If you’re thinking about hunting with a pellet gun, there are a few guidelines to follow to make sure you do it effectively and humanely. Choosing the right gun, ammo, scope, and using best practices are all important factors. However, the first consideration is what game you should and should not hunt with a pellet gun. This article is intended as a quick guide to hunting with an air gun.
First and foremost, understand that only small game should be sought when pellet gun hunting. Even the most powerful air guns do not impart enough destructive force to ensure clean kills when hunting larger animals. Stick to small pests (field mice, squirrels, rats). Nothing larger than an average-sized raccoon should be shot with a pellet gun, and then only when the distance is such that accuracy is assured and with the proper caliber gun and ammunition.
Pellet Gun & Ammo Choices
In general, .22 caliber guns and pellets are preferable when hunting small game with a pellet gun. A common misconception is that the smaller caliber guns (.177 and .20) produce higher pellet velocities and are therefore better for hunting. Actually, it’s more about internal damage force than penetration force. In other words, you want to strike the animal with a projectile that will disperse more killing force after impact. That means using the heavier and thicker .22 caliber. The smaller calibers risk passing through the animal without causing sufficient internal damage to kill it cleanly (or at all).
This is not to say you should not use a .177 or .20 caliber pellet gun for hunting. If your target is very close and you can easily take a head shot, any caliber will work as well as another. But this is not often the case when hunting small game. If you do choose to hunt with a smaller caliber, you can improve the odds of a clean kill by choosing heavier hollow point hunting pellets. Hollow points are designed to blossom open and tumble after impact, which creates more devastation inside your prey. They are the best choice for hunting with pellet guns, regardless of the caliber gun you use.
With pellet guns, speed is measured in feet per second (fps) and listed as muzzle velocity. When hunting small game with a .177 caliber air gun, it’s best to use one that produces at least 1,000 fps muzzle velocity. This high speed, coupled with heavier hollow point pellets, gives you the best chance to make a clean kill each and every time you hit your target.
However, if you make a poor pellet choice, this higher muzzle velocity can actually work against you. For example, pointed pellets are a bad idea when hunting with air guns, especially at close range. Absent a head shot, you run a real risk of having the pellet pass cleanly through the animal without inflicting mortal damage. It’s inhumane to merely maim, after all. Always use the best ammo for the purpose at hand to see that the job gets done quickly and thoroughly.
If your game will be up in the trees or farther out than about 15 yards, using a scope on your pellet gun is a smart idea. Most pellet rifles have scope mounts included that a wide variety of scopes will fit into easily. Once you know your particular gun’s tendencies at various distances, a scope can really help you hit game exactly where you want the pellet to strike.
Pellet gun hunting is fun and a good way to teach young shooters how to safely handle and respect the power of a gun. As long as you’re careful about choosing the game you hunt and the type of air gun and pellets you use, this type of hunting can be rewarding and a nice way to spend a weekend afternoon.