Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Shooters and anglers urged to look out for ash dieback

Ash dieback disease, caused by infection by the Chalara fraxinea fungus, could be detrimental to the British countryside, and shooters and anglers are being urged to do their bit to help reduce its spread.
Anyone who spends time in the outdoors should look out for and report any signs of infected trees.
At the time of writing, there are more than 110 confirmed infected sites. The disease is mainly spread on the wind. Once infected, a tree cannot be cured and must be destroyed and removed from the woodland. With ash being the dominant species in vast swathes of British woodland (as is the case in my locality) the potential impact is unthinkable.

Tim Russell, BASC director of conservation, said: “Everyone involved in shooting should look out for the signs of infected trees such as lesions and cankers on the bark and, in the spring, die back of foliage. The risk of woodland users spreading the disease is said to be small.
"BASC is asking people involved in shooting on sites where infection has been confirmed or is suspected to take precautions against the possibility of spreading spores between different areas of woodland. This could include washing boots and vehicle wheels. Any signs of the disease should be reported to the Forestry Commission or the Food and Environment Research Agency.”
Suspected cases should be reported to the Forestry Commission at

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Idleback rifle chair review

The Idleback Rifle Chair is the perfect solution for shooters who want the luxury of shooting in comfort and taking rested shots wherever they go.
In short, the Idleback is a rugged shooting seat with a height and angle-adjustable arm to support your gun. The gun cradle at the end of the extendable supporting arm of the Idleback should accept all but the widest of airguns, and accommadated the relatively wide fore-end of my trusty old BSA Super-Ten with room to spare.
Assembly is an absolute doddle because most of the major components are already in place when this sturdy shooting seat arrives. Deployment in the field is just a matter of seconds: unfold the heigh-adjustable legs and gun rest arm, then adjust both until the seat is level and the rifle rest situated exactly where you want it.
Costing the best part of £300, the Idleback is not a cheap piece of kit but it is ruggedly constructed and I’d expect it to give years of first-class service. The quick-release shoulder strap makes it easy to transport but, in my opinion, it’s not really a tool that lends itself to staking – hauling it around the fields and trying to set it up as shots presented themselves proved too much of a rigmarole for me.
The Idleback is, however, an excellent and very comfortable aid to accuracy when set up for an ambush. The seat and rest rotate silently through 360 degrees so you can stealthily target quarry at all angles, and the easily adjustable legs mean it’s always on the level. As a hunter whose seat usually consists of little more than an old carrier bag, I certainly found it a real luxury.
I’ve set the Idleback up in the garden and around farm buildings to pick off rats and avian pests, and also used it in the woods to snipe squirrels at long range with an FAC-rated airgun. In these situations, it has performed flawlessly.

