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Rabbits – Airgun Hunting with James Marchington [DVD Review/Radio Interview]

Posted on 08 July 2010 by Cork Graham

Rabbits reside in the past memories of many as their introduction to hunting. Rabbits remind me of the elation of returning to the US after spending a childhood in South Vietnam and Singapore—where the only ones with guns were government personnel and guerrillas, and most of the hunting happening was of the two-legged variety.

With a 16 gauge Marlin pump handed down to me by my father, who had last used it before he went off to lay down telephone lines across Latin America in the late 1950s, I ventured forth to Arroyo Seco in Los Padres National Forest. As I wasn’t old enough to drive, it meant that it was a family affair and we didn’t get to the forest during the optimum morning times, and left before the best evening times to make it back to the Bay Area before dark.

One day, though, I got lucky. Our dog, that must have been a mix between either a beagle or Spaniel and a terrier, who loved to dig and chase, suddenly got onto a small cottontail that bolted and I shot.

I only hit it with a few pellets, and not knowing how to finish it off with my hands, I simply stepped back and aimed again. Problem was that I didn’t really understand chokes and how I had to walk much further, else turn that small brush cottontail into hamburger.

The experience almost turned me off hunting all together—I still don’t like to hunt small game with a shotgun, but more for not having to pick shot out of my meal. But then the next year, I got a Marlin semi-automatic .22 rifle with a tubular magazine!

Even with the issued open sights, I could drill a rabbit through the head, wasting none of what would become my favorite meal. No more stray pellets puncturing the stomach or gall bladder, tainting the sweet cottontail meat…like chicken but so much tastier. It’s no wonder that my natural progression in adulthood would be back to the rifle that I was a introduced to shooting with in the first place: a pellet gun.

Without all that “bang” that comes with gunpowder, I’ve come to enjoy the silence of hunting with a bow that in the world of rifles is most imitated by an air rifle. It’s really fun shooting a pellet rifle for a number of reasons: the ammo’s cheaper, it’s quieter, there’s an unlimited amount of propellant (we breath it every second) and there’s no smoke preventing you from keeping an eye on the target.

For this reason the airgun was used extensively during the 1600s and 1700s for  hunting. In war, Napoleon saw the major effect of the quiet airgun, un-affected by rain, against his troops, that he had a standing order that all enemy combatants captured with an airgun in possession be executed on the spot.

My Wyoming huntin’ buddies Gerald Gay (l) and James Rivera (c) and bison taken with a .61 cal air rifle

As a fanatic small-game hunter with a taste for large cottontails, I’ve learned the merits of putting a .22 caliber pellet rifle through it paces. While last year was my introduction to the break barrel offerings of Crosman, this year I plan to put their scoped Benjamin Marauder through a number of hunts!

The Marauder, a rifle that uses an air reservoir much like ancient rifles, is similar to the AirArms rifle that airgun aficionado James Marchington uses on his own hunts for rabbits in his homeland of the UK, hunting in England and the Isle of Skye. A few months ago, I had the pleasure of watching his DVD release (I think I’m even the first one to get it in NTSC, instead of PAL).

As Marchington stated in our interview that follows, technology has come a long way: how much easier it is to teach by producing a DVD as compared to publishing a book. And what an entertaining lesson it is in his production: Rabbits — Airgun Hunting With James Marchington!

Through a number of nicely shot scenes, the viewer is taught how to choose an effective pellet rifle, and type of scope to mount. In the field, some of it shot on the beautiful and very rustic Scottish Isle of Skye, Marchington takes the audience through a number of sighting and shooting sessions.

The topics also touch on clothing (which I especially enjoy because he’s not wearing camouflage, but a good hunting tartan) and go in-depth into the skills of stalking and using the terrain to get close to the rabbit. If there’s ever a DVD to get for a child to show them something they can easily go hunting for, which would teach them to hunt just about every other game, this is it!

