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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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Jackrabbit Adventure Hunt

Thursday afternoon I started packing the Jeep for a three day adventure with my dog Marley and several hunting buddies. Friday morning at 2:45 am Marley and I headed several hours North to a location that we have been frequenting for several years now. The area is normally very secluded and offers some of the best Jackrabbit hunting the state of California has to offer. I was especially excited as the recent rainfall has created an abundance of brilliant colored wildflowers, tall green grass and near perfect weather to the area we were to be hunting. The long dirt road that heads into the hunting area is around 24 miles long and is best traveled slow, especially in the darkness of early morning. Marley and I made our way carefully down the road where we encountered Giant Kangaroo Rats, Jackrabbits, Owls and Coyotes that would occasionally make way in front of the Jeep. After some time we made our way into the campground that unfortunately was occupied to capacity by the Spring breakers making visit to spectate the wildflowers. I expected to find more than the usual amount of people, especially this time of year so we decided on plan B that was to camp on top of a mountain. The area on the mountain was not easily accessible to many vehicles, and out of the way of prying eyes as I prefer most of my camping excursions to be. Marley could hardly wait to get out and stretch her little legs and take in the fresh morning air. I pulled out a folding chair, cracked open an iced coffee and sat to enjoy the stars and quietness of the morning. After several minutes I noticed Marley staring at something and acting strange, I picked her up and put her in the truck not wanting an altercation with animals. I pulled out my flashlight and spotted the glowing eyes of several tiny kit foxes that were curiously watching us from a distance. These foxes are actually very rare to the area and considered to be endangered and highly protected.

As the morning progressed by this time it was near 6:00 am and time to start unpacking the gear and readying myself for a long day of hunting. I was using my larger pack that carries a good amount of water for both Marley and I, still leaving room for camera equipment and ammo. The plan was to hike about 45 minutes North into the mountains where I had some good experiences hunting Jackrabbits several times before. As we made our way from the Jeep we had to crawl under a bob-wire fence that proved easy for Marley and quite the challenge for me, rifle and pack full of camera gear. From this point the hillside moves up to a sharp rocky incline with tall grass and patches of thick brush that makes it a difficult hike, especially with low light. As Marley and I reached the top of the mountain it was approaching sunrise that quickly showed off our beautiful surroundings of tall grasses and brilliant wildflowers.

We hiked for a few more minutes until we came to an area that looked across a canyon where I was sure we could spot some moving Jackrabbits making way around the hillsides. We sat and waited and soon I was able to spot a juvenile sitting in a small clearing surrounded by thick brush and tall grass.

American Air Arms Classic EVOL .30

My American Air Arms EVOL .30 had recently been upgraded with a Hawke Frontier  2.5-15×50 riflescope that has made it much more enjoyable to hunt long range. I mention this scope because through much experience I have found the importance of clear glass coupled with a nice wide field of view. This scope has drastically improved my hunting in just the short time I’ve had it and seems to fit the gun very well. Back to the hunt, as mentioned I spotted a juvenile size Jackrabbit that at first can be mistaken for a Cottontail other than the ears.

From my position I was right near 140 yards with a good strong wind blowing from left to right making it the perfect kind of shot for the .30 44 grain Predator Polymag.

I took several minutes setting up my camera and adjusting the friction head to zoom in to capture the shot on film, always kind of a pain to set up considering the range and several bushes obscuring the view. After the camera was rolling I made the shot that sent the jackrabbit flying backwards about a foot where it instantly expired. Marley was quick to retrieve and was as excited as I was to make our first kill of the day.

140 Yard Jackrabbit Kill

After a short break Marley and I continued into the expansive back-country where we continued to spot Jackrabbit ears moving through the tall luscious green grass. By this time it was about 7:30 am with the wind becoming a bit stronger unfortunately, ultimately being the downfall of the hunt here. We soon came up on a deep narrow canyon that I knew must have had several Jackrabbits hiding in the bottom that went down about 100 yards. As Marley and I approached the edge looking down our presence immediately flushed several large Jackrabbits up the other side making a shot on one that was a near miss. As we slowly walked South down the ridge of the mountain I kept looking down towards the bottom of the ravine where I soon spotted a good size Jackrabbit sitting still. I sat down and tried my best adjusting the camera but unfortunately had the tripod adjusted way to low to capture any good film of the shot that was taken at 65 yards. I was able to make a great head-shot that send the Jackrabbit rolling several feet down into the bottom of the ravine.

