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Hunting Big Game with Airguns

Photo Caption: Hogs are tough customers but this Umarex .50 cal. Hammer was able to nail this boar.

By: Tom Claycomb

I’m into airguns big time and have been for quite a few years, but I’d never gotten into hunting big game with the larger caliber pellet guns. I’ve shot a couple at the Media Day at The Range at the SHOT once or twice, but that’s about it. Then…that all changed.

A few weeks ago, in talking to Justin Biddle, the Director of Marketing for Umarex Airguns, he told me I ought to check out one of their big boys. I had never considered hunting big game with an airgun, but something clicked, and I said, ‘Let me see what I can get lined out.’ I called my buddy Bill Olson, who is the publisher of Texas Outdoors Journal, and told him about the opportunity.

It wasn’t but a few days later, and he called and told me to book a plane into San Antonio. He’d pick me up in six days, and we’d be hunting axis deer and hogs near Menard with Adventures Missions Recreation Properties.

But the hunt will be for another day. Today, let’s cover hunting with large caliber airguns. Big caliber airguns are new. The first one I shot was a .357; the Umarex Hammer that I tested is a .50 cal., which I believe is the largest air rifle on the market.

As you can imagine, it is a Pre-charged Pneumatic (PCP). It utilizes a 2-shot magazine. To charge the gun, you will need to purchase an air tank, or better yet, get an Air Venturi Nomad II portable compressor. You can plug the Nomad II into a 110-wall socket for power, or what I really love about it, you can also hook it up to the battery on your truck so you can charge your airguns out in the field. I think I’d almost tell you not to waste your money on two air tanks and just buy the Nomad II. That way you don’t have to run down to the scuba shop every time you go shooting to fill your tanks.

The tank on the Hammer will hold 4,500 psi (that’s not 45 psi like your truck tires hold, it is 4,500 psi); that’s some serious air pressure, and it regulates each shot at 3,000 psi. Umarex offers a chart showing the ballistics for the pellet(s).

smaller cal. PCPs, I can shoot a few magazines before refilling, but due to the size of the pellets, Umarex tells you that you can only get two shots and take a third one if necessary for a finishing shot. So, in a nutshell, if you hunt big game with an airgun, it will be with a PCP, and you won’t get as many shots per tank as you do out of your .22 cal. PCP.

BIG CALIBER PELLETS

My first thought was that the hollow point on the pellet was a placebo – I didn’t think the pellet would travel fast enough to actually expand. I was wrong, of course. I did hit the humorous bone dead center, which shattered it, but the bullet did expand and mushroom out big time. I don’t have a scale, so I can’t measure how much of the weight stuck with the main chunk. A fragment did break off and hit the heart. And I’d like to know if my shot had been behind the humorous bone, if it would have just mushroomed out and not have broken up. So in a nutshell I will have to hunt more to speak with any authority on bullet performance. But it did flatten the hog first shot, though he jumped up and charged me and went down at about 10-15 ft. And my axis deer only ran 35 yds, so they are effective.

To give you a comparison as to the size variations of pellets. R to L .177, .22, .25 and the big boy .50 cal.

I haven’t gotten to shoot but 2-3 different big cal. Airguns, but here’s what I’d suggest: Sight it in and then shoot let’s say 6-8 times to see how much it drops, so you know how many shots you can get out of a charge on the rifle’s tank. BUT, you also need to chronograph each shot. Just because the fourth or fifth shot is still in the kill zone doesn’t mean it has enough power to be effective. So you need to chronograph the shots or check with the manufacturer and see what they recommend.

States are in the process of legalizing airguns for big game. In talking to Justin about which states have legalized them, he referred me to a map on AirgunSporting.org. which says that at this time, there are 19 states with Airgun Whitetail Seasons (see the list below). But be sure to check your local regs because things like caliber, specific season, and even energy requirements vary from state to state.

Idaho

Utah

Arizona

Texas

North Dakota

Missouri

Arkansas

Michigan

Kentucky

Tennessee

Alabama

Florida

Georgia

South Carolina

North Carolina

Virginia

Maine

Maryland

Vermont (The site shows Vermont, but couldn’t verify by quick glance at regs)

Predators of some type are legal with airguns in all but seven states. Small game of some type in all but one.

You'll want an airgun that gets good groups.

The map is a great resource, and anyone wanting to hunt with airguns in their state is encouraged to become a member: https://airgunsporting.org/membership/membership-levels/

As we come to a close, I see a lot of reasons you’d want to use a large cal. airgun for big game hunting besides just being flat-out cool and fun:

1. There is minimal recoil, so airguns are great for kids and small-framed women.
2. They don’t have a loud report, which is good for people with sensitive ears.
3. Along with #2, they are good to hunt in suburbia situations, so you don’t bother your neighbors.
4. They are another option in short-range weapon areas instead of being stuck with a shotgun or a bow.
I think your money would be best spent on an Air Venturi Nomad II instead of buying 1-2 air tanks. Plus it'd be more convenient and in the long run save money.
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