by B.B. Pelletier
As you know, I went big bore airgun hunting last week. I didn’t shoot anything myself, but I accompanied Eric Henderson to The Wildlife Ranch, located in the central Texas Hill Country. We sighted-in several different big bores and went on two exciting hunts. Many of you wrote that you are interested in this kind of hunting, so I want to explain it all to you.
Exotic game ranches
Texas is home to the largest concentration of exotic game ranches in the United States. On these ranches, game is stocked, bred, managed and turned loose on large hunting tracts where hunters can hunt them for a fee. This kind of hunting has been taking place for about 20 years and is rapidly growing in popularity because of the accessibility for hunters. The place we chose to hunt was The Wildlife Ranch in Mason, Texas.
Some of the animals on The Widlife Ranch are now extinct in their native lands as a result of poor game management regulations, so one important service the ranch provides is the repopulation of animals back into their native habitat. By a quirk of fate that the PETA folks will never admit, the exotic hunting programs in the United States have saved several species from extinction and are now responsible for the creation of a second chance for game in their original lands.
Another benefit of exotic game ranches is that they allow much broader hunting seasons. The game laws of a state do not extend to animals not native to that state, so the animals on the exotic game ranches are managed by the ranches. By another not-so-strange quirk of fate, these ranches have been able to create large herds of game while making it possible for hunters to hunt most of the year. Since they manage the nutrition and health of the animals, as well as providing “safe haven” tracts, where no hunting is possible, the ranches have created the perfect environment for growth. The result is a series of large ranches that offer hunting opportunities year-round for hunters who are willing to pay.
Let’s talk airguns
I’ll tell you much more about this later, but now I want to get to the airgun side of the hunt. Eric Henderson was hunting with a variety of Quackenbush rifles. He had taken two rams with his .308 the day before we arrived. One was taken at 112 yards and the second was at 147 yards. For those who think air rifles are for short-range only, here’s your comparison.
Eric’s larger-caliber Quackenbush .457 Long Action has a lower muzzle velocity that comes with a more pronounced trajectory. He shoots 300-grain .457 lead bullets that give energies in the mid-400 foot-pound region and are perfect for animals the size of a large mule deer.
We confirmed Eric’s zero with a couple shots the night before the hunt at the house where we stayed. The house was located on a ranch of several hundred acres, and safe shooting was possible in the side yard, located a few feet from where the trucks were parked.
After the principal rifle was confirmed, I set up a scoped Sam Yang 909S for Paul Capello, who was to take the second hunt. The first two shots went well, but after the fill from my 12-year-old hand pump, the exhaust air blew a huge cloud of dust onto the pump shaft, killing it. There was no backup to fill the rifle because the Korean adaptor is non-standard, so Paul had to make other arrangements.
That pump has served me honorably for over 12 years, but now it needs an overhaul. And this is a sharp lesson in adapters and the need to have a backup plan.
As it turned out, Eric had a Quackenbush Destroyer–a one-of-a-kind .457 light rifle built with a dump valve. It gets but a single shot before refilling, with the tradeoff that it produces 950 f.p.s. and 287 foot-pounds with a .457 Hornady round ball from a 4-lb. gun! Eric has the rifle set up with a three-leaf folding express rear sight, so Capello was going to hunt the old-fashioned way!
I fired the Destroyer with a 300-grain bullet and noted that it had a very light trigger and quite a kick with that heavy bullet. With round balls that weigh less than half as much, the recoil is lighter.
Paul became accustomed to the rifle within several shots. There was no sight-in required because the express sights are fixed and never move.
The daylight faded as we finished our preparations for an early hunt the next morning. Paul, being a New York resident, had gotten a provisional Texas 5-day hunting license for $45, but there is no additional licensing requirement for hunting exotic game. We were set for the hunt!