Friday, 23 October 2009

Myxi on my patch

I was greeted with a very sad sight at the weekend. My best rabbit shoot has been hit by myxi. Looks like I'll be going down there to put them out of their misery over the next few weeks, rather than filling my freezer.

I've put a video of the poor creatures on my YouTube channel. Just go here to see it - or next time you're on the 'Tube, log on to:

Tuesday, 13 October 2009


Thought it was about time I changed the look of my Blog and thought this layout was a bit easier on the eye.

I hope you agree!

Monday, 12 October 2009

Blow the Bubbles

I read in the Guardian (full story here) that the Poole-based cosmetics company, Lush, is launching a bubble bath that it hopes will raise £50,000 to fund anti-blood sports activists.

Well, let me state for the record here and now: Neither I, nor any of my friends or family, will be buying Lush's 'The Fabulous Mr Fox bubble bath'!

I urge all other airgunners to spread the word...

Sunday, 11 October 2009

A Night-time Rat Hunt with the FX Verminator

Recently had a great time thinning out the scaly-tails at a local organic farm which my mate usually looks after. He's unable to get there at the moment... and I've been charged with keeping the black stuff at bay in his absence.

I've written about the night's shooting antics in December's Sporting Shooter magazine (on sale from the first week of November), and I've put together this short movie to set the scene...

Friday, 2 October 2009

NEW FX ROYALE 400 PCP - sneak preview VIDEO!

I've been testing the new Royale 400 from FX Airguns for December's Air Gunner magazine of late - a lovely buddy bottle multi-shot that, I reckon, will be an instant hit.

I've already knocked over a 40-metre crow with it, plus a couple of mid-range woodies - and I've only taken it hunting the once so far! On paper, it's incredibly accurate (with Air Arms Field 5.52) and the thumbhole stock handles beautifully.

It's available in synthetic (for £799) - or £149 extra gets the flagship walnut model, which I'm showing in the video here (and writing about in the magazine).

I hope you like the movie... and you can read my full report, exclusively in December's Air Gunner magazine, on sale at all good newsagents from the first Thursday of November.

P.S. Let me know what you think of the movie. This is my first... but could be the first of many if it goes down well! You can also find this video on YouTube, where the quality is better than what this Blog allows.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Smash and Grab woody!

MTC 10x44 Viper on Daystate Air Wolf
A double whammy this afternoon - two of the most amazing things that rank amongst the best experiences I've ever had when out hunting. It's things like this which, for me, make being out and about with my airgun such a wonderful way to spend life.

I'd taken the afternoon off to zero up my Air Wolf which has a new, fixed-power MTC (10 x 44 Viper) on board. I needed it for tomorrow night's long-range rat shooting session with a mate. The zeroing went well, with one-hole groups at 30 metres and a bit of 'plinking' out to 40m just to re-aquaint myself with its SCB reticle.

Afterwards, I popped up to the farmer's father's place, where my Mum is house-sitting. A large stubble field borders it and whilst we were in the garden, there was enough crow and pigeon activity to tempt me into getting the gun out of the boot!

I was able to sneak around the garden unseen, and had the added advantage of being able to rest the Daystate on one of the bars of the wooden boundary fencing.

Nothing was within range; the closest woody (a solitary one) was a good 60 metres away from me. However, it was feeding with its head towards me, and with the ground rising slightly in front of me, its head was just about all I could see. The gun was very steady on the fence and I spent a while watching the bird and assessing the range. Even as its head bobbed up and down, I felt I could land a shot. There was no wind to speak of and the target presented a clean-hit or clean-miss opportunity.

Calculating the range at 60 metres with the scope's sidewheel P/A system, I 'guesstimated' that I'd need to use 3.5 lines down on the ladder cross-hair, took aim... and slipped away the shot.

MTC SCB (Small Calibre Ballistic) Reticle
The Air Wolf's electronic action barely moved and, through the crystal clear optics of the MTC, I saw a couple of feathers puff up and then watched the woody simply roll forward. Its wing momentarily caught what little breeze there was, and then dropped back down. I'd delivered one of the longest-range shots of my life!

Because of the Wolf's integral silencer, none of the surrounding birds lifted. I scanned the ground and noticed a couple more birds, about 15 metres beyond, which were feeding in a similar way. I was hopeful they might work their way toward me, at least to the distance I'd just scored at.
Two or three minutes went by, and the birds didn't play ball. Out of boredom more than anything, I swung the scope back onto the shot bird to admire my handiwork.

Then, while I was looking at it, my scope was suddenly filled with the brown and beige flash of a buzzard as it swooped down to scoop up the dead pigeon in its out-stretched talons!

At 10x power, it looked like an eagle and in a split second it had its head down into the grey feathers. I suppose I should have stayed put and watched it devour its free dinner, but I was very proud of that shot and wanted to have it for my supper!

I jumped up from behind the fence, shouting at the top of my voice. "Oyyyy!!!!!" The entire field took off, and the buzzard - its huge wings outspread as it dropped the pigeon back onto the stubble - rose with that elegance all birds of prey have. Fantastic!

With my cover blown, I retrieved my pigeon, setting up a twig where it had fallen. Then, when I got back to my firing point, I used my laser range-finder to zap the twig. It was 64 metres (which equates to 70 yards!). Even starting out at just 11 ft. lbs. muzzle energy, the 8.3-grain Air Arms Field had still had plenty of punch to despatch the bird humanely at that phenomenal distance.

Quite an eventful late afternoon's impromptu hunt - and one I certainly have pleasure recounting on this blog. I didn't have a camera with me, but these pictures were taken as soon as I got home... just to record the bird for posterity, you understand!

Nigel's 70-yard woody... although he nearly lost it to a hungry buzzard!

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Sloe Gin & Blackberries - a full bag!

A big haul of blackberries

I love autumn - even if there's only a hint of it round here. Good 'Indian Summer' days have made me get out and about more than usual this year - and although I think I pretty much reduced the woody numbers earlier in the year, the last couple of weeks have still seen me coming home with a pretty full game bag. Not woodies and bunnies... but blackberries and sloes!

