Its certainly a common request from new airgunners: which airgun is best? Boy, talk about a loaded question. Its sort of like going up to a car dealer and asking him: Which is the best car, a Ford Focus or a 3500 GMC Diesel Truck? Its an impossible question to answer accurately without getting more information from the customer.
And thats exactly what I do when someone asks me this type of question about airguns. Lets continue with the automobile analogy for just a little longer. If the customer was looking for an inexpensive commuter car thats good on gas, then the Ford Focus would be a better choice than the 3500 GMC Diesel. If the customer was towing a 5th wheel cross-country, then the GMC would be a much better vehicle. The same concept holds true with airguns. Whats better or best will be directly tied to the intended use of the customer.
Since this topic is ever changing, I would imagine that we will revisit this topic on and off for as long as new airguns and new airgun technology is being brought to market. For now, lets focus on just a couple of the major reasons people want to purchase airguns and what types of airguns fit those purposes.
The most common request I have about “what airgun is best for,” involves back yard small game hunting or pest control. For this exercise Im going to set a max budget of $350 and look at this as more of a utility function vs more of a hard core hobbyist purchase.
So heres the question now refined:“What airgun is best for small game hunting and pest control in a back yard environment for under $350.”This question is one that can be addressed and answered pretty easily after spending a little more time with the customer. The first question that usually follows is what caliber is best for this situation.
Well, if you are looking at small game hunting and pest control, then you need to look at some basic standards regarding energy on target. This is commonly referred to as foot-pounds of energy and youll hear me talk about it often as it deals with the amount of power actually put on target by an airgun. Essentially you take the weight of the projectile along with the velocity, run those variables through a mathematical equation and you get how much energy will be transferred into your game on impact.
Unfortunately most people dont own a chronograph so finding the actual velocity is not really practical. So without knowing the actual velocity of a given pellet in your airgun, you can use the “power class” of the airgun as a basic guide. Here are the guidelines that I use to estimate sufficient energy on target.
.177 Caliber Airguns
Needs to be greater than 800 fps with standard lead pellets. Most of your modern break barrel airguns meet and exceed this requirement. The majority are 1000 fps class power plants. Here are some examples; Crosman Phantom, Benjamin Trail NP, Gamo Silent Stalker Whisper IGT, Gamo Fusion Whisper, Hatsan Striker, Hatsan 95, Ruger Talon, Ruger Yukon, RWS 34, and there are many, many more options on the market. This is the most popular class of spring airguns and they will all generate sufficient energy for small game or pest control. Identifying which is best takes a bit more digging into the personal likes and dislikes of the individual airgunner, their budget, and accuracy expectations. This is where no-nonsense product reviews can really help identify which may be the best choice for you.
.22 Caliber Airguns
Needs to be over 600 fps with standard lead pellets. Many of the rifles listed above also come in .22 caliber variants. Generally speaking if an airgun is rated for 1000 fps in .177, the manufacture will rate the same airgun for 800 fps in .22. The only difference is weight of the projectile, the heavier projectile takes more force to push out the barrel, so it will be slower than the lighter .177 projectiles. The misconception comes when theres the assumption that the slower .22 pellets are less effective on small game. Its actually the opposite. The larger, heavier, and yes slower, .22 caliber pellet does more damage and transfers more energy into the target than does the smaller, lighter, and faster .177 pellet. In cases where the only intended use is small game hunting or pest control, the .22 caliber is generally the better choice between .177 and .22 calibers.
.25 Caliber Airguns
Needs to be over 500 fps with standard lead pellets. There are more and more .25 cal pellet guns on the market and they continue to find themselves a great niche for close range pest control and small game hunting. The larger, heavier pellet really does a number on small game and the low velocity helps prevent pass through, keeping all the energy contained in the intended target. The most active brand for budget conscience .25 caliber airguns is Hatsan USA. Nearly all their models come in all three calibers, suiting all manner of uses, from target all the way up to serious small game hunting. If all you are looking to do is hunt small game or take down pests at ranges inside 20 yards, then the .25 cal may be the best choice for your needs.
So weve addressed the caliber issue as related specifically to small game hunting and pest control. But, thats a pretty narrow focus and most airgunners have other needs that go along with their primary needs. In Part II well continue this ever-expanding series and look at each caliber and what it has to offer airgunners that do more than just hunt or eliminate pests.