Whether you’re hunting rabbits, pooping iguanas or even fox, the right air rifle can make a world of difference. In this post I discuss the top considerations when looking for the best air rifle for hunting. I cover what to pay attention to as you read thru air rifle reviews and chat with friends and fellow hunters.
But for those of you who simply want to cut to the chase, we first give you our top rifle picks for 2016. Check out the links in the chart for our full reviews on the top picks, or links to additional info.
|For Beginners (adults)||Gamo Big Cat .22 Caliber|
|Intermediate Enthusiasts||Crosman Nitro Venom|
|Longer Range Varmint Hunting||Benjamin Marauder|
|Most Popular||Gamo Silent Cat|
|Quietest||Gamo Silent Cat|
|Pump Action||Crosman Recruit Multipump (more info)|
|Rifle Under $100||Ruger Blackhawk Combo|
|Under $300||RWS .22 Pellet Model 34|
|Longer Range Varmint Hunting||Beeman HW97K|
|Pump Action||Benjamin 392|
|Intermediate||Benjamin Discovery PCP|
Ok, without further adieu, let’s get right into the top considerations…
This should be obvious, but not everybody realizes how important it is to be highly accurate with your air rifle. The reason for this is twofold.
First, you want to make sure that you will actually hit your target. The problem with small game, clearly, is that it is small. That makes it difficult to hit from a distance. And many critters have keen senses. They can tell if somebody is coming near, so often you have to shoot from quite a ways off, in order to get a shot off at all.
If your gun isn’t accurate, not only have you not bagged your game, you’ve also scared it and several other potential targets in the area off with nothing to show for your trouble. Few things are more frustrating than coming home from a hunting trip empty handed. Or worse, coming home from a hunting trip having hardly seen anything you might be able to hunt. With an accurate gun, you can be sure to actually hit your targets from a distance that won’t spook them.
But it’s not enough to simply kill your game. If you are like me, you want to kill them humanely. Not many people realize this about hunters, but we don’t revel in the kill like so many people assume. The idea of hunting is not to torture wildlife. We want to make sure that when we kill something, it dies instantly, painlessly, and without having to suffer unnecessarily.
That’s why when you shoot; you ought to know where to hit your prey to make an instant kill more likely. For example, when hunting rabbits, you want to aim for the spot just behind the eye and below the ear. This also serves the purpose of making sure that the animal in question doesn’t run off and die elsewhere or simply have to live the rest of its life with a pellet stuck in it.
Humane kills severely limit the area that you can shoot in, meaning that your shots have to be even more precise than they would be for something like target shooting.
On the subject of humane kills, you’re also going to want to have a decent amount of power behind your air rifle to make sure that it penetrates the game enough to kill it. Power needed can vary significantly based on what you want to hunt.
First of all, let’s get one thing out of the way right now, speed does not necessarily equate to power. Almost all air rifle manufacturers market their rifles by the amount of FPS, or feet per second, that they shoot. This number is easily manipulated by using the lightest pellet possible. For hunting you should be more concerned about FPE, or foot pounds of energy. This takes into account the FPS of the rifle as well as the weight of the pellet, and will give you a better idea of how hard your pellet is actually going to strike your prey. This is not to say that you can’t use FPS as an indicator of how powerful a rifle is, just keep in mind when you see that number to look for the weight of the pellet used to get it. For a more in depth overview of calculating FPE see my article on selecting the best pellet for your rifle HERE.
The caliber and speed of your gun is not something that is going to be set, and many guns have combinations of these. For example, A Daisy Red Ryder is a .177 with only a 350 fps shot, so it’s not very powerful, but that makes it pretty well suited to shooting small birds that you might find around the barn with little chance of putting holes through your exterior walls. Personally, I am not a bird hunter. But I have read thru many an air rifle review that points out the benefit of low power.
But you wouldn’t use the same gun to hunt squirrels, since it is not fast enough to hit accurately at a distance, nor is it strong enough to ensure a kill, even if you hit in the right place.
A Ruger Blackhawk Combo is also a .177, but at 1000 fps you’re much more likely to be able to kill that squirrel. However, you’re also likely to tear that small bird apart, and should probably stick to larger birds.
If you’re only interested in the furry kind of game, like fox, or even coyote, you’re much better off going with a .22 caliber rifle, like a Benjamin. It’s large enough and powerful enough to get the job done without destroying your kill.