Laser Genetics ND-3 Subzero review

The Laser Genetics ND-3 Subzero is a laser alternative to a conventional hunting lamp. I’ve been using the original ND-3 for around two years now, and the Subzero guise is guaranteed to perform in temperatures down to -18˚C – should you be mad enough to consider shooting in such extreme cold.
Although described as “The Ultimate Night Vision Solution” the ND-3 is not an NV optic in the true sense, but it is an incredibly powerful and versatile scope-mounted lamp. Compact, lightweight and robust, mine has given excellent service.
The ND-3 is a quality product, and that’s apparent from the outset – and from its price tag, coming in at more than £300. The package comes in a fitted, zip-up hard case, which includes the laser designator (lamp unit), mounts for fitting to 1-inch or 30mm scope tube, Weaver mount attachments, binocular mounts, a pressure switch and the required CR123A battery, which gives three hours performance at -18˚C. You can expect that battery to last twice as long if you sit tight until the temperature rises to a balmy 5˚C.
You also get an Allen key with the kit so you can fit the ND-3’s mount to your scope, and there lies my biggest gripe with this unit. Sure enough, the ND-3 is one heck of a lamp, but it’s also one heck of a nuisance fiddling around with screws to attach and detach it. And, once you’ve got it on there, you’ll be reluctant to take it off again. To be honest, I think it’s a pity that the research and development appears to have been invested in making a lamp that functions in temperatures that British quarry species don’t tend to venture out in, when it would have been better spent on designing a quick-release mount to make it easier to use this excellent laser lamp.
Luckily, the circumference of the lamp hasn’t changed, so I simply dropped the ND-3 Subzero into my original mount (which, after reacquainting myself with the instruction manual, appears to be fitted upside down). Fitting gripes aside (and whether upside down or not) the mount functions well. It is very sturdy and can easily be adjusted left and right or up and down, via two knobs, to ensure that the beam is perfectly aligned with your scope. Being so ruggedly built, it won’t creep once you’ve got it set where you want it.
Most impressive of all is the sheer power and clarity of this compact laser designator. On its dimmest setting (sharpness/brightness of the beam is adjusted via a collar at the front of the tube) the lamp casts a tight beam at 15 metres, which is still clear at 100 metres. On its sharpest setting, the beam is way too bright for ratting ranges and casts a clear circle of light way beyond the manufacturer’s stated 200 metres – more like half a mile, I reckon. The power is awesome, providing more light than most airgun shooters would ever need, in fact. However, if you also shoot a rim-fire rifle and want a lamp for controlling foxes after dark, the ND-3 could be the only scope-mounted light you need.
Another impressive feature is the complete absence of any light spillage from the crisp, green beam. The ND-3 casts a sharp circle of light, with no risk of leakage that will illuminate you and give the game away. Of course, that bright beam comes with all the usual health warnings associated with lasers, so avoid shining it into your eyes, anyone else’s eyes or at vehicles and aircraft – even the reflected beam can be powerful enough to pose a danger.
Apart from being very powerful, the ND-3 Subzero is also incredibly compact. The small, lightweight tube is unobtrusive and hardly affects the balance and handling of an airgun when fitted. The very handy pressure switch can be fitted (via the Velcro provided) to the fore-end of your gun stock so you can easily activate it with the thumb of your leading hand when looking through the scope. Unlike other switches of this kind, it doesn’t take a lot of pressure to activate so your shooting won’t be hampered by having to squeeze with any great effort.
Being powered by a tiny battery, rather than a bulky rechargeable unit, this lamp is perfect for one-man scope-mounted use. It’s no burden whatsoever so lends itself perfectly to mobile hunting scenarios. Swap the pressure switch for the standard on/off switch (which also comes with the kit) and you’ve got a very compact hand-held lamp that’s perfect for two-man hunting when you’ve got a mate to do the lamping honours while you do the shooting.
Although the ND-3 Subzero casts a seriously powerful beam, rats and rabbits don’t appear to be unduly spooked by the pool of green light, which certainly picks them out well in the dark.
In spite of its fiddly mount, this laser designer is a top quality, scope-mounted light source that should give years of reliable service to anyone with the budget for a scope-mounted lamp at the top end of the price range.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Time for sloe gin

Sloe gin is a wonderful festive drink that is very warming and literally tastes of the hedgerow. A tot of this crimson liqueur will warm your cockles when you slump into the sofa after a cold evening in the woods, and it’s a great snifter to offer to dinner guests.
You’ll find sloes in any overgrown stretch of hedgerow that contains blackthorn. The fruit is round, waxy-skinned, and dark purple/black in colour. You’re unlikely to confuse sloes with anything else, apart from damsons, which are bigger but make an equally nice brew.
Sloes are hard and very bitter before they reach full ripeness so leave them until they become plump and juicy for the best results - they're usually juicier after they've had a touch of frost.
This year's sloe crop is dour in my part of the world - luckily, I had three pounds of damsons left in the freezer from last autumn.

You will need
(adjust amounts to suit taste and depending on total volume required)
1lb sloes or damsons
1 litre of gin
6oz of sugar
Freezer bags
Screw-top bottle/s

Begin by rinsing the sloes in a colander under a running tap. The berries then need to be split to let the juice run out. This was traditionally done with a long thorn from a blackthorn bush but pricking them in this way, or even with a knife, is a total waste of time. The best way to split sloes is to put them in a plastic bag and leave them in the freezer overnight. Expansion caused by the freezing process bursts the skin of the sloes and leaves them oozing juice when defrosted.
Transfer frozen sloes from the freezer bag into a screw-top bottle and tip the sugar on top – this is easiest with a funnel. Pour in the gin (using the funnel again) and seal the cap. Some people like to add a drop or two of vanilla essence at this stage but I think it overpowers the natural flavour of the sloes.
Next, give the brew a good shake to mix all the ingredients and store it away in a cool, dark place. Give the mixture a quick shake every day for the first week to help the sugar dissolve and then give it a weekly slosh thereafter to help it blend. The sugary solution will draw the juice, colour and flavour from the sloes, producing a delicious, warming, syrupy liqueur.
I usually decant mine on Christmas Eve, running it through muslin cloth or a clean tea towel to filer off any sediment. I'll explain in more detail nearer the time.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Jack Pyke Fieldman Boots

