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Varmint Hunting In Extreme Heat

By Dana Webb

 

Thursday morning we left the house and drove several hours into the remote mountains of Southern California. Terry and I set up in a location away from our campsite to check zero on our Air Rifles and to scout several new areas for hunting Ground Squirrels. The temperature was in the high 80’s so the new EZ-UP helped immensely in keeping us cool.

Terry and I set up targets out to 100 yards and were happy to have zero wind that is a rarity in this part of the valley floor. We had a great time shooting both the EVOL .30 and the .22 Tapian Mutant Bullpup, both amazingly accurate Air Rifles.

American Air Arms EVOL .30 with DonnyFL Ronin Moderator

After some practice with the rifles we packed up and headed down the road to a spot I had previously seen some Ground Squirrel activity. By this time it was the middle of the day and the temperature was rising into the 90’s making hiking around a bit unpleasant.

Terry making his way back to the Jeep with is Tapian Mutant

After about a half hour of looking for Ground Squirrels we packed the guns up and headed about another 14 miles into the mountains to around 5,300 ft elevation. We had chosen this location as it would be cooler with many Ponderosa Pines that were nestled throughout the vast canyon. The area too had several creeks that are fed by natural springs where Marley could swim and play.

I was quick to set up camp as well as the new EZ-Up canopy, that thing is an absolute necessity on trips like this. The Jeep was loaded with several coolers packed with water, ice and plenty of food for the several days in the wilderness. Ater setting up camp we set out down a nearby trail that followed the creek and gave some shade from the scorching Summer heat.

  The terrain was quite rugged and in some areas was near impossible to cross over the creek due to the steep embankments. I found an area overlooking the creek where I had spotted several Ground Squirrels moving from the many holes and fallen trees.

One of the Ground Squirrel holes at 55 yards

I sat for awhile and spotted several Ground Squirrels going in and out of this hole, made a shot on one of them and missed. After making a poor shot i knew I would have to wait for a while before one would pop back out again. Within about 15 min one decided to show itself again where it was met with a 44gr JSB.

I moved a bit further up the hill as I could hear the distant bark of several more Ground Squirrels moving about around the many fallen trees. I spotted one standing on a fallen log just down the hill overlooking the creeks embankment at 68 yards.

The angle I had to shoot from was a bit awkward to work with as well as having to move my cameras tripod legs to keep upright. The shot was a bit low and made a gut shot sending the Ground Squirrel flying backwards. Almost immediately after I spotted another Ground Squirrel barking high up on a fallen log to my right at 83 yards.

 I took the shot on this one and hit just low sending a chunk of wood right into him, the heat was really getting to me and the sweat in my eyes was making it difficult to see well. I could hear Terry making several shots so went to meet up with him, together we hiked down next to the creek to try and get cool.

Marley and I were perfectly happy staying down by the creek and not moving around much, we sat for awhile and spotted several Ground Squirrels moving around the embankments. We were able to connect with several of them although most were on the run. This was such a beautiful place to hunt despite the brutal Summer heat, was happy to just be able to get out and enjoy. Later that evening the plan was to try finding some Cottontail rabbits that may be moving about and to hopefully cook that evening. We made way back to the camp where we set up some targets along with a steel plate at 125 yards.

Terry’s Tapian Mutant .22

After dragging that heavy steel swing target out to 125 yards I took a break for awhile before shooting again. I watched Terry do some 100 yard practice before getting on it with the EVOL .30, the wind conditions were nice and predictable for late afternoon. After a few shots I was getting amazing groups with my gun at the shorter ranges and finally decided to move out to the 125 yard steel.

I put 3 shots in a nice 1″1/2 cluster and think with better setup such as bags I could have done much better. Shooting like this really makes me appreciate how far modern PCP’s have come. Later that evening after we had rested a bit we took a walk around near the campsite searching for Cottontail rabbits. I had seen plenty of droppings as well as tracks but no movement at all, I think the heat has made them resort to coming out after sundown. After Marley and I took our stroll looking for bunnies we came back to camp and decided to cook up some chicken for an early dinner.

The moon was near full that night and was thankfully much cooler making things much more bearable and relaxing.