Ease of Use
Depending on where you plan to hunt, you want to consider how you plan to actually get your gun around. Some guns are pretty weighty and require quite a bit of effort after a while to tote through the woods if you intend to do a lot of walking. Similarly, if you have a PCP gun, you’re either limited to the number of shots you would have until the air chamber runs out. Or you’ll have to bring scuba tanks with you on your hunt. Or you’ll end up spending a lot of time pumping the gun up by hand. For hunting, PCPs are not necessarily your best option.
What you want instead is something that is easy to use and has a power source that doesn’t require a whole lot of effort. That’s why something that is spring powered and can be easily cocked is a good idea. You might also want to consider a CO2 powered gun like the Winchester Model M 14 Semi-Automatic CO2 Air Rifle, which gives you a fairly powerful shot, and can easily be recharged by removing the CO2 cartridge and replacing it with another one.
For the types of guns that you have to pump, see how many pumps it takes to get decent power on the shot, and factor that into your exertion for the day. Nobody likes to be at the end of a hunt, see a great shot, and be unable to pump your rifle up because you’re simply bone weary.
At the end of the day, there is no one perfect air rifle for anyone, just perfect air rifles that meet everybody’s individual needs. Before you go out, consider what the best air rifle for hunting your particular game is, rather than looking for something that will cover all eventualities. There are no universal tools, and there are no universal weapons either.
What is the Best Break Barrel Air Rifle?
Break barrel air rifles are really great starter rifles for people who want to get into the sport. They have a lot to offer, and don’t require much effort in order to get them working well. In fact, for most people I would recommend that their first air rifle be a break barrel model, if for no other reason than that they don’t take a whole lot of effort to get started with and are fairly intuitive. But, of course, you’re going to want to find the best break barrel air rifle for you.
What Is a Break Barrel?
A break barrel air rifle is one of the most common designs of pellet gun available. The reason is that it’s very easy to use and maintain, not to mention easy to figure out. Keep in mind that this is a pellet gun, not a BB gun, so unlike a BB gun you’re going to be limited to loading every shot by hand as you shoot it. It also is going to be a lot more powerful as a result.
The reason why it is called a “break barrel” is that it is actually powered by a very tight spring that is cocked by pushing the barrel downward so that it comes apart, or “breaks” somewhere near where the body of the gun ends. Pressing it down all the way arms the spring, but it also reveals where the pellet is meant to go. The pellet is inserted into the chamber with the point facing downward, or out toward the end of the barrel, and then it is lifted back up and locked back into place, now ready to fire.
One of the biggest advantages to having a break barrel air rifle as opposed to any other is that it’s actually incredibly easy to maintain. However, maintenance can vary pretty significantly between models, so you have to take into account what you’re willing to do, since not maintaining at all should never be an option.
For many models, like the Ruger Blackhawk Combo, maintenance is as simple as breaking the barrel, putting a cleaning pellet or two in it, and running them through with a ramrod. That will usually get rid of the residue that would otherwise build up inside the barrel and throw off your accuracy.
For other models, though, maintenance can be a much more complex procedure. The Gamo Bone Collector Bull Whisper, for example, really needs a lot of cleaning after every use, as well as a decent amount of oiling. This is not a flaw in the gun, but rather just the way it’s built, and the extra work that you put into it shows in the increased accuracy and ease of use.
Ease of Use
It is remarkably easy to use a break barrel. There is a single procedure to follow in order to get off a shot: just break the barrel, load, put it back together and fire. That is easier than using a PCP rifle, for example, and perhaps even a CO2 powered one. There are no additional parts to deal with, no extra things to carry, and less worries about something breaking since there are fewer pieces to deal with.
This last part is important. When dealing with a pump action air gun or a PCP, you have a large air chamber inside that provides the power behind every shot. While this can be provide consistent shots, on several models they are prone to breaking.
It only takes one leak in an air chamber to render an air rifle virtually useless, and somebody who is not used to maintaining an air rifle won’t know how to avoid that. When you have a break barrel, that isn’t really a problem you have to concern yourself with.
Break barrel rifles tend to have excellent accuracy. One reason is that the pellet has less far to travel through the barrel than on some other models. Another reason is that the spring action is a remarkable way to power a pellet.
With something that uses compressed air in a chamber, what you end up having is a small release that allows that air under pressure to escape, but only briefly, creating the force that launches the pellet out of the barrel. This can be incredibly powerful, but it can also be inconsistent, especially as the air starts to run low.