"A season of mists and mellow fruitfulness", now is the time for the airgun hunter to gather a lot more than just meat for the table. Blackberries are pretty much everywhere, and on one of my shoots (which is well off the beaten track for the public), they've been in particular abundance this year. On Sunday alone, I picked four kilos (yes, that's almost nine pounds in old money!) which I'm having with a shake each morning for breakfast. (It makes it the colour of Ribena, but it ain't half tasty.) The kids love 'em, too - snacking on them instead of buscuits when they come home from school. And, of course, with the cookers I picked up from the old orchard, there's my wife's scrummy apply and blackberry pie for pud after supper. I probably should be making blackberry jam, too...

I also collected a large bowlful of sloe berries last weekend - and the sloe gin production line is now well under way! They say that sloes are at the best in October, after the first frosts, but down in the south-west, they're definitely a little ahead of time this year - probably because of the wet summer we had. In fact, some are visibly 'going over' on the bushes.

How do you know if a sloe's ripe? Well, certainly don't taste one straight off the bush! If they've got that deep blue-purple look with a white-ish bloom over them, they're most likely ripe enough for picking. Gently pull at one and it should come away quite easily. If you need to give it a tug, it's not ready yet.

Spotting sloes can be quite difficult, particularly on bright, sunny days as they're perfectly camouflaged in the hedgerow shadows cast by low sun's dappled light. But you can make locating them a lot easier earlier in the year.

The fruit of the blackthorn hedge, when you're hunting around April time, make a mental note of where you see the emergence of the white blackthorn blossom amidst the othewise bare hederows - because that's where you'll be wanting to head in the coming September and October!

And how to make sloe gin? It's easy. Halve the contents of a full bottle of gin (by transferring it into an empty, equally-sized bottle). Into each, pour in around 150 grammes of white sugar (it doesn't have to be exact).

Next, the laborious job; prick each sloe and drop them into the bottles until the level comes up to the neck. (A quicker method is to freeze the sloes overnight. When you take them out of the freezer to thaw, they'll then split.)

Screw the bottle tops on tightly and store them in a dark cupboard, away from heat. Agitate the bottles every day for 10 days, then perhaps once a week until Christmas, when you'll need to decant (and filter) the gin into clean bottles. Now you'll be able to serve your family and friends one of their best-talked-about tipples of the festive season!

They say sloe gin gets better the longer it's kept (I wouldn't know!) - but if you are able to make enough that lasts into the following year, then remove the sloes after about six months.

Allen's sloe gin production line begins!

Monday, 13 July 2009

Ultimate Airgun Fun - Exploding Tin Cans!

I'm pretty serious about my airgunning - I make my living from it, after all. But I've never forgotten the fun-side of it which, for me, is the very heart of my love for the sport. So every now and then I forget the serious stuff and just do what millions of airgunners the world over also like doing. Fire a 'what if...' shot.

What if... I didn't drink that can of fizzy pop but instead, shook it up, placed on that post over there and took a shot at it? Just what if...

Wa-hey! Absolutely no scientific use whatsoever - but one of the most exhilarating shots I've taken for yonks!!!

Young Guns - a shooting legacy

It's over a month since, but my efforts to introduce non-shooters to the sport of airgunning as part of May's National Shooting Week have, actually, paid off! Last week, my teenage son asked "Dad, can I go shooting at the weekend?"


So, under complete and constant shooting supervision - besides not being 14 yet and therefore not legally allowed to shoot unsupervised, this was also his first outing with an airgun - he enjoyed a 'by choice' plinking session at the farm. Okay, it didn't last much more than 40 mins before he wanted to do 'something else', but the seed may well have been sown. We've even gone since - again at his request - and I suspect there will be many more outings ahead.

Even if he's not as keen as I was in my teenage years, the likelihood of him 'returning' to airgunning when he's in his twenties or thirties is now much higher - and, albeit in a small way, this is another positive step in securing the future of our sport. It's so important that today's airgunning 'Dads' encourage their kids to follow suit and at least 'try' shooting. It ain't easy competing with the PS3, but as my son said: "This is actually a lot better than shooting stuff on Call of Duty."

We did some target stuff, but he got most enjoyment from spinning tinnies. So did I - but I got the most pleasure just from teaching him the rudiments of safe shooting and watching his reaction at each well-delivered strike. (He was actually much better than I was when I first started shooting.)

And the gun? Well, a truly fanstastic 'starter' model from Sportsmarketing - their all-new SYNTARG, price £99.95.

It comes with a synthetic stock that's rugged enough to withstand any teenager's rough 'n' tough handling. It's been skeletonised to keep weight down, and the 'shark fin' butt really looks the business - no matter what age eyes you're seeing it through!

Its break-barrel action is mid-powered and easy enough to break open and cock - and the trigger, though non-adjustable, breaks consistently. It's not too light to be dangerous in the hands of a novice, but not so stiff as to be a hindrance. The gun's dimensions are perfect for a teenager, and though the finger reach to the trigger appears to be a bit long, it's fine once the blade has been pulled into its pre-slip position.

Along with an auto-safety, it comes with fully-adjustable open sights that incorporate fibre-optic elements to make aiming fun as well as easy. There are two green dots on the rear leaf which you line up either side of the red, foresight 'bead'.

The SYNTARG's receiver has also been grooved to take a telly - and I put on one of SMK's 4 x 28 models (£24.95, incl. mounts) which kept the weight down. Four-times mag is perfect for a rookie shooter and this scope has the added advantage of a longer-than-average eye-relief. There will be no cut eyebrows with this optic!

What's more, the receiver has an arrestor plate fitted. If you bolt the rear mount tight up against this, the scope won't creep. Guns that lose zero quickly are the perfect recipe for making a newbie shooter lose interest, so this is a real bonus feature on the SMK.

Sub-12 ft/lbs or FAC? What power for hunting?

I guess playing round with a shotgun has made me come to appreciate the worth of the airgun as an effective tool for pest control - not that I ever doubted it. If you've read my previous post, you'll see that I've been dabbling (for the first time) with a 12-bore. Ironically, it was the thought that I could get bigger bags and impress the farmers that made me want to take up this different shooting sport - though there's zero chance that I'll be giving up on the airguns.

