Freitag, 2. Januar 2009

02.01.2009: Text des Tages

Mancher meiner Leser mag sich schon gefragt haben, weshalb ich meinen Weblog ausgerechnet Backyard Safari - also (frei übersetzt) Safari im Hinterhof oder Hausgarten - genannt habe. Den Titel habe ich einem Artikel des amerikanischen Berufsjägers Peter Hathaway Capstick aus dem Jahre 1979 entlehnt, der nachfolgend auszugsweise und unkommentiert wiedergegeben wird:
"Molten platinum ribbons of tropical moonlight were just beginning to pour through broken clouds on the black eastern horizon when I felt the first patch of hackles prick up on the back of my camouflaged neck. But had I really heard it? Or was it just the caress of night breeze against the dense bush? I closed my eyes, concentrating upon the mottled shadows until my ears rang. Then, it came again, the furtive flutter of foliage, the most subtle, sneaking approach of the long- fanged predator oozing with almost perfect silence toward the bait.

As slowly as I could, I took a long, deep breath and pressed stiff fingers into my solar plexus, lifting it off my stomach and calming the rookery of great blue herons that were flapping around inside. Quietly exhaling, I began to inch the rifle into position on the padded forked stick in front of the camp chair in my flimsy blind. Slipping up into firing position, I felt the cool Monte Carlo of the walnut stock smooth and snug against my face. Through the Bushnell Scopechief IV variable 1.5X-4.5X, screwed to full magnification to gather the thin, silver light, the scene was eerie, dreamlike, as I searched for the night creature I knew to be out there, lurking somewhere in the dark horror of jungle plants. A dozen fears and afterthoughts tore through my skull: Why hadn't I taken the time to build machan safely over the jungle floor? Why hadn't I brought the .577 double instead of the light rifle? What if there were a charge in this half light? I swallowed, steeling my resolve. I was a professional just doing what had to be done. It would be one shot or nothing. There was still time to back out, I calculated; I could always tell the authorities he had just never shown up. Then he was there, tremendous through the quivering lens, eyes bright over long, yellow teeth, the moonbeams glistening dully on his sleek fur. Sniffing the air, he moved cautiously closer, the crosshairs following him as the Multi-X reticle bounced them along like the trace line of an electrocardiogram. Wait, I told myself, wait until he settles down to feed upon his grisly meal.

A glide of movement brought him furtively closer to the bait, glancing about him constantly. With nerves of Teflon coated titanium alloy, I froze as he turned my way, stared right at me, then went straight for the bait. The moment had come. I eased the intersection of the reticle until it rested exactly between his eye and ear, the close-up sight of his rippling jaw muscles sending a subconscious shiver of apprehension through me as I drew my shooting breath. I felt the flesh of my finger compress ever so slightly as the crisp trigger corrugations gripped. Then, with a soft blap, the meaty thud of the little bullet melded with the snap and recoil of the rifle. A single, convulsive movement and I knew I had done it again. The hard way. Well, I thought with satisfaction and relief, that's why you're a Pro.

"Get another one, honey?" My wife's call from the front door startled me out of my reverie. I answered her that I had, indeed, triumphed over a superb male specimen of what we used to call in Rhodesia a bull gundwan. That's a rat to you, Norwegian variety. "Don't worry, dear," she bellowed soothingly across the parking lot, "I'll get rid of it for you. I know how ookie you think they are!" I shushed her, fearing the neighbors might hear, which would not overly elevate my status as Resident Professional White Hunter.

"Thanks, honey," I answered in a hopefully over-hearable shout. "I wouldn't want to take a chance on bending over with that tricky disc of mine acting up the way it's been. Just put him with the others and check the bait. I might get a couple more before Johnny Carson."

Cat, my wife, gunbearer, provisioner, and retriever, came out and, with a Kleenex- insulated hand, gripped the big rat by the tail and deposited him atop the pile of my three earlier victims, admiring-as she'd learned she had damned well better-the precision of bullet placement on the rodent's knob. She checked the bait-a portion of a Whopper, double meat, extra cheese, hold the onion-with the expert eye of a wild wandorobo with a Sarah Lawrence degree and pronounced it acceptable for at least the rest of the evening's safari.


If you're doing it right, hunting and shooting are states of mind. As I see it, if you rate a deer or duck the on the degree of success achieved rather then by number of chilblains accumulated, or your delivery on your very own of Capstick's Third Law of Aquadynamics (cold water flows into a hole in your boot at pi-r-squared the rate of warm water), please don't bother to read farther. Go shoot a roosting day pigeon or suck a quail egg. This isn't for you.


