The .357 caliber is a key contributor to the big bore class of airguns. Heavy enough to pack a punch but light enough to fly flat. Surprisingly there still aren’t a lot of airguns that use this caliber of barrel, but we suspect that will change quickly in the coming years. With that said let’s see which of these two popular 357’s top each other.
In the red corner manufactured in upstate New York we have the first US produced big bore bullpup, the Benjamin Bulldog. Weighing in at 7.7 lbs this futuristic looking rifle, first released in early 2015, has become a bit of a modern classic. Popular with hunters for its compact design yet excellent power output and accuracy, the Bulldog has taken the game the world over. At first glance the bullpup design may be balked at buy traditionalists, but once this rifle is shouldered it’s easy to see why it has become a favorite of many airgun hunters.
In the Blue corner, hailing all the way from Turkey, we have our contender, the Hatsan Hercules. Weighing in at a stout 13 lbs, the Hercules is definitely not for the faint of heart. Featuring an air system unlike any other this beast of a rifle packs not 1 but 2, 500cc air tanks onto its massive frame. With that much air a shooter can presumably fill the rifle and hunt all day on one charge, but does the extra weight play a factor in whether or not this new design will sink or swim? There’s only one way to tell, let’s get them in the ring!
Round 1: Build Quality & Ergonomics
The Bulldog answered the call of many airgunners for a compact, and powerful, magazine fed big bore. It really was the first of its kind to offer that kind of package at a price point that made it feasible for most airgun hunter. As such, Benjamin (who, as many know is part of the Crosman family) really paid close attention to the construction of this rifle. The stock and action housing are made of a tough synthetic material that is perfect for field use as it is resistant to the dings and scratches that come with any well-used hunting gun but also protects against the elements. This makes it a great all weather rifle and we have seen a lot of hunters in tropical areas gravitate to the Bulldog and use it for everything from Iguana to Pig hunting. The Bulldogs unique trapezoidal barrel shroud action and full-length top picatinny rail are all metal construction as one would expect. Because of the Bulldog’s plethora of rail space, optic mounting options are pretty much endless. Though the Bulldog can be purchased in a combo with a Center Point scope, we really like the idea of pairing it with an ATN X-Sight II digital scope for a true day/night hunting rig.
The action itself is a simple and very rugged design that features a very smooth side lever charging handle. One of our favorite features of the action is that the charging handle can be swapped at the factory or by a trained airgun tech to the left side of the gun so that left handed shooters can operate the rifle properly without having to come off the gun. The Bulldogs five round rotary mags are easy to swap out of the gun, just pull the charging handle back and lift them straight up and out of the gun. Loading them is a two handed affair as they are spring loaded and require using one hand to wind the mag and the other to load the pellet. The magazines are wide enough to accommodate many different types of ammo which is a big plus for hunters. The Bulldogs fill system, like all Benjamins, is very simple – just connect your Foster quick disconnect and you’re ready to charge the gun. The Bulldog features an onboard gauge on the underside of the rifle making monitoring your fill pressure easy. Ergonomically the Bulldog is very comfortable to shoot and though its space-aged looks may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it is a quick pointing and easy to shoot airgun.
The Hercules like pretty much all Hatsan airguns, comes feature packed and ready for action. The Hercules represents the marrying of a few key features that big bore enthusiasts have been requesting for quite some time, large capacity magazines and large capacity on board air reservoirs. The Hercules features a 9 shot rotary mag and 1000 cc’s of on board air. With that kind of capacity, you can shoot and shoot without having to stop to refill. And by keeping multiple mags on hand you will spend less time loading and more time pulling triggers. But where do you put all that air? Well, the answer is two 500 cc air tanks. Because of its dual tank design, the gun is really designed around the tanks. One is mounted under the barrel (the forend of the stock is molded around it) and the other is mounted at the back (which is part of the butt stock). One might think that because of this configuration the Hercules may be awkward to hold or shoot but Hatsan has done an excellent job of designing the furniture of the rifle around the tanks. The forend wraps tightly around the forward air tank keeping it from feeling bulky. The butt stock is molded around the rear tank and is actually pretty comfortable to shoulder. Hatsan has added a molded cheek riser to the top of the tank so it is easy to get a solid cheek weld and the butt pad is still adjustable for length of pull so the gun can be sized up for any shooter. The Hercules is equipped with a side lever charging handle that is very similar to that of the Bull Boss and the Gladius, however, it lacks the same smoothness as its smaller caliber brothers. Like most European airguns the Hercules also comes equipped with an auto safety that resets after each shot is fired. The action, trigger, trigger guard, and barrel shroud are all constructed of metal and are very rugged. Atop the action Hatsans signature combo dovetail/weaver rail means you can mount just about any scope or optic using just about any mount or rings. The Hercules also comes equipped with Hatsan’s QE sound suppression system to quiet some of the bark of this big gun. Overall the Hercules, like all Hatsans guns is a solid, field ready performer.
