Monday, March 29, 2010

Spring has Sprung

In the last 9 months, I've had so many ghost rat encounters (rat noggins perfectly lined up in the cross-hair, only to see the pellet somehow miss by seeming to pass through the creature), I was convinced that either 1) my yard was truly haunted by the spirits of rat hunts past, 2) my shooting ability had entirely deteriorated, or 3) something was wrong with my R1.

Three weeks ago, I had a rat coming out in broad daylight under the bird feeder, that I somehow managed to miss from 15 yards away. Two weeks ago, I had a rat on the bait station well-lit and centered, and somehow didn't hit him. If I wasn't prepared to declare an all-out supernatural visitation of the rodent kind, I was definitely at the point where I had completely lost all confidence in my shooting. I did target sessions where I would concentrate on nailing my hold consistently from shot-to-shot, only to see promising groups on the paper get ruined by a few flyers. I really wondered if there was some internal issue with the rifle, maybe it had a failing mainspring, maybe there was a faulty seal somewhere - maybe it was in desperate need of a tune. Well, I ended up going where I should have gone from the start - back to B.B. Pelletier's blog on Pyramyd Air. And there was ol' B.B. telling me that many accuracy issues with air guns are the result of a dirty bore. Of course! It was a total V8 moment.

Bonk! Clean the barrel you idiot

The truth is, I had been afraid to clean the bore of my rifle since I had no experience cleaning guns (not even a firearm), and since every tutorial I have ever read about cleaning an air rifle was filled with warnings, cautions, and BOLD LETTER DON'TS. The last thing I wanted to do was be the jackass that ruined a fine rifle because he didn't know what the hell he was doing with a cleaning rod. But I had, a couple years ago, purchased from the Yellow Forum Classifieds a Beeman Basic Cleaning Kit (no longer for sale) which included a cleaning rod, cleaning patches, bore cleaner/degreaser, and .20 cleaning pellets. So I had this kit in my closet, but had never used it out of a combination of not seeming to need it, and downright fear.

So a few nights ago, I decided to sack up, studied the instructions, and proceeded with the cleaning. I soaked a cleaning patch in the degreaser, tentatively pushed it through the bore from the breach, and repeated. Having never cleaned a gun, I have nothing to compare it to, but the black muck that came out on the patches was substantial. I ran many dry patches through until the black residue turned to a rusty brown, then faded almost completely. I then went out back and fired a few quick-cleaning felt pellets through. The directions in the kit said to fire 2-3 at a time to provide extra resistance (since they are so light) and keep the piston from slamming too fast and potentially damaging the gun. It was all I could do to force two of the things into the breech, so I went with that. When I squeezed the trigger, I was greeted with a very loud bang that set my ears ringing. I can't say with any certainty, but I wonder if the pellets, being so light, went supersonic. That would account for the loud bang. But I also didn't know if there was some sort of dieseling going on due to the cleaning fluid, or heaven knows what else. Of course, a lack of knowledge didn't stop me from promptly loading up two more cleaning pellets and repeating the exact same ear-ringing discharge. Then I put the gun away, hoping I hadn't ruined the gun or caused the neighbors to call the police.

The next day (yesterday), I took the gun out to see if anything was to come of all my trouble. I placed lemons on the bait station (about 18 yards away) to stand in for rats. I also went back to the Crow Magnums (my favorite, and once-upon-a-time-accurate-in-this-gun pellets) and again worked on nailing my hold consistently. I was encouraged with the results (there were no misses!) though I had to spend a little time getting the zero reset for the weight of the CMs. By the end, I was satisfied and started feeling a little trace of the old confidence return.

