Show promotes hunting with airguns

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published May 2, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated May 1, 2013 at 10:57 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Rick McMurray, originally from Benton but now living in Colorado, checks out an air rifle at the recent Arkansas Airgun Show in Malvern.

— Eric Henderson was in Malvern on Friday and Saturday speaking about big-game hunting.

The Sachse, Texas, resident was at a gun show talking to patrons about hunting for impala, warthogs and a variety of wild African antelopes. What made Henderson’s stories and the gun show different is that there was not a firearm anywhere to be seen.

The event was the fourth annual Arkansas Airgun Extravaganza at the Hot Spring County Fairgrounds. The show features some of the traditional BB and pellet guns for young boys and girls, but the larger and more lucrative part of the show is big-bore airguns, designed for hunting.

Henderson said he hunts with both firearms and airguns but is now a hunter, guide and spokesman for Big Bore Airgun Adventures.

“The airgun is more challenging,” he said. “With a firearm, you can shoot a variety of ammunition, and it will be accurate and go hundreds of yards under any situation, but the airgun is more temperamental. Things like temperature and humidity can affect how you shoot.”

Generally, when hunting with an airgun, the hunter has to get closer to the game, Henderson said. He is interested in learning how to use an airgun to shoot greater distances.

He said he has missed from 40 yards when the oversized pellet strayed from the target, but he is pushing the distance farther with newly developed airguns and ammunition.

Working on that better airgun ammo is Seth Rowland of Hot Springs, the owner of Black Hog Down Ammo and organizer of the gun show in Malvern.

He said that like many Southern boys, from the age of 7, he was hunting with BB guns and pellet guns.

“I had an old pump Crosman that they still sell today,” he said. “I got back into airguns about 20 years ago.”

Like Henderson, Rowland said he moved to the airgun for the challenge.

“With a traditional gun, what he calls powder burners, you can sit in one place and hit a deer from hundreds of yards away,” he said. “I like to stalk my prey.”

He started using more-powerful airguns with bigger, heavier ammunition about 10 years ago.

“Like a lot of people, I was skeptical about how it worked,” Rowland said. “I was surprised at what a big-bore airgun could do.”

He said he went to a gun show in Benton and looked at the big-bore guns but only decided to get one after the show.

“I saved up some money and waited for the show to return,” Rowland said. “I got it the following year at the show.”

However, Rowland said, he was not pleased with the ammo, and he decided to make his own.

“I started producing it for myself, and then some friends wanted some. And from there it went crazy, and I was in the business,” he said.

Rowland said that four years ago, the Benton show he had been attending was canceled, so he decided to have one of his own in Malvern.

“I didn’t know anything about holding a show,” he said. ”It was a tense time for a while.”

Now the Malvern show attracts airgun fans from around the country, including a vendor from Arizona and shoppers from Maryland and North Carolina. A man from Benton who said he now lives in Colorado came to the show during his visit home.

While new technology is redesigning airguns, the powerful air weapons are in no way new.

An Italian-made airgun was taken by Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery on the expedition across the Louisiana Purchase to the Pacific Northwest in 1804.

Larry Hannuseh, a collector and trader of antique airguns from Texas, had some of his older models on display at the show in Malvern.

One was a German-made target gun from the early 1800s. Like many of the airguns made today, the compressed air supply was in the stock of the gun.

“The stock is hollow, and you filled it up with a bellows,” he said.

Other models from Hannuseh’s collection were from the time of the Civil War.

“They are called gallery guns,” he said. “They were for target use inside the house, when you did not want the smell and smoke of

gunpowder.”

Hannuseh opened a box to show what appeared to be a matched pair of dueling pistols. They were made in the late 1700s.

He took one out and took off the handle.

“You pumped the air by hand into the grip and reattached it,” Hannuseh said.

He then moved the breech sideways, saying, “and a 40-caliber ball, much like a musket ball, went into the chamber.”

Asked what it was for, Hannuseh smiled and said, “Showing off.”

The strangest airgun at the show had to be the can gun that Hannuseh took from under his display table. It looked like a heavy stick with a large brass handle. However, it was another airgun.

“The air is pumped into the handle of the cane, which is very heavy and can be a good weapon once your one shot is done,” he said.

There was a hidden trigger, and with the brass barrel disguised as a walking stick, it was a formidable weapon.

There were relatively inexpensive rifles and pistols at the show, attracting buyers and traders. One company, AirForce Airguns, had black weapons that looked modern and military with adjustable stocks that contained the compressed air canister. Many of the weapons were made to issue multiple shots before having to renew the air supply.

“I usually pump my air supply to between 3,600 and 3,700 pounds of pressure,” big-game hunter Henderson said. “That is enough for three shots.”

He said he can carry another canister in a backpack like those designed to carry water, but he usually doesn’t take along refills.

“If I need more than three shots,” he said, “I shouldn’t be hunting.”

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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