Now, in my 15 years as editor of Air Gunner, I had countless conversations with readers who were keen on going to FAC-power in the belief that it would increase their range and improve their bags. Personally, I tried it and couldn't see the benefits - sub-12 ft/lbs was plenty enough for me to hunt successfully. But I wonder how many airgunners aren't happy with the 12 ft/lbs limit they've got?

Which leads me nicely to something my good friend Ian Barnett (pictured below) communicated to me via email recently. Long-time airgun hunter, Ian began his publishing career with me at Air Gunner, where he's still a highly respected member of the writing team. (He's got a book he hopes to publish soon - a collection of anecdotal hunting trips which touch not just on the shooting, but also the whole country angle, like tracks, trails, sounds, animal behaviour etc. As the editor who launched his shooting journalism career, I'm hoping I get one of the first, signed copies. It'll be a best-seller, I've no doubt, for Ian's one of the most knowledgable countrymen I've ever had the privilege of learning from.)

Anyway, a while back, Ian decided to give FAC-rated airgun hunting a go, and invested in a high-power Weihrauch HW100 Sporter (a sub-12 'KT' version of which he already had). With Ian's permission, I re-print here the basis of his aforementioned email:

"Nige, I've shelved the FAC gun after a year of experimenting. This won't come as a surprise to you. Looking back, I've shot an average of twice as much quarry per outing with the sub-12 compared with the FAC rifle. I'm fed up with random accuracy and low air economy. I'm back on the sub-12 HW100K, confining range to 40 yards max. The Daystate Rangemaster pellets are proving excellent within these parameters and the first-time kill ratio has improved.
I'm not intending to sell the FAC gun and will retain it for the odd longer-distance "special" request, though I doubt it will leave the cabinet much."

So there you go. The personal verdict from one of the best-known airgun hunters in the country. FAC isn't the be-all and end-all when it comes to airgun hunting. Remember that, next time you might begin to doubt the effectiveness of your sub-12 ft/lb air rifle.

(I know I will.)


Well - how time flies! One or two followers have prompted me about not posting anything recently... and firstly I must apologise for the lack of recent entries. My excuse? Well, I've been busy working... and busy playing around with a 12-bore O/U shotgun!

As a long-time airgunner, venturing into a completely different shooting sport is extremely exciting - but I've also been quite surprised at how 'hard' it's been. There's me thinking the switch from rifleman to shotgunner would be a fairly easy transition but, in fact, it's quite the opposite. Airgunning's a precision sport, whether you're shooting field targets at 50 metres or honing-in on a woody's bonce at 30. Shotgunning, on the other hand, is far less deliberate; far more of an instinctive thing.

I think I'm probably over-thinking everything when the Beretta's in my shoulder: head position, aim, yardage etc. etc. The bird I got on the wing yesterday evening was my first (having wasted a half-dozen cartridges on previous forays). It was the second of both barrels, the first load being aimed at another pigeon before I swung onto the bird which I eventually dropped. The funny thing is that I don't remember why (or how) I made this a telling shot. I guess, in the end, it was an 'instinctive' shot - and that's why the bird fell out of the sky!

Having to touch off the trigger whilst the barrels are still moving is going to be a very difficult thing to come to terms with. I reckon I've shot over a quarter-million airgun pellets in my life, each and every one of them whilst deliberately trying to keep the barrel as still as possible.

And what's my verdict re. airgun vs shotgun? Well, the jury's out. Okay, I might be able to take birds on the wing - but I don't half miss the precision-delivered shot that a high quality air rifle and 12x scope offers...

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Airgunner Tempted by Shotgun

I recently spent a day with a shooting party made up of a mix of shotgunners and airgunners and was surprised - as an airgun-only shooter - just how many of them regularly used both types of gun. And after handling some really luxurious shotgun kit, I'm beginning to think a 12-bore is a perfect complement to an airgunner's gun cabinet!

Owning a quality airgun is as important to me as shooting it - and I've got some really beautiful custom specials in my gun room. I'm also a bit of a horologist - I love the intricacies of watches... so when I recently spent some time with the Webley & Scott commemorative '220' sidelock (celebrating the famous gunmaker's 220-year heritage), I found myself getting the urge to 'go cartridge'!

Now, I'm not saying that I'm going to convert from airguns... but I've already applied for a shotgun certificate. And my first shotgun - as was the case with my first 'adult' airgun - will most probably be a Webley. After all, I've got such a lovely collection of their vintage air rifles and pistols, it would be silly not to keep a theme going.

As my blog was born out of a request from the editor of Sporting Shooter magazine, I'm sure airgunners won't mind me showing a couple of images of the sidelock version of Webley's beautiful 220 model (in 28-inch 20g side-by-side format) for the benefit of shotgunning readers of my blog. For a watch collector who's into quality airgun kit and a big fan of the early Webley years, it's most definitely hardware to get quite moist over!
If there are any airgunners out there who also shoot shotguns (or vice versa), I'd appreciate any pointers. I've only really busted a few clays at corporate events - on which I've recorded a 65-70% hit-rate - but I've never done any rough shooting. Is it easier or harder than hunting with an airgun?

Squirrel Orders - by Royal Decree!

Prince Charles 'declared war on Britain's three-million strong grey squirrel population yesterday', according to an article in today's Daily Mail newspaper, who saw fit to give it a whole page's worth of coverage. Well, I've been saying that for years - and I know plenty of other airgunners who concur with the Prince's views!

Of course, there's the usual 'but they're cute and nice' claims from the RSPCA and bushy-tail lovers - but I'm pleased to say that, for once, the journalism was pretty unbiased. It laid out the case extremely well, citing the ever-increasing numbers of this pest as being a major reason for the extinction of our native red squirrel.

Tree-rats - as we airgunners prefer to call them - do untold damage in the wild, raiding songbirds' nests (for eggs and chicks) and killing young saplings. They strip the bark to wear away their ever-growing molars and to line their own nests with.

But the Mail also pointed out that the grey squirrel - which is not an indigenous critter to these shores, having been introduced from the Americas in the late Nineteenth Century) - causes untold havoc in the city. There are reports of them eating through lofts, cables... you name it, they've ruined it.

So, with HRH's full backing, I'll be taking a lightweight carbine - either the Prestige Kub or Brocock Concept - into the woods this weekend for a spot of grey-bashing... and I suspect there will be plenty of other airgunners straining to train their sights through the summer foliage to pick out the flick of a grey-brown tail, too.

