browser icon
You are using an insecure version of your web browser. Please update your browser!
Using an outdated browser makes your computer unsafe. For a safer, faster, more enjoyable user experience, please update your browser today or try a newer browser.

Hunting Airgun: Power Requirements

Posted by on November 17, 2013

One of the most common questions asked by hunters when they start to use airguns is “how much power do I need to kill a rabbit, a coyote, a deer? Conscientious hunters want to make sure they are using enough gun to cleanly drop their prey. Hunters should try for the quickest, cleanest, and most effective kill. When the trigger is squeezed it should be for the highest percentage shot, be that a head or a chest shot. I’ve heard some say “you should always use a head shot when squirrel or rabbit hunting”, but I believe it’s situational. When I hunt squirrels in spring my preference is head shots, because the dense foliage on the trees allows me to get closer and in these conditions a chest shot might leave them with enough gas in the tank to get lost in the leaves and branches. But I’ll take the chest shot on the same quarry in the same woods in winter, when there is less cover on the trees and less chance of losing an animal even if it runs a few yards.

AGH_AGPower_Fig_1

Power delivered on target is not the limiting factor in most cases, rather it’s the ability to put the target right on target.

I’ve heard some maintain a headshot is more humane, and while I would never inflict unnecessary pain on an animal, the fact that it runs a few yards after a chest shot doesn’t mean its feeling more or less pain. Remember that the typical death of a squirrel or rabbit in the wild is generally a lot less pleasant than getting shot, head or chest. The pertinent question one should ask; is there a valid reason for shooting the animal? These reasons can be for food, to control populations, to eradicate populations, and I’ll go out on a limb and say trophy hunting. The hunters motivation to hunt is an individual issue, the regulations are based on if it make sense from a wildlife management perspective.

Circling back to the question of power; the statement that a hunter wants to make the quickest, cleanest, and most effective kill means that they need a gun generating enough power and poking a big enough hole to meet these objectives. In North America we’re a firearm culture and we’ve been raised to believe more power is better. Because of the prevalence of firearms, airguns and their capabilities have been overshadowed, so their validity as hunting weapons has been suspect. The truth of the matter is that airguns can put out a lot more power than has been generally attributed to them,  and that at the same time it takes a lot less power to cleanly take game than many people realize. In this article I’ll take a look at some of the rules of thumb I use in my airgun hunting to ensure that I am using a gun appropriate to the game and situations I expect to encounter.

What Energy Levels do Airguns Produce?

Most of the conventional .177, .20, and .22 spring piston rifles on the market today will generate between 10 -20 fpe of energy, with outliers in either direction. A few, especially the big .25 magnums can go considerably higher tracking up into the 30 fpe range. That is enough power to take anything up to a raccoon size animal if the correct shot placement, pellet selection, and range is adhered to. But as a rule, springers can be difficult to master and shoot accurately. Both the .22 caliber 16 fpe and .25 caliber 30 fpe guns will anchor a raccoon at 30 yards with a perfect headshot, but it can be harder to get the shot placement with the more powerful gun. We’ll come back to the accuracy vs. power discussion a bit further on.

When you get into precharged pneumatic rifles the range of energy levels produced really opens up, my guns go from a UK spec’d 12 fpe Webley Raider to a 550 fpe .457 Quackenbush. As a rule, most guns in the .177 and .22 calibers are in the 16 – 35 fpe range, the .25 in the 35 – 60 fpe range, the mid bores (.303 – .357) from the 75 fpe to 200 fpe, and the big bores (.40 – .50) anywhere from 200 fpe to 600 fpe. Again there are outliers in all of these, especially when we start look at tuned, modified, and custom guns, but the above gives a reasonable overview.

So there is a wide range of velocities and energy levels that today’s airguns can produce. But this is just one variable in what guns are best for a specific hunting scenario. To keep this discussion manageable, I’m going to limit it to small game and predator hunting, as big game is more of a niche segment of airgun hunting.

Hunting airguns benchmarked against the .22 rimfire

Probably like most guys of my age that grew up in the USA, the .22 rimfire was the basis of my development as a hunter. As a kid I carried a number of rimfire rifles through the mountains, desert and coastal hills of (a very different) Southern California. My California was one of orange groves and bean fields, rolling hills, and undeveloped tracts of land where a kid could walk along with his rifle over his shoulder, waving to cars as they drove by without rousing the local SWAT team. I took countless ground squirrels, rabbits, crows, quail, raccoons, and the occasional coyote with these guns. I dropped a lot of game and I lost some, and really came to understand that a well-placed shot was the key factor to success.

