Big-Bore Airguns for Hunting Big Boars

Today’s most powerful production airgun might be the perfect gun for hunting feral hogs in Texas brush country.

Big-Bore Airguns for Hunting Big Boars

When airguns started to gain traction during the early 2000s, most hunters were using standard caliber guns for small game and pest control. But with the introduction of pre-charged pneumatic technology, more powerful guns and larger calibers started to turn up. 

Manufacturers have been pushing the boundaries of big-bore technology, resulting in continuously improving performance. Dennis Quackenbush led the way in developing big-bore airguns, building .457- and .50-caliber models since the 1990s. These guns were accurate and could generate around 300 foot-pounds of energy out of the box. Over the next several years, an airgun arms race ramped up, with small scale manufacturers and custom builders bringing new big-bore airguns to market. Then some of the larger manufacturing companies such as Hatsan, Crosman and AirForce jumped on the bandwagon. It took a while, but production guns eventually crept up to 600 fpe, then kept on going.

A couple years ago, word got out about an ultra-powerful air rifle being manufactured by a company called AEA Airguns, that was reported to generate some very impressive numbers. These claims have been validated, and sometimes exceeded, with the passage of time.

I have been hunting wild hogs with airguns for about 20 years and have used many guns in .25- to .50-caliber during this time. While I will sometimes use smaller calibers or lower-power guns for very specific hunting applications, my preference is for the larger calibers. More recently, I’ve been searching for a gun to use in heavy brush that is maneuverable, accurate and powerful to serve as my primary hog gun. The requirement is a compact gun capable of throwing a serious chunk of lead downrange, that is dead accurate out to 75 yards, fast to cycle, and can be relied on when getting close and personal with a big tusker.

Specifications and Features

A couple years back, I had the opportunity to acquire the AEA Zeus. This rifle is a .72-caliber, sidelever action, single-shot airgun that is available in three different barrel lengths: 16, 24 and 32 inches. Since I wanted to use this rifle for hunting in heavy brush, I opted for the 16-inch barrel, then a few months later added the 24-inch version to the collection. The 24-inch model produces higher power output, but the 16-inch version permits a suppressor to be added while keeping the gun compact.

The Zeus is an attractive gun with a sporter-style stock made from a nicely figured Asian hardwood. The receiver is a well-machined construction of substantial bulk that is cycled with a sidelever action, with a safety release incorporated into the cocking handle. Onboard air storage is provided by an under-barrel reservoir tube that has a fill pressure of 4,500 psi. There is a pressure gauge at the muzzle end of the reservoir, with a removable dust cover that shields the filling port compatible with a proprietary 7mm fill probe. 

The barrels are heavy, as might be expected for a .72-caliber, with a threaded muzzle adaptor to accept a suppressor. My preference is the DonnyFL suppressor designed for the Zeus. There is a ventilated rubber pad mounted to the buttstock, which is a nice feature that helps tame the substantial recoil, and a Picatinny mount on the forend for a sling swivel and/or bipod to be mounted. 

These two guns are chunky, but at the same time short and compact. Their overall heft of the design works to further reduce recoil. On the negative side, this is a fair bit of weight to haul about on a long hike, but on the positive side these rifles are easy to maneuver because of the short length. My experience is that this stock design pulls the weight into the shooter’s center of gravity and helps stabilize it for offhand shooting.

Testing Results

My testing utilized three slugs developed by Mr. Hollowpoint, weighing in at 630, 440 and 380 grains. From a full charge of 4,500 psi, the Zeus generates three full power shots and a fourth lower velocity but still usable shot. With the 380-grain slugs the highest velocity/energy was 955 fps/770 fpe for the 16-inch barrel, and in the 950 fpe range for the 24-inch model with 440-grain slug. I think this is impressive for shorter length barrels, but there have been verified reports of the 32-inch barrel version getting up to 1,600 fpe.

In a pre-hunt range session with the 24-inch barrel (with suppressor), three sequential shots at 75 yards consistently produced a cloverleaf with the 440-grain slug. This rifle is not regulated and over the course of three successive shots the POI shifted a couple inches, easily within the kill zone of a pig. In a powerful big bore a drop in POI is to be expected, but just to test the intrinsic first shot accuracy, I printed a few three-shot groups after refilling to 4,500 psi between shots and was routinely getting sub-inch groups at 75 yards.

My Hog Hunting Experience

On my first hog hunt with the Zeus, I got up early one morning and hiked about 45 minutes to a spot where there had been a lot of pig activity on trails leading from a stock tank back into the woods where they bedded down for the day. My plan was to either ambush them along the trail or head into the cedar thickets to find them bedded down. Sitting on a low hillside that overlooked a field covered in tall grass with a ranch road running through it, I glassed a small sounder of pigs moving down the road toward me.

I backed into some brush and waited, with the gun rested on my knee, and used my rangefinder to mark the distance to a spot in the road where the hogs would pass if they kept on the same path. There was a big boar that disappeared into the grass along the way, and several medium- and smaller-size pigs that continued along the edge of the grass line. At about 65 yards, they all started turning into the field, but the next largest pig of the group stopped, offering me a quartering shot. Thinking this might be my only opportunity, I lined up and squeezed the trigger. The short-barreled gun barked and kicked hard, but when the scope came back down, I saw the hog laid out on the ground. The 440-grain hollowpoint slug had hit the right hip and broken the left shoulder, creating a massive wound channel along the way. This pig weighed in at about 130 pounds and was literally anchored on impact.

Final Thoughts 

So, do you need this much power and such a large caliber for a reliable pig gun? Probably not, at least not usually. But when hunting a big, bad tempered boar in close quarters, a bit more power would not go unappreciated. But even big feral hogs can be dropped with authority using a 400 fpe gun, and I have always believed that accuracy and other factors trump excessive power. However, if a gun is shootable and accurate, more power never hurts and that is especially true when hunting big-bodied game with an attitude.

The AEA Zeus is a hunting machine and in the more compact versions with a 16- or 24-inch barrel, is a handy gun to carry in the field, even over long hikes through rough terrain. It is accurate, hits extremely hard, creates a significant wound channel, cycles smoothly and quickly, allows unhindered access to the loading port and in my experience is rugged and reliable.

The rifle is also ammo tolerant, at least with the different slug weights of the Mr. Hollowpoint ammo I feed it. The gun provides a reasonable shot count from a hunting perspective, and so far, has provided the accuracy, power and range required in my hunting rigs.

I think the AEA Zeus is an excellent platform for delivering that big chunk of lead and have no hesitation taking this gun after the largest quarry. It offers everything you would want in a serious hunting gun and is a lot of fun to shoot. 


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