Last night at sunset, I baited the station on the fence with more sun butter and Cheerios (that combo is like rat-nip). I set up at the patio table and pointed a red-tinted flashlight at the target. At about 8:00, I saw that same big roof rat I missed a couple weeks ago come ambling up and watched him take the first Cheerio. I cocked and loaded my rifle, but he was gone by the time I got it in position to shoot. I had about a 20-minute wait until he came back again, but this time I was ready. I brought the rifle back up, replicated my hold from the earlier target session, and put the cross-hair on his head. He was eating off the very front of the bait station, and I was seeing him almost directly head-on. Through the scope I could see his two eyes glowing red, reflecting the light of my torch. I squeezed the trigger and thought I heard the thunk of impact. I heard a subtle squealing and then a thump as the rat fell off the fence and landed in the plants underneath.

I took a flashlight along with my gripper/reaching tool out to the scene and there that fat bugger lay, as dead as can be. I was pleased to see that the accuracy was spot on: the pellet had gone in exactly at his left eye and not exited. He was a big one - fat and 16 inches from stem to stern. Bagged and tagged and into the trash.

I don't want to jinx my success, but I can only hope that the cleaning was the missing element all this time. Only time and more shooting will tell. But I am really happy with last night's results. It feels like I finally got my gun back.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Tale of the Ghost Rat

Gather round the campfire and I'll tell you a ghost story, and don't mind that red-tinted flashlight shining under my chin... In a previous post, I told of how I had perfectly centered a large rat in my scope, had fired, and upon going to look for his carcass, realized that I had somehow completely missed him. The eerie part was that the strike point of the pellet was right behind where he was stretched out. Either this was some sort of Jules Winnfield "Divine Intervention" or that was one lucky rat.

"We just witnessed a miracle, and I want you to fucking acknowledge it!"

As described in my previous post, I had bagged a couple of rats over the following nights, but when the ghost rat reappeared, by the time I got my gun up and ready -- he vanished and did not return. So I camped out on a subsequent evening and saw him again. How did I know it was him? Well, he was a fairly large rat, which helped him stand out from some of the others I had seen. Plus he had this very distinctive approach to the bait station -- an approach that no other rat duplicated.

This time I waited for him to come all the way down and sit on the bait station. He did. I lined him up and took the shot. The pellet thunked the wood but again I was astonished to find there was no dead rat. In fact when I went over to look for him, I could hear him angrily scolding me with a gravelly chattering from somewhere back in the bushes. The sound continued as he made his way back along the fence line going deeper into the brambles. He was pissed. So was I. The ghost rat strikes again.

I decided to give it one more try. Several nights later I baited and waited for the phantom to appear. He showed up early and started taking the bait. I quickly shouldered my gun, lined him up and fired again -- and again I missed. I was speechless, but the rat had more angry chattering for me as he faded back into the bushes.

I was completely flummoxed. At this point, I had zero confidence in my shooting. I thought I was doing everything right -- I was replicating my loose hold each time, slowing my breathing, taking shots that were perfectly lined up, squeezing the trigger slowly and evenly -- all the tactics that are key to accuracy. And yet I was missing.

The next day I took a closer look at my rifle. With the two-way recoil inherent in spring guns, it is not uncommon for the screws that hold the scope mounts to the rifle to become loose and for the scope to actually shift position, with accuracy suffering. When I checked them, all screws on the scope and mounts were perfectly tight, and the position of the scope relative to the rear scope stop had not changed at all. Then I looked at the screws that hold the metal portion of the rifle inside the wooden stock. Aha! I found that both of the forward screws had become loose. When the screws get loose, it can change the way the gun moves/vibrates on each shot (the gun is now able to move erratically within the stock). Any variance in that movement will result in inaccuracy. That's why it is so critical to establish and repeat the way you hold the rifle, and to hold it loosely -- to allow the gun to vibrate the exact same way with each shot. Tom Gaylord calls this "the artillery hold". So I tightened the screws and went out to shoot some lemons. Replicating my nighttime position and hold, I was pleased to see that I could again put pellets where I was aiming.

That night I placed a little more sun butter and some Cheerios on the station and just stayed inside all night. I wanted the rat to start to feel like it was safe to come out again. The bait was gone the next morning.

