A .50-Caliber Thumper
By Sam Fadala
American shooters continue to carry on a serious love affair with air-powered rifles and handguns. Europe has far more highly organized competitions, but we have plinked and hunted with air forever. Often, our first “rifle” is a BB gun. My Aunt Vera bought my Daisy Red Ryder for $7 when I was a little kid. I immediately set out to stifle the beautiful songs of every bird in the neighborhood. Auntie fixed that errant lust pronto, promising to take the rifle back if I pelted just one more of her feathered friends. I settled for crickets, grasshoppers and tin cans after that. Later, I learned a healthy respect for a “pellet gun” an uncle brought from the conquest of WWII Berlin. Contraband was allowed, and I did a lot of hunting with that accurate and beautiful Diana rifle.
Meriwether Lewis’ big bore air rifle was part of the 1804-1806 trek launched by President Jefferson to ensure American posture where British and French trappers claimed rights. What prompted Lewis to buy his air rifle we can never know. That it made an impression upon the Indians we learn from the Journals. Before the trip, it almost made an “impression” of a different sort upon a lady’s forehead. On August 30 of 1803, Lewis writes the party arrived at Bruno’s Island. “Went on shore and being invited by some of the gentlemen present to try my new airgun which I had purchased, brought it on shore, charged it, and fired myself several times 55 yards with pretty good success. After which a Mr. Blaze Cenas, being unacquainted with the management of the gun, suffered to discharge her accidentally. The ball passed through the hat of a woman about 40 yards distant, cutting her temple.” Lewis says the lady “fell instantly and the blood gushing from her temple.” They thought her dead, but “in a minute she revived.”
The Lewis airgun fired a “big-bore ball.” But even smallbore airguns played a role in military and semi-military applications. During the Viet Nam conflict, a special training effort had soldiers “walking down a gloomy jungle trail which simulates a narrow path through groves of thick Indochinese bamboo.” Target ID was critical, since a “buddy” rather than enemy might pop up. This “VC Quick Reaction” firing course was “a howling success.” The only drawback was another howling—from the Secretary of Defense about cases of ammo fired up. A switch to the .22-rimfire was decided. But as rifles were manufactured by H&R, “BB guns” took over. A military spokesman proclaimed “that at least 30 percent of the men who wash out of training on the rifle range now make the grade because of this air rifle preliminary.”
The Dragon put a 250-grain roundnose into the end of a chunk of firewood.
Although not hardwood, this was green slow growth northern pine and very dense.
Depth of bullet penetration was impressive in this chunk.
The Dragon is a .50 caliber air rifle offering significant stopping
power and able to take small game easily.
When the Dragon Slayer reached my door for testing, here was an air rifle not of the popular .17 or .22, or even .20 or .25, but a full .50-caliber. The plant making the Dragon Slayer details every aspect with surgical precision. Close-up photography revealed no tool marks, metal to wood gaps, or other sins, and flawless function followed. The rifle worked as good as it looked. Basically, the Dragon functions on the platform of cock, insert bullet, shoot. But it’s worlds apart from the simplistic function of a powder-burner. The fact compressed air is the medium of force demands a reservoir that must be pumped full.
My first shot with the Dragon Slayer was no shot at all. Dry-firing is perfectly acceptable, and so I let one go off on the porch. Wham! What a bellow from the rushing air! We had two young men doing a little work for us on our high mountain cabin-house and both came running to see how badly I was bleeding. They were instantly fascinated by the big air rifle and wanted to try it. I could see how the Indians Lewis and Clark met were fascinated by the big-bore airgun. The three of us popped off a few rounds into a safe backstop and later that afternoon I headed for a favorite shooting spot, a deep natural pit with a huge rock wall backstop. Respect for air power was elevated when after ripping a beverage can, the bullet whined away spanking the rock ledge with a serious whack.
A Superdome .17-caliber pellet averaged 8.5-grains on my Lyman electronic scale, while a Crossman Competition .17 averaged 7.6-grains weight. The Superdome ran .178” diameter and the Crossman .177”. The Dragon fires a 0.4975” (.50-caliber) Air Venturi solid roundnose bullet weighing in at 250-grains, or a hollow-point at 225 grains! Velocity-wise, my hottest .17 pushes its tiny lead pill at about 1,000 feet per second. Doesn’t sound like much, and it isn’t. But recently two lovely squirrels turned into a lip-smacking Arkansas stew with one little pellet each. The .50-caliber Dragon bullet is a horse of a different hue. At 612 fps, muzzle energy is 208 foot-pounds and momentum is serious.
