Luke's airgun and doe

Big bore airguns and arrow guns are now legal in Texas for big game animals.

This past week, I used my 45 caliber ‘Texan’ with a big 350 grain lead bullet to harvest my first whitetail deer with the power of air. I was hunting up at Ranger Creek Ranch which has been one of my favorite places to hunt.

This is Cedar Break country and a hotspot for not only deer but all sorts of other game animals and birds.  I am frequently asked about using these powerful big bore air rifles for hunting. Because hunting with air rifles is brand new to many hunters, many questions obviously arise.

For the past 8 years, I have used big bore airguns for hunting wild hogs and exotics and hopefully my answers to these questions will help you decide if taking up the ‘new’ sport of airgun hunting is for you.

Q. What is the effective range of big bore airguns in real life hunting situations?

A. When I first began killing wild hogs and exotics with big bore airguns, I kept my shots inside 50 yards. After a bunch of range time shooting targets, I discovered I could double my range and be effective on game.

Because I shoot heavy, 350 grain bullets traveling about 850 fps.,  bullet trajectory falls quickly after about 75 yards. I have a couple of friends that have been hunting deer and exotics with airguns for years that stretch their shots on out to 150 yards.

But doing so requires a very through knowledge of which mil dot to hold at various yardages and the use of an accurate range finder. In theory, these longer shots with airguns are very doable but only for shooters that know exactly where the bullet will be at the extended yardages. For me, a 100 yard shot at game is the max I will take, that’s the comfort zone for which I have practiced, but I set up for shots half that distance.

Q. How effective are these slowly moving bullets on cleanly harvesting bigger animals?

A. This was the first question I posed when I began killing hogs and exotics with the power of air. Shot placement is of paramount importance. Think of it like this, with a center fire bullet weighing between 130 and 180 grains, whistling along at 3,000 fps., a great deal of hydrostatic shock occurs upon impact.

The bullet can be off and still result in great damage to internal organs.  But a big chunk of lead weighing in the neighborhood of 300-350 grains traveling at about 800 to 850 fps., with very little shock, bullet placement is key. This is why I keep my shots inside 100 yards.

A big bullet traveling through both lungs or the heart will put any critter down. But, a hit anywhere other than in the vitals or spine will often result in a difficult recovery.

Q. Arrows (bolts) can now be legally used to hunt big game. I understand certain big bore air rifles do double duty as arrow guns. Is this correct?

Arrow gun: Yes, a device that fires an arrow or bolt solely by the use of unignited compressed gas as the propellant is TPWD’s technical description of an ‘arrow gun’.

Q. Which animals may be taken with airguns?

A. Alligator, game animals, furbearers, squirrels, and non-migratory game birds (except Eastern Turkey) may be hunted with air guns and arrow guns.

Alligators, big horn sheep, javelina, mule deer, white-tailed deer, and turkey may be taken only with pre-charged pneumatic arrow guns, or pre-charged pneumatic air guns.

Q. What is the power requirements for big bore airguns?

A.  Air guns must of at least 30 caliber in diameter and bullets must be 150 grains in weight with a minimum muzzle velocity of 800 feet per second or any combination of bullet weight and muzzle velocity that produces muzzle energy of at least 215 foot pounds of energy.

Squirrels, pheasant, quail, and chachalaca may be hunted with air guns that fire a projectile of at least .177 caliber (4.5mm) in diameter producing a muzzle velocity of at least 600 feet per second.

Arrows or bolts used with an arrow gun must conform to the same standards for projectiles for archery.

Arrow guns may not be used to hunt deer or turkey during archery season.

Q. How does hunting with a big bore airgun compare to using a compound bow, crossbow or muzzleloader?

A. Having hunted with bow and muzzleloader for many years and big bore airguns for the past several years, I scoped airguns to greatly extend the effective killing distance over bows of all sorts. Shots of 75 to 100 yards are very ‘doable’ with a quality big bore air rifle.

But, as when hunting with a bow, it’s often necessary to ‘follow up’ after the shot by trailing the game. Most big game I’ve killed with airguns with properly placed bullets go no farther than 50 to 60 yards. But because there is no hydrostatic shock with airgun bullets, a bad shot that is not to the animal’s vitals can result in lost game.

It’s important to know your shooting limits and keep shots close. An air rifle is not a long range hunting tool.

For more on hunting Ranger Creek Ranch, visit rangercreekranch.com

Listen to “Outdoors with Luke Clayton and Friends” on radio stations from Nebraska to Texas or at catfishradio.org.

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