A New Airgun Projectile: The .357 Air Bolt

If you have a 35-caliber air rifle or want one for predator hunting, you might want to give the .357 Air Bolt a try to enjoy something new in the field.
A New Airgun Projectile: The .357 Air Bolt

You might recall that I wrote a story a few months back on hunting hogs with the .50 caliber Air Bolt, the arrow designed to be used in .50 caliber big bore airguns. Unlike past arrows designed for airguns, the Air Bolt is intended to be shot from any gun of the corresponding caliber (with the appropriate barrel length). This is possible because the arrow is muzzle loaded, rather than being sleeved over a specialty barrel.

The reason I am enthusiastic about the .357 version is two-fold. First, there are more .35 caliber air rifles in the field than .50’s. Second, while most .50’s are designed for big game hunting, most .35’s are designed (and appropriately powered) for smaller quarry such as predators. In these .357 coyote guns, the move from bullets to arrows transitions the mid bore rifle from a marginal to high performance hog gun.

Like the .50 caliber Air Bolts, the .357 has a caliber-matched nock and tip for screwing in the broadhead of choice. Where the two differ is that the .50 caliber Air Bolt is fletched, while the .357 uses a velco-like wrap near the nock to help form a tighter air seal behind the arrow.

Another difference is the velocity generated. The Dragon Claw is propelling a 425-grain arrow at a scorching 500 fps, while the Recluse is generating 350 fps with a 400-grain arrow. In comparison to bows and crossbows, these are respectable numbers. The Air Bolt approach also permits the use of conventional bullets out of the same gun. My Recluse is hitting dead on at 40 yards with a bullet, and on the third mil-dot with an Air Bolt.

The Air Bolt is fun to shoot and effective on predators and feral hogs, especially smaller ones. (Photo: Jim Chapman)

The fact you can use multiple types of projectiles permits the hunter to use a .35 Diablo pellet to hunt rabbits, switch to a solid cast bullet to go after coyotes, and then switch to an Air Bolt for larger game (where regulations permit). The arrows are expensive. But they're a fraction of the cost of a purpose-built arrow gun, for which you still need to purchase fairly expensive arrows.

During range work I noted the 125-grain cloverleaf broadheads I use for the 50-caliber don’t work as well with the .35 Air Bolt. After experimenting with several arrowhead configurations I found that a 100-grain mechanical worked best, allowing me to achieve a 3-inch group at 40 yards shooting offhand.

My thought is the lighter tip and nock of the .35 are unbalanced and destabilized with the heavier cloverleaf heads, and I suspect there is some aerodynamic factors associated with the exposed blades. The reason I moved to the cloverleaf heads on the .50 was at the hypervelocity 500 fps, the mechanicals would occasionally deploy and cause the arrow to destabilize in flight.

The choice of bullets or arrows provides a couple of great hunting options for the .357 airgun shooter in the field. (Photo: Jim Chapman)

On one of my outings after hogs with the Recluse and AirBolt, I went to a blind on a feeder located 100 yards away. This was too far for my purpose, so I tucked in under a tree at 40 yards, covered up with my camo poncho, loaded an arrow and settled in to wait.

To load the arrow, you simply remove the tip and manually push it into the barrel. There is some resistance. I find that a little saliva on the nock reduces resistance as you feed the arrow into the barrel. Once the Air Bolt is seated, the arrowhead is screwed in, and you are ready to go. The recluse has two power settings, and you’ll get about seven full power shots per fill.

Hunting with the Air Bow

As I sat waiting I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and after a couple minutes a sounder of pigs ranging from 20-80 pounds moved in, vacuuming up the corn I’d laid on the road. These little pigs seemed to be in constant motion but I picked one out and waited for him to stop. Finally, he stood still for what I knew might only be a few seconds, and I let the arrow fly.

Just as I squeezed the trigger he took a step and it hit him a little further back than I’d intended. No matter, though, because the arrow punched through and he flipped on his back, bleeding out. The arrow had transited on a broadside course, with only a small length of the shaft still in its body as it rolled over. On dressing the 60-pound pig, we saw that the arrow had gone through two ribs and the tip poked out on the offside, with massive trauma along its path.

The second feral hog that I shot came the next day as I was hiking through the thickets on the ranch looking for a spot to call coyotes. I heard grunts and rooting on the other side of some dense thickets, and looking through the branches saw a couple of hogs on the edge of a sendero. Opening the receiver and unloading the bullet, I pulled an Air Bolt out of my pack and attached a broadhead after loading it.

I lined up on a black pig slightly smaller than the one from the day before and, shooting offhand, let the arrow fly. My Air Bolt took him right behind the shoulder, double lunging him as it passed through. He ran off, but I found the little boar piled up under a tree 40 yards away. I have noticed that hogs do not react to the sound of an airgun in the same way as a firearm report, with the other pigs in a group often either standing their ground or bolting only to return a couple minutes later.

I have had a lot of success with the Recluse and cast bullets hunting bobcat, coyote, and fox, and have used the gun with .35 JSB Diablo pellets to take many raccoons. After this hunt I have great confidence in the combination of the Recluse, Air Bolt and mechanical broadhead for larger quarry.

I think the ability to shoot a variety of projectiles from one rifle makes financial and logistical sense. The concept of a single gun that can transition from small game through medium game to larger game is especially attractive to shooters that are either on a budget or not fully committed to Airguns. My only criticism of the rifle I was shooting is the trigger is heavy and can’t be lightened without a trip to the gunsmith.

However, this rifle is relatively inexpensive and there are several tuners who can do a trigger job at a reasonable rate. If you have a .35 air rifle or want one for predator hunting, you might want to give the Air Bolt a try. It’s almost like getting a second gun for the cost of the arrows!

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