Airgun Hunting, Scouting Safari
by Dana Webb
Thursday morning Lindsey, Marley and I left home and traveled several hours North of us where we would spend the next 4 days. The area we had chosen is somewhat familiar to us although this trip would be spent exploring new territories within the park. The weather was typical for Springtime here in California and was supposed to be in the high 70s and mid 80s throughout the rest of the week. As we turned off the highway and into the BLM land we were immediately greeted by the 246,812+ acres of grassland. Springtime is especially amazing here as everything is so green and the wildflowers are exploding throughout this vast wilderness of rolling hills and mountains.
Most of the area is semi-arid grassland where very few trees grow with the annual rainfall around 9 inches. This area is close to the terrain you would expect to find on the African Plains and gives a very “Safari” like feel to it when traveling down the long dirt roads in the Jeep.
We had planned to travel much further than before into the area where we would create a primitive campsite where we would spend our first night. The area we chose was at much higher elevation and would prove to be much cooler as the sun made way down over the mountains. The small trail that switch-backed through the picturesque mountains was steep, rutted and no doubt a great job for the Jeep. We found a nice spot that offered a spectacular view of the valley floor as well as great scouting opportunity for the giant Jackrabbits that roam the hillsides. We unpacked the Jeep and set up a nice comfortable campsite complete with fire-pit to keep us warm while enjoying the stars.
We spent the evening enjoying the stars and making plans for our following days adventure. This area offers a great deal to the outdoor enthusiast such as hiking, offroading, wildlife watching, metal detecting and some unreal hunting opportunities. My plan was to get up early and hike around the hillsides looking for signs of large Jackrabbits.
The next morning Marley woke me up ready to start the day with a nice leisurely hike, she was very excited to get out and about looking for big bunnies. On this trip I packed very minimally with only a small pack for water, pellets, rangefinder and the .22 Lynx MK2 PCP rifle. I had recently done some work to the rifle making it more suitable to extreme field use. Marley and I moved slowly down the hillsides through the tall grass and with hopes of spotting some Jackrabbits in the distance as the sun came over the mountains.
As I was carrying a light caliber rifle the ideal range was within 100 yards limiting many of the shots that are more suitable to the larger .30 rifles. The nice part of using a smaller caliber is the challenge of getting closer and making much more precise shots to bring down these giant Jackrabbits. These animals are tough and can many times run for miles if shot placement isn’t perfect. I found myself using more stalking techniques that have not been practiced in awhile. The key is to stay low and slow, frequently stopping to look around. I like to work hillsides, canyons, ravines as these are generally the areas Jackrabbits move through. Many times I will walk for a few minutes and simply sit and wait to spot for movement, it’s amazing to see a Jackrabbit sometimes appear from nowhere. This particular habitat can be difficult as the grass is taller and the Jackrabbits blend so well into the environment.
Marley had flushed a few Jackrabbits from the tall grass with none stopping long enough to to make any decent shots. I was having a great time just being able to hiking around with my little friend and to have the opportunity to gather some great photographs of our adventures. After about an hour we headed back to camp and had decided to pack things up and venture back down into the valley to explore some different areas. We had enjoyed our stay in the primitive campsite and will most likely return sometime to spend a few more days. As we slowly drove down the mountain into the valley floor we spotted a large Elk herd off in the distance.
After spending several minutes watching the Elk move across the large open plain we continued down the road and deeper into the territory. I had found several buildings off in the distance using the spotting scope I figured we would go and explore. The area was home to several ranches in the mid 1800’s and many of these homes are still in fair condition as well as the many other ruins left such as farm equipment, water tanks and windmills.
After having a short break in the shade of the old homestead we continued north spotting several more Elk as well as some Antelope grazing in the miles of open plains. One of the prominent attractions that can be seen from the highest points of the valley is an alkali lake, essentially a dry lake bed. From a distance the lake seems to give the illusion of water but upon closer inspection it’s just several miles of salt bed.
We spent some time walking around taking some photographs while Marley played in this interesting new environment. We soon left and continued down the road heading up into a more remote area more off the beaten path, this area is simply huge and fairly easy to get lost in. Lindsey drove for a bit as it was now late afternoon and we decided to try settling on a new spot to spend the night. We drove up a small trail that took us into some beautiful rolling hills covered in grass.
This area was very open with a few Ephedra Viridis bushes spread throughout, very beautiful place to camp. After we parked and started unpacking the Jeep I had already spotted several Jackrabbits moving about. I dug a small fire-pit as I knew it may be a bit chilly later in the evening, I too gathered a small amount of kindling as well as some larger dead branches I found.
That night was a bit chilly as anticipated but offered some unimaginable views of the stars, I ended up staying up quite late just enjoying the sky.
The following morning Marley awoke me as usual as she was ready to start the day with a nice hunt. I was excited as I was sure we would no doubt have some action from the many Jackrabbits I had encountered moving about from the day before. We moved slowly heading towards the Northeast of the camp where there were some prominent hills.
