Hunting season is coming up! It’s probably a good time to look at what makes up the perfect air rifle for hunting. Rather than look at this from the what game are you hunting perspective, let’s look at the attributes of air rifles suitable for hunting and how they fit into the various hunting scenarios.
One quick point, I’m going to leave accuracy out of this article. It’s a given that anything you take out hunting needs to be accurate, so let’s focus on the other things that make up an excellent hunting airgun.
Today’s airgunners seem to be all about power, and when looking at hunting airguns, that may not be a bad place to start. Let’s look at how airguns make their power and which are best suited for your needs.
For the sake of this article, let’s rule out BB and low-end pump pneumatic guns for hunting. That leaves us with Spring / Gas Ram powered airguns and PCP Airguns.
Spring and Gas Ram airguns generate more than enough energy for small game, with some topping out at 30 FPE. They come in calibers ranging from .177 all the way up to .30. Your optimal caliber will depend on what you are hunting. .177 and .22 caliber airguns are great for pest birds and other small game. For medium game and pests like armadillos, that’s where the .25 and .30 calibers may be more effective.
With PCP airguns, you have more choices than time allows for in this article. They are generally more expensive and also require a means to fill them. But, there’s a major upside to PCP air rifles, their power ranges from 12 FPE all the way up to 800 FPE! And, they are much easier to shoot accurately. Because they have an on-board “tank” full of high-pressure air, you can get multiple shots, and with some guns, an entire day of hunting without needing a refill.
Which direction you choose will all be about the game you are hunting.
Is there really even a decision to be discussed here? You always want a multi-shot, right? But actually there’s a lot more to it. Multi-shot air rifles are ideal for smaller game, pests, and some predators. Their one shortcoming however is that they don’t generate near the energy as the single-shot big bore airguns.
The most powerful multi-shot air rifle we are currently aware of is the Winchester .45 and it tops out at around 230 FPE. But, it’s no match for the 800 foot-pound guns like the Airforce Texan Carbon Fiber version and Hatsan Piledriver. Realistically, most multi-shot rifle average between 30 and 90 FPE, which is ideal for smaller game. If you are going for trophy deer or big hogs, then you’ll want a high powered single shot that will deliver maximum energy on target for that clean, ethical kill. That’s when single-shot air rifles are probably going to be the right choice.
The bottom line is that quieter is better pretty much across the board. There’s no advantage of having a “loud” hunting airgun. Quiet airguns present less opportunity for your game to jump the shot, and that means you have a higher chance of your shot landing true. That’s a good thing. So yeah, regardless of what you are hunting, quiet is better than loud.
Fortunately, today’s hunting airgun makers know this, and nearly every company has a “quiet” option for hunters. The primary means of quieting down a high powered airgun is in the use of “moderators.” There are a couple of rules of thought here. On the manufacturer side, they will often create a full barrel shroud and then either integrate or permanently affix an airgun moderator to the gun. Some of these can be very effective but may not yield the best results possible.
Another option is for manufacturers to allow the shooters to pick their choice of a moderator from the various sources available by adding an industry-standard threaded muzzle. This way shooters can very easily source their preferred solution and even try different options to find the best results for their needs.
What the gun looks like matters. Not to the game you are out hunting, but to you as the shooter, you need to be comfortable with your airgun and so you should get something that looks and feels the way you want it to. You may need to take some extra time looking for that perfect match, but putting in the time is worth it.
Whether you go traditional or tactical, rifle or bullpup, make sure it has one key thing, and that’s a way to sling it. You’re going to be walking in the woods or to and from the blind. You need a way to sling the gun. It’s safer and just the right way to do it.
So every perfect “hunting” rifle has to have swivel studs or some way to attach a sling.
What your perfect hunting air rifle weighs is certainly a consideration. It may come down to what kind of hunting you do. If you stalk and move around a lot, then you’ll want something lightweight and relatively short. You may want to consider a carbine or bullpup design.
A carbine utilizes a shorter action and barrel, where a bullpup moves the entire action forward. It comes down to personal preference really. However, one key advantage of the bullpup design is that you retain all the same power and accuracy benefits of a longer barrel. In contrast, a carbine, while short, may tend to drop some power and accuracy at longer ranges.
If you are going to a stand and sitting, you can probably go with something larger and heavier if that’s what you like. You’re the person who will be carrying your rifle to and from the field, so find a weight range that works for you and then see what’s available in that range. We bet you’ll find several options that will get the job done.
When you go back through our list of attributes, you can probably make a pretty simple checklist of what to look for in your ideal air rifle for hunting. With more and more states recognizing airguns as a legitimate means of taking game of all sizes, our industry is seeing some incredible growth. It’s really exciting to be an airgunner right now, especially if you love to hit the field and go hunting. Find your perfect air rifle and get out there!