I’ve never really been one for wearing lace-up boots for hunting but, after a couple of weeks' abuse, I’m really impressed with the new Jack Pyke Fieldman Boots. These rugged boots bridge the gap between my lightweight summer stalking trainers and wet weather wellies, and I'm looking forward to really putting them through their paces during the winter months. They have a 200g Thinsulate lining so I'm expecting them to keep my feet warm when the temperature starts to drop.
Although very robust, these chunky leather boots are surprisingly lightweight. They offer substantial ankle support while still providing sufficient movement to accommodate the sort of contortions shooters often find themselves getting into in the field, and the Vibram trek rubber soles provide great traction on slippery ground. According to Jack Pyke, they’re fully waterproof and the in-built antimicrobial treatment will keep them odour-free – only time will tell on those two scores.
It's only early days but my size 11 Fieldman Boots are very comfy. I've not experienced any of the rubbing that often has to be endured when breaking in new boots, and they're getting even more  comfortable with every outing as the gradual wear and tear makes them even more supple. I expect them to become a regular item in my hunting clobber, and also reckon they'll give decent service on fishing trips that don't entail sloshing through too much water.
These boots are packed with features and retail for £110, which is I think is great value considering they come with a 12-month guarantee. For more info, visit

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

New book on its way

I'm pleased to say that my new book, Air Rifle Hunting Through the Seasons - A Guide to Fieldcraft, is due for release before the end of October.
Whereas my first book, Hunting with Air Rifles - The Complete Guide, gave a broad overview of the sport, from choosing hardware and clothing to zeroing your scope and targeting live quarry, the emphasis of the new book is very much on fieldcraft and hunting techniques.
I've split it into seasonal sections covering hunting scenarios (more than 30 in total) to be encountered through spring, summer, autumn and winter. Each section covers changing hunting opportunities through the shifting seasons, how I pre-empt quarry behaviour and the techniques and equipment I use to make the most of my time in the field. There are also tips on preparing quarry for the table, and a selection of my favourite recipes for each season.


Published by MacNidder & Grace, the hardback book includes more than 100 colour photographs and, although still in the final stages of design, should come out at around 150-pages. Dorset artist Matt Donovan has produced some great illustrations to introduce each of the seasonal chapters (see below).

Thursday, 30 August 2012

In memory of Barry Hutchins

The world of airgunning lost one of its greats with the passing of Barry Hutchins earlier this month.
A well-known and well-liked character on the shooting scene, Barry lived just a few miles from me and I was lucky enough to be able to call him a friend.
He was an avid collector of airguns, including several amazing custom jobs and a couple of the finest-looking springers I have ever seen.
But Barry was best-known for his contribution to the online shooting forums including Airgun Universe and, most recently, Planet Airgun. Barry's banter, not to mention his work behind the scenes, earned him countless loyal friends - many of whom joined him at his famous weekend gatherings.
I joined Barry and his gang on one of their shooting camps last year, and the atmosphere was terrific. To see friends brought together by their shared interest in shooting enjoying a weekend of camping, plinking and hunting - not to mention one or two dubious meals - was a joy in itself. Barry's tireless efforts to organise the gatherings, and tidy up afterwards, were typical of his selfless nature and he will no doubt be sorely missed at the next get-together.
Apart from organising and attending airgun shooting events, Barry was also famous for documenting them with photographs. He was rarely seen without his camera, and his pictures appeared in shooting magazines as well as on the web. They are a lasting legacy to the great man.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Time for trout cakes

With the longer days finally coinciding with some sunny weather, I've been making the most of the opportunity to snatch the occasional trout fishing trip after work.
Although I'm not blessed with the finest running water sport in my neck of the woods, there are plenty of day ticket trout fisheries within a short drive.

The classic evening rise is something of a rarity on such venues, but the trout in these heavily-stocked waters are usually eager to grab at a gaudy lure fished on an erratic retrieve. I'm not sure whether such patterns really do resemble anything in the aquatic world or whether trout just hit them out of annoyance. Either way the result is the same, and even small stocked rainbow trout will put a decent bend in a light fly rod.

Trout Cakes

One problem with stocked trout in small stillwaters is that they can taste a little muddy. Their pellet-boosted diet tends to result in flesh with a far earthier flavour than that of trout that caught from clear running water where they'll have fed on insects. But trout cakes make a tasty meal of even the earthiest stockies.

