Air rifle special: Take to the air for bunny busting

by Don Caswell

It’s only a small farm, a long and narrow 50-acre remnant of what was once a much larger property back in the day. Sharing one of the long side boundaries is a series of three-acre lifestyle blocks and, as so often happens, these lifestylers bought their little piece of country life then complained about everything country – the crowing rooster, cows mooing and any machinery that started before 9am.

The farm in question is close to where we live and we know the owner well.  She passed a message via my wife that she wanted an influx of rabbits dealt with but in a discreet manner – and could I oblige?

Until the three-acre lifestylers moved in, being a farming lady she’d have taken her .410 shotgun and cleaned out the garden-raiding rabbits herself.  But with a bunch of sensitive city folk now living close by she felt that was no longer possible, even though she was legally within her rights.

Her request was perfectly timed as it turned out. I’d been doing extensive testing of air rifle pellets using a newly-acquired .22 calibre Weihrauch HW100 PCP.  My paper punching had already impressed with both the high measured velocities and fine accuracy the rifle delivered.  I’d been thinking it was time to give the Weihrauch a field trial so I made my choice of pellet and the rifle was sighted-in for that.

I figured the 18.2 grain H&N Barracuda Hunter hollow-point pellets, at 850 fps, would be a perfect choice for some varminting of the bunnies, rats and myna birds found around the local farm sheds.  Over the years I’ve taken a healthy toll of such pests with my .22 calibre Weihrauch HW97K spring-powered air rifle.  The HW100 PCP model, with its better accuracy and much higher velocity, promised to be a more emphatic killer and would have the bonus of an extended range.

I arrived at sunset, noting a few rabbits already emerging along the bush boundary.  I had a quick chat with the owner then loaded the HW100, slipping a circular 14-round magazine into the action.  Starting from her driveway entry I walked slowly along the boundary where the mowed lawn meets an extensive paddock of long grass. There was a healthy population of rabbits living in the long grass and they emerged at dusk to raid the big vegetable garden. The owner had erected wire netting but the hungry rabbits were not deterred.

Looking ahead I could see plenty of them emerging a metre or two on to the lawn and as it got darker they’d continue on to the garden. The sun had set and there was no time to lose with my first target about 30 metres away, a plump young bunny facing away from me. As my first shot thudded into the back of its head it flopped and gave a few twitches before lying still.

In the open, the pop of the HW100 PCP was muted. Pretty much all my target shooting had been done within the confines of the shed where the sound was trapped and seemed loud. Out in the open it was a different story and the report was much less than that of a .22LR. The neighbours about 150 metres away would be unlikely to hear anything alarming through the screen of bordering landscape gardens.

For the next 15 minutes in the fading light I walked along the boundary, shooting at rabbits from 10 to 50 metres away. I’d only brought 20 pellets as the rifle cylinder was half-charged after a target shooting session. When I ran out of air and fodder for the PCP I returned to my car and switched to the spring-powered air rifle. I took a few more bunnies just to make the comparison, being careful to limit my range to around 35 metres allowing for the lower energy levels. Then I locked it away and made haste to recover the 16 bunnies I’d cleanly killed as the last of the daylight rapidly descended into dusk.

I cleaned a brace of the best young rabbits for the owner and presented them to her in the kitchen. She was pleased with a feed of bunnies but even happier I’d rolled 16 of them. The neighbours hadn’t called to complain so it was a successful mission on every level – and my bonus was a few bags of beautiful home-grown veggies, picked while I was dinging the rabbits.

The next day I paid a visit to one of my dairy farming mates, arriving after the morning milking was done and the tanker had been for the pick-up. After a quick chat I left him to his office work and took the Weihrauch HW100 from the gun box. The myna birds are particularly annoying at this spot, thriving on the spillage of grain supplement fed to the cows after milking. They make their messy nests in the sheds, scattering straw and droppings everywhere and, worst of all, pulling down nests of native birds and filling the hollows with thorny twigs to prevent them being used. My farmer mate detests them for these reasons and I visit a few times during the year to thin them out.

Until now I’d done that with my spring-powered air rifle. The mynas in my experience are like the crows we used to shoot as a youngster and quickly determine, with some precision, what your range is and hang about just out of harm’s way. On this occasion they were in for a shock – and some re-education. The repeated muted pop of the PCP air rifle didn’t disturb any of the human and animal occupants of the farm as I prowled about the house and sheds.

The smooth action of the HW100 let me quickly cycle the next pellet, allowing me to get off two and sometimes three shots where normally with the spring-powered single-shot I rarely got in a second shot. That, plus my newly-extended range, meant I took a heavy toll on the mynas and my farmer pal was most pleased with my bucketful of dead pests.

This sort of varminting is exactly what powerful modern air rifles are designed for – and do well. For discreet use around housing and sheds, where perhaps close-by neighbours are overly sensitive, you can effectively deal with pests and have fun in the process. Significantly quieter than even a .22LR, they can be used without alarming residents.

Of course ballistic considerations are important and I’ve tested a lot of pellets in air rifles but that detailed information is for another time. For hunting, I prefer pellets designed for use on game. While domed pellets are designed for target work, they do a good job in hunting pests but I like the more emphatic hit of hollow-points. This ensures rapid delivery of the full pellet energy and humane kills while eliminating any risk of exiting pellets doing harm.

As part of my testing I also assess terminal ballistic impacts of the pellets I believe would be good for pest hunting, and seeing the different performance levels on ballistic media also provides confidence in the choice for hunting.

Energy and accuracy determine the effective hunting range of air rifle pellets. For hunting pests with my spring-powered rifle I consider 35 metres the extreme range, while with the more powerful and accurate PCP I reckon 50 metres is the maximum. The graphs of velocity and energy level demonstrate that nicely. At 50 metres the PCP delivers the same level of energy as the spring-powered HW97K at the muzzle and this is typical of PCP and spring-powered air rifles in general. Within their effective range they’re excellent bunny busters.

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