I hope you'll agree with me when I say:
Hunting is not as fun without high power air rifle...or is it?
But there is one problem. How to find the best pellet gun to suit your needs in this saturated market?
That's why we spent some time researching and testing on airgun hunting and came up with the list of top 10 choices you can buy today.
If you are in the hurry, below is an overview of the most popular air rifles currently available in the market:
Gamo Big Cat 1250 .177 caliber air rifle with scope - This is a break barrel type of air gun and is capable of shooting with a velocity of up to 1250 FPS. It comes with a 4x magnifying scope for increased accuracy. The gun’s stock is made of a tough synthetic material suitable for all weathers. The butt plate has a rubber pad specially designed to absorb the impact of recoil. The stock also has cheek pads on both sides for ambidextrous shooting. The high velocity of this rifle makes it ideal for pest control. However, do check your local laws and regulations before purchasing.
Benjamin Marauder synthetic stock pellet air rifle - This is a Pre-charged Pneumatic rifle and has a two stage adjustable trigger. It has a multi shot design and also an auto-indexing clip. Its stock has an ergonomic grip and an adjustable cheek pad for ambidextrous shooting. This rifle also comes with a pressure gauge mounted in the forearm, to track the usable pressure. The advantages of this rifle are absence of recoil and quietness in shooting. However, it needs an external source for the PCP reservoir.
Crossman Nitro Venom break barrel air rifle (22) powered by nitro piston - This is another break barrel variety and can shoot pellets with a velocity of up to 950 FPS. It has a wide forearm and a fluted muzzle brake, which makes it ideal to shoot from a Artillery Hold position. This gun uses a nitro piston instead of a spring coil to generate pressure. This makes it easier to cock the rifle and lowers recoil impact. Also, nitro pistons are resilient to bad weather and have a long life. However, given its high velocity, this rifle should not be used for small game species.
Ruger Blackhawk Combo air rifle - This is a break barrel type with .177 caliber and can shoot at a velocity of up to 1000 FPS. Its stock is made of a composite material, which enables it to withstand bad weather. It also has two optic sights mounted, with one being fixed and the other adjustable. This gun comes with a nitrogen filled 4x magnifying scope, which is shockproof, weather proof and fog proof. Although this gun is very accurate, it produces recoil, which could affect the pellet trajectory. Hence, it is advisable to use this rifle from artillery hold position.
880 Powerline Air Rifle Kit, 37.6 inch - This has a variable pump and can shoot with a velocity up to 750 FPS. The velocity and power can be adjusted by the number of pumps used to load the gun. This rifle’s stock is made of synthetic material which can withstand all weathers. It has cheek pieces on both sides as well as checkering on the forearm and grip, which eases the handling and improves the shot.
Hatsan 95 air rifle combo - This is a break barrel type and has a two stage adjustable match trigger. It uses .22 caliber and can shoot with a velocity of up to 800 FPS. This gun’s stock is made out of Turkish walnut, and has a checkered grip, checkered forearm and a rubber recoil pad. The rifle has two optic sights, with the front one being fixed and the rear one being adjustable. The scope of the rifle is accurate at short to medium distances.
Crossman Pneumatic Pump air rifle .177 caliber - This has a variable pump and can shoot .177 caliber pellets at a velocity of up to 600 FPS. It has a removable magazine and you can store pellets in it for quicker loading. The gun has Picatinny rails which makes it compatible with most accessories available in the market.
RWS .22 pellet model 34 combo rifle - This is a .22 caliber break barrel model and can reach a velocity of up to 1000 FPS. The rifle has an adjustable rear optic sight and a fixed front optic sight. The gun’s stock is made out of hardwood and is well balanced. The stock has cheek pieces on both sides for ease and comfort. This gun can be used for pest control or even small game hunting in some states, depending on the laws.
Benjamin Titan GP Nitro Piston air rifle - This a break barrel rifle and offers two models with different calibers. The first model shoots .177 caliber and can reach a velocity of up to 1200 FPS, while the second model shoots .22 caliber pellets and reaches a velocity of up to 800 FPS. Both models operate on a gas piston, which produces lesser recoil, is silent, easier to cock, and handles weather and moisture well. Models using gas pistons can be left cocked for a long time and still shoot, and have a long life.