65 Yard Jackrabbit kill

The .30 44 grain Polymags work very well for this type of small game hunting and in most cases are devastating as the exit wounds are huge. As we collected our Jackrabbit kill we continued down the ravine still heading South, back to the Jeep’s location. As Marley and I reached the bottom of the mountain we came to an enormous open field with grass that was over waist high, not easy walking for Marley legs or mine. We decided to take a much needed break and to replenish ourselves with some water and a small snack to get us some energy to make our way back to the Jeep.

The time was now close to 11:00 am and we were both exhausted, I was feeling bad for Marley having to make her way through such high grass. We had about 4 miles to hike before we finally made it back to the Jeep where all I wanted to do was lay down, rest and have a nice cold CocaCola. 

My legs were beat and after having my lunch was ready to take a nap for several hours with the hopes that the wind would die down and to charge my camera for some more filming. Marley and I fell asleep in the back of the Jeep for about an hour until I was awoken by her barking and someone grabbing my boot, not a pleasant way to get woken up. I woke up in a daze with a park ranger standing at the end of my tailgate. The ranger stated that I was not able to park in my existing location overnight and too that I was not to be parked off of the road. I had stated that I simply was waiting for several friends and that we had planned to camp several more days, the “campground” was full. The ranger was simply doing his job and can certainly respect that, just wish he could have been more sympathetic and helpful towards finding a better alternative. Marley and I packed up the Jeep and made our way to several other locations that unfortunately were not as secluded and too were full of the unwanted presence of “City Campers”. Call me selfish but I refuse to travel hours only to have to share space with strangers when I simply want to get away from people. After some amount of time driving back and fourth the long dirt road I decided that it may be the best decision to just leave the park all together and to call the guys and tell them. As I made way to the highway I finally had enough cellphone signal to call Terry and SteveO and let them know what had happen and to not plan to meet at that location. Over the phone we had decided to move our hunt to another area about 45 minutes South into the high desert where we had spent many previous hunting trips.


After a short drive with a short stop through the nearby drive-thru we were at our new location, by this time it was about 4:45 pm. Marley was excited as soon as we drove off the highway and onto the dirt as this is her favorite location to hunt and was just happy to not be going home. The windows were down and both of us were happily gazing from side to side looking for any movement under the many Joshua Trees that horde the area. We arrived to where we normally camp and target shoot, a nice little cubby that is surrounded by many large Joshua Trees.

Southern California High Desert

Marley and I quickly unpacked the Jeep and readied the gear along with my rifle, just in time for an evening hunt. This area has a very large population of Jackrabbits, Coyotes and Ground Squirrel’s that never seem to diminish. We walked a large one mile circle that I have walked hundreds of times before, almost knowing every square inch of the entire area and where most likely to find Jackrabbits. After about 20 minutes of walking I spotted several at around 100 yards that were unfortunately partially obscured by Joshua Tree branches. Marley and I slowly made our way that direction, stopping frequently with light steps to not make any noise. The wind wasn’t bad but was by no means the perfect hunting weather. From previous experience I have always had good luck with hunting in the wind as I believe the wind noise makes stalking in close easier. I can remember several times where I have gotten within several yards of a Jackrabbit without them even noticing my presence, both times were windy conditions. We eventually got close to where the two Jackrabbits were sitting but through looking all over couldn’t find and sign of them, they vanished. As Marley and I made our way through the giant circle and back towards the Jeep I spotted some ears at 70 or so yards sticking up from behind some grass. We moved what must have been two steps before the Jackrabbit stood up to where I could see its head in full view, THWAP! right in the head. Marley excitedly was off like a bolt of lightning to collect our kill and to drag it out of the tall grass.

As the time was now late evening and soon to be dark we made way back to our homestead for the night that surprisingly wasn’t as cold as I anticipated it to be. I made myself a sandwich and gave Marley her dinner along with a strip of bacon for desert followed by a bit of reading before falling asleep. Both Marley and I were extremely tired from a long day of driving and hiking, my legs, feet and back were killing me. I set my alarm for 6:30 am and had expected Terry and SteveO to arrive shortly after, just in time for the morning amber ears.


