This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Airgun Hobbyist Magazine.
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During the 2016 SHOT Show we had the opportunity to meet up with the American Airgun Hunter, Jim Chapman. Jim travels throughout the U.S. and abroad to hunt with airguns. He’s a regular on American Airgunner TV, authors articles for various publication in the USA and UK. Jim is an airgunner’s airgunner. The following is part of the conversation we had with him.
AH: What was your first airgun, a Red Ryder?
JC: I can tell you with such clarity. I was about 11 and took a cross country bus trip with my grandmother (she was afraid to fly) to New York from California. When I got to New York I was at my uncles’ house, he was a pharmacists in a small country town. I was out wondering around; they had this old Victorian house with a barn out back. For a kid from southern California it was very rustic. I’m out in this barn and I find this old rusted BB gun. It was a Red Ryder. I brought it back and my uncle said “Yah, that’s Jimmy’s”, Jimmy was my cousin and serving in Vietnam at the time. He said he was sure Jimmy would be happy to let me have it. So I sanded it down and spray painted it. I spent the rest of summer shooting that gun, no frog or grasshopper was safe as I imagined myself on safari. When I got home for Christmas, after much begging, my mom bought me a Sheridan pump.
AH: Did your dad teach you to hunt?
JC: Outside of sailing my dad had no interest in the outdoors, and without a role model I had to learn all that on my own. It was an interesting time where I was in California. Right now it’s covered in multi-million dollar houses, but back then there was a lot of coastal ranch land, soy bean fields, and orange groves. When I was 14 or 15, I got my first .22 [rimfire] and that was the end of airguns. I don’t think I picked up another until I was in Europe years later.
AH: How did you start writing?
JC: When I came back to the States, I traveled a lot for my work. I started taking my Airguns everywhere and I was on the forum writing about these hunting trips. Some guys thought I was making it up; one week I was shooting ground squirrel in California, the next ground hogs in Ohio, the next jackrabbits in Texas and so on. Remember Randy Mitchell? He was one of the first guys who had an airgun hunting related website. Randy and I met online and became friends and have hunted a lot together over the years, including Africa. He said, “Why don’t you write something for my website.” So I wrote some stories and people started saying why don’t you write a book.
AH: So your writing started with the book?
JC: It wasn’t like there was a strategy, I wrote the stories for Randy because I was really into the sport, and at the time there wasn’t much out there for US based airgun hunters. Then somebody recommended me to the editors at Predator Xtreme predator hunting magazine and they asked me to write a column, and that was followed by several opportunities with other publications.
AH: Could you tell us what sparked the book?
JC: I wrote that first book 11 years ago. I’d been living in Europe for most of the 80’s and some of the 90’s, and that’s where I started serious airgunning. When flying out of Amsterdam I’d stop by the international news agent at the airport and see UK based “Airgunner Magazine”. I’d read the articles by the great British airgun writer James Darling and say to myself “Man I want to do that.” I missed hunting so bad, so I started shooting airguns there. At one point shortly after encountering the magazine I was on a trip to Austria, and a friend said “I’ve got a couple nice air rifles, would you like to shoot them?” It was the first time I’d even seen a high quality airgun. They were Diana’s and had custom stocks, truly they were things of beauty. I had no idea that airguns could be that nice. So between seeing the magazines and shortly after getting to shoot one of those springers, I was thinking “This is cool stuff.”
AH: What was the title of the first book?
JC: American Airgun Hunter. It’s also the name of my web site. The site came in to existence to promote the book initially, but took on a life of its own.
AH: Your web site was a companion to the book?
JC: When I started my web site, it was to promote the book But then I started to use it to talk about the guns and gear I was shooting, the places I was hunting, kind of my adventure log and public notebook. But then people and companies started sending me guns and gear to try out, and I used the site to communicate my thoughts. From the beginning, I made it clear that sending me a gun was not going to mean I’d write about it. But at the same time I wanted them to feel they could send me things early in development without being worried I’d nail them to a wall when failures occurred, as they were bound to do. I made a clear statement that I’m not the Airgun police, this is my hobby. I barely have time to write about things I like. So if I don’t like a gun, I’m not going to write about it (publicly). All I’ve ever said is that if you see my name behind a gun, I’ll stand by what I said. If I haven’t written about it, it means I haven’t seen it, I haven’t shot it, or I don’t like it. Essentially, if I don’t write about it I don’t have a public opinion good or bad. I’ve taken some criticism over the years for this policy, but it works for me.
AH: What do you mean by a gun you like?
JC: I might be sent a $150 springer, which would not be the gun I’d normally buy. But when I review it I’m trying to put myself into the shoes of the targeted user, for instance the guy who walks into a big box store and doesn’t want to spend much money. The thing is to articulate the user need and context. I’m all about hunting results, Robert Beeman once wrote that I hunt with guns he wouldn’t be seen in public with, while for me it was about results. He got me! What you get out my articles and columns are the quantifiable data such as velocities and shot to shot variation. But the qualitative side of the coin is opinion, and sure I have a lot of experience, but that does not mean that there are not equally valid opinions. My personal favorite rifles tend to be many of the expensive high end models, but I also still like going out with the Marauder. I’ve got 5 of them. I’ve got one of the first .22 prototype ever built. It loads from the left side. I also like the Hatsan AT44. I still like my Discovery and still take out my Beeman C1 every year. The thing is if you want the sport to grow, you’re not going to convince a guy who can buy a 10/22 and a brick of ammo for $300 to spend $2000 on his first air rifle. But with a reasonably priced airgun with decent performance you may get them into the hobby.
