This is a guest post from Randy Zellers, Managing Editor for Arkansas Wildlife Magazine. The article appeared in the publication’s September/October 2014 issue.

The first time most young hunters pull a trigger, a BB comes out of the barrel. Air guns like the Daisy Red Ryder are a rite of passage in a young hunter’s life, but are almost forgotten as soon as kids graduate to powder-burning firearms.

There’s a breed of air guns made for more than pop cans and paper targets, and with the recent cost of rimfire ammunition, these air-powered options are getting new attention from recreational shooters and small game hunters.

Arkansas Air

Seth Rowland owns Black Hog Down, an airgun ammunition manufacturer. He also coordinates the Arkansas Airgun Extravaganza, a gun show that connects air gun manufacturers and collectors with people who are getting started.Air Superiority.pdf (page 2 of 4)

“I started hunting with air guns about 10 years ago,” Rowland said. “I hesitate to call myself an expert in the industry, but I have really noticed more options coming from air gun manufacturers in the last few years.”

Cheap Shot

Rowland says adult air rifles offer a great way to keep shooting form sharp and get in the woods during small game seasons, especially with the recent shortage and price increase of rimfire ammunition.

“I can shoot an airgun all day for only a few bucks,” Rowland said. “It costs a lot more to shoot powder-burners, and that’s if you can even find .22s.”

Aside from the low cost of ammunition and cheaper practice sessions, air guns have little to no recoil, making them excellent options to introduce youngsters to hunting.

“The kick of a rifle can intimidate some beginning shooters,” Rowland said. “Air rifles let you concentrate more on the shot than waiting on a kick or loud bang.”

Close Quarters

A pellet rifle’s limited range can be a blessing or a curse. It prevents long-distance shots at game, but also reduces the threat of errant shots close to houses or people.

“Small-caliber pellets are designed with a flared skirt at the back to add drag and stabilize the pellet,” Rowland said. “Small-caliber pellets also are much lighter than rimfire bullets in the same calibers, so they don’t retain as much long-distance energy.”

Within 40 yards, most hunters won’t be able to tell much difference between the effectiveness of a .22- or .25-caliber pellet and .22-caliber rimfire if the shot is placed properly. And beyond 40 yards, the walnut-size vital area of a squirrel or rabbit becomes pretty hard to shoot.

Airguns make a fraction of the noise powder-burning firearms produce. The sound of the pellet striking the target often is much louder than the sound of the shot.

“Most pellet rifles are going to be quieter than a .22 for those who have sensitive neighbors,” Rowland said. “It’s not too uncommon to drop one squirrel without his buddy on the next branch even knowing what happened.”

Power Plants

Airguns designed for hunting need a little more oomph than the BB guns most people grew up with. Two types of guns generate enough pressure to cleanly take small game – spring-powered rifles and precharged pneumatics.

Spring-powered rifles are charged with a heavy spring or gas piston that is compressed with a single cocking effort. When the piston or spring is released by the trigger, it slams a plunger forward violently, compressing air and sending it through a small hole to the chamber at high pressure.

“Springers” tend to be the most popular choice. They are inexpensive, require little maintenance and are very simple to operate. But they have drawbacks.

“Springers are harder to shoot accurately than PCPs,” Rowland said. “The action of the spring creates a lot of recoil while the pellet is still in the barrel. You have to really know how to hold them to get headshot accuracy at squirrel hunting ranges.”

Rowland, and many air-power converts, devote their dollars to more expensive precharged pneumatic rifles.

“Essentially, it’s the same kind of system as those air rifles that you pump using the gun’s forestock,” Rowland said. “But they’re built to handle extremely high pressures and require a separate charging pump or tank to fill.”

Not only do PCPs offer more power with no recoil, they also offer multiple shots per charge. Most PCPs have air chambers good for about 20 shots per fill and have a magazine that feeds pellets just like a bolt-action rimfire.

“When you run low on pressure, you can charge them in seconds using a portable tank that’s recharged at dive shops and other places that handle high pressure air systems,” said Chip Hunnicu, Marketing Manager for Crosman Corporation, a leading name in airgun manufacturers. “We also sell a manual pump that’s similar to a bicycle pump to charge the gun. It takes a lot of pumps to get the pressure you need, but it can be good for people who don’t have easy access to a charging station.”

Sizing Up Things

Traditionally, .177- and .22-caliber air guns have ruled the market, with .177 the most popular. The smaller, lighter pellet flies much faster than the .22, given the same amount of air pressure behind it. This means less drop downrange and less yardage estimation is needed to keep shots in the bull’s-eye.

“We offer our Benjamin Marauder, our top-of-the-line small-caliber air rifle in .177-, .22- and .25-caliber,” Hunnicutt said. “In .25 caliber, it is perfectly capable of taking small game, as well as raccoons and even coyotes inside of 30 yards. The .22 caliber is more than enough for squirrels and rabbits at the same distances.”Air Superiority.pdf (page 3 of 4)

Rowland also prefers the larger caliber.

“A .177 can kill a squirrel or rabbit, but a .22 or .25 does it better,” Rowland said.

Keep It Legal

An air gun’s low noise and relatively short range may cause people to believe they are perfectly acceptable as a pest solution or for practicing shooting in the backyard. Before setting out on safari, be sure you stay on the right side of the law.

Songbirds, sometimes the targets of overzealous children, are federally protected through the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Keep shooting to nuisance species – English sparrows, blackbirds, starlings and crows committing damage to property.

Even if the animal is legal to take, city ordinances may prevent air gun use. Always take a look at local firearms codes or call the local police department to make sure before you shoot. Teaching a child to shoot an airgun is an excellent way to recruit new hunters; it’s also the time to start teaching hunting ethics.