Introduction: Airgun hunting has gained popularity among outdoor enthusiasts as an effective and challenging way to control vermin populations. Whether you’re a seasoned shooter or a beginner, proper preparation is crucial to ensure a safe, ethical, and successful experience. In this blog post, we will guide you through essential steps to prepare before heading out for vermin controlling with an airgun. Discover the key factors to consider and equip yourself with the knowledge to make your airgun hunting trip a resounding success.
Know the Local Regulations: Before venturing out into the field, it is vital to familiarize yourself with the local regulations and laws concerning airgun hunting. Research the specific vermin species you intend to target, understand the permitted hunting seasons, bag limits, and any licensing requirements. Complying with legal guidelines not only ensures ethical hunting but also prevents potential legal repercussions.
Selecting the Right Airgun and Accessories: Choosing the appropriate airgun and accessories is crucial for a successful vermin control outing. Consider the specific vermin species you will be targeting and the environment in which you will be hunting. Opt for an airgun with sufficient power and accuracy to dispatch the vermin cleanly and humanely. Additionally, invest in quality optics, such as scopes or red dot sights, to enhance your aim and precision.
Practice Proper Marksmanship: Achieving accuracy with an airgun requires consistent practice. Familiarize yourself with the operation of your airgun and spend ample time practicing marksmanship skills. Set up targets at various distances and practice shooting from different positions, mimicking real-life hunting scenarios. Remember to focus on proper stance, breathing control, trigger discipline, and follow-through. Regular practice will increase your confidence and ensure accurate shots when it counts.
Research Vermin Habits and Patterns: Understanding the behavior and habits of the vermin you intend to control is crucial for a successful hunting trip. Study their feeding patterns, preferred habitats, and movement routines. This knowledge allows you to strategize your hunting approach, increasing your chances of encountering the vermin in the right place at the right time. Online resources, books, and local experts can provide valuable insights into vermin behaviour.
Plan Your Hunting Location: Identify suitable hunting locations where the vermin populations are known to be abundant. Consult with landowners, farmers, or local wildlife management authorities to gain permission and access to private or public hunting grounds. Ensure you have a clear understanding of the property boundaries and adhere to any specific rules or guidelines provided by the landowner.
Safety First: Safety should always be your top priority. Before heading out, familiarize yourself with basic firearm safety practices and protocols. Ensure you have appropriate safety gear, including ear protection, eye protection, and appropriate clothing for the hunting environment. Always be mindful of your surroundings, especially when shooting in areas with potential human activity. Adhere to safe shooting angles and never shoot at targets that may cause a ricochet.
Conclusion: By following these essential steps, you can maximize your chances of success and ensure a safe and responsible airgun hunting experience. Remember to research local regulations, select the right equipment, practice your marksmanship skills, study vermin behaviour, plan your hunting locations, and prioritize safety. With the right preparation, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a skilled vermin controller while enjoying the thrill of airgun hunting. Happy hunting!
We put some of the best 177 hunting pellets to the test to find the best airgun ammunition.
The smaller 177 calibre has long been neglected by hunters as an ineffective pest pellet. The reasoning behind this is easy to understand, more mass = more power but this not strictly true as power is actually a relationship between mass and speed. Think about it this way, if I were to throw a tennis ball at a window, chances are it bounces straight off but if I were to launch a steel ball bearing at that same window through a sling shot it would punch a hole clean through despite the BB having much less mass than the tennis ball. This is because of the greater speed.
The UK limit for muzzle energy on an air rifle is 12ft/lb no matter what the mass of the pellet is. This equates to ~500fps in a .22 and ~700 – 750fps in a .177, around 50% higher! This added speed means that under the right conditions a 4.5mm pellet can be just as, if not more effective than a .22.
OK, with that out of the way, what criteria are we actually looking for? What makes an effective hunting pellet? When hunting any live animal, the most important factor to keep in mind is respect for the quarry and to minimise suffering. Therefore, the most important thing we are looking to achieve is a reliable one shot dispatch. This is usually achieved via a head shot but can also be possible via a heart and lung shot with the right pellet. Let’s see if we can find it with some of the options below.
All pellets tested with .177 Zbroia Hortitsia running at between 11.5 – 11.7 ft/lb at ranges between 20m – 35m.
