Guns & Weapons

Air Rifle Hunting: A Pursuit for New And Skilled Hunters of Small Game

Air Rifle Hunting

Air rifle hunting is a sport that many hunters undertake and can prove an advantageous endeavor. The benefits of air gun use are many, and neophyte and avid hunting enthusiasts find the use of air weapons ideal when hunting a variety of small game. The National Rifle Association (NRA) supports the use of air guns for the pursuit of small game; according to the association, air weapons were, at one time, the best weapon for new hunters, but such weapons have transitioned into mainstream use and many hunters are turning to the use of air rifles.

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The NRA asserts massive improvements in the design, accuracy, and dependability of air guns. The major improvements, including features and reliability, are just a few factors contributing to the increase in popularity of such weapons and why so many hunters, both amateur and skilled, are turning toward the use of air guns.

Air guns are inexpensive, especially when compared to traditional guns. Additionally, these weapons are easy to learn how to use, and are equally easy to care for in order to ensure the long-term operation of such weapons. People have used air rifles throughout history for many reasons; they have used air guns for protection and as war armaments. There are even famous instances where air weapons, as well be explored in depth later.

Air Gun and Pellets

Today, people rely on the use of air guns for plinking metal cans, target practice, and for the purposes of hunting small game as well as controlling pests.

Air gun use throughout history

Scholars suggesting the first air rifle weapons were in use during mid-sixteenth century. Many of the first air guns have not survived the passage of time, and those that have are now in the hands of collectors or museums around the world.

The earliest air weapons were of two distinct types: weapons dependent on a reservoir of stored, compressed air, also known as pneumatic weapons, and spring-loaded devices, the latter of which people used for the purposes of indoor target shooting. The bellow air weapons were impressively precise at the time, and ideal for short range shooting.

The pneumatic weapons were quite powerful, and their design, power, dependability, and accuracy eventually improved to the point that such weapons became the coveted weapon of the noble elite in Europe. Actually, hunting with air rifle weaponry was a common practice among European hunters to take out large stag or wild boar with considerable ease while using pneumatic weapons. Interestingly, only the elite could own pneumatic weapons and commoners could not own air rifles.

By the late eighteenth century, the military was using pneumatic weapons. For instance, in Austria, the Army was fitted with repeating .44 caliber pneumatic weapons. Likewise, in the early nineteen century, during the Corps of Discovery Expedition (otherwise called the Lewis and Clark Expedition), the western explorers William Clark and Meriwether Lewis took along air weapons on their expedition westward. Even during the Civil War, spring-loaded gallery guns were in use, particularly for indoor target practice.

Air rifle weaponry benefits

Hunting with an air rifle offers the hunter numerous benefits. Some of the advantages of hunting with an air rifle include:

  • Exceptional accuracy: Air rifles are fitted with iron sites during the manufacturing process. The sites ensure dead on accuracy when a hunter fires the weapon, and thereby guarantees more success during the hunt and the likelihood of humane shots.
  • Excellent distance coverage: A quality air rifle will shoot at a range of 10 to 50 feet.
  • Near silent to extremely quiet operation and shots: While an air rifle will make some noise when used, the noise is minimal. While the use of the rifle is unlikely to disturb prey, a hunter must keep in mind that the sound of a pellet ricocheting off an object or the ground may startle a skittish animal like a rabbit or squirrel. Nevertheless, the sound of a ricocheting pellet is very different from the booming sound a bullet creates after its expulsion from a gun barrel.
  • User-friendliness: Non-powder guns have excellent designs and many consider such devices easier to learn how to use when compared to traditional rifles.
  • Reduced initial pricing and long-term costs: With a less expensive initial price tag and monetary saving derived from buying cheaper pellets, the long term savings a hunter can derive are considerable.
  • Semi-weather-resistant air rifle weaponry: Rain and snow will not affect the movement of the projectile because air rifles are dependent on compressed C02 gas versus powder.

Air gun styles and benefits

The different styles of air weaponry include CO2, Pneumatic, and Spring-piston guns. The features of air guns include:

  • CO2 air weapons: Rely on containers filled with carbon dioxide. The user will not have to cock the weapon. CO2 air rifles can prove costly over the course of time, since the containers will require regular replacement. These types of weapons are best for hunters who are willing to compromise power for speed in terms of shot: the weapons faster, but with less power behind the pellet’s propulsion. CO2 air rifles offer repeat firing action.
  • Pneumatic weapons: Include single and multi-stroke. Stroke indicates how often the hunter will have to pump the weapon before shooting a pellet. A single stroke air weapon requires one pump in order to cock the device. A multi-stroke weapon requires two or more pumps to cock the weapon. Pneumatic air weapons are affordable, easy to care for, and they offer a powerful and accurate shot: this makes them a great option when looking for air rifle equipment for hunting.
  • Spring piston air rifles: Are weapons that a hunter has to cock before the weapon will propel a pellet. When the hunter cocks the rifle, the spring compresses. When pulling the weapon’s trigger, it decompresses the spring. Once the spring decompresses, the air behind the pellet is under pressure. The built up pressure ultimately expels the projectile from the barrel of the air rifle. Many of the spring piston weapons are impressively affordable.

