shine depending on chosen quarry and/or permission.
Woodpigeons controlled over the spring beans, decoyed on the summer clover, picked off on the autumn stubbles and sniped under the winter roost.
Rats and feral pigeons waylaid in the grain barns, cattle sheds or chicken houses. Rabbits carefully stalked along the hedgerow or ambushed outside the warrens.
Grey squirrels interrupted in their plunder and forage. Corvids cunningly baited down with carrion or agitated into exposure using decoy owls.
Not to forget the jay caching a nut, the snaking stoat at the partridge nest and the mink. (The mink that I have never yet met head on, gun loaded, so remains a challenge to enjoy…)
Think about this for a while and you will realise, as I did long ago, that the richest shooter of all is the air rifle hunter. If you were to measure capital outlay against the sport returned – if kills per pound Sterling ever was the demarcation – then it’s the airgunner who wins the day.
That’s why I’m an ‘airgun’ hunter – and why I champion the art of hunting with one.