One of the frustrating situations faced by the smallholder or gardener is the incursion of pest species and a limited ability to control them. Woodpigeons, feral pigeons, rabbits and some of the crow family can swiftly undo all that hard work put into preparing and sowing a crop such as brassicas, peas or beans. Rats, squirrels and mink can wreak havoc on poultry pens or duck ponds, the former fouling, spreading disease and undermining sheds or outhouses. The latter two being notorious egg thieves. The mink will slaughter wantonly, just like the fox, leaving dead but uneaten birds. Poisons and traps are often not an option (from a safety perspective) or require a level of skill beyond the scope of the average smallholder. There is, however, a perfect tool easily available to assist crop and livestock protection. A tool which is often overlooked. The humble air rifle.
I have been using air rifles for crop protection and vermin control for nigh on 40 years now. I offer my services free of charge as a hobbyist air-gunner and help out on estates as large as 1000 acres or as small as a 50 foot long garden. Such is the versatility of the air rifle. Over the years I have been happy to advise and tutor many smallholders and farmers in selecting and using their own air rifle. Why is it the perfect tool? Well … because it is low-powered, relatively safe in responsible hands, currently unlicensed, quiet in its execution and … perhaps most importantly for the smallholder .. very cheap to use.
UK firearms regulations require that unlicensed air rifles shoot at a power below 12 ft/lbs (foot pounds). As I write this, there is no license required for a legal limit (sub 12 ft/lb) air rifle in the UK. Though this may change due to the irresponsible actions of a minority and resultant political pressure. Above that power they are classed as Section 1 firearms and require a license. There are dozens of suitable rifles on the market to meet most smallholders needs. They have limited range, most suited to distances up to around 40 yards. Unlike a rimfire or centrefire rifle there is little risk of a missed shot leaving the boundary of a small property (which is illegal. Yet they have enough down-range power to cleanly dispatch an animal as large as a mature rabbit at 30 yards (a similar range to a shotgun).
Despite much of the claptrap you read in the popular media, air rifles are a very safe option when used and stored correctly. They are surrounded in their own legislation and codes of practise. Check out the BASC (British Association for Shooting and Conservation) website if you want to explore this in more detail. Most are now manufactured with integral safety catches .. a feature I demand on all my guns, regardless of my long experience.
One of the biggest attributes of the air rifle is its silence. Fitted with a sound moderator, they are whisper quiet. Not only does this make for effective vermin control (it doesn’t frighten off other vermin) but it also guarantees discretion. That can be important to the smallholder or garden farmer surrounded by neighbours who may not sympathise with the need for vermin control. They won’t even know you’re doing it!
Cost will be a consideration when purchasing a rifle. As with all things in life, you get what you pay for. From the cheap Chinese made spring-loaded rifles costing £50 to the top-of-the-range pre-charged pneumatics retailing at £900 or more. As you would guess, as a huge air rifle advocate, I shoot with the latter but I would always recommend that you get the best you can afford. There are some superb guns available for £300 to £400 and there is always the second-hand option. Ammunition for either end of the market is the same. Quality pellets retail at about 500 for £10. Which means you can practise shooting ad-infinitum for little cost. You can’t do that with rimfires or shotguns!
If culling vermin isn’t for you, there are numerous air-rifle clubs around the UK should you need help with pest control. You won’t have to pay for it. Give your local club a call. I can guarantee you that they will have experienced, safe, discreet shooters like me who will be available to help, free of charge.
If you should decide to buy an air rifle and need help in deciding what to buy, how to get started in learning how to shoot accurately, how to shoot safely and how to target vermin efficiently .. buy a magazine like Airgun Shooter or pick up one of the many good books on the subject. My books, though not tutorials, impart lots of advice.
And don’t forget .. there is a huge free harvest here too. Rabbit and woodpigeon meat is delicious. Check out my own books for advice on how to prepare both for the table … among other simple, tasty game recipes. All that prime meat, ripe for the taking, often pays for the investment in a good air rifle.
© Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, January 2015