That next morning my plan was to wake up early before the sun came up although I slept so well that I didn’t awake till around 6:15am. Terry had already been gone when I woke up so Marley and I ventured away from camp about 3/4 of a mile to a big open field, perfect area to spot both Cottontails and Jackrabbits. 

I decided to hike up the barron hillside and work my way around looking for movement in the large open fields. Hunting this type of terrain on flat ground is difficult and usually never works well without a shotgun. Marley and I spotted several Jackrabbits moving up the hillsides at some 200+ yards away but nothing within reasonable range for and Air Rifle. By this time it was apparent that the day was going to be another scorcher, already had my jacket off by 6:45. Marley and I picked a spot in the small amount of shade next to a bush and waited near 20 minutes before we spotted several large Jackrabbit moving in the field at close to 100 yards. I took a shoulder shot on one that sent it running up the hillside before collapsing, the second one was at 98 yards just next to a bush. The Jackrabbit gave me a nice side profile to line up for a perfect headshot that sent it into a flip. Marley ran to recover as it was wildly flipping all over causing a huge dust cloud. I went and recovered the first and met up with Marley where she had recovered the second large Jackrabbit.

American Air Arms EVOL .30 at 85 fpe

 

Marley and I were both happy our patience had paid off and were able to get two huge Jackrabbits within several seconds of one another. We took a break before throwing them into the pack and heading back to the campsite where Tom from American Air Arms would be showing up to spend the day. As marley and I hiked back we spotted several deer as well as many chipmunks moving about near the creekbed. This area is loaded with larger animals such as Deer, Coyote, Bobcat, Mountain Lion as well as many types of birds.


We made way back to camp where Tom had just arrived just in time for the heat to really become overbearing at 90 degrees by 8:30am. Tom had brought a new Air Rifle he has created that shoots a 27gr .22 slug putting out 60+fpe, he spent some time shooting that against a small 2″ spinner at 125 yards just under the steel plate. Enclosed is a previous photograph of the rifle, we will take a more in depth look at this very advanced Air Rifle in our next article.

American Air Arms EVOL TAC .22 High Power


After our shooting session at camp we all headed back out to seek out some Ground Squirrel action, I headed East following the creek the other direction. Marley and I crossed to the other side of the creek and set up just under the shade of a large Pine tree.

This looked to be a great location and offered a great unobstructed view in near all directions of the large area. To our right as well as in front of us were huge fallen trees that had Ground Squirrel holes all around them. I spotted several Chipmunks running back and forth from one tree to the next as well as the several periodic Ground Squirrel barks. I took a shot at several of the Chipmunks that were sitting on a root from one of the Pine trees next to the creek. These shots were all around 30 yards, close range shots that required some hold-under for once.

After a few minutes I spotted a fairly large Ground Squirrel sticking it’s head up from behind a log at 115 yards.

I made the shot a bit high and it came down right on the back of his head drilling him right into the ground behind the fallen tree.

This area looked to have a large population but I think the heat had kept most of them in the Ground as it was well up to 100 degrees out. I can’t stress enough how important it is to carry a large amount of water, more than you think you need. This environment dehydrates you so quickly that heat exhaustion can happen very easily. When we are out in the wilderness like this, nobody will find you and when they do you just may be dead. With Marley I have to be especially careful about making sure she has enough water as well as keeping my eyes open for Rattlesnakes. Having her bit by a venomous snake is one of my worst nightmares, miles from any type of help. After sitting for about 20 more minutes with no action we looped around back towards camp following the other side of the creek. As we moved through the tall Ponderosa Pines I could see a Ground Squirrel in the distance moving about on a huge fallen tree. I set up the camera the best I could and tried to follow it with the lens while trying to set up the range and gun at the same time, very frustrating. The Ground Squirrel was at 68 yards but moving further up this fallen log.

I made the shot that finally ended at 73 yards sending the 44gr JSB right into his back sending up a cloud of dust as it smacked. The past two days were a great time spent with friends but the heat made moving around quite miserable. Marley and I continued back to camp where it by this time was around 12:30pm, we packed the Jeep and waited for Tom to get back before heading out. This was a slow few days of hunting but was very happy with how well it turned out considering how hot it was. As I’m writing this we are already planning for the next trip, can’t wait to share. Enclosed is the video of our adventures, hope you enjoy and will help us by subscribing.

