The DAQ Exile .308 is one of the semi-custom large bore air rifles designed and manufactured by master airgun designer Dennis Quackenbush. I had finally acquired one for my collection, and a fortuitous business trip out west gave me the venue to run it through its paces in the field.
The gun built for me has a 20″ barrel and an overall length of 37, weighing in at about 7 lbs. The gun is prepared for firing using a bolt action to load the .308 bullet and is cocked using the knurled cocking lever situated right below the bolt. Note that this airgun fires swaged bullets, not the conventional pellets one associates with air guns. I had obtained my ammunition as a gift from Eric Henderson at MDR, and was grateful to him as I wouldnÂ’t have made the schedule for this hunt otherwise. The air reservoir houses the charging port at the distal portion of the barrel. The port is protected by a rotating band which covers it when not in use. DAQ recommends that the gun be charged to a pressure of 205 BAR (3000 psi), and yields four full power shots after which there are a couple more useful shots which demonstrate vertical stringing resulting from the rapidly reduced pressure / velocity. The fill probe Dennis uses in his design is included with the rifle, which I had coupled with a male Foster fitting allowing me to use it with my standard rig. When I take my guns on traveling hunts, I use a manual pump to charge them as the logistics of carrying a SCUBA tank and getting it filled is just too much hassle. With a full charge the gun puts out about 225 fpe; and is plenty of gun for anything from jackrabbits to coyote, which in fact was my intended game on this trip. Due to a tight schedule before departing for my first hunt with the Exile, I had been unable to set up the scope and therefore had to zero the gun on arrival. I had mounted a shotgun scope and decided to zero in at forty yards. As this was a down and dirty sighting done over the hood of a rented SUV, and as I had to manually charge the gun every four shots, once I grouped three shots into a 1″ target two times in a row I decided good enough! The long eye relief on this scope let me bring the gun into play quickly, while still being able to observe my surrounds. I thought it would serve my intended hunting application well.
Right from the start I quite enjoyed shooting this rifle. It has sort of a damped recoil that took me a few shots to become acclimated to, not because it was unpleasant or hard to handle, just different. I liked the fit of the stock, finding that the cheek piece was just the right height when lining up my shot through the scope, and carried well in the field. On receiving the gun, I’d been surprised to find such a niece piece of wood used in a standard stock, but then with the obvious pride and attention Dennis puts into his product I guess I shouldn’t have been.
Arriving on site I loaded my rifle, slipped four extra bullets into my pocket, and headed off into the desert brush. The landscape was dotted with Joshua trees, various cactus, and creosote bushes that provided a dense ground cover. This is always a limiting factor when hunting the desert in the winter season, and really increases the challenge of both spotting ones quarry and stalking into shooting range. Hiking up the side of a hill strewn with volcanic rock punctuated by the occasional barrel cactus, I gained a good vantage over the desert spread out below. Breaking out my binoculars I started to methodically glass the immediate area. I paid special attention to scrapes under the occasional Cholla cactus as I have found this to be a favored cover of the big desert jackrabbits. I think this is because it gives them some degree of protection from the rear; it would have to be a mighty hungry coyote to dive head first through this fiendish plant. After a few minutes of glassing, I spotted the telltale amber glow of the sunlight passing through the ears of a rabbit tucked away under a Cholla about a hundred yards off. I picked a line that would bring me to a small stand of Joshua trees within 50 yards of the scrape, with the added advantage of keeping me covered along the way. Crouching low and walking in as quietly as I could to the Joshuas, I poked my head around until I could see through the branches, only to find the rabbit sitting bolt upright with ears held erect. As quiet as I thought IÂ’d been, heÂ’d obviously picked up my steps softly crunching the sand. There were some twigs that interfered with a headshot, however his position offered me a clean line to a profile chest shot. Bracing against the trunk of the Joshua tree, and simultaneously feeling a sharp spine poking me in the shin, I readjusted my leg and lined up the shot. Placing the crosshair high on the big desert hares shoulder, I slowly stroked the trigger. The muffled thud of the pellet impacting right on target drifted back to me as the hare jumped once and hit the deck without a twitch. I paced off the distance as I crossed the sandy expanse between my hide and the downed quarry, and found the shot to have been about 55 yards. The bullet had penetrated all the way through the rabbit, providing a bit of anecdotal fuel for the penetration / expansion debate; put a big hole through the right place and it doesnÂ’t matter if it expands and stops or penetrates all the way though .. it does the job
In the four days I was out west on business, I was able to get out on one hunt Sunday afternoon and another one on the next to last afternoon before heading home. I took a total of four rabbits, two on each outing. The DAQ was the most decisive airgun I’ve ever hunted jackrabbits with, every one of the rabbits went down hard. With one exception I took chest shots, and as mentioned, all were very effective.
The one I hit with a headshot was not a pretty picture. It goes without further comment that the gun is a powerhouse, but I also found it very accurate even considering my limited time for target practice and less than optimal sight in. The fact that I need to recharge the gun after every four shots would not be an issue when using the gun for large game, where my expectation is to fire one, maybe two shots on an outing. It might present a limitation on some of my longer hunts for small game where I will usually take more shots, but I’m looking for a small buddy tank that I can slip into my daypack so the gun can be recharged and used on all day prairie dog or ground squirrel hunts next spring. IÂ’ve never made a claim to be a technical airgunning guru, but I do know what I like and what works for me in the field. My first experience hints that the Exile could become one of my favorite air arms, and I’m already thinking that I need the bandit as well.
My next hunt with this gun will be for larger game, though I’m not yet sure if it will be exotics, boar, or song dogs. Oh, by the way – I did see one coyote on this trip and missed the opportunity … but that’s another story for another time