Since we rotate our cattle to different pastures, we often times find a sick critter in a pasture where there is no nearby access to a corral for hands-on treatment. In the past we would have to try and walk the cow or calf across hay fields to the corrals or try to load them into a livestock trailer.
If you have ever tried to load a cow or calf into a trailer without a corral system, it’s like a one in a million chance that you will actually succeed.
Likewise, trying to pluck a critter out of a pasture and drive them in a different direction from the herd is like trying to get a teenage boy to drive a tractor in slow gear — they just aren’t wired that way!
So, in order to remedy this problem, we invested in a couple of dart guns. Darts can be loaded with an antibiotic or other bovine medication and strategically shot into the cow or calf where the dart plunges the medicine into them much like a standard syringe.
The great news about using dart guns is that it really works! And the even greater news is that for ranching husbands, at least, they have yet another opportunity to buy and shoot guns! Me, I’m just happy I don’t have to chase a calf or cow all over the place to get it into the corrals!
Since my rancher hubby is the expert in all of this, I asked him to write a review on the Pneu-Dart rifle that we own, which you will find below:
We purchased a Mid Range Pistol by Palmer Cap-Chur Equipment a couple of years ago. It came with descent open sights which worked pretty good, but I am a stickler about accuracy so purchased a Millett Red Dot scope.
The pistol works at a two fixed powers (low power doesn’t really work on mine) at a fixed distance. The Cap-Chur darts have been successful, maybe 60 percent of the time as they tend to either bounce out of the animal from too much force or not detonate the charge. Each CO2 cartridge has more or less power and I have found that the range must be checked before use almost every time for the pistol by shooting a practice dart at a target at the same distance you would shoot the animal, as the range may vary with the power of the air charge which is inconsistent.
We then started using the Pneu-Dart darts in the Cap-Chur pistol with much more success, almost 100 percent, if the distance and charge are correct. But we were still faced with the problem of a fixed power and a fixed distance.
That led to the purchase this year of the Pneu-Dart X-Caliber Gauged CO2 Projector / Rifle that has an adjustable air charge allowing you to match the charge to the distance. The rifle is heavier than it looks and very well built. The air pressure gauge is accurate and easy to read.
It came with a scope, but I didn’t like the quality of it and purchased a Burris 3×9 22LR, which is still not a high end scope, but I like it better than the one that was included with the purchase.
The rifle is quite expensive at about $2,000, but I rationalized its cost by not having a horse to feed any more. We sold our horses about 10 years ago because we didn’t have enough work to justify keeping them.
The rifle because of its size is a bit awkward to use inside a rig, so I usually get out and use the hood to rest it on, which provides greater stability anyway. The length of pull is around 15 inches. My length is about 13 inches, but with some body contorting, it works. For me, the cheek rest needs to extend farther back to the frame so I added some padding secured with black electrical tape.
Making a chart for each dart shot at different distances using a range finder was my first order of business for the rifle. (I also made charts on the pistol.) Fortunately, you can get reusable practice darts to help determine the range, velocity and accuracy. At some point I might need to develop multiple charts depending on different factors.
As far as distance, the rifle, of course, beats the pistol. For example, with the rifle and a 6cc dart full of a liquid antibiotic, I can shoot anywhere from 5 to 50 yards. With the pistol, it shoots 15 yards only (not less than 15 yards and not over 15 yards) with the same 6cc dart. This may vary depending on the charge which I have found is inconsistent in the CO2 cartridges.
I have found the wind is a big factor, which will influence the dart and needs to be compensated for. I tend to want to shoot with the wind at my back.
I initially found that the velocity the rifle shoots the darts changed and the chart had to be refigured from when I first started, even though the pressure gauge read the same as before and, like the pistol, required the use of a practice dart before shooting. I decided it was just the nature of CO2-powered guns. I called and discussed this issue with Pneu-Dart, and they said I could send the rifle back to be checked, however I was approaching the time of year that calves typically get pneumonia and I didn’t want to be without it.
