Air Rifle Hunting: How to Use Air Rifle for Hunting

To be an expert in air rifle hunting, you need to know what an air gun is altogether. Similarly, it is referred to as BB gun or pellet gun with respect to the projectile. It is a rifle that uses compressed air to drive projectiles.

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Hunting with this piece will provide you with enjoyable moments. Even if it is somewhat low-powered, a modern air rifle is incredibly accurate as well as capable of releasing a strong shot. The inexpensive ammunition, allows newbies to put it in sufficient practice to quickly become expert shooters.

Air Rifle Basics

You have to be familiar with the various parts of an air gun in order to be able to use it effectively. This way, you will be able to understand your rifle’s design features and technology behind its operation.

Air Rifle Basics

The following are the major parts that you should be familiar with:

  • Barrel
  • Front sight
  • Rear sight
  • Muzzle
  • Piercing tube cap
  • Forearm
  • Pellet magazine
  • Safety
  • Trigger
  • Trigger guard
  • Chamber
  • Loading port
  • Girth
  • Pistol grip
  • Stock
  • Butt
  • Toe
  • Cheekpiece

Barrel & Muzzle: The barrel is the long tube located on top of the gun. The muzzle is the opening through which the pellet leaves the barrel. The interior of the barrel is fitted with twists that ensure the pellet spins while in flight. A feature that does not only increases accuracy, but also improves consistency when shooting.

Stock & Pistol Grip: Usually, the barrel as well as action is attached to the stock. The stock covers the back of the gun where the cheekpiece and butt plate are found. Stocks are available in different designs, including shape, size and material.

Even though, most of them are made of wood. They normally have different feeling and balance. You should hold a number of stock styles to determine the design that feels comfortable.

Air Rifle sight

Trigger & Trigger Guard: These two parts are found in front of the pistol grip and directly under the action. The trigger releases the charged air in the action to drive the pellet down range. On the other hand, the trigger guard protects the trigger from unintended contact. Some air guns do have a couple of rails on which the trigger can be placed.

Rear & Front Sights: The front-sight is located just above the muzzle, while the rear sight is located on the back rail. Usually, the rear sight is a few inches from the eye when aiming at the target. You can move the sights accordingly by clicks; diverse sights move contrarily with each click. The sights are important as far as aiming is concerned.

Types of Air Rifles

There are several types of air guns that you can choose from, such as pneumatic, break barrel, CO2 and gas ram.

Pneumatic Type: Pneumatic air guns (PCP) use compressed air as the power source. They are very accurate and of high quality. The power source (compressed air cylinder) is assembled into the action. Usually, the reservoir air is pressurized to 2900 PSI. The refilling of the reservoir is done by diving cylinder/ stirrup pump.

One of the most recommended pneumatic models is the single-stroke. As far as the single-stroke is concerned, air is compressed by one stroke of the cocking lever.

Pneumatic air rifle

Break Barrel: These are the most common air rifles, because they are easy to own, maintain and shoot. They are quiet, even though they do produce a distinctive sound, such as a crack or thwack.

They are not as loud as some specific models nor is it noticeable and distinguishing as a gunshot. Some models are built with suppressors into their barrel to make them quieter. The suppressors on these air guns have no restrictions. The quietness is a virtue when hunting noise sensitive game, such as waterfowls.

CO2: These guns are normally powered by CO2. The powering can be achieved in 12 gram cartridge or transferred from a CO2 tank and they look and feel like big game firearms. The idea behind the use of CO2 is that a small cylinder can hold CO2 that has been compressed.

When the rifle is fired, a valve opens and a small amount of liquid CO2 outflows due to the pressure within the cylinder. The liquid is converted into a gas because CO2 boiling point is very low.

Gas Ram air rifle

Gas Ram: They operate in the same manner as break barrel models. When you cock a gas ram air rifle, the air is furthered compressed. When you fire the gun, the strut pushes forward behind the piston and propels air towards the pellet.

Gas rams provide a number of advantages over break barrels. The strut does not wear as quickly as a springer. They do not lose power when left cocked for longer durations. This ensures that shot to shot efficiency is excellent.

