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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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2017 SHOT SHOW

We headed out 6 hours to the Sands Expo in Las Vegas Nevada where we would make our visit to the 2017 Shot Show. We were very excited to make the rounds through this very large convention center that had 3 floors of Airgun and Firearm vendors. After a short walk we made our way into the Sands Expo where we checked in and proceeded to try navigating through the mass of foot traffic. The amount of people attending this event was astounding, no doubt making it the most popular gun expo in the world.

2017 Shot Show

Our first stop was at the Airguns Of Arizona booth where we ran into Tony Roman from the popular site Airguns Air Rifles & Pistols as he was checking out  few very cool products they carry.

Tony Roman

Some of the new Daystate models were no doubt in our opinion some of the nicest Airguns of the show as they even attracted some popular faces such as Giles Barry from the Airgun Gear Show. The Daystate rifles are very well made kits that offer quality beyond anything else we had seen. The wood stocks, fit and finish were absolutely top notch.

Barry Giles from Airgun Gear Show

Daystate


Our next stop was over to the Crosman booth where we were kindly greeted by their friendly and knowledgeable staff that were happy to answer questions. I spoke with them about several new rifles such as the Wildfire and the New regulated Marauder field target.

Benjamin Wildfire

The Wildfire is essentially a PCP version of the 10/77 repeater that uses the same trigger and magazine system, but with the addition of a 2000 psi air reservoir. With a low fill up to 2000 psi it is perfect for those looking for a great gun to pair with a hand pump and at a reported 60 shots of .177 caliber pellets. The Wildfire is really going to be a good bridge gun that may bring PCPs into the mainstream market. The SBD system is Crosman’s new silencer design, which allows for an oversize baffle and maximum volume in the chamber without obstructing the shooter’s field of view.

Benjamin SBD system

This will be applied to all of the Gen3 Nitro Piston guns and we think the real reason for the design may have been to solve the cracking issues with the shroud on the older models. We really see no change in the performance of the gun by adding the SBD system other than cosmetics, strength and possibly sound of the break barrel.


Our next stop was to the GAMO booth where we were a bit surprised to not be greeted by anyone, we did spy on the new Swarm Maxxim “repeating” break barrel though.

GAMO Swarm Maxxim

The rifle is a 10 shot repeater that uses a rotary magazine that’s inserted into a slot in the top of the rifle. Each time the rifle is cocked it indexes the magazine and loads the pellet into the breech.

GAMO Swarm magazine loading port

GAMO Swarm rotary magazine

This is a great call by GAMO to create a repeating piston gun but would have loved to see it made as a side-lever design instead of a break barrel. The rifle really isn’t much different than any of the other models as far as overall power or performance, the new barrel design is a bit robust and obviously resembles a large caliber center-fire rifle.

Gamo

The great thing about the Shot Show is to see such a wide variety of Airguns and to find the good and bad in all of them.


The next booth we visited was BEEMAN where we immediately drawn to the new QB-78S synthetic stock rifle.

Beeman QB78S rifle

The QB-78S is an updated synthetic stock version that is designed to allow the use of a bipod, flashlight or laser. The gun is not changed other than the stock and may offer a little more versatility to some of you tinkerers. These QBs are great little guns for the money and no doubt will continue to be top sellers to the entry level and veteran Airgunners both.


After a little more browsing we made out way to the EVANIX booth where we were kindly greeted by Siyoung Lee the managing director of EVANIX. He was happy to show us all of the great guns they had on hand including the new very lightweight semi-auto bullpup.

EVANIX bullpup

The new semi-auto models use recycled blowback to automatically cycle the magazine and load the pellet. Evanix will be the first to incorporate recycled blowback into a modern tactical design.

Evanix bullpup

These new rifles are extremely lightweight and shoulder very well with great fit and finish. The innovation that goes into these guns is very advanced and no doubt is a stepping stone for many other companies in design. The REX pistol was a very neat little gun that looks to offer many features that any small game hunter would be really happy with.

Evanix REX pistol

Overall I have to say that EVANIX has really hit the market this year with some serious innovative products that I think unfortunately were overlooked by a few other hypes. We however will have our eye on them and hope to report some further reviews down the road.