A .22 rimfire typically pushes a 40 grain bullet at 1050 fps, generating 100 fpe. So if we look at the energy delivered by a 16 grain .22 pellet moving at 900 fps and generating 28 fpe, and consider the fact that the .22 rimfire didn’t always do the job, we might be forgiven for discounting the air rifle out of hand. However either of these projectiles would anchor a big jackrabbit on the spot at 50 yards with a well-placed brain or a heart shot. In my experience the average air rifle is more accurate than the average rimfire, so I’m more consistently able to make a “perfect” shot with one of my air rifles. On the other hand, the rimfires heavier bullet and much higher velocity (especially at 50 yards) means that even a less than perfect hit will probably kill the rabbit.

The crux of the matter is just this, while energy dumped on target is important, it is the ability to place the shot on target with precision that is critical. What I mean is that a gun delivering a pellet to a jackrabbit’s heart at 10 fpe is not going to make it any more dead than hitting it with 25 fpe. So my maxim is that” its accuracy first power second”. This of course is making the assumption that a minimum power level is achieved.

The British experience has proven this to be the case, in a country where by far and away most of the guns are under the legal limit of 12 fpe (without a firearms certificate),  our cousins across the pond have been very successful in hunting rabbits, squirrels, crows, and  pigeons in huge numbers.

I believe that all things considered, more power is better, it allows you to reach out further, gives more latitude in shot selection, and lets you hunt the larger bodied animals we have in North America. There are times however, when hunting around farms, buildings, livestock etc. that a lower powered gun might be preferable. I was out doing a pest control pigeon shoot inside and around a barn, and opted for a low power setting on my pcp of 10 fpe (you have to love the adjustable powered guns). These pest birds went down cleanly, there was no over penetration on hits, and the couple of misses that hit the tin roof didn’t cause any damage.

The influence of range as it affects the power required to kill quarry is usually less of an issue than the shooters ability to place the shot accurately at longer distances. Because of the lower velocities obtained with most airguns, which also shed velocity rapidly due to the relatively poor ballistic coefficient of most pellets, makes dealing with trajectory more of an issue than experienced with a rimfire. This is not to say you can’t reach out with an airgun, I’ve routinely taken prairie dog at about 100 yards with higher powered .22 and .25 caliber guns. However you’re ability to place the pellet exactly where you want it will limit your range before the drop in killing power does.

My YouTube Channel is:                      https://www.youtube.com/user/echochapman
My Website is:                                        http://americanairgunhunter.com/

 

41 Responses to Hunting Airgun: Power Requirements

  1. Rocky Mountain Airgunner

    Great article, Jim. I really have tried to focus on accuracy with my airguns. Especially with some gun companies claiming insane FPS (with alloy) that don’t provide consistent accuracy, I think this mantra you’re sharing here is vital.

    • Jim Chapman

      Hi James;
      Thanks … too many people get caught up with pellet velocity or power, but it’s all about accuracy. It only takes a few FPE to cleanly kill a rabbit… if you hit it in the right place. Don’t get me wrong, power is good and in most cases I like a more powerful rifle, but after it passes the accuracy test. There are a lot of UK shooters that state “you don’t need more than 12 fpe”, partially because that’s what they can have without an FAC. If the legal limit was 16 fpe, they’d be saying 16 fpe is all you need. But they also make a good point, thousands of British hunters have taken a gajillion rabbits with sub 12 fpe guns by keeping it in the appropriate range, picking their shots, and being able to place the pellet where it needs to go. Accuracy over power is indeed my mantra! Thanks for reading and taking the time to write.
      Regards,
      Jim

      • Charles G Dees

        I think it is failed to mention and many articles that the Benjamin Marauder can be modified with a heavier hammer spring and with everything adjusted with simple Factory guidelines to bring your Marauder up to the 60 foot pound energy Mark. Simple hammer spring change and I would go ahead and put new O-rings I believe this is left out many times when you compare the marauder to other high powered air rifles

        • Charles G Dees

          I also had an air valve drilled out 2 one hundreths of an inch. Using the JSB 25.4 grain pellet I am getting 49 ft. Lbs. Of energy. It makes for extremely accurate shooting especially at distance shooting. The pellet will maintain 34 ftlbs. Of energy at 50 yards.Which is enough power for anything ,coyote and smaller. The power is there,it all depends on the accuracy of the shooter.

