Rise of the Big Bore

Airguns are surging in popularity, led by the new class of large-caliber PCP models.

Rise of the Big Bore

Many firearm customers are aware of .177 and .22-caliber pellet guns, but few are familiar with the precision tier of $500-plus airguns and the exciting big-bore airgun category. While some shooters believe airguns lack power, they’ve likely never experienced the amazing capabilities of pre-charged pneumatic airguns. 

With the big-bore class of airguns starting with heavy .30-caliber pellets and higher velocities, humane hunting of coyotes and large rodents such as beaver is typical for this class of airguns, and with larger .357, .457 and .50-caliber PCP airguns, one-shot kills on hogs, deer and other similar-size game are typical for airgun hunters. It may be surprising to some, but this is all an old concept.

The Big-Bore Idea

Many people don’t realize that PCP airguns actually date back to the 1700s with the Italian-made Girandoni PCP repeating airgun. That gun was used in wars with Prussia and Turkey and later by Lewis & Clark as they explored America starting in 1804. The Girandoni is not too far off from the big-bore airguns we have today and included a swappable cast iron pre-chargeable 800-psi cylinder and a magazine capable of holding 21 144-grain .46-caliber lead round balls. It could fire up to 40 times without refilling. 

A faithful recreation was made by a historian and tested to demonstrate its 535 fps and over 90 ft./lbs. of energy. The special Girandoni hand pump required 1,500 strokes to refill each tank to 800 psi. The Girandoni was a self-sufficient gun which when working could provide indefinite shooting potential if lead balls were retrieved and recast.  

The gun could be shot repeatedly, only requiring the hammer to be cocked and a feed lever pushed to load the next round in between each shot. Essentially the technology has not changed much, but the pressure capacities, durability, reliability, accuracy and materials have drastically changed on modern PCP airguns, which deliver about seven times the power and 1-inch accuracy at 100 yards.

PCP Equipment and Services

Premium quality PCP airguns usually start around $500, but shooters also need to purchase a variety of high-quality premium pellets and some way to recharge the high-pressure system on the gun, usually involving an external tank or specialized compressors or pumps. First-time PCP owners usually spend about $200 on a hand pump and $300 on a scuba tank and accessories required to fill the gun. 

PCP airguns offer shooters a lot of advantages and conveniences such as power, accuracy, and continual shooting usually only requiring just a light cocking action to load the next pellet. The featured Walther Reign in .25-caliber and Umarex Gauntlet 2 in .30-caliber are magazine fed and just require a light cocking stroke between each shot, but the power has to come from somewhere — an onboard pre-charged cylinder usually either part of the buttstock or forend. This cylinder is similar to those used in paintball, however PCP uses very high pressure in the range of 3,000-4,500 psi which is far beyond the capabilities of standard 200 psi garage compressors. 

When in need of a refill, a high-pressure line is connected from the refill tank to the airgun refill nozzle and usually a few seconds later the gun is ready to shoot again. Most PCP shooters choose to refill from scuba tanks — rated up to 3,000 psi — or specialized 4,500+ psi carbon fiber PCP airgun tanks. Specialized high-pressure refill tanks and the attaching accessories are standard equipment and offer another sales opportunity for dealers. Specialized high-pressure hand pumps are also available for the workout inclined, but most shooters find it easiest to return to a dealer or scuba shop to pay a small fee of $25-$35 to refill and recertify the large-capacity scuba or high-pressure tanks. Regular shooters usually purchase their own airgun compressors such as the $700 Umarex ReadyAir, which offers recharges on demand for their tanks and airguns.

Diving into PCP Airguns

The Walther, Umarex and Airforce brands are great places for dealers to start with PCP guns. All three offer a high tier of performance with a lot of market draw. Walther offers a new unique Walther Reign .22 and .25 caliber PCP magazine-fed repeater that delivers a great entry point for higher-power premium PCP airguns. Umarex offers a wide range of power options from small to big-bore options delivering premier-level power. Airforce offers customers a well known premier brand in the PCP airgun market.


