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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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Fun and Gun weekend/hunting and shooting

Late Thursday evening I headed out with Marley several hours North into the secluded NF where I had previously scouted a good area to not only hunt, but shoot. My goal was to spend several days hunting and testing some ammo for not only the EVOL .30 but the .308 and .357 Slayers. After arriving close to dark I found a good place where I was meeting my friend Brent and his 20 year old son who were shortly behind me. After a short wait they had arrived and started making camp in our usual fashion along with a nice campfire to take the chill off our bones through the night.


The plan for us to get up early and to each scout several different areas for Cottontail, Jackrabbits and Ground Squirrels where we would meet up later in the day. I started out about a mile down the road where the foliage was just a bit greener along with a bit of water in the nearby creek. By this time it was about 7:00 am so I still had several hours until my friend Nick and his family arrived to a previously scouted area where we would camp, shoot and hunt for a solid 3 days. I decided to park the Jeep in a nice shady spot and take a long hike into the mountains with Marley and the EVOL .30



After a short hike across a creek and up a steep ravine Marley and I decided to take a break in the shade as it was getting fairly hot, we could hear the many birds such as Woodpeckers and Blue jays staying very active. After several minutes I was able to spot several ground squirrels moving about across a huge fallen tree.


I shot at several coming within inches, even close enough to blow one off the log with the shrapnel of splinters from the impact of the 44gr Polymag. After making some wind adjustments I spotted a good size Ground Squirrel poking his head up from behind the fallen log and just to the left of a small nubby branch.


When the wind had that moment of calmness I was able to make a beautiful 130 yard head-shot that blew that squirrel right off his rocker.


It always amazes me how far a shot really is when I have to walk it, was not easy making our way down the steep embankment and up the other side where we made our way to the giant fallen tree. The tree was massive and for some odd reason had what looked to be several doors someone had cut into it.??


Marley and I made our way around the other side and saw several more Ground Squirrel scrambling away through the broken mess of branches. We headed up from the other side and hiked up a hill where we sat in the shade at 90 yards looking down.


After about 10 minutes of patiently waiting Marley and I spotted several more Ground Squirrels moving about, one even stopped right on top.

The 90 yard shot was fairly easy for the .30 monster I was using so I was able to plug him pretty good as he made his way down off the log.



Marley and I made our way down to document our kills and to move to another spot where we would make way back to the tuck.



We continued down into the ravine and followed the creek back towards the Jeep when I spotted several more Ground Squirrels running up a steep embankment.


The Ground Squirrels seemed to all be invading a large tree that had roots that were protruding the ground from erosion. I sat in the shade while Marley played in the creek, trying to cool off from the Summer heat. I was having a difficult time positioning myself for a shot as the area was very off camber and too was forcing me to shoot near vertically. I finally spotted several and ended up killing the larger one on the right offering a bit larger target at 45 yards.



Marley and I headed a short distance back to the Jeep where we were soon met by Nick and his family. We set up a nice camp along with some EZups that would take the sun off and too offered a cool place for a shooting lane.


Nick was kind enough to set up his chronograph and Lab Radar

We set up several targets, spinners and later on my two friends even brought some heavy steel we set up at 130 yards through the trees.


After a full day of shooting we had a nice campfire followed by dinner, laughs and a few mosquito bites. The night was so peaceful and quiet other than a few Owls and the distant chatter of Coyotes.


Saturday morning came about and I woke up a bit late, being now after 8:00 am where we had expected Tom and several others to arrive throughout the day. Nicks wife was kind enough to make a nice pot of caffeine that I much needed to start my day of adventuring. Marley was so happy just to be outside and able to play stick with Nicks two boys.


Sometime around 11:00am Tom arrived with a .308 and .357 Slayer where him and Nick planned to test several different weights of Big Bore ammo. We had acquired a heavy steel quadrant target that I dragged 250 yards up through the trees, a great challenging target considering the small window it left to shoot through the thick branches.


Tom was using the nielsenspecialtyammo.com swaged 98.9gr .308 going 970 fps, gets out pretty quick and by the end of the day proved to be very accurate.


Later after lunch my friend Brent and his son Brian came to visit us and to tell us about the scouting they had done for Cottontail. My friend Brent is not an Airgunner but him and his son both showed great interest in the Big Bores we had on the table, heck who wouldn’t? Tom eagerly invited them to try them out and they both surly did.




After a bit more fun we took a break and relaxed in the shade talking about hunting, shooting and just having a few great conversations!
Tom sadly had to leave the fun and head back to his desert home so Nick, Marley and I loaded into the Jeep to do some scouting and to meet Craig down the road where he would follow us back to camp. By this time it was near 5:30 when we finally met up with Craig, was happy to see another friendly face join us in the reindeer games. Marley and I went out on another short hunt not far from camp where she was able to tackle herself some dinner down near the creek, a small Cottontail to be exact. That little dog is as amazing as they come and has brought so much joy into my life having such a good little companion as her. That evening we had more laughter along with some tasty chicken cabobs Nicks wife provided.


The next morning I woke up fairly early and headed up the hill to visit Brent and his son Brian and see how they faired with the opening day of cottontail season. They ended up getting one Cottontail not far from our camp using a shotgun at 30 yards on the run. I wish I had taken my camera but unfortunately did not. We all made way back to camp and enjoyed the shade from the EZup along with plenty of water that is so important on such hot days, especially when hiking around. I had suggested going on a Ground Squirrel hunt and Nick and Craig were both eager to attend. We packed our gear and brought plenty of water where I had planned to set them up near where I had gone the day before.

                                                                    Nick with his .25 Cricket
I set them both up about 50 yards apart where they both had some good view of the adjacent hillside.

                                                 Craig with his .25 Vulcan 

After several minutes Craig and I could hear the solid crack of Nicks .25 Cricket smacking a Ground-squirrel as it made its way up a fallen log. Nice shot at what looked to be about 35 yards or so. I sat with Craig for about 20 minutes before Marley and I decided to take a hike and circle back around to camp, I had hoped to find more active areas but the heat was taking its toll on us both. Craig had left not to long before Marley and I arrived back at camp, was hoping everyone would have better luck with hunting but it really was very hot. That evening Nick and I set out again where his son was able to spot a good size Cottontail at 35 yards sitting under a bush, hidden very well I might add. Nick took a great shot that put that bunny down with authority. Marley was happy to retrieve and was even allowed in the photograph.  ;D


Nick and his boy headed back to camp and Marley and I continued along the creek-bed when just before dark I was able to spot a small Cottontail at 45 yards just at the edge of the embankment.

                                                 American Air Arms EVOL .30
Marley and I had a great finish to a long weekend and were both super tired, we slept great that night. The following morning we got up a bit late and started packing up the camp for our long venture home, where we both needed a long hot shower. I thank everyone who attended and am embarrassed because I forgot some names and was not as organized as I usually am with photos. I have been doing a great deal of filming lately and have not been writing as much as I should, this is what I enjoy and can’t forget the importance of it. Through my writing I hope to not only entertain but to bring the spark of our sport to the newcomers. As some may know I started this online magazine along with my video series that can be found on YouTube, I have put much work into both and really appreciate all the support I have been given.

“The best gun’s the one you’re shooting”

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