FAC Air Rifles … a waste of money?

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In the UK, the legal power limit for air rifles is less than 12 ft/lbs though you can own a higher power air rifle if it is registered on your Firearms Certificate (FAC). I’ve held an FAC for ten years, purely for air rifle use. There is a limited use for an ‘on-ticket’ air rifle but if I’m honest, these guns are pretty much surplus to requirements. I own two 26 ft/lb PCP rifles. Both were upgraded for me from ‘legal limit’ rifles by a specialist gunsmith. One is a .22 Webley Venom Sidewinder, the other is a .22 BSA Scorpion SE. The only time these guns see the light of day is when a shooting project comes along that I can’t tackle with a legal limit gun. Culling long distance (fifty / sixty yard) rabbits in a horse paddock , for instance. Burrows can mean broken fetlocks, so it’s ‘needs must’; yet such tasks are rare. In fact, rabbits are the only airgun quarry for which high power air rifles can be justified, in my humble opinion. There are some who shoot hares with FAC rated air rifles but that is a quarry I resist. Like the fox, I think hares deserve a more certain power and calibre than any air rifle can offer. All other quarry is so light that using anything more than a sub 12 ft/lb rifle is akin to using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

So why did I opt for ‘ticketed’ air rifles in the first place? Well, I’ll be honest and admit that I was naive enough to think that extra power would bring more long range options and an improved quarry count. Something that farmers and landowners obviously expect. FAC air rifle aficionados have always argued that extra power gives extra range and I won’t dispute that. In my experience though, you get random accuracy in return. Many things effect a small pellets downrange performance, particularly the wind. It didn’t take me long to realise that if you really want to snipe quarry at long distance then the .17 HMR or .22 LR are a wiser choice. Rather than use my FAC guns at sixty yards I found myself preferring to stalk in to within thirty yards (as I had always done before with the legal limit guns) to guarantee accuracy; which brought added problems. Primary zero on a higher power gun is longer, so if your squirrel or rabbit pops up at just ten yards you have to make random decisions on a reticule point before executing the shot. Too often, resulting in ‘staying’ the shot. No, I like things dealt with ‘up close and personal’ where I can see my quarry in more detail and can judge critical factors such as breeze, possible obstructions and backstop. Carrying an FAC rifle as my primary gun opened up these issues and made me appreciate that my fieldcraft and bushcraft is adept enough that most quarry presents between ten and forty yards. Well within the capability of my sub 12 ft/lb rifles and my shooting skills.

The biggest issue for me was quarry penetration. If you use the recommended heavyweight ammo for FAC air rifles (magnums, weighing from 18 to 22 grains) then you dramatically reduce the range you intended to gain in the first place. Using these pellets is like lobbing a cricket ball, under-arm, at your rabbit. Thus many FAC airgun shooters stick to medium weight pellets such as 16 grain roundhead diablos. Which is fine on rabbit and squirrel heads. But with a 26 to 30 ft/lb blast of air behind them at twenty yards they can pass right through a pigeon or corvid like a hot knife through butter. Result? A fatally wounded bird which will fly halfway across the county before plummeting to the ground, dead. I often use engine-room shots on grey squirrels in the same way that deer stalkers would on a broadside buck. Instant, clinical despatch. You can’t do that with FAC powered pellets, within thirty yards. They can go straight through soft flesh and out the other side. Usually resulting in injury, not despatch. A legal limit shot, however, will allow the pellet to blow-out and impart its ballistic shock. Job done, cleanly.

Their are two other distinct disadvantages to the FAC PCP air rifle, when compared to a sub-12 ft/lb PCP. The major one is poor air economy. You are using the same capacity air cylinder in both but to expel air at twice the power (or more) obviously means less shots per charge. If you like to spend your day in the field then you may need to double-back to your vehicle for an air charge. My FAC ‘air-vampires’ only give me about twenty usable shots per charge. That means carrying a divers air bottle in the vehicle, particularly as I always check my scope zero before hunting. If it takes five shots to get on zero, I’ve lost 25% shot capability before I even start hunting. Whereas I can get around forty to fifty useable, flat-line shots from a single charge to my ‘go-to’ sub-12 ft/lb rifle. More than enough for a days hunting.

