Small Game Hunting With an Air-powered, Double-barrel Shotgun

Small game hunting with a double barrel air shotgun can be twice as fun!

Small Game Hunting With an Air-powered, Double-barrel Shotgun

The double-barrel air shotgun with proper ammunition is more than capable of dispatching small game such as rabbits. Check your state wildlife regulations and laws before heading afield. (Photo: Jim Chapman)

A few years ago I had the opportunity to evaluate an air-powered, single-shot, shotgun still under development. The guns and purpose-designed shotshells I carried into the field — hunting small game, pest species and wing-shooting doves and feral pigeons — were early prototypes.

At the 2018 SHOT Show, the general manager of Air Venturi showed me a preliminary version of the next product going into its Seneca shotgun line. It was appropriately named the Double Shot. The gun, a double-barrel, smooth bore, side-by-side includes an air reservoir tube slung under and between the two barrels.

At first sight, it resembles an old German drilling rifle. The two barrels have a sleeve at the receiver. The sleeve slides forward to access the loading ports, and back when loaded. A cocking bolt on the right side can be partially cocked for a lower power setting or fully cocked for a full-power shot. The shotgun can be decocked by pulling the trigger while slowly letting the bolt fall back into a resting position. A barrel selector just before the loading port allows you to select the active barrel. The gun is a .50 caliber, but choke tubes attached via the threaded muzzle reduce the muzzle to .490. If you switch over to round ball or AirBolts, you must remember to remove the choke.

I patterned the shotgun using No. 5 shot and obtained a dense pattern at 25 yards. When I tested the earlier single barrel model, I had two concerns, a low pattern density and a short shot string that made passing shots difficult to achieve. But the dimensions of the loading ports constrained the overall length of the shot shell. The work around proved simple, double load the shells, placing the first into the loading port, advancing it into the barrel, and then slipping in a second shell behind it. The velocity variation between the single and double loads is negligible.

During an informal test session, I set up soft drink bottles at ranges out to 30 yards and started plinking. At each range, multiple pellets struck the target and flung it end over end. Ammunition options include shorter, prepacked shotshells or a slightly longer, unloaded shell available for custom loading. I obtained a supply of No. 5 shot by sacrificing a few 12-gauge shells and could load 25 shells in about five minutes. The empty shells allow loads to be matched to your quarry, for instance loading one shell with No. 7 for rats in the barn, and double load two shells with No. 5 for pigeons on the wing.

What's the Allure?

Why an air shotgun, and why a double barrel version?

As for the use of an air-powered shotgun, though there are range and shot selection limitations, some of us just enjoy hunting with an airgun. I am attracted to the added challenge of an airgun. However, there also are situations where air power, be it with a rifle, handgun or shotgun, makes more sense than a firearm. Most notably, air power may be best in scenarios where firearm usage is restricted or limited.

But why the side-by-side? The advantage of side-by-side and over/under shotguns is the rapidity of the second shot. With either, a double trigger or auto-select mechanism, the second shot is almost immediate. The air-powered Double Shot requires the hunter to cock the gun between shots and use the barrel selector, which slows down the process. However, once familiar with the gun, the selection of the barrel and cocking still allows a much faster second shot than reloading, cocking and shooting the single barrel version of the gun.

There’s another reason the Double Shot is versatile: the one shotgun can handle shot shells for upland game, a .50 caliber roundball for predators, and with an AirBolt arrow it’s appropriate for big game. This means when hunting in an area with a range of quarry, these varied projectiles offer the possibility for one gun that does it all. I load the left barrel with two shot shells for smaller game and AirBolt in the right, in case I encounter a feral hog when hunting rabbits in Texas.

Hunting and Evaulation

To evaluate the Double Shot for small game, I headed out to a buddies 39,000-acre quail lease in West Texas. Landing at DFW International airport, I grabbed my gear and packed the rental truck for the 5-hour drive to Midland/Odessa. Recent, plentiful rains turned the vegetation about as green and lush as I’ve ever seen it there. The first afternoon I covered several miles in the truck and by foot. However, between the rains and gusty winds, nothing was moving.

The second day I woke to an overcast morning that slowly turned into a sunny day with minimal wind. As I drove to my intended hunting grounds, a big black-tailed jackrabbit streaked across the road — a good sign of things to come! My plan was to drive to an area and park, and then slowly hike in a large circle about 100 yards from the truck. It can be difficult to see the rabbits before they see you. They often will lay up in scrapes under cactus or mesquite trees. Still, if you can get in close without pushing them, it is possible to get a shot. I typically get a shot at a third of the rabbits I see, merely spooking the others.

My first opportunity came within 50 yards, when I spotted a rabbit shaped lump at the base of a mesquite. Because of the recent rain, the ground was forgiving, and I moved silently while keeping a large stand of brush between us. When I peeked around the branches the rabbit saw me and stood. I snapped the shot from the left barrel before he could run, tumbling it at 15 yards. Selecting the right barrel, I stepped out towards the downed rabbit only to have another one — I’d not seen — kick into high gear. The rabbit was moving fast straight away from me. When I snapped the second shot, he flipped forward and rolled to a stop at 20 yards. I was quite impressed with the performance of this shotgun.

I took another half-dozen jackrabbits that morning, the closest at 6 yards and the farthest at 28 yards. Most were stationary, though a couple more running rabbits dropped to my gun, one of which was a passing shot. I’d used smaller No. 7 shot in the past but feel like the No. 5 shot was a better balance between energy delivered on target and shot density. By double-loading the barrel the shot density was improved, which let me reach out to almost 30 yards. But the more significant improvement over the single-shell was the shot string was longer and yielded much better results on running rabbits.

This double-barrel shotgun performed well, viable for small game shooting inside the 30-yard mark. My earlier concerns over the low shot density were somewhat mitigated by loading two shells into the loading port. You are still dealing with a lower capacity and power output than a .410 shotgun, so it’s more limited than a conventional powder burner.

However, the versatility gained by the ability to use either round balls or AirBolts makes this an interesting hunting gun. I liked the Double Shot, and think that it is a useful addition to an airgun hunters’ lineup. But not as a first or only airgun. I’d get a good .22 or .25 first, and then if I wanted a gun to use for the occasional predator or hog hunt, this would be one I’d consider.

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