I get a lot of mail that goes something like this: “Hi Jim, I am looking for a new hunting rifle, and am considering X, Y, Z guns. Which of these would you recommend”? First it depends on how you will use the gun, what you will hunt, in what situations, and under what conditions. Outside of that, I explain that I can give a personal preference, but once you get past a few mandatory requirements it becomes a personal choice.
No matter what you hunt or where you hunt it, you need to have the appropriate accuracy first and foremost, and then you need adequate power. Of the two the accuracy is the most important for an airgun. For instance the difference between a 12 fpe and a 25 fpe gun shooting a rabbit with precise shot placement is minimal …. the rabbit can only be so dead and both guns will do it if the shot is right. The reason I’d go with the 25 fpe gun, all things considered, is that the trajectory is less, and the flatter shooting characteristics allow you to reach out further with confidence.
Matching the right gun to game; Kip and I are out with a couple .25s for some longer range pigeon shooting
What is the required accuracy? For small game I’d say 1/2″ at your maximum hunting range and for predators and big game I want 1″ at the maximum range. Remember that with an airgun you are cleaning taking game by precise placement to the vital organs. With respect to power, in most cases I like as much as I can get without sacrificing accuracy. Besides range, increased energy delivery to target allows more latitude in shot placement, making broadside and quartering shots more effective.
While there is never a time I want less accuracy, there are times I want less power. If shooting pigeons in a barn, I don’t want to worry about pass through or collateral damage if I happen to miss. This is one of the reasons I do like a gun that has an adjustable power setting.
It also depends on the powerplant you want to use, for hunting this is either a spring piston or a PCP. The springer is self contained, the gun and some pellets and your ready to go. With a PCP you need an airsource, connectors and a place to fill that air tank. The PCP is recoilless, easy to shoot accurately, and generally more compact. The springers take qmore practice to shoot accurately and tend to be larger and heavier, especially when you get into the magnum springers. PCP’s are very efficient in the larger calibers while the springers are restricted to .25 and under.
There are other features that might be important to you. Almost all springers are single shot while many (if not most) of todays PCP’s are multishot. I don’t mind a single shot, except for the fact I hunt a lot in very cold weather and fumbling for an individual pellet with cold/numb fingers or while wearing gloves is difficult. However, when hunting far from support I either want extra magazines (which can be expensive) or a single load tray conversion, as I’ve been in the middle of nowhere and had a magazine fail or be damaged.
I like a compact rifle, this Quackenbush .452 gave up some power to go to a 20″ barrel, but its great in heavy brush.
For me, compact guns rule! I like to go out hiking and stalking, and often hunt in heavy brush, or sometimes from a blind our out of a vehicle (for pest control), and find a short barrel gun suits me best. In my big game guns, I’ll often give up some velocity/power to get a more compact package. At the same time I know a lot of guys that go for extremely long barrels to get every last ounce of energy out of the gun. But for me airgun hunting is about getting in as close as possible, for you it might be reaching out as far as you can.
Air capacity is another aspect that depends on what, how and where you hunt. On my big game gun I’m fine with 2-3 shots per fill, and will carry a buddy bottle if I think more air might be required, because I don’t expect to take more than one shot when hunting deer. For predator hunting I like 6-10 shots because I may get more opportunity, and for prairie dog I want at least 30, more is better.
A good trigger is always a plus, it doesn’t have to be match grade and it doesn’t have to be ultra light weight, but a crisp, clean and predictable break is required. I like a very light trigger on a target rifle, but again, when in the field on a frigidly cold day with cold or gloved trigger finger a 3.5 lb -4.5 lb pull is fine with me. But another shooter might disagree and shoot in warmer climates or simply want a much lighter trigger.
I like a shrouded or suppressed rifle, especially on a compact urban hunting gun, as it helps in being discreet while shooting. But if your shooting is for jackrabbits in the desert, any airgun is quiet enough.
Likewise, caliber selection depends on your application. For small game such as squirrel and rabbits, I like a .22 or .25. The caliber is efficient, and provides the reach and impact required for small game. I am liking the ,25 better these days because the larger wound channel is more effective at anchoring game with body shots. The .25 is also effective for stepping up to medium sized game when needed, but lately I’ve been gravitating towards the .30 for medium game, which can step down to small game as required. For predator hunting, coyote, bobcat, fox I like the .357 caliber, sometimes in a gun set up to shoot pellets at medium power other times cast bullets at higher power.
A lot of guys swear by bullpups, and while I use them and like a few, really view them as form following function.
But when I want a compact gun I gravitate towards a carbine rather than a bullpup, as I find they tend to be more maneuverable and lighter weight.
In terms of style of gun, my taste run more towards the look and feel of a traditional sporter in a carbine length and I prefer a wood stock. But a synthetic can be a better option if you hunt in wet or extremely cold conditions. Some hunters prefer a bullpup, because of the compact dimensions and/or shooting characteristics. I can appreciate this view, but from a sense of aesthetics, not my choice. This is part of my connudrum when answering the question “what gun should I get”? I would not want to suggest to a hunter that a bullpup is not the right solution if that is the gun they like best.
So my advice on the right hunting gun; accuracy is king and the gun must be capable of precise shooting. More power is generally better, but only so long as accuracy is preserved. Pick the features important to you and give each weight in prioritizing your needs. Pick a gun that appeals to your sense of aesthetics, as you will spend a lot of time looking at that gun, and having one that appeals to you makes the whole experience that much better.
And finally, do your homework and make your own choice. Take any advice, no matter how much you trust the source, with an understanding that there is a bias there which may not align with yours. I give everyones opinions due consideration, but find those that say “this gun is best” or intimate there is only one option that makes sense for you, to be suspect. For my part, I am always happy to give my thoughts, but in the end encourage you to think through what you want the gun to do, how you are going to use it, and what your idea of the perfect airgun is, then make your own choice!