Size Mat­ters

Jim Chap­man re­veals his favourite hunt­ing cal­i­bre for small game, and why he uses it most

Air Gunner - - Hunting -

I’ve found my­self grav­i­tat­ing to­wards the .25 cal­i­bre as the gold stan­dard for small game hunt­ing in re­cent years, but as I’ve shot the .30 cal­i­bre more, it left me won­der­ing if this might not be an even bet­ter choice for my shoot­ing needs. This sea­son I’ve used the .30 ex­ten­sively to hunt small game, pest, and preda­tors, and have taken a more crit­i­cal look at the cal­i­bre and its per­for­mance in the field.

In a pre­vi­ous ar­ti­cle, I’d sug­gested that the re­quire­ments for a hunt­ing ri­fle in North Amer­ica are dif­fer­ent to those of most Bri­tish hunters in a few ways; many of our small game/ pest species are larger, and some of the con­di­tions in which we hunt re­quire longer shots. An­other point to con­sider is that we might need a hunt­ing rig ca­pa­ble of tak­ing a preda­tor such as a coy­ote or bob­cat when the op­por­tu­nity presents.

For all these rea­sons I’d found the .25 su­pe­rior to the .22 for small game hunt­ing. It is true that you can take just about any small game quarry with a sub-12 fpe .22 ri­fle at the ap­pro­pri­ate range with the right shot place­ment. How­ever, a higher pow­ered .25 will let you reach out fur­ther and hit the quarry much harder, and I thought the same ad­van­tages might ap­ply when mov­ing from the .25 to .30 cal­i­bre, I just didn’t have the ex­pe­ri­ence to back up the as­sump­tion.

BEST OP­TION

When tak­ing game in­tended for the ta­ble, I gen­er­ally opt for head shots be­cause there is less dam­age to the meat, but for pest con­trol I will take a chest shot, and be­lieve that the big­ger and heav­ier the pel­let, the more re­li­able it is for an­chor­ing the quarry. The larger pel­let trav­el­ling at higher ve­loc­i­ties hits harder, and when I’ve skinned out rac­coons have noted that the pel­lets pen­e­trate fur­ther, do more dam­age, and open a larger wound chan­nel.

Whilst search­ing for the best cal­i­bre op­tion for small game hunt­ing on this side of the Pond, I used my FX Crown to help me an­swer a few ques­tions on cal­i­bre-re­lated per­for­mance. This ri­fle has a beau­ti­ful Desert Brush camo dip and came with three bar­rels: .25, .30, and an ar­row bar­rel, with the cor­re­spond­ing pel­let probes for the .25 and .30 bar­rels. The gun uses a car­bon- fi­bre air bot­tle that fills to 250 BAR and in­cor­po­rates an ex­ter­nally ad­justed reg­u­la­tor, typ­i­cally set around 160 BAR. Com­par­ing the .25 and .30 cal­i­bre whilst hunt­ing is an in­di­rect mea­sure, but I felt that us­ing the same shoot­ing plat­form, with a cal­i­bre op­ti­mised set- up, and the same style of pel­let (JSB Ex­acts) would give some con­sis­tency to these ob­ser­va­tions.

POWER OUT­PUT

When shoot­ing the .25 cal­i­bre with JSB 25 grain Jumbo Ex­act pel­lets and the power di­alled up, the ri­fle is achiev­ing ve­loc­i­ties of 875 fps, which trans­lates to a power out­put of ap­prox­i­mately 44 fpe. When ze­roed at 50 yards, the pel­let will drop the point of im­pact ( POI) about 3½” inches low at 70 yards. Con­versely, when the .30 cal­i­bre bar­rels and pel­let probe are in­stalled on the ri­fle and us­ing the JSB 44.75 grain pel­let, the ri­fle is achiev­ing ve­loc­i­ties of ap­prox­i­mately 865 fps which trans­lates to a power out­put of 75 fpe. When ze­roed at 50 yards, the pel­let will drop the POI 3½” at 70 yards.

By set­ting this gun up for the .30 cal­i­bre pel­let, I main­tain close to the same ve­loc­ity be­ing achieved with the .25 cal­i­bre pel­let, whilst com­ing close to dou­bling the out­put power and creat­ing a larger wound chan­nel. Ter­mi­nal per­for­mance is en­hanced; the hunter can cleanly kill larger game at greater dis­tances, with a wider choice in shot place­ment than pro­vided by the .25. I know that some might ar­gue a .30 cal­i­bre is overkill, but con­sider that many of us started our small game hunt­ing with .22 rim­fire ri­fles gen­er­at­ing about 125 fpe of en­ergy. In fact, un­til reg­u­la­tions be­gan al­low­ing air­guns to be used for hunt­ing, the .22 rim­fire was the min­i­mum le­gal method of take in many ju­ris­dic­tions.