If you want to know which one is the best, take a look at our reviews on the best air rifle for hunting.

Popular pneumatic and CO2 weapons

There are unique models of pneumatic and CO2 air rifles available. The models differ in terms of feature, size, accessories, and total price. The diverse range in terms of functionality and cost make it easy to discover an affordable and ideal hunting option.

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Some covet CO2 air rifles and people enjoy hunting with air rifle CO2-powered weapons, primarily because a single container of carbon dioxide gas is capable of generating 30 to 60 shots from a regular sized cylinder. If a hunter opts for a larger cylinder, it is possible to get as many as 300 or more shots from a single container of CO2.

Some of the models on the market include weapons like the .22 Caliber Benjamin Discovery Air Rifle Combo; the Beretta CX-4 Storm Co2 Air Gun, and the .22 Caliber Hammerli 850 AirMagnum Co2 .22 Caliber Air Gun. Low-end prices start at around $50, and high-end prices for C02 models are around $500.00 or greater.

Bretta CX Storm

When it comes to pneumatic offerings, as mentioned earlier there are single and multi-stroke weapons, but there are also pre-charged weapons as well. The advantages of pneumatic rifles include lighter, more compact payloads, fast repeat firing, and if it is not a pre-charged weapon, there are no chemicals needed for their use.

Some of the leading pneumatic air rifles include models by Crosman, Daisy, Hatsan, Feinwerkbau, Benjamin, and Walther, among other models. Pneumatic rifles can cost upward of $2700.00 a rifle, but can also have price tags as low as $35.00.

Information on spring piston guns

When it comes to Spring-piston air rifles, there are actually four styles including:

  • BB guns: These weapons are short-range guns with a limit in terms of accuracy when shot. The weapon has small pellets measuring about 4.4mm, but when fired, the pellet has very little spin: this ultimately minimizes the distance and accuracy of the shot. These weapons are ideal for target practice or plinking.
  • Break-barrel guns are air weapons that rely on an air chamber and spring power plant to compress the air. The barrel has a hinge and to cock the weapon the user must break down the gun barrel or bend it downward, put in the pellet, and then put the barrel back in the upward position.
  • Side-lever air guns: These air guns feature a piston that connects to a lever. When the user pushes the air rifle’s lever backward, the individual ends up cocking the mainspring. The side lever weapons often come with adjustable features so the user can get the appropriate elevation. Many hunters like side lever weapons because they have a greater degree of accuracy. Side level air rifles host ambidextrous features too, so shooters with left or right-handed preferences can use side-lever weapons.
  • Under-lever air rifles: Are weapons requiring the user to pump a lever located beneath the barrel. The pump and barrel are separate from one another. Sometimes the lever is inside the rifle’s stock and sometimes the lever is located parallel to the barrel of the rifle.

Most popular spring-piston air guns

Some of the leading air rifle suppliers today include top companies like Daisy, Beeman Precision Airguns, and Crosman, the latter of which acquired the Benjamin Sheridan brand. There are plenty of guns to choose from when seeking an air rifle for hunting small game.

Caliber Diana RWS Model 48 Hawke Scope Combo

The type of gun a hunter chooses depends on the weapon’s performance, features, accessibility, and cost factors. Below are some of the leading brands of air rifles that hunters desire for small game hunting purposes:

  • Popular Break-Barrel Guns: When fired, break barrel air rifles can cover a range of 600 to 1500 feet per second. Some of the most popular Break-barrel guns include the .177 Caliber Crosman Vantage Air Rifle; the .22 Caliber Stoeger X-20S; the .22 Caliber Benjamin Trail; the .177 Ruger Air Magnum; and the .22 Caliber Gamo Big Cat. Break-Barrel air rifles can cost anywhere from $60.00 upwards to $1050.00 or more. The more accessories the gun comes with, the higher the initial price tag.
  • Best Rated Side lever air guns: Among the most coveted side lever air weapons, hunters seem to appreciate models like the .0177 Caliber Diana RWS Model 48 Hawke Scope Combo; the .177 Caliber 5 Shot Clip Baikal IZH61 Pellet Rifle, and the .177 Caliber Hatsan Long Air Rifle. At the low end, the side lever models are about $130.00, and at the higher end, the weapons can cost up to $2,500.00 or greater.
  • Top Under-Lever air rifles: Hunters prefer affordable weapons with a range of accessories and exceptional tools lending to greater accuracy. Among the top rated under level air guns are models like the .177 Caliber Walther LGU Air Rifle; the .177 Caliber Beeman HW97 Air Rifle, and the .177 Caliber Browning Leverage Air Rifle fitted with a suitable scope. The least expensive models carry a price around $170.00. High-end models can cost up to $900.00, thereby making the under-lever models some of the most affordable air rifles on the market.

