|Big Bore Airguns Jim Chapman|
|There is no question that the popularity of big bore airguns has increased dramatically over the last few years; there are more manufacturers, with more models, in more calibers than ever before. The major calibers have found a home with big game hunters and predator hunters both, and in this article we'll take a look at the guns I'm hunting this season and why I like them.|
|My Primary Hunting Big Bores
I pulled the big bores out of my gun case and shot a photo, and here's what we've got:
- The Quackenbush .451 caliber
- The Corsair .308 Kentucky long rifle
- The Big Bore 909 .457 caliber
- The Black Widow .357 caliber
- The Dragon Claw .50 caliber
There are several other guns that I like and that I sometimes shoot and hunt with from other manufacturers. The prefered gun depends on what's being hunted.
|When it comes to bullets I may be out of the mainstream Ö. I donít think it matters very much so long as the projectile yields good accuracy. A hollow point might cut a cleaner wound channel even if it doesnít expand a lot (unless it hits a rib), a large metplat might transfer more energy (at least initially) on target, and a roundnose might give the best tradeoff of energy transfer and penetration, but my experience has been that a good broadside shot from appropriate range is going to penetrate side to side regardless of the bullet style. I use the bullet that gives the best accuracy, and once that criterion is met Iíll either use the heaviest bullet I can get away with for big game and the lightest bullet for predators.
I am going to go through the various guns Iíve been hunting with over the last two years and tell you what I liked and what I didnít with each.
DAQ .Exile 308 ; This rifle has a short 20Ē barrel and loves the 115 grain roundnose bullets. It is tuned down to produce about 130 fpe for four shots with minimal shift in the POI. This gun is very maneuverable and with pretty good accuracy, and serves the purpose of a compact truck gun for predator hunting. The trigger was a little heavy/rough out of the box but broke in nicely, and I would have liked getting a couple more shots, but not at the cost of a longer gun.
| I get a lot of questions about big bore airguns, which for the sake of this discussion are .30 caliber up, especially from airgun hunters that have been using small bore guns and want to move up to bigger calibers and bigger game. I was out earlier today shooting a selection of guns in my collection, so thought it would be a good time for reflection.
It has been seven or eight years since I started hunting big bore air rifles, and in that time Iíve owned, used, and shot just about everything. It is somewhat true that my favorite gun might well be the one Iím using at that moment, but I decided to try step back and be a bit more objective.
One question to start with is, what do you want to use the gun for? It is not a given that just because you use a big bore you want to hunt deer sized game; I have a .308 Kentucky long rifle style gun that I really like hunting squirrel with and several other guns that I prefer for predator hunting with. How you intend using the gun also comes into the equation, some guys like to shoot deer at 100 yards or more and need to get as much energy as they can accurately handle to support these types of shots. In the early days I took some long shots on big game to see what the guns could do, but once I got past this experimental phase for me big game airgunning became a 60 yard proposition. However I will still reach out to 100 yards or more for predators. I say this not to imply mine is the only way to approach the question of gun selection, but to reveal the basis for my preferences.
Before getting down to the specific guns, Iíll talk about some of the guns Iíve shot in the past before moving on to whatís in my gun room right now Ö and why. When I first started researching big bore airguns, I heard about this guy named Dennis Quackenbush that was building some very cool guns, and got in touch with him. The first big bore air rifle I owned was a Quackenbush .308, a handy little carbine (Dennis prefers to call them short rifles). For a long time DAQs were the only big bores I shot, taking hogs, deer, and exotics initially, then moving on to African plasins game using them on springbok, duiker, steenbok, impala, bushbuck, kudu, warthog and other game. As a matter of fact the first safari I took was stirctly Quackenbush powered and I carried the DAQ .25, .308, and .50 caliber rifles.
Somewhere in the middle of all this three things happened: I was introduced to the Korean big bore guns, I got more serious about predator hunting, and other boutique manufacturers started coming on the scene. I followed up my first years exclusively using DAQs with the exception of the (no longer produced) Dragonslayer .50 caliber gun. This was followed by other SamYang and ShinSung major caliber guns, which were later followed by the semi custom and custom guns of Bontrager, Haley, Roduner, as well as some fully custom one-offs. I also got shooting time in with the first Big Bore out of a major US airgun manufacturer, using Crosmans Benjamin Rogue .357. I found that my shooting with these largeer caliber guns was lining up into two specific categories; big game and predator hunting.