So much out there is directed toward the adult, and really doesn’t cover the hunting opportunity of rabbits in a way that I’m sure will appeal to the neophyte hunter, young or adult. Those rifles mentioned are definitely “adult” pellet rifles, and Marchington stresses the important of all types of good woodcraft and rifle stewardship.

Marchington makes a great teacher and yet another reason I highly suggest getting a copy to watch with your son or daughter.

As for the hunting in the field (it’s not all about picking equipment and talking about woodcraft), Marchington mounted a Guncam on the rifle so that the viewer can see exactly what the shooter is seeing as he shoots. Very impressives footage and shows how effectively a .22 pellet rifle can dispatch a large rabbit as quickly as a rifle shooting a .22 long rifle cartridge.

To get your copy visit www.marchington.com

For your daily commute on your MP3 player – Download and Enjoy James Marchington’s interview on Cork’s Outdoors Radio:

 Topics:

Track 1: James Marchingon talks about his entry in hunting in the Great Britain, and how much stalking rabbits is a great training aid for learning to hunt large game.

Track 2: James Marchington touches on the topics of rabbit game species, air rifle options and new upcoming DVD productions for hunters.

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On the Track of Wily Wild Boar Babi Guling

Posted on 12 February 2010 by Cork Graham

Two rounds of Winchester .300 Win Mag ETip on Babi Guling
Two rounds of Winchester .300 Win Mag ETip on Babi Guling

 Back when I was a 20-year-old combat photographer, still fresh to my freedom from a Vietnamese reeducation prison, recruited and being trained to be another Captain America in the US’s war against Communist Totalitarianism (you know that 80-year event we had before this present Islamist Totalitarian threat …that one that those under 20 say, “Huh, we were really at war with the Russians? It wasn’t really a Cold War?”), T. Michael Riddle was the lead guitarist for a band called Valhalla, being mentored by his friend Ronnie Montrose.

Montrose was watching the news on the Contras versus Sandinista war, that I was having a front seat to at the time, and the music and chorus came to him. He brought them to Valhalla. Valhalla added lyrics and they released Freedom Fighter in 1985, on the album Valhalla. Now a master guide and outfitter, Michael Riddle asked me if I wanted to try the pig hunting on the 27,000 acres of prime hunting land he has sole access to in Central California under Native Hunt.

Cork’s Outdoors TV was due for another episode, so I answered, “You betcha!”

Leaving at night, and arriving at his headquarters near Fort Hunter Liggett in the early morning darkness, we were greeted by a few of Riddle’s guides and three clients, a father and two sons from Aptos. While waiting for morning light in the office, we heard a bunch of pigs grunting outside and Riddle pointed them out. All about 70 to 120 pounds. Just a bit big for what we had planned, but when hunting light came, they’d be more than available to the father and sons group who tagged out early.

This was on the free-roam area of the Native Hunt headquarters ranch mind you. Riddle also has a collection of pure-strain wild boar he imported from Poland a few years back. He keeps them on 900 high-fenced acres, along with bison and fallow deer.

Now before you get in a tiff, and say, “High fence? And you’re likened to Aldo Leopold by the London Times, the same Aldo Leopold who was a major proponent of democratic free roam hunting opportunities—what?!”

…As I said, I’ll be writing about this in a future column about how the human population of the new millennium is nowhere as small as that of early 1900s, and so our wildlife management and improvement of hunting opportunities need adjustment…but suffice it to say, high-fence when done right (as it is at Native Hunt), 900 acres is just as demanding and fair chase as hunting non-fenced game.

Remember this isn’t Ohio or New York, where what they call mountains we in the West call road bumps and hills. Native Hunt’s acres of penned exotics game is as the crow flies is 900 acres. When you take into consideration the steepness of the mountains, it’s near 3,000 to 5,000 acres of terrain Michael Riddle has in his fenced area. That’s pretty challenging with a rifle and especially with a bow.

But, Riddle and I were after a feral hog in the 50-60lb range to produce an episode of Cork’s Outdoors TV, teaching you how to roast a wild boar the way they do in Indonesia, something they call Babi Guling, which just means “pig revolving”, i.e. pig revolving on a spit, in Malay and Indonesian.

