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Slug Guns: by Bill McLeod

04/04/2022 6:53 PM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

I still remember getting my first rifle.

I was eight years old. It was in my Christmas stocking. Poked out quite a long way. The rifle came with a full set of instructions from my Dad who had been an instructor in the army, when I could use it, where I could use it, who could be there when I used it, all the safe handling rules and the requirement that no one steps in front of the gun. Dad set me the task of keeping the local population of introduced birds under control, he felt that they competed with native birds for food and nesting space. I was never to shoot a native bird. The rifle was a BSA Cadet Major in 177. I still have it and it will go to one of my grandsons. I learned marksmanship with that rifle. My dad saw that while I was left handed I was right eyed so I was taught to shoot right handed. I was taught the proper shooting positions, prone unsupported, sitting, kneeling and standing. I seriously enjoyed getting better at shooting and testing my ability against sparrows and mynah birds. Our home section of one and a half acres in Northcote was large enough that I did not have to look elsewhere for places to shoot. We used to shoot possums which had trapped themselves in the chookfeed bins, head shots worked fine. 

High school was the time for the 22 at my uncle's farm at Woodhill. Then onto high powers and competition shooting. I used a Webley Senior 177 air pistol to dispatch possums caught in the live capture wallaby traps but was unimpressed with the results.  I hadn’t used a slug gun for literally years when I had to evaluate an air rifle the company had sold for possible faults. The rifle was purported to be a thousand feet per second power but as it was a 22 it didn’t go that fast. Alan and I took two of these rifles to a vineyard next to Auckland International Airport where we did bird control shooting. We engaged a number of possums one night with a number of escapees and one confirmed casualty. The last possum I tried was up the top of a big gum tree. Easily seen in the spotlight. Numerous shots at the head produced no result. I thought I must be missing so shot at leaves close to the possums head. I could see the holes in the leaves so that wasn’t the problem. Eventually the possum got sick of this and made his way down the tree with me still taking shots. He got to the lower trunk and kept coming down. Alan yelled out “Watch out , he’s charging.” The possum hit the base of the tree then bolted between us up the race and disappeared under the calf feeders with me still taking shots. Never did find him. Totally unimpressed with air rifles on possums. 

I bought a nice Diana 34 and used it a little bit at work to evaluate pellets which the company considered stocking. Got a call from a scientist who l used to work with asking me if an air rifle would be effective in mopping up mynah birds following a poison operation. He was costing a proposal to eliminate a flock of mynahs in the main port of Kiribati for the UN and would I do the shooting. I thought I had better upskill my self so I joined the North Harbour Air Rifle Club shooting at Wainoni Park. Talk about an education. These guys were experts with air rifles. Some were well ranked in world competitions. My interest was in learning what could be done with a conventional spring powered air rifle as this was the simplest type which would be appropriate for use on the island. I finished up with a further three Weihrauch rifles, a 95 , a 50 and a 30 all properly scoped. They represented different power levels. By actual test the power of the 95 was about 14 pounds, the 50 was about 12, and the 30 was about 7. I learned about artillery hold, using mil dots to accommodate different ranges and  variability of pellets. I learned to hit the metal silhouettes at ranges up to fifty yards. I found that the air rifles were very sensitive to mistakes in your technique, what could be an OK shot with a 22 would be a dismal miss with the air rifle. I found that the advice frequently given that you should test your rifle with different pellets was only partially true, the aces consistently chose JSB pellets and set about winning. Some used others but mostly JSBs. The  blokes I shot with were super helpful, knowledgeable and skilled and I thoroughly enjoyed their company. Some didn’t even mind me calling them slug guns instead of air rifles.  Never heard back from Dave about Kiribati, guess the project didn’t make the cut.

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