H&N Barracuda Hunter Extreme
Made by H&N, these pellets are some of the most effective one shot pellets that money can buy. Normally in sub 12ft/lb airguns, expansion of hollow points is something that is actually quite hard to achieve as the velocities involved are not high enough to deform the lead, even in the faster .177 calibre. With the H&N Baracuda Hunter Extreme all of this is flipped on it’s head thanks to the cross shaped hollow points that these pellets feature. The ingenuity of this design allows the pellet to mushroom out upon impact as contact with the target creates a pocket of air that, instead of pressing against a thick wall of lead surrounding the hollow point, instead is forced against four thinner walls and allows for rapid expansion even in lower velocities. This leads to a much larger wound channel and more of the pellets energy being transferred into the target. This is what we want and what this translates to is, not only will a head shot be enough to reliably kill vermin in our desired one shot, but also a heart and lung shot will be more than capable.
The sacrifice that is made with this shape is long range & potential accuracy. The hollow point of the pellet whilst perfect for dispatch actually works against the pellet in flight and increases the air resistance, reducing range and causing the pellets to drop sooner than some of the more traditionally shaped diabolos. This has to be factored in whilst aiming as your point of impact might be slightly lower than expected, even if zeroed with domed pellets at the same weight.
Something else to consider is these pellets are not the cheapest on the market and they also only come in tins of 400 as opposed to the usual 500 for other .177s. Still a potential of 400 pigeons in the pot so I’m not really complaining.
For this test I am using the lighter 8.18 grain QYS Domed pellets as opposed to the 9.56 version. My reasoning for testing these is to try something with a lot higher velocity in an attempt push the effective range as far as possible in a .177. Again, our main priority is the quick and consistent one-shot dispatch but a lighter pellet should carry more velocity out of the barrel and therefore maintain that power further downrange.
The uniformity of these pellets surprised me somewhat. The “Made in China ” slur is a brush that QYS are, I think, unfairly tarred with as the consistency in shape, weight and skirt size is absolutely fantastic. The weight deviation in particular was minimal with a maximum deviation of 0.1 grain either side of the advertised 8.18. This consistency is replicated in your shot placement and I found that these QYS pellets were by far the most consistent when zeroing. Now I am not by any means a professional shooter but whilst zeroing these pellets I was able to achieve just over a 25mm (about the size of a 5p) grouping at 30m. Not Bad.
I found the same thing with the pigeons. The trees I camped up in front of were around 35m from me and, when putting the crosshair of the scope on top of the birds head so that the first mill dot lined up with the eye, I was able to reliably one-hit kill birds with a brain shot. Thanks to the lack of expansion and higher speed, there was a degree of over penetration with these pellets though and I could foresee that, unlike the Hunter Extremes pellets listed above, a chest shot would not be enough to kill a pigeon instantly. If you are not confident of hitting heads then I don’t think these are the pellets for you.
H&N Rabbit Magnum II
On the other end of the spectrum are the H&N Rabbit Magnum II pellets that weigh in at a colossal 15.74 grain. Advertised on the tin as being for guns of around 25J these pellets are recommended for FAC power level guns but I know people that shoot the .22 versions of these pellets in 16J guns and swear by them so I thought they’d be worth a shot. Now, my Zbroia Hortitsia is tuned to around 11.7ft/lbs with 10.6 grain Bisley Magnum pellets so just under the 16J limit and way under the recommended level for these pellets and that issue was clearly thrown up by my testing.
These pellets are domed but are shaped more like slugs than traditional diabolo pellets and that added lead at the neck of the pellet is the reason for the increased weight. This design does allow more lead to make contact with the rifling and hopefully increase accuracy, but I was finding that the weight of these pellets was just far too high. I was almost running out of elevation to zero the pellets on my scope (a Hawke Airmax AO 2-7×32) and had to reduce my range to 20m just to reliably hit the target.
The variance between each pellet was OK, the build quality of H&N products is always very good but there was quite a large weight difference between pellets with some being almost half a grain lighter than the advertised 15.74. Now this weight change might not make much of a difference in a high powered gun but when I’m already pushing the limits of my rifle to zero, this variation plays into shot placement quite a lot.
