Let’s be candid…some people scoff at the idea of using pellet guns for hunting. But when it comes to small game or pest control applications, they can actually be preferable to firearms. Even with game as large as white tailed deer, you may find that an air powered pellet gun is more accurate, less destructive, and entirely capable of taking down your prey without blowing it apart in the process.
Your first consideration when it comes to selecting a pellet gun to use for hunting game ought to be the caliber that you want to have. Pellet guns generally come in four calibers:
Most pellet guns that are used in hunting are either .177 or .22 caliber, so we’re going to focus on those. There is a rule of thumb among air rifle hunters, “.177 for feathers, .22 for fur,” meaning that if you’re hunting birds primarily, you should be using a .177, and a .22 is better for squirrels and rabbits. There are exceptions, like the Winchester 1000 Wood Break Barrel, which is a .177 but certainly powerful enough for rabbits and even small coyotes. But the fur/feather mantra is still a decent guide.
As far as power goes, there are a wide range of options. The pellets that you decide to go with will have an impact on which power system you settle on. But you have to look at what you plan to hunt. Dr. Robert Beeman composed a handy chart showing what level of power would be necessary to effectively shoot various types of small game at a number of distances, so use that as a guide in establishing what power is best for your needs.
The question of whether or not you should have a scope again boils down to what sort of game you plan to hunt. However, if you’re using a pellet gun, the odds are its very small game and a good scope would suit you well, so instead we’ll focus on what sort of scope to look for.
The first consideration should be whether the scope you’re looking at is made for a pellet gun. Firearm scopes and air rifle scopes are very different from one another, primarily in the way that they are cushioned. Similarly, the power plant of your pellet gun also changes the cushioning, and a scope made for a pump-up pneumatic gun like the excellent Beeman RS2 air rifle will quickly shake itself apart if you try to use it on a CO2 powered gun. Get the scope for the gun you plan to use.
You also want to take questions like zoom into consideration since a good zoom on your scope can not only help you hit smaller targets but also help you find elusive ones that may be difficult to see due to natural camouflage. Similarly, check and see if your scope has an adjustable objective, which helps bring both the target and crosshairs into focus simultaneously.
The type of pellet that you plan to use also will have an impact on the type of pellet gun that you end up purchasing. The pellet that you choose affects a number of factors, but primarily penetration and accuracy.
Domed pellets are the most common and work in most pellet guns. As the name implies, they are domed on top, which gives them a better spin and makes them more accurate in the majority of rifles. For most hunting, especially small game hunting, these are going to be the preferable style of pellet to use.
Wadcutter style pellets, on the other hand, have a flat head. They tend to be less accurate, but the benefit comes that they are less penetrative. So, for example, if you’re hunting pest birds in order to get them out of a barn but don’t want to shoot holes in your roof, wadcutters may be a better fit.
The accuracy of a rifle is important, especially when it comes to a pellet gun used for hunting. Your targets will often be small and quick, so not only is missing easy, it also makes getting a second shot unlikely.
It should be obvious that every gun ought to be as accurate as possible, but there are other considerations that could cause a hunter to choose a less accurate gun. For example, as was mentioned above, if being less penetrative is important to you, then it might be better to get a gun that is better suited for wadcutter style pellets, and that will be less accurate. You might want a gun with a different loading mechanism that could affect its accuracy. A gun that would be more accurate might not have a scope that you otherwise would like to have, making better shooting a moot point.
These are some of the primary concerns that you should have while looking for pellet guns for hunting. As you grow in the sport, you may find other things to further your enjoyment, but if you’re just starting you can find a decent gun if you keep these considerations in mind.