A question from a reader – Part II

Monday, April 15, 2013

From last week’s blog, remember that Blair wrote in, asking:

  1. In your experience, what would you recommend as the best gun (top 3 in order) and caliber to purchase in order to maintain a regular food supply? I live in Georgia in a suburban area with woods all around. (squirrels, turkey & smaller deer) I don’t plan on being a collector of numerous airguns however, price is not a limiting factor.
  2. What are your preferred scopes and range finders?
  3. Since, in theory, the electricity may be out, I will need to hand pump the rifle. What is the best (most efficient, easiest to use and reliable) pump available?

Until recently, Blair, I would have recommended a multi-stroke pneumatic rifle as your first choice since they are self-contained and easy to shoot well, but my thinking has changed. The reason? One of my favorite MSP rifles failed simply by being stored in a gun closet. One of the seals failed, and the rifle would not pump and hold air.

And that is a problem with all MSP, SSP, CO2, and PCP airguns – they are seal dependent. If a single seal fails, the air rifle may quit functioning entirely, ruining its ability to gather food for your family. So unless you intend to stock a spare seal kit and learn how to repair the air rifle you choose, I would not recommend for your purposes an airgun with an MSP, SSP, CO2 or PCP powerplant. Don’t get me wrong: there are many wonderful MSP, SSP, CO2 and PCP airguns out there, and it gives me great joy to shoot them, but in the scenario that you describe, Blair, with the lights out and the need to gather food urgent, I would go with the most reliable airgun powerplant I could find.

Spring-piston air rifles (springers), on the other hand, tend to be fail-soft. You can burn a piston seal, kink or break a spring, and they will continue to launch pellets, albeit at lower velocity. I once asked Robert Buchanan, maximum leader at Airguns of Arizona which was the most reliable airgun powerplant, and he said, “Springers. We never get them back for service.”

So I would recommend a medium-power springer in .22 caliber. Specifically, an RWS34 in .22, a Weihrauch HW95 in .22, or, if you want a somewhat lighter, less powerful air rifle, the Weihrauch HW50 (the Brits, after all, have taken a lot of game with 12 foot-pound air rifles). As to scopes, the good folks at www.airgunsofarizona.com have more experience with the reliability of different kinds of scopes than I do, but I can tell you that my very first high-quality airgun scope, a Bushnell Trophy 3-12 x 40 is still alive and well after more than a decade of airgun testing. I use a Bushnell rangefinder, but I recommend that you learn to estimate range for yourself because you may need to do it quite rapidly in a hunting situation.

In addition, Blair, I reached out to Jim Chapman, who also blogs for Airguns of Arizona on hunting topics: http://www.airgunsofarizona.com/hunting/ . He is a knowledgeable and enthusiast hunter, and I deeply respect his opinion, so I asked for his take on your questions.

Here, verbatim, is his response:

Hi Jock;

This subject comes up quite a bit, my thought is that the airgun in this situation has a limited and specific role. If I could only have one gun in a true survival situation, it would not be an airgun, but rather a .22 rimfire that I could use for small game, head shoot a deer for food, and in a last ditch effort use for defense. Ammo is cheap and you could store vast quantities and high capacity magazines if you had to use it for defense.

The role I’d have for an airgun in a survival situation would be for stealth hunting to take small game without generating a lot of noise. Plus you could store thousands of pellets that cost relatively little and take almost no room to store. If the lights went out for good, this would be invaluable for harvesting plentiful small game.

The gun I’d choose for this would be a mid powered (circa 16 fpe) spring piston airgun in .22 caliber. I find that squirrels go down faster with a .22 than a .177 with a head or body shot, and if you need the food the last thing you’d want to see is your mortally wounded squirrel disappearing into its den to die.

My personal home survival kit is a supply of food and water to last my family for some time, appropriate centerfire rifles, pistols, and shotguns for hunting and defense, my bow for stealth hunting big game, and many airguns (I have a big collection after all) for small game. We live in a suburban are bordering lots of farmland and woods, and hunting for food might come into play, but mostly I’d want firepower to defend what we have.

Maybe not what folks would like to hear from an admitted airgun fanatic, but it’s the way I see things.



PS; If I was stuck on an island with no dangerous game and no need for defense, the same airgun discussed above would be my first choice. In the right situations an airgun could keep you fed indefinitely.

Finally, Blair, whatever airgun you choose for food gathering, it’s important that you practice your skills before the need arises. You didn’t say anything about your hunting skills, so if you are inexperienced, you need to learn how to hunt and prepare game before you are forced to learn under duress.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

–          Jock Elliott




  1. RidgeRunner says:

    Sproinger seals do fail. On occassion it is a catastrophic failure. I know this from experience. Yes, it would still launch a pellet, but most 10 meter rifles have more power than it was producing.

    To fix most sproingers requires special equipment to safely disassemble and reassemble them. It also takes lots and lots of practice to learn to hit anything with one of them and then you are pretty much limited to less than fifty yards.

    One day I may once again own a sproinger, but it will be a low power, just for fun plinker.

  2. David Enoch says:

    I remembered an article you linked us to: http://www.survivalblog.com/2010/08/pellet_rifle_hunting_by_dm.html
    This guy used a Crosman 2100 for a long time self sufficiency situation. I think that I might add a MSP to what ever other airgun I selected along with rebuild parts and seals.

    David Enoch

  3. Henry C says:

    I have a Weihrauch HW50S that has a peep
    site.It looks similar to a Daisy Avante sight.
    The eyepiece bellows has disintergrated. the
    peep sight is 25 mm. 1 inch in diameter. where can I get a new one? I originally
    purchsed it from Airrifleheadquarters.
    Henry C

    1. Jock Elliott says:


      Contact the good folks at http://www.airgunsofarizona.com perhaps they can help.

  4. Tim R says:

    Hello Mr. Elliot,
    I have heard over and over that you shouldn’t leave a springer cocked for an “extended” period of time. Is there a set rule as to a safe length of time you can leave one cocked without damaging the spring permanently? If not something etched in stone how about a rough estimate just to be on the safe side?

    Thank you for your time,

    1. Jock Elliott says:

      Tim R,

      I have seen varying opinions on this, but I personnaly don’t leave my springers cocked for more than a few hours.

      1. Tim R says:

        Thank you for your prompt reply Mr Elliott!

  5. Billy M says:

    I no longer rely on .22lr as my sole survival caliber. I have a 10/22, and have for years regarded it as my primary survival weapon. However, two recent events have changed my mind. One, the disappearance of .22 ammo. I only have a few hundred rounds, and I can’t find any more. It’s available online, but at centerfire prices. Two, a reliability problem. At a recent back yard shooting session, a S&W .22 revolver that had been loaded for probably 20 years had 3 failures out of the 6 loaded rounds. Fresh rounds worked perfectly. I.e., .22 ammo is not reliable on a long term basis. 40 yr old mil surplus ammo (which is hermetically sealed) works just fine. I still have my 10/22, and will use it if needed, but I’m going to put an air rifle in my preparations as my first choice for small game, which is what I’m most likely to find where I live. If nothing else, it will save my more powerful ammo.

    1. Jock Elliott says:


      Thanks for your comments.

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