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Education / Training What type of game is appropriate for a big bore airgun? – Part 2

What type of game is appropriate for a big bore airgun? – Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

What does it take to kill a deer?
To humanely harvest a whitetail deer in the 120-150 lb. class, a bullet that has at least 200 foot-pounds at impact is sufficient…but, energy, alone, isn’t enough. A .22 Magnum has enough energy, but the projectile is too small. However, a .45 caliber round ball or bullet will leave a large wound channel, causing the animal to bleed out quickly. But hunters need to understand what “quickly” means at this energy level. Use an arrow as a reference. Plenty of hunters take deer with bows, and an arrow shot from a longbow generates under 100 foot-pounds, yet it is effective. It kills through the animal bleeding out, rather than through shock. This is also how vintage black powder arms killed (most of the time). A .45 caliber round ball shot from a muzzleloading rifle and impacting a deer at 75 yards may only have 250 foot-pounds of force at impact, but it penetrates deep, causing massive bleeding. The hunter then waited at least 10 minutes after the shot (if it was a good one) before quietly tracking the animal. If all went well, the animal would be found close to where the shot was taken.

What can go wrong?
If the hunter charges off after the animal immediately following the shot, the animal will run as far as it can to escape. The adrenalin pumped into the body will carry it very far. That often results in lost game. By waiting, the animal will seek a quiet spot to rest, and it will expire in that spot. This technique used to be well-known to hunters, but the shock power of modern firearms has made it somewhat unnecessary, so people don’t practice it any more.

Airguns for deer
To hunt deer with an airgun requires at least 250 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle and the willingness to wait for a shot of no greater than 50 yards. If the rifle shoots a conical bullet instead of a ball, it retains its energy much better and can deliver the same performance as the black powder ball-shooting rifle. A Sam Yang Big Bore 909 is about the smallest rifle that should be used for this. Shoot the heaviest “pellet” (actually a bullet) that will shoot accurately enough to keep all shots inside a 4″ spread at your maximum shooting distance. Shoot for the high part of the heart-lung region and be prepared to pass up any shot that doesn’t give a clear view of the target. If you don’t know where the heart-lung region is on a deer – LEARN! You owe it to the animal to make a good clean shot!

Other big bores
The ShinSung Career Dragon Slayer 50 is less powerful than the 909, so it’s a little too weak for deer, but it can be used on smaller game, such as coyotes, javalinas, nutrias and woodchucks. The 9mm guns, for example, Fire 201S and the Career Ultra, are too weak for deer but can handle woodchucks and raccoons.

Airguns for bigger game
There are airguns that produce 500, 600 and even 1,000 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. These are the guns used to take mule deer, wild boar, elk and bison. However, they come at a price. The cheapest start at over $600 and go up to more than $8,000. A hunter has to be extremely dedicated to airguns to spend that kind of money when a replica black powder Hawken muzzleloading rifle sells for $450 and generates the same power or better. The only legal advantage of using an air rifle is for convicted felons who have lost their rights to keep and bear arms. You still have to obey all the hunting laws of the state in which you hunt. Also, airguns may not be legal for taking big game in some states.

This posting was started because someone asked if an air rifle was appropriate for hunting bear. I hope I have answered that question (no, it isn’t) and others you may have had. The real advantage of shooting a big bore airgun is because you can. For centuries, they were the toys of the wealthy, but today anyone can own one. How you use it should be tempered with common sense.

author avatar
B.B. Pelletier
Tom Gaylord is known as The Godfather of Airguns™ and has been an airgunner for over a half-century, but it was the Beeman company in the 1970s that awoke a serious interest in airguns. Until then, all he knew were the inexpensive American airguns. Through the pages of the Beeman catalog, he learned about adult airguns for the first time. In 1994, Tom started The Airgun Letter with his wife, Edith. This monthly newsletter was designed to bring serious reports about airguns to the American public. The newsletter and Airgun Revue, a sister magazine about collectible airguns, was published from 1994 until 2002, when Tom started Airgun Illustrated -- the first American newsstand magazine about airguns. Tom worked for three years as technical director at AirForce Airguns, the makers of the Talon, Condor, and Escape precharged air rifles. Today, he writes about airguns and firearms for various publications and websites. He also makes videos, and you'll find short clips embedded in some of his artices on Pyramyd AIR's website. Tom is a consultant to Pyramyd AIR and writes under the name of B.B. Pelletier.

