by B.B. Pelletier

Today’s posting is inspired by a question we received last week. “I’m looking to buy my first bb gun. Should I look for a combo (bb and pellet) or should I look for one or the other? Are bb’s less accurate in a combo? Also, at what power can you start killing a squirrel?”

I consider this to be three separate questions, and that’s how I will address it. Since killing squirrels seems to be the ultimate objective, let’s start with that.

1. BB guns ARE NOT for killing squirrels!
A BB gun is not a good hunting gun for many reasons. First, some BB guns (such as the Daisy Red Ryder) are too weak to reliably kill anything larger than a small insect. When we hunt, we want to kill as quickly as we can. BB guns don’t do that. The second reason BB guns are bad for hunting is the BB, itself. It’s made of steel and, therefore, does not deform in game. Deformation causes tissue damage, speeding death, and a steel BB is as far from that ideal as you can get. Finally, a steel BB is too small in caliber to do enough damage, no matter how fast it travels. Even when it goes 750 f.p.s., a speed some airguns can achieve, it’s still too slow to do the job in a humane way. I consider a .177 caliber pellet too small for hunting, but there are a great number of airgun hunters who prove me wrong all the time.

For hunting, you need this!
You need an accurate pellet that will penetrate to a vital part of your quarry and not over-penetrate. A pure lead pellet will deform the best, and deformation causes tissue damage (good) and expends energy in the quarry (also good). Synthetic, lead-free pellets often travel completely through the animal, exiting the other side (not good) and leaving a painful, but not immediately deadly wound (definitely not good). So, the animal runs off to hide and may suffer a slow and painful death. BBs are as bad as synthetic pellets when it comes to inflicting non-lethal wounds.

Do NOT discipline animals with a BB gun!
This is just cruel. Even a weak BB gun can break the skin and start a septic wound in a small animal. Find another way to make your point.

2. Are BBs less accurate in a combo?
This refers to a gun that can shoot both BBs and pellets, like the Crosman 760 that so many airgunners love. However, the question is stated backwards. BBs aren’t accurate in ANYTHING except the Daisy 499! All other BB guns are area-fire guns, at best! What is less accurate in a combo gun is pellets! Because the bore has to be made for both .177 pellets and .172 steel BBs, it can’t possibly shoot pellets as accurately as a dedicated barrel. So, if you plan to hunt with certain airguns, it would be wise to select one that is not a combination gun. If that’s all you have, limit your shooting distance to the range at which you can hit an American quarter (a 1″/25mm circle) every time. And, use lead pellets!

3. Should I look for a combo?
The decision is yours, alone, but here are some reasons to buy combos. You like shooting and may not always have pellets readily available. BBs are cheaper, so if your gun shoots both, you have the best of both worlds. Or, you want the fastest BB gun you can buy. The combos are usually at the high end of power for BB guns. Or, maybe you are just fascinated that a gun can shoot both types of ammo. I know people who will buy them for that reason, alone.

The bottom line is that I do not recommend hunting game with any BB gun. For hunting, I usually recommend a pellet gun shooting lead pellets in .22 caliber. I know a lot of hunters will disagree with my opinion, but this reader asked, so I told him.

4. At what power can you reliably kill a squirrel?
I’ll tell you a little secret. Squirrels are very tough critters! Plenty of hunters hit squirrels with 40-grain lead bullets from a .22 long rifle and still lose their game. Squirrels are very tough animals, especially when compared to similar-sized game such as rats. A rat dies twice as easily as a squirrel, in my experience. I would recommend a .22 caliber rifle that shoots no less than 12 foot-pounds at the muzzle. Personally, I prefer a 25 foot-pound .22 pellet rifle for squirrels. I like good head shots as opposed to body shots, and I stay within the range at which I know I can hit a quarter. One of my favorite hunting air rifles is a .22-caliber AirForce Talon SS shooting JSB Exact pellets.

To get my hunting license in Germany, I had to pass both a written test and a shooting test. It took weeks of classes and study to prepare for that test, but I learned a lot about animals, anatomy and bullet placement. I wish we had the same requirement in this country, so hunters would know something about the game they go after before they go afield. Short of that, I guess the best thing to do is to read about your sport as you practice it.