Our next group of Better or Best airguns is perhaps the most requested. The question usually comes over like this: What is the best hunting airgun for under $350 that is quiet, accurate, and is good for target practice too? So this means we are looking for something that is economical to shoot for target practice, but with a heavy focus on power and accuracy for small game hunting and pest control.
Effective Hunting Range with Airguns
Before we just address that question, theres another question that often goes hand and hand: What is the effective hunting range of my airgun? Since they are directly linked, Id like to address this one first. Generally, the effective range of any airgun is determined 99.9% by the shooter and .01% by the airgun.
Heres a test that I recommend everyone perform before attempting to hunt with any airgun. Make a target with a 1 circle. Now backup 10 yards and shoot 5 times at the circle the way you would in the field. If you hit the circle 5 out of 5 times then you are good for that range. Now back up to 15 yards. And no cheating either, get a tape and measure out proper distances. Ive seen what some people call 100 yards and its more like 100 feet than 100 yards. In any case, dont cheat because you’d only be cheating yourself, setting yourself up to take unethical hunting shots. Measure 15 yards and perform the test again. Continue to shoot at 1 circles until you can no longer keep all your shots in the circle. Whatever distance you miss, the previous 5-yard mark is YOUR maximum effective hunting range.
Most people cant keep all 5 shots in the circle past 10 to 15 yards. This is a humbling but enlightening experience for most shooters. It highlights the need for additional trigger time and better technique needed for ethical hunting.
Good Airgun Options in .22 Caliber for under $350
Im keeping our budget at the $350 range and under, with small game hunting out to 30 yards as our primary focus and back yard target practice as our secondary focus.
To meet this need, the better airgun is going to be in .22 caliber. It has the energy for ethical hunting and relative economy for target practice as well. Any of the 800 fps class airguns mentioned in the first article of the series would be worth a look, but here are a few top contenders in my opinion.
Lets start with one of my favorite airguns of all time. The RWS 34 in .22 caliber. This airgun may not look fancy, but the shot groups look great when you start looking at the targets. TheRWS 34 can shoot .5 groups out to 25 yards with decent consistency and it has more than enough energy for small game like squirrel and rabbit. Combine that with a limited lifetime warranty and a price tag of under $300, and the RWS is a very hard airgun to beat.
Another popular airgun that fits nicely in this category is going to be the Benjamin Trail NP in .22. This $200+/- airgun hits most of the marks that airgunners are looking for. It does have a trigger thats fine for field work, but really comes up short when bench shooting. The rifle has good energy and decent accuracy. The composite version is my favorite with a great feel and weight distribution. The older models came with a sling, but the newer models leave you having to purchase your own. At least the mounts are still there and thats a major deal if you are out for a long day of hunting.
Now here come the new kids on the block that have the Benjamin Trail NP and the RWS 34 square in their sights. Starting with the Hatsan line of airguns, specifically the 95 / 85 variants. The Model 85 Sniper in .22 cal has all the right features and power to give the incumbents a real run for their money. Youll get an honest 800 FPS from average weight lead pellets, good accuracy out to 30 yards, a decent adjustable trigger, rifle sling, and a suppressor on the front to keep the noise down. While a little on the heavy side and more difficult to cock, the trade off is a stable, powerful airgun. Whats the difference in energy on target? Take the RWS 34 or the Trail NP using 14.3 to 14.6 grain pellets shooting at about 680 to 700 fps, which is about what I get from all the models Ive tested. That equals about 16 foot pounds of energy. The .22 cal Model 85 sniper shoots the 14.5 grain RWS Superdomes, which proved the most accurate in my tests, an average of around 790 fps, equaling over 20 foot pounds of energy at the muzzle. Thats a big increase in energy which means that youll have more energy on tap for small game hunting and pest control.
Lastly, and this is the rifle to watch, is the Ruger Yukon. The box really over inflates the potential velocity of this airgun at 1050 fps with lead free pellets. Not on its best day could it reach that mark, but putting that aside, it is a great gun. The realistic velocity is right at 690 fps with the 14.5 grain RWS Superdomes. The rifle uses several new features from Umarex; the Reaxis Gas Piston replaces the traditional metal spring, the SilencAIR technology keeps the shot noise WAY down, the weaver rail stops scope slippage once and for all, and the newly designed trigger is on par with the Quattro from Hatsan. This is a brand new offering from Umarex and is truly one to watch. At under $200, this may be the new best rifle for back yard small game hunting, pest control and target practice.
That wraps up this part in the series of Which airgun is Better or Best. In our final article we look at whats Better or Best for strictly hunting applications which will be our final article in this installment of “Better or Best.”