Ethics of Airgun Hunting:
One of the most frequently asked questions I get from hunters that use more conventional weapons is “is it ethical to hunt with an airgun”? This is a fair question, and the short answer is yes. If one knows their gun and what it is capable of, both in terms of power and accuracy, they know what they are capable of with respect to marksmanship. They know the animal being hunted, and they can ethically harvest game. This is of course the same set of criteria any hunter, using any weapon must exercise. As a matter of fact, I can make a strong argument that an airgun hunter able to practice in their basement or backyard and shoot hundreds of pellets per month throughout the year, is going to become a more proficient marksman than a firearm shooter that may put less than a hundred shots per year (often far less) before heading out after game. I hunt with firearms, archery equipment, and airguns; but it is my airgun that makes me a better shot and a better hunter overall.
Ethics are not simply a question of the tools used to harvest game, but how those tools are applied. I will say that after thirty years in the field hunting with firearms and twenty using airguns (concurrently thank you very much), that airguns are a viable option for making humane kills on small game and for pest control. To summarize; pick the proper gun and pellet, keep it to the appropriate range, know your skills, and you can indeed hunt ethically with air power. It is one of my objectives to demonstrate that the Marauder is an air rifle well suited for this application in every respect.
The application for which most airguns are purchased domestically would be for plinking and informal target shooting. However looking at guns purchased with the intention to shoot quarry, without a doubt they are most frequently used to shoot vermin and pest species. This can range from shooting the squirrel or starling raiding the backyard bird feeder to professional pest control removal of roosting pigeons in factory buildings or rats raiding feeders in the farmer’s barn. Most states permit the culling of pest species with an airgun, and even allow some game animals to be taken out of season under a depredation permit when they are causing damage to property.
Some species are by their very nature considered pest animals, ones that are vectors for diseases or cause damage to property such as brown rats. There are other animals that are not usually considered a pest species, but due to population explosions caused by an abundance of food or lack of predators, become pest. The most common pest species shot with airguns are rats, ground squirrels, sparrows, starlings, black birds, pigeons and other animals causing a nuisance or depredation on private property. Under certain conditions, a small game animal such as cottontail rabbits on a golf course or tree squirrels in the attic become a pest animal …. Once again you need to check your local ordinances.
Shooting pest animals makes a lot of sense as the other options are either setting traps or laying poison, both of which have many negative attributes. They are both indiscriminate, you don’t want to poison the barn cat along with the rats, and you don’t want your dog sticking his nose in a rat trap. Shooting can also be more effective allowing several individuals to be culled in a single session and a whole population eradicated over a short period of time. To be successful the shooter needs to keep the pressure up, as these animals tend to breed very rapidly and can quickly build the population back up if allowed to.
It should be understood, the objective of pest control is to kill as many animals as possible, effectively removing the population from a specific area. It is not hunting in the pure sense of the word, you are not interested in sport or giving the animal an advantage, only in removing them (or significantly reducing their numbers) from the ecosystem. In this context, the pest control shooter should not hesitate to cull young animals or females, and unless there are local regulations there should not be a concern over season. The purpose of true pest control is to remove every member of the pest specie that you can. As a matter of fact, if a farmer or facilities manager gives you permission to shoot on his property, it is your responsibility to clear every varmint you can. Using airguns to shoot these pests makes a lot of sense, as they are uniquely suited to the task. They are powerful enough to effectively dispatch a pest animal at 70 yards, and the Marauders discussed in this book are capable of tack driving accuracy. If you do happen to miss, the projectiles will not travel a mile or cause excessive damage to surrounding equipment or buildings. And lastly, with a shrouded barrel this rifle is almost silent. This means that you will not become a pest species to your neighbors as you move around a property clearing out the starling population, your pest might be their cute little bunny … so stealth has its place.
Small Game Hunting
For me, small game hunting with an airgun is a favorite hunting past time, and a couple of my favorite guns are the Marauder and Discovery pre-charged pneumatics. I love being out in the Midwestern woods in fall and winter with an air rifle stalking squirrels, or glassing the landscape in pursuit of rabbit and quail out in the California high desert. I also love taking these guns on my big game and predator hunts; as you’ll see in this book additional opportunities will always arise even in game rich areas such as South Africa!
We are blessed with a lot of small game animals in North America, with squirrel and rabbits by far and away the most popular quarry. But in some areas turkey, quail, grouse, and other game birds are on the menu as well. Some animals, such as fox, bobcats, coyote, raccoons, and nutria are sometimes considered game animals, sometimes furbearers, and sometimes pest species, and in many jurisdictions can be taken with air powered guns. On my airgun hunts in South Africa game such as the many types of doves and pigeons, crows and ravens, Guinea fowl, geese, several types of starlings, mongoose, fox, hyrax, wildcats, porcupine, rabbits, springhares, and various rodents large and small gave us great hunting and shooting opportunities when not out after big game.
Why use an air rifle rather than one of my firearms as a method of take? I still like to hit the field with my .17 and .22 rimfire rifles and handguns, but find that airguns make it more about the hunting than about the shooting (not saying the shooting isn’t fun or important mind you). That forty to fifty yard airgun range can be a real obstacle to overcome when moving through the forest, knowing that a snap of a twig on the ground will send every squirrel in the area running for cover.
Another major plus for me is that as stated, airguns open up a lot more territory for hunting. At home in Indiana, it seems like there is a lot of open space on one hand, but on the other there seems to be a house on the corner of every forty acre parcel. I am exaggerating, but my point is that there is more limitation on hunting space than out west. I have found that a lot of farmers out where I live will let me take an airgun around their farms, but not a firearm due to the carrying distance and noise generated. A side benefit of the airgun is that the precise placement of the pellet, usually on the head, causes less damage to the meat. These animals are destined for the larder so this is not an insignificant advantage. But one of the most important advantages of airguns in most settings is that they are so quiet. This is very important when hunting around farms and near habitation, but even when using an airgun during down time while on a big game, is a great attribute.
On this trip to South Africa, my primary intent was big game hunting. However, there was a lot of down time in which I could get out with an airgun for both pest control and small game hunting, where the report of even a rimfire would have caused too much disturbance.