Gamo Whisper Silent Cat air rifle - This is another break barrel rifle and can shoot .177 caliber pellets with a velocity of up to 1200 FPS. It has a noise dampener, which reduces noise by up to 52% compared to a smaller rifle of the same caliber. The gun’s stock is made out of durable synthetic material, which can handle all kinds of weather. It also has a rubber recoil absorption pad which lowers the recoil impact.
Amongst all the air rifles reviewed above, Gamo Big Cat is the most powerful, with a shooting velocity of up to 1250 FPS.
The best pellet gun for the money is the Gamo Whisper Silent, which is also relatively inexpensive and shoots at a velocity of up to 1200 FPS.
The Ruger Blackhawk undoubtedly belongs to the class of high powered air rifles due to its shooting velocity of up to 1000 FPS.
However, the most accurate air gun of the above is the Benjamin Marauder PCP and can be said to be the best air rifle amongst those reviewed.
Crossman Nitro venom is considered to be the best air rifle for hunting purposes. However, as mentioned previously, the ultimate choice of your air rifle would be decided by your level of expertise, your end use, and your budget.
Over the decades, the airgun industry has grown exponentially, offering a different type of airgun for almost every game being hunted. It is therefore imperative to choose your airgun carefully, taking into account the caliber and the amount of energy the projectile would create.
One should also bear in mind the pellet weight and velocity, as the heavier and faster a projectile is, the more amount of energy is produced to propel the pellets. This results in more penetration and energy transfer. Furthermore, as a pellet travels, its velocity decreases along with the quantum of energy it creates on impact. This should be borne in mind while taking aim on the game. It is highly advisable to spend time at a practicing range with your weapons before using it on the field.
That said, given the plethora of choices available, choosing the correct air gun for your game may still seem to be a daunting task. There are numerous opinions and ideas floating in the market about what caliber and what power weapon should be used for different types and sizes of game. More often than not, the discussion and the buzz is centred around the latest pneumatic gun, but quite possible, some other model may be suitable for your need.
The latest and most popular model in pneumatic guns is the pre-charged pneumatic airgun (or simply known as PCPs). PCPs are highly versatile and usually produce higher velocities than other gun variants, resulting in being able to fire heavier pellets and create more muzzle energy. This also makes them suitable for gaming at longer distances. Most PCPs work well up to distances of up to 75 yards and beyond, depending on the gun.
However, the biggest drawback in choosing a PCP is the initial cost of getting one. Although PCP guns run more than their spring or CG counterparts, the cost of a carbon-fibre air tank or hand pump should also be considered. Nevertheless, the benefits of PCP clearly outweigh the cost, resulting in most hunters favouring PCPs.
The next most common variety of gun is the break barrel air rifle. Break barrel air guns usually operate on either a traditional spring or a gas piston break barrel. Rifles using spring operate on a coiled metal spring fitted with a piston. The spring is compressed when the gun is cocked and released when the trigger is pulled.
Gas piston barrels also work in a similar manner, with the only difference being that instead of compressing a spring, a piston compresses a cylinder filled with gas, just like gas shock on a car or truck. When the trigger is released the gas expands pushing the piston forward to fire the projectile. Gas piston break barrel guns are a relatively new introduction in the world of airgun technology and have become quite popular in their own right.
The advantage of gas pistons is that you can leave them cocked without damaging, and they offer more longevity while also maintaining their initial power over their life.
Break barrel guns are ideal for smaller game and pest control. The biggest advantage in these guns is the lack of an external air source, which makes them self sufficient, with the only additional cost being on the ammunition. These guns can be kept around the house for taking care of pests or kept in the vehicle for an impromptu hunting trip.
Underlever air guns are another variant of spring or gas pistons and are popular with hunters. The difference between break barrel and underlever is that the barrel is fixed, but the spring or gas piston is cocked by a distinct lever located under the barrel. Compared to break barrel guns, underlevers are usually more expensive but also more consistent, given the fixed position of the barrel which prevents it from moving after each shot.
While spring pistons and break barrels offer many benefits, they have limited caliber availability and power. Usually, a break barrel or underlever gun has a capacity of .177, .20, .22. or .25 caliber which limits the scope for hunting to pests and small games at a distance of not more than 50 yards.
Also, some traditional spring guns need some skill to fire accurately as they are sensitive to outside forces as well as the recoil generated by the spring. In order to combat this hold sensitivity, many shooters employ the artillery hold, i.e., holding the fore grip of the gun lightly and allowing it to recoil without constraint.
