Choose The Best Air Rifle For Air Gun Hunting

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By Bryan Rucker •  6 min read

For most shooter the term “Air Gun” invokes images of plinking cans in the back yard, not taking down wild game. Yes, many entry level air guns are limited to knocking over cans or punching holes in paper but higher end models are more than capable of taking down almost any species you might be seeking, The key is good shooting and knowing what you are buying. So, whether you’re shopping for the best air rifle for squirrels, rabbits or target shooting, check out our recommendations below.

Top 10 Best Cheap Air Rifles For Hunting 2017 – 2018

Types of Air Guns

C02 Powered – These are some of the lowered end and least costly models available and are powered by a simple changeable CO2 cartridge. Although capable of taking down small mammals such as rodents or squirrels many do not meet the legal requirements for hunting in most states.

Pneumatic, built in hand pump – In many aspects these models are similar to CO2 powered models, specifically in terms of power and cost. Like the CO2 version they are capable of taking down small mammals but designed for general plinking. Unlike the CO2 model they do not rely on an external power supply but instead use a built in hand pump to fill an internal air reservoir

Spring-Piston – In this design a spring is compressed behind an air piston. When fired the spring releases the piston which is driven forward to generate the necessary air pressure. This models provides the best combination of cost & performance which makes it an excellent choice for those looking to move beyond tin cans in the back yard without breaking the bank. With a 100 yard rating of 1000 fps using a 15 grain .22 caliber pellet these models, even the lower end versions, are certainly capable of replicating a traditional firearm in many limited situations.

Pre-Charged Pneumatics (PCP) – These models are a combination of technologies, using breathable air compressed to high pressure but they also come with a high price tag. But, if you are serious about air gunning , or looking to hunt big game with one, this is really your only option.  Using either a hand pump or external air supply ( scuba tank, compressor etc) the tank is filled to over 2000 psi. Each time the trigger is pulled a small burst of air enters the chamber and propels the pellet out of the barrel.

Benefits of Using Air Rifles for Small Game Hunting

Many hunters start their careers with an air rifle in their hands, but too many of them end up setting it aside. There are plenty of times when a powerful rifle or shotgun is the best tool for the job, but there are also times when air rifles have the advantage. In particular, they offer several benefits when hunting small game.

The Price

Ammunition is expensive. It’s possible to dodge the worst of the expense by reloading old cartridges, but even the cost of reloaded ammunition adds up fast. Pellets for an air rifle cost only a fraction of what an equivalent number of bullets would cost, so they’re a good choice for people who want to save money.

This is an especially tempting benefit for anyone who hunts to get relatively cheap meat. It can be hard to justify taking a shot at a relatively small animal with expensive ammunition, especially for shooters who aren’t confident in their aim. Pellets get rid of that problem and make hunting into an easy economic choice.

Quiet Shooting

Conventional weapons are loud, but most air rifles are nearly silent. That makes it relatively easy to take a shot without disturbing other animals in the area. That’s useful when hunting any type of prey, but it’s especially good for people who want to harvest small game. A single rabbit or squirrel isn’t much of a meal for a fully family, but that’s all most hunters are going to get without a long wait if they’re using a conventional weapon. Air rifles open up the opportunity to take multiple shots to expand the catch. This isn’t foolproof, and particularly skittish animals will still run, but it’s a better chance than any other weapon can offer.

Ease of Use

There’s a reason that young shooters often start with an air rifle, and it isn’t just a matter of the cost. Air rifles are light, which makes them perfect for carrying over rough terrain. They’re also very accurate weapons and most of them offer minimal recoil, so they’re a strong option for people who are new to the sport. This might not matter for an experienced hunter, but even they can benefit from owning an air rifle to loan out to guests and novices who want to try their hand at hunting.

Ease of Storage

Conventional ammunition can degrade quickly if it isn’t stored under the right conditions. That isn’t a big problem for most people who keep their gun at home, but it can make extended camping trips difficult. Pellets can survive under significantly worse conditions without any problems, which makes air rifles ideal for long trips through inhospitable areas. It’s far from impossible to use conventional weapons under those circumstances, but it does take more effort, and it’s hard to make an argument against the more convenient option. Even Lewis and Clark relied on air rifles when they went on their expeditions, and the survival benefits have only increased with new technologies.

Hunting With An Air Gun

Like traditional firearms air gun rifles are capable of taking down everything from the local grey squirrel to large game – if you select the correct model. Many small game hunters, or even those looking to control vermin around their property, choose a spring-piston model. The technology is more than capable of producing the necessary energy to cleanly take small targets and the lower cost makes it a suitable alternative to another .22 or .17 rifle.  Large calibers, even over .50 caliber, are as reliable as a modern inline muzzleloader and are certainly capable of taking down similar sized game at similar ranges. When looking to hunt other than small game the favorite design is PCP due to reliability and ease of use. Although there are high-end hand pump models available in large calibers you will likely look like Popeye after any real shooting as it will take a lot of pumping to build the necessary pressure.

Good luck, good shooting!

Bryan Rucker

Brian Rucker has spent his entire life participating in essentially all things wildlife. His concern grew astronomically during the previous tensions between the United States and other nations. He also has grown a substantial interest in survival and sustainability due to the current shape of the world over the years. He believes that preparation triumphs all things.