Unless you shoot in Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire or Bedfordshire that is. Apparently, you've got a strain of aggressive 'black' squirrels to contend with. (Better use a scope with an IR reticle then!)

So as long as it's not red, the squirrel is now officially Britain's no. 1 pest species - and you've been ordered by none other than the future King of England to exterminate them!

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

.22 Calibre Officially Better Than .177!

.22 calibre is better than .177 - and that's now official!

The verdict comes from the votes cast by readers of my blog over the past few months - with almost 1 in 2 of airgunners saying they favoured the bigger bore size.

However, .177's still popular with more than 1 in 3 airgunners, showing that the dominance of the larger calibre is coming under threat. My bet would be that if this poll was run 10 years ago on a UK blog, the .22 would have won a landslide victory.


1st - .22 with 48% of the vote

2nd - .177 with 35% of the vote

3rd - .20 with 16% of the vote

4th - .25 with 1% of the vote

There's a new poll starting today. Now we know your favourite calibre - tell us your favourite type of pellet. My money's on the round-head winning, but who knows? You decide...

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Blow me... A Revelation in Windage!

Wind. It's the airgunner's worst enemy... and my Achilles heel in the field. In all but the most blustery of conditions, it is masterable, though - but how much do you really understand about the effects that wind has on your pellet?

I've spent a few months testing the windage characteristics of typical roundhead airgun ammo - and I've discovered something that I've never before seen in print!

So, I'm in the process of putting the record straight right now - and will shortly be updating my blog with a discovery that's sure to get airgunners talking. Though I'm the one who's done the testing, even I think it's somewhat of a revelation!

Make sure you check into my blog where I'll be giving you the link to an exclusive, never-before published review on how pellets react in a head wind, tail wind, oblique wind and (very interestingly) side winds.

Watch this space... it'll blow you away, not just your pellets!

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Range Right Fast Fire 10 - Test

If you've been following my blog, you'll remember me mentioning about the fun I was having with the Range Right Fast Fire 10 (here); this PCP is probably the fastest-firing air rifle on the planet! Well, my full review's now out and you can read all about it in June's edition of Air Gunner magazine, on sale at newsagents now.

Made in the UK by Phoenix Airguns, the Fast Fire 10 is a take-down that comes with two bottle options and a unique grip-action auto-loading system that allowed me to empty its 10-shot magazine in eight seconds flat!

The rifle's also supplied with a hard case and a special silencer - the FF10 - which utilises a special reverse-thrust system of air channels inside to help reduce muzzle crack and prevent barrel flip. It's a helluva long silencer, but super-lightweight thanks to its carbon-fibre casing.

Despite all the fun I had letting rip at high speed with the Fast Fire 10, I must add that it's an extremely capable shooter. Out to 40 metres, I was grouping as well as any 'field' gun, and I think any prospective owner needs to look beyond the Fast Fire's styling. Like or loathe its paramilitary looks, it's an extremely powerful, highly accurate rifle that's ideal for pest control.

Field Testing the All-New Prestige Kub PCP

For the past few weeks, I've been field testing an incredible little carbine from a new airgun outfit called Prestige Airguns - and I'm very sad now that I've had to return it! You'll be able to read my full, five-page feature test in July's issue of the new-look Air Gunner magazine (out the first Thursday of June), but for now, here's a sneak preview...

The rifle's called the Kub - and it's available in three versions: the Kub-SB, Kub-RB and Kub-SL. The suffixes relate to differences in the cocking system - side-bolt, rear-bolt and side-lever. I've played with all three and, essentially, they're the same gun. My favourite (and, therefore, my test reports) are of the side-bolt which has got to be one of the most beautiful looking bolt-action combos on the airgun market today.

The Kub comes in delightful thumbhole or sporter woodwork (both walnut and both ambi) and its all-up weight - unscoped - is just 6.5 lbs. (3.1 kg). With my Hawk 3-12 x 44 AirMax on-board, I got a couple of ounces change out of 8 lbs. - and as well as the Kub-SB being a nice field weight, it's also beautifully balanced in your shoulder

As you can see from these scoop photos - a few more of which are on the Prestige Airguns website, along with detailed specs - the Kub is a very streamlined rifle. There's elegant chequer panels on the grip and fore-stock and despite the rifle's compact weights and measures, it's laden with lots of great features.

The firing valve has a special secondary air chamber which controls air-output in a pseudo-regulator way, and my .22 test sample actually gave me 120 usable shots per charge. In my case, a charge was 180 BAR down to 80, although Prestige quote 200 BAR as the maximum fill pressure.

I was well impressed with the Kub's two-stage trigger and its down-range accuracy was enough to tempt me into reaching for my wallet! With features like quick-fill charging (rotary cover), on-board manometer, 11/22mm scope grooves and adjustable butt, it's easily worth the money Prestige are asking for it. Prices range from £549 (for the Kub-RB Sporter) to £639 (for the flagship Kub-SB Thumbhole shown here).

Kubs are scheduled to arrive in gun shops around mid-May 2009 and I'm hoping to have another sample soon on which to undertake further field tests. When I do, you can be sure I'll be blogging about my hunting trips with the Kub... but for the meantime, remember to get your copy of July's Air Gunner for the exclusive first airing of this cracking little carbine.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Airgun Magazines - Questioning Their Accuracy

Precharged pneumatics (PCPs) are extremely popular these days - you've only got to look at my poll opposite to see that they get the big vote from airgunners. In particular, multi-shot PCPs are the hot-sellers in gun shops. But are the benefits of an auto-feed magazine coming at the cost of the rifle's full accuracy potential?

I beg the question following a number of discussions I've had of late with hunting friends. It seems it's not only me who has an inkling that single-shot air rifles are slightly more accurate than their multi-shot stablemates.

That said, none of us have said that our multi-shot rifles are inaccurate; and we've all hunted very successfully with them without ever questioning their ability against live quarry. But in side-by-side tests, the single-shot usually just shades it in terms of accuracy.

My two favourite hunting rifles - the Daystate Air Wolf (.177) and Theoben Elan (.22) - are very accurate when running off their auto-load mags. I have every confidence in their multi-shot set-ups. Indeed, I've run the Elan in both calibres very successfully with 7-, 12- and 17-shot magazines over the past 11 years.