Until then, Riddle would be taking a client on another property who wanted to hunt a wild boar with his traditional longbow. When we arrived at the other property with the client, not too attentive to sound control while grabbing his bow, the client spooked a herd of wild boar feeding in an open field of young barley only 60 yards away, 10 minutes before shooting light. I tagged along for a while, listening to a multitude of wild turkeys and coyotes calling to each other…

Each time we thought we’d get back on the pigs, they were yet another ridge away. The client, who’d never shot at anything other than target with longbow, did get his wild boar later that afternoon: a testament to the guiding patience and skill of Riddle’s lead guide, Sam. A perfect 50-pound roasting size, the client and I joked about trading another opportunity at a larger wild boar. I half-heartedly joked with him about it as there were a lot of wild pigs on the properties (by that afternoon I’d see at least 50 I could have taken with my rifle), but all were 20 to 100 pound more than what we wanted—50 pounds was just going to fit into the Caja China Riddle has at the Native Hunt Lodge.

After a tour of the animals that makes the Jolon Ranch such a nice little exotics safari right out from the lodge, we went to sleep and woke in the morning to venture through the fog outside of the bounded area and were immediately onto pigs within 50 yards of the high bison fence. We heard the grunt of a couple pigs, and from the sounds of movement coming from the brush right next to us; there must have been about 10 pigs in the herd.

As we had only two days before having to return to the Bay Area, I was going to take the shot, whichever was available…Yes, we got lucky in a number of ways, but I’d be cheating you out of the adventure, if I told you everything that happened, recorded in the latest episode of Cork’s Outdoors TV, the boar stalking set to Valhalla’s Freedom Fighter.

Click on the latest pig hunting episode screenshot photo link at the bottom and stay tuned for the Roasting Babi Guling cooking episode coming up…!

Shemagh’s That?

Not only an opportunity to check out Native Hunt’s offerings that would make any international outfitter proud, the trip was also done with the intention of trying out some equipment I’ve never used before: the Nightforce™ 3.5-15x56mm NXS, non-lead ETip ammunition from Winchester, and Blackhawk!®’s Thermo-Fur Jacket and Shemagh.

Nightforce™ 3.5-15x56mm NXS

This is quickly turning into my favorite all around scope for long and close range. Were it that the reticle couldn’t be illuminated, I don’t think I’d be so excited about using the Nightforce Optics™ 3.5-15x56mm NXS with MilDot in scenarios other than which it was originally designed: military and law enforcement long-range tactical applications.

With high-quality glass and a large objective, the scope makes easy work of drawing down on a target in early twilight, and picking out targets in dense brush, lowlight conditions.

Because the posts of the reticle are outlines instead of the normal solid black ( I love this design for long-range shooting, because you can see what’s behind the post), it’s not as easy to discern the fine reticle lines from branches in tight brush. But, and this is a BIG but: when the reticle is illuminated with a simple pulling out of the parallax knob, the red-lit reticle really stands out from everything in a way that even a solid traditional 4-Plex type reticle can’t do.

In Hunting Babi Guling, you see how fast I’m shooting right after I notice a pig only 15 yards away, draw up, and get a clear picture of the boar in my sights, and take the shot, a milisecond after Valhalla says, “Roll the dice!”

Winchester ETip in 180 gr.  .300 Winchester Magnum

Ever since I shot my first California blacktail near Chester, California with a poly-tip pointed bullet out of my .280 Remington in the mid-1980s, when manufacturers first really started pushing the highly accurate, but just as unpredictable mushrooming qualities, I blew softball-sized chunks out of that small buck. Unlike some who think that a big hole means a quick kill, I prefer a bullet diameter-sized hole coming in, and silver dollar sized hole on the way out.

Anymore explosive energy of the bullet, and you’re finding too many bullet fragments sent through the meat that translate to bloodshot and unusable meat. With some bullets, the fragmentation can be horrendous.

