These are not your grandfather’s air rifles. They’ll still shoot at you, but they’re also accurate and powerful enough to take down a squirrel with a single shot at a time. They are quiet, cheap to shoot, and easy to use. If you’re thinking of exploring the woods for small game this year, you should know that airgun technology has advanced enough to rival any rimfire equipment.
A kid with a BB gun is a threat to the little critters of the woods, but if you want to get serious about hunting with airguns, you should try to select a rifle that you know will have enough power to get the job done.
We reached out to the good folks at Air Gun Depot and Pyramid Air for a little expert advice. According to a product specialist we spoke with, hunters looking for game the size of a squirrel should look for something with a .22 caliber capable of pushing a pellet at least 800 feet per second (fps). That will give you kill shots consistently at about 55 yards and possibly even farther.
Is it possible to kill small game with a slower moving .17 caliber shot or .22 caliber shot? Of course. It is also possible to kill a Whitetail with a .223 Rem. You can, but given the availability of other options, why not choose something that is more reliable?
Even with a .22 caliber air rifle, nothing will blow up. A 14.3-grain .22 caliber pellet traveling at 900 fps generates 26 foot-pounds of energy. By contrast, a 40-grain .22LR traveling at 1070 fps offers 102 foot-pounds. of energy. So even though a .22 caliber airgun is more powerful than a .17, it is nowhere near the most common small game cartridge.
Airgun Depot recommends choosing an airgun that uses a spring-loaded (“springer”) or pre-charge pneumatic (PCP) power plant. The first uses pre-charged compressed air (supplied via an electric or hand pump) and the second uses a large spring to compress the air and fire the pellet (not unlike your kid’s Nerf gun).
There are advantages and disadvantages to both systems. We have chosen three PCP pistols and two springs to give you some variety, but our main goal is to give you a starting point. There are many more options than the five listed below, but here are some of the best and most available.
The “Top Five” lists can be misleading – there are probably better air rifles out there, but they are certainly among the best. They combine quality, power and affordability and are a great place to start.
Some may be more expensive than you’d expect if you haven’t looked at airguns since you were 11, but then again, these aren’t your grandfather’s pellet guns. They will take on small game without breaking a sweat and can be counted on in the woods year after year.