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Air Rifle Varmint Hunt

by Dana Webb

 

Saturday morning Marley and I fired up the Jeep and drove several hours into the Mojave desert where we had planned to meet up with Terry, Tom and Brian who was visiting from Michigan. The area was well known to us and we thought it would be a great location to take Brian for his two day visit to California. This area is prime habitat for the California Ground Squirrel and offers a huge amount of property to varmint hunt on. We arrived in Mojave late morning where we met Terry at the gas station to fill up our cooler with ice and water before caravaning another 50+ miles into the rugged mountainous outback.

As we pulled off the highway we made our way to the top of the mountain that opens into a huge desert valley bordered by Oak trees, fallen logs and enormous rock outcroppings. Tom and Brian had already been hunting for several hours before we came and were set up with targets set at 175 yards when we arrived.

The day before I had spent several hours with Doug Noble reconfiguring the power levels of my EVOL .30 so I needed to spend some time sighting it in. This area can sometimes have a good amount of wind that makes it a somewhat difficult Airgun friendly location. This particular day was quite windy with gust near 40+mph at times. Marley and I sat under a giant oak tree and zeroed the rifle as well as getting familiar with the new holdovers.The EVOL is topped with a Hawke Frontier scope and DonnyFl moderator that keeps the noise down very well. This rifle is regulated and getting near 34 shots at near 90 fpe using the NSA 47gr slugs, an excellent long range varmint setup.

After spending some time getting comfortable with the new configuration it was time to get down to business and try finding some live targets. All of us spread out in several directions with me heading up a hill and along a fence that opened up into a large field near infested with Ground Squirrels. Most of the shots were all over 100+ yards with several approaching the 200 yard mark. ( check video at bottom of page) I found a nice spot to sit in the shade with some cover from the wind as well. I had spotted several Ground Squirrels moving about on the rocks and had ranged them at 98 yards out to 160 yards. Tried to film as much as I could but the wind was making it very difficult to keep the camera steady with the lightweight tripod I had brought along.

I spent several minutes waiting for this particular Ground Squirrel to stay still enough to make a shot leaving only a 1/4″ killzone as he peered over the top of the outcropping.

After spending a few more minutes waiting for more Ground Squirrels to move about I decided to hike a bit further down through the large Oak tree covered field to look for more. Within several minutes I spotted another that was sitting on top of a fallen uprooted pine tree at 78 yards.

After connecting with a shot to the chest sending the Ground Squirrel into a flip it rolled down into the thick branches and under the log. From previous experience I don’t generally like to recover many Ground Squirrels as this habitat is home to many rattlesnakes. Last year I went to recover several only to find several rattlers coiled up in and around the many holes. Marley and I made way back to find the others that were set up against a large outcropping that looked out into a giant field.

Brian with the American Air Arms High Power .22

left- Dana Webb and Tom Costan with the American Air Arms High Powered .22

After spending some time hanging out we all set ourselves up to what looked like a Ground Squirrel “Shooting Gallery” with live targets out to 300+ yards. Tom was using the experimental regulated .35 Air Rifle that shoots 81gr JSBs as well as putting out 150 fpe using the 95gr NSA slugs. This rifle is based on the Slayer platform and it’s long range capable topped with a Valdada 4-28 IOR Recon scope with the furthest kill of the weekend at just over 227 yards.

We spotted several Ground Squirrels on the rocks on the other side of the field out to 159 yards where Tom and I both were able to hammer several. In windy conditions the high BC slugs are far superior to that of a diablo type pellet, the energy is carried and the wind drift is near cut in half making these shots much more enjoyable. Brian was using the High Powered .22 EVOL thats been fitted with a dedicated slug barrel and is capable of 80 fpe although the gun is currently tuned for 60 fpe using the 27gr NSAs that have a BC around .09. Tom was giving the data through his StrelokPro application on his phone and giving the correct holdover that was allowing Brian to make shots out to 200 yards. The wind was getting very strong and in honesty was very surprised we were making as many hits as we were.

As I sat behind the gun I could hear the distant crack of Terry making hits with his .22 Tapian Mutant bullpup. In just a few minutes he had gotten 8 confirmed kills with some out to 100+ yards using the Predator Polymags.

