The History of Big Bore Airgun Hunting
Looking back to about ten years ago, there were very few places to get a bog bore airgun, fewer people hunting with them, and fewer places you could hunt them. Within that handful of places, most hunting was restricted to predators â€¦â€¦ nothing wrong with that, but my small cluster of big bore airgun shooting buddies back at that point wanted to stretch it out a bit â€¦. see what else we could do at the other end of the game size spectrum.
We found that while Texas has some fairly restrictive regulations in place when it came to game animals, non-game and exotics were on the hit list for airguns. It was a little strange that in most of the state we couldnâ€™t shoot a squirrel; but hogs, rams, fallow and axis deer, aoudad and other exotic game were all available to us. A lot of these animals are free range, however Texas has virtually no public land, which forced us towards and restricted us to hunting game ranches in the early years. Still, the opportunity presented with the exotics made Texas ground zero for the development of the sport.
While Iâ€™m not a huge fan of the high fence operations, I also donâ€™t have a problem with them; they provide an opportunity for hunters that want to hunt a particular type of game, can be hunted any time of the year, and in our case allowed a variety of methods of take. The consideration for me was that these properties were large enough provide a true hunt, and that the animals need to be as wild and wary of man as possible. I like hunting hogs the best, because they can be hunted truly free range and itâ €™s inexpensive to find a ranch to hunt on. Iâ€™m also very lucky in that because of articles Iâ€™ve written for Predator Xtreme and Fur Fish Game, Iâ €™ve meet and formed friendships with a lot of guides, outfitters, and landowners in Texas and now have virtually unlimited hunting accessâ€¦.. the biggest limitation being how often I can make it down south , but try for 4-5 trips per year.
The animals on tap for an airgunner are hogs, many many types of rams, a wide selection of African, Asian, and European game, and nonindigenous (to Texas) North American game such as elk. I have taken my fair share of rams, which make beautiful mounts, but for the most part are only mildly challenging to hunt (though there are exceptions), truckloads of pigs, a couple axis, and lots of my target species; the predators. A lot of guys might use Texas to hunt African game that they otherwise might not get a chance at (especially with an airgun), I go to South Africa almost yearly so have much more cost effective and (to my mind) exciting opportunities to hunt plains game there.
To my way of thinking, hogs are the ultimate Texas airgun quarry, there are big populations throughout the state, and the cost of a hunt is fairly low. Even if your preference is self-catered do it yourself hunts, and youâ€™ve never used a guide before, youâ€™ll need a guide or an outfitter in Texasâ€¦.a big part of what youâ€™re paying for is access. You can sometimes find ranches where you can pay a trespass fee, but you need to do your homework to locate these. I use to fly into Dallas to meet up with Eric Henderson, and he’d have organized a hunt for us at one of the wildlife ranches, often tied into one of his early filming ventures. We’d shoot some hogs or rams, then he’d edit videos of the hunts….. these were the first films going out to a wide viewership showing what big bore airguns could do. Eric and I bought some new and young hunters out with us, and Eric set up several hunts over the years which gave many hunters their first chance at larger game with an airgun. I think that these days with all of the big bore opportunities around us and the fact that there are so many participants in the sport, that the import of both Texas and Eric to its growth and acceptance sometimes get lost.
There are two animals (outside of predators) I still want to hunt in Texas; my trophy room is calling out for a nice blackbuck, and an aoudad. The black buck is from India, however there are no huntable populations left there and Texas represents the stronghold of the species where they can be found all over the state. I love the small antelope and this is an animal Iâ€™ve been coveting since my first trip to S. Texas, they are wary, fast, Iâ€™m told taste great, and to my eye are the epitome of the mini-antelope. To take one with an airgun would be a high point for me! The other animal I want is probably the most challenging, the Aoudad. These large sheep, often called the â€œpoor manâ€™s big hornâ€� are all over the hill country and arid western regions, and take a lot of miles and work, the right shot â €“placement, and a bit of luck. Iâ€™ve gone out after free range aoudad on huge ranches with my airguns twice, and still havenâ€™t gotten one. Got close on one hunt, after several hours of stalking up and down rock strewn mountains, I missed the opportunity when a ewe spotted us and took off with all the other animals close at her heels. When after all the trips and days of trying, when I finally get one with my airgun it will be another Texas generated high point!
As mentioned, my main thing is predator hunting; Texas is great because you can shoot coyote, bobcat, red fox, grey fox, raccoon, ringtail on any given nightâ €¦â€¦ and there is always a chance a mountain lion might come in. Iâ€™ll hunt both day and night, with the night time hunts being much more productive. Texas allows lights to be used, and the typical method at night is to drive the ranch roads and set at regular intervals to call for 20-30 minutes, before going to the next spot. In areas with heavy coyote populations weâ €™ll call about every mile, and in the bobcat / fox areas call about every half mile. As we call weâ€™ll sweep the light, using either a red filter or haloing the areas of interest. When you see that glow of eyes reflected back, all your senses go on high alert, it is a rush!
The guns Iâ€™ve used on these hunts have been varied over the years; my first pigs and rams were taken almost exclusively with Quackenbush .308, . 457, and .50 caliber guns. In all of the game Iâ€™ve shot with these guns, everyone has worked flawlessly â€¦.. except for a couple occasions where I didnâ €™t lock the bolt and caught a blast of air in my eye, but this was my fault not the guns! Iâ€™ve used the Sam Yang .45 and .50 to take axis, hog, and bobcats, finding that even out of the box these guns do a good job, even better after a tune and a trigger job. Recently Iâ€™ve used the Evanix .357â€™s and the Daystate .303 to put away bobcats, and see a lot of potential with these gun, though I think the lower power .303 are more interesting in more built up spaces, where the ability to be quiet is more importanty than the ability to reach out to longer ranges. The important point is that whatever gun is used, make sure you know the limits of the gun, and select your range, shot placement, and quarry accordingly. After all my hunts; I think that my optimal Texas bigbore airgun is a powerful .357 or . 457 that produces good accuracy out to 100 yards, with the lightest and flattest shooting projectile I can find. My reasoning is that in many of the places I hunt, itâ€™s never certain what will pop up, I like to know that if Iâ€™m out hunting coyote where I plan to shoot out to 100 yards, that if a hog comes inside of 50 yards I still have enough gun to knock him over. The costs of a Texas predator or exotic hunt are not cheap, but also not unreasonable. There are currently more states allowing you to hunt deer with an airgun (Missouri, Mississippi, Virginia), others in the process of opening up big game with airguns (Arizona) and several states where it is currently legal to take predators and hogs with airguns. However Texas still holds an attraction as a place where you can hunt a long list of big game species, and unlike the small hunting reserves you find out east, these â€œreserve huntsâ€� in Texas can be over vast expanses of land and provide very difficult and challenging hunting experience. Definitely worth a try if you want to broaden you airgunning experience.