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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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Memoirs of a first time Airgun hunter

Several weeks ago I received an email from a gentleman named Mike who had read several of my writings and had become interested in hunting with an Airgun. Over a brief discussion through email he had made the decision to purchase a .25 Marauder from Mac1 Airgun distributor in Gardena CA. That following week I had invited Mike to join me on a 3 day hunt in a remote area of the Mojave desert that offers not only some great Jackrabbit hunting but plenty of Ground Squirrels.


The following Thursday afternoon Mike and I met in Mojave and headed another 30 miles into the deep outback of the desert that gave both our Jeeps quite the workout. We made it to an area where I had made camp on several previous occasions, good amount of shade and plenty of wood to feed a campfire. Upon arrival it was fairly windy but seemed as though it was settling down as the evening went on. I was happy to have Mike join me as I usually make many of these trips on the solo as most have to work during the week. The following morning Mike and I awoke early to mount his scope and sight the .25 Marauder in at 50 yards.

Mike with his new .25 Marauder

After sighting in the Marauder we loaded up the Jeep and headed down the road several miles to a beautiful area that has an excellent habitat for Jackrabbits. The morning was calm and clear, thankfully a bit warmer than usual that would mean the Jackrabbits would be a bit more active.

The Cholla Cactus

As we walked towards the sun looking for the amber ears Mike was immediately able to spot some in the distance, some as far as 200 yards away. The plan was to head towards some rolling hills that would give us a better chance to not only spot them but to possibly ambush them from higher ground. We walked very slowly, trying to stay quiet that was not easy as the brush was thick in some spots. Soon upon getting to the top of this little hill Mike set his sights on a good size Jackrabbit at 65 yards, his first Jackrabbit kill, not bad for his first time hunt eh?

After taking a break for a few minutes, taking some pictures and packing the Jackrabbit into my pack we continued on further through the desert. We were now in an area that had some thicker vegetation along with some Joshua trees that offered many hiding spots for Jackrabbits. I came over a hill and spotted a Jackrabbit sitting halfway up the side of a hill on what looked to be a heavily traveled animal trail, at 60 yards I made the shot right through its chest.

American Air Arms EVOL .30


By this time it was around 10:30 am so we headed back to our camp and packed up our things to move to a different campsite where we would spend the next few days. This area had tall grass, a fire pit along with plenty of shade to sit under and target shoot. The following morning we were expecting Terry, my girlfriend Lindsey and the dog Marley to arrive to join us.

After setting up camp Mike and I headed up into the rocks to hopefully find some Ground Squirrels moving about. The area has some large populations of California Ground Squirrels, the burrows are scattered about under fallen trees and in the many rocks that are just about everywhere you look. A short hike from camp set us up on top of a large flat-rock that overlooks the whole valley with several rock outcroppings just below us at near 65 yards. Mike was using a fallen log to use as a rest to steady his rifle for a shot on a Ground Squirrel that kept moving about on the rocks below us.

Mike took his time and thankfully was able to keep things steady for a near perfect head-shot that put the Ground Squirrel down with authority.

His new .25 Marauder shoots like a laser and is near the perfect budget rifle for this type of hunting. Through the rest of the morning and into the afternoon we made quite a few kills, the wind was picking up by this time. As Mike and I moved up into this canyon we could hear the distant bark of the Ground Squirrels echoing through the valley.

I ended up spotting one at over 125 yards away that proved a difficult shot in the strong winds but nevertheless the perfect job for the EVOL .30 rifle. The new HAWKE Frontier 2.5-15×50 scope has really made long range shots much easier as the glass and TMX recticle are super clear. I took my time and was able to make a head-shot that entered right through the very top of the skull, dropping the Ground Squirrel instantly.


After a few hours of hiking around the Oak Tree covered valley Mike and I headed back to our campsite to set up for the evening and to gather some firewood to get us through the night. The wind was picking up again, gusting as high at 35/40 mph, no fun when trying to set up camp.