As I’ve always stated, I’m not focused on trophy hunting. When it comes to making sure I’ve got full use of the meat from a dead animal, it starts with the shot: so that I’m not spending all day trying to correct by trimming away too much wasted meat. A good copper and lead bullet, with good mushrooming qualities and retaining 70 percent of the bullet weight is perfect for me.

Gladly surprised with this first time using an all-copper bullet and that also had a poly-tip (I’ve used the Barnes Bullets and found them to be more than adequate in accuracy and killing ability), I came upon the very dead-in-under-a-minute roasting boar. Instead of the mega-sized hole I remembered from my first poly-tip experience on the buck, there was a neat silver dollar hole in this pig’s chest.

Accuracy wasn’t a problem either, as I was still hitting the 12-inch gong at 175 yards that Riddle has mounted across the lake and halfway up the ridge at Native Hunt. I’m looking forward to putting these 180 gr. non-lead bullets [now required in Central California because of the Condor Area closure] through the paces at longer ranges on bigger pigs…and since I need to do a prosciutto preparation episode with a wild boar in the manner of Serrano ham, before it gets too hot in California, that should be pretty soon… 

Blackhawk!® Thermo-Fur Jacket

If you read my last column you saw me wearing this great jacket while holding a freshly culled cottontail rabbit. The Thermo-Fur Jacket that works more than efficiently as an insulative liner for a breathable shell-jacket, but can stand on it’s own in a medium breeze and no rain. When I was hunting the wild boar on the episode I was actually wearing it under the Cabela’s® GoreTex shell: it kept me toasty without overheating. I would have probably used it on it’s own, but I needed a jacket that would at once be quiet as the Cabela’s shell is (and so is the Thermo-Fur), and yet, I could be sure wouldn’t catch on hook-like brush as the Thermo-Fur would—didn’t want to shred something I just got.

Had I been hunting wild boar in the open barley fields, like in which those pigs we found on the longbower’s hunt, I would have easily just stayed with the Thermo-Fur: the jacket was that warm in the cold of morning, even with the hanging fog and moisture!

And it’s not just that jacket keep you warm, but that it really just keeps you comfortable. It’s weird to say, but it’s almost as though it has a variable magical thermometer control that doesn’t let you get to warm or cold…just comfy. Few man-made materials do this. This is why I more often enjoy wearing outerwear made from natural fibers than polyester, and have been a fan of Filson® and clothing for so many years for my hunting needs.

When it comes to Blackhawk!®, I’m learning as I use their equipment and clothing, that they seem to answer questions before they asked. A perfect example is the positioning and design of the pockets. Easily accessed and placed and oriented in an efficient manner, you’re not searching around for things when you need to keep your attention out in front of you, especially when you’re going into deep brush after potential danger—the zippers are also very quiet!

There was one thing that I was reminded about and that is the more you let moisture stick to your skin, no matter how insulative and wind-cutting your outergarment might, it’s all for naught if you the clothing against your skins doesn’t draw the moisture. I’d highly recommend using one of the many undergarments, T-shirts and crewnecks that Blackhawk!® has to do that job. I was wearing a cheap, red cotton longsleeve shirt and had it gotten colder, I’m sure I would have gone over the tipping point and been freezing: start right from inside to out!

In the Thermo-Fur Jacket, roominess of the pockets goes all the way from the waist up near the shoulder-that almost makes your jacket a light field pack pocketed chest harness! For those of you who might be in harms way, you can appreciate those large pockets for tossing your spent magazines to reload later. For the hunter that forgets a packs, you might also appreciate those large front pockets for carring a couple tenderloins, or even a couple backstraps, back to camp when you get that pack.

I’m looking forward to writing the column planned for when I receive the other two layers of the Blackhawk!® Warrior Wear Jacket System, that should be coming in soon. If you remember an article written by my colleague Wayne Van Zwoll more than ten years ago, showing distaste for the prevalence in tactical and military type clothing in the hunting fields and mountains over the last 20 years, you’re sure to find my upcoming column interesting…

Cork Graham warm and toasty in BLACKHAWK! shemagh

Cork Graham warm and toasty in BLACKHAWK! shemagh

Blackhawk!® Shemagh

I’ve always been a jungle boy. Raised in the tropics and at home in the jungle like many in Europe and America might be in a pine forest or mountain meadow, deserts just freak me out! So, though I’ve used the very efficient dark green and loam patterned see-through sniper’s veil that has served well as a hood, face camouflage material, headband and scarf, I’ve never really had the opportunity use the Middle Eastern desert Shemagh that so many special forces units are using these days.

