The Best Air Rifles For Hunting IN 2023
(Updated from 2022)
When it comes to hunting with air rifles in 2023, you need a rifle that will deliver enough power to dispatch your quarry as quickly and humanly as possible, but also one that is accurate enough to hit the target accurately. A powerful shot that’s ill placed is just as bad as an underpowered shot that hits the target.
If you’re hunting with an air rifle in the UK, unless you have a FAC (Fire Arms Certificate), then you’re limited to rifles that are below 12 ft lbs. for hunting, you should opt for a rifle that’s as close to that limit as possible.
Whatever airgun you choose after reading this guide, please consider a few sessions of target shooting with your chosen rifle before hunting. Target shooting is great practise, and will allow you to become more accurate with your new gun before you hunt. It’s your responsibility to try to get a fast, clean kill when hunting, to reduce suffering as much as possible.
There’s a few other things to consider though…
What’s The Best Caliber Air Rifle For Hunting?
The most common calibers of pellet guns (when it comes to rifles for hunting especially) are .177 and .22, however .20 and .25 are also possibilities.
Some say the bigger the caliber the air gun, the better. However, it’s not really that simple!
What caliber air rifle is best for hunting…
.22 Airgun Pellets For Hunting
One school of thought is that .22 pellets are best for hunting – they’re larger, and in theory can transfer more power to the quarry that you shoot. In other words, they may have the potential to ‘do more damage’.
That said, remember that we’re limited to 12 ft lbs (or at least for the focus of THIS article)… as such, range has to be considered too, as well as trajectory.
.22 pellets tend to have more of an Arc trajectory, meaning if you’re shooting with a .22 pellet and need to shoot either closer or further away than what you’ve zero’d your rifle to, then you’re going to need to do some rapid-fire adjustments. As prey doesn’t tend to stay still for long, you’d better be quick – and accurate with your calculations!
.177 Airgun Pellets For Hunting
.177 calibers can be more accurate, with a much flatter trajectory. This is good news, especially when we’re shooting with a sub 12 ft lbs air rifle.
.177 pellets are also, on the whole, faster… reaching the target between 25% and 33% faster.
For more info on .177 vs .22, check out this excellent article by Paul Austin.
Best Air Rifle TYPE For hunting…
Okay, so chances are the best option is a .177 for most people (especially if you’re using a sub 12 ft lbs non-licensed air rifle, as most will be). But what about the TYPE of air rifle? What’s the best type to use?
There’s lots of options here from variable gas to Springer to CO2 to PCP… but let’s take two air gun options, Springer & PCP, and break them down.
BUDGET HUNTING AIR RIFLES – SPRINGERS
If you’re on a tight budget, then a Springer air rifle (spring piston air rifle) may be the best option.
Springers are a LOT cheaper than PCP air rifles so can be a good value gun choice, but as the name suggests they are spring powered. Because Springers rely on a compressed spring, they tend to have a LOT more recoil. That doesn’t mean you can’t hunt with a Springer (people hunt with FAC rifles with a lot more kick than a Springer air rifle of course!), it is possible, you just need to be much more skilled and account for the recoil when shooting.
A good option here would be something like the Gamo Varmint Stalker Deluxe, which comes in at around £190 with a bag, scope, and some pellets. With good aim this should be okay for short-range hunting of small quarry. But be CERTAIN you’re accurate before hunting – practise on paper targets at various ranges until you’re sure you can get a clean kill.
PCP HUNTING AIR RIFLES
If you can afford to splash out a little more on your weapon, then a Pre-Charged Pneumatic air rifle would be an excellent choice.
PCP Air Rifles have next to no recoil (at least compared to Springers), making it easier to get a clean kill. Not only that, but they are also often (but not always) multishot, with a 7, 10, or 14 shot magazine being common. This has the advantage of being able to get a 2nd shot off FAST if the first shot didn’t get a clean kill (although we should ALWAYS put the effort in to try for a clean kill every time, the option of a fast 2nd shot can help dispatch quarry quickly if the 1st shot fails to do so).
PCP air rifles are usually either pumped up from a hand pump or for speed, from a small divers-style bottle. Each fill can get you 20 to 80 shots or more, depending on the gun.
If you can afford it, these guns are a joy to shoot with, very powerful, and can be extremely accurate.
Good examples of PCP air rifles would be the GAMO COYOTE PCP, which comes in at around £480 for a full kit that includes the gun, a bag, and scope.
If you have the budget, a WEIHRAUCH HW100, which comes in at around £1100 to £1250 for a kit (depending on if you want a dive bottle, bipod, etc) is an amazing gun that gives the perfect combination of accuracy & power. The HW100 comes with a silencer too, which is useful, and uses 14 shot magazines, making reloading fast.
Both Weihrauch and Gamo have been making air guns a long time, as have Air Arms. Any of these brands would be a great option.
Telescopic Sights For Hunting
Of course a telescopic sight will make hunting much easier. This is a large topic in & of itself, and we’ll be publishing an article on this topic very soon, so stay tuned!
In the meantime, suffice to say you should use a scope that matches your gun, has adequate zoom for the distance you wish to shoot, and has a sign-type that suits your preference (e.g. MIL dot signs, for example).
Whilst you wait for our article, check out this great video, below (by Optics Warehouse on YouTube)
RECAP / TL:DR
- For most people, a .177 air rifle would be the best choice for hunting small prey (especially if you’re using a sub 12ft lbs air rifle).
- If you’re on a tight budget (sub £300) then a Springer would be your best bet. See the ‘Springer’ section above for gun suggestions.
- If you have slightly more budget (£450 to £500) then you could opt for a PCP air rifle, which would give you a better gun, with more accuracy (or at least less recoil) and multiple shots.
Shoot safely, Hunt Responsibly
As always, with any air gun (or any other gun for that matter!) be CERTAIN you’re accurate before hunting – practise shooting targets at various ranges until you’re sure you can get a clean kill. Also ensure you are shooting legally and safely and with full permission.
Remember, airguns are not toys. Consider joining the BASC to get full insurance, too.