Airguns are a great way to get valuable trigger time in, but their usefulness goes way beyond just trigger time or plinking in the backyard. They are also a great way to take all kinds of game. From rabbits to bear, the right shooter with the right airgun can make the most of just about any hunting opportunity.
So what are the key features that make up a hunting airgun? Here’s a summary of what to look for:
- Match power output with the game you are hunting
- Consider how far away your game will be
Let’s get into it.
Match Power with Your Target Game
Because airguns can humanely and ethically take so many different types of game, it’s critical to make sure that you match the right airgun to the job. Now there’s no “absolute rule” but we are happy to share our recommendations based on years of experience.
Small game like rabbits, various foul, squirrels, etc., only need about 6 foot-pounds of energy to see a clean kill, as long as you make the perfect shot. If you want a little margin for error, then look for something in the 12 foot-pound range. What makes up the perfect airgun for you will depend largely on your budget and personal preferences. A simple break barrel like the Gamo Swarm Maxxim in .22 caliber may be the perfect choice based on the price point, performance, and the fact that it is a Multi-Shot breakbarrel (usually breakbarrel airguns are only a single shot option). It delivers up to 18 FPE, more than enough to get the job done on small game.
Medium game like raccoon, groundhog, prairie dogs, and other animals in this weight class need about 25 foot-pounds at a minimum. To be safe, you really want to be up near the 40 foot pound range. Again there are a ton of options, mostly all PCP class, that will get the job done. And you don’t have to take out a 2nd mortgage to get out and start hunting with confidence.. The Benjamin Marauder probably outsells other PCPs in the US and for good reason. It’s affordable, accurate, and has plenty of power for small to medium game.
Because the weight and size of large game vary so widely, there’s no “hard” energy level to go by. But, there is a measure that we like to use to help you make the right choice. Basically, and this is to make sure that you have a sufficient margin of error, you want to use the “two to one” rule which works like this: If you are hunting game in the 150 pound range, then make sure that your airgun produces at least 300 foot-pounds of energy, i.e. two foot-pounds of energy per each pound of game.
Factor in Distance
Knowing what power output you are going to need is only the first step. Accuracy at a given range is probably the next attribute you need to consider. For example, if you are hunting prairie dogs, or small game in the field, or stalking squirrels in the woods, your ranges may go from 35 yards out to 150 yards. By contrast, if you are hunting deer or hogs from a fixed position, such as a hunting blind overlooking a food plot, then your needs change dramatically.
Scenario 1 – Small Game
If you are hunting small game you probably need pinpoint accuracy across various distances. For this type of hunting, you are probably going to be looking at a smaller caliber, i.e. .22, .25, .30, etc., and you are going to want as much muzzle velocity as possible. This way, you minimize the shooting arch found with lower velocity airguns.
A PCP like the Air Arms S510 XS (in .22 or .25) is an excellent option. It has a regulated output and delivers exceptional accuracy out to 100 yards. Additionally, the high shot count (over 70 shots per fill in .22 even on high power) means that you will probably be able to spend all day in the field, without the need to hunt down air to top off your rifle. The Air Arms is just one example of an excellent airgun for hunting small game. There are many really excellent options in the market today.
Scenario 2 – Large Game
Let’s say you are looking at deer and hogs and you’ll be hunting from a blind that puts your game at 50 yards or closer. Nearly all the big bore guns will put several shots in the kill zone at that range, so we really need to start talking about power output. Again you need to look at the two to one rule. So if you are looking at game weighing up to 200 pounds, then you need to look for airguns that generate at least 400 foot pounds of energy. Fortunately, there are many airguns in many different calibers that will fit that bill. The Airforce Texan, Gamo TC45, Umarex USA Hammer, and Hatsan Pile Driver are just some of the options on the market that will get the job done.
So once you know what you’ll be hunting, and how you’ll be hunting it, you can start looking at various airguns that fit your criteria. Other lesser points may be:
- shot count per fill
- multi vs single shot
- sound level
- physical design
Maybe we can look at those options in a future article but for now, you can start looking at all the cool hunting airguns out there. And, if you have any questions just reach out and we’ll help you to get out and get hunting!