By Jill J Easton
“Air rifles for deer hunting?” asked Mark Fike, editor of Great American Wildlife. “I don’t think so.”
Like many set-in-their ways hunters, Mark was wrong. Air rifles have many advantages over the average muzzleloader or rifle. They are quiet, effective and a great overall weapon to 75 yards.
Guns by Winchester, Umarex, Crosman, GAMO Seneca and other companies come in large and smaller bores and can take down everything from the largest African game like Cape buffalo to coyotes and groundhogs.
Most European countries have put severe restrictions on owning rifles and shotguns, but air guns were legal, they became the replacement gun of choice.
“They treat me like a rock star when I talk to European hunters,” said Keith Warren, star of High Roads T.V. “They’ve seen my videos on YouTube and get inspiration from seeing me take Cape buffalo and a big whitetail with air rifles.”
Popular modern air rifles
“Air guns have always been the gateway to shooting,” explained Lawrence Taylor, Public Relations Manager for GAMO/Daisy. “GAMO .35 and .45 caliber guns are comparable to a similar caliber muzzleloader or a crossbow out to about 75 yards, and smaller calibers are great for controlling backyard wildlife or for varmint hunting.”
There are many advantages to air gun hunting. There’s much less recoil, the starting price for most air guns is about half of what a similar cartridge gun would cost and they lack the noise that comes with powder-driven guns. The smaller bore guns are often accurate for several hundred yards.
Big bore air guns have been approved in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Idaho, Utah, Kentucky, Tennessee, Connecticut and Georgia for hunting at least one big game species. Fall turkeys can also be legally hunted with air guns in California, Virginia and Maryland.
How modern air rifles are powered
The simple answer is compressed air, but modern air rifle propulsion systems are much different from the bb gun you used to shoot at sparrows and starlings as a kid. Those guns had to be pumped or cocked after each shot.
Smaller air guns can be powered by a spring-piston system like our childhood bb and pellet guns. The more they are pumped within the gun’s limitations the farther and faster the projectile will go. Some of these guns are capable of reaching speeds at near the speed of sound. There are also pump guns that use a lever to pressurize an internal reservoir.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition’s Girandoni air rifle (Which can be seen at the NRA Museum in Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, Missouri.) was of this type. The detachable air reservoir is capable of around 30 shots without reloading, but it took nearly 1,500 strokes of a hand pump to fill the detachable reservoir.
The third type of air guns are called PCP, or Pre-Charged Pneumatic air guns. Newer guns require a special fitting and can then be filled in an airgun center or some scuba diving stores. These guns can make multiple shots before needing refilling.
“A modern air rifle that can take down deer may hold 400 bar, (millibar, which is about 14.7 pounds per square inch.) This charge of air will make about 25 shots before the tank needs refilling,” explained Taylor. “These heavy-duty tanks make the guns weigh more, but it also makes them stable to shoot, especially when used with a good rest.”
Let’s use the Winchester 70-45 as an example of a competent, accurate deer gun. It has a five-shot rotary magazine, 320cc air cylinder and its bullets will travel at 700 feet per second.
The gun produces 200-foot pounds of impact shooting a 138 grain .457 cast pellet. Most .45 caliber round balls or conical bullets can be substituted.
The Model 70-45, like most high caliber air guns, can produce very tight groups at 50 yards and is capable of taking large game in the field. This is an awesome large game rifle, although these guns have not yet gotten approval for bear, moose or elk. Hunters in other countries are proving how effective these bigger calibers can be.
“Get to know the gun and yourself as shooter before pushing the gun’s limits,” said Taylor. “Once you develop your skills with air guns, you may find yourself leaving cartridge guns at home.”
SIDEBAR: Getting air gun information
There are many sources of information on air guns and how to operate them safely and hunt ethically. Your best resource is to find someone in your area that uses an air gun and get pointers. Check with your local or state air gun group, find out if ranges have people who shoot air guns and see if you can come to the next air gun shoot. To pick up air gun basics online check out the NSSF, NRA or USA shooting websites. The air gun manufacturers all have good suggestions on how to get started with your particular air gun.
The Airgun Wire is a subscription publication that is a compilation of up-to-date information, gun tests, wildlife regulations and other useful reports from manufacturers and around the air gun world. It has a free online subscription, just type Airgun Wire in your browser.