23 thoughts on “What type of game is appropriate for a big bore airgun? – Part 2”

  1. Good post, BB. If I thought boycotts actually worked I’d suggest boycotting Gamo because of their ridiculous video showing a boar being hunted with a .177. This has to be one of the most irresponsible pieces of marketing ever done. At a minimum major Gamo retailers like Pyramid and Cabela’s should reprimand Gamo for this act.

  2. My dad told me when he was young you couldn’t take a deer unless you where using .30 caliber or bigger. I don’t know if the laws changed on that at all with the new high velocity small bores out. Just thought I would share that.

  3. BB,

    I am both a gun and bow hunter, as well as a air gunner. I very much appreaciate your view on large game hunting. Just like to point out that is some areas (I live in Missouri), Deer hunting with air guns would be illeagal (as you pointed out). HERE, a center-fire rifle or pistol with expanding bullets must be used (for firearms season). This is for real hunting for free roaming game. It is probalby legal for fenced game presereve deer, which is not my cup of tea. Farm raised elk, deer, boar, etc. may be possible, but that is not my idea of hunting. I hope people out there with an extra $1000 don’t just get up and get a big bore and go to town on large game.

    Your last point is very valid, Airguns can be powerful and there is nothing else like them.

    Keep up the good work!


    P.S. What kind of scope would you put on a Gamo 440? I have a Bushnell 4X, a BSA 4X (the one that came with the gun). And can you recomend one for under $25.

  4. Baldtrucker,

    Every state has laws about what guns are legal for big game. In some states it’s a foot-pound limit of 1,000 foot-pounds minimum.

    That’s why it’s so impoirtant to check with your state’s wildlife division.


  5. HB,

    I cannot recommend any scope for under $25. I’m sorry but those scopes are toys. They work okay, but you cannot put them on recoilling airguns like your Gamo 440 and expect them to last.

    The cheapest scope I can recommend for your rifle is the Leapers 4 X 32 Range Estimating AO for $37.50.


  6. Exellent post, and one I’ve been anticipating. I know someone who was rabbit hunting with his cousin some years ago, when cousin wanted to “Annoy” a deer, and killed it with a Gamo. Cousin was also turned in by my friend (no deer tag). Even knowing it can do it, I would still never go after any deer with a Gamo.

    I think this is the most well-balanced writing on this subject I have ever read. Thanks.
    Mr. Watch

  7. Hi BB,

    An off topic question. In an article around last Aug. you talked about the chronographs. I have very limited budget. Could you talk more about the ones under $50? And where can I find them? Thanks!

  8. Dah,

    The British Combro chronograph was under $50 when it was avalable here in the U.S. It hasn’t been around for several years. The Combro was attached to the muzzle of the gun and the IR screens were separated by about one inch, so it was about 1/12 as accurate as a Shooting Chrony.

    Buying used might be your only option to keep the price under $50. I bought an F model for $35 at an airgun show. Get on all the classified ads sites and start watching for one.

    Go to http://www.airguninfo.com to find the classified sites.


  9. Thanks for the info! And, I searched online to see the Combro product. It’s really short. Well when looking back at the Chronies I got another question. Since the Chrony is roughly 2 yards long, it should be OK for the firearms. But for the quick speed drop of air pellets, would this be an effect? Maybe I’m over-worried…

    Thanks again! I’ll keep an eye on the ads.

  10. B.B.

    I really appreciate your two posts on appropriate big bore game! I had been researching an appropriate gun for coyote/bobcat up to cougar and black bear. There have been occasional black bear sightings and incidents of cougar taking dogs in our area. After your posts, I will look into an air gun for coyote/bobcat and smaller and a firearm in case it is needed for something larger.

    What is a good source about hunting with air guns?

  11. BB,

    First off, thank you for this blog. It is so refreshing to find accurate, timely, and voluminous information in one site.

    I was recently contacted to remove birds from a warehouse like building and have had great success with my FWB 300s shooting H&N match .177 at 8.1gr with a MV of about 577 or 622 depending if I’m using the High Speed pellet or not. With a 4x scope I have had consistent results out to 42yds.

    My question is, with my increasing shot distances, would I be better served with a more Field Target pellet like the domed H&N?

    The wadcutter seems to hit the brakes past 30-35yds. Any thoughts for a 10m guy in a FT world?



  12. Scoot,

    A round-nosed pellet will definitely extend your hunting range. Robert Hamilton and Tom Jue are two airgun hunters in California who drop birds beyond 50 yards with 6 foot-pound air rifles.

    I suggest a light JSB Exact domed pellet or a Crosman premier 7.9-grain.



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