A while back I was lining up a predator/varmint hunt in order to field-test some new air rifles. A few days opened up in my schedule, so I gave my buddy Brett Waibel a call to set up a few days of shooting prairie dogs in South Dakota. Brett is the owner of Bad River Bucks and Birds, and though he specializes in big game and pheasant hunting, he also uses the lodge as a base for some excellent prairie dog shooting in the warmer months. With 40 or so towns to hunt, he always has prairie dogs on hand. But as we spoke, he mentioned that there was a lot of predator activity, which was all I needed to lock in my plans! While Brett doesn’t offer predator hunts as a primary package, if you book for prairie dogs in the warmer months he will let you build in some calling time early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
Brett didn’t exaggerate about the predators, either. In my first four sets I called in four coyotes and two fox. Between the prairie dogs and predators, I had nonstop action for the three days I spent in the field! But aside from spinning my hunting yarns, what I would like to talk about in Airgun Advantage this month is the gun and ammunition I used for the song dogs — the Benjamin Bulldog .357 and the purpose-designed ammunition Nosler manufactures for Crosman. I’d been shooting this combo on the range for a couple months, achieving very accurate results. But I really wanted to use the gun with these bullets for their intended purpose: hunting!
The Bulldog is a very futuristic-looking bullpup design, without a grain of wood to be seen on the whole thing. If you follow my writing at all, you know I lean toward the more traditional rifle designs from an aesthetics perspective. However, if a gun works, I will use it. And one of the reasons bullpups have gained widespread acceptance in the shooting world is that they are a study of form following function. Simply put, they work.
So I found myself in the South Dakota grasslands in camo with my futuristic hunting gun, looking like an extra from Starship Troopers. The gun is loaded with features that are great for the predator hunter — it’s short and compact. The synthetic stock is ergonomic and shoots well from any position; the five-shot rotary magazine is robust and in my experience cycles reliably; and while the gun is not quiet in the context of airguns, the report is considerably less than that of a .22 rimfire. The trigger is also a synthetic, which I haven’t completely bought into, but in terms of function it is light and crisp, breaking cleanly and consistently. It’s a nonadjustable two-stage design — first stage of 1 pound and second stage set at three pounds. There is an on-board pressure gauge, and with a 3,000 psi fill the 340cc air reservoir will provide you with 10 full-power shots. With respect to performance, this rifle is accurate with a variety of projectiles ranging from conventional (though very large) Diabolo airgun pellets to cast bullets, to the polymer-tipped hunting bullets I used on this trip. As far as big-bore air rifles, it is in the middle of the energy spectrum, generating about 190 ft./lbs., which I think is just about right for a predator gun.
The Nosler bullet I used in this gun was purpose-designed for the Benjamin .357 rifles, appearing with the release of the company’s first big-bore (the Rogue) a few years back. When I used it back then the results were fair, but when I started shooting them out of the Bulldog I was more impressed with the level of accuracy achieved. Called the Nosler eXTREME Ballistic Tip, the 145-grain bullet has a hollowpoint housing, a polymer tip and a hollow base, and the body of the bullet is configured with three stepped driving bands. At 50 yards I was getting ½-inch, at 75 yards sub-¾-inch, and at 100 yards sub-1-inch groups, which is everything you want when hunting predators!
So with these uniformly good results on the range, the big question was how would they work on game? I’ll talk about heavier-bodied quarry another time, for now I was looking for a flat-shooting, hard-hitting projectile to use in upcoming predator-hunting contests. I reckoned that this bullet moving in the mid-800-fps range would provide a very manageable 100-yard trajectory and still retain the power to effectively drop a coyote in its tracks.
At the end of the first round of prairie dog shooting, we went back to the lodge to escape the afternoon heat. I lounged about and drank vast quantities of ice water, and when it cooled down I threw on my camo, picked up the Bulldog, topped off the airtank and jumped into the truck. We drove back on a ranch road until we got to my first calling spot, setting up on a hillside with a small lake to my back and a clear field of vision ahead. There was a ravine separating me from the opposite hillside, and I set my FOXPRO Prairie Blaster at the bottom and waited a few minutes to let everything settle down before sounding off with a jackrabbit-distress call.
Not more than five minutes later I saw a head poke over the rise at 65 yards, followed by a young coyote, focused on the source of the sound he slowly stepped into view. As he stopped just below the ridge, I lined up a quartering front shot and squeezed the trigger. The dog flipped on its back within a couple of feet from where he’d been hit. The bullet had transited on a diagonal path, taking out the right shoulder, right lung and left hip. It was a well-placed shot, but the accuracy and terminal performance was outstanding. A second dog shot on a later set at 75 yards had the bullet pass completely through, breaking a rib on the off-side before exiting.
I used this rifle and bullet on a few prairie dogs between 90 and 140 yards, again noting the accuracy, ability to buck the wind, and terminal effectiveness. However, at $20 for a box of 25, I don’t think this will replace the standard caliber (.22, .25, .30) pellets I generally use for prairie dogs. But my takeaway on this projectile was that for predator hunting, it ticks all the boxes: accuracy, effectiveness, long-range performance (from an airgun context). I’ve used these bullets in some of my other .357 rifles, and they worked very well in my Sam Yang Recluse single-shot, though not so well in my lower-powered Evanix or RAW guns. However, if you like the bullpup concept, both the gun and the bullet are definitely worth a look for a 100-yard solution to your coyote problem!