Both my rifles also offer the facility to run in single-shot mode. The Wolf takes Daystate's easy-fit pellet tray and the Elan has had its breech scalloped like the S-Type so that I can feed my pellets directly into the breech by hand.

So given how much 'shooting time' I've spent with these rifles, I can confidently vouch for the fact that each of my rifles shoots tighter groups in the single-shot configuration. It's not a great difference... but there is a difference.

For instance, I know the Elan will typically group inside 25mm at 30 metres with the mag, but it's nearer 20mm when loading ammo directly into the rifling. Both results are more than good enough for hunting, of course - but it does mean that I can push the gun's effective range by five metres or so when the mag's not deployed.

And I've also noticed that mags can sometimes make the rifle far more 'pellet fussy'. A good example of this was highlighted when I was recently testing the RWS Super-H-Point ammo in my Elan. Because the SHP's got quite an 'angular' head, it obviously suffered in the transfer from the magazine's chamber to the barrel. My 30-metre groups were a good 10mm 'looser' with the magazine than when I loaded the barrel directly. In fact, I may even have discounted the SHP as a suitable round for the Elan had I only tested it with the magazine; as it was, it proved a superb diet for the Theoben when fed into the rifling directly.

Conversely, the Daystate RangeMaster - which has a much more rounded head - must 'feed' into the barrel much better as it's hard to tell the direct-loaded and auto-loaded groupings apart.

Certainly food for thought...

Vintage Webley - Suitable for Hunting?

During my 15 years as editor of Air Gunner magazine, I frequently heard from many 'older' airgunners reminiscing about the airguns of yesteryear; nearly all would say that air rifles of the past were 'far more powerful' than today's hardware. Indeed, these people would tell me of the super-long ranges they were able to despatch vermin, and of the colossal bags they made.

Being a mere whippersnapper (!), I've only ever hunted with contemporary airguns, but having recently acquired a circa 1968 Webley Mk. III underlever from my good friend, Jack Stanton, I've decided to put such claims to the test.

To many airgunners of the 1950s and 60s, the tap-loading Mk. III is held up as the 'ultimate' of all sporters - moreso than its BSA underlever rival, the Airsporter.

Mine - serial no. A625 - is a .22 and is certainly extremely accurate over my 15-yard garden range. Considering its age, the tap has a fantastic air seal and the trigger is very sweet; 19mm groups are quite achievable with the open sights - although there's also a scope rail should I need a telly to maximise accuracy over longer ranges.

I haven't chrono'd the rifle yet - but it 'feels' to be doing in the region of 9 or 10 ft. lbs.. I'll let you know of the outcome if I ultimately decide to take it into the hunting field. (Which I do expect to being doing. After all, the Mk. IIIs that Webley produced between 1947 and 1975 must have accounted for a huge head of UK vermin. Even if the ratio was one kill to one gun, it would be in the tens of thousands!)

Watch this space...

Early Season Lamping with my Cluson

Managed to get a few hours' lamping in last night. It might be early in the season for hunting rabbits by lamp-light, but this was on a big acreage of land that my mate shoots over - and he was under clear instructions from the landowner to hit the young crop of rabbits hard before the spring barley begins to break through.

Unfortunately for me, this is land that I haven't shot over in the daylight, so being 'introduced' to it in the dark was never going to be easy... and it wasn't. We only had a single rabbit to show for our few hours and (what seemed like) 10 miles of trekking around freshly turned fields.

The night was destined to return a low score. My mate, Tony Ross-Booker, remembered his lamp... but not the battery that remained charging on the kitchen sideboard!

I chose to take my Theoben Elan over the Daystate Air Wolf for a couple of reasons: (1) it's so much lighter than the Air Wolf and, I felt, would be easier for traipsing around the big area; and (2) the Wolf's MTC scope interferes with the loading port and doesn't allow a magazine to fit in... and I don't like lamping with single-shot rifles. It's too fiddly.

Of course, I've recently converted the Elan back to its original .22 calibre barrel and I must confess that I'm not 100 per cent au fait with the trajectory. Given that range-estimation is pretty difficult by lamplight, the odds were pretty much against me.

My trick was to set the Hawke 3-12 x 44 AirMax to its maximum magnification and the front P/A ring to 25m (the zero distance). That way, if the target didn't look sharp, I'd know it would either be nearer or further... and hopefully I was good enough to tell which.

For the record, at 12x mag, the cross-hairs of the SR6 'Christmas Tree' reticle work out at 30, 35 and 40 metres when the central cross-hair is set for 25m with Daystate FT ammo. (15.9 grains; power 11.1 ft. lbs.)
Also to make life easier, I'd brought along my age-old Cluson SL2/PKG Shootalite lamp... although I had to splash out £13 for a new lead-acid battery as the old one had inexplicably died over the winter. Oh well, I'd had good use out of it for the past 10 years and it's been out in all weathers without a single problem. It's still on its original bulb! Incidentally, the SL2 remains a current model - see it here.

Cluson claim the SL2 Shootalite has a 1,000-metre beam. While I can't vouch for it being 'effective' over this distance, it's certainly very powerful and can pick out rabbit eyes on the far edges of 10-acre fields no problem.

I've got a red filter fitted which you can quickly use or remove. It tends to reduce the intensity too much for me, but Tony's eyesight is better and he got on with it just fine. These rabbits, however, didn't seem to mind the white light (they haven't been lamped much).

The Clulite is a neat set-up because it comes with a separate battery pack - quite weighty - which you sling over your shoulder and connect to the lamp proper via a coiled lead. Over the years, I've always wished this was 20 or 30 cm. longer, but it's not really that much of a problem.

The kit comes with attachments to allow it to be easily mounted to your scope or to a hand-held grip (which also locates into the battery pack if needs be) - and the change-over can be easily made in the dark courtesy of the quick-turn finger nuts.

I'm not used to shooting with a 'lamp man' and didn't feel comfortable picking off the rabbits in 'someone else's' beam, but Tony took to shooting quite easily. (Maybe I'm a better lamp man than him!)

We took it in turns to walk the fields with the gun, but while Tony preferred shooting with me lamping the ground, I preferred my time with the lamp on-gun.

