I don’t often get excited about guns, strange as that may seem for an airgun hunter and writer. Guns are just the tools with which I finish the hunt or stalk. Of course, having the right gun is important for the hunter and I’ve been very selective with my purchases across the years. Recently, pictures of a very special rifle popped up in the shooting press and I found myself going back to the adverts constantly. This was to be a Limited Edition specification, with only one hundred rifles being produced. I felt exactly as I had at ten years old, when Action Man appeared on the shelves. I had to have one! More than that, I had a specific edition number in mind. I’m hitting a landmark birthday later this year, so as a treat to myself I wanted number sixty! With some help from Nigel Allen of Blaze and Peter Zamit at The Airgun Centre, the desired number was secured and I parted with some hard earned cash to order a dream gun. A few weeks later, the call came from Peter to say the gun had arrived and was ready for collection.
I rarely leave Norfolk, my adopted Nirvana. Only for business, weddings and funerals … or to collect a gun. The nearer I drive to London (a place I worked in for years learning my management skills) the more claustrophobic I feel. The wide, open vistas of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire give way to a rural Essex squeezed between motorways and dual-carriageways. The final skate along the A127 to Rayleigh sadly endorsed my view that the nearer you get to any British city, the more ‘tacky’ the environment gets. Advertising hoardings, shoddy businesses, litter and more squashed foxes than I have ever seen in a single ten mile stretch. Essex must be a fox shooters paradise. I don’t state this to upset my Essex friends and readers (I used to live in Hertfordshire, which was the same). The point I’m making is this is why I moved to Norfolk. Sadly, as the infra-structure into East Anglia develops, the more those arterial roads start to resemble the A127. But I digress. I wasn’t on a sight-seeing tour. I was here to collect that gun on this Saturday morning.
Inside the shop, I was greeted by Ben who went off to find my rifle. Peter Zamit came out and we shook hands. It was just after opening time and the shop soon started to fill with prospective customers. As Ben showed me the rifle, one or two customers spotted it and looked over my shoulder, admiring it. I was surprised at the huge surge of annoyance I felt when one customer reached forward and started to rub the laminate stock with his fingers before I had even handled the gun myself! The moment passed and I lifted the rifle to check balance and scope alignment. It was then that I noticed that the stock had no sling swivels fitted. I usually fit my own, on wooden stocks, but I didn’t fancy drilling this laminate artistry myself. Ben took the rifle back-of-shop and emerged ten minutes later with the swivels intact. Superb service. Ben locked the gun into the hard-case and (after a handshake with Ben, Steve and Peter) I set off back to Norfolk. I was back by noon, with an afternoon left to start playing with my new toy.
If, as I did with Pepper, you collect a ready assembled combo don’t ever assume that the gun is set up ready to hunt with ‘out-of-the-box’. Your dealer will do the best they can but they don’t have time test various pellets. You need to test this yourself. Nor can they set a telescopic sight to match the eye-relief you will need to avoid parallax error. That is a setting very personal to you and will depend on whether you wear specs or not. There is a very simple test for correct eye-relief. Take a shooting stance (kneeling will do), shut both eyes and raise the gun to your shoulder as if about to take a shot. Open your shooting eye. If you can’t see the whole sight picture through the ocular lens (i.e. if there is any shadowing) then your scope isn’t set correctly. You may have to adjust it forwards or backwards in its mounts slightly until it comes straight to the shoulder and eye with a clear optic.
A couple of hours of practise and plinking with the new combo left me glowing with satisfaction. The Huggett shroud and silencer combine to make a very quiet hunting carbine. The Hawke Eclipse scope has a bold mil-dot reticule with IR options and crystal clear optics. I was surprised at the weight of that striking Minelli black pepper laminate stock. It is much heavier than the Minelli walnut furniture on Kylie, my other BSA Ultra. Yet that weight is evenly distributed and the gun balances well at the shoulder. Of course, I name all my rifles and sometimes struggle to find a suitable name. This one was easy though … she would be ‘Pepper’. Over those two hours I tried a few pellet types through Peppers barrel (AA Fields, H&N FTTs, Barracudas and Falcons). I finally settled on the 15.9 grain Air Arms Diablo Fields.
Next morning I was up bright and early to take Pepper out and try to blood her. I groaned when I looked out of the window and saw the rain. A glance at the digital weather station in my kitchen showed an outside temperature of 20C. Awful weather for a hunting sortie and almost bound to prove fruitless. A glance at the birdbath outside showed half an inch of water and I knew it had been empty the previous night. Many people may not be aware that most British weather fronts pass through within six hours. I took a gamble that the rain would soon pass and set off for one of my permissions. Squirrels and rabbits will take the opportunity to feed after rain. Pigeons and crows will be on the move again, searching for food. I wrapped well against the bitter breeze and, as a concession to his age, I wrapped Dylan too. The old lurcher is showing signs of arthritis now but is still as eager as ever to be out with me and the gun. He moves comfortably in his waxed sheepskin coat (and it actually camouflages him a bit).
I had chosen Garden Wood deliberately. It’s a good haven on a wet winter day with its thick, evergreen yews, box and cedars mixed amongst the deciduous natives. Although you’ll never stay completely dry, there is always reasonable shelter from any heavy deluge. Dylan soon had his nose down and we came upon plenty of squirrel sign. Many of the squirrel tables showed signs of recent activity but with the weather so dire, we walked the woods for two hours with no sign of life other than fleeing roe deer. When feeding at ground level, grey squirrels often actively seek out a low platform to feed on. They will carry their food to a regular spot and eat it there. These tables, usually tree stumps, are inevitably close to the drey and have a good 360o vantage so that the feeding animal can keep a wary eye out for predators. These are ideal spots to ambush in fair weather when you know the greys are foraging. They are also a good indicator of what your quarry is feeding on. Maize kernels tell you that watching the edge of the maize crop could be productive. The yellow cobs aren’t easy to carry and make the squirrels very vulnerable. Gnawed pine cones, by type alone, will tell the diligent hunter what trees the greys are favouring. Squirrels pluck fresh cones from the canopy or new windfalls. They are juicy and nourishing.
The Siberian breeze, though, was relentless. It’s icy tendrils reached through every gap in the hedgerow and in between the trees. In weather like that, especially with a dog in tow, sitting around to ambush quarry isn’t really an option and at the end of my second outing with Pepper, she still wasn’t blooded. Then I faced a week of work before being able to take her out again.
The following weekend, though my fervour was dampened by two days of sleet showers, we still went out for a few hours each day, the dog and I, and Pepper finally got blooded. I’m going to have a lot of sport with this superb rifle.
Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, July 2016