Hunting with air rifles can be fun, but in order to be ethical and effective, it’s important that you choose a best air rifle that’s right for the small game you are pursuing. But how do you know which air rifle is for you?
In this article, I’ll take an in-depth look at how to select from the best air rifles on the market as well as show you some of our favorites. By the end of our guide, you will be ready to hunt small game with confidence using your new air rifle!
If You Just Can’t Wait, Here Are Our Suggestions
If you’ve got the hunting bug so bad that you can’t bring yourself to read the rest of this guide, I understand. I’ll save you some time and share with you the best air rifles for hunting on our list.
Last update on 2017-10-17 at 12:14 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API / Amazon Disclosure
Best Air Rifle - Editor’s Choice
Gamo Varmint Air Rifle - When it comes to hunting, power (measured in feet per second or FPS) is king. If you want to go out and hunt right away, choose one of the most powerful air rifles on our list at 1,250 FPS.
Best Air Rifle For The Money
Ruger BlackHawk Combo Air Rifle - If your budget is a concern, check out this air rifle by Ruger. Not only is it affordable, it also has enough power to hunt small game with confidence.
If you’re still reading this then I will assume you want to learn more about air rifles and hunting. Let’s go over some of the important aspects to consider when looking for high-performance air rifles.
Selecting The Best Air Rifle for Your Hunting Situation
I gave you a sneak peek at our recommendations for your next small game hunting trip, but there’s a lot more to learn before buying one of your own. I’ve put together this guide to teach you the air rifle essentials so you can make the right decision.
Types of Air Rifles
There are a handful of different options when it comes to the type of air rifle you can buy.
Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Keep your quarry and hunting conditions in mind before you decide on a type.
- Pneumatic Air Rifles - Pneumatic air rifles (or pump air rifles) work by building up air pressure in the chamber using, usually, 5-10 pumps on the gun’ lever. Pneumatic air rifles are popular because of their affordability and they are great first air guns for young children who want to learn how to shoot.
- Spring-Powered Air Rifles (#1 Hunting Choice) - Generally speaking, spring-action air rifles are the most powerful of the three main styles. They offer the most FPS potential and are easy to use! There are three different types of spring systems (each self explanatory).
- Break-barrel lever
Remember when I told you power was king? For small game hunters, I recommend a spring-powered setup because of the high FPS ratings.
- Gas-Powered Air Rifles - Gas-powered air rifles use CO2 gas to expel the pellet from the gun. The advantage to these models is that there is no cocking or pumping necessary between shots (1 cartridge can last up to 50 shots!), but for that you give up a lot of power potential. These air rifles are not as powerful as their spring or air-powered counterparts.
How Much Power is Needed for Small Game Hunting?
Hopefully I have emphasized the importance of buying a powerful air rifle if you intend to use it for hunting. A more powerful air rifle results in more accurate shooting. This makes your hunting experience better, but that’s not the only reason to go for high FPS air rifles.
Being an ethical hunter involves ensuring “clean kills” of your target species, even if it’s only a rat or squirrel. An accurate, high-powered air rifle will hit the mark and ensure a quick end to your target. Merely injuring an animal is not the object!
While it’s true that with the proper ammunition, you can kill a squirrel at 250-400 FPS power, I recommend getting an air rifle with at least 750 FPS power. This increases the chances of clean kills and accurate shots. Ideally, your hunting air rifle should rate more around 1000 FPS.
Some air gun models shoot both pellets and BBs, but unless you are using your air rifle target shooting exclusively, I suggest keeping away from BB ammunition. Pellets act more like a bullet does and are far better suited for hunting.
.177 and .22 are the most popular pellet calibers and either can be effective hunting rounds. When it comes to choosing the style of pellet, there are many different options, but the two most common types for hunting are:
- Hollowpoint Pellets - This round will expand on contact with your target species and they are designed to kill. I don’t recommend this pellet for target practice but it’s great for pesky squirrels or rabbits.
- Pointed Pellets - These pellets are built purely for penetration. They don’t have the same destructive impact as a hollow point so avoid using these on “larger” small game species like raccoons or groundhogs. They are great for squirrels and small birds.
These are only two pellet styles that are geared towards hunters. You can read more about pellet types here.