Though it was probably too bright a night for productive lamping, there was enough of a breeze to mask our approaches, and we managed to stalk to within range of three or four bunnies - but the final shot let us down. These rabbits didn't seem to stay put in the beam (like they do on my patch), so our shots tended to arrive where the rabbits had been a second before!

Unfortunately, as well as the deer, the Clulite also picked out an active vixen whose calls shadowed us all night long. This was her patch and she clearly didn't want us on it.

A very enjoyable night, all the same - 2 a.m. came upon us before we even knew it...

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Hollowpoint Ammo - a big hit?

Hollowpoint airgun ammo - is there any, er..., 'point' to it? Well, that's the question I begged in a recent test session I undertook on behalf of Air Gunner magazine - and my answer's now a resounding 'yes'!

Specifically, I was testing out the .22 calibre version of RWS's Super-H-Point. It's a 14.4 grain hollow-nose version of their Superpoint pellet (only with its nose sliced off and a hole bored into it).

I've assumed hollowpoints are a bit limited in range due to their un-aerodynamic shape - but my test proved quite the contrary. Broadly speaking, they moved only a tad more in the wind by comparison with my usual roundhead brand - but that was probably because the SHP's are much longer (and over a grain lighter).

They had identical trajectories and grouped very well - in a moderate wind - right out to 40 metres. What's more, at this distance they retained over 50 per cent of their muzzle energy.

Impact tests proved their hollow-nosed design did make them 'mushroom' on impact - so with excellent accuracy and good energy retention, the Super-H-Points are certainly a fine all-round field pellet that needn't be confined to close-range ratting work and the like.
Read my much more detailed review in June's Air Gunner magazine, on sale from the first Thursday of May.

Field Kit - a big load!

Hectic work schedules have meant it's been difficult to find time to get out with the airgun - and when I've had a spare day, there's plenty of testing and evaluation to do! Just look at the kit I had to load up only today - five guns, tonnes of accessories, photo kit... and my lunch!

Much of the morning was spent finishing off my evaluation of Range Right's Fast Fire 10 - one of the quickest rifles on the planet (if not the quickest). You'll be able to catch my full review of this amazing take-down, made by London's Phoenix Airguns, in the June issue of Air Gunner (on sale the first Thursday of May). Besides a case, it also comes with a special silencer that incorporates a 'reverse thrust' baffle system to reduce muzzle flip.

Managed to get in a late afternoon session against the magpies. But the two that flighted in - a pair of aggressive males - didn't give me any chance of a shot... even with the Fast Fire 10 in my hands!

A brace of woodies saved the day, however - and I've just breasted them. The wife and I will be having them with a bottle of Chateau Neuf in about an hour's time. Nice...

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Neat Pellet Key Fob and Zip Attachment

By way of a visit to this blog, my attention has been brought to this really neat accessory. It's a key-fob turned in the shape of an airgun pellet... and my keys - to the car, house and gun safes - now have a 9.5 mm. Air Arms Field dangling from them!

They're made by keen UK airgunner Andy Perkins - and as well as a selection of 'old favourites', he'll even hand-turn a pellet up in your chosen brand. Super-H-Point, AccuPell... no problem for handy Andy!

He makes them in two sizes - 9.5 mm. and 15 mm. - and he got the idea when he couldn't grasp his zip toggles when wearing his shooting gloves. Hey... that's another great idea for these pellet fobs...

For something that's hand-turned, they're certainly excellent value. Inclusive of postage, they cost £4.50 (9.5 version) and £7.00 (15 version). Bargain! (And for a bit more, he'll also post internationally.)

They're pretty much the best 'custom' key-fob holders you'll get - so why not grab one for yourself? Contact Andy via e-mail here.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Great Ratting Combos

Rats are a favourite quarry of airgun hunters - and over the past few weeks, I've had a couple of superb ratting rigs on test. Ultra-light and very compact, this PCP pair is just the ticket for a fast-action scaly-tail op.

Brocock Contour (£375)

I had a great rat session down the farm the other week with this single-shot PCP rifle. It's a tiny affair - an uprated version of their Grand Prix pistol with a longer barrel and dressed in a sumptuous thumbhole walnut stock.

It handles like a dream, though, and is just the ticket for farmyard hunting, when you're scrambling over machinery and shooting in confined spaces. It's also very quick to bring onto target - and you can read how it coped on the trail of a scaly-tail in the next issue of Sporting Shooter.

FX Airguns Verminator (£799)

Another real shorty, this Swedish-built PCP take-down comes to the UK courtesy of Deben - and boy does it have a performance bigger than its appearance!

Filled up at the front, the air's stored in the buddy bottle that doubles up as a butt - so you actually get around 200 full-power shots in .22 calibre, all recoilless.

The aptly-named Verminator runs an eight-shot, autoloading magazine (removable) which indexes with each pull-back of its sidelever cocking action - and the FX is a dream to handly courtesy of its synthetic drop-down grip and adjustable butt.

I think it needs a silencer, though - its eight-inch barrel certainly barks a fair bit! But you won't need a gunbag - this pocket rocket comes with a hard briefcase style case into which the take-down action and butt fit like a glove.

Best of all, though, is the Verminator's three-way power adjustment. At the flick of a switch, you select either Hi, Med or Lo power (approx. 12, 9 or 7 ft. lbs.), making it the perfect tool for ratting or despatching feral pigeon.

Why perfect? Well, as most rat shooting is undertaken at close-quarters, you don't want too much power. For starters, you risk 'overkill' - something you don't want when sabre-toothed rats are the target! And, secondly, 12 ft. lbs. is way too much oomph when you're shooting inside barns and cattle sheds.

Check out my more detailed evaluation of the FX Verminator in my Test Bench report scheduled for May's Air Gunner magazine.

Airgun Blog - Chart Entry

Well... condsidering my airgun hunting blog is in such early days, I was shocked - but pleasantly surprised - to hear from Kelly Sonora informing me that it's just made an entry in "50 Best Blogs for Gun Enthusiasts"!

If you'd like to look at the other 49, go to here.

Which Calibre? The Allen Adage

The debate over which calibre is best for air rifle hunting has raged for yonks - and it will do forever in my opinion. Those who sit on the fence simply advocate ".177 for feather, .22 for fur".

