When it comes to the guns that won the West, one rifle that scarcely gets any credit for its role is the Girandoni air rifle carried by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their famous Corps of Discovery Expedition that explored and charted the land bought in the Louisiana Purchase. The .46-caliber air rifle had a 22-ball magazine and an air tank stock holding 800 pounds per square inch (psi) was frequently used to peacefully demonstrate the expedition’s arms to Native American tribes. Tribes were reportedly in awe of the quiet, smokeless rifle that seemed to shoot an endless string of projectiles. Although only one air rifle was carried on the expedition, they allowed the audience to assume they had many.
Except for an intense standoff, the expedition peacefully made its 4-year journey over the Rockies to the Pacific coast and back with only one death, which was due to illness. More importantly, the expedition helped chart half of America’s new land mass. The Lewis and Clark Expedition is an impressive study for any firearm historian, whether powder or air.
More recently, large-bore air rifles have seen an uptick in interest and popularity among hunters. Airforce Airguns has consistently lead the way. Their large-caliber air rifles are powered by small, high-pressure (3,000 psi) air reservoirs, known as precharged pneumatics (PCP). Although they may seem new, PCPs are the oldest form of airgun, which dates back to the 1600s. The Girandoni air rifle was a PCP.
Early airguns were typically large-caliber hunting rifles used for taking game as large as deer and wild boar. On the battlefields of early 19th-century Europe, air rifles were especially valued since they could be shot in the rain, were much quieter than muzzleloaders and didn’t leave a cloud of smoke to disclose a shooter’s location. One of the advantages of the Girandoni was that it could be loaded from the prone position, thus reducing a soldier’s exposure to enemy fire.
One of the reasons PCP airguns may not be as common as spring-loaded, pump-actions or even CO2 airguns is that they’re dependent on costly, specialized, high-pressure equipment to fill an on-board reservoir. Air Venturi, for example, has a 4,500-psi (74 cubic-foot) carbon-fiber tank that costs $600. The 4,500-psi compressor is $1,500. So, the entry fee to this type of airgunning is not cheap, but the advantages of multiple shots and high power are, in G&A’s opinion, worth saving up for. (Don’t bother trying to cheat by substituting a bicycle pump or tool compressor. Their maximum pressures are around 200 psi, which is a trickle of the pressure needed to operate a PCP air gun.)
Airforce Airguns have been manufacturing air rifles in Fort Worth, Texas, since 1994. Their tagline is “Serious Airguns for the Serious Shooter.” PCPs are the only flavor here, so you won’t find any pump-action, CO2-powered, or break-barrel airguns. To see how legitimate these rifles really are, jump over to their website (airforceairguns.com) and its social media pages where you’ll discover post after post of hunters who have taken coyote, deer and hogs with these airguns. (Eric Henderson of Adventures Afield, killed a mouflon ewe at 198 yards using a Texan.) The power these air rifles offer can be lethal in the field.
The TexanSS is Airforce Airguns’ most powerful air rifle, and its available in .308, .357 and .457 calibers. Other Texan models include unsuppressed and carbine versions. However, the TexanSS is a single-shot, nonregulated air rifle measuring 45 inches in length — a whopping 1-inch longer than the average precision rifle.
Most of the brand’s air rifles share the same fundamental design, which makes them easily distinguishable from competitors. At a glance, the sleek, black design of the TexanSS with its large sound moderator and minimal plastic can be easily mistaken for a cutting-edge, chassis-designed precision rifle. Trips to the range with the TexanSS always seems to attract attention from rifle shooters who can’t help but to ask questions about the air rifle. It’s that distinct. Fortunately, it’s a lot of fun to shoot, too.
Like the Girandoni Air Rifle, the stock on the TexanSS is also the reservoir. The chassis is made of aluminum and has multiple accessory rails on the top and bottom of the frame to attach a scope, bipod or other accessories. The 153/4-inch aluminum Sound-Loc (Airforce Airgun’s name for its sound moderator) housing has a girth of 2-inches in diameter. And the 1:30-inch twist, button-rifled barrel is sourced from Lothar Walther. As an aside, Lothar Walther has been manufacturing barrels for more than 90 years.
From the adjustable buttpad to the moderator’s cap, the TexanSS is well constructed, yet light and balanced. The only plastic components on the outside are the pistol grip, forend and charging handle’s grip. The grip and forend are rubber overmolded, which adds a nice tacky surface.
The TexanSS has an open loading tray that accommodates a wide range of pellets including a long, 411-grain slug down to a 147-grain ball. Having such a variety allowed us to tailor the choice of projectile to the shooting application. Other large-bore air rifles use magazines, which can limit pellet selection.
The TexanSS also sports a built-in adjustable tuner. The tuner adjusts the spring tension on the striker that affects the dwell time of the valve. Winding the tuner downward increases the spring tension and the timing of the valve, rotating it up decreases it. Believe it or not, heavier pellets prefer a lighter strike and lighter pellets a heavier strike. This is due to the backpressure heavier pellets create, which force the valve to stay open a little longer. In contrast, lighter pellets create less backpressure and benefit from an increase in dwell time for a harder strike.
It is easy to like or dislike any firearm based solely on how the controls operate. Everything from the trigger to the safety to the side charging handle on the TexanSS worked smoothly and were easy to locate. We were impressed with the ease of the charging lever’s travel. Tom Jones, Airforce Airgun’s technical guru and designer of the Airforce Airgun’s Escape rifle said, “The travel was a focus of the [TexanSS] project” and that they had “spent a lot of time smoothing it out.”
