Jim Chapman has a new toy in the form of a double-barrel, air-powered shotgun
Jim Chapman’s after jackrabbits – with a double-barrelled, air-powered shotgun!
Afew years ago, I had the opportunity to evaluate an air- powered, single- shot shotgun under development. Besides initial range work testing the early prototypes of the guns, along with the purpose designed shot shells, I took these guns into the field, hunting cottontail rabbits, squirrels, and wing- shooting Eurasian collared doves and feral pigeons. An interesting aside is that many of the early iterations of the air shot shells were produced with a 3D printer.
Last January at the SHOT Show, the GM of Air Venturi showed me a pre-release example of the next evolutionary step for their Seneca shotgun line, appropriately named the ‘Double Shot’. This is a doublebarrel, smooth-bore in a side-by-side configuration, with a reservoir tube under and between the two barrels, making it look very much like a German drilling-type rifle. The two barrels have a sleeve at the receiver, which is slid forward to access the loading port, then repositioned once the shot shell is loaded. This is the same arrangement that the Seneca Wingshot uses – the company’s single-barrel model.
There is a cocking bolt on the right side that can be pulled part way back for a lower power setting, or pulled all the way rearward for a fullpower shot. The shotgun can be decocked by pulling the trigger whilst slowly letting the bolt slide back into a resting position. There is a barrel selection assembly just before the loading port, that uses knurled knobs to select the active barrel. The gun is a .50 calibre, but choke tubes attached via the threaded muzzle reduce the muzzle to .490.
I patterned the shotgun using No.5 shot and found a satisfyingly dense pattern at 25 yards. There is a trick to this; when I tested the earlier single- barrel I had two concerns, a low pattern density and a short shotstring. The latter being particularly troublesome when wing- shooting, because it made passing shots difficult to achieve, but the design of the loading ports constrained the overall length of the shot shell. The work- around proved simple by double loading the shells, placing the first into the loading port, advancing it into the barrel, then slipping in a second shell. Power was not the issue, and the velocity difference between the single and double loads is negligible. As part of my range work I set up soft drink bottles at 10, 20, and 25 yards, and started a plinking session. At each range multiple pellets struck the target and flung it end- over- end.
For ammunition, I had a couple of choices, the shorter pre- packed shot shells and a longer shell that I received as components (a shell and a cap) to roll my own, along with a small bag of No.5 shot that I obtained by sacrificing a few 12- gauge shells. I could load 25 shells in about five minutes.
Before describing my hunt with this unique air shotgun, let’s address the 800lb gorilla in the room – why an air shotgun, and why a doublebarrel version? As for the use of an air- powered shotgun, some of us just prefer hunting with an air arm. There are associated range limitations and one must be more selective in the shots taken. This makes things more challenging, which is the main attraction for many of us. However, there are also situations in which air power, be it a rifle, handgun, or shotgun, makes more sense than a firearm. In scenarios where firearm usage is restricted, noise or carrying range must be limited, there are justifications – not to be disingenuous, I’d have to admit that, for me, it’s the challenge and enjoyment of using air whenever I can, but why the side by side? The advantage of my side- by- side and over/under shotguns is the rapidity of the second shot. With either a double- trigger or autoselect mechanism, the second shot is almost immediate, but with the air- powered Double Shot the hunter needs to cock the gun between shots, and use the barrel selector, which slows down the process. Once familiarity with the gun is achieved, though, 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 is another more practical reason that is undoubtedly more relevant to the U.S.- based hunter; the Double Shot is versatile. The one shotgun can handle shot shells for upland game, but loaded with a .50 calibre roundball, it’s perfect for predators, and with an AirBolt it is appropriate for big game. This means that when hunting in Arizona or Texas where the big game and upland game seasons overlap – and both are legal with a PCP air rifle – I can use varied projectiles if the possibility for a mixed bag exists. On my next Texas hunt I’ll load the left barrel with two shot shells, and a roundball in the right, in case I encounter a javalina.
To evaluate the Double Shot for small game, I headed out to our 39,000- acre permission in West Texas. After landing at DFW International airport, I grabbed my gear and packed the rental truck for the five- hour drive to Midland/ Odessa. A local motel served as my base and left me with an hour drive to the ranch. It had been raining, and the vegetation was about as green and lush as I’ve ever seen it out here. The first afternoon, I covered miles in the truck and by foot, but with the rains and gusty 30 mph
“a reservoir tube under and between the two barrels, making it look very much like a German drilling- type rifle”
winds, nothing was moving.
The second day, I woke to an overcast morning that slowly turned into a sunny day with very little wind. As I drove down the ranch road to my intended hunting grounds, a big blacktail jackrabbit streaked across the road in front of me. My approach was to drive to an area that looked like good terrain, park the truck, and slowly hike in a large circle about 100 yards from the truck. One must move very slowly because it is difficult to see the rabbits before they see you. The large desert hares will often lay up in scrapes under the cactus or mesquite, and if you can get in close without pushing them, it is possible to get a shot. I typically spook two rabbits for each one I get a shot on.
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 toward the rabbit, keeping another large stand of brush between us. When I peeked out around the branches, the rabbit saw me and stood, but I snapped the shot from the left barrel before he could run and tumbled him at 15 yards. I selected the right barrel and stepped out toward the downed rabbit, only to have another one I hadn’t seen kick it into high gear. The rabbit was moving fast in a straight line away from me, and when I snapped the second shot, he flipped forward rolling to a stop. I was quite impressed with the performance of this shotgun – the second rabbit had been blazing away and the shot took him at 20 yards. Continuing on, I took another half dozen jackrabbits that morning, the closest at 6 yards, and the furthest at 28 yards. Most were stationary, although a couple more running rabbits dropped to my gun, one of which was a passing shot. I’d used smaller No.6 and No.7 shot in the past, but feel like the No.5 shot was a good 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 my previous outings in which I’d used only one shell, was that the shot- string was longer and yielded much better results on running rabbits.
I grew up hunting upland game with my 20 gauge and .410 shotguns, and the Seneca Double Shot allowed me to combine my enjoyment of upland game hunting with my passion for airgunning. I also liked the fact that I can self- load the shot shells, which provides room to optimise my rig for specific game.
ABOVE: Left rabbits hanging in a tree as I hiked back to the truck
ABOVE: The barrels feature threaded choke tubes for shotgunning, but must be removed for roundball or AirBolts
BELOW: I hit this soda bottle at 30 yards and it literally exploded!
BOTTOM LEFT: Closeup of the Seneca shows the action, loading ports, and barrel selector
ABOVE: The Double Shot is a handful of gun, but comes quickly to the shoulder and points naturally
LEFT: The cocking mechanism allows a low-power or highpower setting
BELOW RIGHT: The components used to make your own shells