For most of my hunting life, I've been a .22 man. I tried .177 many times, but kept preferring the extra stopping power of the .22. That was until PCP technology got so good that field accuracy became the best it's ever been since the airgun was invented (some time in the late 16th Century).

Around three years ago, I gave .177 another 'go'... and this time I switched. Indeed, I was rather dumbfounded as to why I'd never stuck with it before.

I've enjoyed three years of extra-long-range hunting with .177. (I dropped a woody at 72 yards a few months back - either a hit or total miss shot!) But where I have noticed a weakness is in the short-range stuff. Sub-30 yards.

So now, my choice comes down to range. I know that 50-yard bunnies drop to my .177 Wolf; I also know that I get too many runners at 20-ish yards. Ditto with the woodies - I often don't get to pick up despite a well-executed neck shot under 30 yards.

The .177's flatter trajectory might make hunting at long range easier, but fore close-range work, the .22's stopping power seems to have the edge for me. That's based on a lot of years' past experience.

So, I've updated the old adage for which airgun calibre is best for hunting:

Hunt with both and forget the fuss... but .177 always for

Reflexogy - The Art of Silence

Non-airgunners often laugh at the thought of attaching a sound moderator to the muzzle of an airgun! But most airgun hunters I know do just that - especially if they're using a PCP with a shortish barrel.

Undoubtedly, hushing-up the report can have advantages when you're hunting with an air rifle. From the hidden depths of a hide, I've often been able to take a second, telling shot at my quarry when the first has sailed harmlessly into the dirt.

Most air rifles come with threaded muzzles - usually 1/2-inch UNF, but there are exceptions - and there are plenty of slide-on muzzle adapters if you need them to marry barrel and silencer.

Typically, you'll pay between £35 and £55 for an airgun silencer (which is unlikely to be proofed, so you can't transfer it to a firearm). Most will significantly cut down muzzle crack. The best are considered to be the Weihrauch and the Logun.

Now add Daystate to that pairing. They have just launched a new Mk4 model of the AirStream Silencer and independent tests have shown it to be the best dB buster of them all - although, at £55, it's also the most expensive.

Called the Reflex by virtue of the fact that its chamber sits back along the barrel, it has a carbon fibre casing inside which is a machined aluminium baffle system and the 1/2-in. UNF thread. Daystate only make it to fit their current models, but they will shortly be bringing out a universal variant for other makes of rifle. It's calibre specific, too - though (as has been pointed out to me), that's one of the characteristics that improves a silencer's efficiency.
Although the unit looks normal length, because of its reflex-style fitting, only around 75mm protrudes forward of the muzzle. I like that. For me, adding a long silencer to a rifle can make it 'feel' a bit difficult to control on aim. It also gives it an incredibly efficient length-to-noise reduction ratio.

Being carbon fibre and ally, it's pretty light, too - so it won't upset the balance of your combo.

Having looked at the figures (see below), I just had to screw one onto my Air Wolf. Although its barrel shroud already doubles as a 'stage one' sound suppression system, the addition of the Reflex was simply stunning. It was like I was shooting at 1.1 ft. lbs., not 11!

It may be expensive, but being the best that's out there, why shouldn't it be? Worth the extra, I'd say...


decibel (dB) output from a .177 calibre Daystate Huntsman Classic

  • Reflex - 61.3 dB

  • John Bowkett Long - 63.7 dB

  • Ripley Rifles (9-inch!) - 65.1 dB

  • Weihrauch - 65.5 dB

  • Logun QGS - 66.1 dB

  • Parker-Hale MM1 - 69.5 dB

  • Manders - 69.7 dB

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

My Realtree Deerhunter Ram Jacket

"You'll catch your death out there," said Mrs. Allen as I togged up to go hunting in the white-out. She had a point - I still had the last throes of a flu bout and the thermometer wasn't set to rise much above zero all day.

But the truth of the matter is I don't get cold at all these days - and our icy spell of weather has really brought home to me just how good my favourite winter hunting outfit is.

It's a Deerhunter Ram Jacket and Trousers set, in Realtree's High Definition All Purpose Green (APG-HD) pattern. I wrote about this high-tech cammo system when I was editor of Air Gunner magazine (December 2007 edition). Its 'layered', three-dimensional appearance really does work and I've had more close encounters with wildlife in this than any other gear.

In that article, I only touched on the actual Ram suit - but having worn it extensively through two winters, I felt I should give an update.

Without question, it's the best cold-weather outfit I've ever worn. I've never got cold in it and I've never got wet in it - even though I've worn it in sub-zero temperatures, biting cold nor'easterlies and torrential down-pours. I was able to kneel and crawl in the slushy snow only yesterday without feeling any dampness against my skin - as has always been the case when I've hunted over wet, boggy ground.

It doesn't come cheap - it's about £145 for the jacket and £85 for the trousers - but that gets you an extreme weather outfit in the very latest cammo. It'll be the best 230-quid you'll ever spend, I guarantee. (I'm nothing to do with Realtree, by the way!)

Even though the advanced Deer-Tex polyester cloth from which it's made feels very thin and flimsy, I can vouch that it's been robust enough to withstand hours of very rough field use. It's got caught in brambles and on barbed wire fences, but there's not a single rip in it. I've rinsed it in clear water a couple of times - more for hygene purposes than cleaning - and it's not faded in any way.

I refer to Deer-Tex as 'advanced' because it's one of these new-fangled materials which combines its outer with a thin membrane and inner liner that stops wind and rain getting in, whilst at the same time allowing the cloth to breathe. The upshot of all this textile technology is that you don't roast, nor get sweaty and uncomfortable.

The Trousers: Zip-fly, they come with Velcro ankle straps to keep out the muck and wind - and the legs are wide enough to pull over thick wellies. Plenty of pockets - large and small, some with popper closure - and a high, fleece-lined waistband at the rear to keep the small of your back cosy.

The Jacket: It's got pockets galore, complete with hand-warmers. Some zipped, some flapped... and there's even a bino-pouch. All the poppers (as on the trousers) are silicone coated, so they won't scratch your rifle's woodwork, nor make a noise under field conditions.

