High-power airguns: can you have too much power?

I tested the gun in typical field conditions more than from a bench

I tested the gun in typical field conditions more than from a bench - Credit: Archant

Performance keeps getting better but surely we can’t ever have enough power? The editor asks

The Wildcat is light and compact, making it an excellent rifle for hunters on the move

The Wildcat is light and compact, making it an excellent rifle for hunters on the move - Credit: Archant

One of the many things I like about high-power airguns that need a firearms certificate (FAC) here in the UK is that they’re a bit of a new frontier. Boundaries are being pushed all the time and performance continues to be explored, but like many things, it’s not all roses.

So here’s a question: Does too much power work against us?

I have been working on a pet theory that 900 fps is somewhere near the upper limit of airgun pellet velocity. After that, accuracy deteriorates, and an inaccurate gun is only useful as a goat tether.

I’ve shot many excellent .22 calibre airguns that were superbly accurate at 900 fps +/- a few feet per second, so I theorised that to see a significant step up in hunting performance, it would be logical to go to a bigger and heavier pellet.

The .25 seemed the sensible choice because many manufacturers offer them at the right kind of power level and there’s a good choice of pellets.

The forward cocking lever position is perfect

The forward cocking lever position is perfect - Credit: Archant

The nice people at FX Airguns offered to make me a Wildcat capable of launching their 25.4 grain, round head pellet at 900fps so I could learn a little more about airgun performance. This neat little bullpup worked brilliantly for me at 12 ft.lbs. in .177, so I was optimistic we’d get along. Over the chronograph it was spot on and very consistent as well.

A 900 fps, 25.4 grain pellet makes 46 ft.lbs., which is a lot of punch, and the quiet muzzle report was impressive, suggesting the action was efficient. Lots of power in a handy, portable package sounded right up my street.

Zeroing was pretty straightforward, and pellet testing showed that the FX branded pellet was far and away the most accurate option. I tried everything from the lightweight H&N FTT (19 grains) right through to the H&N Barracuda (31 grains), but the 25.4 grain FX pellet was easily the best. With a steady bench and some concentration, I was getting 1” groups at 45 yards in good conditions.

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From the bench, I got 1" groups at long range

From the bench, I got 1" groups at long range - Credit: Archant

It was plain to see – and feel – that this lightweight gun recoiled appreciably at this power level, despite being so quiet. I’ll also confess bullpups aren’t really my cup of tea and the rearward balance felt floaty and unsettled in my hands. To build my confidence, I set off around the farm for a natural target, plinking session, which for me means knots in dead stumps and clods of earth in what I consider to be real-world hunting conditions.

To cut to the chase, I struggled a little to be as precise as I’d like. Even when I felt my sight picture was good, I couldn’t always be dead accurate. Out lamping that night, two rabbits I hit were able to run so needed to be collected by one of my Labradors or they might have been lost.

Enough was enough – I put the Wildcat away, falling back on my conventional rifle. Live animals are not to be used for target practice, no matter how powerful the rifle might be.

I can shoot anything!

Our editor-in-chief claims to be able to be laser accurate with any gun, so I asked him to try the Wildcat. Even he had to admit it took supreme focus and his very best technique to shoot well.

Concerned at what I was seeing, I called my contributor Jerry Moss who has the same gun running at 900 fps in .22 (28 ft.lbs) and I asked him how he was getting along with it. He truly loves his Wildcat, telling me it’s match-accurate and a pussy cat to shoot. Perhaps this is the optimum setting for this great little gun. I wondered if 46 ft.lbs. was stretching the Wildcat’s abilities.

I was trying to think of an analogy and this came to mind. You might be able to shoe-horn a V8 engine into a Mini, but it’s never going to be a nice thing to drive. Is 46 ft.lbs. too much horsepower for a lightweight bullpup?

Luckily for me, the new FX Impact landed on my desk and this will give me the chance to test another 900 fps .25 to see if it can be shot easily in real-world field conditions. The Impact is a more substantially built rifle with a lot more weight towards the muzzle, offering a much more conventional feel and balance.

It also has a power adjuster that lets me select from 710fps to 940, so perhaps I will be able to find the ideal sweet spot to balance power and ‘shootability’.

RRP: £1,070.00



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