To serve two generously

You will need:
One 2lb/3lb trout
1lb potatoes
One knob of butter
One large onion
Half a lemon
Fresh herbs
Salt and pepper

Peel potatoes then boil for 25 minutes or until they start to flake. Drain potatoes, add butter, salt and pepper and mash until smooth. Leave to cool.
While potatoes are boiling, cook trout under a medium grill for five minutes on each side. Peel off skin, flake meat from the bone and leave to cool.
Place cooled trout pieces, mashed potato and finely chopped onion in large bowl. Add chopped herbs (parsley works well), grated lemon rind and a grind of salt and pepper. Roll up your sleeves and mix thoroughly with your hands. Scoop mixture into burger-sized balls, roll in breadcrumbs and press into patties.
Grill for five minutes on each side until golden-brown. Serve with fresh salad, a squeeze of lemon and a generous glass of white wine.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Airgun days at Honeycombe Shoot

The Honeycombe Shoot on the Somerset/Dorset border has opened its gates to airgun shooters.
At £50 per day, it isn't cheap but the place is a hunter's paradise. The daily rate gives insured shooters the run of the 4,000-acre sporting estate for rabbit, pigeon and squirrel shooting - not to mention an abundance of corvids.
The shoot is set in beautiful countryside on the outskirts of Sherborne, and features diverse habitat from mature deciduous woodland to open pasture. Gamekeeper Mike Appleby provides clients with first-class pheasant, partridge and woodcock shooting as well as deer stalking according to the seasons. He's clearly a forward-thinking 'keeper and has cottoned-on the growing demand for high quality air rifle hunting.

I managed a brief visit on behalf of Airgun Shooter magazine last week and have to say I was very impressed. There was lots of quarry - unlike some of the 'shot-out' commercial airgun shoots - and an absolute abundance of wildlife, which is testament to the careful management of the shoot.
The daily rate provides full access to the shoot, which is easily accessible, thanks to the well established tracks. You also get to use the Gun Room, where you can start the day with a hot drink and a chat with Mike, who has an intimate knowledge of the ground and will guide you to the best spots.
To find out more about airgun shooting at The Honeycombe Shoot, contact Mike Appleby on 07966 521707 or email

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

NiteSite NS50

Readers of Airgun Shooter magazine will have seen my recent head-to-head test of three alternatives to conventional lamping/night vision kit. The test was my first encounter with the The NiteSite NS50 - a gadget that has caused quite a stir since its recent launch. I was very impressed, both in terms of price and performance, so I thought I'd include a version of the review here.

The NiteSite NS 50 is one of the most impressive night shooting gadgets I have ever used. This ingenious system provides the benefits of Night Vision hunting without the hassle of having to change scopes and re-zero or splashing out on a dedicated NV combo.
Although I have dedicated Night Vision optics of my own, I hardly ever use them because they’re heavy, cumbersome and can’t compete with the precision of a conventional telescopic sight. But with the NiteSite, you get to enjoy the performance of your usual daytime scope along with the stealth of NV.
The NiteSite works by fitting an infra-red (IR) camera onto your scope’s eyepiece, which then relays the sight picture to a monitor mounted on top of the scope. The image on the monitor, which includes your scope’s crosshairs, then acts as your sighting device.
Packaged in a tough, foam-lined plastic case, the NiteSite kit includes the nifty little camera, the monitor (which has a three-inch LCD screen) and battery pack – plus cables for fitting all three together. The package also includes battery charging gear, quick-fit adaptors to fix the monitor to the top of your scope (to fit one-inch and 30mm tubes) and two eyepiece adaptors that will connect the camera to the eyepiece of most scopes.
One of the most impressive things about this system is how easy it is to use and how quickly you can fit it to your daytime hunting combo and take it off again. To get up and running, all you do is fit the correct-sized clamp to your scope tube and then slide the fixture at the base of the screen into it – making sure it’s facing you – and then tighten the clamp. Next, you push the eyepiece adaptor tube over the rear lens of your scope, pop the camera into it, ensuring that it’s fitted centrally, connect the cables and switch on. It only takes a moment.
You can fine-tune the picture on the monitor by adjusting the eyepiece connector to ensure perfect ‘eye relief’ to the camera. And, if the crosshairs appear blurry, you can focus the lens by making quarter turns with your finger. This focusing won’t need to be repeated if you stick with the same scope.
The NiteSite is switched on by turning the switch on the top of the monitor module. On the opposite side from the screen is an infra-red illuminator, with a selection of power levels that you can turn up or down with a twist of the switch. The first switch-on was a revelation for me – sat in the house with the lights switched off, the NS50 produced probably the sharpest NV image I have ever seen. I couldn’t wait to get it out in the field.
The camera and monitor/illuminator modules are comparatively light - lighter than most NV units - but the battery pack is a hefty one. It weighs-in at around 1.5 kilos and you certainly know when you’ve got it strapped over your shoulder, or stuffed in a large pocket of your shooting jacket. However, that chunky battery pack holds enough power for more than five hours of continual use. It then takes six hours to recharge when flat.
Although the battery is bulky, it doesn’t really affect the performance of the NS50. The head-up shooting position required to view the monitor will affect your marksmanship, though. I found that, without the usual contact with the cheek-piece, standing shots were tricky, although ‘kneelers’ could be taken after taking time to familiarise myself with the new setup.