Air Rifle Calibers

To know exactly what type of air gun is appropriate for you to use, you have to be familiar with the most popular calibers. The four best calibers in use are .25, .22, .20 and .177. The .177 or 4.5mm caliber consists of smaller pellets that are made of lead. It is the right size for general and precision shooting. In most cases, .177 calibers are considered the finest for target shooting.

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The only problem is the lightweight nature of the pellets, which suffers the accuracy due to high speeds.  The .20 or 5mm is regarded as a decent comprise between .22 calibers and .177 calibers. They are the best for pest elimination, hunting and general shooting. The .22 calibers are the finest for hunters. If you are into general shooting, then .22 is what you should settle for.

Air Rifle Calibers

They are usually slower when compared to .177, but the shot is perfect and they are expensive. In most occasions, the .22 is selected than other calibers. If you do not mind bigger pellets, then the .25 is what you should go for.

As far as effectiveness is concerned, .25 seems to be heavier. Therefore, you should weigh your options and only settle for .25 if you do not mind losing much of the velocity as the pellet travels in the air.

How to Use Air Rifle for Hunting

Hunting with an air rifle is an effective and rewarding activity. The contemporary models are quieter, more accurate and they suffer fewer ownership restrictions. Our piece on how to use air rifle for hunting is an eye-opener, go read it!

You have to follow the guidelines below in order to be successful when shooting.

Step 1 – Ammunition & Caliber Selection

Your shooting accuracy depends greatly on your choice of ammunition. Simple variations in pellets have a significant effect on your gun’s performance. Usually, some air guns will exhibit more disparities between different brands of pellet than others. You can achieve sufficient accuracy to kill a small game at twenty one yards if you use the correct size of ammunition. The correct ammunition will always give you the accuracy and range you admired.

Ammunition & Caliber Selection

The most common calibers that you can use are .22 and .177. If it is your first time to shoot an air gun with the .22 caliber, you will realize that it is bigger and heavier. This pellet hits the target with precision.

However, the weight of the .22 pellet slows it down, as a result, the pellet falls through the air easily as it propels down-range. Therefore, you have to give your rifle a lot of grip at long ranges. Novice shooters should settle for the .177 calibers. Nevertheless, you must ensure your shots land in the right place.

Step 2 – Selecting Sights

Your rifle may be able to produce the desired accuracy, but you still need reliable sighting to make sure you do not miss your target. There are two main sights for air rifles: open sights and scopes. An open sight is the most basic aiming device. However, it lacks the magnification of a scope.

See also: Best Scope for 22 Rifle: Setting the Right Sights and Taking the Shot

This sight is convenient for fast moving targets, because it allows fast target acquisition. A good number of models are initially fitted with open sights.

A scope, on the other hand, is the best starting point if you wish to become an expert shooter. It allows you to you to take advantage of a rifle’s accuracy for hunting at long distances. A scope is easier to work with than an open sight, especially for non-experienced shooters.

The major parts of a rifle scope are: objective lens, objective bell, rheostat switch, elevation adjustment, eye ball, fast focus, exit pupil, ocular lens, power ring, windage adjustment and body tube. Scopes can be adjustable or fixed.

Step 3 – Scope Mounting

Once you have the ammunition and scope right, you gun will be ready for use. Then again, you need to get your mount height & cheekpiece fit right. Good mounts yield comfort along with more target hits; while poor heights lead to frustration, discomfort and fewer target hits.

You need to consider the clearance between the barrel and the front-end of the scope. Head alignment is a significant factor to consider, because if you mount too low, you may be forced to strain in order to have visual of the image.

Scope Mounting

You might find yourself in the air over your gun’s cheekpiece without your head being in contact with the stock, if you mount your scope too high. It is wise to use an air gun that is fitted with adjustable cheekpiece.

Usually, adjustable cheekpiece gets rid of the head alignment problem. The best position is the vertical head position, which may vary. Then go ahead and center/ adjust the turrets. Centering and adjusting the turrets will ensure the scope is at or close to the optical center.

