Quackenbush Outlaw .457 Long Action – Part 1

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!

35 thoughts on “Quackenbush Outlaw .457 Long Action – Part 1

  1. I’d love to put my name on the [two year average backlog] list for one of his rifles. Also, what I really like is he is only a few hours away from me, so if I order, perhaps I can meet the man himself. JP



  2. DAQs are very nice, that is for sure. I agree whole-heartedly about Barnes’ designs being love or hate, and I fall into the second category although I respect his work immensely.

    As for AirForce Rifles being made into Big Bores, that is actually a very popular thing. One of the members at http://www.talonairgun.com has a self-tuned Condor .457 that makes over 600fpe!!



  3. I actually still read your Blog every day and whilst most of the rifles and pistols that you review don’t ignite that spark of passion within me I always take a great joy reading about them nevertheless.

    Yes, the 600fpe Condor must be a huge blast to shoot, literally and figuratively! I would just like to express to your readers just how much fine tweaking there is in getting a Big Bore “just right”. Because the power is so great, and because they all fire rifle and pistol bullets, the subtlest of differences between bullet sizes, driving bands, and lead composition can be the difference of 50fpe or more. Add in valves, springs and all else that comes with it and the variances are, or at least feel, much more magnified than in regular calibres such as .22 or .177.



  4. B.B.

    That Outlaw is a nice-looking gun. So, with all this power, are these airguns still not subject to firearms laws? Like those governing machine guns for instance? And if big bores only get 3 or 4 shots per fill, how do you operate an automatic one?

    I’m curious how these big bore monsters would do against duct seal (as a sort of visual, qualitative measure of power). My duct seal is still performing fabulously with the B30 inside of 20 feet. The pellets just get swallowed up. I had a look inside the trap recently. The various blocks have been blasted into a single mass studded with pellets and with bits of target paper scattered around. It looks like Iwo Jima.

    Matt61


  5. Matt61,

    I don’t own enough duct seal to show the effects. The ridfle we are talking about went clear through a grown American Bison, shoulder to shoulder, so we’re talking ,many, many inches of duct seal.

    I once shot a similar rifle and the same bullet I will show in the next installment through an oak 2 by 4, through the long dimension and then through a 3/4″ plywood roof. All it left was a perfectly round hole.

    No, there are no federal laws that govern airguns. In fact, federal statute makes it illegal for any federal, state or local municipality to declare an airgun to be a firearm.

    As for the automatic Castelmann, did you notice that the velocity was slower? And the bullet is a smaller 9 mm pistol bullet. And look at the size of the reservoir. That’s how it’s done.

    B.B.



  6. B.B.,
    Immense thanks for this blog, and for pushing it to the front of your list. Guess you REALLY like this big bore stuff. I anxiously await the continuation!
    I wish I had more general firearms experience, and in particular black powder for their slow heavy projectiles.
    What kind of spiral does the 457 have that works best with the conical bullet, and how should the spiral change for larger or smaller diameter bullets, assuming the same 600-800 fps range? Some of the big caliber blackpowder barrels seem to have very slow (120 inches) spirals.
    Another question; instead of a swaging die, will/does rolling a lead bullet between two smooth steel plates to reduce and control the dia work? If you had two exact diameter gage pins rolling between the plates on either side of the bullet, the bullet might achieve the same exact, or at least repeatable, dia. Just curious.
    Thanks again,
    Pestbgone



  7. Pestbgone,

    I recommend you buy and read Blackpowder Loading Manual and Black Powder Handbook – both by Dr. Sam Fadala. Sam is one of the very few firearm writers who also understands airguns, probably because of his work with blackpowder.

    Next, on twist rate, the earth is a 8,400 mile round ball that spins one turn per 24 hours. The stabilizes it relatively well. So, the larger the ball, the slower it must spin for stability.

    For conicals, however, the reverse is true. twist rate, which translates to spin after the bullet is fired, is calculated for both the diameter and the length of the bullet. But the velocity matters, as well. The relationship of these three variables is so complex that many shooters cannot understand it even after it has been explained. So please allow me to take a whole blog or two to try to explain the concept.

    Rolling a bullet will work, but it may be more labor or time or machinery-intensive than a swage. Also, the swage is the perfect portion control process, while for rolling the lead would have to be measured before rolling.

    B.B.


  8. B.B.

    Okay, that’s some serious power. On that subject, I have had one of those moments of revelation about a purchase among competing expectations that buyers of airguns and firearms can identify with.

    I had settled on the PT1911 as the best model 1911 pistol and was imagining myself shooting it, but then I discovered that it is not legal for sale in California–just like the STI pistols! This complicates things considerably. So, I began checking the legal firearms against credible looking online dealers and was not finding much. But then the solution came to me–the Smith & Wesson SW1911. Wasn’t this your second choice among M1911s? It costs a bunch but it has my name written all over it.

