Andrew Lewand is on the Benjamin Prostaff and a highly respected speaker on various topics of predator hunting. He formed Bark at the Moon Coyote Club in New York to share the thrill of predator hunting and his freelance articles can be seen in hunting magazines such as The Varmint Hunter Magazine, Fur Fish & Game, Trapper & Predator Caller and Predator Xtreme.
The following article appears online at NBS Outdoor
Last winter I attended an office holiday party that led to a dream invitation for a predator-hunter like me. An administrative assistant in the office invited me over to her house to hunt fox and coyotes, because she “heard and saw them all the time.”
Not one to turn down an invite, I jotted down her address and looked forward to adding another location to my list of hunting grounds. A week later, I drove to her property and could not believe my eyes: Her house was nestled smack dab in suburbia! Although she had a barn and adequate acreage to hold predators, the proximity of her house to tracts of housing concerned me instantly. I wondered how I could hunt this apparent “predator mecca” without drawing attention from nearby residents?
The answer quickly dawned on me: I would use a high-powered air gun!
What’s available? When most people hear the words “air gun,” they envision Ralphie from the 1983 movie, A Christmas Story, holding his trusty carbine. And with good reason — the film has become a holiday classic. Today’s air rifles have evolved quite a bit since then. While .177- and .22-caliber pellets remain popular for small-game hunters, predator callers seeking more knock-down power will benefit the most by using .25-caliber pellets. Companies such as Crosman have catapulted air-rifle technology into the 21st century, and their air guns will satisfy predator hunters.
Crosman Arms, manufacturer of the Benjamin line of high-quality air rifles, leads the way with its Marauder line. The rifles propel pellets using a pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) system that delivers a 27.8-grain pellet at 900 feet per second (fps). The PCP feature allows hunters to take 20 to 30 shots on a fully filled tank. The 7-pound bolt-action Marauder uses an eight-pellet clip, which is handy in case follow-up shots are needed, and has a shrouded barrel that makes it ultra quiet.
Perhaps the king of air-gun calibers for predator hunting is Benjamin’s new Rogue .357 — a state-of-the-art air gun that fires a 175-grain pellet at 800 fps. The rifle features a two-stage, adjustable electronic trigger and uses a six-round clip (magazine) for follow-up shots. Crosman offers a variety of pellets, so the Rogue meets the needs of hunters of various game species. At 9.5 pounds, the Rogue is a serious air rifle for serious air-rifle hunters who demand maximum performance.
Are they up to the job? Legions of skeptical hunters don’t believe that air rifles perform well enough to be effective for hunting predators. These hunters cite the lack of kill power and effective range as criteria for their assessment. I used to be one of those skeptics. After examining what today’s air rifles are capable of achieving and using them on several hunts, though, I’ve changed my opinion. I now realize that, yes indeed, air rifles do have a niche in the predator-hunting world.
Before the season, hunters should practice with their air gun and become aware of its distance capabilities and the knockdown power it delivers. Although air guns’ energy measurement is significantly less than that of traditional firearms, air guns do possess enough energy to be effective when predators are within range. While most folks recognize that 4 to 6 foot pounds of energy (fpe) is required for hunting small game, predator hunters will have to up the ante. The .25-caliber Marauder produces 42 fpe — enough power to take fox and coyotes up to 75 yards. When using the Rogue .357, which produces 220 fpe, successful 100-yard shots are a realistic possibility. These numbers indicate that, indeed, today’s high-powered air guns pack sufficient punch to anchor predators within range.
Air rifles also hold their own in the accuracy department — especially the PCP models. Spring-powered air rifles are subject to both backward and forward recoil, which affects accuracy and requires shooters to develop precise shooting techniques to achieve consistent accuracy. PCP rifles feature little to no vibration, or recoil, and are more forgiving of variations in shooting technique. As far as groups are concerned, a group of 2 inches at 50 yards will be respectable.
Hunters will need to experiment with different pellets to determine which brand and type will perform best. Although there are numerous types of pellets available, predator hunters will have the best results with pointed, hollow-point, or ballistic-tip pellets.
One external factor that affects pellet accuracy is wind. Luckily, most predator callers like to hunt when the wind speed is low. However, even when the wind is blowing steadily, hunters can offset their aim to hit their target. Again, practice shooting in a wind so you’ll learn what to expect from your rifle.
