What Animals Can I Hunt with an Air Rifle: A Quick Guide

.177 caliber pellet

Air rifles are becoming increasingly popular as a method for hunting small game animals.

They offer a relatively quiet and efficient way of hunting, making them appealing to both experienced hunters and newcomers.

With a variety of calibers and powerplants to choose from, air rifles can be customized to suit the type of game one intends to target.

This versatility ensures that air rifle hunting can be a satisfying pastime for individuals with varying interests and skill levels.

For those looking to hunt small game such as squirrels, rabbits, and birds, an air rifle is an ideal tool for the job.

Equipped with the right ammunition, one can achieve a humane and precise kill that relies on accuracy rather than brute force.

Smaller calibers such as .177 are typically used for hunting birds, while larger calibers like .22 are well-suited for furry animals like rabbits and squirrels.

When considering which air rifle to use for hunting, it is important to research the specific hunting laws in one’s state, as they can vary significantly.

Some states may allow the use of air rifles for hunting larger game, while others may have specific guidelines regarding the type of animals that may be hunted with air-powered firearms.

By understanding these regulations, hunters can ensure that their air rifle hunting activities are both safe and legal.

Legalities and Hunting Regulations

When it comes to hunting with air rifles, understanding the legalities and regulations is essential before you head into the field.

Here we will explore license requirements, prohibited species, and hunting seasons.

License Requirements

In general, a hunting license is required to hunt with an air rifle.

License requirements vary from state to state.

Some states may have specific regulations for air rifle hunting, while others may treat air rifles as traditional firearms.

It is crucial to check with your state’s Department of Wildlife or similar agency to determine the proper license(s) needed.

Prohibited Species

Not all animals can be hunted with an air rifle.

States have specific regulations on which species are allowed to be hunted using this type of weapon.

Commonly permitted game includes:

  • Small game: such as rabbits, squirrels, and woodchucks
  • Upland birds: such as grouse, pheasant, and quail
  • Certain predators: such as raccoons and foxes

On the other hand, some states only allow air rifles for hunting game smaller than deer or bears.

It’s crucial to consult your state’s hunting laws to ensure you are within legal parameters.

Hunting Seasons

Hunting seasons for air rifle users generally follow the same seasons as traditional firearms or archery.

Depending on the state, there may be special seasons designated specifically for air rifles.

Keeping track of relevant hunting seasons, such as:

  • Small game: typically open during the fall and winter months
  • Upland bird hunting: varies by state, with seasons ranging from late summer to early winter
  • Predator hunting: often year-round, with some seasonal restrictions depending on the species

Remember to stay informed about your state’s hunting regulations and season dates to avoid penalties and ensure a safe and enjoyable hunting experience.

Air Rifle Calibers for Hunting

When it comes to hunting with air rifles, choosing the right caliber is crucial to achieve a humane and effective kill.

Let’s take a look at a few various calibers suitable for hunting different types of game.

.177 Caliber

The .177 caliber air rifle is the smallest and most common caliber.

It has the longest range and is suitable for hunting small game, like squirrels and rats up to 60 to 80 yards.

With its lower power and muzzle energy, .177 caliber is best suited for smaller game and pest control.

.22 Caliber

Moving up in size, the .22 caliber air rifle offers more power and is ideal for hunting small to medium-sized game, such as rabbits and squirrels.

It can push a 14.3-grain .22-caliber pellet upwards of 850 fps.

.25 Caliber

.25 caliber air rifles provide even more power, making them a good choice for larger pests like raccoons, opossums, and woodchucks.

The increased caliber size offers more energy upon impact, which can be helpful when hunting these types of animals.

.30 Caliber

The .30 caliber air rifle is a solid choice for those looking to pursue mid-sized game, such as hogs and coyotes.

With even more muzzle energy and a larger projectile, this caliber offers a balance between precision and power, making it suitable for hunting these types of animals.

.35 Caliber

.35 caliber air rifles are a popular choice among hunters who are targeting larger game.

Some states have a minimum caliber requirement of .35 for airgun hunting, and this caliber provides a significant increase in power compared to smaller calibers.

With at least 400-foot pounds of energy at the muzzle, it is sufficient for taking down larger game.

.45 Caliber

For even larger game, a .45 caliber air rifle is recommended.

Producing 700 to 800 ft.-lbs. of energy, this caliber is suitable for hunting whitetail-sized animals.

The increased energy and bigger projectile size contribute to a more effective and humane kill.

.50 Caliber

Finally, the .50 caliber air rifle is the largest and most powerful option for airgun hunters.

Best suited for big game, this caliber offers top-level power and velocity, ensuring the highest chances of a successful and humane hunt.

It’s essential to check local laws and regulations, as not all states permit the use of .50 caliber air rifles for hunting.