There are some variable power air rifles on the market where you can change power from anywhere between 10 to 32 ft/lbs to suit your need. Sounds like a good idea doesn’t it? You can’t do that in the field, though. As soon as you ‘wind-up’ the power, your zero shifts and you may even need to change your ammo. Some shooters seem to assume that you can simply crank up the ft/lbs to tackle a long range shot. You will miss, or even worse, injure.

The other major downside of FAC air gunning is an important one for me. Noise. The whole point of using a sound-moderated PCP multi-shot air rifle is to exploit multiple shooting opportunities in a short space of time within a confined area. By that I mean before the majority of local quarry species realise what’s happening. The whiplash crack of even a heavily moderated FAC air rifle negates that advantage. Your quarry, at sixty yards, may not hear it … but every creature local to the shot will. With a gun like this, forget about roost shooting. Airgunners need static targets; not panic stricken evacuees.

At the end of this year I have a decision to make. Do I renew my ticket for another five year tenure or do I sell the two guns and surrender the license. Resale values on FAC air rifles are very poor, due to the reasons stated above. Many air rifle shooters have ‘dabbled’ with high power, then regretted it. Even if I sold the pair together, I doubt I would drum up much more than a deposit on a half-decent .22 LR.

 A decent .22 LR? Now … there’s an idea! Or perhaps .17HMR? Maybe I’ll keep that ticket after all.

©Wildscribbler, March 2017

 

A Sporting Read ….

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For one reason and another, I’ve been pulling shooting and fieldsports magazines off the shelves for the past few weeks to cast a critical eye. Years ago, I used to pick up anything ‘shooting related’  and read it cover to cover. I was always an absorbed and fanatical reader of anything ‘shooting’ … until I became a regular contributor myself. As an airgun hunting writer, yet with a rounded view on all shooting disciplines, I needed to concentrate on my speciality and it wasn’t long before I was asked to offer my first book. When you’ve spent a lifetime reading old countryside writers such as Richard Jeffries, Wentworth, Niall, Jones & Woodward sitting down to write a book, a legacy on which future readers will judge you, is fairly intimidating.

Having now written ten books (a few, merely specialist booklets) I think that I’ve added just a little bit to the shooting sports legacy. Knowledge, hard earned in the field and imparted through the written word (and photography) is our obligation to future generations. Just as BB (and co) passed on their passion, so must we. Particularly in the face of continual pressure on field sports and hunting by folk who would impose their ignorance and objection to what we do.

I’m glad to report that the current shooting and fieldsports press is in fine fettle. The shooting reader has a plethora of choices, covering every aspect of the shooting scene. The driven game shooter, the wildfowler, the deer stalker, the fox shooter, the airgun hunter, the ferreter, the lurcher owner, the terrier worker, the angler and the falconer. Everyone has the opportunity to contribute experience or simply read and absorb the advice. Let’s not forget, too, the shooting and conservation organisations who supply (to members) their own periodicals with sound advice from expert members. Beyond all this is the increasing array of advisory video media from the same publications. The shooter / hunter has never had it better and I applaud the efforts of all editors and contributors to make it so.

There are a select few who will understand the reason for this post tonight. We must never, ever apologise for being shooters, hunters, keepers, pest controllers or any other association with country sports. Not one of the publications I’ve read recently has bowed to this concept. Long may this continue. Well done, guys & girls.

Copyright: Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, March 2017

Jaguar: The Black Angel … a synopsis.

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A juvenile big-cat is washed up on the Pembrokeshire coast following a shipwreck and manages to survive in the Welsh hills undiscovered. As it matures, the cat is driven by a natural urge to head East. Its journey leaves behind it a trail of chaos and death, none at the claws of the beast. A female hunter decides to track the cat, intent on revenge. The story of Megan, the huntress, unfolds alongside that of the big cat.