So where did the requirements for my hunting guns, based on these applications, vary and where did they overlap? As mentioned, over the years I came to think of big game hunting as a close range (inside of 60 yards) activity with hog and deer sized game. I figured that a gun doing around 200 fpe with a .40 caliber or greater projectile was going to get the job done. That doesnít mean more power isnít better, but it does mean that there are other variables to consider besides power. The obvious one is accuracy, if you canít hit your target it doesnít matter how powerful, but there is no reason that a gun canít be intrinsically powerful and accurate. It might be harder to shoot accurately, but that is an issue with the marksman and not the gun. But the factors that weigh more heavily for me are the guns dimensions and the air consumption. I donít want a gun barrel the length of one of my fly rods to get an extra bump in the power output. For a big game gun Iíd like to have two or three shots with minimal change in the point of impact even at the sacrifice of some (within limits) power output, and this more than power or accuracy is what determines the over all length of the guns I shoot.
For my predator hunting guns on the other hand, I prefer a .30 caliber gun finding the .308 and .357 both about perfect. I want to keep the velocity up, not so much to deliver the highest amount of energy, but rather to flatten out the trajectory for longer (100 yard) shots. A bullet in this caliber range is going to poke a hole through a coyote or bobcat at 100 yards at 100 fpe, so again the power is not the driving factor. But the kill zone is smaller with a coyote than a deer so accuracy still reigns supreme, and as more shots are typically required between refills, efficient air usage that minimizes shot to shot variation and increase shot count takes precedence.
This doesnít mean that you can't hunt everything with one gun, but it may influence the way you tune your rifle. It might be that because you will hunt both coyote and deer, that you select a .40 caliber instead of a .308. But you set it up to provide four shots at 175 fpe rather than two at 220 fpe. And since you have opted to go with a somewhat lower power, you might limit your shot at deer to inside of fifty yards. Or conversely you leave the gun tuned up for maximum power and carry a buddy bottle for refills in the field when you go out to call predators.
| DAQ . LA Outlaw .451; This is the gun I asked Dennis to build for me as my ultimate deer / hog gun. The barrel is 20Ē for maneuverability in thick brush or in a stand. It is designed and set up for the best performance inside of 60 yards, giving two full power (approximately 240 fpe) shots with minimal shift in POI and a third usable shot. The reason I opted for .451 caliber (shoots some .452 as well) was that I wanted the lightest bullets to be shot from a short barrel with coinciding short air reservoir at the highest velocity for two shots, of at least a .40 caliber to allow it to be used for deer hunting in Missouri. I do have to carry extra air in case I need more than two shots (the third is usable but not optimal), but the compactness of the gun and ability to work my way through brush with it offsets this. In my 60 yard range this gun is very accurate, and is one gun that will never leave my collection. Having taken deer, hogs, coyote, and varmint with this gun, it is exactly what I asked for and what I wanted.
Jack Haley .308: This is a gun that I donít own, but I hunt with (I believe) the best predator airgun hunter in the country (Brian Beck) that uses this gun exclusively. It is hard hitting and very accurate, and to my eye looks a lot like the earlier DAQ designs. This gun likes 136 grain hollowpoints, which I believe have the advantage of allowing a longer bullet to be used while keeping the weight down (and velocity up). The rifle is solid and well made, though it is a little on the heavy side and the 28Ē barrel is longer than I prefer. But in all fairness I have to say that even though it is a sizable gun, it balances well and is overall a very shootable design. And 5 shots at 90 fpe in a dead accurate rifle is nothing to complain about!
Leroy Roduner Gargoyle .457; I donít own this gun, but got to shoot it at LASSO and then Leroy let me use it on a Missouri deer hunt later in the year. Leroy first showed me this rifle at the competition and I was struck by the similarities it shared with my DAQ .451 with respect to the design; a 20Ē barrel yielding two full power shots at 280 fpe with a third low power fall back shot. What I like about this gun in addition to the overall performance, is the thumbhole stock it was dressed in (which is alson a Roduner creation). Overall this is one of the most attractive big bores Iíve seen, with a really excellent quality of workmanship. The only thing I wasnít crazy about was the wimpy bolt used, it looked out of place on the otherwise solid construction, but I was told Leroy planned to change this on future guns.