After taking a break from our hunting we decided to move our camp to a more suitable location that would shelter us better from the wind and offer better clearing to have a campfire. We moved several miles up into a canyon that had a good flat area to park the vehicles as well as some good hunting spots within walking distance. After setting up our camp we headed down into the open desert to try for some Jackrabbit hunting into the evening.

We headed up towards the mountains and had planned to make a big giant loop around and back to the Jeep. As we moved away from the Jeep I had spotted a good size Jackrabbit moving just behind a Joshua tree and up a small animal trail where we soon lost sight of it. These Jackrabbits are so elusive and hard to spot in the thick sagebrush, they blend in and disappear so easily. We hiked and were able to spot several more but the area seemed to have very little activity. We all took several shots but none were connected as the flats make it so difficult to get a good open shot. Once the Jackrabbits are startled enough to run they usually will not stop for 100 yards or so, gets very frustrating. We hiked for several miles as the sun went down and after no success made it back to the Jeep.

That evening back at camp was very relaxing after a long day of hiking around, my feet were killin me and I know Marley was pretty beat. We stayed up for awhile and had planned to get up early the following morning to head to a new spot for Jackrabbits as well as Ground Squirrels.


This morning we woke up at about 6:00 am and took the Jeep and Terry’s truck several miles back down into the desert to a spot we call “The Hills Have Eyes”. This area is very rocky and gives a very being watched feel to it along with having many vantage points to hunt from. We moved down the very narrow path that leads around the side of a rock covered mountain with several scattered Joshua trees and Juniper bushes. As we hiked slowly down the narrow steep trail Terry spotted several Squirrels sunning themselves on the rocks at 85 yards.

Terry and I spent about 20 minutes in this area making several shots on Ground Squirrels and Chipmunks both.

Brian and Tom continued on along the side of the mountain about 100 yards in front of Terry and I, we were glassing the lower areas for movement and were able to spot several Jackrabbits moving about. I took several shots over 200 yards missing by several inches on both. I think the wind from the day before may have trained my shots to give more holdover than was needed. I will say it was just nice to just be out with friends and getting to enjoy this beautiful territory. As we hiked I could hear the distant crack of the high powered .22 EVOL , Brian sounded like he was busy and had connected to something. We made way through the many boulders where I could see Brian moving down the side of the hill, he had made a connecting shot but had lost the Jackrabbit in the very thick sagebrush that was covering the hillside. We took a break as it was now getting fairly hot somewhere in the mid 80s, still very cool for this part of the desert. During summer it can reach as high as 116 degrees, near impossible to hunt in. Terry and I turned back as it was a fairly long hike back to the vehicles and all uphill for the most part. We spotted several more Jackrabbits on the way back, I even made a solid heart/lung shot on one that we spent some time looking for, ultimately lost in the thick brush. If Marley can’t find the Jackrabbit it’s a very rare case but can sometimes happen, amazing how tough they can be. By this time it was approaching noon and time for us to head back to camp where we hoped to try for some more Ground Squirrels before we packed up and left for home.

Tom and Brian set up in some rocks that generally are filled with Ground Squirrels, very difficult to spot but they are usually found sunning high up in the rocks.

Brian using my Cometa Lynx MK2 .22 and Tom with the High Powered .22

Several Ground Squirrels were moving around over 80 yards up in the rocks offering not more than a headshot, very difficult shots. Tom was able to connect with one near 90 yards making a perfect headshot that gave a very distinct THWACK!! Brian against my suggestion decided to climb up into the rocks that most likely had many snakes. Sure enough he found one on his climb up….

Brian standing just above Toms Ground Squirrel kill

We had a very eventful few days and hiked near 17 miles through this amazing property. The total between all of us had to be over 50 Ground Squirrels taken, this is a very low number but we have been hunting the area over the past several months. I think we all had a great time and was happy that we were able to host Brian in such a great location and give him a chance to hunt with some truly unique Airguns. We packed up once again and left down the dirt road with some great memories I’m happy to share through writing, photographs and video. Over the two days I was able to gather some footage, the wind made it very difficult to film in but here is a link to what was produced. VIDEO

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