Hard Hitting Big-Bore Air Rifles

The Hatsan Piledriver takes big bore air guns to a new level.

Hard Hitting Big-Bore Air Rifles

The use of airguns for hunting has seen rapid growth in recent years, but it is arguably big bore airguns where the biggest changes have occurred.

When I first started hunting with them about 20 years ago, there was only one source for obtaining suitable rifles. Dennis Quackenbush, the father of the modern big bore airgun, was manufacturing small production runs. In terms of places to go and quarry to hunt, that also was very limited. We could hunt hogs and exotics in Texas, exotics behind high fence in a few other locales, but otherwise it was small game, pest and predators and even that was limited.

But as the years passed and awareness grew, a pop-up industry of boutique builders started producing high power big bores, followed by tentative steps into the market by major manufacturers. Crosman was the first with its Rogue .357. Some of the bigger European, Korean and Turkish companies came up with rifles in .30 and .35 caliber. However, those were mostly guns shooting diabolo style pellets or perhaps light slugs with a lower sub-150 fpe power output. The guns I’m talking about generate 300 fpe or more and are used for dedicated hunting of deer- and hog-sized animals.

While most of us dyed-in-the-wool airgunners acknowledge Europe as the center of the airgunning universe when it comes to standard caliber airguns, big bore airgun development is driven by American hunters. This is where the experience has been gained both in optimizing rifles, manufacturing them (on a limited production scale) and using them in the field. This is due to several factors. We have more access to large game, we have a hunting tradition that is open to diverse techniques (bow, handgun, blackpowder) in addition to firearms, and we have few regulations or restrictions on airgun power and/or ownership when compared to much of the world.

Early Adopters

It’s not surprising, then, that two of our domestic airgun companies jumped on this bandwagon early. I mentioned Crosmanas the first major manufacturer to offer a big bore, which then followed the initial release of the Rogue with the 200 fpe Bulldog .357. At approximately the same time, the Texas-based manufacturer AirForce jumped into the game. 

AirForce was the first American company to manufacture high-power standard caliber (.22 and .25) PCP rifles focused on hunters. These rifles have become iconic in the domestic market, and the availability of aftermarket parts and custom tuners has spun off its own cottage industry. AirForce followed that success with the release of its own big bore, the Texan. That rifle is available in several calibers. I own the .257, .308, .357 and .457 in both rifle and carbine versions. 

For many years, this has been the most powerful production big bore on the available. On release, the .457 was putting out more than 600 fpe, which has crept up to approximately 750 fpe on the newer CF models. Note that I am speaking about production guns out-of-the-box. These rifles can be tuned and modified to generate significantly higher power outputs.

There are smaller U.S.-based manufacturers producing guns on a limited production scale that make some very powerful rifles including Quackenbush, Extreme Airguns, Professional Big Bore, Airguns of Arizona, Bush Buck and others. There are also some large companies based in other parts of the world such as Sam Yang, Air Venturi and Evanix that have a growing portfolio of powerful big bores coming to the American market.

One company producing rifles that have garnered a lot of interest in recent years is the Turkish-based Hatsan. I’ve been using its PCP rifles for over a decade and fins them solid performers, robust, reliable and an excellent value. Hatsan has been producing some powerful big bore rifles over the past few years that I’ve used to take hogs, deer and other large game, not to mention many predators. 

Several weeks ago I was given the opportunity to be the first to hunt with the Piledriver, a new rifle Hatsan developed. The rifle I received was the first production example to reach our shores. I was excited to get my hands on it. Two versions exist: a .457 generating about 700 fpe and a .50 putting out more than 800 fpe. These specs put the Piledriver in the rarefied air of the most powerful production big bores on earth.

This single shot rifle can roughly be called a bullpup in that the trigger is moved well in front of the receiver and it uses a 32-inch barrel with a shorter overall length than a rifle configuration would allow. But it’s still a big gun! The action sits in a tactical thumbhole-style synthetic stock and is cycled using a side lever cocking mechanism. The carbon fiber air bottle is cradled in the forestock and provides five usable shots on a 300 BAR fill. The first three shots will form a clover leaf in the 10 ring, and the fourth and fifth shots hit two and four inches low, respectively, at 65 yards, propelling a 525-grain cast lead bullet at about 780 fps.

I was headed out to hunt deer and javalina in Texas and thought it would be a perfect first outing for the Piledriver. About two years ago, Texas permitted airguns to be used in the general firearms season for all game with the proviso the gun was at least a .30 caliber and generating more 215 fpe. Prior to that, air-powered guns were allowed only for predators, non-game animals and exotics. The new regulations were well received and has turned Texas into an airgun hunting destination!

A couple days into the hunt I found myself moving through the hilly brushland stalking a group of javalina with the Piledriver slung over my shoulder. I covered several miles in the rugged brush and must admit that I felt the weight, but it wasn’t too bad. I’ve carried both heavier and lighter rifles, but what matters is that when it came time to shoot, it was fast and smooth to cycle and proved itself a tack driver as well as a pile driver! 

I mounted the gun while in both kneeling and offhand positions and found it very shootable. At the end of the day, the rifle accounted for two javalina. One of the stink pigs was shot quartering toward me, and the bullet broke the front right shoulder and exited at the left haunch. I’ll take this gun out with me on my next hog hunt and am interested to see what it will do on a really big tough old boar.

I started a bit of controversy on my social media channels by calling this the most powerful production air rifle in the world. If you look at the specs on the .50-caliber version, I think it is. However, I also think that while power output is interesting it is not the deciding factor in selecting a great hunting air rifle.

Hatsan, AirForce, Bush Buck, Extreme, or any of the guns generating 600 fpe up, is more than enough power for almost any game in North America. The power was there on the Piledriver, but what impressed me most was the accuracy, shot to shot consistency over five shots, and the ergonomics.

The takeaway message is there are more opportunities to hunt big game now than ever before, and if you want to give it a try, there is a growing lineup of high-power big bore airguns available to choose from.



Discussion

Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.