Picking the right airgun or air rifle is simple. What will you be doing with it? Plinking in the backyard? Hunting small game or pest control? Using it as a cheaper alternative to firearms to improve or maintain marksmanship? Mentoring a youth in safe gun handling? The right airgun for you is out there – just answer that question.
- Plinking in the backyard
If your goal is to just have fun and shoot some targets, a .177 caliber air rifle is your best choice. The lightweight pellets quickly lose velocity, however you still must have a sturdy backstop that will stop the pellets – especially if you have neighbors. A couple sheets of ¾-inch plywood stacked together will do the job.
Make sure your backstop is twice as big as you think it needs to be, and always wear shooting glasses.
If your goal is simply having fun shooting targets, the airgun for you might be a CO2-powered air pistol. These air pistols often are similar in size and weight to traditional firearms. Plug in a CO2 cylinder, load up and plink some targets. These air pistols do not produce the super-fast velocities that breakbarrel air rifles can produce, so there’s an added layer of safety, especially with neighbors close by.
One airgun suggested for backyard plinking is the Swarm Maxxim (all GAMO Swarm Models feature a 10-shot magazine so all you need to do is break the barrel and shoot). The Swarm Maxxim produces 1,300 feet per second with the lightest pellets, but less with heavier target pellets. The single-shot GAMO Wildcat and Varmint series in .177 caliber are two more that fit the bill for pellet gun plinking.
If you want to go the CO2 Air Pistol route, the GAMO PT-85 is a good pick. It features blowback action and a 16-round magazine. The PT-85 produces a velocity of 450 feet per second.
- Hunting small game or pest control
Believe it or not, some of today’s air rifles truly are small-game getters. If your quarry is squirrel-sized or larger, select a .22 caliber air rifle. For pest control such as rats, a .177 caliber is fine. In either case, having the 10-shot Swarm system is a big benefit for quick follow-up shots.
One big reason for selecting an air rifle instead of a traditional firearm is safety. A pellet exiting the barrel of an air rifle will lose velocity much quicker than, say, a .22 rimfire cartridge. This is important because much of the small game hunting done today is in much smaller woodlots than the big woods of yesterday. With more houses around, there’s no need for a bullet that travels over a mile.
For squirrels, rabbits and iguanas, you want an air rifle that produces high velocities and packs a punch when it contacts the target. The GAMO Swarm Magnum .22 caliber produces 1,300 feet per second with super-lightweight pellets. It will be less with the heavier hunting pellets, which pack a punch for ethical hunting. Another great selection is the handsome GAMO Swarm Bone Collector .22.
Small pests like rats can be taken with most .177 caliber air rifles, but again, the Swarm 10-shot system is a great benefit for fast follow-up shots.
- Cheaper alternative to firearms for marksmanship practice
The basics are all the same – breathing, squeezing, follow-through. To be accurate with an air rifle requires the same disciplines as with a firearm – but at a fraction of the cost!
A quick Internet search showed a box of 20 .30-06 cartridges cost $24.99. A tin of 150 GAMO Rocket pellets is just $7.49. That’s a lot more pewpew for your money.
Whether shooting from a bench or in a hunting situation, an air rifle provides the same experience as shooting a firearm. For extreme accuracy, consider upgrading the scope (always upgrade to scopes made for airguns) and add a bipod or any other accessory you would use in the field or with your regular rifle.
The same goes for air pistol shooting. You’ll be surprised how similar some air pistols are to regular pistols in weight and shape. A good example is the PT-85 mentioned above, but if you’re a revolver shooter, the PR-776 is a truly fun airgun to shoot.
- Mentoring a youth in gun safety
Why use airguns to help teach youth (or simply the inexperienced) about guns? Due to lower velocities, they are safer and quieter, so they can be used in smaller areas like backyards. The safety features are the same – a muzzle that must be pointed in a safe direction at all times, a safety that must only be pushed off when ready to take the shot, open sights and optics.
A single-shot GAMO Varmint or Wildcat is a good choice as a teaching tool, or, for younger youth, a traditional Daisy Red Ryder or Buck BB gun is perfect. Be aware that with BB guns you must shoot soft targets that will not cause a ricochet. Never shoot a hard object like a board backstop or steel plate. And always-always-always wear shooting glasses.