When I tried it on our hunt for babi guling, first as a scarf to keep my neck warm and prevent early morning coughing from the cold that might signal my location to a boar, and then later when the wind picked up as a hood and head covering, I was totally amazed. Made from the simplest of materials, cotton, it did more to keep my head warm than a full jacket hood and a ball cap.

My understanding is that the weave of the Shemagh is loose enough to enable pliability, but tight enough to act as a phenomenal windbreaker and help in retaining body moisture, too.

I’m sure to have one in my kit for hunting, whether that’s for comfort, or for camo. One side has a predominance of black squares which works great early and late in the day for calling in coyotes, and the other side with the predominance of olive drab looks like it’ll do well during waterfowl season to cover my face, while enabling me to look up and watch the descent and flight pattern as they work the dekes, without flaring them with a big white face.

You will have to learn how to tie a Shemagh properly for use as snug camo, but I’ll do a snippet video to show how easy it is: Indonesian or Arab style.

Related Links and Articles:

  1. Nightforce Optics

  2. Blackhawk!®

  3. Winchester

  4. Native Hunt

  5. Not Bored Chasing the Boars

  6. Wild Hogs!

COMING UP

  1. The River Cottage Meat Book by Michael Fearnley-Whittingstall [Book Review]

  2. Surmounting the Cultural Conflict of Tactical Clothing and Equipment in the Outdoors

 

CLICK ON THE ABOVE PHOTO TO WATCH THE EPISODE

CLICK ON THE ABOVE PHOTO TO WATCH THE EPISODE

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Central California Cottontails with a .22 cal Crosman Pellet Gun

Posted on 10 February 2010 by Cork Graham

Cork Graham with a freshly taken Sylvilagus audubonii, using a .22 Crosman pellet gun

Cork Graham with a freshly taken Sylvilagus audubonii, using a .22 Crosman pellet gun

Whenever a rerun of Spy Game is broadcast, I always smile when I hear Brad Pitt’s answer to Robert Redford’s question about how he became a sniper: shooting team in the Boy Scouts. For me it was my Daisy BB gun and trips out to Lake Pond Oreille, every summer we visited my grandparents in Spokane, when my family home as the son of American expat businessman was Saigon and Singapore during the 1960s and 1970s. Trying to hit the metal band of a log piling reaching six feet above the surface of Pend Oreille, 70 yards offshore from the porch of our family friend’s cabin, was a lesson in trajectory and wind.

I shot every chance I got during those summers, because when we returned to Southeast Asia, I would have to leave my marksmanship to slingshots and low poundage field archery equipment. Firearms and even BB guns were illegal to possess in Southeast Asia.

Shoot enough years it’s hard not think fondly of those early days, out in a field plinking at tin cans and perhaps sniping a bird or rabbit for the family table. When an excuse to try out the new “adult” pellet guns came up—we’re now legally allowed to use pellet guns of at least .20 caliber to hunt wild turkey in California—I called up Crosman to try out one of their .22 line.

…Plus, I’ve received a number of cookbooks I have to review from American authors and those across the pond, like Darina Allen and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, two well-known and respected cooking writers in Ireland and England, who really know how to do wild game justice: a big fat cottontail would be a perfect entree!

What arrived in the mail was a .22 Cal. Remington(R) NPSS Digital Camo. Talk about accurate. With a rifled bull barrel and a large objective scope on top, and nearing 1,000 feet per second it looked like a sweet combination for small game and hitting a turkey in the head. What makes the drawback, though—like it can with any firearm—is the trigger.

