by B.B. Pelletier
Sometimes, I’m asked to write a report about something I like so well that the writing seems to take care of itself. This report is one of those. Pestbgone asked first, but several others chimed in for a report on my Quackenbush .457 Outlaw Long Action big bore air rifle after reading the big bore article I posted last week. There’s a photo of a man holding a beautiful .457 Long Action there, so I hope you get a chance to see it. That rifle is nearly identical to mine.
If you’re in the market for a big bore air rifle, you know what your options are. There are several Korean rifles – the Career 9mm single-shot, the Career Ultra 9mm repeater, the Sam Yang .45 caliber 909S and the .50 caliber Career Dragon Slayer. The two larger rifles (909S and Dragon Slayer) get up to about 200 foot-pounds of muzzle energy.
Then, there are the boutique rifles made by Gary Barnes. They’re powerful, very costly and have styling that people either love or hate. Barnes’ rifles are very accurate at long range, partly because he uses a high-drag projectile that stabilizes the bullet. I remember when Gary’s big bore smoothbores couldn’t hit a 3-foot target at 50 yards, but he has some rifles now that people use regularly on targets at 200 yards and beyond.
There are a couple other big-bore makers who crank out some guns, and more come every year. Some are modifying existing smallbores such as the AirForce Condor and the QB78, but others build their guns from scratch.
Quackenbush is the man
No big bore maker is as popular as Dennis Quackenbush, however. Dennis turns out hundreds of guns every year, and yet cannot seem to catch up with the demand. He’s been making big bores longer than any other maker today. He started by making up parts for 10 Paul air shotguns in the early 1990s. He sold them as kits that a skilled worker could turn into a close copy of the original .410 air shotguns made in the 1920s.
His next airgun was the .375 Brigand. It ran on CO2 and got 12 shots that propelled a .375 round ball up to 625 f.p.s.. I owned one and was impressed by the power. That was also the rifle that established what I will call the Quackenbush style: a bolt-action single-shot with a separate cocking handle. I was writing The Airgun Letter at the time, and Dennis and I experimented with the Brigand on air. The results were predictable. On 1,200 psi air, the velocity jumped to almost 800 f.p.s. and the total shots dropped to four. Why 1,200 psi? Because I was using air with a valve designed for CO2. I actually did pump the pressure higher than 1,200 and the velocity dropped, though Dennis reports using a pressure of 1,400-1,600 psi on his website.
Dennis was encouraged and designed a new Brigand valve to handle 3,000 psi air, alone. That rifle went about 875 and got more than 4 shots per fill, as I recall. But he made only a handful of rifles.
Fast-forward to the Outlaw series of today. Dennis made the .50-caliber Bandit that got about 250+ foot-pounds with a round ball. But people started trying to get more power, so Dennis stretched the action (hence, Long Action) to accommodate a longer, stronger hammer spring. Any time you fire a conical bullet instead of a round ball of the same caliber, the energy will increase dramatically because the conical bullet is heavier. The problem, of course, is stabilizing longer bullets.
.457 Outlaw Long Action
Dennis advertises that his .457 Outlaw Long Action fires a 430-grain lead bullet at 509 foot-pounds at 732 f.p.s., but he didn’t stop there. Although the standard barrel length of the LA is 25″, Dennis made up a few 33″ barrels for the rifle, which upped the power even more.
Actually, Dennis got over 600 foot-pounds with the first Long Action rifle he made, but it only had enough air for one good shot. He wanted a reliable backup shot in the rifle, so he tweaked the valve to get it. That’s what brought him back to 500 foot-pounds, though he’ll still build a single-shot rifle if requested. I’l tell you exactly what kind of power and accuracy I get with my rifle, so please be patient while I lay the groundwork.
Before we get there, though, this is the point where Big Bore Bob Dean comes into the picture. Bob learned how to individually tweak Dennis’ rifles for more power. He offers a package of improvements that bump the power of a .457 LA up to 750 foot-pounds. During the process of learning how to do that, Big Bore Bob became so interested in big bores that he built a few rifles himself, including that 20mm monster that Stephan Boles is shooting without sights in my big bore video.
Back to Quackenbush. Dennis now builds rifles in lots of 50 at a time. He used to build 100 at a time, but his order book was closed so long that people became discouraged, so this year he went to just 50 per lot. Last year, I decided the time had come when I needed to not just test more of Dennis’ guns but buy one of my own. He offers the Outlaw in both .308 caliber and .457 Long Action. I chose the .457 because I wanted to hunt deer-sized game with it.
It’s really a .458
I chided Dennis recently that his .457 isn’t really a .457 at all. It’s a .458. The caliber .457 is rare in firearms and seldom encountered, but when Dennis first picked a name for the rifle, that was what stuck in his mind. In fact, his rifle is the same caliber as a .45/70, which is nominally .458. There are hundreds of .458 bullets available, but only a few in .457.
Does it really matter?
This is where you can get a jump on all other airgunners. Many of them don’t shoot firearms and they poo-poo blackpowder shooting. But one thing I have learned from shooting blackpowder rifles is the importance of bullet fit.
On my first outing with my new .457 LA, the rifle was equipped with a 25″ barrel, though I’d asked for a 33″ barrel. I bought a blem rifle and, at the time it was assembled, Dennis didn’t have any 33″ barrels blued, so he stuck a 25″ barrel on the gun. The first time out, I shot a variety of sample bullets given to me by Randy Mitchell and Eric Henderson. They all did okay, which means groups of 3″ at 50 yards, but the one 330-grain recommended by Randy Mitchell could group inside just over an inch. I never chronographed that rifle with that bullet, and when a 33″ barrel became available, I exchanged it with Dennis.
Second time out with the rifle was also the first time with the 33″ barrel. I bought some 330-grain .457 bullets to try in the new barrel, but to my surprise, they didn’t group within 3 feet! Shades of Gary Barnes and 1998! Then, I slugged the bore (rammed a lead slug through the bore so I could measure the bore diameter). Low and behold, it is 0.4585″ That exactly what I would have expected from a .45/70! As it happens, I own a vintage Trapdoor Springfield in .45/70, so I happen to cast bullets for that rifle.
In the next report, I’ll tell you how those bullets do!