Most air rifles will come with exactly what you need to get started such as a scope and case. However, there are many accessories you can use to improve and get the most out of your new air rifle. Here are the first upgrades I recommend:
- Aftermarket Scope - Unfortunately, stock air rifle scopes aren’t always the best quality. If you plan on hunting with your air rifle, it’s best to spend the money on a more advanced scope to improve accuracy.
- Pellet Loader - Loaders take a lot of hassle out of reloading your air rifle. If you are target shooting it might not be a big advantage, but while hunting small game it is important to be able to load quickly if you need to take multiple shots.
- Targets and eye protection - Even if you plan on hunting with your air rifle, target practice is important to ensuring you are accurate out in the field. Eye protection is a good idea in any shooting situation, especially when it comes to high velocity air rifles.
Now you should be able look at an air rifle and get a pretty good idea as to whether or not it’s for you. If you want to see all of our recommendations, keep reading! But first, let’s go over some air rifle hunting tips:
- Practice, Practice, Practice - We’ve talked a lot about the ethics of ensuring clean kills on your small game target a lot and that is because it’s very important! The only way to make sure you are an accurate marksman is by practicing at home with targets, not on live quarry.
- Shot Placement - Shot placement is important when hunting with air rifles. Here’s where to place your shot for different species:
- Small Game Mammals - In order to ethically dispatch small game mammals, it’s important to aim for the temporal region of the head. This give the pellet a better shot at reaching the brain, for a quick and humane death. Shots to the body on small mammals will often result in injury and suffering for the animal.
- Small Game Birds - Small game birds also require a headshot to be humanely hunted. Headshots result in immediate death and reduce the risk of merely injuring the bird.
- Maintain Your Gear - In order to know that your air rifle will work well consistently, it’s important to maintain your gear. Clean the scope after each use and routinely check the barrel (safely) for obstructions. Here’s a great resource on air rifle cleaning and care!
Top 5 Air Rifle Reviews
Gamo Varmint Air Rifle - Great value, all-around varmint hunting air rifle
The Gamo Varmint is one of the best air rifles for the money on the market today. When affordability meets performance, there’s not much more you can ask for. Rated at 1250 FPS, this spring-action air gun has enough power to take down any small game/varmint species, from rats to groundhogs to racoons.
As one of the most powerful air rifles on our list, it can feel more like shooting a .22 caliber rifle than a .177 caliber air rifle, which makes it more fun to shoot and the sheer power gives you accuracy you just won’t get from lesser-powered guns.
On the downside, while the included 4x32 scope isn’t useless by any means, an avid hunter may want to consider upgrading to a higher quality version. Also at 30 pounds of break-barrel pressure needed to cock the gun, it may be difficult at first until you build up the appropriate strength.
- High FPS (1250)
- Scope included
- One Year Warranty From Gamo
- Scope may need an upgrade
- High amount of force needed to cock the break-barrel
All in all, the Gamo Varmint Air Rifle is a great all around air gun that would be great for any small game or nuisance species applications, as well as target shooting. The scope being lesser quality will most likely only affect seasoned hunters who want a little bit more performance.
Ruger BlackHawk Combo Air Rifle - A rugged option from a top firearms manufacturer
Perhaps best known for their traditional firearms, Ruger brings us a high-performance air rifle that fits all the needs of a small game hunter. The spring-action (.177 caliber), break-barrel BlackHawk Combo comes with all the things you need to start hunting right out of the box.
Although this air rifle is not as powerful as some of the others on our list, it still packs a sufficient punch. With a 1000 FPS muzzle velocity, the Ruger BlackHawk has enough power to dispatch of any small game targets you wish, even large groundhogs and foxes, with great accuracy.
One thing that this air rifle has that not all others do is fiber-optic down the barrel sights. I really like that Ruger offers some different aiming options (there is also a scope included), because it allows it to be shot comfortably by all different shooters/aiming styles.
Unfortunately, no air rifle is perfect, and the Ruger BlackHawk is no exception. While it does have exceptional spring power, this spring can cause screws that secure the scope to become loose over time. With routine maintenance, this should never be a problem but it is something to keep in mind.
- Fiber-optic, down the barrel “iron sights”
- Blued metal finish for durability
- Vibrations cause screws to loosen
While the Ruger BlackHawk Combo does have some flaws, it’s hard to beat the craftsmanship and design that Ruger brings to the table. At its price point, I highly recommend giving it a try next time you go out small game hunting.