Though the authorities try to stifle news of its existence, the cat saves a child and the press pick up the trail. Now known as ‘The Black Angel’, the big cat continues its journey East to meet its destiny. Now pursued, enraged and hungry … the cat makes its first human kill.

The cats epic trek is told from several perspectives. Through the eyes of humans, its hunter and directly through the eyes of the beast. Not just a story of a hunted predator but also a stalk through the rich flora and fauna of the British countryside from coast to coast at ‘cats-eye’ level.

For the cats pursuer the chase tests her resilience, her sexuality and her motive.

Who will survive, at the end. Hunter or beast?

Jaguar; The Black Angel can be downloaded from Amazon as either paperback book or e-book. Just click http://www.wildscribbler.com/books for details on purchase.

Copyright Wildscribbler March 2017

 

The Air Rifle And The Law

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(Reprinted from Airgun Fieldcraft, 2016 and updated, Feb 2017. Excludes Scotland.)

The air rifle is a hugely maligned tool where the press and general public are concerned … and quite wrongly so. There are a reputed four million airgun owners in the UK. In the past it was a relatively unregulated gun so no-one really knows how many are out there, buried in attics or garden sheds. A handful of incidents each year by ne’er-do-goods, irresponsible morons or (tragically) youngsters who have stumbled on an unsecured rifle (and mis-used it) have given rise to calls in many quarters to either ban or license this superb and efficient hunting tool. As I complete this book (2017), Scotland has just introduced licensing for airguns. This, against advice from the senior representation of Scotland’s policing. In the face of reduced spending on policing, there is now a huge administrative burden dumped upon Scotland’s ‘finest’ by a crass and undemocratic decision. A decision based on misinformation and political bias, not common sense and statistics. If you’re reading this and live in Scotland, just bear one thing in mind. It could have been much worse. Many of your own folk wanted an outright ban on airguns, as do many misinformed folk across the rest of the UK. The advice below relates to legislation (as I understand it) in the UK excluding Scotland.

I firmly believe that this needs to be put into perspective. Personally, I would rather an 18 year old boy asked for an air rifle than a motorbike. His chances of survival to the age of 25 would multiply a thousand fold … and those of people around him. Analyse the illegal or tragic incidents surrounding air rifles and you will find two common factors. The transgressors are usually urban, not rural, individuals. They are usually not youths but idiotic (often drunk) adults. Deaths are usually due to children accessing airguns which should have been secured (and there was already adequate legislation for that. The shift in law to raise the legal age of ownership from 17 to 18 years of age, typically knee-jerk politics, ignored that latter fact. Licensing would be un-policeable, as Scotland will now find … especially regarding all those ‘hidden’ guns. Many readers will appreciate that shotguns have long been licensed. Events over recent years have proved that licensing is worthless in the face of individual, psychological behaviour … which changes with personal circumstance. In my own area, over the past year, two well respected and apparently sane men have shot first their partner, then themselves, with their shotguns following financial or relationship problems. Does that mean no-one should own a gun? That would be ridiculous. Misuse is true of not just guns but also motor vehicles. Yet, strangely, I’ve never heard a call for a ban on cars because some idiot decided to get drunk and kill someone while driving?

Despite all my comments above, I find some of the recent legislation completely sensible. The need for an airgun retailer to register an address. The need to sell ‘face to face’ via a registered firearm dealer (RFD) rather than through mail-order. It all helps to prevent future nonsense and mis-use. Some of the current laws (which apply to all form of shooting) are derived from common sense. Such as not being allowed to shoot across the boundary of your permission or having to carry your gun in a slip, with no ammunition in it, while passing through a public place. Simple safety-based rules. The addition of home gun security rules shouldn’t have effected most responsible air gun users … I’ve always lock mine away securely in a gun-safe. I hope you do too?