Remember that regardless of the caliber you choose, practicing shot placement and knowing the limitations of your air rifle is crucial to ensure a humane and ethical hunting experience.

Choosing the Right Air Rifle

Rear view shot of a man with airgun practicing at the shooting range.


When selecting an air rifle for hunting, accuracy is crucial. You’ll want a gun that consistently hits the target, allowing for clean, ethical shots.

Spring- or gas-piston-powered airguns are recommended for small game hunting, offering the necessary velocity for an accurate shot.

Some factors that influence accuracy include pellet type, gun weight, and the shooter’s skill.

To maximize accuracy, it’s essential to practice regularly and familiarize yourself with the rifle before hunting.

Power and Range

The power and range of your air rifle mainly determine the type of game you can hunt.

The most popular air rifle calibers are .177 and .22.

The .177 caliber provides a more powerful impact, thanks to its lighter weight and greater kinetic energy. However, for larger game or more extended ranges, consider a .30 to .35 caliber air rifle, which can shoot Diabolo pellets at 50 to 100 ft-lb.

These higher-caliber air rifles can be used for hunting small game or predators.

Keep in mind, though, that air rifles for big game hunting should have at least 300-foot pounds of energy (fpe) to ensure an ethical kill.

Not all air rifles can achieve this power, so always check the rifle’s specifications and consult with local game laws.

Popular Models

There are several popular air rifle models on the market suitable for hunting.

It’s essential to research and select an air rifle that suits your hunting needs and complies with local regulations.

Factors such as accuracy, power, range, and your preferred game type will help you make an informed decision.

Recommended Air Rifles for Hunting

When it comes to air rifle hunting, there are various options available that cater to a range of different game animals.

Three top air rifles suitable for hunting are the Airforce Texan, Hatsan Piledriver, and Umarex Hammer. Each of these air rifles offers unique features and capabilities.

Airforce Texan

The Airforce Texan is a popular air rifle for hunters.

This high-power, pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) rifle comes in various calibers (.257, .308, .357, and .457), allowing the hunter to choose the perfect caliber for the game they are targeting.

With power levels of up to 500 ft-lbs, this air rifle has both the capacity and accuracy necessary for some larger game.

This air rifle features:

  • PCP system for powerful and consistent shooting
  • Top-loading air tank for easy refilling
  • Adjustable power settings
  • Rifle length: 48 inches; weight: 8 pounds

Hatsan Piledriver

The Hatsan Piledriver is another high-quality choice for airgun hunting enthusiasts.

Delivering muzzle energies of up to an impressive 800 ft-lbs, this powerful PCP air rifle is available in .45 and .50 calibers, suitable for various game animals.

Some notable features of the Hatsan Piledriver include:

  • PCP system with a large air reservoir for longer shooting sessions
  • Side-lever action for easy cocking and reloading
  • Quiet Energy Technology (QET), reducing the noise emitted when fired
  • Rifle length: 44.3 inches; weight: 10.6 pounds

Umarex Hammer

For hunters looking for a versatile air rifle that packs a punch, the Umarex Hammer might just be the answer.

This PCP-powered rifle sports a unique configuration that allows it to shoot both .50 caliber bullets and arrows. With a 4,500 psi air tank, the Umarex Hammer has up to 700 ft-lbs of energy.

Key features of the Umarex Hammer include:

  • Muzzle Energy Selector (MES), allowing for customized power levels
  • Lightweight design, weighing only 8.5 pounds without a scope
  • Air tank capacity for up to 5 shots per fill
  • Rifle length: 43.75 inches

These three air rifles offer a variety of options for airgun hunters, from PCP systems to different calibers and power levels.

Depending on the specific game targeted, one of these rifles is sure to help achieve a successful hunting experience.

Types of Pellets and Ammunition

When hunting with an air rifle, choosing the right type of pellets and ammunition is essential for a successful and ethical hunt.

Let’s explore the different types of pellets and ammunition available for air rifles, such as pellet weight, hollow-point pellets, and shotgun ammunition.

Pellet Weight

The weight of a pellet plays a significant role in its accuracy, velocity, and energy upon impact.

Lighter pellets typically have higher velocities but may be more affected by wind and air resistance.

Heavier pellets, on the other hand, have slower velocities but offer better penetration and accuracy, especially at longer distances.

Some popular options for airgun ammunition include:

  • .177 Caliber: Ideal for small game hunting and target shooting
  • .22 Caliber: A versatile option for medium-sized game and pest control
  • .25 Caliber: Suitable for larger game and providing more knockdown power

Hollow-Point Pellets

Hollow-point pellets feature a hollowed-out cavity in their nose, which allows the pellet to expand upon impact.

This expansion increases the pellet’s surface area and energy transfer, resulting in better penetration, greater shock, and more effective wound channels in your prey.