Daisy Powerline Air Rifle Kit - A Squirrel’s Worst Nightmare
So far I have focused on only the highest-powered air rifles for maximum efficiency across multiple small game species. That’s all fine and well, but what if you just need something nice and simple to keep the squirrels away from your bird feeders? The Daisy Powerline Air Rifle is easily one of the best air rifles for squirrels available today and this kit comes with everything you need to get started.
The Daisy Powerline Air Rifle is rated at 750 FPS (BBs) or 715 FPS (Pellets) and while this is a little lower than desired for multi-species targeting, for squirrel control or target shooting this air rifle is perfect. What comes in the kit?
The kit includes safety glasses, 4x15mm scope with rings, 500 pellets, and 750 BBs. I understand that some people may prefer to pick their own shooting gear (glasses, ammo, etc.) but I added this kit to the list because of how easy it is to get started!
The downside to an affordable air rifle kit like this one is that the materials used to build it are often lesser quality than more expensive air rifles. The Daisy Powerline Air Rifle is built with a lot of plastic and that can make things like the pneumatic air pump mechanism weak over time.
- All the necessary gear is included
- Affordable kit for squirrel huntersor beginners
- Large amount of plastic used in construction
To us, the affordability of this air rifle more than makes up for what it lacks in construction materials. For squirrel control and fun, backyard shooting, the Daisy Powerline Air Rifle Kit may be exactly what you are looking for!
Gamo Raptor Air Rifle - A silent air rifle for stealthy small game hunting
The Raptor is one of the air rifles in Gamo’s Whisper Series. These guns are designed to be quiet so you won’t spook your quarry in case of a missed shot. For those of you who have moved on from varmint control to real small game hunting, a quiet air rifle like this is essential.
Gamo’s patented Whisper technology, which is to thank for the low noise shooting action, is molded over the barrel to reduce spring noise from escaping the barrel and also reduces the sound of the pellet being fired.
In addition to its silent tech, the Gamo Raptor Air Rifle’s trigger is adjustable between two positions so you can choose the trigger action that’s most comfortable for you. A high quality air rifle should, in our opinion, have some aspects of customization.
On the downside, like lots of stock air rifle scopes, the optics of the Raptor leave a lot to be desired. For a scope that can be sighted in and relied upon, I recommend upgrading as soon as possible.
- Whisper technology for reduced muzzle noise1250 FPS
- Adjustable Trigger
- Cheap, unreliable scope
The scope of this air rifle might be a big downside for some, but remember that this is a problem that most stock air rifle scopes have to contend with. Putting the scope issues aside, the Gamo Raptor Air Rifle is a high quality gun that can be used in a wide array of hunting situations.
Gamo Silent Cat Air Rifle - Another Top-Notch Whisper Series Air Rifle From Gamo
As you can tell from our list, Gamo is one of our favorite air rifle companies, so I had to round out our reviews with another great model from their Whisper Series. The Silent Cat offers all the noise dampening technology that Gamo is known for in a sleek, lightweight design.
The SIlent Cat’s standout feature (besides the noise dampening muzzle) is it’s skeletonized stock. This reduces the overall weight of the air rifle plus it just looks cool! This air rifle is also compatible with left and right-handed shooters.
The scope seems to be the bane of all air rifles. This scope, while a higher quality than others on our list, will require sighting more often than most of you would probably like, but by now you should tell that this is most likely going to be a problem for most air rifles you purchase.
- At 1200 FPS, this air rifle can be used in hunting all small game species
- Includes Gamo’s Whisper noise reducing technology
- Iron sights included
- Scope needs to be sighted in frequently
Despite the scope issues common with air rifles, the Gamo Silent Cat Air Rifle is a powerful and accurate model great for those considering taking their small game hunting to the next level.
Now You’re Ready To Get Out There And Hunt!
Hopefully I’ve filled your head with enough know-how that you are ready to purchase a hunting air rifle for yourself. I’ve shown you some of the best air rifles on the market, now it’s time to do some shopping.
Make sure you think about the species you target and other hunting conditions that can affect your air rifle choice. And as always, come back and reread our guide if you have any more questions. It’s time go hunting