I’m all about triggers as you may have guessed. A crisp trigger with a light poundage triggerpull (2-3 pounds), greatly assists a shooter in their keeping a tight group. What a trigger on a pellet gun that relies on a spring, just like a majority of triggers you find on crossbows (except the well-designed trigger from Excaliber Crossbows), has going against it is that it delivers that “Boing!” that does wonders in knocking off a marksman’s focus on the target.

As with a conventional bow, follow through is very important. That’s where a smooth trigger helps in keeping that target fixation: As if using a bow, you keep your bow focused on the target, and with a rifle you keep your crosshairs on the target for a few seconds after you shoot.

Now, if you’ve tried the triggers on break-action, as Crosman calls, it “break-barrel”, pellet guns, you’ll notice that the trigger does have that sponginess that makes it hard to predict exactly when the gun is breaking. But, because of this, and also because of the lack of a significant recoil, pellet guns are a great training tool to improve you shooting skills.

Though many would think that improving shooting means learning how to deal with heavy recoil, it’s really about learning how to work a trigger, and in conjunction with breathing and beats of your heart. When you can overcome the uneven resistance of a break-barrel pellet gun trigger, you’ll have mastered the even squeeze necessary to hit a target with a fine-tuned firearm.

A great work on the act of integrated shooting (breathing, heart rate, trigger squeeze), is on page 180 of The Ultimate Sniper [Updated and Expanded], by a man I highly respect for his work, background, and teachings Major John L. Plaster—I’ll be conducting a Cork’s Outdoors Radio interview with him soon, so stay tuned!

Armed with that Crosman .22 Cal. Remington(r) NPSS Digital Camo, and having already been successful on wild boar earlier that day at Native Hunt, described in last week’s column, Michael Riddle and I put the pig in the roaster and jumped in my truck.

We drove over to another property that makes up 27,000 acres of prime land that Native Hunt has sole hunting rights to, and found the cottaintails that had teased me earlier while we waited for a  longbow hunter that was slated for hunting pigs that morning.

As usual, the cottontails didn’t show until the last hour of daylight, something that made the large objective scope a real asset. When I took my first shot, Riddle called out, “High!”

Adjusting, the next shot hit lower, but not enough. Peter Cottontail bounded off, sitting just short of a clump of weeds.

Lowering the reticle of the scope yet again, I took another shot at Sylvilagus audubonii, otherwise known as the desert cottontail rabbit, prevalent in Central California and much fatter and larger than the small bush cottontail I was accustomed to hunting in Mendocino National Forest as a teen. A .22 pellet hit Sylvi Auduboni in the head with the effect of a light switch being turned off.

Wide-eyed, I looked at Riddle. “Dang!”

These little pellet guns pack a punch. Only a 20 yard walk to where he lay, the cottontail rabbit was stoned cold dead, not even convulsing. Not wanting my Brittany Spaniel, Ziggy, getting interested in rabbits, I walked quickly past the backseat of my Dodge Ram Quad Cab (Ziggy staring at me, and the just-departed Sylvi in my hand, from the backseat), and put Sylvi in the back of the truck payload.

In an hour, Riddle and I would be back at the Native Hunt Lodge, checking the doneness of the pig in the Caja China, and skinning Sylvilagus auduboni deciding which review volume I’d be referring to in order to cook the prime pink cottontail meat and its heart, liver and large kidneys: The River Cottage Book, The River Cottage Meat Book, Forgotten Skills of Cooking: The Time-Honored Ways are the Best – Over 700 Recipes Show You Why, or maybe even Pot-Roasted Rabbit with Prunes and Pinot-Noir from Chef John Folse’s eloquently illustrated and easy to follow gamecook’s bible After the Hunt: Louisiana’s Authoritative Collection of Wild Game & Game Fish Cookery, with a Papapietro-Perry 2007 Peters Vineyard Pinot-Noir from the Russian River Valley.

 

COMING UP

  1. On the Track of the Wily Wild Boar Babi Guling
  2. The River Cottage Meat Book by Michael Fearnley-Whittingstall [Book Review]

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