Jeff Cox, age 14, made history on Oct. 5, 2008, when he bagged a whitetail doe in the west St. Louis County suburb of Wildwood. It was the third day of Missouri’s urban deer hunt, the earliest portion of Missouri’s firearms deer season, and 2008 was the first year in modern times when it was legal to hunt deer with air-powered rifles. As far as anyone knows, Cox was the first Missourian to take a deer with an air rifle.
You might be scratching your head wondering how he managed to kill a deer with a BB gun. That is exactly the sort of skepticism that Cox’s father, Ken, faced when he asked the Conservation Department’s Regulations Committee to make air-powered rifles a legal method for hunting white-tailed deer.
Like many adults, Ken’s interest in air guns began early. As a teenager, he hunted rabbits and squirrels with small-caliber air guns. His interest in air guns continued into adulthood, and he occasionally wondered when someone was going to develop an air rifle powerful enough for deer hunting. Then one day an online search turned up a large-caliber air-gun maker right here in Missouri.
It took several years, but he finally got his own .458-cal. rifle made by Dennis Quackenbush, of Urbana. Ken and Jeff have taken six deer with it so far, but before they could take aim at a deer, they had to score a bull’s-eye with a task force created by the Conservation Department’s Regulations Committee to investigate the matter. Ken was confident that the idea would sell itself if Regulations Committee members could see a large-caliber air rifle in action and shoot it themselves, so he took them to the shooting range.
Once they saw what an air gun could do, they were convinced. Starting in 2008, Missouri hunters could use air guns .40 cal. or larger for deer hunting, as long as they can be charged only from an external, high-compression power source, including external hand pumps, air tanks or air compressors. These requirements ensure adequate power for producing clean, quick kills.
To see what air guns were all about, I spent an afternoon with Ken and his air gun at the St. Louis County Police Range. What impressed me most were the rifle’s light recoil and minimal noise. I am used to the kick of my .30-06 Springfield, but I can’t say I am fond of