by B.B. Pelletier
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.