That evening we made a great campfire and were able to relax under the stars and enjoy some good conversation. Mike and I had cleaned and processed our Jackrabbit kills earlier that day and had planned to have them for dinner, although we thought we would wait till the next evening to share with the others. Mike made us some Top Ramen that tasted excellent, and too being a great way to get warmed up as it was by now a bit cold out.

Both Mike and I were quite tired and sore from a full day of hiking, must have put in near 8 miles up and down through the valley. Getting to sleep was no problem at all so we called it a night and planned to get up early to wait for Terry, Lindsey and Marley to arrive by 8:30 am.


The morning was quite calm with a slight breeze that we had hoped would stay that way for the rest of the day, at least long enough to get some hunting in. At about 8:45 as I sat with my rifle looking up into the nearby rocks that towered above our campsite, I could hear the distant sound of a vehicle breaking traction coming up the rugged rutted out road that lead to our spot. My favorite little companion Marley immediately came to greet me and was very surprised to see me being she wasn’t to sure where she was going at 4:30 am. This was Lindsey’s first time in the area and had came along to do a bit of Rockhounding (video link) , a hobby that we both share. This area had a large abundance of quartz that she had hoped to find plenty of that evening when we headed back down to hunt Jackrabbits. Terry set up a nice little range with several targets between 50 and 77 yards for us to use and fine tune our guns, he even brought a chronograph.

After about an hour of so of shooting our rifles we decided to head out up a trail that headed out of camp and into the nearby rock outcroppings.

We each set ourselves up in different areas about 50 yards apart each facing towards the rocks that had many Ground Squirrels that would frequently venture out to sun themselves.

Terry with his .22 Tapian Mutant Bullpup

Terry set himself up against a rock that offered good cover along with shots between 45/75 yards. Soon we could hear the distant THWACK of the obvious lead therapy that Terry was giving a nearby Ground Squirrel at 75 yards.

I had sat under a large Oak Tree where I spotted several Ground Squirrels moving about through the crevices of some large boulders. I was waiting for one of them to climb higher on the rocks making for a more clear shot. After about 20 minutes of waiting I finally spotted one that climbed up and was sitting still trying to get some sun. This shot was at 115 yards and would not be easy due to the pretty strong cross wind that I was sure would carry the pellet way to the right. With a guess in calculation I moved my shot 1.5 mil to the left, not as much as I needed but still enough to make a bone crunching gut shot.

After some time hiking around we all headed back to camp where we had lunch and relaxed for a bit, frequently shooting at several Ground Squirrels that were in the nearby rocks. After a few more hours of goofing off in camp we all had decided to head down the road and make the long hike across the desert to an area I had spotted a good amount of quartz crystals and a super great area to hunt Jackrabbits. I figured by the time we made it out to the area it would be the perfect time to pick a spot to sit and wait for some Jackrabbits to come by.

The sun was coming down pretty hard on us and we still had a ways to go before we would be near any type of shade. Lindsey was happy just to be out doing some rock hounding in such a beautiful location. As we walked we soon spotted several Jackrabbits that were well out of range, but they all looked to be very near where we were headed.

Terry stalking a Jackrabbit  

After another 20 minutes of hiking Lindsey, Marley and I arrived to the spot that I had described with many quartz crystals and great habitat for Jackrabbits. After a short break in the shade Lindsey got to work and headed out to explore the grounds for the many assortments of rocks the place had.

Terry and Mike headed further out past where Lindsey, Marley and I were and I could hear the distant shots they were making as pellets were tearing through the thick brush. After several minutes of sitting I spotted a Jackrabbit at 80+ yards across a ravine that was partially obscured from a Cholla CactusI took a head-shot and ended up shooting a bit to high sending the pellet right through the side of one ear that dazed it just long enough for Marley to get close enough to flip the Jackrabbit in the air. I ran across the ravine and watched Marley chase the Jackrabbit, she nearly got it too just as they both ran by Terry. That little dog is simply the best hunting dog I have ever seen, a pure natural hunter. After all the excitement I headed back over to check out what Lindsey was up to, she was doing a bit of rock stacking with the few larger pieces of quartz.