So that evening, I went out again, determined to make the ghost rat into exactly that. Right at 9 o'clock, I spotted a rat on the fence peeking out from the edge of the vines. He was about two feet away from the bait station, staring at the sun butter, but he was looking out in my general direction trying to tell if the crazy guy with the gun was out there. He disappeared for a while, but showed up again about a half-hour later. Again he ran along the top of the fence before going behind it, out of view. He followed his now familiar routine, poking his head over the top of the bait station, stretching down to reach the food and finally just hopping down to sit on the surface. I carefully raised the rifle into the open palm of my hand, centered the cross-hair on his head and squeezed the trigger. I heard the thump of the pellet as it connected with the rat. At long last, that was that. The beast never even dropped to the ground -- he died right on the bait station.

A most satisfying kill

The pellet went in the top of his cranium and exited over his right shoulder. I hope this accuracy is a sign that my marksmanship is on the mend. Only time (and more rats) will tell. But for the time being, this is one ghost that has been busted.

I ain't afraid of no ghosts

Friday, May 30, 2008

Same Bait Time, Same Bait Station

After the mysterious incident at the bait station in which a pellet seemed to pass harmlessly through a rat like it was some ghostly apparition, I decided to make some changes to my approach. I surmised from the rat's skittish behavior that the reddish plastic over my flashlight wasn't as undetectable as it once seemed -- especially when the batteries were at full strength -- so I needed a new tack. I 'borrowed' some of my wife's red nail polish, removed the light bulb from my Maglite and painted it. After it dried, I replaced it and flicked the switch within my darkened garage. I was pleased to see a beam of truly deep red light issue forth.

I also decided that I would go back to using Crow Magnum pellets. I knew that if the JSB had merely 'pin-cushioned' the rat, not doing enough damage on impact to drop him in his tracks, then the massive hollow point of the CM was the right solution. I went out that evening intent on zeroing the gun with the CMs, but the wind was howling that day, gusting over 30 miles per hour. No matter what I did, I could not get the pellets to group. Disappointed, I went back to the JSBs. These, at least, I was able to keep striking within a reasonable circle.

As the sun was setting, I baited again with the sun butter/Cheerio combo and settled in at the patio table. It wasn't more than five minutes later that the dark silhouette of a rat could be seen creeping towards the red-lit bait station. He was very cautious, but the lure of the high-protein concoction was just too great. At last he climbed onto the wood platform, almost directly facing me, and started licking the sun butter of the front of the station. I zeroed on his noggin and squeezed the trigger.

There was a sharp squeal, then a thump on the ground as he fell off the fence. I could hear thrashing on the darkened ground. I ran out immediately and found him back under the fence as if he had made an attempt to get back into cover. The pellet had gone in right behind his left ear and out his back on the right. I left the remainder of the bait as an enticement for further participants, and called it a night.

Ol' Blue Eyes

Sure enough, the bait was gone the next morning. So a couple days later, I decided to set up again. I tried another round of target practice with the Crow Magnums since the winds had died down a bit. I had a promising couple of first shots, but then the groups went wild again. Much to my chagrin, it was starting to look like this rifle just didn't love the CMs. That was very disappointing because I really love their knockdown power. In any case, I switched over to Beeman Field Target Specials which were spot on.

Darkness started to descend as I baited and got comfortable on the patio. This time an ambitious rat came at about 8:40pm - trying to get a jump on the crowds at the bait station! He gave me about the same head-on view as the last rat, and I didn't waste any time putting the crosshairs on him. Thunk! The rat flopped and fell off the fence, stone dead.

The early rat gets the sun butter, and express delivery of a pellet to the bean

He was a little guy, only about 11 inches nose to tail. I quickly bagged him up and returned to the patio to see if I could coax out another. Sure enough, at about 9:30 a larger rat poked his head over the back of the fence. He stretched down from above, then ended up sitting right on the bait station. I put down the binoculars and shouldered the gun. But in that time, he had scooted off and did not return. I packed it in about 45 minutes later. So I know there's another big one out there for the taking.