Back in the days when I did most of my hunting with firearms, and rifles at that, I started looking for some new challenges. I soon settled in on handgun hunting, buying myself a Thompson Contender with a number of barrels in a variety of calibers. That gun was used on everything from prairie dogs to mule deer and quite a few species in between. It fueled a multiyear love affair with this particular method of take, and for a few years my rifles hardly ever made it out of the gun safe.
Then came the years living in Europe and Australia with a very limited shooting opportunity, which was in turn responsible for my introduction to and eventual obsession with airgun shooting. On moving back to the states I started using these guns for serious hunting, almost to the exclusion of my firearms and bow. Considering that history it’s not a surprise that the idea of handgun hunting with airguns started to bubble up. The only problem was that about the only air powered handguns I could find were lower powered CO2 models that were way under powered for my intended use. This lead to a period where I was building my own guns based on the Crosman 2240 platform, and getting these up to a power level where I could use them for rabbit and squirrels at closer ranges. I then converted these guns to a high pressure air source which opened up new possibilities.
But the swing point for me was when a few manufacturers started offering PCP models, ranging from 12 fpe pistols such as the .177 caliber Brocock Grand Prix to the 30 fpe .22 Evanix Renegade, to the 130 fpe .308 Quackenbush. I was off! I used these guns to take rabbits, predators, exotics, and feral hogs. These days, you can find a handgun to fill just about any type of hunting where airguns are legal, though you do need to make adjustments in the tactics applied. In this week’s blog I’ll take a look at some of the guns currently available and how they can be used for hunting
An obvious starting point is to ask why you want to hunt with a handgun; the usual reasons are portability, the desire to increase the challenge and quality of the hunt, or simply because you have a preference for handguns over rifles. Once you’ve determined why, there are also limitations to take into consideration. Air powered hand guns can be very accurate, I saw my buddy Kip Perow, from Airguns of Arizona knocking over prairie dogs at 100 yards with his FX Ranchero, but they are more difficult to shoot accurately. You need to make sure that you have a bipod or tripod to shoot off of if you intend to take longer range shots, and if not reduce the distance at which you’ll shoot. The handguns have smaller air reservoirs, so as a rule they will provide far fewer shoots per fill when compared to a rifle. So if you’ll be hunting in a target rich environment it will be necessary to refill at more frequent intervals, and if the barrel is not shrouded, these guns can have a bit of a bark. You’ll also have to give some thought as to how the gun is to be carried in the gun in the field, will a holster be worn (and what type) or will you mount a sling?
OK, you’ve thought about these factors and want to take the plunge, and now want to pick a gun. This depends on the conditions you expect to encounter and what you want to hunt. For small game and pest control in suburban areas where you want to limit the power and keep the sound levels down, tthree guns I like are the Brocock Grand Prix, Benjamin Marauder-P, and FX Ranchero. The Grand Prix is a lower power 12 fps single shot model that is compact and very accurate, but is unshrouded so a little noisy (still far less than a .22 short). The second gun in this class that I quite like is the Marauder-P, which is larger and less refined than the former, but due to the incorporated shroud is quiet. It is also an eight round multi-shot, and can be easily converted into a carbine with the shoulder stock that comes standard with the package. It is also in the 12 fpe range and a great little squirrel/rabbit gun.
The next step up is the guns that generate power on par with rifles, such as the FX Ranchero and AirForce Talon-P. The Ranchero is an 18-20 fpe gun and one of the more impressive handguns I’ve used for longer rage shooting. It is a medium sized round 8 shot repeater, that in addition to the inherent accuracy has a great trigger and ergonomic design. The AirForce Talon-P is a very powerful (over 50 fpe) single shot, that unlike most powerful handguns also yields a pretty high shot count. But the cost of that high shot count is an unwieldy air tank off the rear of the breech. As a matter of fact, I tend to use this gun as a carbine rather than a handgun most of the time, finding the different deployment options a very useful feature.
And last on my list are the real hammers, guns that are either of custom or limited production manufacture. In my mind the best example being the guns from Dennis Quackenbush. These single shot handguns generate energy in the 100-175 fpe range and are chambered in .308, .357, and .457. I have taken predators and hogs with these guns, and they are a valid tool for the job. These guns are big, loud, and have a limited shot capacity, but the accuracy is good and they are fun to shoot with.
Sometimes carrying an air powered handgun is the most convenient tool for the job, when running an urban trapline or as a discreet tool for pest control in more built up areas. Then there’s the pure sporting reason that it ups the challenge and skills needed for hunting. You need to make sure the gun has the required power for the game you are shooting, that it has the requisite accuracy, and you’ve developed the necessary skill level to be an effective, efficient, and ethical hunter with it.
I’ve had several new guns come in and been doing a lot of shooting this month, but haven’t gotten a lot of hunting time in. Lining up prairie dog shoot and a pest bird in the next couple weeks, so should have some guns and maybe a story or two coming soon.