Showing built-in air pressure gauge at the end of the pressure tank. The manual
with the Dragon demands careful reading to ensure proper operation, part of
which is learning how to discern final tank pressure by properly reading this gauge.
The safety is clearly marked.
To put that into perspective, consider a feral pig destroying another patch of farmland 37 yards from your tree stand. If you were a pistoleer you’d be able to touch that boar with a 230-grain bullet from your .45 ACP starting at 900 fps for 414 ft-lbs, and the hog would become sow belly with Great Northern beans simmered with chopped onion and laced with apple cider. While the difference in foot-pounds of energy between the Dragon and the .45 Auto is significant, the big bullet delivers the goods at close range. Velocity always wins first place over bullet weight when KE (kinetic energy) is the prize. But KE is not everything. The Dragon picks up velocity to 727 fps with the 225 grain hollowpoint for 264 ft-lbs.
Ballistics aside, most impressive is the quality. The rifle is built by true master craftsmen of Shinshung Industrial Company of South Korea. It’s intended by the maker for hunting, plinking, general target shooting, and competition. It’s classified as a pre-charged pneumatic, power source compressed air only developed by hand pump or scuba tank. Power storage is a built-in under-barrel chamber capable of containing approximately 3,000 pounds per square inch (psi) pressure with built-in pressure gauge and quick-fill port. Total compressed air capacity is about 300 cubic centimeters (CCs). It’s a single-shot with a compact side cocking lever. Full-sized, its overall length is a whisker over 40”. The rifle weighs 7.7 pounds with a 20.6” barrel. The rubber buttplate is for non-slip, not recoil, which is nil.
Checkering was of course not on par with the super professional grade
as exhibited by Frank Wells, custom gun maker of Tucson, Arizona, or
other artisans, but proved acceptable visually and for grip.
The lever of the Dragon is easily and simply drawn back for cocking
the rifle. A bullet is inserted directly into the waiting bore and the
lever is snapped back into its closed position.
The supplied scope had a lighted reticule and proved worthy.
To charge, rotate the dust cap on the end of the air reservoir tube. Rotate only, never remove the dust cap. For a first time charge, ensure the rifle is cocked before pressurizing. This is a simple maneuver—draw the lever fully back (click!) and then collapse it forward into place. Attach the adapter hose to the tank; attach the probe to the receptor port, being careful not to snag O-rings at the edge of the dust cap. Slowly open the scuba tank valve. When the desired pressure is reached, open the bleeder valve and woosh! goes a rush of air. Remove probe adapter from the receptor port. The Dragon is ready to breathe fire. Cock the lever; install a .50-caliber bullet directly into the breech. Close the lever. Apply safety. The rifle is ready to shoot.
All safety rules apply of course. While the rifle will not cock on safe, immediately after cocking the cross-bolt safety, being the gold stem protruding downward into the triggerguard, is immediately applied. This safety is as positive as things mechanical can promise. It’s extremely easy to get to and it slides sideways effortlessly. Slide right and the Dragon is safe with a circled “S” showing for safe. Slide left and a red-circled “F” shows for fire.
The trigger is 2-stage and can be adjusted down to a 2-pound let-off. I did the rifle no particular favor when shooting targets because I failed to note a dirty bore. My range was set up for 75 yards. Groups were sufficient to pop any critter loitering about the tree stand, but could have been improved by more careful bore maintenance.
So was the Dragon enjoyable to shoot? I haven’t had so much fun since Mrs. McCarty’s mongrel cur jumped the fence and bred our stuck-up neighbor’s blue ribbon French poodle. In closing, it’s important to stow the Dragon air-empty, which is accomplished by dry firing. A look at the latest 8th Edition of the Blue Book of Airguns and you will be convinced of the rich air-powered shooting world in its 568 pages. The Dragon is a worthy part of that world.
Showing a comparison of two .17-caliber pellets with both the
225-grain and 250-grain bullets for the Dragon. A big difference!
Pressure readings are vital in charging the air tank of the Dragon.
Note the bold lettering here showing 3,000 psi as maximum for the rifle.
The bolt of the Dragon in the closed position showing solid workmanship and stout lock-up.
The cocking lever of the Dragon in the open position.
The lever is quite long to promote ease of cocking.
Once the bolt is open, simply insert a bullet directly into the chamber of the rifle by hand.
Turn the dust cap only. Never attempt to remove it or dismantle any
part of the Dragon. The company will handle repairs. The Dragon is a
complex shooting instrument and not to be tampered with except by
expert air rifle mechanics.
Three shots at 75 yards under not perfect conditions still delivered
amazing performance from the Dragon. Note the size of those holes!