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.


JP said...

Hey, good to see you back up and firing. I'm looking into a Beeman purchase sometime. Always enjoy the stories, waiting for a time I can take my own revenge upon empty pop cans and target paper. JP

Kodiak said...

Hey there JP, great to hear from you. I realize my posts have been scarce, so I always appreciate you checking in. I'll keep posting as stuff happens. The "Ghost Rat" story is also new - posted last night, so have a read if you haven't. I also have some more tales to tell and hope to get another post out shortly. Cheers!

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