The accessibility advantage. Perhaps the biggest advantage of using an air gun is that enables a hunter to access areas he otherwise might not be able to. Make no mistake — air-gun hunters still must abide by all laws regarding where hunting can and can’t take place and where firearms (air guns are considered firearms in many states) can and can’t be discharged. Once you know you’re legal, hunting with an air gun will allow you to access some real honey holes for predators. Suburban areas are home to both fox and coyotes for two good reasons: first, suburbia’s small woodlots and “forever-wild” land tracts provide cover and security. Secondly, suburban neighborhoods serve up a virtual smorgasbord for predators. Shrubbery around homes holds rabbits, and bird feeders attract not only birds, but chipmunks and squirrels. All of these rodents are on the predator’s menu. Even cat- and dog-food dishes left outside become part of a predator’s nightly feeding routine.
Hunters who attempt to hunt near housing tracts with noisy, high-powered, center-fire rifles or 12-gauge shotguns are sure to raise the ire of nearby residents and receive a visit from the sheriff in short order. No one wants that kind of attention. Air-gun hunters, on the other hand, can slip into these areas and hunt for predators undetected. Residents simply won’t hear them.
When you approach a landowner to request permission to hunt, they’ll be more apt to say yes if you’ll be using an air gun. A good selling point when seeking permission is to explain that air guns are safer than traditional guns, due to their decreased range.
Air guns also give predator hunters hunt-specific benefits. When more than one predator responds to a hunter’s calling, he or she stands a good chance of shooting both animals. Recently, I was calling on a small farm on the outskirts of town when two red fox appeared at first light. I shot the first one from 50 yards. The second fox, who surely would have vacated the area had I been using my shotgun, stood motionless and stared at its fallen partner. After a few seconds, it moved into range and I made a successful shot at 60 yards. The low-volume report of the air rifle didn’t scare the second fox, and I was able to double my fur count on one stand!
This brings us to another benefit of using air guns: If you miss a shot, you often get a second chance. Again, because of the low noise generated by air guns, predators aren’t spooked when they’re shot at. When I use my .223 center-fire rifle and miss a shot, it’s a strong bet that the predator will run away at mach speed. When I miss with the Marauder, equipped with its shrouded barrel, the predator simply stands there. I keep calling and prepare for another shot as the predator is still around for another opportunity.
Finally, in today’s tough economy the cost of ammunition can’t be overlooked. Center-fire rounds can cost more than $20 for a box of 20 rounds. That’s a dollar a shot! You’ll spend just ten bucks for 200 high-quality .25-caliber air-gun pellets. That’s only a nickel a shot!
Air-gun challenges. Of course, the almighty air-gun isn’t infallible. As with any weapon, it’s got its shortcomings. The most obvious one is the diminished range of the pellet. Hunters who experience a coyote “checking up” at 175 yards simply have no chance to take a lethal shot with an air gun. The troublesome scenario of the “out-of-range” predator can become a frequent foible for the air-gun hunter. (We’ll discuss some ways to get around that pesky problem in a moment.)
Another challenge facing air-gun hunters is the imperative need for shot accuracy. A high-powered center-fire bullet delivers damage by hydrostatic shock. A less-than-perfect hit with a 55-grain ballistic-tip bullet from a .22-250-caliber rifle can devastate a coyote. A poor hit with a pellet won’t end the same way. The damage from a pellet is purely a result of injury at the point of impact and penetration. For this reason, air gun hunters need to hit vital areas to ensure an ethical hit and a humane death.
Setting up for quality shots. As noted, the biggest challenge for air-gun hunters is dealing with the effective range of their weapon. Air-gun hunters need to alter their setup techniques by tweaking their calling attempts so predators get close enough to be taken. While hunters using a center-fire caliber rifle, such as the popular .223 or .22-250, may elect to position themselves 125 yards away from a wood’s edge, an air-gun hunter will need to set up much closer to the same edge.
Hunters can use a neat set-up tactic to accomplish this task. All that’s needed is some knowledge of how a predator approaches a hunter’s setup and how to use the wind to a hunter’s advantage.
First, realize that both fox and coyotes nearly always will attempt to circle downwind of the distress sounds a hunter is making, so they can use their acute sense of smell to determine whether or not the scene is safe to approach. If they detect any alarming scents, they’ll typically vacate the scene. Second, be aware of wind direction and be sure that your scent isn’t blowing toward the areas that hold predators. The hunter’s “scent cone” must blow away from the wood lots, ditches, and brushy patches that predators will most likely use to approach the setup. Again, predators that detect a hunter’s scent will retreat. Using a remotely placed electronic call will help establish how a predator will approach. The E-call will ensure that the predator moves in relationship to the position of the call, not to the hunter who is positioned for the shot.
Are you wondering what happened when I visited the administrative assistant’s land? I ended up taking two prime red fox over the course of the winter. That’s two bonus hunts that would never have happened had I been close-minded and unwilling to give an air gun a try. If you’re open to expanding your hunting opportunities, get an air gun and get practicing right away. Your next hunting trip could be just a short stroll through the neighborhood away!