Does the size of the bag define our enjoyment of the hunt?
- Credit: Archant
Jamie Chandler questions: big bag v little bag
It seems to me that my wife has a lot of bags. There must be over 15 at current level, which in our tiny cob cottage, means they’re everywhere. These bags are left dotted around the house like well-placed land mines, waiting for an unsuspecting victim – me – to come along and inevitably find themselves entangled in a shoulder strap, trapped by a clasp, or hit on the head by a falling purse. There are big bags, little bags, leather, wool and canvas bags, and all allegedly have a specific purpose or occasion, but to be honest, I’m pretty sure that she only ever uses one.
To my wife, it might seem the same with me and airguns, but as we all know and keep telling ourselves, that’s completely different and far more in-depth than something that you carry your phone in … and your purse, and random bumpf collected since the dawn of time. It sometimes astounds me that someone who has a far higher intellect than I could ever hope for, can become completely unstuck by the decision on which bag to take to what, and why a new bag seems to be needed for every wedding, christening or other major event. I suppose there must be something in it, but it utterly passes me by.
Why am I so fixated on my wife’s choice of used tissue transportation? Well, apart from the near loss of a leg, an eye and an almost fatal trip down the stairs in the past week, due to hand (bag) mines, it seems to me that bag size can and possibly is, becoming a fixation for many of us airgunners out there. Just by flicking through Facebook groups, we are bombarded with photos of multiples of game, taken with airguns and claimed to be at some outlandish and occasionally implausible, if not inhumane distances. In the last couple of months, I have written about ‘30 rats shot’ and ‘over 20 pigeons taken from a roosting wood’ and perhaps it gives the impression that big bags mean better hunters, which is simply not the case. It flags up some big, ethical questions and can leave those not having opportunities to be trigger happy, feeling that they are doing something wrong in the field.
For me, it all comes down to why I hunt in the first place; I hunt as I hope many of you do, for the pure enjoyment of harvesting food. When I head out hunting, my intention is to come back with something in the bag for me, or someone in the village, to enjoy preparing for dinner, not simply to go out killing as many things as I can. Obviously, if it’s pest control in order to keep a landowner happy, then the more I can show I’m doing a good job the better, but unless it’s rats or crows, everything I take will be heading for the pot somewhere, and that has always been my main driver. Taking the life of a sentient creature comes with a hefty responsibility, not only to ensure that the shot is humane, but also in what happens after.
Another obvious factor in determining potential bag size is the amount of available game on any specific plot of land. You might have thousands of acres to shoot over, but few woodlands, a low rabbit population due to myxi or the dreadful RVHD2 disease that has certainly decimated some of my normally over-healthy rabbit populations, so bagging one woodie or stalking one rabbit would be a great success in itself.
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You might also be the first person to try to solve a rabbit problem on a few acres of overrun horse paddocks, offering the potential for a large amount of shots in a confined space on the first few visits, and a great deal more potential to get a big bag, but certainly without the skill and effort required in the previous example.
Again, you might have permission to hunt over a golf course, in many ways similar to horse paddocks, where the vermin population is used to living relatively close to humans. Again, this is a massive advantage over a squirrel drey, or rabbit warren, whose residents are only aware of humans when they’re being hunted. So, perhaps bigger bags, like in my article on roost shooting, are in partly to do with luck and should be enjoyed as excellent sport when achieved, but not expected, and if you have no use for the food they provide, shouldn’t be reached for in the first place.
Essence of airgun hunting
If, like me, you are an avid reader of our own Charlie Portlock’s articles, then you will have read with bated breath about some of his stalks, taking all afternoon to identify from afar one potential rabbit as a target, then stalking into it using all available cover at his disposal, then getting a little closer by watching his prey’s body language and finally taking a shot. This to me is the utter essence of airgun hunting. The getting out, observing, planning, waiting, stalking and finally lining up the shot, are where the real challenge lies; the shot and bagged rabbit is almost a by-product or reward for the effort made.
One example of ‘massive effort, small bag, huge reward’ hunting came the other day when I was out with my trusty BSA Lightening XL SE after a call from the farm manager, demanding help with rabbits on a certain field margin. The field was quite remote and the ground far too wet to get near with the car. After walking some way over heavy, waterlogged soil, I could see four rabbits feeding comfortably in the margin and at the field edge. It was 4.30 in the afternoon and all my ‘good bag’ bells were chiming.
I targeted the closest and very carefully stalked in, keeping as close to the hedge and using shadow as much as I could, freezing whenever the rabbit or any of its companions raised their heads. It was slow, adrenalin-pumping, muscle-aching stuff, but after 20 minutes, I was within 40 yards and kneeling, slipped the Lightning off my shoulder for my final approach. One of the rabbits caught the movement and all four bolted to the hedge and out of sight. I moved silently forward 10 yards and sat up, waiting with expectation of a reappearance. Nothing, not so much as twitch came from the bushes and so I walked off the cramp by heading back to the car, keeping my eye out for opportunities.
Nearly at the car I watched a pigeon land on a branch some 50 yards away. I froze; I was in the open and in plain sight. I silently dropped to a knee and ever so, ever so slowly started to knee crawl, closing the distance, expecting the pigeon to lift at any moment. I got to about 30 yards, knees aching from the crawl, regained my breath and watched the pigeon, still turned away from me. I raised the Lightning, over the moon that the safety was silent, and aimed dead on the pigeon’s shoulder blades. A slight nudge, a ‘thunk’, and a dropped pigeon bought the drama to a close and I retrieved my prize. Five hours out, two truly intense stalks and one, rather small pigeon to show for it, and I was delighted.
It just shows that with airguns, it’s the effort you put in that defines the outcome. A massive effort and a small bag gives just as much joy as little effort and a big bag. Ask my wife, she can tell you all about bags!