We hiked up to the highest hill where I had planned to sit and see if I could spot the ears of some Jackrabbits that sometimes glow as the sun hits them. After the sun started coming up I sure enough spotted a Jackrabbit behind a bush at 74 yards.
I slowly moved to my right as to get better sight of the Jackrabbit and made a nice heart lung shot that took it down instantly with Marley excitedly able to recover.
As Marley and I hiked back to camp the morning was really starting to heat up and by 9:00am was already approaching the mid 80’s. Lindsey spent some time walking around looking for some interesting rocks to add to our huge collection at home. I had forgotten the metal detector and can only imagine the cool things we may have been able to find if we had brought it. We plan to make a future trip dedicated specifically for relic hunting. We packed up once again and decided to venture to a nearby marked campground where a trailhead was located. The trail was to take us on a several mile loop that weaved through a cattle pasture and up a steep mountain offering spectacular views of this amazing wilderness.
Lindsey and I had a great hike and it was the first time she really got to witness Marley hunt Jackrabbits. As we walked the trail we would flush them and watch Marley shoot after them like a rocket, amazing how fast and hard that little dog can move through the rugged terrain. She is extremely adapted to this type of hunting as she’s so short she can easily move through the bushes. After each session of her chasing we would take a break to keep her hydrated to lessen the probability of heat stroke, a very common cause of death for dogs. We continued the trail back to the Jeep where we enjoyed a nice lunch in the shade of one of few trees found in the area. We decided to head another direction and back into the mountains on a small fireroad that weaved us high up onto a giant overlook. We decided to make our camp and enjoy no doubt one of the best views of the entire trip. It was quite exhilarating being up so high and able to view the many different features and mountain ranges over 50 miles away.
That evening my friend Jon had arrived with his girlfriend, her sister and his two boys. The campsite had plenty of room for all our tents and it was nice to have some company for the next few days. The plan was for Jon and I to hunt that evening and early the following morning where we would take the Jeep into and area he had previously scouted. That evening Jon, his son and I had decided to hunt up the hill from camp and work a very steep hillside where we hoped to find some Jackrabbits moving about. We all hiked down the steep hillside, Jon and his son sat at the edge just as it dropped off into the ravine. I moved a bit North and followed the ravine occasionally stopping to scan the embankments for Jackrabbits.
Within a few minutes I spotted one foraging around a large bush at 80+ yards unaware of my presence from high above. Hunting from a high point like this is always a great way to increase success as we have a much better view and the shots are usually less obstructed by thick vegetation, this becomes especially important when using small caliber Airguns. I was able to make and a good chest shot that took down the Jackrabbit with authority using the H&N Sport Sniper Magnums. It took me quite a while to recover as I had left Marley back at camp and with Lindsey, it was getting dark and the ravine was ridiculously steep.
By the time I made it back up to the truck it was pretty much dark but thankful to have bagged a Jack. We had a great little drive back down the hill to our campsite where the girls had started a nice fire for us to warm ourselves.
Jon and I processed the Jacks and marinated them in olive oil, black pepper and several other spices he had brought. After having a nice bed of coals we cooked them over the fire and had more than enough for all of us including Marley to feast on.
That evening we slept great in our tent having much more room than the previous nights being cramped in the back of the Jeep with Marley.
Jon and I woke up early to fire up the Jeep and head 12 miles down onto the valley floor to a spot he had previously scouted for both Coyotes and Jackrabbits. Marley was eager to hunt as usual so we proceeded to the area that was very near the dry lake bed.
Jon, Marley and I parked the Jeep and proceeded to hike up a hill into a large field that ran into a steep ravine, we saw many Jackrabbits moving about on the hillsides. We spread about 50 yards apart and paralleled this ravine where I soon spotted a good size Jackrabbit moving up the other side stopping at 58 yards. I was able to make a good headshot that sent the Jackrabbit into a flip as it rolled backwards down the hill into a bush where Marley recovered.
This area had a ton of Jackrabbits but the terrain was a bit open and difficult to get close without spooking them. I see myself returning at a later date with the .30 EVOL and laying it down with some long range varmint hunting. Jon had set out his Coyote caller with the hope of bringing one in within range of his .223 varmint rifle. Marley and I patiently sat behind hoping to partake in the excitement of Jon’s hunt and to keep watch in several different directions. We spent about 20 minutes using the caller with little activity other than viewing some crows and birds of prey staying busy in the sky. This area is no doubt a good area to hunt predators and I would much enjoy returning for a dedicated Coyote hunt. Usually areas with a large habitat for small animals such as kangaroo rats, squirrels and rabbits are good places to set a stand. The place is large enough that we would never run out of areas to try, I do believe the higher elevation areas may be a better choice to try.
We made our way back up into the mountains where we started packing up the camp and venture to several other landmarks. The areas throughout this valley have a ton of history and almost to much to see in just a few days, can’t wait to return again and continue our exploration. After just a few days we had managed to find several new areas that are excellent for hunting, camping and hiking. I hope you enjoyed this write up and encourage you to subscribe and share this website with others. Till then, enjoy life and remember “The best Airgun is the one your shooting”
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