  2. Travis

    Jim,
    I really enjoyed reading this article. I have recently returned to airguns from my childhood and wish that we had met while you were still living in Indiana. You helped me to remember fondly of many starlings and sparrows taken with head shots inside of 10 yards using my Daisy 86-70 Safari model. I wore that gun out as a kid in Southern Indiana. I agree with your comments regarding shot placement as more important than power. My most powerful (not very) airgun is a Diana 45. It cleanly takes out pest birds at up to 30 yards when I place my shots well. You also have helped me to realize that I can open up more predator hunting opportunities using a TBD airgun where my. 22 centerfire is not welcome. Thanks for your website, articles, reviews and blogs.

  3. Julius

    Which is the better quality airgun to buy. A rws34p ..22 or a hatsun. 25 vortex 125 sniper?

    • Jim Chapman

      The Hatsan is a solid shooter at a budget price and I’ve really enjoyed shooting and hunting with it. On the other hand, the RWS 34 is a classic springer and is high on my all-time favorites list. If the budget allows I’d go with the 34; it’s a great small game rifle that will last a lifetime. But if the budget is limited, the Sniper 125 would be a good choice.

      • Daniel Richardson

        I have hatsan 126 sniper and its accurate and built to last it shoots 31 grain rws Superdome at 687 fps that’s 31.5 fpe at 40 yards same pellet gets 21.4 fpe and going through 3/4 inch ply wood at 40 yards no joke its well worth it ,you have to cock gun fast ,or its kind hard,also have bej np2 this gun smokes it great open sights I don’t even use the scope

  4. Stephen Coffman

    After being introduced back into airgunning by my 13 year old son asking for a Crosman Phantom, I find myself owning 2 hatsan rifles in .25 caliber, 2 hatsan pistols, 2 crosman rifles, and 2 crosman pistols. I have found great pleasure not only from hunting and shooting, but from tuning and modding my guns myself. I have recently finished modding my Hatsan AT44-PA and can get quite a few shots in the 60-70 fpe range.
    At this power level in .25 do you think coyote can be humanely taken? I understand shot placement would be critical but what shot distance should I limit myself to, 30-50 yards?
    I also find my Hatsan 125th to be a wonderful gun to shoot, and very reasonable priced.

    • Jim Chapman

      Hi Stephen;
      if you feel comfortable keeping your shots in a quarter sized kill zone (I’d stick with head shots but I’ve got a friend that take more yotes than I do that swears by heart shots when he’s using his .25) and keep the range inside of say 40 yards it will do. If you don’t have a lot of experience hunting coyotes, study the anatomy before you try with a gun in this power/caliber on a live dog. I’d use the heaviest pellet your gun shoots accurately for bigger animals.
      Jim

  5. Bakani Baleni

    Hi Chapman , if i were you i would not advise people to hunt yotes with a small bore airgun,or try the penetration power of their gun on live dogs. what kind of advise is that?

    • Jim Chapman

      Not quite sure where you took away that message. I don’t believe I’ve suggested that a small bore is an optimal gun for coyote as a rule. There are some of the higher power airguns, especially those shooting cast bullets that are more than up to the job. Go back and re-read where ever you got that message from, and I’ll address the comment.

  6. therron

    Hey Jim what’s going on man I just bought a gamo silent stalker whisper igt in 22 caliber. Can it kill a raccoon

    • Jim Chapman

      How goes it! It can, I’d use a heavy pellet, stay inside 30 yards, and keep it to head shots ….. not anywhere in the head, try to drop it down the ear.

  7. S.Fouq

    Hi Chapman, hope you are doing good mate, i have one question, is Gamo SHadow 1000 (.22 Caliber+722fpe) good enough for rabbits to kill them humanly?

    • Jim Chapman

      Hello,
      It is certainly enough gun to for small game. At 720 fps in .22, its putting out around 16 fpe which is quite a bit over the “legal” limit in the UK, where rabbits in the millions have been taken with sub 12 fpe rifles. A suggestion; depending on how much you want to spend, you might want to look at the Walther LGV, an RWS 34, or one of the other European rifles. But if you go with the Gamo it will do the job.

  8. joshua

    Hi Jim how are you ? Im from Suriname ( South America ), i like your videos on youtube.
    I have a question, would the benjamin marauder .22 would be enough to kill an agouti ?
    I cant decide yet which gun to buy, the marauder .22 or hatsan 125 in .25 for this job.