So after thinking about it some more, I realized the inside tube in the barrel has to be taken out to be cleaned. I found that when you put it back together the barrel has to be positioned exactly the same way each time or there will be a change in the point of impact (as much as 6″ at 20 yards with a 5-7cc dart), which means there isn’t a change in velocity as I had previously thought, there is a change in point of impact. To remedy that problem, I used a felt marker to draw a short line on the barrel and the tube so I have a reference point to line them up after taking it apart for cleaning. With the reference mark lined up the same each time, the rifle now shoots without any change of point of impact.
Also, I haven’t shot a lot of practice darts with the rifle yet, but so far I have found that two of the darts that I have used shot a different point of impact (as much as 6″ at 20 yards using a 5-7cc dart.) They come five to a package and I purchased a package for each size dart – four packages in total. So you don’t want to be frugal with the practice darts when you first start making a chart. I also used a regular dart loaded with water to compare to the practice darts and found they were very close to the practice dart in terms of accuracy.
I also found that since our cattle are primarily black Angus, I need to use a black target (we use black carpet) for practicing and making the charts as the range finder works differently on black surfaces — there is about two yards difference with my range finder, which is a Redfield Raider 550.
Knowing these variances is important because neck shots are a must when treating cattle with antibiotics and I need to feel very confident of shot placement. I have heard that many ranchers have gone to a hip shot for that reason, giving them a bigger target with more margin for error, but I would prefer to be precise enough to hit the neck quadrant square on. We want to make sure that we are making every effort to meet the Beef Quality Assurance program’s guidelines for injection sites.
One disadvantage of using the Pneu-darts is that they don’t shoot a 15cc or 20cc dart like the Cap-Chur darts. The Pneu-Darts only go to 10cc, forcing the use of either a concentrated dose of an antibiotic medicine such as Draxxin that requires 6cc for a 500-pound calf, and is quite expensive, compared to using multiple Pneu-darts for the animal to receive the recommended 20cc of the less expensive LA 300. Two Pneu-darts would have to be used instead of one Cap-chur dart meaning, of course, that you would have to shoot the animal twice, which might prove to be difficult the second time around.
Usually a cow or calf reacts to being shot with a dart the same way we would react to a bee sting. They initially are surprised and may give a startled jump and/or run a short distance, but since we shoot them from a distance, and usually with the added cover of a vehicle, they often times don’t associate it with us. Having to shoot more than once increases the likelihood of them figuring out where that sting came from.
We walk through our cows often and they are quite comfortable with us. We also try to shoot an animal while it is still in the herd and quietly grazing. We want to avoid having to chase the animal to dart it. People with wilder cattle that are leery of humans might find it more difficult to dart an animal.
Both manufacturers make different length needles for intramuscular or subcutaneous injections. For our needs we use darts with 1/2 inch needles for calves and 3/4 inch needles for cows and inject subcutaneous in the neck.
The Cap-chur darts have a small brazed area on the needles to hold the dart from falling out which is somewhat effective. The Pneu-Dart needles have a gel collar that melts off in about an hour and lets the dart fall out and it is quite effective. These are disposable whereas the Cap-Chur darts are reusable.
In August of this year Pneu-Dart announced that they will add Slo-injection technology to their darts this fall, which will reduce the rate of injection, thereby virtually eliminating the potential for unintentional subcutaneous or intramuscular injections and vise-versa.
To sum it up, both the pistol and rifle are quite accurate for the 10-40 yard range we use them for (we prefer to get as close as we can even with the rifle), as long as you know the range (I use a range finder for practice and in the field), and air charge for each size of dart. The rifle has some advantages over the pistol because it has adjustable power and an air gauge but I like the convenience of the pistol’s size, so will continue to use both systems depending on the situation.
Ideally, I wish Pneu-Dart would make a pistol with an air gauge that would shoot a 15 or 20cc dart with the gel collar. They make a nice looking pistol, but currently it only shoots up to 3cc darts.
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