Can air guns ethically take down deer?
Thursday, April 12, 2018
The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) Commission recently approved a rule change that classifies certain air rifles and air bows as a legal method of take for hunting multiple species of game starting during the fall of 2018. Will you be one of the deer hunters hitting the woods this November with an air rifle?
Under the old regulations, hunters could only harvest squirrels and nongame animals (like feral hogs and exotics) with air guns. However, the new rules now permit hunters to use air guns .177 caliber and larger for hunting squirrel, pheasant, quail and chachalaca. Additionally, hunters can now harvest alligator, deer, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, javelina, and turkey with air guns and air bows .30 caliber and larger.
Air guns and air bows are still not permitted for hunting migratory game birds, and they will not be authorized for use during any archery-only season.
Just so we're clear: the sort of air guns I'm talking about here are considerably more powerful than the BB guns we used as kids. For instance, Airforce Airguns advertises that their Texan ".457 Big Bore" model is capable of shooting a 405gr projectile at 785 feet per second for a muzzle energy of 500fpe. Likewise, Crosman claims that their Pioneer Airbow can shoot a 375gr arrow at 450fps for a muzzle energy of 160fpe.
Yes, the common rifle cartridges that are popular among hunters are much more powerful than these air guns. However, the Pioneer Airbow has slightly more muzzle energy than your run-of-the-mill compound bow. The Airforce Texan is even more powerful and has a muzzle energy comparable to the .45 Colt and the .44-40 Winchester cartridges, both of which have taken their fair share of deer over the years.
With those things in mind, it should be clear that these air guns are perfectly capable of ethically taking a wide variety of big game under the right conditions. However, keep their limitations — particularly with regards to range — in mind. While it may be possible to take ethical shots at longer ranges with some air guns, closer is always better and you probably won't run into any trouble if you avoid shots at game farther than 50-75 yards away when using an air gun.
Even with these constraints, air guns can still open up a number of new opportunities for hunters. For instance, their ease of use, relatively quiet report and lack of recoil make air guns a great way to introduce new hunters to the sport. They can also be great for those who are physically unable to hunt with a bow due to an injury or disability.
Additionally, air guns are well suited for hunting in suburban or semirural areas where firearms may not be safe or legal to use. By increasing the pool of hunters able to hunt in these areas, the new rules allowing air guns for hunting big game could end up giving wildlife biologists a whole new set of tools for managing deer populations in suburban areas.
All in all, it looks like the new regulations permitting air guns for harvesting big game will be a positive development for hunters in Texas. If you've got an itch to buy an air rifle for this deer season, by all means do so. Learn how to shoot it well, use it within its limitations, and it should serve you well.
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