Considerations when pursuing small game

As mentioned previously, hunting with an air rifle is ideal for the pursuit of small game. Nevertheless, an individual must remember, whether hunting for sport or for survival, to use the most humane kill technique when pursuing wildlife. To that end, different small game may require specific hunting techniques to ensure a clean and humane kill. A look at the following table will reveal the appropriate type of small game one can pursue when hunting with this sort of weapons:

Animal Kill technique
Squirrels – Gray and Common Strike the animal in the head. The body is capable of absorbing hits and is therefore an inhumane short
Rabbits – Cottontail and Jack Take head and heart shots
Small birds – black birds, crows Take head or breast shots
Woodchucks Take head shots only
Raccoons Take head shots only
Opossums Take head shots only
Pest control –rats and rodents Take head shots only

There are some clear reasons as to why air guns are not suitable weapons for use in the pursuit of larger game. A hunter needs to remember that hunting with an air gun requires adherence to federal and local laws as well as ethical and humane considerations. Below is a list of some of the animals one should not hunt when using air guns:

Animal Reason for disallowance
Deer Many air rifles do not have enough take down power to kill humanely
Turkey or poultry
Birds of Prey Law protects all birds of prey

Air gun use and legalities

Currently, 24 out of 50 states have laws in place regulating the ownership and/or sale of air weapons. The states of Rhode Island and New Jersey both identify air rifles as firearms. Further, many states hinder the sale of such weapons to children under the age of 18, but will allow adult supervision and parental consent to supersede the legal restriction. Thirteen states place age limitations on the right to own and use air rifles. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the hunter to discover and obey the laws within his or her locality.

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The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence (LCPGV) asserts that the federal government in the United States does not currently regulate the ownership, sale, or usage of “non-power” firearms. However, the same organization explains that such weapons fall under the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The LCPGV offers tools for discovering local laws. Web visitors can discover laws by searching federal or state law or there is a search resource for discovering gun laws by examining specific policies.

Air Gun Uses

Laws pertaining to hunting with air rifles vary depending on where a person resides. For instance, if an individual resides within the boundaries of the United Kingdom, the individual will need to obtain a Fire Arms Certificate (FAC) when using an air weapon that weighs greater than 12 pounds. Additional laws are in place in Poland, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, Germany, Canada, Brazil, New Zealand, Italy, Australia, the Isle of Man, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic.

Of course, before you think about laws regarding air rifles, you should also consider your hunting permit. If you don’t have one, take a look at our article on how to get a hunting and fishing license.

Closing summary

Hunting with an air rifle has myriad advantages. Today’s air rifles feature high quality designs and enough power to ensure the successful hunt of small game. Pneumatic, CO2, and spring piston rifles all offer specific advantages to the neophyte and adept hunter. Hunters can find affordable air guns and there is a wide selection of weapons to choose from when seeking a quality rifle for use in hunting small game.

With proper care, an air rifle can serve a hunter for many years. If a hunter gives attention to the considerations associated with the different types of air rifles and their use, the individual will have many successful hunting endeavors in the future.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you click on one of these links and make a purchase, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Also, as an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases. If the information in this post has been helpful, please consider purchasing through one of the links in this article. Thank you.

About the author

Andrew McKay

Andrew McKay is a seasoned hunter and fisherman from Anchorage, Alaska. Andrew thinks that he is the luckiest person in the world, as he lives in the most gorgeous place in United States and does what he loves to do. As a member of Alaska Professional Hunters Association and International Hunter Education Association, he is always looking for the ways to improve his skills and to teach people around him.


  • I learned to hunt at an early age and air rifles were my introductory weapons when I plunged into the world of hunting. Since then I continued to develop my skills and through this I have been able to derive great pleasure from hunting.

    • The benefits of air gun use are many. You will find how resourceful and versatile they are as you gain experience. Just make sure you choose a rifle that works best for you.

  • I love hunting but like to kill animals ethically and cleanly. Wouldn’t air rifles draw out their death, and maybe even just wound them without killing them?

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