    • Jim Chapman

      Joshua;
      I have never shot an agouti, but based on the size I think the Marauder .25 would be a great choice. The Hatsan AT44QE is anther entry level gun worth a look.Yours is the third post I’ve had asking about agouti, I am going to have to give them a try!
      Jim

  9. Owen Rice

    Jim
    Dogs domestic or not are breaking in and killing chickens and the odd lamb can you reccomend a gun that could kill a dog but keeping a good distance

    • Jim Chapman

      Hi Owen;
      First I’d warn you to be careful; in some states if you shoot a domestic animal, even one causing damage on your property, you can be criminally charged. Secondly I have to say that I’ve never shot a dog, though I know a lot of ranchers out west that consider any loose dog on their property a predartor to dispatch immediately. If you are out in the country you need to take care of these problems on your own, if in suburbia you can also try animal control. Though I haven’t shot a dog, I have shot a lot of coyote, fox and quite a few bobcats, and will tell you my gun preferences for this application. A .25 or .30 shooting a diabolo pellet is fine for head shots at closer range, say out to 50 yards. The .35’s shooting a diabolo pellet lets you slip out to around 75 yards for head shots and a bit closer for body shots. When you get into the higher powered rifles I like the .308 and .357 doing about 150 fpe with cast bullets, and will use these guns out to 100 yards for body shots. You can of course use larger bores, but I find the powerful .30’s with cast bullets have good terminal performance and are flat shooting, and tend to have higher shot counts. Good luck resolving your problem.

  10. Kenny

    My 1851 Navy in .44 with a 5″ barrel will generate up to 120 Ft-lbs at the muzzle when loaded to the maximum that’s physically possible, which is about 50 grains of FFF powder behind the ball with no wadding. This is double what is recommended for the maximum load but the gun can handle it. A PCP pellet rifle gets about 125 Ft-lbs. A break barrel pellet rifle gets about 15 Ft-lbs. A CO2 pellet pistol gets about 3 Ft-lbs. Funny how most big bore PCP air rifles and modern firearms in any caliber can get more Ft-lbs than my 1851 Navy, but back in the 1800s, a clean kill for any animal or human was basically done with any gun with over 68 ft-lbs muzzle energy. I’m pretty sure it’d take about as much to kill now as it did back then. 68 Ft-lbs or more, with the sweet spot for lethality statistically being around 510 Ft-lbs if you interpret the numbers literally. In my opinion, anything around 150 Ft-lbs would be an ideal balance between stopping power and safety from over-penetration but could be more or less depending on the projectile and the situation. Hollow points and wad-cutters require a little more energy and pointed projectiles require a little less. Round nose or ball projectiles are right in the middle. For indoor target practice, I’d suggest around 2 Ft-lbs. For in-home pest control, I’d suggest around 4 Ft-lbs. For small game I’d suggest around 20 Ft-lbs. For medium game, I’d suggest around 75 Ft-lbs. For home defense in urban areas, I’d suggest around 150 Ft-lbs with 98 Ft-lbs minimum. For large game and/or home defense in rural areas, I’d suggest around 300 Ft-lbs minimum with 1000 Ft-lbs being ideal. I hope that helps.

  11. Daniel

    Hi, I want an airgun to shoot hogs at 40 yds and pigeons at 70. Which would be a good one? I have look at hatsan’s torpedo 150 it seems good. I have a 370 dollar budget. Thanks, and I wait your answer.

    • Jim Chapman

      I’m not a supporter of springers for hogs, I think they are all too under powered. The guys that have used them on videos are unethical and shouldn’t be allowed to hunt IMO. The conditions under which most of the videos showing springers being used for pigs are staged. The hogs have been staked out, held by dogs, or shot at very short distances giving the wrong impression of how effective these guns are. The problem is for every kill there will be many, many wounded animals. If you can save up a bit longer I’d advise that you get a big bore PCP, or at least a powerful .25, use very heavy pellets, and keep to close range headshots. If you have to work with that current budget, you’d be much better off with a lower priced centerfire.

  12. syn

    what are the best air riffles to kill large game like deer and wild hog???????

    • Jim Chapman

      I think there are a few, the Quackenbush guns of course, the Professional Big Bore Airguns, the AirForce Texan, but probably my all around favorite big bore right now is the AOA Bushbuck Carbine putting out over 600 fpe, this gun is solid yet compact and is a missile launching tack hammer.

  13. Chris

    Thanks for this info. Understanding the importance of shot placement, are there any .177 air rifles that would be recommended for raccoon/groundhog sized game with regard to energy, or is it really better to jump up to .22/.25 for this type of game?

    • Jim Chapman

      I would go right to a .25 if using a PCP, second choice would be a .22 or .25 in a very powerful springer. A .177 is too light and the wound channel too small to be the most effective.

