Hunting in South Africa with a unique new hunting projectile, the Air Venturi AirBolt!
– Jim Chapman
Airgun hunting has been gaining popularity in recent years, and along with advances in rifle technology, there have been concurrent advances in ammunition development. The Air Bolt is one such example, an arrow that can be launched from a conventional air rifle with great accuracy and power. Earlier airguns that shot arrows utilized a hollow arrow slipped over a thin purpose designed barrel, with the volume of pressurized air released inside the arrow to drive it forward.
Air Venturi took a different approach, the Air Bolt is a caliber specific arrow that is muzzle-loaded into a standard big bore air rifle. Currently, the Air Bolt is available in .50 caliber, but there are other calibers on the way. The carbon fiber shaft has a nock with an o-ring and a synthetic fletching at the proximal end, and is matched to the caliber dimensions. The distal end has a teardrop shaped head that is threaded to accept standard broad heads, and fits snugly into the muzzle of the rifle. This design permits any rifle of the corresponding caliber to be used to shoot the Air Bolt, as well as the ammunition the rifle was originally designed for.
The result is a platform that transforms a marginally powered big bore hunting airgun into the most powerful arrow launching system in existence! In my Air Venturi .50 caliber air rifle, a 425 grain Air Bolt tipped with a broad head is moving at 500 fps. This rifle/arrow combination will consistently place five arrows into the kill zone of a deer at 50 yards, and reach out to 80 yards with surprising accuracy. After a few months on the range and several hunts for feral hogs, I was ready for the big test!
Rob Dell and Andrew Myers of Hounslow Safaris on the Eastern Cape, usually outfit hunts for plains game with traditional firearms. But they can also support airgun hunts, possessing a compressor, air- tanks, and experience gained from over a decade of airgun hunting. So, I loaded up my rifle and a supply of Air Bolts, and booked a flight for Port Elizabeth. From there it was a two-hour drive to the farm, before unpacking my gear and visiting the range to get sighted in.
I’ve been hunting Rob’s property with air rifles for over a decade, and before that with standard centerfires. I’d taken many species of plains game in the past, but my primary objective for this trip was a blue wildebeest, thinking that the Air Bolt would be a great method of take. Shooting a cloverleaf head designed for crossbows, I was obtaining 3” groups at 60 yards, which then punched through five tightly packed hay bales used as a backstop and disappeared into the bush beyond!
“The AirBolt provided a clean kill on my largest airgun game animal yet. This was a big. tough bull!”
Late in the morning of our first day, Andrew and I were glassing a brush choked valley, when we spotted a group of five wildebeest. We also noted scattered impala and zebra grazing on the hillside between the wildebeest and where we stood. Plotting an approach that would get us inside of 60 yards using available cover, we carefully worked the wind so as not to push these other animals into our quarry. We maneuvered ourselves to a position behind a thorn bush, slowly peeking out to confirm the animals hadn’t moved. They hadn’t, and keeping to the shadows Andrew set up the shooting sticks.
We were on a hillside watching the animals drift back and forth, and either their position was not right, or my shot was obstructed by vegetation. Finally, a nice bull turned broadside at 50 yards, and presented me with a clean shot. I squeezed the trigger and heard the muffled crack of the .50 caliber airgun, the thud of impact, and watched through the scope as the animal jumped straight up in the air.
As the bull hit the ground and started running, I could see the hole in his side as he began to bleed out. From our vantage, I could see the group vanishing over an adjacent hillside, but only saw four animals. Not wanting to walk up on a wounded bull unprepared, I loaded another arrow as we waited for about 20 minutes before going in pursuit.
Walking up to where the animal was standing on impact, we found a good blood trail, and started tracking. We hadn’t gone 50 yards when we saw the big bull behind a thorn bush, piled up and very dead. The arrow had punched a large clover leaf shaped hole clear through this approximately 500 lb animal before continuing downrange. To say we were impressed by the performance of the Air Bolt on this large bull, would be an understatement.
It’s too early to tell where/if air powered arrow guns will find a home within mainstream hunting. But what is apparent to me is that based on the power and accuracy achieved, anything that has ever been taken with a compound or crossbow could be ethically taken with an Air Bolt!