Nick White can talk for hours about airguns, or his preferred term, “modern pneumatic rifles,” an increasingly popular subset of hunting and shooting sports.

He said it is the fastest growing shooting sport in the world and airguns are increasingly gaining a foothold with some hunters. Although their range is much shorter than those of traditional firearms, airguns can effectively kill even the largest of game. For example, White of Worley, killed a massive cape buffalo in South Africa with a modern pneumatic rifle and plans to hunt cow moose with one this fall.

“Hunting dangerous game is my passion,” he said.

Instead of using gun powder to propel a projectile, airguns use pressurized air or other gases to do the same. The air is precharged into the rifle and pulling the trigger releases a measured burst of gas into the barrel that propels the bullet. Most airguns can shoot several times before they need to be recharched. They are a legal hunting weapon in 16 states, including Idaho, which approved airgun regulations in 2018.

But why use an airgun over a traditional firearm. White was drawn to the weapons because the challenges they present given their shorter range and the opportunity to dive deep and geek out on the technical aspects of them.

“I kind of got bored with modern hunting rifles. If I can see it, I can hit it kind of lost its appeal,” he said.

He considered taking up archery hunting but an injury prevents him from drawing a bow. He dabbled in black powder rifles but was more enamored with airguns.

“You have to understand your weapon a lot better than with a modern firearm. All modern pneumatic rifles each have their quirks. You have to learn your gun,” he said. “Each one of them is a treat to learn the ins and outs of.”

Using an airgun requires hunting methods similar to those used by archery hunters or muzzleloaders.

“I tell everyone when hunting with a modern airgun, think 50 to 75 yards on an elk-sized animal, and you have to have a high-end gun for that,” he said. “You can take a deer out to about 100 yards. My goal is to do all my hunting within 50 yards.”

Some people have taken them up to escape the stigma of firearms and the possibility of stricter government regulation of guns. Airguns are not federally regulated.

“You have a broad swath of hunters and sportsmen tired of being singled out because they use a firearm,” White said. “With the political climate nowadays, a lot of sportsmen and women are really reticent to get more firearms until they find out what is going on. For a comparable price of a high-end firearm, you can get into airguns.”

For example, he said a nice, big-bore rifle can run between $700 and $2,200. And like anything, if someone develops a keen interest in them, there is an endless number of accessories that can be purchased.

Idaho requires airguns used for hunting to be at least .35 caliber for deer, pronghorn, wolves and mountain lions, and at least .45 for elk, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and black bear. The state also recommends airguns used for hunting be capable of producing 350 foot pounds of energy, but it is not a requirement.

“Measuring that in the field would be nearly impossible,” said Toby Boudreau, chief of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s wildlife bureau.

The guns come in a wide variety of styles. Some carry the classic look and lines of traditional hunting rifles with wooden stocks, while others look like something out of “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.”

White’s company, Airgun Adventurer LLC, was the first to figure out how to rig the weapons to shoot copper-jacketed bullets, meaning people can easily purchase bullets. He said the guns are similar in their adaptability to modern sporting rifles, also known as assault rifles.

“They can be rigged for distance, power, accuracy, recoil. You can get them to where a child can enjoy shooting them, and you still can too,” he said. “Just the versatility in them — most people don’t understand.”

White posts information and videos frequently on his Facebook page, Airgun Adventurer, and said he is happy to answer questions about the weapons. He can be reached during business hours at (208) 755-9449. He also has a YouTube channel at http://bit.ly/2LD6svV.

Barker may be contacted at ebarker@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.

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