One area that seems unassailed by any faction is the use of the high-powered adult air-guns for pest control on damaging species such as rats, mice, starlings, sparrows, feral pigeons, and even crows under suburban conditions (where local laws permit - check first!) without the danger of an overpowered firearm bullet even as small as the .22 rimfire carrying perilously far. So let's presume that you would like the opportunity for some really challenging off-season, no limit varmint hunting without a couple of sections of backwoods Wyoming required for your hunting ground. The answer is a superbly accurate, high-velocity adult air gun, with low muzzle report, matched with a good scope and using properly designed pointed pellets that will do their job.

The most basic decisions to be made in choice of a serious vermin control/casual target gun would be of type and caliber. Most production models of all makes range from the .177 (4.5 mm) to the .20 caliber, mostly dominated by the Sheridan Company and the .22 offered by most American firms, but rare in Europe and Japan, where precision airgun shooting is really big business. There have been much larger caliber offerings recently, even .25, but let's keep this discussion as simple as possible, which if you've read this far would seem just about up to the author's capabilities.

There are three basic types of long arms in the clan: the spring-piston style; the pump-up pneumatics, which compress air in a chamber to a pressure dependent upon the number of strokes; and the C02 guns, which draw their propulsive power from commercial cylinders of the seltzer-bottle-charger type.


Make no mistake, any of these types of airguns can and will kill small vermin efficiently; I merely maintain that because small pests have very small vital areas and the rules of sportsmanship apply equally to any phase of the hunting sports, then the most consistently accurate and powerful gun is, by definition, the best choice for the job. That, me little darlin', is without question the spring-piston, which I am damned tired of hyphenating and will hereafter refer to as the SP. Unlike golf dubs, the SP generically comes in only three species, the side-cocking, which uses a horizontal lever to compress the mainspring, the under-cocked, which does the same bloody thing vertically, and the barrel-cocking type typified by the Beeman FWB 124 and 127, which uses-ah, you're too quick for me-the barrel itself to compress that spring-steel black mamba that Bob Beeman faithfully promises is the world's longest air-rifle mainspring, thirteen and a half inches. It's not in the Guinness Book, but I'll take his word for it When you fire it, you will too!

When you drain off the broth, the meat of the Mulligan is that the [Beeman] will whistle a .177 pointed-style Beeman Silver Jet Magnum hunting pellet of around 8 1/2 grains at an average muzzle velocity of about 800 fps and a bench-rest average accuracy center-to-center of .15 of an inch. This is a small piece of trouble you do not wish to insert yourself between and its ultimate destination. This incredible velocity, generated by only one cocking maneuver of eighteen pounds effort, coupled with spooky accuracy, forms a song-and-dance team that makes head shots on rats, ground squirrels and a wide assortment of feathered heathens reasonably practical out to ranges of as far as fifty yards, and, given a good rest and quiet wind conditions, an almost dead-if you'll excuse the term-certainty at thirty-five yards.

Now, just when you've become convinced that I have suffered some form of skull depression on my cerebral cortex resulting in complete ignorance of the superiority of the .22 skirted pellet over the piddling .177, permit me to apply the theoretical brakes and flip you a ballistic knuckleball. If you and I were sitting around Riley's Bar in Maun, Botswana, with our feet up and our fists full of something long, brown, and iceless, comparing lies about redheaded women and the relative ballistic coefficients (I once dated a .681 but couldn't handle the recoil in the long run), we would soon tire of such ethereal matters and get down to bullets and what they're supposed to do. If you're like most Americans, you've been brainwashed into the old "hydraulic bullet shock" theory, which I personally refer to as the "hydraulic crock" theory. You know the one I mean; it's as common as bank overdrafts and hangnails, where faster and lighter is better than slower and heavier. Lord only knows how many collect obscene phone calls I've fielded from some of my previous articles espousing theories of bullet performance during a decade plus of Karamojo Bell Fixation which led me steely eyed and stone broke into Safridom, but I'll tell you a thing, the same thing those five off-safari pro hunters over there by the bar will tell you: Penetration is what counts! If it doesn't get there, it doesn't matter if it was ever even fired.