Walther Reign

Decades ago .22 caliber was the big bore of the airgun world delivering over 25 ft./lbs. of energy, which is powerful enough for small game. Though a small jump in size, .25-caliber can double that power. The draw for the Walther Reign is a compact fast-handling magazine-fed bolt-action repeater that can deliver sub-.5-inch 50-yard groups. The quality is impeccable with a glass-smooth bolt cycling action and a modern style that is 100% Walther.


Umarex Gauntlet 2

With .22, .25 and .30-caliber options, the new Gauntlet 2 has been highly regarded for its top-of-the-power-curve performance, threaded barrel for an airgun suppressor such as those from DonnyFL, magazine-fed design, large-volume tank, and impressive accuracy all for under $500. The .30-caliber model offers shooters up to 10 ft./lbs. of muzzle energy on mid-size game with great accuracy out to 100 yards. The similarly styled .50-caliber Umarex Hammer model jumps power to 700 ft./lbs. of energy.


Airforce Airguns TexanSS .457 – Airforce was one of the first premier made-in-USA PCP airgun brands and offers what most airgunners regard as some of the most accurate and powerful PCP guns available. Featuring a unique patented design that includes quick-swap Spin-Lock buttstock tanks, Lothar Walther-based barrels and integrally suppressed options, they have become a go-to for those who want to jump up to premier-tier airgunning. They offer models spanning .177 - .5- caliber with long velocity-maximizing barrels, suppressed, and even compact pistol-style models. What really drew massive attention over a decade ago was their Big Bore series that ranges from .30/7.62 to .50-caliber models and delivered power not available at that time in the U.S. market. Let’s deep dive a bit more on the .457 TexanSS.


Airforce Airguns TexanSS - The Airforce Texan models include three models with 34-inch barrels down to this 24-inch TexanSS suppressed barrel with calibers ranging from .30 to .510. Technically this shorter TexanSS .457 model can deliver the same power as the longer-barreled models, but it uses a lot more air in the process. The Texan series is massive and even this short model is still huge at 42 inches, although light at 6.8 pounds. A ton of air pushes a 350-450-grain bullets that are direct bullet swaps for .45-70 lever-action rounds. 

The shrouding and baffles quiet things down to about a subsonic .22LR round. The real appeal for this class of airguns is that although a heavy backstop is required, and the sound level is not neighbor friendly, in many city and urban sprawl environments airguns are still legal to shoot. This opens up options to legally hunt or remove large encroaching pests such as hogs within many city limits that would otherwise require firearm-caliber power.

Similar to all Airforce designs, the TexanSS is very efficient with an inline design with a tank as the buttstock. The valve pushes directly into the barrel with a simple air pressure wheel adjuster. This design eliminates pressure loss from a connecting tube or angular turns in the path of the air. The simple but efficient design also makes the entire gun very durable and easily maintainable. The extremely accurate Lother Walther-based barrels can also be swapped between calibers on most models with kits. Our model delivered impressive 1-inch 100-yard groups with various 350-grain to 411-grain .457-caliber cast-lead bullets with accuracy dropping off after the sixth round before a refill was required.


DonnyFL Airgun Suppressors/Moderators - Interestingly airgun suppressors, also known as Moderators, are not regulated or in the purview of the ATF and there are many companies offering upgrades to integrally suppressed airguns such as those from Airforce, or simple thread on moderator models. Dealers can sell these airgun-only suppressors without an SOT. Priced under $200, DonnyFL is widely considered the premier airgun suppressor with material and internal design exclusively to baffle the massive air blasts. In our testing the DonnyFL Shogun model reduced the .22LR-level snap of the Walther Reign to the sound of the hammer dropping and made the hugely powerful Umarex Gauntlet 2 .30-caliber neighbor-friendly for backyard shooting.


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