Phil Hardman: "Hunting in the field is my therapy"
PUBLISHED: 14:03 12 September 2019
In this, the toughest of times, Phil finds a much-needed escape
This month has been a particularly hard one for me. My mother lost her battle with cancer and passed away a few days ago. Cancer is an awful illness, and watching my mam slowly fade away has been very difficult, as you can imagine. One thing that has kept me going is my love of hunting. I've spent every spare minute I had over the past month or two out in the field. It's my therapy, it's how I cope with life, and I have never needed it more than I do at the moment. My mother was always very proud of what I did, although she wasn't too keen on the killing aspect. She would always show anyone who visited her what I had been doing in the magazine that month. "He writes it all himself," she would say proudly.
Given the circumstances, it's safe to say that receiving the new Weihrauch HW100BP last month couldn't have come at a better time, really. I had a new toy to play with, a welcomed distraction, but as things deteriorated with my mam I began to worry that it wasn't enough, so I needed to go out and buy myself another new toy, another distraction, something else to keep me busy out in the field.
Quite a sight
Enter the ATN X-Sight 4k Pro, a new scope, a new night-vision, a new way to record my hunts, the gadget of all hunting gadgets! I knew that the X-Sight would be the perfect thing to keep me busy. The ATN is a day/night digital scope, with 3-14 x zoom. During the day it gives a full colour, high definition picture, then at night it becomes a digital NV scope; no more add-ons, no more messing around in the dark, a true 'one scope fits all' type deal. Because I tend to use only one rifle for 99% of all my hunting work, this was perfect for me, and it meant I could head out any time I liked, day or night, and the rifle would always be ready. At £854 the X-Sight certainly isn't cheap, but by the time you buy a normal telescopic sight, some mounts, and then an NV unit to go with it, as well as an IR illuminator, you'd probably have spent the same anyway, maybe more in some cases.
The ATN comes with an IR illuminator, mounts, sunshade, rubber eyepiece extension, basically everything you need, right out of the box, and has a battery that lasts around 18 hours on a single charge. This isn't a review, so I won't be going into too much detail here, but the X-Sight's clarity is fantastic in both daylight, and at night and although it's not the smallest scope in the world, I have that found it's well worth it for the huge amount of features it brings. Game changer? Well, yeah, for me it has been, anyway. I also fitted the rifle with a Viper three-point tactical sling this week, which means I can carry it hands free, but have it always ready when I need it. Elsewhere this month has seen me switch pellets. I have used JSB Exacts for years, but I was recently given a tin of .177 Quang Yuan Sport Pellets to try. I've heard great things about them; at 9.5gr they're a little heavier than the 8.4s I generally use, but during my initial tests on paper targets they grouped shockingly well, and I'm yet to have a single one with a bent skirt, which is a pet hate of mine and all too common in other pellet brands.
As I mentioned, I have been out hunting almost every day lately, with some great results. My focus has been better than ever and I've felt like the old me, unlimited patience, unwavering determination, I've been unstoppable - driven, almost. This is something I seemed to lose for a while, and although the circumstances under which I have regained it aren't ideal, I'll take it. I haven't hunted this well in years, nor have I enjoyed it as much.
Brim full of confidence, not only in myself, but in my HW100BP/ATN X-Sight 4k combo, I decided to pit myself against what I believe to be the most challenging, and one of the most rewarding, adversaries an airgunner can face, the summer woodland - woodpigeon! Woodies are notoriously wary birds, and difficult to stalk, especially in the summer, when they have plenty of cover up in the trees in which to hide. More often than not, the first time you realise there is a bird in the area is when it explodes out of the leafy canopy directly above you and takes to the skies, leaving you slightly startled and humiliated that you hadn't seen it. Oh, they always seem too obvious once they have revealed their position, but deep down you know that even if you knew it was up there, chances are you still wouldn't have seen it. Any hunter who can stalk through a wood in summer and routinely spot birds before they are seen themselves earns my respect, it's not easy.
