The survivalists’ old standby for hunting small game has always been a small .22 rifle or pistol. While definitely no replacement for a good rifle, the pellet gun offers several advantages in a survival situation, here are a few to think about.
Why a Pellet Gun?
Open carrying or storing of firearms in a vehicle or in public is prohibited in most areas, but there is no such restriction regarding pellet guns in most areas (Check with your local law enforcement agency).
Pellet guns are much quieter than a traditional rifle. With almost no report outside the immediate firing area, with a pellet gun you are able to hunt small game without giving away your location or your activity. Some new pellet guns come with a legal suppressor (No stamp required).
The pellet gun is more friendly to your wallet to purchase and maintain than a rifle. The ammo is also much cheaper and lighter to carry around. A pellet gun can easily take down small game from the size of a turkey on down to a squirrel.
Is a Pellet Gun a Deterrent?
While I do not condone using a pellet gun for self defense, a pellet gun is a powerful deterrent for 2 reasons:
First, it is very hard to tell a pellet gun from a regular rifle, especially looking down the barrel. Note: This applies to Law Enforcement Officers as well so take care not to appear threatening – getting hit with a 9mm round because you had an air rifle could ruin your day.
Secondly, getting shot with a pellet gun hurts like hell and no one wants to get shot with one.
Pellet guns come in two different styles, those that are powered by bottled Co2, and those that are powered by the air around us that is compressed by pumping a lever on the gun. The single pump air rifles actually compress a spring that drives a piston to compress the air for firing. It is still an air rifle but as the gun is used, the spring may weaken so check the history of the gun before buying.
The type that is powered by muscle power is the more viable option in a survival situation because it does not rely on a non renewable fuel to make it shoot. They are also available in pistol and rifle configurations. Some pellet guns can fire in excess of 1200 fps. Be sure to get a gun with a minimum velocity of 550 fps, to be most effective against small game.
Pellet guns come in two different sizes of ammunition, the more popular being .177 cal. A box of 550 rounds of .22 Lr. ammo is about 20 dollars, which works out to around 4 cents a round, not much but lets consider the cost of pellets. A tin of 300 .177 pellets is about 2 dollars, which works out to about $.6 cents a round (less than a penny a shot).
Also, in some pellet guns 4.5 mm BBs can be fired for target shooting, the price for 2400 4.5 mm BBs is about 4 dollars, which works out to about $.4 cents. The difference in ammunition prices is obvious, even if you just use a pellet gun for cheap practice, you will save a bundle on ammunition prices. The fundamentals of shooting are the same with a pellet gun as they are with a real rifle.
A Little History
Historically, air rifles date back to the late 1700s. In fact, at the time they were at least as capable as the gun powder fire arms of the time. The Girandoni Air Rifle air rifle carried by Lewis and Clark could fire up to 40 balls of around .40 caliber at velocities similar to black powder guns of the day. A replica put a steel ball through pine boards at 100 yards – definitely a lethal weapon.
Its drawback was that it took 1500 pumps to have that ability. That plus the expense to build, made them a rare weapon. Still with a 22 round magazine, it was impressive to the Native Americans they met on their travels. Since the explorers were very careful not to let the Native Americans know how many guns they possessed, the supposition was that EVERY member of the expedition had one of these fine, multi-shot weapons. No one wanted to start a fight with these super weapons in the hands of their enemies.
Notable Air Gun Brands
Walther (8 shot repeater)
Gamo (I own one of these, never had an issue with it)
Pellet Gun Pros and Cons
- Pellet guns and ammo are cheaper
- Can be used for hunting
- Great for practicing and teaching
- Various calibers and configurations to choose from
- Some models can look just like a regular firearm
- Dependent on a supply of air to operate
- Limited range and power over regular firearms
- Some models can look just like a regular firearm
Even the big bore air rifles would not be my first choice for a survival weapon, they definitely have a place in a survival battery or a possible hunting tool stored in a below ground Survival Cache.
When you need a cheap means for taking down small game, or perhaps a gun that you are going to need to stash somewhere for long periods of time without worrying about it affecting its reliability or your ammo going bad, consider the pellet gun.
The pellet gun is also the perfect way to introduce young shooters to the concepts of gun safety. While the pellet gun may not be the ultimate tool for survival hunting, it has its advantages for sure.
Please tell us about your experiences with pellet guns in the comments below.
Evan Ross Murphy
Estevan Wildlife Federation