Well, Lassie, come home. All's forgiven. Just when I was seriously considering using my own name (Sparse Gray Matter), I have finally hit upon the Tupperware of ballistics, the only set of circumstances I have found between the sixteen-inch naval rifle and the 2.7-mm Kolibri Auto in which there is actually, genuinely, a situation in which lighter and faster is better! Have you recovered? Well I gotcha again, because it hinges in the hollow design inherent in the skirted pellets that air-guns handle, giving a decisive edge in penetration to the .177 over the .22, despite the implied laws of mass, weight, motion, and the Surrender of German Samoa. So help me hangover, the .177 is, all things considered, the top banana as far as hunting performance is concerned. With my thanks to Robert Beeman (who will likely be named co-respondent in this case, and who is a top purveyor of the finest of airguns and confidentially will even provide .22 caliber guns in plain brown wrappers) and drawing upon my own field research, there are quite a few reasons why the .177 is a better choice for varminteering than the .22.

For one thing, never be openly associated with even numbers. The other kids will snub you for having a .22; I know. Now, if you have a .21, a .23, or dream of three digits--a .177, your social prowess will rise meteorically. Further, the .177 is innately smoother in flight than the .22. The .177 produces center-to-center groups 20 to 25 percent smaller than the .22 caliber. Should you doubt this, please advise me where I may purchase a top quality, Olympic Grade, match air rifle in double-deuce caliber. See what I mean?

Now, a spin-off of this weight/power/velocity/diameter sectional density/air-resistance factor is easily seen in a common field problem of archers: game hears the twang of the bowstring and is elsewhere when the arrow arrives where it was aimed. Or, at least, where it was supposed to be aimed. This same thing can be a sticky factor in medium to long shots with pellet rifles, which in either caliber are subsonic in both models of the Beeman/FWB. If you are, however, firing the .177, you've got an average 200-fps jump over the .22, which is not exactly throwing rocks. This velocity advantage is normally the difference between varmints reacting to the snap of the firing mechanism or still being where they're supposed to be when that nasty little 8.5 grains of lead terminal tranquilizer arrives. When the kill-zone of a small verminous animal averages the size of a quarter, a twitch caused by muzzle report means a miss.

Another happy propensity of the .177 pellet in the pointed hunting configuration is that in additionally giving better penetration, it paradoxically expands better (proportionately) and, because of velocity, creates more internal damage in tissue. Having eaten five tacos the other night, I can personally assure you this effect is devastating. If you're interested in ventilating larger varmints, such as crows or pterodactyls (I've killed nine of the former out of the bathroom window over the past two years with ten shots with the 124) the moxie the pellet retains upon arrival is paramount caliber selection.

The superiority of the 4.5 mm is clear over the .22 overwhelmingly in the zeroing formula. A dead on setting at ten yards will cause the pellet to rise about one and three quarters inches above the line of sight, and then be spot on at zero again at thirty yards. At fifty yards which, let's face it, is the top end of practical hunting ranges of the non-powder guns in these caliber's (although at seventy-five yards under virtual laboratory conditions, the 475 foot-seconds remaining would permit a head-on kill of a ground squirrel) the holdover would be about the same as the hold-under at fifteen to twenty-five yards, i.e., an inch to an inch and three quarters. This is much flatter than the .22-caliber airguns, and if the shooter learns to think in teens of ten-yard increments, his field results with a good rest would be scary.

Of course, as great an all-season hunting gun as is the variable-scoped [Beeman], it is equally superb as a plinker or occasional shooter. The light sectional density and rapid falloff of velocity past reasonable shooting ranges assures you that you won't endanger the clergy or valid taxpayers beyond about three hundred yards with a missed shot and an unimpeded pellet. Yet, to this old elephant hunter, who will soon be combing his hair with a washcloth, the [Beeman] and its kin, no matter what you choose in good relative quality airguns, is still a constant and legal excuse to wallow in that purest essence of your hunting and shooting heritage, merely being afield with a handful of clean walnut and fine, precision steel, topped off with a crisp, bright scope, walking with the shadows of the Good Ones who have gone to better covers. Your man-eating leopards, like mine, may be wharf rats, and your bustards feral pigeons. You, who are used to being lord of ten thousand square miles of miombo and nyika, may find the extent of your safari concession your suburban backyard. But it's not really different at all; the essence is the same. Airgun hunting is the perfect microcosm of big-game stalking and shooting, perhaps even more demanding of the rifleman, considering the cunning of the prey and the absolute precision of shooting required for humane, instantaneous death.

Perhaps one dark day they will say of Capstick, the Great White Hunter, "He stalked the starling and savaged the sparrow; he met the rat in darkness." I also suspect a smaller inscription, subscribed to by those who hunted with me: "We, however, have only his word for such deeds, as it was well known he was half Irish.""

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