With a spring powered rifle, you compress the spring behind a piston and attach it to a latch that is connected to your trigger. By pulling the trigger, you’re releasing the spring, which pushes the piston forward and compresses the air in front of it. With no place else to go, it rushes forward and ends up pushing the pellet out of the barrel in order to escape.
This tends to result in much more consistent pressure, and more accurate firing as a result. That also means, however, that how tight a spring you have should be a factor in which rifle you should get, based on whether you feel you can cock it and if it has the power you want.
Of course, accuracy can be affected by a number of factors in any given weapon, such as the environment that you’re shooting in and the type of ammunition that you intend to use. That’s why it’s important that you take the time to ask about what would be best for you. Don’t just look at online forums. Instead see if there is a local gun club or air rifle organization that can help you choose something that would be appropriate for where you live.
These are the main considerations when you’re thinking of getting a break barrel rifle. But at the very least you have plenty of options available to you. The trick is to figure out what is most important to you and balance that against what is available. Then you’ll be sure that the purchase you make will be the best break barrel air rifle – for you.
Review of RWS .22 Pellet Model 54 Combo Rifle
RWS is one of the oldest, most reliable manufacturers out there, so it’s no surprise that the RWS .22 Pellet Model 54 is one of the better pellet rifles available on the market today. Not only is this a solid gun from the moment that you pick it up, but it is quiet, accurate, and easy to get a feel for.
Out of the Box
Really, the only truly bad thing that I can say about this gun is that the packaging is absolutely terrible. It gets banged up pretty easily in transport and it can’t take it. At least one person I know got theirs and the barrel was sticking out of the box having poked through in transport. There is no excuse for that to happen and RWS really ought to look into a new container. That being said, it is the only place where the quality isn’t readily apparent.
The first thing that you’ll notice is that this gun is heavy. For some people that may be a problem. If you’re shooting from a standing stance, and you are slight of build, your arms will get tired pretty quickly. But it’s also a good indicator of quality. This gun is solid and will last you for a while.
Another thing you’ll notice right off the bat is that the finish on this rifle is really gorgeous. The checkering is also highly detailed, and the barrel is in great condition. I liked this gun before even shooting it.
Unsurprisingly, shooting was absolutely beautiful. The recoil-less action really pays off for multiple great shots without worrying about an accuracy loss. There was a bit of vibration, but no kick at all. The trigger is steel, not plastic, and has about a three pound pull, which felt about right to me but your mileage may vary.
The shot itself isn’t super powerful, but it has enough power behind it that you won’t be disappointed. If you’re using this for hunting rabbits or clearing out pest animals, it will kill them cleanly and easily. If you’re using it for target shooting, you also should have no problem with the power. If the power is really that much of an issue for you, you can pick up the Model 34, but you’ll be losing out in a lot of other arenas.
I admit I don’t like the safety much. It’s the only part of this gun that doesn’t feel solid. It’s not a deal breaker, but I really would prefer to have it click into place, especially if there’s kids running around.
There is almost nothing bad about this gun. It’s beautiful, well put together, long lasting, and shoots incredibly accurately. I think the materials it’s made out of are top notch, which is good because I want to be able to use this one for a long time yet.
These are more a matter of personal preference than problems with the gun itself. I think it’s powerful enough, but there are some people who won’t be happy until their pellet gun pokes holes in plywood from 40 yards. This one won’t do that. Also, the safety feels a little soft and you might even say indecisive. Future versions would be better off with a safety that had two very clear settings instead of what this has.
The absolute worst I can say is that the scope that comes with it is, at best, average. Not good, not bad, just pretty standard. That being said, I was surprised at how well the iron sights worked, so there’s that working in its favor again.
The Bottom Line
There aren’t a whole lot of problems with this gun. It’s versatile and can be used for hunting as well as target shooting and pest control. It’s well made in terms of both aesthetics and utility. It’s quiet enough to use in a basement without disturbing the people upstairs, but powerful enough to take out any critters. You can use it well even without a scope. And, though I haven’t mentioned it, they are guaranteed for life, so if anything breaks, call RWS and they will take care of it. It’s a bit pricy, but well worth the investment.
The buying crowd will give you the best, unvarnished air rifle reviews. My reviews hopefully will augment these, and point out a few things to look for as you search for the right rifle.