Hollow-point pellets are especially effective for hunting small game and pest control.

Some airguns, like the AirForce International 94 Spring .25 caliber, consistently shoot 18-grain domed pellets at 700 feet per second, making them an excellent choice for hunting small game animals like squirrels or rabbits.

Shotgun Ammunition

In addition to traditional pellets, some air rifles can also be used with shotgun ammunition.

This type of ammunition features multiple projectiles, which provide a more extensive shot pattern and increased chances of hitting your target.

Shotgun ammunition for air rifles typically comes in .357 to .50 caliber sizes.

In conclusion, understanding the different pellet types and ammunition options is crucial in making the right choice for your air rifle hunting needs.

It’s also essential to consult your state’s hunting laws and guidelines to ensure that you are using the correct caliber and energy for the specific game you are hunting.

Remember to always practice safe and ethical hunting.

Hunting Small Game with Air Rifles

When it comes to hunting small game, air rifles can be an efficient and effective tool.

They are often quieter and less expensive than traditional firearms, making them popular among hunters who pursue squirrels, rabbits, and various species of birds.

Let’s look at how air rifles can be used for hunting these common small game animals.


Squirrels can be an entertaining and challenging target for air rifle hunters.

These nimble creatures are quick and agile, making them difficult to hit at times.

A quality air rifle with decent accuracy and power is crucial for successful squirrel hunting.

Many hunters find that a .22 caliber air rifle firing at 1070 fps, such as the Hatsan BullBoss, provides the ideal balance between power and precision.

When hunting squirrels, it’s important to aim for the head or heart to ensure a quick and ethical kill.

Patience is also key, as these critters can be quite wary and may take some time before revealing themselves.


Rabbits are another popular target for air rifle hunters.

Like squirrels, they can be skittish and require a stealthy approach.

The use of an air rifle allows hunters to get closer without alerting their quarry, increasing the odds of a successful hunt.

An air rifle with sufficient power for hunting rabbits should be chosen. Some hunters opt for .22 caliber rifles, while others prefer more powerful options like the .35 caliber.

Again, a well-placed head or heart shot is vital to ensure a humane kill.


Birds are a diverse and challenging group of small game animals to hunt with an air rifle.

Some hunters focus on pigeons, while others target crows or even larger game birds like pheasants.

Regardless of the specific bird species, an air rifle must have both accuracy and power to be effective.

It’s crucial to know the energy requirements for the particular bird species being hunted, as it will determine the necessary features of the air rifle.

For example, a .22 caliber air rifle might be suitable for smaller birds like pigeons, while a larger caliber and higher energy output (e.g. .45 or .50 caliber) may be necessary for hunting whitetail-sized game.

Accuracy, patience, and a keen understanding of hunting regulations in your state are essential components in the successful and ethical pursuit of small game animals with air rifles.

Larger Game Hunting with Air Rifles

Air rifles are not just for plinking cans or shooting small pests.

With the development of big-bore airguns, hunters can now ethically harvest larger game animals such as hogs, deer, and coyotes.

Let’s take a look at the possibilities and challenges of hunting larger game with air rifles.


Hunting hogs with air rifles is becoming increasingly popular among hunters.

Powerful airguns such as .45- and .50-caliber air rifles are capable of delivering enough energy to effectively and ethically harvest these tough animals.

When hunting hogs with air rifles, shot placement is crucial.

Aim for the head or vital areas behind the shoulder and be prepared to follow up with additional shots if necessary.

Remember, air rifle hunting demands skill, practice, and patience, especially when dealing with larger game.


Deer hunting with air rifles is possible, thanks primarily to the development of high-powered big-bore airguns.

Some air rifles like .72 caliber generate up to 300 foot-pounds of energy, which is enough to kill deer-sized game.

However, shot placement is vital when hunting deer with an air rifle.

Precision and patience are essential to ensure a quick, clean, and humane kill.

Be selective with your shooting and invest time in honing your marksmanship skills.


Coyote hunting can be an exciting and challenging experience with an air rifle.

Airguns with calibers ranging from .25 to .357 and beyond, provide enough power and accuracy to take down these predators.

However, shot placement is key to a successful and ethical harvest.

When hunting coyotes with air rifles, focus on headshots or shots to the vitals, such as the heart or lungs.

Big game hunting with air rifles offers an exciting and challenging alternative to traditional firearms.

As the technology continues to advance, hunters will have even more options for pursuing larger game with airguns.

Regardless of the species you choose to hunt, always prioritize safety, ethics, and responsible hunting practices.

Safety and Shot Placement

Closeup of three types of air gun pellets for training shooting

When hunting with an air rifle, it’s essential to prioritize safety and proper shot placement to ensure a humane and effective harvest.

This section will cover wound ballistics and appropriate shot placement techniques.

