Airgun Hunting 101 | Best Airguns, Pellets, Scopes, and Tips for Hunting

Top Tips for Airgun Hunting and Why It’s So Effective

If you are a hunter, there is a pretty good chance you grew up shooting some kind of BB gun or pellet gun behind the house before you took up more serious firearms. Maybe you simply used it for target practice, taking aim at an unfathomable number of soda cans and paper targets. But maybe you also hunted with it. Airguns have come a long way since then, and yet many people still overlook the value and efficiency of airgun hunting. The fact is that they can be very lethal when matched to the right purpose and hunting scenario. More states are making hunting with airguns legal for different species and there are new big bore airguns coming on the market all the time. In fact, there’s even a fair amount of airgun hunter recruitment coming in from those who bow hunt – that makes sense considering both options are quiet, require your target to be very close, and require a lot of skill and patience to accurately put the shot where it needs to be. If you’ve been dabbling with the idea of hunting with an air gun, here are some things to think about first.

Advantages of Airguns vs. Traditional Firearms

While there may be certain disadvantages with airgun hunting – such as shorter shot distances or having to re-pressurize after each shot – there are a few major advantages over traditional rimfire or centerfire rifles too that many people don’t think about.

  • First, airguns are much quieter than their gunpowder-powered counterparts. The sudden release of pressurized air still makes sound, make no mistake about it. Each brand, model, and caliber produces different sound levels. But it is generally a loud pop or “pssst” sound instead of a crack or bang often heard from a traditional rifle. Many game animals will stand in place after hearing a shot from an airgun as they try to figure out the source of the sound. This helps when trying to remove nuisance animals from your property.
  • Because they are quieter, you can also use some lower caliber airguns in many backyard settings without upsetting neighbors. This allows you to get some extra practice in throughout the week by popping a few shots off each night and not having to go to a shooting range.
  • Since there’s no powder being burned in airgun hunting, you don’t have to worry about all the chemical residue building up inside your gun, which makes cleaning a breeze.

Choosing an Airgun Caliber for Your Targeted Species

Once you’re convinced you’d like to try airgun hunting, you will need to decide on a specific gun and caliber. There are many more models available today than there used to be, including a wide range of calibers that are suitable for hunting many kinds of animals. From the smallest of varmint animals to some of the biggest mammals in North America, there is an airgun capable of quickly and ethically harvesting them. The best airgun caliber for hunting depends on the species being hunted and your own preferences. Check out the video and sections below for more information.

Small Bore Airguns

When we say small bore, we mean the smaller caliber guns that are useful for plinking or hunting small game animals. For example, you’re no doubt familiar with the .177 or .22 calibers when it comes to airgun hunting. But there’s also a .20 and .25 caliber airgun, which pretty much tops the small bore category.

Best Airgun Calibers for Small Game Hunting

Small game animals can vary widely by region, depending on what animals live there. But when it comes to airgun hunting, it generally includes rats, squirrels, rabbits, or birds. Just like traditional firearms, small bore airguns are more than capable of killing these animals provided you have enough practice and experience under your belt. For example, a .177 or .22 caliber air gun is plenty strong enough to hunt squirrels, rabbits, and many birds (e.g., grouse, crows, etc.). With proper shot placement on the head or vital chest area, you should have no problem hunting small game animals with an air gun. In fact, hunting rabbits with an air gun are easily accomplished with either, and you could push it to woodchuck-sized animals without much trouble. The biggest trick with small game air rifle hunting is getting close enough to make the shot. In a backyard setting, it’s usually easy to get within 20 yards of a rabbit or squirrel, but sneaking that close in a wild setting makes it much more likely the animal will bolt before you get the opportunity. Taking shots beyond 20-30 yards gets more difficult and will depend largely on how accurate your pellets are

Big Bore Airguns

Big bore airguns are obviously on the other end of the spectrum and can be used to hunt larger animals. Most people define the big bore calibers starting at the .30 caliber range, and then move on up the chain from there. For example, .308, .357, .45, and .50 caliber airguns are all available for hunting larger animals.

Best Airgun Calibers for Big Game Hunting

This is where most people get thrown off with air rifle hunting because nobody really expects you to be able to hunt a large animal (e.g., feral hogs, deer, bears, bison, etc.) with an airgun. But we’re not talking about using that same .22 caliber air rifle from above on a deer. We might be talking about a .50 caliber air rifle, which is more than enough to take down some really impressive animals, such as a bison! That sounds pretty exotic and intense, but hunters also routinely use an airgun for hunting deer or feral hogs if that sounds more attainable. With these higher powered calibers, there’s no hand pumping of the airgun. Instead, precharged pneumatic (PCP) rifles need to be pressurized with an air compressor before the hunt, and you might get a few shots from them before you need to recharge them. Depending on what big game animal you want to hunt and your own personal preferences, the caliber might change a bit. Each state may have different laws and regulations that dictate which caliber you can use as a minimum on big game species. Overall, the .45 family of airgun ammunition is commonly used on many big game species. But the .50 caliber can be deadly even up to American bison!

Predator Hunting Airgun Calibers

In between the small bore and big bore options, there’s a little variability depending on who you talk to. Some experts believe the .25 and .30 caliber options are a good mid-range option that can be used on predators or for varmint hunting. For example, the .357 is a popular choice for predator (e.g., coyote, bobcat, etc.) or varmint (e.g., woodchuck, raccoons, prairie dogs, etc.) hunts.

Best Airgun Ammo for Hunting

Probably just as important as the caliber discussion, your choice of ammunition for an airgun is critical to making the best, most lethal shot possible. There are a couple of different types of projectile types available on the market today. Each one has its own specific best use and may not be suitable for all or any airgun hunting.

