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BIG HITTERS

PUBLISHED: 10:01 14 November 2012

Copyright © 2010 Ian Harford

If there's one thing that's grabbing the attention of the airgun press at the moment, it's the raft of high-power, big bore airguns that have been released over the past couple of years. While these gas-powered behemoths have been widely used in North America for a number of years, where firearms legislation is much less restrictive, they've only recently begun to attract support from the British airgunning community.

While the vast majority of airguns sold here are sub 12ft.lbs. versions – and will be until there’s some significant change in firearms legislation – there’s a growing following for airguns that offer harder hitting power and longer effective ranges. I’m a huge fan of high-power airguns and have used them to hunt larger game all over the world including South Africa, Zimbabwe, Hungary, and the USA as well as here in the UK.

The idea of high-power airguns has been around for centuries, but as airgun technology progresses, greater useable power and increased shot capacity are making big bore airguns a more realistic and attractive option for both large pest control and indeed, big game hunting. While this may appear controversial to some, there’s no questioning the capability of these rifles – in the right hands - but with each of the big players either already offering a big bore option – or at least have one in development – how do we go about deciding on which one would be best for our own requirements?

Here’s a look at the leading big bore airguns on the market at the moment and what I consider to be the applications to which they’re best suited.

Air Arms S510 TC ‘Twin Cylinder’

I have to say that when I first saw this rifle at the IWA Trade Show two years ago, I wasn’t entirely sure what I thought to this most distinctive of rifles. It looked heavy and unwieldy, but once in your hands, it’s surprisingly light and well balanced. At just 7.55lbs, the Air Arms S510 TC is the lightest rifle here, but offers the greatest shot capacity from its twin aluminium cylinders, albeit at the lowest power on test of 40ft.lbs. The factory claim 60 shots per charge, but I managed to squeeze out over 80 shots at the full power 40+ft.lbs. setting before the velocity began to drop off. The shot-to-shot consistency was also phenomenal, varying just 28 fps over 80 shots.

The Air Arms S510TC has a host of other useful features, too. It’s lightweight, poplar stock has an ambidextrous comb and stylish chequering on the pistol grip. The legendary side-lever cocking mechanism and class-leading 10-shot indexing magazines are bulky, but bombproof and offer the fastest and most consistent loading cycle of any airgun on the market. The most useful feature of the Air Arms S510TC is the variable power adjuster on the side of the action that allows you to change the power output on the .25 calibre version from 13ft.lbs. up to full power 40ft.lbs., being sure to re-zero as you change.

In summary: The Air Arms S510TC is the ideal ‘bridge’ rifle between those wanting a full power, big bore rifle and one for normal airgun quarry.

Daystate Air Ranger 80

For the longest time, the Daystate Air Ranger 80 was the undisputed king of British high-power rifles and a firm favourite in the US. Although not particularly smooth or sophisticated in its operation, the Air Ranger 80 delivers raw power that has elevated it to the level of a .22 rimfire, but more readily added to a firearms certificate by your Firearms Liaison Officer. I took an Air Ranger 80 on safari to Zimbabwe in 2011, and while it harvested its fair share of game, I needed to pay close attention to the cylinder fill level, as the shot-to shot consistency would affect trajectory if pressure fell too low.

However, with a little practice, the Air Ranger 80 can provide phenomenal long-range performance, and I’ve taken small game right out to 86 yards with JSB Exact King 25.4 grain pellets. The operation will be familiar to those who have handled other Air Rangers, but the cocking action and trigger pull are slightly heavier given the heavy-duty spring and hammer mechanisms. The Air Ranger 80 has a longer barrel than its lower-powered stablemates and creates a much louder muzzle blast. I would not recommend shooting the Air Ranger 80 without a silencer as you’re likely to clear every field around you for 200 yards.

In summary: A hard-hitting brute of a rifle that takes time to master. Once perfected, this is the most capable .25 calibre airgun on the planet

Daystate Wolverine .303

Never has an air rifle been more highly anticipated than the all-new Daystate Wolverine .303. Not only is it a complete departure from Daystate’s previous styling, but there’s a host of airgunning innovations built into what is probably the most attractive airgun design for a generation. Built-in safety features include a mechanism that prevents double-loading, a pressure switch that prevents the rifle from discharging when the pressure in the cylinder is too low, stopping you from getting a pellet stuck in the barrel. The all-new construction includes a 300cc aluminium cylinder and a one-piece breech block machined from high-grade alloy, attractively finished in satin silver.