AH: How is the American Airgunner TV going?
JC: It’s going very well, I think evolving and improving with each season. I enjoy the round table with the guys, Tom really does blow my mind with his depth of airgun related knowledge and Rick drills down on the every mans’ guns that I don’t always get a chance to use. Rossi and I have become pretty good friends and I think he is doing a great job! He has learned a lot and knows a lot about Airguns. Its worth noting that he is also quite a good shot, regardless of what I usually say to his face! I’m getting more hunting segments as well, which makes me happy, and have teamed up with a cameraman named Clay Pruitt who is great to work with. We have some cool airgun hunting adventures coming up.
AH: Is there anything out there that’s new and exciting and really caught your attention?
JC: The trend is definitely going towards bullpups, which I appreciate from a functional if not an aesthetic perspective. I really like the FX Wildcat as a best of breed example, however the MRod air .30 Velociraptor and the Hatsan Galatian have a lot going for them. The AirArms Galahad looks interesting but I’ve not shot it yet, and the Daystate Pulsar has been really impressive. In more traditional designs I love the Brocock Compatto, which on the surface looks like a nice little PCP but under the hood is some very elegant engineering. Also Crosman coming out with a sub $200.00 PCP that is easy to charge with a hand pump will be attractive to many shooters. There are some cool new big bores coming out too; AirForce had the Texan in .308 and .357 joining the .457 version, AOA showed the compact Carbine version of the .452 Bushbuck and is adding a .357, Ataman had guns in .35, and there are still the great limited production guns from Quackenbush being joined by new manufacturers like American AirArms and Extreme Airguns. I was in Virginia last month hunting with my buddies Nathan Wenger and Chip Sayers, and shot a deer with Chips .40 caliber Badger. This gun was a development effort driven by a group called EPOC that I understand will be distributed by Airgun Depot. They haven’t gone to market yet, but I like the simple and basic design, performance, and fact they are targeting a price point of about $600.00.
AH: Did you see the shortened Bushbuck at the AoA booth?
JC: I love it, I’ve taken a couple boar and deer with the rifle version. The Bushbuck is uber powerful, over 600 fpe, accurate, and built like a tank. My buddy Kip Perow over at AOA was a major driver for that development effort. He and I have hunted together a lot, including Africa, and it shows when the guy specifying a gun actually is a power user. My only complaint, and I’ve been on AoA since the beginning, is to make a more compact version. My rifle is going back to be reconfigured!
AH: What about CO2 guns?
JC: I don’t do much with CO2 guns because I can’t really hunt with them. I did do a lot with the 2240 several years ago, and even did a short booklet on how to customize them for hunting, including modifying the valve for better performance. I was out hunting 10 or 11 years ago, 30 miles from here (Las Vegas) for jackrabbits. My modified 2240 was getting 12 foot pounds when I started, but the problem was that in cold weather it did not do well and in hot weather it didn’t work well. And this place got hot, so by 10 AM my gun was finished. That’s the problem, the places I hunt tend to be very cold or very hot, so no, I don’t use them for hunting.
JC: But what is funny is that I’ve got six new big bores to test at home right now. I’ll tell my wife that I’m going down to shoot and will be making some noise. She will brace herself now knowing a big bore can have a bark, but all she hears is ping, ping, ping, because Sig sent me the MCX and I’m down there with the shooting gallery having a great time.
AH: Do you use your firearms much?
JC: The short answer is no. When I got back the states I was going out with my .22 [rimfire] quite a bit at first and still using my centerfires for most of my hunting. During this period I would work in Eastern Europe or Asia for 4-5 weeks then be back home in the California high desert for 4-5 weeks where my time was my own. My son (now in grad school) was five years old at the time. My stateside routine was to drop him off at school in the morning, then go out to shoot and hunt for a few hours, then pick him up from school, we’d have a snack and then he and I would go out and hunt some more. I slowly started gravitating towards my springers. I wanted to go to places closer to town, and wanted my son to have the same type of gun I was using. So I took my air rifle and started shooting jackrabbits and ground squirrels in the high numbers and stopped using my .22 Rimfire. At first it was not a conscious decision, it seemed the first gun I’d grab going out was my R1, C1, or Model 34 and I just kind of shifted over to air.
JC: These days however, when I use one of my centerfires to hunt, I almost feel like I am cheating. This is not a blanket condemnation of firearms for hunting, some guys shift to handguns, some to muzzle loaders, some to archery as they move through their hunting life. It’s a way to improve the quality of the hunt and challenge to meet their own ideals, for me it’s airguns.
JC: This is an exciting time to be into the sport; it’s still in the young and formative stage, but has a lot of momentum. There are more companies bringing great new products to market, more states are opening their regulations to include air powered guns for hunting, there is a growing awareness of the sport within the mainstream shooting and hunting community…… It’s what many of us hoped for 15-20 years ago, and we’re now seeing the sport come into its own. It’s a great time to be an Airgunner!
By Tim Smith – Editor of Airgun Hobbyist Magazine