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.