Pros and cons of a high-power hunting rifle

This is my everyday hunting gun.

This is my everyday hunting gun. - Credit: Archant

Considering high power? Phill Price discusses what extra power can do for you...

900 fps is the magic number for high power pellets.

900 fps is the magic number for high power pellets. - Credit: Archant

Regular readers will know that I use high-power hunting airguns frequently, so I’m often asked if the extra performance offered by a more powerful rifle is worth the cost and complications of ownership. That’s not a simple question to answer, so I’ll give the easy answer first, which is that for me, it is. The answer for other people might well be different. If you already possess a firearms certificate, then I absolutely recommend a high-power hunting gun, but if you don’t there’s quite a lot to consider.

To obtain an FAC (Fire Arms Certificate) you have to deal with the police and prove that you have appropriate land to shoot over, the prescribed security in the form of a high-quality steel cabinet bolted into the fabric of your house, and finally show verification that you are a suitable person to hold such a gun. These stipulations are not hard to provide, but they’re a big step away from just buying an airgun and going to your friend’s farm. There’s also the cost of the licence and cabinet to be considered.

BSA's R10 is available in high power configuration.

BSA's R10 is available in high power configuration. - Credit: Archant

Clear flight path

So, what does the extra power do for you? Many people mistakenly think that three times as much power must mean three times the effective range. I’m sorry to burst their bubble, but I find only a small increase in my maximum killing distance. Others believe that the extra power will allow them to shoot inaccurately and still get clean kills. I have to say right here that this makes me really angry. I’ve seen rabbits shot badly with .22 rimfire cartridges that make 100 ft.lbs., and they still crawl away to die, so no, more power is not an excuse or a get-out for sloppy shooting. We each have a duty to kill our quarry quickly and cleanly, a rule that has no exceptions and a lack of patience or application from the shooter boils my blood. I’ve even heard people claim that their high-power airgun allows them to shoot through leaves and twigs to get to their quarry. No, no, NO! That is utter nonsense. Even deer rifle bullets that make 2000 ft.lbs. are deflected by twigs. Only a totally clear flight path will deliver precision accuracy, and accuracy is what rifles are all about.

Some rifles like this .303 Wolverine are too much gun for me.

Some rifles like this .303 Wolverine are too much gun for me. - Credit: Archant

Well then, if they’re not the magic answer to all your problems, what’s the point of buying one? For me, it comes back to that point about precision shot placement. I’ve killed rabbits cleanly with an 8 ft.lbs. rifle simply because the pellet went exactly where it was needed. Not high, not low, not off to the side – exactly where it was needed. What the high power rifle does for me is to make me more accurate. At 900fps, my .22 Air Arms Diablo Field pellets fly very flat, which makes my range estimation errors much smaller, so my pellet will land closer to the intended aim point if I make a mistake. Secondly, by using such an excellent pellet, I benefit from its high ballistic coefficient, allied to superior muzzle velocity to minimise the effect the wind has on my pellet’s flight. Judging the wind is one of the hardest things the airgun hunter will ever attempt, and there’s no doubt that high-power airguns are affected less than sub 12 ft.lbs. guns.

Unashamed fan

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Yes, I do shoot a little further with the high-power gun, but only about 10 yards, in perfect conditions. I’ll reach 35 yards with 12 ft.lbs. and 45 with my 29 ft.lbs. gun. Is 10 yards more reach going to change your hunting? Only you can answer that one. However, please remember that airguns only kill with precisely placed shots, which is why I value accuracy over everything else.

No matter how much power you have accuracy is the most important thing.

No matter how much power you have accuracy is the most important thing. - Credit: Archant

It’s true that my high-power airgun hits harder at 100 yards than most guns would at the muzzle, but that’s not what makes the difference. The only situation that I would say makes a real-world difference is when you can ‘chest shoot’ pigeons with the high-power rifle because it will drill through the breast bone that would defeat any 12 ft.lbs. gun. This means that you can still kill pigeons in situations when you cannot get a clean shot at the head. If I can see the head, it’s always my preferred aim point. Of course, hitting our quarry with 20 ft.lbs. rather than 8 will make a difference, but in reality, it’s not all that much.

I’m an unashamed fan of the high-power gun and use mine at every opportunity, but please don’t think that buying one will automatically make you a more successful hunter. You still need to get close and you still need fieldcraft to identify your quarry correctly and to understand the vital aim points. Precise shot placement is still the name of the game and nothing can change that. More people go down the FAC route every day and I understand why all too well, but is it for you? Only you can say.



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