Charlie Crane’s air rifle has served him well for more than a decade – initially as a young airgun enthusiast and, more recently, as an important work tool as he studies to become a fully-qualified gamekeeper.
Over the years, his Air Arms S200 PCP has been his constant companion in the outdoors and, having fired tens of thousands of pellets through it, Charlie knows its performance inside-out.
Around the shoot where his mentor, Tony Lowry, is gamekeeper, the rifle has accounted for countless pests: squirrels, pigeons, rats, rabbits and crows. Even the odd stoat.
All good things come to an end, though – and the time has come for Charlie to retire his trusty sporter. “Because it’s had so much use,” he says, “some of the working parts have become slack and it now constantly feels like it could do with a thorough service!”
While a decent tune-up would breathe new life into the old gun, it would also cost a bob or two – but what tipped the balance in favour of pensioning it off, though, was a crack that appeared in the stock. “It started small,” admits the young apprentice, “but the crack spread until a piece sheared off the forend and made it impossible to bed the action solidly into the stock.”
Because it’s the S200’s old-style, two-piece stock, the maths of replacing it were inescapable – Charlie’s gun was beyond economical repair. “It’ll be put to one side,” says a reluctant Charlie, who’s grown so attached to the gun that he can’t bring himself to part with it completely. “I’ll still keep it clean and ready for action, just in case,” he laughs.
When it came to choosing a new gun, an Air Arms was an obvious choice as the S200 had served him well through his teens to his current position as a budding gamekeeper. And though another S200 may have been appropriate, the lad had his eye on more of a flagship sporter – the S510 sidelever model, which he describes as ‘a beauty’.
His new rifle – the poplar-stocked Super-lite model, with its stock in Hunter’s Green – has a fully-shrouded barrel above the air reservoir, and its 10-shot magazine is quickly auto-loaded via the sidelever cocking system that makes for rapid shooting. “It’ll be better than my old single-shot,” forecasts Charlie, “which often left me fumbling pellets when I needed a quick reload.”
The S510’s eye-catching stock has a contoured, ambidextrous cheekpiece and classy chequering on the grip and forestock – and Charlie has already fallen in love with it. “It’s light to carry around the fields, and comes up to the shoulder effortlessly,” he says. “The stock shape makes for a good, steady aim, too – though I’ve also added a bipod for the long shots.”
The S510’s charging attachment is different from the one on his old S200, but the new gun arrived with an adaptor so Charlie can use his Hill pump to fill it with air. He’d like to get a scuba tank system one day to save all that pumping, but as a student he knows it will be a while before he can justify the expense!
He’s transferred his favourite Deben Military & Police DMP 4-16×56 scope to his new rifle, because he’s so familiar with its mil-dot reticle, which he finds a real boon when allowing for holdover and windage at different ranges.
Like his first rifle, Charlie’s opted for a .177 calibre barrel on his S510, the idea being that he’s so familiar with the smaller pellet’s trajectory – but he’s found there are differences. Most notably the scope is mounted higher above the barrel – it has to be, to clear the mag – and that makes for a slightly different flightpath. Before commissioning his new rifle for pest control, Charlie practised as much as possible, learning a new set of holdover characteristics at the various distances he shoots over.
But, keen to get out and use it in a real-world scenario, once he had got the S510 set up, Charlie knew just the place to ‘blood’ the gun. For once, he wasn’t heading off to the Tony’s land, but to a farm much closer to home, where Charlie’s been helping out with pest control for many a year.
The biggest pest problem on the farm right now is rats around the pig unit – and the farmer is anxious for Charlie to get rid…
That’s because there are hundreds of them! The farm hands have been baiting with poison, but with new, tighter rules in place, they can’t always put the bait where it would be most effective. In any case, it appears these rats prefer to eat pig food, and they’re thriving on the stuff. Not only are they breeding like crazy, they’re also growing to a phenomenal size!
The area around the outside pig pens is riddled with rat-holes. You don’t have to do much of a recce to discover the runs – there’s hardly a square centimetre of ground that isn’t beaten smooth by the passage of tiny feet! Plus there are rat droppings everywhere – not what any farmer wants to see around his livestock.
All things considered, it’s the ideal opportunity for Charlie to try out his new air rifle – and though he knows it will be relatively close-range work and not too testing in terms of accuracy, he will need to be fast. This will suit the great handling and multishot capacity of the S510 a treat.
He arrives at the farm and loads up the magazine with 10 of his favourite pellets – Air Arms Diabolo Field. The gun’s already been fully charged and the manometer in the belly of the stock is reading 190BAR – he’s got a good 50 shots at his disposal… if he needs that many!
Mooching silently around the farmyard, Charlie takes advantage of any cover, watching each new area carefully before showing himself. His years of shadowing gamekeeper Tony have taught him the value of stillness and patience. As he stands in the shade of a derelict shed, the only movement is that of his eyes, flicking to and fro.
He spots a scaly tail hanging out from behind a concrete block, and eases into a shooting position. Rats don’t stay put for long, and Charlie knows there’s a good chance it will show itself if he waits, gun at the ready.
Sure enough, the tail gradually slips out of sight… and a second later, a twitching nose emerges from the other side of the block. With its head and shoulders now in full view, Charlie gets a bead, and steadies his breathing before taking up the trigger’s first stage. One further squeeze of his index finger and… whack! The rat rolls over, quivers briefly and then lies still. His new S510 is ‘blooded’.
One down, goodness knows how many to go! Charlie continues on his patrol and drops a couple more rats before returning to his starting point by the pig pens. He leaves the bodies where they fall for now. At the end of each session he collects them together using a shovel – he knows never to touch a rat with his bare skin – for the farmer to dispose of later. However, he often finds the remaining rats have already dragged off their fallen brethren to feast on. Not very nice, but that’s rats for you!
The sun is low in the sky and soon it will be getting dark – the best time for getting some decent ratting action at this farm. “Most of them stay underground during daylight,” he says, “but by nightfall, I find they’re really eager to come out and feed.”
Charlie finds a comfortable position among some old tyres where he can overlook the main rat holes, tops up his magazine and settles down to wait…
Sure enough, as darkness falls, the rats gain confidence and start to emerge. There’s still enough light to shoot by thanks to the DMP’s 56mm diameter objective lens. As it gets darker, the fine crosshairs disappear, but Charlie still finds the solid black mil-dots stand out well enough in the gloom. At this short range, all that previous practice has helped Charlie know to use the second mil-dot down as his aiming mark; the pellet hasn’t yet risen to his much further zero point.
A set of whiskers appears at one hole, as the rat sniffs the air for danger. Satisfied, it jumps out and sits for a look around. Mistake! Charlie’s pellet thuds into its chest and it falls into a puddle, its final twitches rippling the surface like rain. Charlie doesn’t move, just quietly works the S510’s sidelever to cock the action and automatically load the next pellet.
The quiet report of the Air Arms doesn’t carry down into the burrows and it’s only a minute before the next furry face appears. Despatched with a head shot, that rat also joins its mate. Before long, rats from other burrows are moving towards the feed bins, so Charlie has to look all around to locate his next target; it could come from any direction.
The pigs aren’t bothered by the sound of shots, and there’s no chance of damaging the buildings with pellets – that’s why an air rifle is the ideal tool for this job, and why the farmer likes having young Charlie around.
Such is the size of this colony, Charlie’s well into his second magazine before it’s too dark to aim. He packs up, dumps a dozen dead rats in a heap where the farmer told him to, and heads home for supper. On the short walk back, there’s a satisfied smile on his face. Yes, he’s going to get on just fine with this new rifle!