Our next stop was a visit to see the new KRAL ARMS line of rifles that are newly imported from Turkey. These are the Puncher Breaker bullpups that are a bit crude in overall appearance but do offer some good features in .177/.22/.25 calibers.

Kral Arms puncher breaker

Some of the rifles are very sharp looking and the wood looks like fair quality for the price these rifles are going for. The one thing we noticed about the Puncher Pro model was its similar design cross between several guns such as Daystate, Evanix and Hatsan.

Kral Arms Puncher Pro

Kral Arms rifle

The overall fit and finish of these guns is not super and feel like the want of comparing it to a very very nice Hatsan. The Puncher EVO does have some nice bling to it along with some very pretty wood stock designs. I think we will be seeing a ton of these rifles in the next year and can see Kral Arms being a great competitor to the Airgun market.


Our next stop was to check out the Ataman line of rifles that too have been a fairly new import from Russia. They were originally known for building high quality Olympic rifles and have carried the tradition of bringing some new age technology into these rifles. The M2R bullpups and compact rifles are pretty sharp looking and offer some fairly impressive performance. All the models offer built in picitany rails along with good sturdy stocks offered in wood and synthetic.

Ataman M2R

Ataman M2R synthetic stock

The Ataman’s are high end guns but can see some improvement in making some of the edges a little less sharp. The side-levers and magazines are top notch and look as though they have been made to perform and last. These guns are hunters and have a great reputation for being built by the people who use them.


Our next stop was the Hatsan booth where we were very kindly greeted by the ever knowledgeable Cecil Bays from the popular YouTube channel AirGun Scout

Hatsan rifles

Cecil was happy to show us several of the many new models and we were able to get all the information we needed from someone who uses every single model. The newest model is the Bullmaster, a semi-auto bullpup that comes in .177 and .22 and has a 500cc bottle that offers a good amount of shots. The guns semi-auto operation is completely air operated and supposedly is a much more reliable and efficient way in design than some other kits offer.

Hatsan Bullmaster

The gun is very heavy as much all Hatsan’s are, still we can give credit for some creativity in design. The new magazines are surprisingly very well made and all seemed to fit very well.

Hatsan Bullmaster magazine

The Nova may have been a favorite as far as looks but have to say that its very hard to get around the weight of these guns. We think Hatsan needs to lower the overall weight of these guns and spend some more time on the finished metal.

Hatsan Nova

Most of the guns were all very robust and had some design features that are really difficult to make sense of. The fact that Hatsan is putting out so many new affordable models is great in the sense it offers something for almost any application. If Hatsan spent some more time on one rifle and raised the quality of the materials and QC we may see a huge step up because they do have the capability. Will they do it is the question?


The next stop through our massive wave of people was the UMAREX booth where we planned to look at two new models that have really been turning some heads. The first gun we looked at was the Umarex Gauntlet entry level PCP that is planned to retail for $300, a great value for the money.

Umarex Gauntlet

The gun will be offered in .177 and .22 and features a 13-cu regulated Ninja bottle that fills to 3000psi and can easily be filled with a hand pump. They claim 60 shots at 900 fps in .22 and 70 shots in .177 at 1000 fps. The magazine is near identical to the Marauder and self indexes each time its cocked.

Umarex

The comb is adjustable that is a very nice feature along with a shrouded type barrel that is claimed to quiet the gun considerably. The only thing that would have made this gun better would be picitany rail instead of the dovetail. Overall this looks to be a winner of a rifle and tough to beat for the money. The next gun we looked at was the new .50 Hammer that is very boldly claimed to achieve 700 fpe in a 3 shot repeater “pump action”.

Umarex Hammer

This rifle is no doubt very innovative but still very skeptical to being able to achieve the power level claims. ” The Umarex Hammer is a 700 ft. lb. 50 caliber PCP rifle in a compact configuration that will shock airgun hunting enthusiasts with its innovative approach of packing multiple shots with lots of power into a modern and rugged rifle that’s easy to carry and use.” ?? We are definitely shocked. The gun uses a stripper type magazine that moves to the side to load each slug into the chamber.