Bigbore 909 .45: Actually a .457, these are the most readily available and least expensive of the big bore guns. Mine is one of the first single air tube style guns, and was tuned by Bob Marino. It is currently set up to provide nine shots at around 190 fpe with little shift in POI over its parabolic velocity curve. I have shot deer, hogs, coyote, and bobcat with this gun and find it one of the more shootable of the big bores. The way this gun is set up, it probably represents one of the best compromise guns for somebody wanting a high shot count .40 caliber gun for hunting predators and the occasional big game. The triggers on these guns can be heavy and rough but do get better as they break in. I also like the fact that the gun can be fully cocked for a full power shot, or brought to a halfway point for lower power shooting.
Black Widow is the .357 version of the Big Bore 909, and is a great predator hunting gun out of the box. It gets about six usable shots per fill at about 120 fpe but Iíve been using it as delivered with no modifications. The Black Widow shares all of the characteristics and attributes of the design, though one of the improvements is the inclusion of an on board pressure gauge that allows you to monitor the air situation. One modificastion I strongly recommend is to replace the proprietary fill probe with a universal fast fill connector, especially if you have other guns already equipped with the Foster type connectors. This gun is capable of killing a deer, but it is at the lower end of the power/caliber spectrum and would not be my choice for a deer, or even a compromise gun. In my bookjs his is the pure predator hunter.
DragonClaw is at the other end of the Big Bore 909 range and is essentially a Black Widow with a .50 caliber barrel. This rifle is the dedicated big game gun in the family. It will give four 200 fpe plus shots that will punch a big hole in any deer or hog it encounters. With average velocities in the mid 600 fps range, this rifle is my idea of a 50-60 yard big game gun. If you were to try for a coyote at 100 yards, the bullet would have a significantly arced trajectory which would be difficult to compensate for without range finding the target Ö. not easy to do in fast paced predator action.
Adventures in Airguns (AIA) Corsair is a .308 caliber gun that was originally built on the QB 78 action. Randy Mitchell is a long time friend and hunting partner, that Iíve shot a lot of big bores with over the years. Weíve both been fans of the Chinese built QB clone of the Crosman 160 for years, and he and I had small bore pcp conversions built on this platform. A few years later he took it to the next level by having the conversion done with in the larger caliber, using the breech, trigger assembly, barrel bands, and the rear of the compression tube, the rest is all fabricated by AIA. Another cool thing is that the QB78 is one of the more popular platforms for building up custom guns, which means there are a lot of accessories such as stocks available to personalize your gun. I used this rifle for some long range sniping at prairie dogs, and have culled some woodchucks at over 100 yards as well. It is a very accurate long range predator/varmint gun. The long barrel and long small diameter air reservoir produces an elegant line to this gun, and I had a custom Kentucky long rifle stock made up which Iíve been using as a squirrel gun this season. In a few weeks when the snow starts Iíll be seriously going after coyotes, and will slip the gun back into its thumbhole stock and mount a high magnification scope.
Defining the purpose for which you intend to add a big bore to your gun rack will go a long way in helping you decide on the right gun. I can honestly say that any of these guns would work for me once I decided the intended purpose; predator, big game, or compromise. What are my personal favorites? For big game my ďgo toĒ gun is the Quackenbush .451, which makes sense as it is the gun I asked Dennis to build to a pretty exact set of criteria based on several years of big game airgun hunting: compact, powerful, while providing two full power shots. For predator hunting it would probably be the Black Widow because of the shot count, accuracy, ease of carry, and tunability (if thatís a word). But then again, on any given day when Iím having a successful hunt using any of these guns that could change. They are all great guns and it boils down to what you like!
In terms of innovation there are two guns Iíve been thinking about for years and would love to see somebody build; first I would like to see a multi-shot carbine or bullpup with a shrouded barrel that would let me slip in for urban predator hunting quietly and unobtrusively. The second is my dream gun, something along the lines of an African Express double rifle regulated at 50 yards in .50 caliber yielding one 400 Ė 500 fpe shot out of each barrel. Double trigger, weighing in at 8 lbÖÖThis would be my gun for the next trip to South Africa!
|The DAQ Outlaw .451 and the Roduner Gargoyle .457, two guns that are my compact ideals when it comes to a big game getter.|
|The Jack Haley line up from his booth at the LASSO show in Oklahoma.|
|The three Quackenbush guns I took on an early safari to South Africa a few years back; the .50 caliber, moderated .25 caliber, and .308 which took a variety of plains game (above). My Bob Marino tuned Big Bore 909 .457 (right)|