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What’s the effective range of an airgun used for hunting?

By B.B. Pelletier

This question came in as a comment to the posting on June 8 – More about sighting-in. It’s a good fundamental question that deserves a good answer, because the effective range depends on several factors.

What are you trying to do?
The first factor is always what you are trying to do. Killing rats? At what range can you do that without wounding a lot of animals? Even a rat deserves to die humanely. Rats are fairly easy to kill with body shots, providing you’re using calibers .20 to .25. I believe .177 can also be used, but shot placement is MUCH more important, because .177 pellets tend to slip through tissue without causing damage to surrounding areas. I like .22 caliber for hunting, though I’ve also done well on occasion with .20.

For rats, I like to see 8 foot-pounds of energy on target. That means the pellet has to have 8 foot-pounds REMAINING when it reaches the rat. Other animals require more energy and a few take less, but I’m not going into that here. If you need some help calculating energy, read the article, Airgun formulas and other neat stuff.

How accurate do you want to be?
The second factor to consider is accuracy. How close to the aim point will you hit? I don’t mean what’s the best group you ever shot. I mean, what can you do right now from an awkward shooting position? The kill zone for most airgun quarry is 1.5″ OR LESS. For head shots on squirrels, it’s half that AND NO MORE! So you have to figure out WHAT you are shooting and HOW the shot will be made (head shot/heart shot). Then ask – Can I make this shot? If you can’t, don’t shoot.

How will the wind affect your shooting?
Wind never lengthens a shot; it only makes it shorter. Until you watch a pellet drift six inches sideways at 50 yards due to a strong breeze, you haven’t learned to appreciate the effects of wind. This is an area where airgunners become better shots than firearm shooters. Because our pellets move so slow and nearly every shot is long range for us, we HAVE to be better, just to hit the target!

Everything I’ve written here assumes the best pellet for your gun (that’s YOUR JOB to discover) and a gun that is dead-on reliable. Now, for the answer to the question in the title. Some airgunners are making 50- to 70-yard kills on woodchucks using Condors and Career 707s – or Webley Patriots for those who use springers. They hunt all the time and know all the factors mentioned here. The average shooter must start out with caution until he learns these factors for himself. I personally think a 40-yard shot is about my limit, assuming all the factors are right.

author avatar
B.B. Pelletier
Tom Gaylord is known as The Godfather of Airguns™ and has been an airgunner for over a half-century, but it was the Beeman company in the 1970s that awoke a serious interest in airguns. Until then, all he knew were the inexpensive American airguns. Through the pages of the Beeman catalog, he learned about adult airguns for the first time. In 1994, Tom started The Airgun Letter with his wife, Edith. This monthly newsletter was designed to bring serious reports about airguns to the American public. The newsletter and Airgun Revue, a sister magazine about collectible airguns, was published from 1994 until 2002, when Tom started Airgun Illustrated -- the first American newsstand magazine about airguns. Tom worked for three years as technical director at AirForce Airguns, the makers of the Talon, Condor, and Escape precharged air rifles. Today, he writes about airguns and firearms for various publications and websites. He also makes videos, and you'll find short clips embedded in some of his artices on Pyramyd AIR's website. Tom is a consultant to Pyramyd AIR and writes under the name of B.B. Pelletier.

2 thoughts on “What’s the effective range of an airgun used for hunting?”

  1. what you just wrote explains some of my frustration with airgunning.

    Every pellet acts differently, which depends on size, weight, shape, and precision.

    Every cock (of the barrel!) is different, thereby adding more variable to precision

    Your hold is EXTREMELY important. Placement, style, and grip strength crucially affect flight path.

    In short, if you are not disciplined, you wont like airgunning.

  2. i agree totaly with the flight pattern thing cause there is always that pellet that flys diffrent the(flyer)u can get like 4 shots in 1″ group and then that one pellet will be like an inch of.

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