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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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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.

One of three wooden harvesters found near an abandoned homestead site

Homestead built around 1929

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.

Lindsey enjoying a beer next to a great fire


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 MagnumsIt 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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