  14. Jack

    Hey Jim,

    I’m needing to eliminate a raccoon problem. They’re killing all my chickens! I’ve been looking at the Gamo “BONE COLLECTOR” Bull Whisper .22. since noise concerns are a huge factor. Advertised speeds are 975 fps using the PBA Platinum. I’d estimate the lead 14.3gr stuff will be in the mid to low 700’s. Would that be adequate for a raccoon within 8 yards? Should I move up to 17gr.? Thank you for your time

    • Jim Chapman

      Hi Jack, a gun like that would work fine, though I’d stay a mile away from the PBA ….. to be charitable I have to say they suck (very inaccurate)! Use the heavier pellets, stay inside of 20 yards, and take brain shots and you should be good!

  15. M . haitham

    Hi jim

    i have a kral puncher .22 pcp … at max power its go with 980 ft/sec ( tested by the chrono ) and i am using gamo pro magnum pellets its about 1 gram (15.43 grains) it can produce about 40 joules of muzzle energy … can i use that to kill foxes in my farm ? and if i can what range i shoot at ?

    • Jim Chapman

      You can, fox are not that hard to kill and a clean head shot will do the trick. I’d keep it inside of 50 yards so long as you can consistantly drop a pellet into 1/2″ at that distance. For me, it’s generally that my accuracy falls off before the power does. Good hunbting!

  16. cesar

    Hi jim.
    i have a kral puncher .22 pcp … at max power its go with 980 ft/sec ( tested by the chrono ) and i am using gamo pro magnum pellets its about 1 gram (15.43 grains) it can produce about 40 joules of muzzle energy … can i use that to kill foxes in my farm ? and if i can what range i shoot at ?

    • Jim Chapman

      I’d keep it to a headshot out to 50 yards and you should be fine. I’d probably go with the JSB exact 18 grain pellets if they shoot well out of your rifle. The extra weight will give you better penetration and more power on target.

  17. Valentinfivan197@gmail.com

    Hello everyone. I’m also new to the air gun rifles. I got my hands on a Crosman Fire Nitro Piston .177 cal with 1200fps on alloy and 1000fps on lead with muzzle energy 18ft/lb. Now I have done all the research on YouTube about types of animals that this rifle can take out from wild boar, Turkeys, Rabbits, squirrels, crows, pigeons. Now this rifle to me is incredibly powerful and accurate even with the crappy scope. I’ve hit pennies and dimes from 30+ yards and let me tell you I have the pictures of the damage this rifle did to them. Metal vs skin metal is stronger so i’m 100% that I can hit a coon,coyote,opposum and drop him for good. Give me your opinion on my statement. Happy New Years to all

  18. Gil Grant

    Personally, and also living in the UK, I would not even consider using a gun of 12Fpe or under on any living ceature, they are just not consistent enough with hitting power to affect a ‘clean’ kill even with a good degree of accuracy. I use a .22 rimfire and where the situation does not permit a 35Fpe pre charged air rifle.
    Twelve ft lbs and under is strictly for target shooting. If you need to shoot small game, do it humanely and get yourself a firearms certificate. Game is a living entity, have a little more respect for it than a tin can or clay pipe.

  19. Nick

    Hi Jim
    I totally agree with you nobody (guilt) or no animal (pain) should suffer
    and here in the UK we have rubbish gun laws that restrict us to 12 ft lbs
    I only shoot animals i consider pests and the largest animal i am prepared to shoot
    is a magpie with this pathetic energy without causing any suffering.
    I could try shooting rabbits and foxes as i am considering getting chickens as egg
    layers but i am afraid i will only end up wounding such animals and they will end up
    suffering in pain. I currently own a daystate airwolf MCT and was wondering if there was an
    easy fix to uprating from 12 ft lbs to 40 ft lbs

    • Jim Chapman

      Nick, I’ll check on whether this gun can be tuned up, but I believe in the UK air rifles are made “tamper proof” to keep a shooter from running afoul of the very strict laws you mentioned. I’ll get back to you as soon as I have an answer.

  20. Hisan khan

    Hi jim can a gamo coyote in .22 1000 FPS (32 foot-pound) can kill a jackrabbit at 50 to 60 yards with a head or chest shot

  21. Hisan khan

    Hello sir Can i hunt jackrabbit with gamo coyote at 50 to 60 yd in .22 with a headshot or chest shot.
    Velocity = 1000 FPS
    Muzzel energy = 30 foot-pound.

    • Jim Chapman

      You can if you can shoot accurately at that distance, the gun has the power and accuracy. See the distance at which you can sink all your pellets inside an inch, and make that your maximum range.

      • Hisan khan

        Thank you sir

        Sir what bout .177 in 15 FPE in 10.4 gr jsb can also kill jackrabbit not at that range but 30 to 40 yd with a perfect headshot. It can knockdown with a clean headshot.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Theme by Contexture International | ©2000-2012 Airguns of Arizona | All Rights Reserved