This is not a review, but more a reflection on my Quackenbush Big Bore Rifles, and why they mean so much to me.
I’m often asked what my favorite big bore airgun is, and that’s not an easy question. I have several, shoot many more, and find that my answer is constantly shifting based on the most recent experience in the field. I really like my Bushbuck .457 carbine that was built for me by Airguns of Arizona and set up with bullets cast especially for the rifle by my hunting buddy Kip Perow. It’s accurate, very powerful, rugged, compact….. but it is also very heavy, which may or may not be an issue depending on where and what I’m hunting.
I’ve been using the AirForce Texan a lot lately, in a variety of calibers including ,257, .308, .357, and .457, and find these guns very efficient and powerful hunting guns, and truth be told I probably use these more than any other big bore right now. The Texans are accurate when set up properly, they are very powerful, and the carbines are compact.
There are several other big bores from Hatsan, Seneca (especially with AirBolts), Profesional Big Bores, and others that I like and use. Depending on the shooter and the intended use, any of these is a viable hunting gun….. maybe the perfect gun for you.
But the big bore airgun that generates the most emotional response from me are the Quackenbush rifles. I have long stated that Dennis Quackenbush is the father of the modern big bore era, and he built the rifles that guys like Eric Henderson, Randy Mitchell, and I used when big bore airguns were doing the first predator and big game hunts back in the early 2000’s.
The first hog, ram, and axis deer I took with an airgun in Texas, the first deer in Kentucky, the first predator grand slam…. were all done with a Quackenbush. The first airgun hunts in South Africa, as a matter fact the next two or three airgun safaris after that, were done with Quackenbush air rifles in .308, .457, and .50 calibers. The first animal shot with a big bore airgun that I know of, was a springbok I shot with the .308 after a long stalk back in 2003. So for me, it’s not difficult to see why these rifles engender an emotional response. Not trying to come across as a wanker, but I believe there is a historical element to the Quackenbush big bores, these are the guns that this growing sport was built on.
But what about the rifles themselves, are they really that good, are they the best, are they overrated? Well, these are subjective questions to some extent, as “best” can mean different things to different people. I’ll give you my opinion, which I’ll start off by asking and answering a few questions. Are the Quackenbush rifles the most accurate? No. Out of the box they offer good field accuracy but not the best I’ve seen. Are they the most powerful? No. As shipped these rifles are all powerful for their calibers, but some of the next generation production rifles and what I’ll term boutique rifles, are more powerful. But one of the great things about the Quackenbush rifles is they are eminently tunable, and there is a lot you can do to optimize accuracy and push power up to match the best of class.
In terms of the action and controls, I really like the dual bolts, one for loading the rifle and one for cocking (and decocking) the rifle. There is not a manual safety, so I tend to leave the gun uncocked until ready to shoot when hunting with a guide or another hunter, though on my own I’ll leave it cocked when moving in on my quarry. The trigger is heavy on the rifles out of the box, which is a decision on Dennis’s part, though easy to clean up. So this is my honest (and very general) view of the many Quackenbush big bores I have owned (about a dozen of them over the years) and shot (many, many) belonging to friends.
One of the things I appreciate about these guns, is the traditional sporter stock, they are an ergonomic, no-nonsense well proportioned design, offering reliability, weight and balance, and ease of modification. Not to mention what to my eye is the best looking big bore rifle around.
There was a time that I’d say you needed to have a Quackenbush rifle if you wanted to hunt big game with an airgun. That is no longer true, there are many excellent options out there, and some with a more impressive out of box specification. There is nothing lacking with the Quackenbush guns out of the box, and they can be set up to perform with the best of them. However, I do believe that if you are serious about your big bore collection, you need to have a Quackenbush in the rack. These represent a slice of airgunning history, with the added advantage of being a top shelf hunting rifle in their own right.
As mentioned, I’ve owned about a dozen Quackenbushbush rifles, out of which I currently have three in my collection. Why did I sell the others? Necessity! In recent years I’ve been lucky enough to have sponsors: magazines, TV programs, YouTube, and other means of funding my hunting and collecting. But for my first 10-12 years I had to pay for everything, guns, gear, travel, guides and outfitters, etc. out of pocket. I had several thousand dollars flowing out to pay for the hunts I would write about and film. In those early days, Dennis would build guns and sell them to his inside group at a nice discount. Even at his normal prices, you could buy a gun one day and sell it the next for twice as much. Often he’d build a gun or two for me to take to Africa or some other big hunt, then I’d sell them at a premium afterwards to offset my costs. Dennis was fine with this by the way.
Part of the reason this was possible was a unique set of circumstances, and especially the unique character of Dennis Quackenbush. The circumstances were simply that demand far exceeded supply for these guns. Dennis has always said his guns are not custom, but small scale production, built in limited runs. To get a gun you have to go on a buyers list, which typically fills up in a matter of hours. There is no waiting list for back orders, if you missed the list you have to wait for it to open and hope you got a spot next time around. Because of this there has always been a number of potential buyers willing to pay a hefty premium to get a gun. Even with this premium, compared to other rifles on the market, it is still a fair and reasonable value.
The other aspect was the unique character of Dennis, we had a discussion at a time when his rifles sold for around $600, and could be found selling used for more than twice that amount. I asked Dennis why he didn’t sell the rifles for $1200, there were people waiting to buy them. I’ll never forget his response (I’ll paraphrase it here): he said “when I started this business it was so I could run it the way I saw fit. I know what my costs are, I know what my labor is and what it’s worth, I know what profit margin I need, and I set a fair price based on that”. When I asked him how he felt about others (me included) selling the guns for more than we’d paid, he said “why should I care, it’s your rifle. If you want to go through the effort get on a list, wait for the gun to be built, then sell it… that’s you decision”.
Two of the guns I have in my collection are a pair of Long Action carbines that Dennis built for me. One is a .308, a more modern version of the first gun he sold me, and the second is a .451 that he built especially to my specification. I’ve taken a lot of game with both of these guns: deer, hogs, bobcats, coyote, fox, springbok, impala, warthogs, and other African game. They have always done a great job for me, and at the end of the day are probably one of my favorites gun to carry in heavy brush. I can’t see either one of these rifles ever leaving my collection!