Owing to the unreliable point of impact, I didn’t use these pellets on any birds and I cant recommend you do the same Unless you are using an FAC rated airgun and might have to have a word with my friends using the .22 versions as whether those guns are 16J or not…
And now for something completely different…
So there has been a growing movement in ballistics towards going lead-free. Lead is quite harmful to the environment, even excluding the animals being shot, and has a tendency to build up particularly in water animals and cause severe damage to the food chain. As of 2022, lead shot is not allowed when hunting ducks and other birds and I imagine it won’t be long before this legislation affects pellets. Nothing concrete or confirmed, but call it a hunch. Anyway, thanks to this many pellet manufacturers offer “lead free” pellets in a variety of shapes and sizes. These RWS Hypermax are made from tin and moulded into a pointed shape.
Ok so first thing to say about these pellets is, like most lead alternative pellets, they are extremely light. Weighing in at just 5.2 grain, these pellets are almost half the weight of the Hunter Extreme pellets and through the chronograph the speeds were mind boggling. The hunter extremes were getting about 740fps but some of the Hypermax were getting over 1000fps. Not that far off the speed of sound! I also found that, possibly due to the added hardness of tin compared to lead, the pellets in the tin had low variance in weight and almost no skirt or head deformation, something that can happen to softer lead pellets.
In practice, these perform much like the QYS pellets in that, a head shot is consistent, predictable and effective but the incredible speed and high penetrative power of the pellet means body shots are just going to fly straight through the bird and likely not kill straight away. Also, while testing these pellets the air was relatively still, but lighter pellets tend to be far more affected by the wind which is something to bear in mind.
Tin & alloy pellets are also more expensive than their lead counter parts with this tin costing similar to many others but containing just 200 pellets rather than the usual 500. I understand these tin pellets are relatively new but that’s just not enough for me.
Ok the best performing pellet was the Baracuda Hunter Extreme by H&N but I was surprised by a few, particularly the RWS Hypermax. I do wonder if these lead free pellets become the norm then peoples approach to airgun hunting might change. No longer will you be able to blast a bird or small mammal with a huge lump of lead anywhere in the body and be assured a kill. Instead you will be forced to use a lighter but faster moving projectile that requires a more skilful shot and this would encourage more accuracy and patience when hunting which is always a good thing.
There is no doubt that summer is prime season for pests but it is by no means the only time that pests are around so you need to be vigilant. Rats, unlike many other mammals, do not typically hibernate during winter and as the temperatures drop, they are more likely to be looking to move inside looking for warmth and shelter. This means that they will appear inside barns and garages where range is not so much a factor as manoeuvrability and ease of use.
When choosing a hunting pistol it is important to ensure that you have a pistol that shoots as close to the 6 ft/lb legal limit as possible. Careful consideration must be paid to ensure quick dispatching and the more powerful the gun, the more stopping power the pellet has. A 2-3 ft/lb 1911 is just not going to do the job humanely or otherwise.
There are two main airguns gun calibres .177 and .22. There are others but they are either too heavy for 6ft/lb guns and often more difficult to get hold of. So what is better .177 or .22? Sigh… this is an argument as old as time but here goes :
Well, .22 is often cited as the “hunting calibre” but, with the right shaped pellets, .177 can be just as effective. Due to power being worked out as a relationship between weight and speed the lighter pellets of the .177 calibre actually fly much faster than their heavier counterparts. This becomes an advantage as their trajectory is much flatter and therefore it is easier to be accurate. Hitting the head or vitals of a rat or small bird means shooting an area the size of a pound coin and so I actually prefer .177 for pistol pest control. As .177 pellets are travelling faster domed or pointed pellets have a habit of passing though the target which not only reduces lethality but can be problematic if shooting without a clear backstop. For this reason I would recommend flat head or hollow points for .177 and domed pellets for .22. That is my case for using .177 calibre anyway, but I have plenty of friends that swear by .22 especially for furry animals such as rats and rabbits which tend to be quite tough.
At the end of the day every hunter will tell you that accuracy is the most important factor when it comes to humane dispatching, you are often aiming for an area no larger than a pound coin so as long as you can reliably hit that, you will be fine. Just pick whichever calibre you prefer, it IS that simple. With that in mind, perhaps the most important aspect of pest control is practice, reliably hitting the same spot with a rifle is hard enough, but with a pistol it will require hours and hours of hard work until it is in your muscle memory. There are some people that will tell you that you hunting with an air pistol is inherently impossible to do humanely but I disagree, reliable expansion occurs at around 4ft/lbs, even less in hollow points, and a pellet that is fired from 6ft/lb air pistol will have this level of energy at ranges of around 15m.