    The only cloud on the horizon is that I am dumping a ton of money into firearms when I am shooting the airguns much more. Something is not right, here. But I think I will consider the firearms as an extension of my airgun interests, so the money is towards a common goal.

    Matt61



  9. B.B.
    Re: Big bore
    The layers deepen. The choices of books are so many, like guns, that it’s always good to have a recommendation on what is a good value. I will get them on order tonight and add them to my well-studied collection.
    Thanks again,
    Pestbgone



  10. No pictures of the Quackenbush?

    If you tried to roll bullets down the plates would need some sort of serrations so they’d roll instead of mashing a flat spot.

    Lee (leeprecision.com) will make any size bullet sizer you want for a small extra fee over the cost of their dies.


  11. Nice underhanded implication that Barnes’ work won’t group. Let’s be very clear — no one big bore maker posts more groups of their rifles than Barnes, and most of his groups are in the 50 yard range. Last year, one of his customers posted an amazing group of five 905 grain slugs shot at 90 yards (all overlapping) from an .87 smoothbore. I own a 500+ fpe .45 which Gary built in 1997 and used to win a big bore tournament (open sights at 50 yards) shooting 430 grain slugs. Other customers are regularly shooting under MOA at 100 yards. Where are the sub-1/2 MOA 100 yard DAQ groups? Please post them — I’m sure everyone would like to see.

    Let’s make sure folks know both sides of the story. Regardless of what you may think about Barnes or his work, the groups he has posted on his website for almost a decade now are indisputable proof of accuracy. Too bad you chose to focus on what sounds like early prototypes (of which I’m quite sure DAQ has plenty as well — perhaps you can share some of those stories in your next installment) rather than any of Gary’s numerous airgun innovations, again which have been well documented for years.


  12. 500 foot-pounds,

    You can take deer, goats, sheep, javalina, pigs, boar, antelope and smaller game.

    Lewis & Clark were armed with .54 caliber rifles that, at 100 yards, developed less than 500 foot-pounds, and they subsisted their entire journey with them. They shot round balls which lose energy very quickly, where modern big bore shoot conical bullets that retain energy a long time. That’s what makes them usable.

    Also, big bores shoot large-caliber projectiles. Instead of producing hydrostatic shock, they produce wound channels that do not reseal. They also penetrate much deeper into the game than hyper-velocity centerfires.

    The result is very similar to hunting with a bow and arrow. A deep wound that bleeds out. It isn’t as quick and dramatic as a hit from a modern centerfire rifle, but it is just as positive.

    B.B.


  13. The thing is, I do know both sides of the Barnes story. I was there in the beginning. I saw the guns he made in the mid-1990s. I remember “Oreo-cookie accuracy. Do you?

    I owned the first 500 foot-pound rifle he made, I was there for all the learning he did, and I know where it all came from.

    And I did tell both sides in my report, which is what you seem to object to. I don’t think you want to hear the other side.

    B.B.


  14. Picture,

    I did provide a picture. Didn’t you follow the link I provided to the big bore article? I said that rifle is a dead-ringer for mine.

    Rolling between plates does not mean rolling DOWN a plate. It means true steel plates that gently roll and squeeze the lead bullet to precise diameter. It is a precision manufacturing process.

    Lee and every other reloading manufacturer makes sizing dies that vary by one one-thousandth of an inch, so yes, it is possible to buy a .458″ sizing die. What cannot be done is to bump a bullet up by a thousandth and still retain a perfect axis. So you cast the size you want or slightly large and size down.

    B.B.


  15. Oh, I’m all about hearing both sides of the story. I just find it fascinating that out of all of the dozens of trophy groups Gary has posted on his “boutique” website during the last decade, you have chosen to focus on a single negative experience with something that sounds like typical Gary-experimentation with a prototype (“learning,” as you state) to me, and definitely not finished product. The fact that you have chosen to highlight this experience as part of a DAQ review certainly doesn’t help make this review come off as impartial given the history between these two makers.

    Opinions, “he said, she said,” who-was-where-when-and-who-taught-what-to-who, decade-long airgunsmith feuds, etc. don’t really mean anything, and personally I find them to be a waste of time. It’s the groups — lasting, indisputable proof of accuracy — that matter. Personally, I look forward to seeing the groups shot by the DAQ .457 Outlaw Long Action.


  16. I’m not going to turn this blog into a snake-pit and neither is anyone else. I said that Barnes guns are accurate and that’s where I’ll leave it. The report isn’t about him; it’s about the .457 Outlaw Long Action.