Wound Ballistics

Air rifles, unlike traditional firearms, rely on different wound ballistics to incapacitate or kill game animals.

They typically use lower velocity projectiles, such as pellets or slugs, which can result in shallower penetration and reduced tissue damage.

Therefore, it is crucial for hunters to understand these differences to successfully and ethically harvest game.

  • Airguns typically cause damage through crushing rather than tearing, similar to archery equipment or muzzleloaders.
  • Animals hit with airgun projectiles often die from hemorrhaging due to penetration and expansion, rather than hydrostatic shock or energy transfer.
  • Understanding wound ballistics helps hunters make informed decisions about shot placement, caliber choice, and projectile selection.

Humane Shot Placement

Selecting the right shot placement is essential when hunting with an air rifle to increase the chances of a quick and humane kill.

The following factors should be taken into account for proper shot placement:

  • Target the vital organs: Aim for the heart, lungs, or the brain, as taking out these organs ensures the quickest and most humane kill. The heart and lungs are typically clustered together, whereas the brain is a smaller target that often requires more precision.
  • Use the appropriate caliber: Larger game animals, such as coyotes or deer, require larger caliber air rifles (e.g., .30, .357, or .45) capable of producing sufficient energy at the muzzle to ensure adequate penetration and tissue damage.
  • Gauge the distance: Estimating the distance between you and your target can help determine whether the air rifle’s power and accuracy are sufficient for a clean shot. Shots taken at closer range generally result in higher chances of a humane kill.
  • Account for the animal’s position and angle: Aim for broadside shots that present a larger target area and increase the likelihood of hitting vital organs. Avoid taking shots at awkward angles or when the animal is on the move.

Considering these factors will enhance your overall hunting experience while keeping the well-being of the game animals in mind.

Keep practicing and refining your skills to become efficient and effective in humanely hunting game with an air rifle.

Other Air Rifle Activities

Air rifles can be used for various activities besides hunting.

Let’s discuss target shooting, pest control, and plinking.

Target Shooting

One popular activity that air rifles are used for is target shooting.

This involves shooting at paper or metal targets to improve accuracy and marksmanship.

Many people enjoy target shooting as a recreational activity, and some even participate in competitive events.

Air rifles are suitable for this activity as they are relatively quiet, have low recoil, and are cost-effective in terms of ammunition.

Pest Control

Air rifles can also be used for pest control, effectively eliminating small pests such as rodents, rabbits, and birds that can damage property or pose a health risk.

Their lower power levels and quieter shots make them an excellent choice for discreetly taking care of pest problems in residential or urban areas.

They are also more environmentally friendly than chemical methods, as there is no risk of poisoning non-target animals or contaminating soil and water.

However, it is essential to consult local laws and guidelines on using air rifles for pest control to ensure compliance and safety.


Plinking is a casual form of shooting in which participants shoot at various non-standard targets such as tin cans, bottles, or other small objects.

This activity is often enjoyed by beginners and experienced shooters alike, as it provides a fun and laid-back way to practice shooting skills.

Air rifles are particularly suited for plinking due to their low cost, easy maintenance, and reduced noise levels compared to firearms.

In summary, air rifles offer versatility and enjoyment for various activities such as target shooting, pest control, and plinking.

Whether you are a seasoned shooter or just starting, air rifles can provide an engaging and cost-effective option for your recreational needs.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to air rifle hunting, there are a variety of animals one can pursue.

Smaller calibers, like the popular .177 rifles, are more suited for taking down small game like rats, pigeons, and squirrels.

These air rifles are ideal for backyard plinking and target practice as well.

On the other hand, larger caliber air rifles, such as .30 to .35, can be used for both small game and predators.

For ethical and effective hunting, however, airgun hunters must hit their target accurately and humanely.

Some factors to consider when choosing an appropriate air rifle caliber include:

  • Target animal size
  • Shooting distance
  • Required precision

The general rule in the airgun world revolves around using .177 caliber rifles for bird hunting (feathers) and .22 caliber rifles for fur.

Larger calibers, such as .72, could potentially be used for deer-sized game, though the shooter must be highly skilled and responsible about their shot placement.

In conclusion, air rifle hunting is versatile and offers enthusiasts the ability to target a wide range of game animals.

With a proper understanding of both the rifle’s capabilities and the hunter’s own skills, one can make ethical and successful hunting decisions.

Remember to consult local laws and regulations to ensure compliance with regional hunting laws.


Colby has been involved in the outdoors for over 30 years. Part of his problem is that instead of focusing on one specific outdoor hobby he spreads his time over a multitude of outdoor adventures. This has provided him the opportunity to have varied experiences across a broad spectrum of outdoor activities. Jack Outdoors has provided him an outlet to share the things he has learned as well as his successes and failures.

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