Hunting Basics: A Beginner’s Guide to Hunting with an Air Rifle

31. Air Rifle 3

Source: Flickr.

Are you going to tackle some big game with an air rifle? Probably not very often. Can you go hunting for small game with some of the best air rifles on the market today? Absolutely. There are some things that you’ll need to consider, however, before you just grab an air rifle and start chasing after rabbits, squirrels, and similar targets.

The first thing you’ll need to think about with an air rifle is your personal accuracy. Even the best pellets for hunting aren’t going to kill an animal if you aren’t very accurate. From an ethical standpoint, you shouldn’t hunt with an air rifle until you are pretty consistent with your ability to hit a target. Practice shooting at a US quarter from a distance of 10 yards and when you can consistently hit it, you’re ready to get going.

This guide will take you through some of the other key points you’ll want to think about when hunting with an air rifle so you can go from beginner to master in the shortest amount of time.

What Is the Right Air Rifle to Choose?

When you think of an air rifle, there’s a good chance you’re either thinking of a springer or a PCP. Springers are a spring piston design and likely the most common type of rifle available right now. They’re easy to use, relatively affordable, and all you need to do to cock the weapon to fire it. They’re highly accurate, but some springers can have a bit of a kick to them.

PCPs are precharged pneumatic airguns that are fired with the assistance of a cylinder of compressed air. This technology is more than 3 centuries old, but it has only become a popular alternative design for an air rifle in the last decade or two. These air rifles tend to cost more and each cylinder has a limited number of shots that it can provide.

CO2 air rifles also incorporate these designs, but have some definite disadvantages. For starters, they don’t operate well in cold environments. They also have less overall power, but this does make them a solid choice for pest control and target practice.

An alternative to these two common designs is the gas-ram air rifle. It’s a lot like the springers except that it doesn’t have a spring. It fires the pellet through the release of gas from an expanding chamber and will give you long-term durability for your investment. These air rifles can be pretty tough to cock sometimes and the firing cycle jolts a bit, but if you can get used to those issues, then you’ll have a solid air rifle for hunting.

There are also single-stroke and multi-stroke air rifles that have no external pumps or cylinders needing to be charged to fire it. Just one pump or one charge is all you need to take the shot.

In reality, each design has certain strengths and weaknesses that must be considered before making a decision on which air rifle to purchase. That’s why the best air rifle reviews are such an important part of the shopping experience. Research each air rifle, find the design that meets your needs, and then select a reliable rifle with the features you need so you can have a great time hunting.

Choosing the Right Caliber of Pellet for Your Air Rifle

There are four standard air rifle calibers available for your pellets that are the best option for hunting. Two are very common: .177 and .22. There are also .20 and .25 caliber pellets that are available in limited quantities. Some air rifles can accommodate all of these calibers. Others may be caliber-specific, which means you’ll need to know what your air rifle can accommodate before you purchase your pellets.

When hunting, it is best to avoid the .177 caliber pellets. They tend to go right through your target without affecting any vital organs, which means you end up wounding the animal and leaving metal scrap debris in the ground because the pellet tends to pass right through thanks to its higher speeds. To be successful with this caliber, you literally have to hit something the size of a US nickel at 10+ yards. Not everyone can do that.

The larger calibers are all pretty suitable for hunting because they have a better impact, especially if you’re using hollowpoints. You still have a lot of momentum behind the shot, especially with the .25 caliber, so as long as you can find pellets which are consistent, you’ll have a reasonably good experience. The only issue is that good pellets in the upper calibers can be somewhat costly, although any air rifle ammunition is going to be much cheaper than purchasing ammo for a firearm.

Once you get your pellet caliber settled, then you’re ready to start breaking-in and shooting your air rifle.

Want to go bigger? Some air rifle manufacturers have introduced a .303 and a .357 caliber pellet that is suitable for larger game. This caliber may not be available in all areas or be considered a legal caliber to use in your jurisdiction. To see what you can do with this type of air rifle, however, check out the video below.


