Challenge Yourself: Rabbit Hunting With a Spring Piston Air Rifle

Put a little spring into your next small game hunt for rabbits or squirrels by challenging yourself with a spring piston air rifle.
Challenge Yourself: Rabbit Hunting With a Spring Piston Air Rifle

I was headed out to west Texas to hunt feral hogs with my big bore airguns. The most productive hours to hunt hogs are around dusk for sitting a blind, and midday for still hunting the thickets. I’ve found that when pigs get pressured, the big porkers go nocturnal and lay up during the heat of the day in the dense vegetation.

Since the hog hunting action is slow in the mornings, I’ve started to use this time for small game hunting instead. Though I generally use PCP rifles more frequently these days, I do enjoy getting out in the field with a spring piston rifle every now and again. As a matter of fact, I’ve been having a lot of fun shooting some of the newer springers lately.

So, packing for my trip to the Lone Star State I grabbed a gas ram gun that has been impressing me, the Diana 340 N-TEC. I reckoned that over this four-day hunting trip, I should get an opportunity to shoot rabbits, pack rats, and maybe a Eurasian collared dove or two.

Lining up on a rabbit, shots can come up fast, and evaporate faster. Shoot when you have the opportunity. (Photo: Jim Chapman)

I was traveling out to a friend’s ranch located three hours west of Dallas, in the mesquite and cedar covered semi-desert landscape of West Texas. There is a lot of wildlife out here; native populations of rabbits, ground squirrels, fox, bobcats, coyotes, quail, turkey, deer, as well as a huge population of feral pigs that have been spreading across the state for decades. The primary small game species I was after on this trip was the cottontail rabbit, and though you’ll see the occasional jackrabbit, the cottontail sightings outnumber them by quite a margin in this area. An easy hike along one of the dirt ranch roads at daybreak will often provide shot opportunities on several rabbits in a short time.

On the drive out to the ranch, I’d stopped by a shop to stock up on food, drinks, and ice, and luckily remembered to pick up my hunting license. In most jurisdictions a license is required, whether you’re taking varmint, predators, or game species. But as I planned to take non-indigenous species (hogs and/or rams) and varmint I was able to purchase a five-day special use license at a lower price. It is interesting that Texas is one of the few states that does not classify rabbits as a small game species, which means there are no limits or seasons.

Besides the fact that I enjoy shooting springers, there are practical considerations in taking this route when going off on a traveling hunt. These guns are robust and rarely malfunction, and they are self-contained requiring no filling gear. However, since my big game guns needed a high-pressure air source, I had to ship tanks ahead anyway. My reason for taking the Diana on this trip was simply that I felt like shooting a quality springer.

The Diana 340 N-Tec is a well-proportioned gas ram powered rifle; the gas ram (or strut) implements a sealed cylinder of compressed gas as substitute for a mechanical spring. At 8.5 lb. and a 46-inch LOA, it is lightweight and ergonomic for a magnum springer. The rifle fits my 6’1 frame well, offering a very comfortable cheek-weld, and the forestock and pistol grip laid naturally in my hands. As a result, this rifle is very comfortable to shoot. I’ve mentioned in past columns that because of the bidirectional recoil of conventional mechanical spring piston rifles, they can be hold sensitive and difficult to shoot rested. However, the firing cycle is quite smooth on this rifle, and I found that the recoil characteristics of the rifle made it possible to shoot off a rest, with the forestock laid on my open hand and my hand laid on the rest.

Shooting off my knee, I was able to keep my groups at ½ to ¾-inch at 30 yards. I consider this very good accuracy and feel sure that the limiting factor here was me and not the rifle. This Diana 340 is configured for the US market, and is generating 15 fpe. My rifle is not equipped with sling swivels yet, but I’ll get around to installing them at some point. In the meantime, I carry the rifle in my Eberlestock Gunslinger daypack with an integrated scabbard.

The other gear I took along is my standard carry for small game outings in these wide-open spaces. I like to use a compact set of Leupold 8X binoculars for glassing the terrain, looking for rabbits laid up in scrapes under the brush. Seeing them before they see me allows a stealthy approach to be planned, and the binoculars allow me to pick out a partially hidden rabbit much better than I can do with my naked eye. As usual I packed my range finder, even though I didn’t plan to take any long shots, but it was force of habit. I feel confident shooting this gun offhand out to 25 yards, though between 25-35 yards I’ll take a knee to support my shot when possible. My intention was to stay inside my comfort zone for offhand shooting, so I didn’t bother with shooting sticks.

The Diana 340 N-Tec is an attractive and ergonomic design. (Photo: Jim Chapman)

I started hiking along an overgrown dirt road that led up the side of hill and hadn’t gone fifty yards when the first rabbit hopped out in front of me. I dropped to my knee and shouldered the rifle while lining up the crosshairs of the 3–9x40 Leapers UTG scope. I’d sighted in at 30 yards, which coincided with the distance between me and this fully-grown cottontail. Squeezing the trigger, the .177 H&N Baracuda Hunter Extreme pellet sizzled down range connecting with a headshot and rolling the rabbit on his side with barely a twitch. I hocked the rabbit and hung it on a tree branch to pick up on my return, then moved on.

A few minutes later, I came around a bend, to find myself nose to nose with another cottontail. He jumped into a stand of cactus off the roadside and stopped for a minute, not his best move! I snapped the gun up and fired offhand, connecting with another broadside chest shot at 20 yards. This gun came up so fast and smoothly it felt like an extension of my arms, and the excellent tactile response of the trigger allowed me to capitalize on the guns intrinsic accuracy. I stayed out for another hour and bagged three more rabbits before calling it a morning and heading back for breakfast.

I wanted to relive the fun of hunting with a springer, and the Diana 340 N-TEC did a great job. I couldn’t have asked for better performance. Because I tend to shoot higher-powered PCP rifles when hunting, I don’t use the .177-caliber often; however, my kills were as clean and efficient as if I’d used a high power .25-caliber. This rifle came to shoulder fast and smooth and provided a consistent mount and sight alignment. The trigger stacked in a predictable manner, and the second stage broke like a glass rod. The cocking effort was surprisingly light considering the (15 fpe) power generated. And on top of the performance, this gun is just plain pretty!

I’ve promised myself that this season I’d get back to my roots and use spring piston rifles a lot more than I have done over the last few years. With results like this, and the fun I had shooting the Diana, this will not be a hard promise to keep!

 

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