Its front zip is a heavy-duty job, and two-way so that you can unzip from the bottom when you're shooting on horse-back! (Really, though, it's handy sometimes when you're kneeling.) The zip runs all the way up to the high collar which contains a fold-out, removable draw-string storm hood. This is so big, I've even used it as a face veil.

The adjustable drawstring waist and hem add to the prodection offered by the storm flaps, and there are Velcro fasteners on the cuffs. Inside is a separate waist warmer to keep your back toasty plus an ample game pocket at the rear. The inner lining also has a fold-down, padded seat to stop your bum getting mucky when sitting, and I've found this invaluable when hide shooting. (It saves you getting seat covers for the car, too!).

The jacket's right shoulder has an anti-slip rubber pad sewn-in to support your rifle sling and as warm as the coat is, should you find yourself over-heating, each underarm has a zippered vent.

Both jacket and trousers are incredibly light which makes wearing them a pleasure. What's more, they've been cleverly tailored, specifically with shooting in mind. Unlike many hunting jackets, the cut is such that I've never had any problem shouldering my rifle whilst wearing the Ram

As a long-term user of one, I can't recommend the Ram Suit highly enough.

For more info on Deerhunter, visit the Deerhunter site (here) and for a closer look at my jacket's Realtree APG-HD pattern, the direct link is here.

On the right tracks...

Don't let the current cold snap put you off getting out with your airgun - because you'll be missing out on discovering some of your shoot's innermost secrets!

In my part of the world, so far we've been lucky. No more than 7 cm. of snow. It's still brought the region to a grinding halt, mind you. Traffic chaos; panic buying; schools closed and local radio programmes announcing in almost Dictator-like fashion: "Stay in your homes!"

Not me. I loaded up the car and headed off to one of my farms. For 'headed', read 'skated, skidded and slid'! But I made it in one piece and enjoyed a great few hours of walkabout with my Theoben in what turned out to be quite a warm and sunny winter's day.

There wasn't as much quarry about as I'd expected. The magpies were scavenging, but the crows remained in their woodland roosts. The woodies were tight into the ivy on the usual trees and very few bunnies had ventured above ground.

As I've written in Sporting Shooter magazine, there aren't a great deal of rabbits on my patch and those that I know of need to be taken out at pretty long ranges.

But the snow revealed a picture of this farm that I had never imagined. There are rabbits (or hares, perhaps?) aplenty... and a lot closer to the farmyard than I'd imaged.

Criss-crossing the fields were the tell-tale signs of foxes, badgers, deer... and oh so many rabbits. Great news for when the warmer months arrive - and although I've never seen any here in daylight hours, I now know where to set up with my lamp!

Rabbits certainly seem to travel a long way. I tracked one set of bunny-prints two fields and two paddock areas - more than 600 yards - before I lost them in a hedgerow. Amazingly, this particular bunny chose to go through gate entrances, rather than through bolt-holes in the hedgerow (which other rabbits clearly favoured). It was exactly the route a human would have taken when travelling between these two points!

I didn't get a shot off, but it was by no means a wasted foray. I've taken note of a good few rabbit routes, warren entrances and mid-field stop-off points on a patch of land I only hitherto used for zeroing.

I feel like I've got a brand new permission and can't wait for my first sortie on it...

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Birds not endangered by Man-Flu

So, I begin writing my first airgun blog - the urge for which, I'll be honest, has been borne out of boredom due to my being laid up and bed-bound with the dreaded man-flu. Putting together an airgun blog was one of my New Year resolutions, however - and with January practically expired, I'm ashamed that I haven't put in the effort earlier.

For we airgunners, 2009 kicked off in quite a shocking manner, with the news that Webley had called in the administrators. Thank the Lord that Webley International has come to its rescue and continued the great gunmaking - and airgunmaking - name... even if the manner in which it's all been done is rather, erm, 'dubious'. I sincerely hope that Webley International succeeds because I've used Webleys for plinking, target shooting and hunting over the years. My first woodpigeon, in fact, was dropped with a Webley Hawk Mk. II when I was knee-high to a grass-hopper.

I'd got up before dawn during the summer holidays - it can't have been much past 3 a.m. - and took the bird at 25 yards, standing. It crashed through the thick summer foliage with a mighty din - and it was the first time I heard the reassuring 'thump' that signifies you've scored a perfectly clean kill.

I'll never forget that sound - and I have good reason for it being lodged in my memory. In my excitement, I couldn't remember from which tree I'd taken the bird and I spent ages looking for it amidst a thick carpet of stingers. I gave up... then went back... then gave up again, thinking the bird must have flown off. But that 'thump' kept sounding in the back of my mind, urging me to go back for one more look...

And then, under a completely different tree, there it was. A beautifully plump specimen. I'd got it clean through the neck. I don't recall the pellet, but I think it might have been a Bulldog - certainly a .22, whatever brand it was.

I took my trophy back to the house where I plucked the whole thing for my mother to cook in red wine, with a rasher of bacon over the top. I learned two things: that woodpigeon tastes lovely... and has an awful, awful lot of feathers!

The woodies I'm seeing today, sadly, are from the window of my bedroom. It's as though they know I'm not going to be out and about with my air rifle, and they're mocking me. Let them mock. I take the opportunity to re-affirm their usual flightpaths, what their favourite sitty trees and perch-points are, and where they're foraging for food. I'll have the last laugh in time...

2009 is certainly looking like we're in for a bumper crop of woodies and I've already begun preparations on my shoots. Simple stuff, like re-shaping all the natural hidey-holes that I tuck myself into later in the year, when long daylight hours make for a decent evening's deeking.

There's an abundance of collared doves, too - not just around the farms (where they tend to congregate in the winter months), but also in the fields. I've let their numbers build up a bit of late. But, like the woodies, their squadrons are swelling big-time. As they're not as challenging as their bigger brethren, I'm looking forward to some good mid-range sessions with my Theoben Elan. I've recently re-fitted its original .22 barrel specifically for sub-30 yard pest control - and the collareds will be my first marks.

Like the woodies, I find them tasty, cooked in a red wine sauce and served on mashed potato infused with some black pudding. Of course, it's breast meat only these days. I've long since learned it's a lot easier than plucking a whole plucking bird!

A long 'first' blog. I intend to make the posts that follow far more concise. But at least I've got another New Year's resolution out of the way...