Beeman R7 and the Ground Squirrels

A couple of years back, I bought a Beeman R7 air rifle in .20 caliber. I had owned one back in the late 1980's that was .177 caliber, but I foolishly sold it for a song. Anyway, I bought the rifle with the idea of trying some urban varminting. I figured the .20 would have a little more downrange punch than a .177.

First, the rifle needed some customization. Mind you, the Beeman is a fine, beautiful rifle that is great right off the rack. But no one gun can fit all shooters. My shooting style requires that my rifle stocks have a short length of pull of 12 ? inches. My good buddy Mike provided his able skills to shorten the 14 ? inch pull of the R7 down to my size. He also radiused the heel of the butt pad so it didn't catch on my sweatshirt when I shouldered the gun.

Although the R7 comes with quite serviceable open sights, a Bushnell 3-9 x air rifle scope was mounted to accommodate my aging eyes. I've had little experience with spring piston air rifles, and was surprised to see that the zero wandered when I was first shooting it. Mike noticed that the scope bases were shifting under recoil, and this was the reason for the inaccuracy. A set of rings with a 4-screw lockdown system solved the problem. Subsequent groups showed that the gun is way more accurate than I.

Shooting rodents with anything inside the city limits is illegal in Tucson (so much for the Wild West). My friends in the county have an overabundance of desert rodents nibbling at their tender, green cacti. Three previous outing have yielded one great sunrise and an evening chance at a packrat who wouldn't come out of the brush enough for a clean shot.

The fourth hunt started differently. Rather than set up in the morning or evening hours, I set up under a mesquite tree at noon on a warm winter day. Although I knew packrats are nocturnal, I've often seen ground squirrels scooting around in broad daylight. Sure enough, after about an hour of silent watching, I caught a movement off to my left. I could see one scurrying under the mesquites close to the house. If he kept heading away from the house on his current course, he would soon be in my arc of coverage.

Before I knew it, he had scooted out from the mesquites and was sitting 10 yards out on a mound of dirt in the wash, eying me. We watched each other for probably a minute without moving. Finally, he started nosing around at something on the ground. I slowly tucked the butt into my shoulder, flipped off the safety and found him in the scope. The reticle centered squarely on his chest as I applied pressure to the trigger. At the shot, I heard a thump and he vanished. I know I hit him squarely, but the mound he was sitting on was also the entrance to his den, and he disappeared down it.

I reloaded, things settled down, and a half hour later I caught another movement about 15 yards further than the first shot. The previous week, I had checked the zero on the Beeman. While it was dead on at 10 yards, it was down a little more than an inch at 25 yards. The pellets were 20 grain Beeman Crow Magnums.

If the squirrel was worried about me, he didn't show it. I was able to get him in the crosshairs and watch him briefly. My rest wasn't as solid as I'd have liked, and the crosshairs were moving a little. Just as I was ready to shoot, a movement behind him caught my attention. There was another one. And this one was trophy material! He was considerably bigger than the intended victim. Two factors weighed against taking him. First, although he was bigger, he was about two yards further from the other one. The pellet was already dropping at 25, and I would have to hold a bit higher. Also, there was chain link fence between us. A successful shot would have to arc through a fence square.

In the end, I opted to go for the smaller, closer critter. Holding high on his shoulder, the shot hit with the same thump and he rolled instantly. The breeze must have moved the pellet further to my left than I guessed, because it hit behind his rib cage and he was still alive. I executed a quick reload, got him back in the crosshairs and held into the breeze just a bit. The second shot hit high in the chest, and he died.

While all of the action above took place inside a 30 yard circle, it included all of the elements of a successful hunt. Earlier scouting on the previous three trips had familiarized me with the terrain. Damaged cacti and piles of rodent scat gave clear indications of where feeding was going on. Setting up along the pathway between den holes and food supplies gave me a good chance of seeing marauding ground squirrels. Staying stealthy and not moving lulled them into a false sense of security. While the first shot was a point blank proposition, the second two required knowledge and understanding of zeroed range, trajectory, bullet drop and wind deflection.

The choice of Crow Magnum pellets was a good one. All hits were quite audible and hit with authority. While the first one disappeared, I feel he was moving on adrenalin and died quickly. The longer shots both moved the target on impact. Even though the first shot was not fatal, it anchored him solidly. The second was instantly fatal.

This is just one more reminder that pest eradication with an air rifle is a great way to sharpen your big game hunting skills where legal. For those of us who don't get a lot of opportunities to hunt, this is a good one.

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