Air rifles are often regarded as only useful for hunting varmints and very small game. And, some hunters think that using air rifles for hunting is a fool’s errand. But, air rifles can actually be powerful enough to hunt large deer and boars.
However, if you’re going to hunt larger game with an air rifle, you definitely need the right air rifle for the job. Otherwise, you won’t have enough range and power to get the job done.
When it comes to using air rifles for hunting large game, there are some specific performance factors that you need to evaluate before making a purchase.
But, before you can determine how much performance you need from your air rifle, you need to know a couple things about yourself:
What type of animals you’ll be hunting with your air rifle.
How far you plan on shooting.
Answering these questions will enable you to establish the minimum performance you need.
To help you get the best air rifle, we’ll give all the important factors a once over, then cover which types of air rifles are most likely to meet your needs.
Also Read : Best Two Way Radios for Hunting-
Air rifles for hunting: the big three performance factors
Air rifle performance boils down to two main things: power and range.
These performance metrics are determined by several air rifle characteristics: barrel length, caliber, power plant, and others.
Fortunately, you can generally figure out if an air rifle will give you enough performance based on a few specifications: FPE, range, and caliber.
Here’s what you need to know about each spec.
FPE is foot pounds of energy. It measures how much kinetic energy the pellet has as it exits the muzzle. FPE is a product of muzzle velocity and pellet weight.
Muzzle velocity and pellet weight are both valuable things to know about your air rifle. But, neither one, by itself, tells you how much effect the pellet will have when it hits the target.
A very light pellet going very fast may not do much damage. And, a very heavy pellet going slow might be equally ineffective. Whereas FPE considers both muzzle velocity and caliber, and tells you about how much force the pellet will apply to the target.
The larger the game you intend to hunt, the higher the FPE of your air rifle needs to be. Here are the general power guidelines for evaluating air rifles for hunting:
- 11 to 15 FPE: Birds and small animals up to the size of a rabbit.
- 25 FPE: Game the size of a raccoon or possum.
- 30 FPE: Foxes and similar sized animals.
- 50 FPE: Coyotes and similar sized animals.
- 90 FPE: Wild pigs and similar sized animals.
- 100 FPE: Small deer.
- 150 FPE: Medium deer.
- 200 FPE: Large deer and wild boars.
So, you should choose an air rifle for hunting based on what you plan to hunt. And, the FPE will tell you whether or not the rifle is powerful enough.
The second thing you need to look at is the caliber. Caliber is a measure of the pellet diameter. A larger caliber means the air rifle fires a larger pellet.
Basically, the larger the animal you intend to hunt, the larger caliber you need. While some smaller caliber air rifles are capable of producing very high FPE, they don’t deliver enough ballistic performance to be effective on large animals.
Here are the general caliber guidelines for evaluating air rifles for hunting:
- .177 caliber: Birds the size of a pigeon or scrub jay.
- .22 caliber: Turkeys and animals up to the size of a rabbit.
- .25 caliber: Game the size of a raccoon or possum.
- .30 caliber: Game the size of a fox or coyote.
- .357 caliber: Game the size of a wild pig or small deer.
- .40 caliber: Medium deer and wild boars.
- .45 caliber: Large deer.
If the rifle produces the power you need, check the caliber. The right combination of caliber and power will ensure that your rifle is capable of taking the game you’re hunting.
How far you need to shoot usually depends, at least partly, on what sort of animals you plan to hunt. You’ll typically need longer range capabilities for larger animals, since they live in rougher terrain and tend to be difficult to get close to. On the other hand, you might only need to shoot to the other side of your yard for varmint control.
Some of it also depends on your hunting style. If you prefer taking long shots rather than sneaking in as close as possible, clearly you’ll need a rifle with long range capabilities.
The range of your rifle is largely determined by the power plant. Which we’ll talk about next.
Which type of air rifle is best?
There are several types of air rifles for hunting. However, not every type of air rifle is suitable for hunting every type of game. Some air rifle designs don’t produce enough power or fire large enough pellets to hunt larger game.
That means that you may be limited to certain types of air rifles by the type of animals you hunt.
These are the different types of air rifles, and what they’re best for.
Pre-Charged Pneumatic Air Rifles
Pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) air rifles are the most powerful. They work by storing compressed air in a reservoir attached to the gun. You’ll need a compressed air source or a hand pump to charge a PCP air rifle.
PCP air rifles are capable of producing the most FPE and firing the largest calibers. You can hunt any type of game, at the longest distances, with a PCP air rifle.
Most PCP air rifles are also capable of firing multiple shots—up to 25 in some cases—before you need to recharge the air reservoir. And, since the pellet is propelled almost entirely by the expanding air, there’s very little recoil. So, PCP air rifles are very beginner friendly because there’s no special hold needed to ensure good accuracy.
On the downside, you will need to carry an external air source to recharge your rifle. But, the extra gear is probably worth the performance.
PCP air rifle specifications:
Capable of hunting any game, including large deer and wild boars.
75-yard max range.
Available in .177, .20, .22, .25, .357, .40, .45, and .50 caliber.
Springer Air Rifles
Springer air rifles use either a spring or gas piston to propel the pellet. They’re powerful and accurate. Springer air rifles are also self-contained. So, you don’t need any additional gear to use them.
Spring and gas piston rifles are equally powerful. However, the spring on a spring piston rifle will compress and wear down over time. So, spring piston rifles tend to lose their power as they age.
On the other hand, gas piston rifles tend to maintain their power throughout their lifespan.
Springer air rifles come in two variations: break barrel and underlever.
With a break barrel rifle, you must pull the barrel down to cock the piston. And, the cocking mechanism on an under lever rifle is underneath the barrel. Neither method is superior. However, some people find it easier to cock a break barrel rifle.
One drawback of springer air rifles is that they require a special grip to achieve maximum accuracy. So, it takes some practice to use springer air rifles for hunting.
Also, be careful mounting optics on springer air rifles. The recoil impulse is very unique and is capable of destroying traditional rifle scopes. Fortunately, they make air rifle specific scopes with impressive reticles and excellent long-range capabilities.
Springer air rifle specifications:
- Capable of hunting game up to raccoon or possum size.
- 50-yard max range.
- Available in .177, .20, .22, and .25 caliber.
- 25 FPE.
Multi-Pump Air Rifles
Multi-pump air rifles are the most budget friendly, but also the most limited in terms of what you can hunt with them. Multi-pump air rifles are best for varmint control and hunting small game.
However, they are very simple. And, there are a lot of aftermarket upgrades for multi-pump air rifles. So, you can squeeze every bit of performance out of your multi-pump air rifle.
Also, multi-pump air rifles are exceptionally accurate. Which makes them especially nice for hunting very small animals that require a lot of precision to get lethal hits.
Multi-pump air rifle specifications:
- Capable of hunting birds and game up to rabbit size.
- 30-yard max range.
- Available in .177, and .22 caliber.
- 15 FPE.
CO2 and Single Stroke Pneumatic Air Rifles
CO2 and single stroke pneumatic air rifles are not powerful enough for any sort of hunting.
They’re fine for recreation, competition, and target shooting. But, it’s a bad idea to use one of these air rifles for hunting. You’ll most likely just wound any animal you shoot. Stick with the other three air rifle types.
Bringing the Game Home
Those are the specifications and the best types of air rifles for hunting. Choosing an air rifle for hunting may seem daunting. But, it can be broken down into three steps:
Identify what you’re hunting.
Determine how much power and range you need.
Choose an air rifle that meets those specifications.