Shapes of Airgun Pellets/Ammo

For the basic small bore airguns (e.g., .177, .20, .22, and .25 caliber), you will find roughly four types or shapes of airgun ammunition. The best pellet for small game hunting is the domed/round nose pellet, which is accurate out of most airguns. But each airgun tends to shoot more or less accurate depending on the type and brand of pellets, so take time to shoot a variety and find the best option.

  • Domed/round nose
  • Pointed
  • Flat pellets/wadcutters
  • Hollow points

In addition to these ammunition shapes, there is big bore airgun ammunition as well. Hollow points tend to not be necessary given the ballistics of higher calibers, but they do also cut cleaner wound channels. Heavier ammunition is generally only used by precharged pneumatic airguns. Round ball ammunition will get better penetration on larger animals, but they tend to be less accurate than cast bullets because they don’t fly as efficiently.

  • Round ball
  • Cast bullet
  • Hollow points

Small Game Ammunition

Ammunition used for small game airgun hunting is almost universally a pellet with one of the four shapes mentioned above (i.e., domed/round nose, pointed, flat pellets/wadcutters, and hollow points). These airgun pellets tend to fly very fast and very accurately, which also allows them to shoot flat trajectories. However, they slow down faster as the distance increases. Because they slow down faster, they are less likely to do damage if they miss their mark, which makes them great for use in suburban areas.

Big Game Ammunition

On the other hand, big game animals require a different approach. Round balls or cast bullets are better options for larger animals. Round balls and cast bullets both keep their velocity better than pellets, which makes them a better choice for big game hunts.

Best Airguns for Hunting

Everyone has their own personal preferences when it comes to any firearm, including airguns. But there are a few choices that we have tested and that you should love too.

Airgun Hunting Gear

Of course, with any kind of hunting, you will need specific gear to go along with your new airgun hunting obsession. Here are some things to keep in mind before you start buying anything, and a few things to remember afterward too.

8 Things You’ll Need Before Airgun Hunting

Below is a list of the basic gear you will need to go hunting with an airgun, particularly if you are using a big bore gun for larger animals.

  • Multi-shot airgun to allow for follow-up shots at game animals.
  • The power source (for air compressors) or removable air source for a high shot count when shooting a PCP airgun.
  • Pouch or carrying case for transporting pellets or bullets in the field.
  • Sighting devices (e.g., laser rangefinder and/or scope).
  • Manometer (i.e., air pressure gauge) to monitor the amount of air that is in your PCP gun.
  • Accessory rails or mounts to add lights for night hunting (generally only for predator, varmint, or hog hunting).
  • Swivel studs and a sling or carrying the gun in a scabbard are both good options to carry your airgun in the field.
  • A shrouded barrel or suppressor to silence the sound will help you while hunting.

Airgun Scopes

Because airgun hunting requires you to be so precise and accurate, using a scope is almost a necessity in many cases. As your prey animals gets smaller, more dangerous, or further away, you need to make absolutely sure you can put the bullet or pellet where it needs to be. You get what you pay for with scopes. Larger scopes with bigger objective lenses and better quality coatings will perform much better than cheaper options. Illuminated reticles provide some nice contrast for low light situations. Variable power scopes provide some leeway if you want to adjust in the field, but many people tend to use higher magnifications than they need.

Rossi’s Recommended Airgun Scopes

Leveling and Sighting in an Airgun Scope

When you get a new scoped airgun and want to learn to shoot it accurately, some people get intimidated. When first mounting the airgun (or rifle), you want to make sure that the reticle (crosshairs) look level to you. It’s different for everyone.

As you sight in your airgun, pick a reasonable range (e.g., 30 yards) that you will do a lot of your shooting and hunting at. For variable power scopes, turn it all the way up to maximum magnification. Take a shot and see where you hit the target. Then adjust the windage and elevation turrets on your scope until you start to shoot the bullseye. Afterward, you can dial the magnification down again to what you think is reasonable, and it should keep its zero.

Critical Airgun Hunting Tips And Useful Knowledge  

When it comes to how to hunt with airguns, you need to understand a few important things that usually aren’t quite intuitive.

Airgun Energy

Most new airgunners don’t know what airgun energy is or how it helps. The energy of an airgun is measured in foot-pounds, which is the energy needed to move one pound one foot of distance. What that means for the average airgun hunter is that heavier and faster projectiles do more damage than lighter and slower projectiles. Having higher overall energy (foot pounds) means you can take larger animals or put them down faster. A big bore gun will deliver much more power/foot pounds than small bore guns, even if they are capable of shooting at similar velocities (feet per second). There are calculators to help you determine that energy.

Airgun Hunting Shot Placement

As mentioned earlier, airgun hunters need to deliver their shots exactly where they intend to. This is because airguns don’t offer the same foot pounds/energy (and therefore trauma) that firearms are capable of doing. Therefore, the pellet or bullet needs to hit the vital organs every time with enough energy to kill them quickly. For small game animals or predators/varmint animals, headshots are good options because they offer about the same size target as a body cavity shot, but they are extremely deadly and will generally drop an animal in its tracks. This is important when hunting in suburban areas or places where you don’t want the animal to run a long distance before dying. For big game animals, a broadside heart and lung shot is the ultimate goal because it should avoid hitting the significant bone structure and will quickly kill an animal.

Shooting Distance

Airgunners keep pushing the capabilities of airguns as they practice long range shooting. Depending on the gun you use, long-range might mean very different things – but anything past 75-100 yards is generally a good distance. You will need to consider the overall velocities of your airgun and how your ammunition maintains its energy. But a .308 is a good caliber choice for long distance target shooting.

If you haven’t thought seriously about going airgun hunting before, hopefully, this has changed your mind. Modern air rifles are very sophisticated and powerful when used correctly. And they’re a lot of fun to shoot too!