The automatic safety is cleverly located in front of the trigger and bisects the triggerguard (like an M1/M1A/M14). To disengage, push the safety forward with the index finger. To place it on safe, reach in front of the triggerguard and pull it in. The triggerguard will prevent your finger from accidentally sweeping the trigger while engaging the safety.
Filling the TexanSS’ 490-cubic-centimeter (cc) reservoir can be a slow process, especially if you watch the dial move from 0 to 3,000 psi. The maximum pressure Airforce recommends is 3,100 psi. Filling the tank beyond this offers no power advantages.
Shot after shot, the rifle’s two-stage trigger offered a very consistent, predictable release of the striker. During the first stage, we could feel a thin spring compress providing minimal resistance. The trigger then broke without any grittiness at 2 pounds, 2 ounces.
What’s neat about shooting a large-caliber air rifle on a sunny day is that you can track the arc of the projectile in the scope as it races and slams into the target. Surprisingly, the TexanSS recoiled like a .45-caliber, pistol-caliber carbine yet sounded like a .22 high-velocity airgun.
Figuring out the ballistics of the pellets was part of the fun in shooting the TexanSS. Initially, accuracy testing was going to be conducted at 25 yards, but the TexanSS produced such tight groups that we moved the target to 50 yards. To test the potential accuracy, three, three-shot groups were fired. We painstakingly topped off the reservoir to 3,000 psi after each shot with the Air Venturi tank. Why? Because someone will undoubtedly shoot it this way. However, we also shot a string of five-consecutive projectiles to determine how the drop in reservoir pressure would affect group size and velocity.
We shot four different pellets from Hunter’s Supply Cast Bullets (hunters-supply.com). These weighed 147, 250, 350 and 405 grains, respectively. The heavier slugs provided highly consistent velocities and the best groups. The extreme spread (ES) on the 405 and 350 grainers were 4 and 6 feet per second (fps). The average group size for the 405-grain slugs was .96 inch, with the best group measuring .30 inch. The 350-grain slugs averaged .93 inch, with the best group measuring .71 inch. Lighter pellets tended to open up considerably. The 250-grain’s average group size was 1.33 inches, with the best measured at 1 inch. The 147-grain slugs proved the wildest with an average of 3.17 inches, with an ES of 154 fps.
Every once in a while, a pellet would come out of the barrel underpowered and land 6 inches below the point of aim (POA). The sound at that moment from the TexanSS was very distinctive, and so was the anemic sounding thud of the pellet hitting the target. We experienced this with every slug type at least once. Twice, there was a string of three or more pellets that fell short. G&A contacted Airforce Airgun’s technical support and they were genuinely concerned about our issue. Jones determined a new air reservoir should resolve the problem and shipped one overnight. We installed the tank and the issue crept up again on the 19th shot and then again for six follow-up shots. We untightened and retightened the spinlock on the reservoir and rotated with the tension on the tuner, hoping it would be like rebooting a computer. The problem disappeared for the remaining 63 shots of our evaluation, using all four slugs tested. We’re confident whatever the problem, it worked itself out. That said, we couldn’t have asked for more responsive customer service.
The data on the five-consecutive shots was unexpected and shows how Airforce Airguns did a great job on tuning the TexanSS. With five-consecutive shots, the reservoir pressure dropped from 3,000 to 2,000 psi regardless of grain weight, but the average velocity dropped a maximum of only 38 fps. The two lighter pellets had a difference of only 2 fps in velocity. The group size opened up accordingly. The 405-grain slug’s group size was 1.34 inches larger than the initial accuracy test, while the 350-grain slug’s was .67 larger. The difference when hunting at 50 yards is insignificant. The 250 was 1.08 inches larger. Surprisingly, the 147-grain slug’s group was .37 smaller, showing it favors lighter pressures.
In terms of energy produced and the equivalency to centerfire cartridges, the airgun’s .45-caliber, 405-grain’s average velocity was 698 fps, making its energy of 438 ft.-lbs. greater than a .45 ACP’s 230-grain bullet traveling at an average of 835 fps (356 ft.-lbs.). The 350 grainers averaged 737 fps (422 ft.-lbs.), nearly equivalent to a .40 S&W. The 250-grain slugs averaged 815 fps (368 ft.-lbs.), which is a little less but relatable to a 124-grain 9mm bullet with a muzzle velocity of 1150 fps (364 ft.-lbs). The 147-grain’s average velocity was 917 fps (274 ft.-lbs.), which is comparable to a .17 HMR load with a 20-grain bullet traveling at 2,375 fps out of the muzzle. The point is, these projectiles will do some serious damage.
Airforce Airguns’ TexanSS feels and shoots like a premium air rifle. It operates smoothly and has the accuracy and lethality to harvest more game animals than most would expect, depending on the range to the target and the pellet you choose, of course.
Admittedly, the $1,200 asking price for the TexanSS will turn off many traditional gun owners. But once we shot the TexanSS, we can appreciate its value. It’s a keeper.
Editor’s Note: Consult your local laws regarding airgun shooting and hunting regulations.
Airforce Airguns TexanSSType: Side leverCaliber .45 (tested)Capacity: Single shotBarrel: 24.75 in.Overall Length: 45 in.Weight: 8 lbs., 12 oz.Reservoir 490ccSights: NoneSafety: Push buttonFinish: BlackTrigger: Two-stage; 2 lbs., 2 oz.MSRP: $1,210Manufacturer: Airforce Airguns,877-247-4867,airforceairguns.com