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Air guns legalized this deer season



If Missouri deer hunters were like Anton Chigurh, the cold-blooded hit man in the film No Country for Old Men, the animals would soon be considered an endangered species. Luckily for the deer, the state's outdoorsmen have not yet become crazed assassins. But thanks to a new regulation approved by the Missouri Department of Conservation, this deer season hunters will be allowed to kill the beasts with an unusual style of rifle that might appeal to the maniacal Chigurh.

Last summer the six-person regulatory committee of the Missouri Department of Conservation voted unanimously to approve the use of high-caliber air rifles for deer hunting. The weapons, which must be a minimum of .40 caliber, are powered by an external hand pump, or a tank of compressed air. The changes officially take effect March 1, but the rifles will not be legal for hunting until regular-firearms deer season opens November 15.

"It was a request from a small group of folks who used these large-caliber air guns," says Dennis Steward, a member of the regulatory committee who voted in favor of the new rule. "These firearms are not Daisy air rifles. They are high-powered, large-caliber, generally very expensive firearms that carry the foot-pounds of energy necessary to take down large game."

Dennis Quackenbush, who custom builds and sells the rifles from his home in Urbana, Missouri, says air rifles differ from standard gunpowder-propelled weaponry. For one, the bullet is loaded directly into the chamber, generally through the breach, where the barrel meets the butt of the gun.

After pressurizing the chamber of the rifle with air from an external tank, the hunter has only one chance to shoot his prey before having to reload and recharge. The range of the air guns is also significantly reduced; a shotfrom a standard .40 caliber rifle can carry more than a mile, while a round from an air rifle is only lethal within a few hundred yards. They're pricey, too: Quackenbush's .50 caliber deer rifles start at $585.

Air-powered rifles are nothing new. Lewis and Clark carried a hand pump-powered model on their 1804 expedition. Long a popular tool for dispatching varmints, the guns have undergone recent refinements that make them suitable for big-game hunting. Quackenbush says there's no question that the rifles are powerful enough to take down a deer. A picture on his Web site ( shows a customer who used one of his guns to bag a 2,000-pound bison.

According to Steward, for now the rifles will only be permitted for deer hunting, but could eventually be used for other types of big game, such as feral hogs.

As for No Country's Anton Chigurh, Quackenbush says he ought to find another weapon. "These rifles are quite powerful, but the belief that these would make a good assassin weapon or sniper weapon, that's just not true," he says. "They just don't have the range."

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