After a great nights sleep with a short rainstorm, just enough to wash the crud off my jeep Marley and I were awake and ready for another day. The sunrise was amazing as it highlighted all the green foliage and too made the distant fog that lingered over the nearby mountain range spectacular. This area really is one of my favorites and could hardly wait to enjoy it with my two good friends over the next two days.

Marley and I lingered around the camp for a bit while we waited for the guys to arrive, of coarse we saw a few Jackrabbits before we had the chance to pull the rifle out. We unloaded the rifle from the truck and did a quick loop where we spotted several Jackrabbits,I set up the camera on one to film the shot but in unfortunately wouldn’t stay still long enough. As Marley and I headed back we could hear the sound of two vehicles approaching in the distance. SteveO and Terry had made it and Marley became very excited as these two guys are her favorite and have become family to her.

Terry approaching camp

I was happy to have both these guys join me as the past day had not been very productive considering the problem with the wind and lack of place to camp. Terry had brought his trusted Tapian Mutant that has proven to be a great hunting gun being laser accurate and extremely efficient with shot count. SteveO had brought his old trusty .25 Marauder that has had many successful hunting adventures ingrained into it. After a few minutes of them getting the guns aired up and gear situated we headed off with me following close behind with the camera. I had really hoped to capture some good hunting footage that could be used in some future videos and thought this may be a great opportunity.

Marley didn’t want to miss the action so she made sure to stay close to the guys, just in case her services were needed.

We made our way through the jungle of Joshua Trees hoping to find the peachy glow of amber ears being back-lit by the morning sun. Terry spotted one that moved off like a flash through the thick Springtime foliage that made them extremely difficult to spot. I had suggested they move towards an area that had less Joshua trees and was a bit more wide open with several small hills that may hold several. Slowly we made our way out of the wall of Joshua Trees and into the field I described, almost immediately met by several Jackrabbits.

This Jackrabbit is a prime example of how difficult it is to judge range in some cases due to hills and obstacles, this one was at 100 yards but the illusion made it look much further. We did not range properly and unfortunately were putting way to much holdover on the shots that were going way over the Jackrabbits head. The Jackrabbit amazingly enough stuck around just long enough for us to figure out what was wrong but not long enough to make a kill. This is the type of thing that can sometimes be very frustrating for any hunter, a lesson learned is always worth the mistake made I think. We continued on and tried our best to ignore the wind that seemed to be coming about very strongly. SteveO and I took a break while Terry spent some time stalking a Jackrabbit that was moving back down through the Joshua Trees.

I don’t think any of really cared much about success to much, we were just happy to be out and about with good friends. Marley was enjoying the area as well, smelling all the smells and chasing lizards, birds and tiny Golden Mantle Squirrels. As SteveO and I were walking we both noticed a very beautiful Quail that was perched on a nearby Joshua Tree, this area had many.

California quail (Callipepla californica)

The wind was becoming honestly a bit unbearable and by this time it was only 11:30 am, didn’t seem to be getting much better. We continued hunting and spread out about 30 yards apart as we headed through the thick Joshua Trees, hoping to flush a Jackrabbit in front of us. As we finally made it back to camp we noticed several Ground Squirrels that scurried off some fallen branches and back into the many holes at the base of the Joshua Trees. After a short break at camp we decided to head over and wait for the Ground Squirrels to make another appearance, long enough to make a shot.

Terry with his girlfriend Marley

All three of us were set up at within 30 yards of the nearest Ground Squirrel hole, the wind was blowing about 45/50 mph by this time. When the wind is blowing that hard we had guessed it most likely detours the ground squirrel activity, making them stay down and out of the wind and flying debris.

All of us sat patiently for quite some time, only to have nothing but sand blown in our face. The wind was at this point so bad that it made it difficult to walk without getting blown over, not to great for hunting either. After some time visiting we decided to call it a day and head home and made plans to head out again when time allows.

 

This was a great trip and even though the weather and a few of the situations were not as I had hoped for it was still nice just to get away and enjoy the outdoors. Part of being an Airgun Hunter is learning to adapt to different situations such as weather, locations and game being hunted. Sometimes the locations we hunt can be very unforgiving, thankfully the company of friends makes it all worth while. Thanks to everyone who supports our many great adventures. Enclosed is a short video of our first day of hunting: