The advantages of hunting with an airgun
by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
Today’s report is a guest blog about the advantages of airgun hunting by Pyramyd Air employee Derek Goins.
If you’d like to write a guest post for this blog, please email me. Now, over to you, Derek.
This report covers:
- Noise level
- Some things to consider…
Like a Carhartt-clad stone I sat motionless against a large oak tree, a rifle braced on my knees. The reluctant morning sun was just peeking into the horizon, bringing relief from the swirling fall winds biting at the back of my neck. A rain the night before left the ground soggy, the moist air heavy with the smell of earthworms and rotting leaves. Earwigs and tiny beetles fled through the humid dirt as I shifted my feet in an attempt to thaw my toes.
As a branch rustled a few feet away from me on the fence line, I looked to see a cardinal, feathers ruffled in loathing for the chilly morning. Begrudgingly he pecked and hopped about on the crisp ground for his breakfast making an awful ruckus in the dead leaves all the while.
I shifted my rifle and figured if the birds were crashing through the leaves, the squirrels were sure to be up soon. I took to scanning the pecan and oak trees that stood around me and in a few minutes a fox squirrel materialized on a leaf-barren oak branch about thirty yards in front of me. Blending right into the tree bark, the flicking of her bushy tail was the only giveaway. My hand grasped an ice cold barrel as I methodically cocked the RWS 94 air rifle in my lap.
Setting the rifle on my knee, I quickly found the squirrel in my scope. She was working on an acorn as I lined up the scope’s crosshairs. Gently sliding the safety forward I moved my finger to the trigger and nearly jerked it as the angry cardinal exploded from the ground in a huff, giving up his hunt. Seeing the elusive squirrel was as startled as I was, I settled into a steady trigger squeeze. The rifle jumped in my hands as a .22 caliber pellet snapped out of the barrel.
The squirrel tumbled out of the tree at the sound of the pellet impacting flesh. I stood up, after giving the animal a few minutes, stretching my cold limbs and walked to retrieve my squirrel. It was a clean shot behind the eye, an ethical respect any game animal deserves. The lazy morning rays finally warmed me as I stretched again and started to a large stand of pecans; relishing a good start to a dreary morning.
For many years I hunted with that airgun and not initially by choice. My family had moved to a semi-rural town in Texas and as a young man I was infected with the love of hunting. A 22 rimfire was not safe to shoot in the area and I soon discovered air rifles. The half acre property had a half dozen nut and fruit trees, to the delight of the squirrels. To this day airguns are my primary hunting arm, as there are several advantages of airguns over firearms.
Let’s begin with the very reasons most folks will get into airguns for hunting:
Airguns fill a niche nicely where the 22 caliber rimfire or small bore shotgun is too much gun for the area. Simply put, airguns do not require very much space to shoot safely. The huge variety of airguns on the market right now can fit almost any space needs. The lead pellets that air rifles shoot flatten upon impact and typically do not ricochet. Additionally the moderate power levels produced by airguns let them shine over firearms for hunting or taking care of pest critters in enclosed spaces like barns or feed silos.
Air rifles like the Air Arms S510 FAC Sidelever Carbine have adjustable power, allowing the hunter a wide range of power levels for different scenarios. I have found many opportunities for hunting simply because an air rifle was a better and safer tool. Airguns have allowed me to be effective on small game from as close as 7 yards and as far as 120 yards. Under 100 yards is where the modern air rifle really earns its keep.
With few exceptions, airguns are significantly quieter than firearms. The primary reason for this is that airgun velocities are typically sub-sonic, meaning the pellets are not breaking the sound barrier. In addition to not disturbing your neighbors, the decibel levels are low enough that the rifle report won’t cause hearing damage. Spring piston breakbarrel rifles like the Diana RWS 34 produce a dull slamming report similar to a nail gun.
For true silence, the shrouded Benjamin Marauder is so quiet that the pellet impacting the target is louder than the gunshot. The low noise levels air rifles produce will not spook animals quite as much as firearms, which is great if you want to take multiple shots. Typically a firearm rifle shot thundering through the woods will silence all the wildlife for quite a long time. It is an eerie quiet that lets you know that you’re the one who is out of place. Activity resumes much more quickly after an air rifle shot, and, though animals still react, the life in the woods remain calm. I’ve nabbed a lot of small game by bringing an air rifle on a deer hunt. More often than not I found myself putting squirrels and rabbits in the freezer in addition to venison.
It’s no secret that with the turbulent firearm climate both centerfire and rimfire ammunition have had spotty availability. Long gone is the $20 brick of 500 .22 LR rounds. The same brick is over double the price now! Besides the increased cost you’d be lucky to find more than a box or two, but here I am singing to the song birds. Y’all may be nodding your heads saying, “Everybody knows that son.”
What you may not know is that you can shoot and hunt with airguns for a fraction of the cost. I shoot thousands of pellets per year hunting and stay on a trigger year-round. A tin of match-quality domed pellets may cost me $12-17 for 500, depending on the caliber — even less if I order in bulk, using the buy 3 get 1 free deal offered by Pyramyd Air. While most centerfire cartridges can be economically reloaded with the right equipment, I still can’t reload cheaper than I can shoot airguns. The cost savings is significant in an economy that’s forcing us to keep our wallets closed.
Perhaps my favorite quality of airguns in general is the amazing versatility they posses. The market in the US has exploded! We’re seeing rifles capable of ethically taking down deer, coyote, fox, hog and other medium-sized animals. Rifles like the Sam Yang Dragon Claw .50 caliber can kill deer with 175 foot pounds of energy, while the Sumatra 2500 .25 caliber is ideal for coyotes with a bone-crushing 60 foot pounds of muzzle energy. These energy levels may sound low, but shot placement is the equalizer. A properly placed airgun pellet will kill an animal just as effectively as a firearm, and with less tissue damage.
Here are (from the left) .177, .20, .22, .25, .30, .357, .45 and .50 caliber pellets. The huge variety of airgun calibers now on the market allow not only small game hunting but medium and large game as well!
Some things to consider…
While I view the airgun as the ultimate hunting tool, there are a few things you’ll want to consider before making the jump yourself. The first thing I would do is check hunting legislation in your state or county. In many states airguns are not yet legal for hunting small game. Other states have caliber restrictions without regard to actual muzzle energy. To confuse things further some states consider certain animals to be game animals while others are not. For example, when I last lived in Texas, squirrels were considered game animals and thus not legal for airguns, however cottontails you could take year-round.
The power and low noise is great but it does come at the cost of reduced range. Airguns have similar ranges to archery, and you will simply need to keep this in perspective for your skill level. The challenges that come with stalking animals in airgun ranges can be quite rewarding. Most of my shots on animals are under 50 yards. While longer shots can be taken, you’ll want a well-tuned rifle and some experience with it before considering those.
I know that airguns will never fully replace firearms, but they do make a fantastic alternative when the situation dictates. As always, take my word with a grain of salt and do a bit of research. You may find that you have an open space in your gun safe for a well-built air rifle!