    I presented a capsule of the history of modern big bores. Gary Barnes is a part of that. I have a great number of stories I won’t tell because they do not move this report along.

    If you want a report on a Barnes gun, I have owned a .272 Ranger, a .177 Ranger, a .458 Expedition that was turned into a .458 Expedition Bison Rendezvous, and a .25-caliber outside lock. Take your pick.

    B.B.


  17. All,

    I don’t see where both the history of Barnes’ guns does him any harm. I do see where coming to this forum and trying to start an argument does. If you’re going to try, at least sign your name.

    BB’s report made me want to buy one of Gary’s big bores. Anyone who can start out with that poor shooting prototype and make it into a sub MOA gun deserves everyones respect. It’s obvious that he can and wants to learn from his mistakes. I wouldn’t mind a blog on one of Barnes’ guns, and maybe order one for myself.

    Thanks for BOTH sides of the story, BB!
    /Dave


  18. BB

    Now you’ll know about this better, but I still need to ask abt that BBB tune that you mentioned that gets the power upto 750 FPE. Sure you meant the 457 and not the 58 ? If its indeed the 457, thats INSANE power ! I had thought that 600 FPE was the curent record for a 457 caliber, being held jointly by the single action DAQ and Cygnux’s AirForce Talon (modded).



  19. MajorKonig,

    I did mean the .457 Outlaw Long Action gets 750 foot-pounds after Big Bore Bob has breathed on it. That was the talk last year at Little Rock and I heard it again at LASSO (the big bore shoot in the video I just posted) in December. Both times I heard it from Bob, himself.

    Now, I think to get that kind of energy you have to shoot a 510-grain bullet. My own .457 would probably get about 575 foot-pounds with that bullet, because of the longer barrel. I prefer the 410-grain bullet for its higher velocity and lower recoil.

    It may well be that Bob has to turn the rifle into a dump-valve single-shot for that kind of power, too.

    B.B.



  20. Thanks BB,

    And you’re welcome. I don’t see what the problem was. It was plain to me that you were just giving us some history and showing Gary’s progression…

    Before your blog and browsing PA’s site, I never knew there were such powerful airguns. Not needing to pack as much black powder and all that goes with keeping it dry (on a river no less), I have a new appreciation of the smarts that Lewis and Clark had. Air is free and everywhere they might want to travel! I’ll be waiting for that blog on the .458 Expedition Bison Rendexvous!

    Thanks again,
    /Dave


  21. I believe I had the correct picture of rolling a bullet and a couple of gage pins between two steel plates, I just believe that with enough pressure to effect sizing all you’d accomplish is create a flat spot unless you had a serrated strip on one plate to keep the thing rolling. Why do rolled bullets need serrations? because otherwise the rollers would just create dents.

    Can you use alloy in a bigbore airgun? Some molds may drop undersize bullets in pure lead.

    To expand a bullet maybe you could create an upsetting die by squeezing a bullet between a top punch and Lee bottom punch while it was inside a sizer die. You could do it with an arbor press if your sizer maintains its own alignment with the top punch.



  22. Expanding a lead bullet is no problem. But keeping the bullet’s axis aligned with the sides is. That’s why nobody “bumps up” lead bullets unless they are desperate. It’s ther same reason that reloaders advise never resizing more than 0.001″, and why many black powder cartridge shooters have special molds made so they can shoot as-cast.

    Shooters have learned that bullets pulled with mechanical force have similar problems with concentricity, so pulled bullets are not used when accuracy is desired.

    The serrated groove you refer to is called a cannelure. It is commonly rolled into jacketed bullets to use as a crimp groove, but I have see it on pure lead bullets, too. I presume they put it on swaged bullets where it’s too difficult to swage in a crimp groove.

    I shoot alloy bullets in my .457 Quackenbush. They are 40-1 lead to tin for better forming in the mold, and that small amount of tin doesn’t harden the bullet too much. Hard bullets are best used on centerfire firearms using smokeless powder. Black powder bullets are selected for their tendency to obturate, or upset to fill the bore. Hard cast bullets don’t do that very well, and n either type does it at all in an air rifle.

    B.B.


  23. The bullets would crimp as well without serrations. The serrations cause the bullet to rotate. Otherwise you’d have to chuck it to do the operation. If a cannelure tool looked like a dull tubing cutter, what would make the bullet rotate, even if you powered one of the wheels?

    There must be some way to hold bullets aligned while upsetting them. Precision jacketed bullets are upset to final size because if they were sized down, the jacket would then spring away from the core. I have only seen Lee sizers (with bottom punches) but was thinking IF other sizers’ top punches self-align to the die, that would do it.




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