My Favorite Big-Bore Airgun Caliber

A diehard airgun enthusiast is most frequently asked about his favorite big-bore airgun caliber and why. Here are his answers, which may help you choose your own air rifle.

My Favorite Big-Bore Airgun Caliber

Airguns such as the AirForce Texan are capable of killing everything from varmints to bigger game such as javelina, feral pigs and deer. Aftermarket accessories and precision ammunition can fine-tune an airgun, too. (Photo: Jim Chapman)

I’m often asked to recommend a big-bore caliber airgun for hunters just getting in the sport. Having used just about everything available on the market, I’ve formed a few opinions, one of which I’ll share here.

One point to make first is that when discussing airgun calibers, the same bullet or pellet will perform very differently in different rifles. That is because the energy used to propel the bullet is stored in the gun, and there are many variables that impact the rifle’s velocity/energy — the fill pressure, the hammer spring, the valving system. I have a .357 rifle that generates 150 fpe with a 147-grain hollowpoint bullet, and have another rifle that puts out 250 fpe with the same bullet. Going to a larger caliber bullet doesn’t necessarily translate into more power, either, for the same reasons.

Most, but not all PCP power plants generate higher velocities with lighter, smaller caliber projectiles. That results in a flatter shooting projectile. Unless there is a pressing need for very high energy, my preference is for a flatter shooting setup. Anecdotally, I believe a lot of the high power .357s penetrate better than the average .457, which may deliver more power on target. However airguns kill by creating a wound channel through vital organs, not through the tremendous hydrostatic shock delivered by a firearm. That is a general rule of thumb. If you can crank the velocity of a .457 to match that of a .357, you can get roughly the same trajectory. But not many of the .457- or .50-caliber rifles achieve that. If I was going to use my big bore air rifle only for large game, I’d probably opt for one of the powerful .457 rifles.

However, most hunters moving into a big bore want a gun to use for multi-species. They may use it primarily for predator hunting and take it out occasionally for deer or hogs. For multi-species hunting, I’ve been having great success with the .357 in a high-power platform — the AirForce Texan .357. This rifle comes in .257, .308, .357 or .457 calibers. I have them all, use them all, and think they are all fine hunting rifles in different scenarios. The .257 is great for long range varmints such as prairie dogs and a solid performer on predators. The .308 is a good choice for the dedicated predator hunter, and the .457 is the choice if you will only use the rifle for hunting larger game.

The .357 stands out in my experience as the true “multi-species” gun. It is fairly flat shooting, hard hitting and has good terminal performance on deer- and hog-sized game. I’ve taken fox, coyote, turkey, javalina, deer and hogs with this set up, and it has done it all very well. Reaching out to 120 yards on a fox you really appreciate the flat trajectory and accuracy achieved. When shooting a tough, large-bodied boar at 40 yards, it’s the penetration that stands out.

The AirForce Texan .357 comes as a rifle or carbine. Mine is a hybrid. It started life as a rifle, but I had the barrel cut down, recrowned and fitted with a suppressor by Airguns of Texas (AOT). The bullet I am shooting is the Aero Magnum 128-grain hollowpoint called the Devastator. It was purpose-designed for the Texan, is accurate and produces outstanding terminal performance. The guys at AOT also tuned my rifle for this bullet using the Texan's power adjustment capability to balance power, accuracy, variability and shot count. I like this adjustability in a PCP air rifle, as it allows control to be optimized for various bullets and applications, much like handloading for firearms.

Texas in the Field

I was deer hunting in Texas with this rig a couple months ago. On the first day I hadn’t seen the deer I wanted to shoot and was getting ready to leave the blind when a couple Rio Grande gobblers came into range. At 65 yards I took the broadside shot, hitting low and forward as if bow hunting. The bird shot straight up in the air, flew a few yards and dropped to the ground dead. It was a clean pass through with little meat damage. 

A couple days later I’d still not seen the right buck but wanted meat for the freezer and killed a doe. I used the same rifle/bullet combination to tag a big, mature doe broadside at 65 yards. Again, a clean pass through; the deer dropped after a 25-yard sprint and was stone dead on walk up. The last night of my trip we went out calling and shot a couple foxes, one of which hung up at about 100 yards. The accuracy of my rig let me drop a head shot right on target. Those are just a few examples, but they are representative of the results I’ve been getting on a consistent basis.

But it was the result from a hunt I did last night that impressed me most and made me start to think the .357 was the best all-around option for the one-gun hunter. I was back in Texas for my second (and last javalina) of the season. I’d been hunting on a friend’s ranch in Pecos County and, though I’d seen a couple stink pigs, I didn’t get a shot. 

My travel plans were to stop by another friend’s property outside of Abilene for a day on my way back to Dallas to catch a flight home. I got a late start and arrived about 4 p.m. A blind was set up but I needed to throw a couple bags of corn into the feeder at my friend’s request. I was tucked in by 4:30, and sat watching the surrounding brush until almost 8 p.m. with no activity. 

Just as I was getting ready to call it quits I spied movement. Coming down the brushline to my left was a tank of a boar! I let the hog move into the corn about 30 yards out and sent the Devastator flying, dropping him on the spot. The pig weighed close to 300 pounds. The .357 worked as well as any .457- or .50-caliber rifle I’ve used.

So far this season using the Texan/Devastator rifle/bullet combination, I’ve killed turkey, fox, coyote, javalina, deer and hogs — all with outstanding results. Other calibers can do better for specific applications, but I can’t think of one that serves the breadth of applications of the .357.

For that reason, if you’re only going to have one big-bore air rifle (good luck with that by the way), I think a high power .357 is the way to go. As an aside, the modifications I had done to my rifle can now be had as the AirForce Texan SS .357. Accurate, flat shooting, powerful and quiet, it quite literally does it all and does it well.  


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