Umarex hammer magazine

The gun was showcased with a new Umarex ARX ammo that is essentially a sabot type that’s popular in the muzzle-loading world.

Umarex ARX

The Umarex staff was not able to answer many questions such as ammo weight or air capacity for this rifle. The barrel looked to be near 48″ long with some sort of carbon fiber sticker type wrap on it.

Umarex hammer

The thin walled, untensioned barrel may prove to be a serious problem with harmonics when producing 700 fpe. When asked about accuracy the quote was 2″ at 50 yards, good enough for a hunting gun?….The gun looks as though it may be using a large plenum that is housed somewhere near the back of the buttstock that may explain its ease of cocking. A heck of a hammer spring would normally be needed to put out such high numbers. The best guess is this gun may produce high numbers but with only one shot and several using a lightweight conservative slug. The gun does have a curb appeal that includes AR furniture, picitany rails and a fairly lightweight to it. Without seeing more than just a few prototypes we can really only speculate on weather or not the hype is all true or if its just a brilliant way to achieve some much needed publicity. Umarex did bring a good show and does look as though it has created a winner with the Gauntlet model.


Our last visit of the day was to Predator International where we met and talked to Richard Dixon.

Predator International

Richard showed us a few of his new lead free GTO line of pellets that look as though they are a great step in lead free technology. We are a California based company where many of our hunting areas may soon require a lead free alternative due to changing laws. Predator International is on top of the game in providing exceptional products for hunting and target practice.

predator international

We helped ourselves to a few stickers and had a good chat with Randy over at RL Airgun Supply  who seemed like a great guy who enjoyes the sport to its fullest.


The 2017 Shot Show was a great visit and found it as a valuable tool in being able to interact with the companies on a more personal level and to see the faces behind the media that promotes them. The goal for this trip was to make some connections and to try to share some serious truth as to what was seen in the light. All that was mentioned is just our own opinion and applied using the best facts that could be gathered, hopefully it can be taken as helpful.

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.30 POLYMAG TESTING & REVIEW

Very exciting to be one of the first to field test the new .30 Polymags,a new product made by Predator International,inc. I received a box that was sent by Dick via Priority mail that made it to my house late Sunday evening just in time for some testing Monday morning.

Dick was kind enough to provide a very nice zippered pouch that I intend to use on future hunts, too are very handy for keeping the tins together. I set out Monday morning for the American Air Arms facility located in the high desert of Southern California where such guns as the .357 Slayer are built and tested. Myself along with the help of Tom Costan decided to start the day by doing some group therapy with these 44.75g beastly looking .30 pellets.

The gun I used for the testing was a custom Evenix Rainstorm with a .30 Tj enterprises barrel that puts out some good FPE. The pellets were shooting at 910 fps and the height of the shot curve,more than enough power to get them out to the 85 yard target.

The day was a bit cloudy with a very slight breeze from the right but offered some pleasant target conditions. I was very pleased with the groups I was getting even though I by no means am a paper puncher.

 I did several 5 shot groups and was beginning to feel confident in the pellets hunting capabilities,having some serious fun watching the plywood get blown apart too. I wanted to test the expansion of the pellets so I used a batch of mud that I had dumped into a plastic jug,figured this may mimic flesh fairly accurately.

The expansion was very massive and had given me the instant conclusion that these pellets would be absolutely devastating on game such as large Jackrabbits and even Coyotes. At this point of the day I decided to head out for a short hunt near our facility where I soon was able to take a Cottontail at 30 yards. The sound these pellets make when they hit bone and flesh is unreal and unlike any other “pellets” I have used.

I was able to make my shot through the neck,out the skull and actually blew off part of the rabbits ear.

The .30 Polymags are definitely a pellet I would trust to use on larger game such as Coyotes and monster Jackrabbits. By the end of the day I was feeling confident that I would no doubt use them out to 100+yards for hunting. I really enjoyed the opportunity I’ve had to test and hunt with these fine pellets,cant wait to use them on some big stuff in the next few weeks. Thanks to all involved and hope to share some more very soon!