This leads to consistent movement for the rifle for every shot. Although it takes some time to master this technique on a spring or piston gun, it helps to better one’s game in the long run.
Multi-pump pneumatics provide a good alternative for beginners or those looking for air guns on a budget. These guns also have the advantage of being self sufficient and not requiring an outside air source, however the calibers are limited.
These guns are most common in .177 and .22 caliber, are widely available, easy to operate and accurate in their target. However, these guns do not make a lot of power and are therefore suitable only for small games.
CO2 air rifle and single stroke pneumatic guns are small, easily available, and quite common. However, they have very limited power, due to which they are more suitable for pest control than game hunting.
Before buying a rifle, you should familiarise yourself with the type of caliber a rifle uses, its shooting range and velocity, its safety features, the material the rifle is made of, the mechanism and power source of the gun, whether it can perform under extreme weather conditions, if it would need further accessories, the prevalent regulations, and if the pellets are affordable.
First and foremost, the intended purpose of the air rifle must be defined. The first most common use is hunting rodents and pests, or small game like rabbits, mice, birds, squirrels, etc. The second most popular use of an air gun is target shooting.
This can be done alone for recreation or in a professional arena, competing with other shooters. Interestingly, air rifle shooting competitions have an ever-increasing popularity, and attract several spectators and rewards. The third most common use of air rifle is plinking, which means shooting at targets like cans, etc for fun or as practice before going on hunting expeditions.
The next most important factor is the length at which you intend to shoot. Would you be aiming at targets which are 35 yards, 50 yards, or 80 yards away? It is important to decide on this beforehand, as rifles are divided into four categories - light, medium, high and super high powered rifles.
Light powered rifles perform best at a distance of 35 yards, medium at 50 yards, high powered rifles at 60 yards, and super high powered guns at 80 yards. Super high powered guns are the most favoured, given their varied distance coverage.
Shooting can be an expensive hobby. As you pursue air rifle shooting, you will end up incurring additional expenses, usually for upgradation or maintenance. Nevertheless, for beginners, there are various options available for budget rifles. Spring-piston rifles fall in the budget category. Not only are these guns low-priced, they are also low maintenance and have a long product life. CO2 rifles fall at the other end of the spectrum, being the most expensive to purchase as well as maintain.
Along with an air gun, you might also want to invest in a few accessories to better your game. The most common accessories are the scope, traps and targets, cleaning and maintenance tools, chronographs, clips and loaders, glasses and goggles, and CO2 cartridges.
The scope is useful for precise aiming and helps you hit the target easier. Traps and targets are used for practice and improving accuracy. Chronographs measure the speed of a pellet shot by the rifle. Clips and loaders are the parts that hold the pellets in place in the rifle. Glasses and goggles prevent eye damage in case of any mishap during firing.
So what all can you shoot with your new air rifle? You can start with target shooting and then graduate to live quarry shooting. Target shooting is when you aim at paper or tin cans placed at a specific distance. This helps to acquaint yourself with your weapon and also improve your aim and accuracy. Some people who do not wish to shoot at live quarry continue with target shooting, which also has competitive events.
For pursuing target shooting, you can either find a club or shooting range near you, or practise it in your backyard. The latter helps is inexpensive and can be carried out as per your convenience. However, joining a professional shooting range could also get you expert advice, trainer’s guidance, and provide you an opportunity to meet fellow shooters.
If you still wish to start in your backyard, ensure that you have a good backstop, which could either be a brick wall or soft soil bank. This will prevent the pellets from hitting an unintended target or landing on another’s property. Do keep in mind that these pellets could fatally harm someone.
Live quarry shooting refers to shooting live animals, usually on a certain property. This could include pests like squirrels, rats, rabbits, crows, which destroy crops. Such shooting generally takes place after obtaining the land owner’s permission who might want to protect his crops, livestock or flora and fauna.
Another type of hunting (for slightly bigger animals such as deer and foxes) takes place in the open during the hunting season. One can also shoot wild ducks during the right season. However, the hunting of foxes, deer, ducks requires licenses and permission from the authorities. This is to prevent unnecessary killing of animals, which could endanger them and also to prevent any accidents which could result in killing of already endangered species.
Greg Evans is our editor-in-chief. He's a proud father of three loving outdoor activities.