Hunting: Is it OK to pay?

Balanced and deadly accurate, the Ultra really did XL

Balanced and deadly accurate, the Ultra really did XL - Credit: Archant

Jamie Chandler is entering a new hunting world, but not without challenges

Light weight, flowing lines and blistering accuracy make the Ultra XL a winner

Light weight, flowing lines and blistering accuracy make the Ultra XL a winner - Credit: Archant

I’m popping on my hard hat and diving for the nearest cover. I have done something that seems controversial amongst airgunners and pigeon shooters alike, but I’m not sure why it is. You may remember, a few months ago I wrote about how after 43 years my father-in-law was retiring from farming and selling the 1000-acre estate. Since then, it has been a time of mixed emotions for my wife and I as we’ve helped to close down her family home and my ‘therapy space’ for escaping to when needed. It’s been an amazing few months of pulling together and enjoying our last days of true outdoor freedom, whilst I have been quietly going about seeking new permissions – nothing controversial, so far.

A few weeks ago my father-in-law told me he had suddenly realised that I was going to be losing some revenue due to the farm sale. He was right, but he’s 70 years old and deserving of a life of stress-free happiness, and I hadn’t wanted my problems to become his in the last few frenzied months of his working life, so had made little fuss about it to him. The loss had genuinely been causing me sleepless nights because I not only wanted to carry on hunting up there in tranquil beauty, but also had created a small business from pigeon shooting and stalking before the announcement of the sale.

The Ultra XL shouldered perfectly for quick, confident aiming

The Ultra XL shouldered perfectly for quick, confident aiming - Credit: Archant

Shooting rights

The controversial bit, to some, came during that meeting. Father-in-law offered to sell me the vermin and deer-shooting rights for the next five years, in the form of payments twice yearly that would be carried on to the new owners. I nearly bit his arm off! For the price of a yearly Sky Sports package and gym membership, I could carry on doing what I loved – an utter no-brainer. I had to pay the first six months fees that week and he said he’d have the contracts drawn up by his solicitors.

Nothing in this seemed that controversial to me; driven shooting syndicates pay way more substantial sums for their rights to shoot game and the vermin rights go with it, in some cases. However, a couple of airgunning friends have claimed that it’s simply wrong for me to have exclusive access to land that maybe others could benefit from as well, and that I certainly shouldn’t pay for helping the farmer to carry out a vital pest control job because it sets precedents that others in the area might follow. A pigeon-shooting friend said I was making it harder for others to find permission and should simply take my chances with the new owners like everybody else.

I see it differently. By paying for the rights, I can then decide who shoots what and when on the land. I can invite guests, take paying clients out shooting pigeons or deer and continue to enjoy airgun hunting with friends, plus explore new ideas and ventures with the estate owners, which will add revenue to the estate and recoup the cost of my rights fees. It’s a win-win for both the new estate owners and me! In fact, without the family politics that has possibly stifled some of my ideas about getting more people into airgun hunting, and increasing understanding about low-impact, high-quality food sources, this great change could lead to even greater things. If anything, the contracted obligations and fee paying could end up benefitting more shooters by opening up opportunities than have been offered up there in 40 years.

The Gamo Phox certainly looked like a solid hunting tool

The Gamo Phox certainly looked like a solid hunting tool - Credit: Archant

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Short hiatus

So, after a hiatus of four weeks, whilst things were up in the air, and the sale, exchange and moving days all came and went, I decided to get back out and in line with my personal commitment to give more people the opportunity to come with me, I invited Ash along.

Ash is a newcomer to PCPs, having owned an Air Arms TX200 for years. He swapped because he wanted the benefits of a quiet, multi-shot rifle that wouldn’t be as heavy to lug around all day, and after trying many, he settled on a Gamo Phox in .22. This was surprising because at the more affordable end of the PCP market, it was quite a contrast to the high-end springer he chose to stop using. I haven’t had much chance to see the Phox in action, so I was keen to see how it would stack up against my BSA Ultra XL in real-world conditions. I had spent a while setting up the .177 Ultra XL to my liking, and with the benefit of the adjustable cheek piece and trigger, I had managed to get it to a point where it fitted like a comfy old slipper and I could guarantee near-perfect eye alignment on every shot, aiding the exceptional accuracy of this lightweight tack driver even further. Frustratingly, Ash and I were joined by another guest that afternoon; the tail end of Hurricane Ophelia was looking like it was going to make things difficult. This was the only day that Ash could make it, though, so we carried on regardless.

As we arrived at the woods, the wind dropped and the sky went cloudy with a weird yellow tint. We sat down about 40 yards away from an active drey that I knew about, and waited for some action. The woods were eerily quiet and you could have heard a pin drop. We waited for an hour in this surreal world with nothing happening – it was like time had stopped.

The Ultra XLs adjustable cheek piece is a stand out feature

The Ultra XLs adjustable cheek piece is a stand out feature - Credit: Archant

Look out!

Suddenly, nature took a deep breath and then released it with a vengeance as winds battered the trees around us sending twigs, leaves and small branches crashing in all directions. Things were getting a tad hairy and I was thinking of making a run for it. In this maelstrom, a lone pigeon and the only creature we had seen all day came diving into the tree line. Ash was on it like a radar tracker, following it in, and at about 28 yards, let fly a .22 AA Field from the Phox, delivering an instant, deadly head shot and dropping the bird onto its back. A second blew in a few minutes later, and I got the Ultra XL up and on aim flawlessly. The wind was buffeting against the extended gun, but with the stock firmly wedged to me with aid of the cheek piece, I had my moment as the wind dropped and sent a .177 Air Arms Field smashing into its target, dropping the pigeon cleanly.

The wind was really getting up so although we’d only been out for 90 minutes, we called it quits on safety grounds and beat a retreat to the car. Between the Phox and the Ultra XL we had accounted for two pigeons in pretty hectic conditions in just over an hour, so equal scorings. As too how they stacked up, all I can say is that I personally prefer the attractive wooden stock, the tailored fit of the adjustable cheek piece and the extra shot count of the Ultra XL, but couldn’t separate them on accuracy. As to anything else, in that wind it was impossible to tell.

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