by B.B. Pelletier
One of the most obnoxious pests of warm weather is the carpenter bee. They are a large insect, somewhat larger than a bumblebee, with a hard, shiny beetle-like body. The ones in Maryland that I used to do battle with had white spots around their eyes, but I’ve seen others without them. [Males have white or yellow faces. Females do not.]
They are called carpenter bees because they bore round holes in raw wood. Painted wood controls them to a great extent. We had a rail fence between us and one neighbor that was the perfect place for them to build homes. Wikipedia says they don’t destroy structures, but I had to replace several rails from their constant boring, so I think whoever wrote that never saw an infestation like ours.
Carpenter bees are also very aggressive! Ours would “guard” our front door, hovering about four feet in the air and three feet from the door. They were constantly on station, so as one would depart, another immediately took its place. Whenever someone came up to the door or opened the door from the inside to leave the house, the bee would fly toward their face, hovering six inches from their nose as long as they were near the door. They then dive-bombed and buzzed the person until they were off the front porch and down the stairs, where a second gang of bees was waiting. Though they usually missed us in these passes, they would smack into us sometimes.
I put up with this state of affairs for exactly 15 seconds, and then went to work. Since I lived in Ellicott City, Maryland, a state with no compassion for gun rights, I had to lay low while conducting my private war on these bees. At first, I tried using a raquetball racket to eliminate them, but after getting a few they seemed to wise up. After that, they were too fast to swat.
If I had lived in a more rural place I would have used a shotgun to blast a cloud of 10-20 bees in the driveway that also supplied the sentinels at the front door. But we lived in town, so I had to try something else.
I bought a Marlin model 60 autoloader in .22 rimfire and tried to eliminate them with .22 birdshot. It worked for maybe 20 bees, but it was both too loud for the neighborhood and the birdshot didn’t work the rifle’s action. I needed something else.
Out came the Sheridan Blue Streak. On three pumps I sometimes only pushed the bee out of the way and they actually recovered in flight. I saw it happen too many times. But on five pumps I got a nice round hole in every bee I hit. I have seen bees with a round hole all the way through their thorax, walking on the pavement for several minutes–just to give you an appreciation of how tough they are!
It the beginning I tried to hit the bees as they hovered, but once they caught on to what I was doing, they started flying erratically. I know this adaptive behavior sounds too advanced for an insect, but perhaps I was messing with their natural selection. All I know is whenever I got good at hitting bees, they changed what they did.
And the Sheridan was too time-consuming to use. There were maybe one-hundred bees at any one time and I was getting maybe five a day. They were hatching faster than I could shoot. Then I tried my Diana 27. Although it is a .22 caliber gun and only capable of about 475 f.p.s., it seemed perfect for a carpenter bee. I could cock and load it rapidly and shoot perhaps ten bees before they started attacking me.
I have been told that carpenter bees have no stingers, but the gang around my house was so aggressive that they could unnerve you without any. And others have told me they do have stingers–they just don’t need to use them very often. Actually, the males that guarded our front door were the ones without the stinger and the females in the driveway had stingers, but don’t sting unless provoked. What they were doing in our driveway was mating, and because we walked through their area, they attacked us for being there. The front-door thing was probably just a bunch of juvenile-delinquent male bees staking out territory.
The Diana was the best medicine I found, but the bees out-bred me in the summer. In the spring and fall, I could keep up with them, but come summer, we lost the access to the front door for a couple months. I found I could hit them by instinct rather than with sights, and that really speeded up the process.
The funny thing was, after I thinned the bees out in the fall, I got an aggressive wasp about three inches long that sat in the middle of my front steps for hours on end. Back I went to the Blue Streak, because this wasp was just sitting on the steps. We couldn’t walk past it without getting attacked, but If we didn’t approach it, it left us alone. However, there are only so many times I will walk out the basement door before I get mad.
After sighting the Blue Streak in for 20 feet, I picked off this huge wasp with one shot! The part that I found was larger than a hornet, and almost the front half the wasp was missing! Two days later, though, another wasp took its place.
Years later I learned that this was a cicada killer (a type of wasp). My front steps were apparently the perfect place for a ground burrow that wasp made to lay its eggs. It then found a cicada in a tall tree (we had thousands of cicadas!) stung it, flipped it over and glided to its nest with the body, which it buried in the ground with an egg.
After the carpenter bees, these wasps were easy to eradicate. All I was doing was clearing the path to my front door. I’m sure hundreds of wasps were still doing their thing all around us.
Anyway, that is how I used airguns to eliminate some not-so-common pests around the house! Maybe someday I will tell you about killer icicles!