I recently hunted plains game on a friend’s farm in the Makana District of South Africa. The holding consists of about 10,000 acres of prime wildlife habitat, parts of which is used to breed prize Dorper sheep. It is a fact of life that anywhere livestock is farmed, varmint and pest species will abound. During the down time between big game hunts, professional hunters Rob Dell, Andrew Myers and I took the opportunity to use pre-charged pneumatic airguns for pest control around the stock pens. We focused on pest and small-game species that included pigeons, crows, starlings, hyrax, mongoose and vervets during the day, springhare, brush hare, jackals and porcupine at night.
After a successful morning hunt, we decided to spend a few hours before lunch thinning out the hordes of pigeons congregating around the livestock feeders. Rock pigeons, ringnecks and several other species were arriving in large numbers to raid the feeders, consuming large quantities of grain and fouling the rest. The use of centerfires is not practical as the potential for damaging equipment, injuring animals, and generating too much noise limits their effectiveness. Airguns are perfect, providing pinpoint accuracy with the right balance of power and range. In South Africa it’s legal to hunt with silencers, and an airgun fitted with a sound moderator is barely audible. The sound of the pellet hitting the target is generally louder than the actual report of the gun!
We put a lot of thought into selecting guns for this trip, as experience demonstrated that one typically does a lot more shooting with the smaller calibers than the majors on these airgunning safaris. The rifles used included the just released Evanix AR 6 .22 caliber six-shot PCP, which is not only accurate and hard-hitting, but has one of the fastest cycling actions of any airgun. Next was the Prairie Falcon, a .22 caliber eight-shot PCP that has become one of my favorite hunting guns because of its tack-driving accuracy. The last was a special BSA Superten .22 caliber ten-shot, tuned to yield substantially higher energy levels than the production gun. These three rifles had been tested with a variety of projectiles and generated energy in the range of 20-30 foot pounds of energy (fpe). The AR6 preferred heavy Eu Jin 28-grain pellets, and both the Falcon and Superten did very well with Logun Penetrators. We sighted all three to shoot dead on at 50 yards, and at that range all consistently delivered the accuracy required for headshots on these small and constantly bobbing targets.
Flights of pigeons were constantly taking off and landing, so minimal stealth was required to approach. Our technique was straight forward; slip up to within 60 yards of a feeder and wait for the spooked birds to return, then shoot. The guns were so quiet that when a bird was hit the others either stayed put or flew off only to return a few minutes later. The downed birds acted as decoys, drawing in larger flocks. Under these conditions the shooting blazed fast and furious. The multi-shot magazines on our guns proved useful, allowing us to cock and shoot at very high rates of fire.
This was fun! I’d already taken warthogs and some outstanding examples of springbuck, impala, duiker and Steinbuck, but the brief pest control shoot had me and two seasoned professional hunters excited as kids on a first hunt. I have written much about big-game hunting with airguns in previous columns, but a more common approach is to use a centerfire on large-game hunts, and bring an air rifle along to fill in the down time. If you fill your tag early on a multi-day hunt, an airgun is a brilliant way to stay in the field while waiting for the rest of your party to catch up. It provides an excellent diversion and allows everyone to get in a lot of shooting Bring along an air rifle on your next big-game hunt; you might be surprised at how much fun the small stuff is.
Taking an airgun along as a diversion on a big-game hunt to South Africa was a good move. It served well, but this type of pest-control shooting is available in most agricultural settings. I’ve had similar experience in North America, Asia, Europe and other parts of the world over the years. Here at home, airgunners can shoot rabbits, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, pigeons, crows and other pest critters in many areas where firearms are not a viable option. The shooting opportunity this presents is substantial, reducing travel and setup time, as well as opening up new hunting grounds. It is also a great way to keep in practice for your big game or varmint hunting.
If you are interested in airgun hunting, take a look online to find all the supplies required, from guns to pellets. Once you’re properly geared up, finding a place near you to hunt pest species is usually simple. Hitting those small and fast moving pests will be the challenge, but might wind up getting you an invite or two when the big-game seasons roll around.