Winner: Though both of these guns are extremely well made our judges preferred the Bulldog to the Hercules for one major factor, weight. The Hercules weighs in at nearly 13 lbs and in a world of ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain, carrying a 13 lb rifle through the field can get tiring quick. If you’re planning on hunting from a blind rather than on foot then the Hercules may be perfect for you, but our judges hand this round to the Bulldog.
Round 2: Trigger
The trigger of the Bulldog is probably the biggest highlight of the gun. Typically we have been very critical of bullpup triggers. Due to the use of a trigger operating rod running from the trigger back to the sear, bullpups typically have a very spongy trigger. The Bulldog is an exception to this rule, the first stage is long, but very light and the second stage breaks very cleanly. You almost only have to think about this rifle going off to get the trigger to break. Also note that the safety is manual, which is nice for quick second shots when needed during hunting. On our Lyman pull gauge the Bulldogs trigger pulled at 4 lbs 1.5 oz right out of the box. The Hercules is one of the few Hatsans that we have tested that lacks the Quattro trigger system (that we really like). However, it is still equipped with a 2 stage adjustable trigger. Out of the box the first stage pull was light and short but the second stage break was quite heavy at 7 lbs 4 oz. Though a somewhat heavier trigger is desirable when hunting to prevent accidental firing while the shooter is battling excitement or the physiological effects of hunting; it was still a bit on the heavy side for our liking.
Round 3: Shot Per Fill
Do we even really need to test this one? I mean the Hercules has 1000 cc’s of on board air, is there anything that can even come close to that? All jokes aside though, the Hercules is capable of upwards of 45 shots using JSB 81.02 grain pellets. That’s 5 full magazines of 9 shots each! Thats enough that you could load this thing up and spend a day in the hunting blind and still have enough air left over to do some target shooting when you got home. Truly impressive. The Bulldog still put up a pretty good fight in this round and we were somewhat surprised that the Bulldog slung 15 solid shots down range before needing to be topped off. That’s perfectly adequate for a day of hunting in our opinion.
Round 4: Power
This one was close. Both of these guns are easily capable of 150 ft/lbs or better, but what was really interesting was that as far as consistency went, there really was not that much of a difference between these guns across a 15 shot string. The Bulldog was more powerful out of the gate with its highest power shot being 970.8 fps making 170 ft/lbs using a 81.02 gn. JSB pellet, while the Hatsan’s top shot was 954.5 fps making just around 164 ft/lbs with the same pellet. However, the Hatsan was more consistent and did not have nearly the same power drop off that the Bulldog did. This resulted in an average velocity of 923.02 fps for the Hercules and 911 fps for the Bulldog. You can see the average ft/lb energy in the chart below.
Winner: With these two guns being so close across a 15 shot string, we had call this round as a draw. Realistically either gun will work just as well but it’s up to the end user to decide what they are looking for. If first shot power is what you need then the Bulldog packs just a little extra punch, but if you want consistent power for longer hunting sessions then the Hercules is probably a better bet.
Round 5: Accuracy
For our accuracy test we sighted both guns in with JSB’s 81.02 grain pellets and headed to our indoor 50 yard range. Both of these guns are performers in the accuracy department. The Bulldog shot a 5 shot group of about 1 inch center to center with the only real variance being a bit of vertical stringing. The Hercules held its own and shot pretty much the same group with just 1 outlier opening the group up to 1.5 inches. Both these guns shot absolutely lights out with the Bulldog just barely edging out the Hercules.
Winner: Though this one was super close the Bulldog just edges out the Hercules by half an inch. The Bulldogs lighter trigger may have come into play here making it just a hair easier to stack pellets one on top of the other.
Round 6: Loudness
It’s no secret that big bore guns have quite the bark, but both of these guns feature different sound suppression systems to help eliminate some of the noise. It should be noted that neither gun is particularly backyard friendly but the addition of sound suppression is a nice touch for both guns. The Bulldog uses a trapezoidal shroud system that is a baffleless design to help mitigate some of the noise from this powerful rifle. Our sound meter test read out at 93 dB for the Bulldog. Again, far from backyard friendly, however still in the realm of hearing safe. The Benjamins report is a nice low tone as well making its report much less offensive than a high pitched crack. The Hercules takes advantage of Hatsans QE sound suppression system. The QE system uses a traditional baffle design as well as cotton sound abatement material to reduce the report of the rifle. On our sound meter test showed an average of 72 dB for the Hercules. Though quieter the Hercules’ report was noticeably higher pitched than that of the Bulldog.
Winner: The Hercules came out on top of this one pretty handily. Realistically the, the proven traditional baffle system of the Hatsan QE system is hard to beat as it has proven to consistently be one of the best sound moderation systems on the market.
When you score it all up this one is a win for the Bulldog but only just barely. These two are so evenly matched that it pretty much came down to the judges scorecard in many of the rounds. It comes down to your individual style of hunting really, if you are an on the move spot and stock type hunter, then the Bulldogs lightweight, compact form, and high first shot power is a great choice. If spending the day in a blind keeping watch over a feed lot is more your style then the Hercules’ high shot count, repeatable velocity and quiet sound suppression system are a great choice. These two guns are easily some of our favorites in the .35 cal big bore category!