There are many reasons that people choose to hunt with Airguns, in Europe, Asia and much of the world airguns are the only option available for people (outside of the very rich and politically connected) wishing to hunt. In many country civilians are prohibited from possessing or using guns, or the population densities are so high that there is not enough open land to hunt over. But why would anyone in the relatively gun friendly and wide open USA want to use an airgun when they could go buy a .22 rimfire, and achieve more power at a lower cost? Well, there are several reasons; airguns are quiet and have a limited carrying range, so therefore can be used to perform pest control duties and hunt in fairly populated areas. And the more you shoot the more effective you’ll be as a hunter so the limited range and power means that these gun can even be shot safely in the backyard, so most shooters will get in a lot more practice. When using an Airgun, the challenge of the hunt is increased, because to ethically take game the hunter must close the distance which requires honed hunting skills. Airgun hunting offers many parallels to bow hunting in this respect, but also incorporates traditional marksmanship.
Most of today’s spring piston Airguns deliver the accuracy and power needed for hunting small game out to 40 yards (once you practice and get your consistency up, and most PCP Airguns are capable of tack driving accuracy out to 60 or80 yards. Pracatice a lot with your hunting guns at whatever ranges and whatever shooting positions you’ll use in the field. I will often go down to my basement range and put a couple hundred rounds through a gun I’m getting ready to take with me into the field from standing, sitting prone positions, the go out on the range to figure the trajectory, I’ve got a secluded field within 10 minutes my house where I can stretch out to 100 yards. You’re not going to be able to do this with a firearm unless you happen to live on a ranch in Montana.
Sometimes the choice to use Airguns is solely based on practicality; there is no other tool that suits the situation due to noise, safety, or the need for precision. This is one of the most widely used applications of airguns outside of plinking. But there is a growing trend to use them for small game hunting, predator hunting, and even big game because they enhance the experience and improve the hunter’s field skills. Regardless of whether you are clearing starlings from an industrial building, bagging rabbit or squirrels for the table, removing a pest raccoon that is raiding the feeders or heading out for a deer, there is an Airgun that can do the job efficiently and effectively.
A question I often get from other hunters that use more conventional weapons is “is it ethical to hunt with an airgun”? I like this question because I think it is one that any hunter should ask about any method of take, before letting a projectile fly at any living target. I’m not an over the top apologist that would leave you to believe that killing an animal is anything other than what it is, but it is also my respect for nature that drives me to assure that when I shoot an animal it is a very high probability the animal is going down fast. The answer to this question is yes. If you pick the right gun and know what it is capable of both in terms of power and accuracy, it is indeed an ethical method of take. Moreover, the Airgun hunter needs to know what they are capable of with respect marksmanship, and know the animal being hunted, and then they can ethically harvest game. This is of course the same set of criteria any hunter using any weapon must exercise.
For me personally, it is within my skill and the capability of my Daystate Huntsman to take a jack rabbit with a head shot at 60 yards. I can put pellets into a 3/4 inch group all day long, and the pellet retains enough power at that range to drop a rabbit in its tracks. If I was out with my Ruger 10/22 (providing I could find ammo for it these days, which is real limitation I hate to say), I might reach out to a hundred yards to shoot a rabbit, as this is within the capabilities of that gun and me as a marksman. When I’m out with my FX Verminator in .25, I’ll reach out to 125 yards if there’s no wind, dialing back the range as winds pick up. You do need to hunt smarter and hunt better with air power than you do with a firearm, and that is a large part of the appeal.
What I think is clearly unethical is when individuals attempt to stretch the use of their airguns to take quarry that is obviously too large. For instance, using a .22 PCP rifle that generates 20 fpe to take a jackrabbit fifty yards out is fine, but taking a pot shot at a coyote that crosses your path at the same distance is not. There is no doubt that if you place the pellet right and get a perfect brainshot, a .22 at 45 fpe will kill a coyote at 50 yards, but many variables come into play that can interfere with that perfect placement. Even a head shot is not a guaranteed clean kill on this tough quarry at that (or any) distance, if it’s even slightly off. Trying to take any animal, even a varmint, with an inadequate caliber or too little power simply to test the boundaries of what can be done is pretty shoddy in my view..
Ethics are not simply a question of the tools used to harvest game, but how those tools are applied. I will say that after a lot of field experience on my own, and hunting with others and especially guiding newbies, that airguns are a viable option for making humane kills on small game and for pest control when you take the time to learn your gear.
If you are interested in giving Airgun hunting a try, I’ll be setting up some varmint hunts in Arizona, Texas, and South Dakotas in late summer and fall this year. We’ll keep the cost down and group size small, and get you into target rick environments. There will be a variety of guns, projectiles, and an air supply so you can also get a chance to use a variety of high-end airguns… drop me an email.