by Wes Gudenkauf, Hunting Lead, Bass Pro Shops Altoona
Over the past year or so, as we all know, rimfire ammunition has been in short supply. With spring fast approaching, everyone is ready to get outside to do some shooting. An air rifle makes a great alternative to the never-ending search for .22 Long Rifle.
An air gun can come in just about any configuration that a person could want. From the beginner's Daisy Red Ryder to Gamo Whisper Fusion and even on to Pre-Charged Pneumatic (PCP) rifles capable of extreme accuracy, better than their rimfire relatives, at only a fraction of the cost to shoot. Calibers include .177, .20, .22, and .25, just to name the most common.
- Multi-pump rifles. These are common just about anywhere that sells air guns, ranging from around $50 to $100. They generally shoot dual ammo, meaning pellets or BBs, in .177 caliber. These are a great option for backyard can plinking or the occasional pigeon hunt at close range. However, the Benjamin 392 is a .22 caliber that I think stands out in this category. It fires a .22 caliber pellet at 950 fps (feet per second) with eight pumps and is extremely accurate at ranges of 20-30 yards. At a price of $189.99, it is at the top of its class.
- The next step up will be the single-stroke, spring gun. These are the guns like the Gamo Silent Cat all the way up to their Varmint Hunter. These guns are also usually in .177 or .22 caliber, but do not shoot BBs. They can fire anywhere from 900 all the way up to 1450 fps. Yes, that's faster than a .22 Long Rifle. These are popular for pest control under 40 yards, and can be extremely accurate with the right pellet.
- Most manufacturers are developing Nitrogen Piston (NP) guns as well. Contrary to popular belief, some of the spring guns I talked about above are actually quite loud, with decibel readings up over 100 decibels. A .22 Long Rifle operates at 134 decibels with standard 1200 fps ammo. With that being said, even the loudest air gun is still considerably quieter than a .22. Just don't be deceived when an air rifle is advertised to be "quiet." The advantage to a Nitrogen Piston gun over a spring-operated is that the NP guns are about 20% quieter. With a .22 caliber pellet, the Benjamin Trail NP can operate at 950 feet per second -- more than enough energy to dispatch squirrels and other varmints!
- The final category are the PCP or Pre-Charged Pneumatic. They have an internal reservoir that is filled with either CO2 or High Pressure Air (HPA) from a paintball tank, scuba tank, or high-pressure pump. Once these guns are filled, they provide anywhere from 20 shots in a .25 caliber capable of taking down coyotes less than 50 yards, to 70 shots in .177 caliber, making it easy to fill the rifle up with air for an afternoon of hunting or an hour at the range honing your shooting skills. Prices range anywhere from $120-$500 for commercially available rifles, like the Crosman RepeatAir 1077 with a 12 round rotary mag, and, just like regular firearms, the sky is the limit. Pre-Charged rifles often come with a shrouded barrel, which acts to muffle the report of the rifle. These guns can be so quiet you may wonder if they even went off until you see the target fall.
Pellets for these rifles usually run about $12-$15 for 500, with more or less expensive varieties available. With that being said, it's about half the cost of .22 long rifle and they're always available.
One last thing about the air gun - they might be neighbor friendly. Many cities allow the use of air guns within city limits. Please check with your local law enforcement before air gunning in city limits.
Wes has been shooting and hunting since he was seven and, like most other hunters, his first rifle was a pellet rifle. He always enjoyed airgun hunting and recently became involved with the sport again. Wes is a competitive shooter in trap and skeet, USPSA (United States Pistol Shooters Association) open class, and IDPA (International Defense Pistol Association).