At risk of over simplifying the law, I’m not going to write a list of current legal requirements for ownership of an airgun. I am simply going to refer you to the experts … check for legal compliance with shooting organisations such as BASC (the British Association for Shooting & Conservation) or CA (the Countryside Alliance). You will find contact details at the back of this book. Whenever you read this book … from the date of first issue or in thirty years time, these organisations will have all the relevant data on current legal requirements. It is important that you learn these, as non-compliance can cost you financially and also risk a term at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.

If you happen to be reading this in ten years time (2027), I just hope that all the lobbying and hard work that BASC, CA and the airgun press do on your behalf has paid off and you can, under the right conditions, still walk into a gun shop and buy an air rifle to control vermin and hunt for the pot.

It is perfectly legal to shoot grey squirrels, rabbits and woodpigeons at any time of the year on land on which you have permission to shoot. That is, land you own or where the owner has asked you to carry out control. There are, however, a number of things to remember to keep you on the right side of the law at all times. So, first of all, who can legitimately use an air rifle? There are age restrictions.

At 18 years or older there are no restrictions on buying an air rifle and ammunition, and you can use them wherever you have permission to shoot.

At 14-17 years old you can borrow an air rifle and its ammunition. You can also use an air rifle, without supervision, on private premises where you have permission to shoot but … you cannot buy or hire an air weapon, or ammunition, or receive one as a gift. Your air weapon and ammunition must be bought and looked after by someone over 18 … normally your parent, guardian or some other responsible adult. Nor can you have an air weapon in a public place unless you are supervised by somebody aged 21 or over, and you have a reasonable excuse to do so (e.g. while on the way to a shooting ground).

If under 14 years old You can use an air weapon under supervision on private premises with permission from the occupier – normally the owner or tenant. The person who supervises you must be at least 21 years old. You cannot, however, purchase, hire or receive an air weapon or its ammunition as a gift, or shoot, without adult supervision. Parents or guardians who buy an air weapon for use by someone under 14 must exercise control over it at all times, even in the home or garden. NB. It is illegal to sell an air weapon or ammunition to a person under 18 years of age.

Other legal aspects to remember include the following:

You may only shoot on land you own or where you have permission from the owner and within its boundaries. This is an important point because if you fire a pellet across the boundary of your land or permitted land, you will commit armed trespass! A crime with serious consequences and harsh penalties. This applies too if you cross over onto un-permitted land (trespass) carrying an air rifle. Even if it is unloaded, you are guilty of armed trespass.

It is an offence to possess an air rifle in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse. Common sense allows that some people may need to travel with a (covered) rifle but carrying permission notes or gun club membership is strongly advised.

It is illegal to discharge your air rifle within 50 feet (16 yards) of the centre of a public highway if, in doing so, you cause someone to be ‘injured, interrupted or endangered’. The first one means you’re in big trouble anyway. The latter two can include causing drivers or horse-riders to become distracted. So don’t wave a gun around near a public highway which, incidentally, includes public footpaths and bridleways.

East Anglian Game & Country Fair 2017

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The East Anglian Game & Country Fair will take place on Saturday 22nd & Sunday 23rd April 2017, at The Euston Estate, Thetford.

There will be lots of exciting new displays including The Mounted Games and The British Scurry & Trials Driving Championships, watch ponies of all shapes and sizes take on a timed obstacle course made from cones, temporary barriers, flags arches and ramps all against the clock. Speed, agility and bravery are required! Audience participation is encouraged to spur on the competitors and provides great entertainment for all the family. We have a fantastic line up of more free events to watch in the Main Arena and right across the show including Ye Olde Redtail Falconry, Sheep Dog & Duck show, Gun Dog display, live workshops with ‘The Horseman’ Gary Witheford, Traditional Craft demonstrations and Farrier and Blacksmith demonstrations. Don’t miss the 2017 Cutters and Climbers Competitions in the Forestry Arena where competitors will scale the highest poles ever seen at the East Anglian Game & Country Fair.

Join in and ‘have a go’ at a range of country activities from clay shooting with John Bidwell’s High Lodge instructors or enter the 40-bird re-entry shooting competition for men, women and juniors. Fly fishing and Coarse fishing on the Black Bourne River, ferret racing and archery to paintballing and crossbows. Try the air rifle range, hold a bird of prey, enter your dog into the pet dog show or take a ride in a Landrover on the off road 4×4 course.

