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!