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Axis Deer Hunting … with an Airgun?

By: Tom Claycomb

A few weeks ago, Justin Biddle, the Director of Marketing for Umarex Airguns, told me I ought to check out one of their big boy airguns. I had never considered hunting big game with an airgun, but something clicked, and I said, "Let me see what I can get lined out." I called my buddy Bill Olson, who is the publisher of Texas Outdoors Journal, and told him about the opportunity.

It wasn’t but a few days later that he called back and told me to book a plane ticket to San Antonio. He’d pick me up in six days, and we’d be hunting axis deer and hogs near Menard, Texas with Adventures Missions and Retreats Properties.

Days passed fast as I scrambled to get all the last-minute details thrown into place. I needed to get a loaner Air Venturi Nomad II lined up, a Professional Boning Knife from Knives of Alaska (been working with KOA on developing the ultimate outdoors boning knife), Smith’s stones, Swab-Its cleaning gear, bill a pair of Riton binocs, all my gear together, plus Justin and Halea had to grab a hammer off the production line and get it and an air tank shipped. Everyone was scrambling at light speed.

Due to the quality of people that were involved in making things happen, it did. I was soon landing in San Antonio, and Air Olson picked me up and we blasted off. We were greeted at the gate by our guide, Robert Shipman, and met owner Scott Huggins at the lodge. We set down and came up with an agenda, listing out what had to happen and the sequence. I’d shoot an axis deer first with the Hammer and then switch to the Air Saber and shoot a hog and an Aoudad sheep.

Robert asked me how much I knew about axis deer. I told him I’d seen a couple on the drive over. That was the extent of my knowledge! He gave me a fast briefing. Unbeknownst to me, it’s a lot like hunting elk here in Idaho; the does mew like a cow, and the bucks make a barking sound that is unlike anything else that I’ve heard. The smaller bucks bark 4-8 times, while the big bulls only bark three times. But it’s not a bark like an alarm bark. Their alarm bark is like elk make when they’re about to scatter. Some guy made a call named Ezy-Axis calls. I have to master his calls by my next hunt.

After the quick rundown, he took Bill and me out to a blind. We hunted a couple of times in blinds and could hear them not far away every outing, but none ever appeared for a shot. Then Robert asked if I wanted to hunt safari style? I quizzically looked at him and said, "What’s safari style?" He answered, "What you’d call spotting/stalking."

“Of course,” was my reply.

Robert's binocs had just broken, so I talked Bill into lending Robert his new pair of 10x42 Riton Optics, the same model I was carrying. I lose track of what happened which day, so forgive me for that. Anyway, one day we were slowly creeping along and jumped a boar off of his bed. I’ll save that story for another article, but suffice it to say, it took the rest of the morning to get him taken care of.

That afternoon, we happened upon a nice buck beating the brush. We were within 50 yds., but all we could see for 10 minutes was his super big rack tearing up a sapling. That’s always nerve racking when you have to wait for a shot. After what seemed like an eternity, I had a glimpse of the top 1 ½” of his head, then it went back out of view while he kept viciously thrashing the tree limbs.

In a bit, he moved forwards, but all I could see between two big limbs was his neck. I had a 9x9” shot. I’d been getting 2” groups when I sighted in, so I hit the safety and started the squeeze. I knew I’d gotten a good squeeze, so I felt good about the shot. We waited a bit to start the track.

As we got up to where he was, we couldn’t find blood, but Robert had warned me that due to the loose nature of their skin, it will close the hole and not bleed. Long story short, I missed him and finally figured out why. On a big airgun, you don’t want to shoot over 2-shots, 3 max, due to the drop in air. I’d shot at the hog twice that morning and hadn’t refilled the tank. Plus, I later discovered that the tank leaked a little overnight, so I had to top it off every morning. So it hit the big limb under his neck. Uggh, didn’t get a big buck because of the learning curve.

A day or two later we were slipping through the mesquites glassing. We’d walk a bit and then kneel down to glass and see if anything was bedded down trying to escape the hot Texas sun. I had to keep rubbing my eyes to make sure we weren’t elk hunting. Same techniques. We hadn’t been walking 30 minutes when we heard a herd talking about 150-200 yds. ahead of us. Cover was good, so we slowly snuck in closer. Occasionally my pants leg would be stuck against my leg. I’d have to reach down and pull out the devil’s claw or Cholla barb that had pinned it to my leg.

Finally, Robert stopped behind some brush and said, "They’re on the other side of that line of brush that was about 100 yds. away." But, between the brush that we were hiding behind and the line of brush that they were in was a 50 yd. clearing. He said, "We’re going to have to crawl."

We crawled on our hands and knees all the while looking out for rattlesnakes and prickly pears. Finally we got close. They were just on the other side of the brush, 50 yds. away. We could hear the bucks barking. Suddenly, we saw a big rack rambling through the brush, then another one. Then two does walked by. Robert bent over on all fours and said to rest my rifle on his back.

A line of three does then rambled by. The last one stopped broadside, but her kill zone was covered. She turned a little, and I had a shot. With the sound of the Hammer, axis deer exploded. Mine jumped and took off.

Robert asked me how I felt about the shot? It was good. We waited 20 minutes then went up to the point of impact. As Robert predicted, there was no blood. We looked for 10 minutes, and then Robert found a spec. Then we found another. Then more, and then he saw her piled up.

Great! I finally got an axis deer. The Hammer did the job, and I was impressed with the 350-gr. hollow point bullet. She didn’t run 35 yds. Wow, what beautiful creatures! And what a great hunt it had been! Thanks, Robert.

Tom Claycomb III is a product tester for outdoor manufacturers, hunter, and outdoor writer, writing from Idaho.

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