A favorite topic of airgunners in general, and airgun hunters in particular is what constitutes the best hunting caliber and projectile. Back in the day, the discussion was the benefits of .177 as opposed to .22 caliber, which often came down to flat shooting vs knock down power and such axioms as .177 for feather and .22 for fur. This debate continued on, while the .25 slowly worked its way onto the scene. My initial experience with .25 some thirty years back was that the accuracy I was getting was only OK, and the spring piston guns that shot them well tended to be giant pieces of hardware. But as I started shooting more pcps that were slowly coming to market with .25 caliber options, concurrent with a wider selection of quality pellets, I started to find myself gravitating towards this caliber. I wasn’t the only one noticing these improved results, and I think it’s safe to say that over the least few years the .25 caliber has earned it’s place as the rightful king of the “standard” calibers.
In the modern big bore calibers, there has been everything from .308 to over .50 caliber guns built in recent years. These guns usually shoot roundball or cast lead bullets, which are the perfect projectile for larger game and longer range shooting. Out of a powerful gun using a bullet design with a good ballistic coefficient, these projectiles were spot on for hunting predators, hogs, and deer, and reach out aways to do it. Several excellent bullets started becoming available from Mr Hollowpoint, BHD, Benjamin and Hunter Supply, all of which I’ve used with good results in the field. These bullets are available in roundnose, hollow point, large metplat, polymer tipped styles ….. not to forget the cheap and always available roundball. These manufacturers all produced great fodder for my .30 caliber guns, and one or the other at least would be a good performer in any given gun, and produce excellent results on any specific type of game. However there was a downside in some of the applications I needed to fill, such as predator hunting in more built up areas, where I wanted to poke a big hole in my quarry but didn’t want the bullet to carry too much energy or range. I thought a bigger bore pellet with a less optimal BC might be the answer, however with the exception of one 9mm/.357 pellet on the market, there wasn’t much selection.
That pellet was the 77.8 grain EunJin 9mm, which works quite well out of some of my guns such as a pistol I built using a 9mm upper and a Glover lower, the Career 707 9mm, and the Evanix Windy City and Conquest guns, both of which I’ve been doing a lot of hunting and shooting with this last season. This pellet didn’t work as well in my Recluse or the Benjamin Rogue, but I tend to use these particular guns for my bigger game and longer range shooting so prefer a heavier bullet anyways. I also found that these pellets feed very well in my magazine fed guns (the WC and Conquest), and think its due to the light weight, round nose, and short over all length, but for whatever the reason they do feed consistently and smoothly.
A very recent development, driven in part by gun designs coming out of Daystate and FX concurrent with new pellet designs out of JSB, is that more pellets have become available in .30’s. JSB has started manufacturing a couple of .303 pellets specifically for these guns, and at the same time has manufactured a .357. These pellets are all of a Diabolo design with a flared skirt and a dome shaped head, with the .357 JSB Match Diabolo Exact weighing 77.62 and the .303 pellet hitting the scales at 50.15 grains. Besides the JSB branded .303 and .357, they are private labeling pellets for Daystate and others as well. This is very early days for the pellets, and manufacturers of both pellets and guns are still looking at different weights and head designs. I’ve had a number of prototypes come in with various weights, skirt lengths, and head designs. There is a hollow point in the works, and I’d love to have a go with a polymer tipped version, like a beefed up Predator…… hope somebody out there is listening on that one.
In my Wolverine and the FX Boss that I’ve shot, the accuracy has been very good. As a matter of fact, it was the FX Boss with the JSB that cleaned the field at last years Extreme Benchrest meet down in Tuscon. I’ve been using the Wolverine for predator and varmint hunting and have taken a couple bobcats and several raccoons inside of 60 yards, and the gun/pellet combination has been effective though I tend to take headshots when I can. However, I’ve also taken body shots with fairly good results, though I have lost a bobcat at 75 yards and a coyote at 50 yards with a body shot, and my own rule of thumb right now is no body shots on coyote over 50 yards or bobcats over 75 yards with anything under 125 fpe.
One of the things I really like about shooting the Diabolo design in the 30’s is that it makes my midbore a fun and effective gun for smaller game. I think a solid cast lead bullet, or even a hollowpoint bullet is too much for squirrel or rabbit, often punching right through and continuing onward whereas the pellet drops more energy on target. I’ve had the guys at both FX and Daystate tell me that even though the primary market for these larger bore guns is the USA, there is an interest in the UK as well. In that market the gun must be entered onto the hunters gun license (FAC) which means it needs to be justified. The justification is that this gun/pellet (.303) is a good gap filler between an FAC .22 for pest control and a .22 rimfire specifically because the Diabolo pellet has a poorer BC and sheds energy faster than a bullet with a concurrent reduction in carrying range. Both of these manufacturers are adamant that their guns are not and will not be built to handle cast bullets. This does have some impact on those that want to shoot heavier bullets with more power, the two guns built for .303 are generating under 100 fpe with those projectiles. If you try to load a heavy cast bullet it will have a trajectory like a brick tossed across a field. You might say fine, you’ll modify the gun, though I personally would not want to invalidate my warranty on a $2000.00 rifle!
The .303 guns and pellet have an intertwined conception; I spoke with the heads of both Daystate and FX at the IWA in Germany a couple of years ago, and they were telling me then that the barrels being utilized on their respective products were built around the pellets that JSB was building, a Walther Lothar for the Daystate gun with FX using their proprietary smooth twist design. So there is more to a potential conversion than simply increasing the power or airflow, rebarreling the gun would also likely be required to achieve optimal results.
A question I’ve been asked a lot lately, is what is the better option for a.30 caliber gun; pellets or bullets? My answer is usually a question, what do you want to use it for? If your goal is to hunt big game at longer range or shoot long range competitions, I wouldn’t select a pellet design. The bullets carry further, impart more energy on target downrange, and lets you take body shots with more confidence. On the other hand, guns set up to shoot bullets at higher power tend to be louder, get fewer shots per fill, and have too much power when shooting in built up areas. If I was going to shoot predators at closer range, where power and noise need to be limited, I’d look at using one of the guns built for Diabolo style pellets. The upside to this approach, is it makes for a great small to medium sized game gun as well, and if your hunting interest go past predators I’d consider this as well. An finally, if you are in a jurisdiction where hunting deer and pigs with a mid bore airgun is legal, my preference would be a solid, moderately heavy, roundnose or hollowpoint, preferably .357 lead bullet. This gun/projectile would also be good for predaors at longer range, but is too much gun for the smaller stuff.
I’ve almost killed myself proving it, but you can keep the big bores filled with a hand pump, but I reserve this as a back up to my tanks or to top off a fill, or when I am traveling to area where I can’t bring tanks or buy air. Two very different mid bore hunting guns; I’m holding the ,357 Evanix Windy City and that’s the .303 Daystate Wolverine resting on sticks. Both guns are multi shot, both are shrouded, but the WC was built to shoot cast lead bullets and the Wolverine was purpose designed to shot Diabolo pellets.