8 Ways You Can Improve Your Accuracy with an Air Rifle Today

  1. Take care of your pellets. Pellets for an air rifle can be surprisingly easy to alter. Sort out any that don’t have a proper shape before loading them into your rifle. Make sure you store them in a place that meets the manufacturer’s specifications.
  1. Load your air rifle properly. Every air rifle has a particular method of loading which should be followed to the letter. You need the skirt to be correctly seated to have an accurate shot.
  1. Know your sweet spot. Every rifle fires an accurate shot when there’s a certain amount of pressure to propel the pellet forward. This takes a little trial and error to figure out, but once you do, you’ll notice shots fired at the sweet spot will be much more consistent.
  1. Be gun fit. Every air rifle fires a little differently. Track your firing patterns and where shots tend to strike at specific distances using the best hunting rangefinders so you’ll know where to aim depending on the length of the shot.
  1. Check your parallax. Some scopes are P/A, or parallax adjustable. Check the sidewheel before shooting so you’re not targeting with an error. Find a magnification level you like and then stick with it.
  1. Know your environment. Wind levels can affect your shot, especially in heavy wind situations. Humidity can also be a factor. Get to know how your air rifle performs under these conditions so you’ll be able to adjust your shot as necessary.
  1. Practice makes perfect. Don’t just shoot at one distance. Give yourself multiple targets for each practice session at different distances so you can take small game no matter how far away they might be.
  1. Invest into some real paper targets. It might be cost-efficient to print your own shooting targets, but printer paper tears in a different way than the paper used for real targets. If you’re struggling to gauge your accuracy, then make this investment. You’ll be able to see how your shots are grouping much more effectively. 

What Small Game Is Suitable for Air Rifle Hunting?

When talking about small game in the world of hunting, you’re usually talking about gray squirrels and cottontail rabbits. Air rifles may also be suitable for some opossums, raccoons, whistling pigs, and similar animals. Not every type of animal, however, may be suitable for hunting in this fashion even though they may qualify as small game. Try hunting jackrabbits with an air rifle and you’ll see what we’re talking about.

Certain rodents, which would be considered a pest because they present a danger to human health in some way, are also suitable for getting rid of through the use of an air rifle. Rats are generally public enemy #1 in the pest category, but just about any animal that could damage your home or present you with a health danger would qualify. Just remember to make sure you are in compliance with all local laws so you don’t find yourself getting a ticket for a court date or a hefty fine.

Can I Use an Air Pistol for Hunting?

31. Air Rifle 2

Source: Flickr.

As long as you have an air pistol that is powerful enough to one-shot your target and you have a reasonable level of accuracy when firing it, then an air pistol can be just as effective hunting as an air rifle. The issue here is that many of the air pistols which you’ll find on the market today have about 6 foot pounds of force, which is 50% of the recommended amount. You’re also rather limited in the range you have to hit that quarter-sized target, so you’ve got to be sure about your shot.

Why is a one shot, one kill perspective so important for hunting small game? Setting the ethics of letting a wounded animal wander around and potentially be consumed by someone’s cat that then needs surgery to remove a pellet from their stomach, there’s the practical application of it. Small game is often burrowing animals, so they’ll go underground when they’re wounded. They might even die there if the wound is critical enough. By hitting the head or the heart, you can prevent that from happening.

Do I Need a License With an Air Rifle?

For most jurisdictions, it is not usually necessary to have a license in place to own an air rifle. They may not be legal to use in certain areas and this may make it difficult-to-impossible to have an air rifle or pistol shipped to your home, but that doesn’t mean you are unable to legally own one.

With that being said, an air rifle is usually classified as a firearm. This means if you happen to be illegally using one for any reason, then the police will likely respond as if you were using a “real” gun and this may expose you to heavy penalties. It may also be a crime to shoot an air rifle without taking steps to ensure the safety of others, so be careful about when and where you decide to discharge one. 

In the United States, there are very few states that have developed precise regulations in regards to what can or cannot be hunted with an air rifle. California is often considered one of the best states for hunting with an air rifle because the laws are very clear about what you can or cannot do.

In the UK, the regulations are a little stricter in terms of age and use, especially in regards to hunting wild birds. You’ll want to review the current regulations on air rifles and the law before using or lending out an air rifle.

In Conclusion

Hunting with an air rifle isn’t right for everyone. You need to be accurate, gun fit, and know how to treat your surrounding environment so that it can be safely used.

On the plus side, an air rifle is highly affordable. Pellets are extremely affordable, especially in the lower calibers. Unlike other firearms, you don’t usually need to pass a background check to purchase one or wait a certain amount of time to verify that you really are who you say you are. You won’t have to worry about checking the wrong box on the purchasing form and being charged for a felony because of it either.

You do make sacrifices in distance and power by choosing an air rifle, so it is important to know what your rifle can do and how it will perform in every circumstance. Use the information in this guide to your advantage and you’ll be able to shoot like a pro with an air rifle that meets your needs in no time at all.

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