There are over 350 shopping stands with a wide variety of products from fashion and footwear to gun makers, fishing products and home improvements. Plus children’s activities, a cookery theatre, food hall, craft and gift marquees and much more.

Please do take a look at our show highlights video; encapsulating what a fun family day out the show is, with something for everyone, including your dog! https://vimeo.com/191138776

Advance discounted admission e-tickets are available now online at www.ukgamefair.co.uk or by calling the ticket hotline number 01263 735 828 Adult £14.00, Children (5-16 Yrs) £5.00 and Family (2 Adults & 3 Children) £38, (offer valid until midday 17/04/17 and a small booking fee applies). Under 5’s are Free and Car Parking is Free for all.

Snowdrops & Anarchy

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“You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry, don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.” So said Walter Hagen, many years ago. My choice of wood today was awash with snowdrops. A welcome diversion from the drabness of the mist-laden morning and the monotonous drip, drip, drip from the trees. We talk of the effects of climate change, the shift in ‘El Nino’ and the mildness of our winters yet the arrival of the snowdrops remains unaffected by these grand events. By the second week of February, year in and year out, the tiny white buds emerge to shimmer in the bitter Easterly breezes. Across the wood a pair of white rumps bounced up from their shelter in the wild box and leapt away. The roe pair had caught our scent and clearly didn’t want our company. Old Dylan stared into the distance, aware that something was moving but it would be a mere blur in his clouded eyes. His nose went down again. Not to smell the flowers but searching for squirrel sign. At least his olfactory sense is intact. In deference to his near fourteen years he was wearing his waxed and sheepskin-lined coat today. Camouflage? Well it certainly helps. Like his master, the wear and tear of years ‘in-country’ have taken their toll and once fluid joints have become arthritic. Nothing exposes the ravages of age (in human or dog) more than the sub-Arctic February breeze or the mawkish damp of the winter wood.

Just as only mad dogs and Englishmen walk beneath a searing sun, only the addicted hunter ventures out in such conditions … for quarry will be fairly sparse in this most barren of months. Dylan soon found me  a squirrel though. Bless him, he couldn’t see the beast he was nosing towards eagerly and he can no longer hear my finger-clicks or instructional hisses unless right at my side. I lowered the gun in frustration as the lurcher trotted towards the delving squirrel, which was totally absorbed in retrieving a buried cache. In due course, the grey saw the incoming threat and fled into the untidy brash surrounding the trunk of a mature tree. Dylan followed the pheromones of flight and stood beneath the tree pawing the ground. “It’s in here, Boss!”. I walked up to the twigged maze and shook my head. Not a chance. The squirrel would be tucked deep inside. I wandered away and heard a whimper. Dylan still stood there, waving a paw, marking. I called him away. It was too cold for futile causes.

A series of rasping calls caught my ear. Similar to a jays scold, yet less loud. I stood still and watched a flock of fieldfares pass through the trees.  No doubt stripping any available berries as they passed, though there are few left now on the evergreens. The blackbirds, woodies and redwings have been feasting here all winter. We pressed on. There was a purpose to the meander of man and dog, even if this seemed a ‘rough shoot’ ramble. An impending project requires wild meat  … and lots of it. A tall challenge in an area where I haven’t shot a single rabbit in twelve weeks (and I shoot over three thousand acres of varied permission). The current cold spell has instilled a hope that some freeze-borne viral cleansing may help restore the rabbit population … but I’m not holding my breath. Much as I would like to think that fleas, mosquitos and their hosting of malicious microbes has been curtailed by the cold, Nature ensures that its lowest life forms survive …  without prejudice.