LESS SUS­CEP­TI­BLE

Dur­ing this eval­u­a­tion, I’ve used the FX Crown in both the .25 and .30 cal­i­bre con­fig­u­ra­tion on sev­eral hunts. Ad­di­tion­ally, I’ve used my other .30 cal­i­bre ri­fles over the past sea­sons, in­clud­ing the FX Im­pact, with both .25 and .30 cal­i­bre bar­rels; FX Wild­cat, Hat­san Bul­lBoss, Evanix Rain­storm, Hunt­ing Mas­ter, and Ata­man M2. For con­text, I used the .30 cal­i­bre on sev­eral sep­a­rate prairie dog shoots last­ing about four days each, and took ap­prox­i­mately 60 prairie dogs per day. My field note­book re­counts well over a hun­dred jackrab­bits, dozens of squir­rels, and many other game and pest species that were taken with a .30. So, whilst anec­do­tal, my views are based on a large num­ber of ob­ser­va­tions.

I be­lieve that the .30 hits game much harder and drops it much more re­li­ably than the .25. Quarry hit with a long shot out to 75 yards, was un­likely to take more than a cou­ple steps be­fore drop­ping. When shoot­ing prairie dogs in the wide- open grass­lands of the Mid­west, where windy con­di­tions are the norm, I had the clear im­pres­sion that the .30 was less sus­cep­ti­ble to be­ing blown off

course than the .25, even with the for­mer’s greater sur­face area.

When us­ing the .30 cal­i­bre in the woods on squir­rel hunts, I found that most shots were in­side of 50 yards. The tra­jec­tory was al­most the same for the .30 as ob­tained with a .25 or .22, once the shoot­ing plat­form had been op­ti­mised. Re­gard­less of whether a .22, .25, or .30 cal­i­bre was used on a head shot, a squir­rel would drop cleanly, but body shots with the .30 cal­i­bre were un­ques­tion­ably more de­ci­sive than with smaller cal­i­bres.

LIT­TLE DIF­FER­ENCE

The .30 cal­i­bre guns can be very ac­cu­rate, are pow­er­ful enough to take even larger preda­tors re­li­ably at closer ranges; they can reach out fur­ther for long- range pest con­trol ap­pli­ca­tions, and are less af­fected by wind on these longer shots, yet still have a more lim­ited car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity than a .22 rim­fire. When the gun is prop­erly set up, which im­plies that there is no con­straint on ve­loc­ity and power gen­er­ated, there is very lit­tle dif­fer­ence in the tra­jec­tory arc out to 75 yards.

The price paid for these ad­van­tages is in­creased air con­sump­tion be­cause a .30 cal­i­bre gun will re­quire more air to op­er­ate than a .25 and sub­stan­tially more than a .22; .30 cal­i­bre pel­lets are more ex­pen­sive, and avail­abil­ity more lim­ited. How­ever, for my in­tended use, the air con­sump­tion and pel­let costs are far out­weighed by the per­for­mance and ver­sa­til­ity of the .30, and as most air­gun­ners over here pur­chase pel­lets in bulk and on­line, the avail­abil­ity is like­wise a non-is­sue.

To those that would ar­gue that a .30 cal­i­bre ri­fle gen­er­at­ing 70 plus fpe is more than you need for most small game and pest species, I would say of course it is. If you are re­stricted to a sub 12 fpe ri­fle, then ob­vi­ously a .30 cal­i­bre is not even a rea­son­able talk­ing point. Like­wise, if you are fo­cus­ing on smaller pest species, or shoot­ing in ar­eas where long-range shots are not re­quired, the .30 (or even the .25) prob­a­bly doesn’t make sense.

Hav­ing been fre­quently asked to sug­gest the best small game cal­i­bre, I’ll go out on a limb and say that I be­lieve the .30 is the best all- around cal­i­bre in North Amer­ica, pro­vid­ing a one- gun so­lu­tion for a broader range of quarry. A le­gal limit .22 is of­ten all one needs, yet there is no dis­ad­van­tage to hav­ing more power on tap, and hav­ing that power when it is re­quired, can be very ad­van­ta­geous. I guided sev­eral hunts this year, and for the first time saw more ri­fles in .30 than any other cal­i­bre! This seems to be a trend that is gain­ing trac­tion with many Amer­i­can hunters.

ABOVE: The FX Crown has both a .25 and .30 bar­rel, great for com­par­ing per­for­mance

LEFT: The JSB 44.75 grain Ex­acts seem to work well in al­most all my .30s

ABOVE: TSix pel­let, 50-yard group shot on a windy af­ter­noon

BOT­TOM: I used my .30 Rain­storm to call in fox af­ter a day of rabbit hunt­ing. It was very ef­fec­tive

ABOVE: Evanix and Ata­man ri­fles were some of my first .30s a few years back

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