Which Type of Air Pistol?
So you have your calibre, now what to choose, spring? CO2? Gas Ram? PCP? Single stroke? At least there was only 2 calibres to choose from…
Well, using my uncanny ability to treat my own opinions as fact, I’m going to trim the list down a bit. PCP pistols are undoubtedly effective but you are talking minimum 700 English pounds for a good one and that’s without factoring in the dive bottle and hose that you need to have one and that is probably too much money for a couple of rats so, unfortunately, they’re out.
Gas Ram pistols are essentially the same as spring pistols but use a non fatiguing piston system instead of a spring, sounds great right? Well, to my knowledge there are none close to the 6ft/lb limit that we are after so they are also out. Multi Stroke pistols suffer a similar fate with the majority of the models available being under powered with one exception. The Zoraki HP-01 has a variable power system which means that after 3 pumps the pistol will be powerful enough to be used for pest control. This means that having the pistol ready to shoot as by the time you have pumped the pistol up to full power, the rat or bird will likely be gone.
So that leaves us two viable options CO2 and spring power. As they are the most popular, let’s talk CO2 first.
There are a wide variety of CO2 powered pistols available that come in all shapes and sizes but for the majority, there are only a couple that are capable of killing. And the majority are based on one tried and tested design. The originator of the full powered air pistol is a model called the Crosman 2240 Buster which utilised an ingenious bolt action design that was powered by a single 12g CO2 capsule that produced around 5.5ft/lbs of muzzle energy. The 2240 stood as the undisputed king of the pest control world for a long time until a new design came along and took its crown.
The SMK CP1 has refined and ungraded the 2240s original blueprint and has become not just one of the best selling pest control pistols, but also one of the best selling airguns currently on the market. What makes it so effective is not just the power, but also the refinements made to the gun, the bolt has been moved to the left side to allow easier cocking, there is a chequered wood stock instead of the 2240s polymer and both the trigger unit and iron sights have received a significant upgrade. The CP1 also features a dovetail rail for the fitting of external optics and comes in a wide variety of calibres for maximum versatility, there is even a multi-shot version available. When looking for a pest dispatching pistol it is very hard to look past this model.
Spring powered pistols generally utilise a break barrel or lever system to fill a chamber with air and then release a spring which rapidly compresses the chamber forcing the pellet out of the barrel. The advantage of this design is that everything you need to fire is right there in your hands, no external gas canisters are required so if you can cock the gun, you can shoot it. This does also mean that unfortunately all spring pistols are single shot but with Gamo bringing out an ingenious multi shot spring rifle, the Maxxim Elite, I would imagine that a multi-shot spring pistol is not too far away.
Perhaps the most famous spring pistol is the XS26, one of the stalwarts of recent years that has continued to sell high numbers since its inception and has formed the basis of a lot of spring powered pistols that followed after it. Most notably was SMK’s own XS32 which not only upped the power slightly but improved the trigger system to make the gun more accurate and more reliable. The XS32 is equipped with fibre optic sights which is a plus as pests tend to be more active in low light, and is also surprisingly lightweight which not only reduces fatigue but also makes aiming easier, important when aiming for a small vital area.
Whilst the XS32 is a superb choice, the undisputed king of the spring powered pistol world is the Weihrauch HW45. Despite being several orders of magnitude more expensive than an XS32, particularly if you want the fantastic looking Silver Star model, this is the spring pistol I’d personally have. Of all of the names in the airgun industry, Weihrauch is probably the name you can most trust when it comes to delivering high quality construction and overall great performance. The HW45 is accurate to a tee and shoots a shade over 5 ft/lbs making it one of the most powerful spring pistols on the market and more than enough for a rat or pigeon at 10-15m. The pistol itself does require 13mm mounds to fit additional optics which is unusual but other than that I can’t fault it, one of the best pistols money can buy.
So there you have it, a list of a selection of the pistols I would consider to be the best for pest control. If you are looking to purchase one be sure it’s here at Pellpax and stay tuned to the blog for all your airgun information.