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Air Power in the High Desert

uiet, Jim Milton pointed his truck into the field, the engine at idle. We push-clicked the doors closed and placed jacks under the shooting platform with a minimum of commotion. We could see for miles across the desert east of Burns. Gray-brown ground squirrels perched atop huge dirt mounds and their trails ran like the spokes of a wheel into the two-inch high Harney County orchard grass.

White PVC pipes baited with tempting "tasties" and blood thinner offered the rats a slow demise. It did not appear to be working. Belding’s ground squirrels scampered in and out of the pipes. Without high speed lead intervention, the farmer would not have much grass left by summer.

Rex Allison, 12-year-old Ethan Allison and 15-year-old Sam King were along to help. To start close, to keep from spooking varmints farther out, we uncased the air rifles.

Air guns have undergone a quiet evolution. Benjamin, Crosman, Gamo and other brands are racing to bring us better ammo and optics, higher velocities, quieter operation, minimized recoil and fast follow-up.

Gary Lewis's Hunting Oregon, Klamath Falls, rockchucks, jackrabbits, possums, squirrels, Harney County, Jim Milton, Gary Lewis, Myoutdorbuddy.com, Frank Galusha
AirPower_GL 042- Jim Milton, of Diamond A Guides, shoots the Gamo Whisper VH, a.177-caliber break-action air rifle. Photo by Gary Lewis.

The pre-charged pneumatic 25-caliber Benjamin Marauder is sophisticated, accurate and quiet, with velocities greater than 850 fps and 45 ft-lbs of kinetic energy per shot. It offers a dual fuel option for either compressed air or CO2 and a built-in pressure gauge to display the gun’s charge level.

The futuristic Gamo Whisper VH is black with a skeletonized synthetic stock, topped by a 3x9 scope, a laser (not legal for hunting in Oregon) and an LED light. It shoots a premium lead-free pellet at an advertised 1,200 fps and standard lead pellets at 1,000 fps.

We tested the Whisper VH alongside Crosman’s Optimus, a break-barrel 177-caliber. After a short break-in, both guns shot quieter than brand new.

When I handed the rifle to Milton, he found a target. The gun coughed. Downrange, the impact sent a tiny trail of dust into the breeze. He compensated for the wind and scored a hit on his next squeeze.

We marveled at how quiet an 8-gram lead-free alloy projectile could be delivered with precision out to 35 yards or so.

Four main calibers are offered – .177, .20, .22 and .25. Most common are the .177 and .22. If the primary pests and protein sources are small and feathered, the .177 might be the best choice. That little pill delivered at up to 1,600 feet per second, is a proven performer. If an occasional rat, snake or squirrel might be contemplated, the .177 remains a worthy option.

If, on the other hand, the pest in question is furred, a .22 caliber brings the energy to put rockchucks, jack rabbits, possums and other small-game down for good.

A firing range and backstop can be built in a basement or garage. The practice is good training and, outside city limits, an air rifle can be used to dispatch unwanted varmints without alarming the neighbors.

Call it an arms race. The consumer, with more air power options than ever, is the winner.

Gary’s favorite place to stay in southern Oregon is the Running Y on Highway 140, west of Klamath Falls. Visit runningy.com

Gary Lewis is an outdoor writer, author and TV host from Bend, Oregon.Top of Form He has written, or contributed to, 14 books and hosted multiple DVDs. Lewis is a past President of the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association (NOWA) and a columnist for The Bend Bulletin, a Contributing Editor for Successful Hunter magazine and a humor columnist for Bear Hunting magazine and a regular contributor for many other magazines and newspapers. To order a signed copy of the new Gary Lewis’s Hunting Oregon, send $24.95 (includes S&H) to GLO, PO Box 1364, Bend, OR 97709 or visit GaryLewisOutdoors.com

 

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