Spotting them is only half the battle, though, trying to get a clear shot can be just as difficult. Leaves, branches, twigs … even the high summer sun beaming down through the canopy all work against you, so finding a clear path to target can often be as difficult as spotting the birds in the first place, and every second you try, you risk being spotted, or stepping on a twig that's hidden under the greenery of the woodland floor, and spooking the lot! Even if you do finally find a clear path through which to shoot, the shots are often taken at extreme angles of elevation, sometimes completely vertical, which means the pellet's trajectory is totally different to anything you are used to. Because of this, I find bagging a decent number in one go very rewarding. The odds are completely stacked against you, but if you can master this type of hunting, you can hunt anything, anywhere!
Because I tend to like to make things difficult for myself, I didn't bother with gloves or a face veil, but I would recommend it if you're going to try this yourself. They aren't a magic fix but can often let you get away with a little more than if you weren't wearing them. My woods have a lot of ground cover at this time of year, so I used that to help me make my way through undetected. This makes for very slow progress but offers me the optimum chance to remain unseen, which is the key to this kind of hunting.
Often, birds will arrive and land, or call, or flutter from branch to branch, revealing their position to you, so there's no need to rush. The longer you spend in any one area, the more chance you have of this happening. I made slow but steady progress as I slunk through the dense undergrowth. I was in no rush, and I knew there would be birds somewhere up ahead just waiting to punish any mistake I made through impatience.
My first chance came when a bird fluttered in and landed above me. The tree it perched in was only 15 yards away, but given the steep incline of the shot it was anything but straightforward. From my shadowy position below, I scanned the area where the bird had landed through the ATN, and was able to pick the birds head out among the leaves. I had to hold-under so far that I wasn't even aiming at the bird with the crosshairs when I pulled the trigger, but I had faith that my pellet would strike high, directly into the bird's head. The X-Sight has angle information displayed on the screen, for both cant and elevation, and at 70 degrees this was a steep shot, but my pellet struck true and knocked the bird off its perch and sent it reeling to the ground, crashing into the undergrowth as it went. Surprisingly, no other birds stirred, and although it was tempting to take this as a sign there were no more in the vicinity, I instead kept to my slow, almost snail-paced stalk, as I went to retrieve the fallen bird.
This turned out to be the perfect tactic, because no sooner had I reached the downed bird, when I spotted another woodie sitting on a relatively low branch just ahead of me. I froze as soon as I became aware of it, time seeming to stand still whilst I waited to see if it had seen me. It was perched with its back to me, looking over its shoulder in my direction, its head raised, neck stretched, alert. I brought the rifle up slowly into my shoulder as I took aim. It was a fraction under 40 yards from me, but I was supremely confident as I lined up the scope's reticle on the bird's neck.
At this range, I knew my pellet would drop a little, catching the bird in between the shoulder blades in the centre of its back. I slipped the trigger and sent the QYS pellet on its way. The bird just crumpled, falling forwards without so much as opening its wings as it fell to earth.
I continued on my way, sticking to the same technique - low and slow, using as much of the undergrowth as I could for cover, and picking off any birds I spotted as I went. Of course, many saw me first, but I'd say it was about equal between them spotting me first, and me seeing them, and I got the drop on enough of them to make for a really good day, with some very challenging stalks, and some extremely satisfying shots. I was out for four hours in total, for nine birds collected and one left in a large bush, which I was unable to reach. More than that, though, it was four hours of complete and utter bliss, stress free, just me and the rifle, in the zone!
Before I go, I just wanted to let you all know that I have started a new Vlog Series on my YouTube channel, HuntingWithHardman. I've neglected my channel for way too long, but this series has me very excited, and I'm really enjoying making these shorter Vlog-style videos and interacting with all of you. If pictures are more your thing, I'm also on Instagram which will let you keep up to date with what I'm doing, and even get some sneak peeks of things to come in future issues of Airgun World. Until then, see you all next time!
Read more from Phil Hardman…