Clayton: It's deer season!

Luke Clayton
Special to the Empire-Tribune

With the opener of the general deer season this weekend in North Texas, many of us have been making last minute preparations for upcoming hunts. On many ranches managed by Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD), deer hunting began in early October and hunters were allowed to use all legal sporting arms to harvest deer but for the majority of us across most of Texas, Nov. 6 is the official opener of what we old timers used to call "gun season". 

Deer season opens this weekend. Campfires at hunting camps will be burning bright and every hunter’s dreams will be of harvesting a monster buck come opening day.

Most hunters that rely on their centerfire rifles to hunt deer have squirreled away a box or two of ammo to carry them through deer season. Ammo has become almost impossible to find for many calibers. I visited a gun store recently to pick up a new handgun that I had ordered and saw a single box of .357 ammo with a price tag of $90! Ammo for many popular deer calibers was simply not available. 

As an outdoors writer, I hunt with many different types of weapons throughout the season, but I absolutely love hunting with my big bore air rifles. I am often quizzed about air rifles by readers and folks that listen to my radio shows. They pose pertinent questions as to the power and effectiveness of big bore air rifles, where to purchase them, how to they fill their rifles with compressed air, what type bullets to shoot, what about air rifles that shoot arrows, etc. etc.

Luke Clayton

I have been shooting and hunting with big bore air rifles for the past decade and was thrilled when the hunting laws were changed to allow hunting big game with the power of air. At the time the law was changed a few years ago, I had already taken a good number of wild hogs and exotics with my .45-caliber Texan air rifle including a heavy Axis buck that was bigger than the biggest whitetail in the woods. Since the law was changed, I’ve taken several whitetail with air rifles and have learned that when shots are kept at reasonable range, under 100 yards for me, a well placed shot from a solid lead bullet weighing 200 grains or more from a powerful air rifle provides more than enough power to cleanly harvest deer.

In Texas, a PCP (Pre-Charged Pneumatic) air rifle of at least 30 caliber shooting a bullet 150 grains or more and delivering at least 215 foot pounds of energy at the muzzle is required. As hunting editor for a popular airgun magazine, I have had the opportunity to shoot a variety of PCP air rifles. My "go-to" bullet (pellet) shooter is the Texan by Airforce Airguns. I’ve found the rifle to be extremely rugged and with 500 foot pounds of energy, it provides more than enough power to cleanly harvest the biggest of whitetails. 

The Seneca Dragon Claw in 50 caliber is also a great PCP rifle that delivers 230 foot pounds of energy at the muzzle. This rifle is well known as a deadly arrow (bolt) shooter but it is also capable of cleanly harvesting deer size game at closer ranges with bullets (pellets in airgun jargon). I have take several good size boar with my Dragon Claw and feel confident at ranges 60 yards or less, they will perform well on deer.  It’s important to note that hunting with "arrow" airguns is legal only during the general season but not allowed during bow season. 

But I often field even more viable questions pertaining to hunting with air guns. I often hear, “Luke, where do I purchase these air guns and how to I charge them with air? The sporting goods stores I frequent do not carry PCP air guns or needed supplies. A normal compressor pressures tires to 40 pounds but not an air rifle that requires a charge of 3,000 psi.”

If you are interested in learning more about shooting or hunting with air guns, you need to become familiar with the largest air gun and accessories supplier in the world, Pyramyd Air. This company carries a wide selection of air guns of all types, bullets (pellets), compressors, tanks and everything related to air guns. So, what is a reasonable cost for me to purchase a PCP air rifle and the equipment necessary to keep it charged with air? 

Use $1,000 as a starting point, and go a couple hundred dollars above and below, depending upon the rifle you choose. Once you have chosen an air rifle, you need to think about keeping it charged with air. I used to use an air tank and get it filled at a paint ball range or take it to a buddy with a large compressor for a fill but now I use a Nomad portable compressor and charge my rifle before a hunt and have it handy in camp if I need to recharge. Factor in a few hundred for an air tank or portable compressor. Bullets (pellets) are readily available at a reasonable cost so you won’t have to worry about ammo shortage, which is another big reason to consider hunting with a PCP air rifle. 

So, is ole Luke abandoning his bows and centerfire rifles for deer hunting? Not by a long shot, I have stashed away a couple boxes of .270  and 30/30 rounds for hunting trips and I’ve been hunting with my bow for over a month now. But I’ll admit, hunting with PCP air rifles makes more sense now than ever.  I advise anyone that loves hunting to learn more about this relatively "new" type of sporting arm. For me, it has bridged the gap between hunting with a bow and centerfire.

Hopefully this week’s column will help you decide if airgun hunting fits into your hunting plans. Who knows, the new challenge might be just what you need to rekindle your love of hunting! 

Contact outdoors writer Luke Clayton via his website www.catfishradio.org.