For those of you who don’t know, Lindsey is the real backbone of the online magazine mountainsportairguns.com and does many things for the Airgun community behind the scenes. She is responsible for many of the popular Airgun industry websites many of us frequent on a regular basis. Anyone reading this who may need some serious website work, mygirlfriday805  is the best in the business and truly an amazing part of my life. After several hours with no luck getting many shots on Jackrabbits we made the slow journey back to the truck, I say slow because I had about 100 lbs of rocks in my backpack.


We arrived back to camp just in time to watch the sunset and to get a fire started along with the portable BBQ Terry had brought to cook on. Between all of us we had a good amount of food that we had all brought to cook, hotdogs, carne asada, snacks, drinks and even hot chocolate and beer. We were all very hungry from the long day of marching through the desert, even Marley was ready for anything she could get her paws on.

After stuffing ourselves with mass quantities of food we were all near comatose and ready to just go to sleep. The plan was for us guys to get up super early and head down the hill again to try for some Jackrabbits for a few hours. We all slept pretty good that night, I felt pretty refreshed the next morning at 6:30 am and was ready for some more hunting. We headed down the hill and excitedly made our way back into the same area we hunted the evening before.

It was a beautiful morning that thankfully wasn’t windy at all, wish the last few days had been that calm. After about 30 minutes I finally spotted a Jackrabbit at 45 yards that was sitting under a bush taking in the warm morning sunshine.

Notice in the photograph I was wearing jeans, well the day before I had gotten a small tear in my hunting pants that ultimately worked into a larger tear that ripped the whole pant leg off. Happy I had brought some extra pants, otherwise I would be chasing Jackrabbits in my underwear. Not a pleasant sight I can assure you! As the morning moved on I spent some time stalking Terry hoping to get some shots captured on camera, he was quite hard to spot among the dense desert foliage.

As all four of us hiked towards the nearby mountains the plan was to circle around and cross over a road into a new area I had never hunted before. Marley and I set out ahead and crossed the road almost immediately seeing several very large Jackrabbits moving through the brush on the hillsides. This area was near perfect terrain for Airgun hunting as it offered good opportunities to get close having so many trees to hide behind as we moved closer. I could hear Terry and Mike both making shots on running Jackrabbits, Marley was getting supper riled up as she listened for that distinctive THWAP!!  As Marley and I moved around a bush I attempted making a shot on this Jack that was sitting facing us at 200+ yards, made a shot that came up short right next to its feet sending it into a full sprint out of sight.

Over the next hour all four of us tried stalking several Jackrabbits, the one I was after went up a hill and over a rise down into some more open area. Marley and I slowly made our way up the hill with the hopes to ambush the Jackrabbit from above, when hunting them I always have good luck hunting down on them when possible. As we made our way over the crest of the hill I immediately spotted the Jackrabbit sitting under a large bush with its back facing me, perfect shoulder shot at 95 yards. The .30 EVOL is in my opinion the perfect all day gun for hunting Jackrabbits, with plenty of power and 40 regulated shots at 85 fpe it packs a mean whallop.


As I made my last kill of the day I packed them neatly into my back and ventured back to the truck where where Terry and Mike soon joined. This few days of hunting was no doubt a good amount of work but well worth the effort to be able to share it with a newcomer to the sport. I commend Mike for reaching out and not being afraid to ask questions and take advice, It was a true privilege to have him join me and to be able to witness his first Jackrabbit kill. It’s very important for us as Airgunners to keep the sport alive and to help it grow in a positive way, Mikes story is a great example. Enclosed is a video documentary of our trip, enjoy!