The NS50 really excels when used from a rested position, and is perfect for static ratting; when you can sit and use crates, pallets, sacks or strawbales to support the gun. During the test period, I used the NiteSite to tackle rats that were targeting the chicken run in my garden. Sat at a table, with the gun mounted on a bipod, the NS50 made easy work of 15-metre to 20-metre targets. At this range, I only used the built-in IR illuminators at their lowest two levels and the picture on the screen was incredibly sharp – so sharp that I could watch small spiders clambering about on a stack of logs some 20 metres away.
I reckon the NiteSite would be an awesome tool for sniping rabbits with a bipod mounted gun, when it’s dry enough to sprawl out on the grass during the warmer months. Using the IR illuminators at the higher power levels certainly produces an acceptable sight picture at the manufacturer’s stated 50 metres and beyond.
With no conventional light-source, the NiteSite provides concealment on a par with dedicated NV optics. The only compromise is the fact that light from the screen does illuminate the shooter’s face, although only to a negligible degree.
The NiteSite NS50 package retails for £399; not cheap but I reckon it represents great value for money. Its big brother, the NS-200, costs £599 and is suitable for use out to 200 metres.
To find out more, see

Give it some welly

Hunter recently sent me a pair of boots to test in the field. Now these are not cheap boots, and Hunters are often regarded as the toff’s welly of choice; more associated with prestigious game shoots than my typical airgun pest control assignments. The Balmoral Sovereign has an SRP of £299 (which could buy you a decent airgun or a complete set of economy fishing gear) but shop around and you can actually get them for under £200. That still sounds like a lot of money but my old Hunter Galloways are still going strong after eight years of serious abuse. If the Balmorals last that long, I think they’ll represent great value.
I’ve always found that Hunters fit me well, on the foot and on the leg. With the Balmoral Sovereigns, the fit is even better, and there’s a full-length, zip-up side gusset so they’re easy to pull on and off. The fit on the ankle is great and these boots come with two sets of cushioned insoles; you use the thick insole for a snug fit with lightweight socks in the summer and the thin insole to make extra room for thick socks and good blood circulation when it’s cold.
The boots’ shell is tough rubber (available either in brown, which I've got, or olive green), the leg is lined with leather and the foot is lined with neoprene for comfort.

The all-terrain Vibram outer soles are incredibly grippy on mud, and have provided great traction on slippery clay river banks. However, the same could not be said on granite during a recent trip to Dartmoor. The treads didn't grip very well at all one the smooth stone and I ended up on my backside on one occasion - thankfully I wasn't carrying a gun...
After four months of unsympathetic field testing these rugged boots are showing no sign of wear and have not let in a drop of moisture, even when wading with the water level close to the top. They are surprisingly supple and have done an admirable job of keeping my feet warm and dry this winter. Something of a heavyweight in terms of footwear, they may not be the best choice when soft footfall is required for stealthy stalking but they certainly keep out the elements. I'm very impressed - just be careful on the granite...

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Deben Pro Bench Rest

After years of making do without a proper rest for gun maintenance, I started using a Deben Pro Bench Rest back in October and, following several months of use, really wouldn't be without it now. This sturdy, fully-adjustable rest is perfect for properly supporting your gun while carrying out tasks like scope fitting and other maintenance, and also comes in very handy for zeroing.

The rest is very sturdy, and is easy to adjust for height and angle, while adjustable legs keep it absolutely level and wobble-free. Most importantly, it keeps the gun safely cradled and prevents the risk of unexpected knocks and bumps. In the past, I've either cut grooves into cardboard boxes to support my gun or balanced it precariously among a pile of cushions on the sofa while fitting scope mounts - I won't be resorting to my own bodged rests again...
The Deben Pro Bench Rest retails for £54.99 and, although not cheap, I think it represents great value for money. Look after it and it should give a lifetime of excellent service. Have a look at