By Jock Elliott
Big-bore airguns are just the ticket for nuisance wildlife control
Coming soon to a residential area near you: whitetails, coyotes, and hogs. Whether it is the woodchuck in the garden, the raccoon in the garbage can, the bear under the bird feeder, the deer and the coyotes almost everywhere, or the feral hogs exploding across the landscape, people are coming into collision with wildlife.
Jim Sterba, author of Nature Wars, says, “The return of deer, geese, beavers, coyotes, turkeys, bears, and other wild creatures amounts to a huge 20th-century conservation success story worth celebrating. And yet, in the 21st century, instead of celebrating, we’re often fighting about whether we now have too much of a good thing, and, if so, what to do—or not to do—about it.”
He points out that it is very likely that more people live in closer proximity to more wild animals and birds and trees today in the eastern third of the United States than anywhere on the planet at any time in history. “Some people say our conflicts with wildlife are our fault because we encroached on their habitat. That’s true. But that’s only half the story. As their populations multiply and spread, many wild creatures encroach right back.”
The kicker, according to Sterba, is improved habitat. “Our habitat is better than theirs. We offer up plenty of food, water, shelter, edges, and protection. We plant grass, trees, shrubs, and gardens, put out birdseed, mulch, and garbage, and fill up Dumpsters. All this amounts to a giant buffet for all sorts of critters. It’s the reason that suburban sprawl’s biological carrying capacity—that is, the population limit the food and habitat can sustain—is far greater than an unpeopled forest.”
When the interests of people and wildlife come into conflict, typically the next thing that happens is a phone call to state wildlife authorities or to a private contractor. Sometimes trapping/tranquilizing and moving the animals is the answer. Depending upon the jurisdiction and the species, however, it can be flatly illegal to relocate an animal. Sometimes there is a substantial breeding population in the area, so that relocating one individual animal becomes a symbolic, but ultimately useless, act. And sometimes lethal removal of the wildlife is the only sensible answer.
Limited Range, but Enough Power
That’s where big-bore airguns—air rifles of .30 to .50 caliber—come in. Chip Hunnicutt, marketing manager for Crosman Corporation, says, “When it comes to lethal wildlife control in an urban or suburban environment, you want limited range, not a lot of noise, and—above all—sufficient accuracy and power to provide a humane kill. Big-bore airguns deliver all that in a package that is easy to shoot well.”
Big-bore airguns also present an opportunity for new sales for firearms dealers because they provide a solution for wildlife control in many venues where discharging a firearm is forbidden. A number of states have approved, or are in the process of approving, the use of large-caliber airguns for harvesting deer. In addition, airguns often offer greater profit margins than do firearms.
Chuck Sykes, Alabama’s director of wildlife, says, “Large-bore airguns serve the purpose very well. You need to be proficient and know what range you are effective at, but you can kill a 180- to 250-pound deer at 100 yards with one. For nuisance wildlife control, anyone can afford them, anyone can use them, and it’s a lot cheaper to use an airgun than a firearm with all the hassle and expense of a suppressor.”
Big Opportunity for Retailers
Barry Stewart, a rancher with in-depth experience in wildlife control, says, “I use airguns for reduction of noise. If you are looking at a whole group of feral hogs, with a .223 you won’t get a second shot, but with an airgun you could. I get 1- to 1.25-inch accuracy at 100 yards with a Benjamin Bulldog, and it makes just as humane a kill as a firearm.”
Hunnicutt attended the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies annual meeting in Tucson last fall and found wildlife managers advocating the use of large-bore airguns for a number of applications. “There is a lot of potential in this market,” he says. The market has not gotten a lot of attention, and Crosman is supporting both wildlife managers and wildlife control professionals with performance data and information kits.
Eric Arnold, editor of Wildlife Control Technology magazine, says, “In terms of legalities, the number-one issue with state laws is whether or not air rifles are authorized for taking the conflict animal.” His view is that when an air rifle is legal and alternative methods for control are ineffective or too costly, then choosing a big bore (.30 caliber or larger) would be appropriate for wildlife that typically weighs from 15 to 80 pounds. This includes foxes, raccoons, coyotes, porcupines, and feral hogs. Larger big bores (.45 and .50 caliber) are more suited for larger wildlife weighing from 80 to 250 pounds, such as whitetail deer, large feral hogs, and small black bears.
He adds that a .30-caliber has more than enough energy for taking problem wildlife such as prairie dogs, rock chucks, ground hogs, skunks, raccoons, beavers, and foxes out to 100 yards, and coyotes out to 75 yards. But it can cause other problems if a miss occurs or the animal is too close and the projectile passes through. In short, shooters need to match the air rifle and pellet selection not only to the targeted wildlife, but also to the shooting conditions at hand.
Three things are clear: The incidence of conflict between wildlife and people is likely to grow; big-bore airguns can play an important role in helping to deal with the problem; and large-caliber airguns present an opportunity for dealers to sell air rifles, ammunition, charging systems, scopes, mounts, rangefinders, and other accessories.