To install the mounts, remove the screws and set them to one side. Gently unscrew the side clamps and then slide the mounts onto your rifle’s scope mounting rail and tighten. Lay the scope in the mounts, replace the top straps and tighten up.

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Once you have done this, the scope should rotate and move laterally. Then assume the shooting position, allow your head to contact the cheekpiece in a natural way and observe the sight picture.

Adjust the scope’s position until you are able to see a full picture. Normally, the image should have a thick black ring surrounding it and it should be crisp right. Obtain a more stable base by positioning the mounts at maximum spacing and tighten.

Then do the following: focus the eyepiece & crosshairs, set optical center at optimum range, plumb the crosshairs, finalize windage adjustment and establish the trajectory by selecting the appropriate zero distance.

Step 4 – Choose an Aiming Position

There are two main positions that you can use: bench rest position and prone supported position. Do the following when using bench rest position:

  • place your feet flat on the ground with your legs relaxed;
  • sit directly behind your front support with a gentle forward lean;
  • place the butt on your shoulder next to your neck;
  • your elbows should be on the table to support the gun;
  • support your hand under your forearm;
  • position the trigger hand;
  • face firmly against the stock with your eye down the sights;
  • align the position to target.

The prone supported position requires you to do the following:

  • place your feet and legs flat on the ground with your legs relaxed;
  • place the butt on your shoulder next to your neck;
  • your elbows should be on the ground to support the rifle;
  • support your hand under your forearm; place the trigger hand;
  • face determinedly against the stock with your eye directed down the sights;
  • and then align your position to target.

Step 5 – Observe Shooting Ground Rules

You need to observe shooting ground rules before pulling the trigger in order to achieve successful hits. Body movement can lead to gun movement, which impairs shooting.

Observe Shooting Ground Rules

Therefore, you should avoid breathing momentarily when firing. Hold your body still in order to maintain proper sight picture as well as sight alignment when firing. Once you have released the first shot, go ahead and maintain aiming, trigger control, hold control and breathe control before releasing the second shot.

In Conclusion

Now, with the knowledge you just accumulated, you can easily become an expert air gun hunter.

As you can see, there are numerous air rifle models in the market, with varying capabilities. Choosing the correct model that works for you requires you to consider the action, ammunition, caliber and sights. As a beginner, the design and style should not be your primary concern. You should focus more on accuracy and performance. Do read our earlier article on how to choose the best semi auto rifle to give you more options.

The above-discussed steps should guide you on how to choose and use an air rifle. Do you think we have missed any important details? If so, please let us know in comments.


Shawn Harrison

Shawn Harrison is our expert in hunting. He was born in Alaska, so hunting was his hobby since high school. Later, Shawn took a Hunter Training at Alaska Department of Fish and Game to structure his knowledge and now he is open to share his knowledge with our readers. Shawn is taking ‘Safety First’ approach on all of his trips, especially is some people are going hunting for the first time.


  • Wow! I always thought hunting with an air rifle would be impossible. It makes prefect sense to hunt with an air rifle though, i mean the noise would be less than an actual rifle. However it seems like carrying around different types of ammunition would weigh you down and give you less room for other important items. There are many pros and cons to consider before deciding for yourself, but it seems like using an air rifle may be the way to go if you want something that is powerful and not super expensive.

    • It is far from impossible, Jason. It is also a lot safer and more practical to use that is why more and more avid hunters are leaning towards air rifles whenever they are on the hunt.

  • Novices are often having problems with a dirty barrel, the splash of oil from the compression chamber. All of this should be carefully removed with a set for cleaning the gun. The barrel must be perfectly clean, without traces of oil and lead. Do not use regular solvents used for firearms. Use a clean cotton napkin slightly moistened with special cleaning solution. A good way to clean in the field – the use of special “cleaning bullets” – white tight balls to clean the barrel. Use them every 1000 shots.

    • Such good points raised, Andrew. Oftentimes, we enjoy using our air rifles without giving it the routine maintenance it needs. Your suggestions are really valuable and handy especially for those who love wielding their air rifles for hobby or sport.