Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

December 6, 2013

Outdoors: Kevin Reese — The great Air Rifle Debate

By Kevin Reese
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — Most of us Texas hunters know mature boars are about as tough as North American critters get so when someone mentioned air rifles a few years ago, I had to raise a brow. At a young age, I was taught that air rifles were great for hunting; I hadn’t thought of big game yet but the shear velocity of some of today’s air rifles assured me that I could drop the hammer on something bigger than a squirrel… but just how big?

It didn’t take long to find my answers in the history books; however, first person perspective didn’t hit until 2011 when I ran into Crosman’s .357-caliber Benjamin Rogue Air E-PCP Air Rifle. Perhaps I didn’t get out to shoot nearly enough; I had never seen a pellet in .357-cailber; it was impressive but still, I wasn’t convinced it would be enough to take down a large animal. So, what does a guy like me do when he’s got some doubts? Homework!

Social media turned up nothing but haters. You know the kind; they’re the same guys who can’t stand that Hi-Point makes dependable, rugged firearms at less than half the price of competitors; although, I love the competitors’ guns, too! That said, I’ve never been a fan of abrasive, underachieving, overthinking, self-righteous  know-it-alls. Somehow their inability to consider data in forming their opinions only makes me search deeper, longer.

The Cold, Hard Truth

So, here’s the cold, hard truth, air rifles have existed for some 400 years and a number of them have been of sufficient power, accuracy and caliber to lay down our nation’s largest animals. Consider the remarkable and historic Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1803 – 1806. While supplies were slim at best, they did carry a single pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) airgun, now known as the Girandoni .46-caliber, 22-shot Repeating Air Rifle and it was quite possibly the expeditions best defense; in fact, as a result of its use, many regard the Girandoni rifle as the real “gun that won the west”.

What? It can’t be! Lewis and Clark had an air rifle? Say it ain’t so! No, sir, it’s a fact. Read on …

August 30, 1803  — “Left Pittsburgh this day at 11 with a party of 11 hands, seven of which are soldiers, a pilot and three young men on trial they having proposed to go with me throughout the voyage. Arrived at Bruno’s Island three miles below halted a few minutes. Went on shore and being invited on by some of the gentlemen present to try my airgun which I had purchased brought it on shore charged it and fired myself seven times fifty-five yards with pretty good success.” (Lewis and Clark Journals, Volume 1)

The excerpt above was taken from Meriwether Lewis’ first diary page. Comprised of over 1 million words spanning 13 volumes, as assembled by University of Nebraska Press and Dr. Gary Melton, the Lewis and Clark journals reference this single air rifle no less than 39 times, often as a deterrent to violence at the hands of Native American tribes.

Detailed entries describe a recurring strategy when encountering tribes that vastly outnumbered the 38 explorers. The team dressed in full uniform, paraded into tribal settlements and bestowed gifts on tribal chiefs. After their grand entrance, Lewis demonstrated his repeating air rifle. The firearm could shoot up to 40 rounds per 800-psi charge and included a 22-round tube magazine capable of being emptied in less than 30 seconds. It’s worth mentioning that to charge the rifle some poor soul had to employ a bicycle-type air pump, cycling 1,500 times for a single air tank charge – that would be a pretty dismal job, wouldn’t it?

At one point, an overzealous chief tried to strong arm Lewis and Clark into revealing the contents of the expedition’s keel supply boat; however, the idea that confrontation could result in 38 men firing 22 rounds in less than 30 seconds caused the chief to back down.

While 22 muzzleloaders also accompanied the explorers, the Girandoni’s accuracy (largely as a result of a rifled barrel), repeatable firing and ability to shoot without depleting precious defense resources such as black powder also made the Girandoni a perfect choice for hunting big game animals.

It’s quite conceivable that without the Girandoni’s influence, the expedition could have been massacred early in the expedition. As a result, many historians agree the Girandoni air rifle was the single most important firearm in American History. Truly, without it, western expansion may not have occurred – a haunting point of contention and much more than a notch in the belt of airgun success stories.

Enter Technology

I recently began toying with Crosman’s Benjamin Rogue .357 air rifle and let me tell you, it’s bad to the bone, no pun intended although it likely would have not issue shattering any bone the bullet encounters with muzzle energy topping 193 foot-pounds with a 145-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip Bullet – I say bullet, it’s hard to label a .357-caliber anything as a pellet!

The Benjamin Rogue also does not look anything like Lewis’ Girandoni. While both are considered PCP systems, the Rogue’s patent-pending ePCP technologye means more versatility and increased power while the patent-pending EVALVE system makes for more efficient use of the air charge via precision, user-selected distribution options.

Shooters not only have some great ammunition choices to make, including round-nosed, flat-nosed and Nosler’s EXTREME ballistic tip bullets, they can even use their own cast .357-caliber pellets (inserted to satisfy the whims of those who might refuse to call them bullets – I’m trying a little PC).

The Rogue’s EPICLED display and selection buttons allow configuration of key ballistic elements including medium-high foot-pounds of energy/velocity options and bullet weights of medium (up to 145 grains) and high (over 145 grains). The rifle even includes manual mode setting.

The rifle is bolt action and comes with a top mounting 6-round rotating magazine. The ballistics and repeating fire do well to ensure I have what I need to exert a little predator and feral hog population control… and even fill a deer tag if the opportunity presents itself!

The Benjamin Rogue .357 is a tad on the heavy side but still a fairly comfortable carry for an overweight, under-exercised guy like me. Still, I would keep shot opportunities on larger animals within 75 yards.

Targeting Naysayers!

Not only was an air rifle instrumental in big game hunting and saving their precious powder supply during their expedition, nearly all states allow hunting with air guns in some form or another.

Imagine the buzz circulating deer camp this fall when you drop the hammer on your next success story with an air rifle!

My friend, Chip Hunnicutt, found out when he anchored a phenomenal buck, still in velvet, with his Benjamin Rogue .357. Is an air rifle enough gun to get the big game job done?

It was more than enough to hunt with, protect and intimidate its way across the uncharted west, one life-threatening encounter after another, as recounted 39 times in Lewis and Clark’s journal.

A Little Extra Encouraging

Part of the draw for me is simply one of sentiment. Shooting an air rifle takes me back to a time and place where life was still largely uncharted, simple, even carefree in some respects although, again, for me growing up was tough. It takes me back to when Dad and I had time to spare and each shot meant so much more than just another can down; each one of them added to the mosaic of my character.