The Gary Cane designed stock is exquisite and a pleasure to handle, but the fore end is a little shallow to mount sling studs. This rifle was built with the US market in mind, which means power, accuracy and consistency. The Wolverine delivers on all of these counts, delivering sub 1.5” 5-shot groups at 100 yards, while retaining over 50ft.lbs. of energy down-range. I’d suggest that the Wolverine is probably the perfect airgun for long-range rabbit shooting. The longest rabbit I’ve taken so far was 87 yards, but this does take a little practice as the pellet falls off quite quickly after 70 yards.

Expect to see .177 and .22 sub-12ft.lbs. variants launched in late 2013, but the .303 version will undoubtedly reign supreme. I’ve also successfully harvested a wild boar in Hungary with the Wolverine, so we know it will handle feral hogs in the US – the quarry for which it was originally designed.

In Summary: Daystate has once again set the benchmark for air rifle design and long-range performance. Watch this one closely, it’s going to be huge

Benjamin Rogue .357

While the three rifles we’ve just seen are UK versions of big bore rifles, the Benjamin Rogue is the ‘real deal’. With its .357 (9mm) calibre barrel firing 145 grain, Nosler designed and manufactured, ballistic tipped bullets, the Rogue is arguably the most powerful production air rifle available today. For those of us who are not particularly concerned with rifle aesthetics, the Rogue offers an entirely new airgunning experience, I’ve hunted a variety of game with the Rogue in South Africa, from rabbits all the way up to a trophy red hartebeest. The long-range ballistic performance on both large and small game is simply breathtaking.

However, there’s no getting away from the fact that the Benjamin Rogue is one big rifle and has an incredibly low shot capacity. Offering just four shots per fill in full power mode, the Rogue isn’t ideally suited for stalking smaller game, as you’d constantly be returning to your air cylinder to recharge. That said, set yourself up on a bipod and picking rabbits out from over 100 yards is now a real possibility. The main issue with the Rogue is the expense of the ammunition. Effective they may be, but at over £1 per shot, it’s unlikely to take off as a back yard plinker, but out in the bush is where the Benjamin Rogue really shines. It’s heavy and unwieldy to carry, but once in position, it’s as solid as a rock – and unbelievably quiet. The only real problem I had with the Rogue was that the magazine had a habit of sticking. However, with a little bit of tinkering it worked out just fine.

In summary: The Benjamin Rogue will herald the dawn of a new era of big bore airgun hunting. Finally, we have an airgun that’s capable of humanely dispatching large game. Where do we go from here?

So there we have it, four of the most powerful pre-charged pneumatic airguns available in the UK, each with its own style, features and functionality – but all of which will offer a whole lot of fun. For those wanting an all-round rifle with good shot capacity and the ability to switch from lower to higher power, then go for the Air Arms S510 TC. If raw hunting power for smaller quarry in a familiar, tried and tested package attracts you, then go for the Daystate Air Ranger 80.

Moving on to the ‘real’ big bore guns, the Daystate Wolverine will undoubtedly revolutionise the high-power hunting scene both here in the UK and further afield. Its striking design and attractive finish will immediately establish the Wolverine as a modern classic, while incredible accuracy and shot-to-shot consistency will justify the price. The star of this show is the revolutionary Benjamin Rogue .357 and that’s not because it does anything better than the other rifles, it’s just a sign of North American excess. Its eye-catching, space-aged design won’t win any beauty contests, but I’ve seen first hand what it’s capable of on larger game.

Whatever your preferred hunting activity, there’s now an opportunity for you to explore an entirely new genre of airgun adventure. Applying for a Firearms Certificate for an airgun is quite straightforward and is more likely to be granted than for a full bore or rimfire rifle. With all this cool, new gear especially designed for the task, there’s never been a better time to break the mould and join the big bore airgun revolution.

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