On spotting another grey foraging, I put a slip on Dylan and tied him lightly to the game bag I had slipped off my shoulder. In response, he lay down in the wet leaf mulch. The shot wasn’t going to be easy from here. About forty yards, across twigs and fallen boughs at knee level. I adjusted, left and right, to get a clear shot. Then just as I got the grey in sight, I got lucky. A jay had seen us and screamed. The grey stood, looking around ‘meerkat’ style, and offered the perfect target. I made Dylan stay (he was still tied) and moved in to retrieve the carcass myself. As always, I drew a small twig from the floor and touched it to the squirrels eye looking for a blink response. Nothing. The critter was dead. I always do this because I value my fingers … particularly my trigger finger! I squeezed the bladder, as you would a shot rabbit, and bagged it.

We weren’t done yet, though in the bitter cold, which was creeping lower on the thermometer due to wind chill factor,  I felt a little guilty about keeping the dog out longer. I needed a pigeon or two. We walked back to the motor and I swear Dylan was pushing the pace. He had clearly had enough. I laid him in the closed tailgate with a dog blanket over him and moved off into a small copse just two hundred yards away. A familiar pigeon roost. With the dog in mind I settled for the first pigeon I bagged. It was too cold to leave Dylan for much longer.

For full article and photo’s see ‘The Countryman’s Weekly’ in a few weeks.

Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, February 2017

 

 

A Passage Of Ghosts

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It was late afternoon in the garden wood and I was indulging in my passion for roost shooting. For the uninitiated, that is culling woodpigeons as they head into the trees to settle and rest overnight. The birds float in, randomly, and sit amongst the bare winter branches before picking a niche amongst the ivy in which to shelter from the chill Arctic breeze. I had arrived an hour before sundown to select a spot on the woodland floor. A spot that would give me similar cover from that breeze, yet also allow me a reasonably open view of the ‘sitty’ trees on which the birds would first land. I was clothed in dark camouflage, with a peaked cap and face-net to hide my visage. It would be a while before the first pigeons arrived so, wrapped against the chill, I opened a flask of piping hot tomato soup (spiked with black pepper). A bit of internal heat would help me endure the wait. I knew, from years of experience, that the cold would gradually seep up through the thick soles of my hiking boots to nag at my arthritic toes and infiltrate my calves. I pulled a pair of powder heat pads from my bag, peeled off the wrappers and shook them vigorously to activate the chemicals. Then I tucked one into each of my boot socks. That would buy a bit more time when the action started.

My hands were covered with shooting mitts; the type where you pull back the mitts to reveal fingerless gloves. Invaluable to the winter hunter … and a warm, sensitive trigger finger is essential to accurate shooting. As I settled in to wait patiently, the magic of sunset started to weave its spell on the winter wood. The orange glow gradually infiltrating between bush and bole, casting a warm and deceitful hue throughout the tree-scape. In response, the evensong of the woodland birds came alive; a tribute to another harsh day survived. Robin-tune, trilling like the tinkle of piano keys. A cock blackbird heralding the setting sun with its evocative melody. The distant crow of the retiring pheasant. Overhead, the clamour of the rook flocks beating their way back to some distant communal roost. Then, the sound I was waiting for. The flutter of wide wings beating down onto branch and bough. I shrank into the gloomy evergreen cover of the wild box which had become my natural hide. Scouring the leafless canopy I could already see three or four birds silhouetted against the amber sky. Just as I was about to pick a target, I sensed movement to my left and froze. I slowly turned my head to see a face not six feet from my position, studying the box shrub intently. A young fallow doe, in her gunmetal grey winter coat. I closed my eyes, for experience has taught me that it is the eyes that can often betray the hunter. I heard movement and opened them again. She had withdrawn and was moving away, followed by another deer, then another. I was mesmerised, counting a total of seventeen deer pass within six feet of my position. Not a single adult fallow amongst them, not even a pricket. They disappeared, a long train of young sylvan ghosts, into the forest.

As is the way of the wild, while I was distracted by the deer, the pigeons had gathered in numbers. I had a fruitful session, with five pairs of delicious breast medallions to add to the freezer. Yet my mind and my memory when I left was, and always will be, fixed on the passing of those seventeen youthful grey ghosts into a cold midwinter twilight.

Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, Jan 2017