Jim Chapman tells us why he has a new favourite hunting calibre
Long-range hunting in the States. Jim tells us why he prefers high-powered guns when hunting for larger quarry, or small game at distance
Because of the wide- open spaces found in much of the USA, from the Western deserts to the Mid-western plains, longer shots are often required. It is also fair to say that there is a broader selection of game available to hunt, some of which, even limiting the discussion to small game, can be quite a bit larger than that encountered in the UK. An American cottontail rabbit is about the same size as the rabbits on your side of the pond, and a crow is a crow, but a jackrabbit may weigh in at 12lbs and the average adult turkey is around 16lbs. With no limitation on calibre or power in most of the country, the .25 has become quite popular over the last few years, with a growing number of airgun hunters migrating to the quarter bore.
If you try to keep a .25 pellet under 12 ft.lbs., the resultant trajectory is akin to throwing a brick downrange with an underhand toss. This limits the utility of the calibre in legal-limit guns, but get it blazing downrange at 900 fps and it’s quite a different story! If both a .22 and a .25 are propelled at the same velocity, the .25 calibre has a trajectory roughly equivalent to the .22, perhaps a bit flatter because it retains energy more efficiently as it travels further from the muzzle. Some will argue that the .25 is less influenced by wind, although I personally feel it’s a matter of degrees. This might be the case in light winds, but if the wind is howling I either move the shots in closer, or put my rifle away until the weather moderates. There is undoubtedly a difference in terminal performance; the larger surface area of the .25 in conjunction with the higher energy delivered on impact can make a substantial difference in knockdown power, especially on body shots when compared to the .22.
If hunting prairie dogs, where the range may exceed 100 yards, the knowledge that a body shot will anchor the quarry makes it a viable shot placement and increases the effective kill zone substantially. To those who would argue that the joy of airgun hunting is getting up close and personal to one’s quarry, I agree, but I would also remind them that firearm hunters often shoot prairie dogs at 700 yards or more because they are so difficult to get close to, and in this context 75-100 yards is a fairly short range.
So, the .25 has gained popularity in the American market because it is efficient out of high-powered PCP rifles, offering both a relatively flat trajectory and improved velocity retention. Furthermore, it offers excellent results on game because of the increased energy delivered on target, and the increased size of the wound channel created. This results in an effective longerrange hunting tool for small game, but also allows larger game to be taken at closer ranges.
Now, if you take the same set of factors into consideration and apply them to a comparison of the .25 and .30 calibres, I believe the same results will be noted. If the .30 calibre pellet, which in the context of this discussion is limited to the conventional Diabolo pellet design, is propelled at 900 ft.lbs. the same results are noted; the trajectory is flat, velocity retention is improved, the larger surface area delivers greater energy on target and creates a larger wound channel than noted with the .25.
I don’t really need a .30 to hunt squirrels or most small game because I can invariably close the distance to my prey, but some smaller pest species, such as prairie dogs, crows, and ground squirrels, may require longer shots in some terrains. If a varmint with greater mass, such as a ground hog, raccoon, or nutria provides an opportunity for a shot, the same gun can be used with confidence, and for quarry of any size, the body shot becomes a much more attractive option as a result. The gist of this is that a hunter can buy a single rifle, and use it for a wider variety of game. In the areas where I hunt, there are more than 20 species that can be harvested with an airgun, which range in weight from a half a pound to 20lbs. There is an advantage to one gun that can do it all well!
The biggest disadvantage of the .30 is that it will carry further than either a .22 or .25 propelled with the same muzzle velocity. Note that I am limiting this discussion to Diabolo-style pellets, which have an intrinsically poor ballistic coefficient. The .30 pellet still sheds energy relatively quickly, when compared to even a standard .22 LR rimfire bullet. You might ask, ‘ Why not just use a .35?’ justifying it with the same arguments. The short answer is that it doesn’t fit the application. There is a point of diminishing returns; shooting a squirrel or rabbit with a .30 is not over the top, but a .35 is because it tends to carry too far, over-penetrates, and will tear up smallbodied game at close range. To my way of thinking, the .35 is a better shared-service calibre bridging medium and bigger quarry, as opposed to the .30 for small to mediumsized game.
Another disadvantage that has been cited in the past, is the limited availability of guns chambered in .30 calibre, and difficulty in finding ammunition. However, in my gun room I currently have an Evanix Rainstorm, an Evanix Sniper, an FX Boss, a Daystate Wolverine, the Hatsan BT Carnivore, the Evanix Max Bullpup, the Hatsan Hercules, the MROD Velociraptor and the Ataman M2R Carbine – all in .30 calibre, and there are more rifles coming to market! Obviously, when it comes to shooting platforms we are not starved for .30 calibre options.
The rifles I’ve mentioned are designed to shoot standard pellets, and tend to generate around 70 – 95 ft.lbs. though some will do a bit more. A couple of these rifles can handle shorter lightweight cast bullets, and I have rifles in my collection that will exceed 200 ft.lbs, such as my Quackenbush and Pro Big Bore .308s, but this is accomplished with cast bullets using higher fill pressures, more air per shot, and a resulting reduction in shot count. I believe these comprise a different category of air rifle that addresses a completely different use case, and for this reason have excluded them from this discussion.
As far as pellets, there has been a limited selection, primarily the JSB Exacts and private label variations thereof. This does not trouble me greatly, because these pellets tend to work well in every .30 calibre rifle I have, and provide excellent terminal performance on game, to boot. There are also new pellets coming to market; at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas last month, both H& N and Hatsan had released new .30 calibre pellets, and the Predator Polymag pellets are now available in this calibre as well.
Having made my case for the .30 calibre, I will now qualify my position. If I were living in a region where there were power restrictions in place, where there was not a need to reach out over longer distances, or if there was not legal game available that required more energy or a larger wound channel to harvest ethically, there would be less reason to opt for this calibre. However, in those places where higher-powered rifles are permitted, where there is no limitation on calibre, and there is either larger quarry or a need to reach out further, I would expect to see interest in the calibre grow. There may also be a small subset of target shooters who are interested in long-range, bench rest competition whomight gravitate towards the calibre, but I would expect it to gain the most popularity with hunters. So, if you see companies promoting yet another calibre and ask yourself why? I hope this provides some insight from a ‘foreign’ shooter’s point of view.
Bracketed by a JSB .22 to the left and a JSB .35 to the right for comparison are the JSB 44.75 gr, Hatsan Vortex Supreme 44.75 gr, Daystate Emperor 50.15 gr, and the FX Boss 46.3 gr Shooting Extreme Benchrest is another place where a .30 shines: every year more .30s show up!
Bigger quarry, longer range, and improved results on body shots are achieved with a high- powered .30
There’s a growing selection of pellets available to shooters, and besides the ubiquitous JSB Diabolos, Hatsan, FX, and Daystate, all have skin in the game
You don’t need a .30 for crows, but it does allow the hunter to reach out much further when necessary, and effectively use body shots PBBA (above) and the Quackenbush Outlaw (lower), both thrive on 120 grain hollowpoints and generate about 190 ft. lbs. This pre- release FX Boss let me reach out to 100 yards and roll this big desert jackrabbit with a body shot