Quiet, hard-hitting, accurate, affordable, and reliable. A good quality air rifle in .177 or .22 caliber meets all these criteria. No, you don’t have to spend thousands. Just one hundred to three hundred FRNs will provide you and your family with a nice rifle and several thousand pellets.
Springer and now gas ram rifles take care of problem pests around the garden and homestead, rabbits, gophers, ground squirrels, starlings, and crows are dealt with humanely and did I say quietly?
My German-made Dianas, both a Model 34 Classic, and a Model 34 EMS, and both in .177 caliber are equipped with inexpensive scopes and will easily maintain quarter-size groups at 30 yards, Both will push a heavier 9.5 -10.5 grain pellet out to rabbit and squirrel killing distances of 40-50 yards, if you do your part with pellet placement. As many old hunters said it’s not so much what you hit them with as where you hit them.
As a teaching tool for kids and folks not raised with firearms the air rifle excels as its quietness and simplicity encourages rather than intimidates new shooters in learning to practice both safe handling and proficiency, in my experience familiarity with arms does not breed contempt, but rather respect.
The choices of air rifles today is great and the quality of the offerings from manufacturers like Crosman, Ruger, Diana, Gamo, Hatsan, Beeman, Benjamin, and Weihrauch span the price range from less than $100. to $500, and even $700. Given the quality of what is on the market, this is a good time to get into air rifles. Even the lowest-priced offerings provide good homestead and backyard pesting performance while the mid and higher-priced options are match-quality rifles with accuracy to test your skill.
Around our homestead, the air rifles keep the gophers, ground squirrels, and crop-destroying birds at bay from the orchard and garden and have even accounted for a possum who was raiding the back porch cat food. The entertainment factor for the great-grandkids with targets and good backstops is a nice afternoon occupier for them while grandma is trying to put dinner or such foodstuffs together to stave off the clamoring hoard.
For our back porch day and night rifle, we have an older Gamo in 177 equipped with both a led light and a red laser adjusted to put pellets spot-on at 15 feet. It also wears a Bushnell 1-4 scope zeroed in at 25 yards, this happens to be the distance from the back deck to the first row of fig trees. This rifle accounted for between 16 and 19 rats one winter when an infestation of the critters started moving onto our place and our cat was only four months old.
For many years a Benjamin pump in .22 caliber was the go-to air rifle that lived with us but my age and old eyes started requiring the assistance of optics to keep the rats and pigeons in check in the barn so a break-barrel Diana 34 in .177 happened to grace our homestead thanks to a recommendation from a good friend. What a wake-up call to me, laser-like accuracy when fitted with an inexpensive 3-9 scope, the simplicity of use with the break barrel cocking and loading is a great boon to those who just want to get er done. This rifle almost put our barn cat out to pasture except she works 24-7 and I only am good for an hour or two both mornings and evenings. Kind of made her update her skills tho since now when she hears the snap of the air rifle she comes to see if easy pickings are on the menu.
Some years back — in an earlier lifetime — when I was living in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, when times were hard for us and the pickings were a bit lean, we filled the stew pot with nice grey squirrels and assorted birds through one fall and winter until spring thaws opened the logging woods jobs. Don’t want to ever go back to that way of living but should survival times beckon at least we had the experience of doing it once. Our Benjamin pump .22 got us through those times yet the choice of rifles and optics today far surpass what we used then.
One thing to know, expect, and learn from is the learning curve when transitioning from firearms to spring and gas ram air rifles. Follow through! Breathing and trigger control are the same as with firearms and experienced shooters will have no problems with applying their learned skills to air rifles. The difference is with follow-through. Lead pellets from air rifles spend longer barrel travel times than bullets from firearms, even the high velocity .22 Long Rifle cartridge at 1,200 to 1,400 feet per second (fps) is almost twice as fast as an air rifle’s 800-to-900 fps lead pellet from most springers and gas ram rifles. This is where learning to follow through with good hold technique with air rifles is critical to consistent shot placement. An added bonus to perfecting this skill is improvement in your firearm shot placement. This is because those who hold better shoot better.
Technology has improved air rifles for rapid repeat shots with the addition of magazines holding up to ten pellets for instant loading, all that is required is the cocking of the rifle and then you are ready for the next shot. However, in our experience with teaching grand and great-grandkids to handle and shoot firearms, single loading safely forces them to learn the importance of breathing, sight picture, trigger control, and shot placement. These skills, once learned, seemed to be ingrained within them and carry over into their hunting habits and practices.
My biased recommendations are based on experiences with two boys, eight grandchildren, and seven great-grandkids is if your budget can afford it is to get a quality rifle like the Weihrauch Model 30. It is a good light easy to cock rifle, extremely accurate, easy to learn to shoot well, and it has plenty of power in both .22 and .177 caliber to handle garden and barnyard pests out to 25-to-35 yards. This is also a rifle that with just a bit of care can easily teach and be handed down through several generations
A step up in power but requiring more muscle to cock are the selections from Diana, Gamo, Hatsan, and Weihrauch in their higher-powered offerings. Pictured at the top of this article is a scoped Weihrauch Model 50 air rifle. One very important fact to remember is a higher power or higher velocity does not make up for shot placement skills.
For research and guidance purposes several sites on the internet offer many years of experience with pellet rifles, the one I lean towards as a first choice is gatewaytoairguns.org. Many good articles and videos are available on several dealer sites such as airgunsofarizona.com and pyramydair.com. These sites offer lots of information on break barrel springers and gas ram pellet rifles from learning to shoot them well to maintaining and modifying them for your particular purposes.
They also have videos and information on the world of higher-powered air rifles, these are precharged high-pressure and high-velocity air rifles that include rifles in .25, .30, .357, .45, and even .50 caliber offerings shooting pellets, slugs, and bullets at close to centerfire velocities, in some rifles.
Our personal prepping arsenal of pellet rifles are the three mentioned earlier, two German-manufactured Dianas and an older Spanish-made Gamo. All these rifles are in .177 caliber and all three have served as firearm training foundations for grandchildren and now these past few years for several great-grandchildren. When the weather turns tough we have a 10-yard range in the shop where we use cardboard boxes filled with the shredded rubber mulch from any of home and garden stores. 4 inches of mulch in the box stops the pellets very well and acts as a simple pellet trap where the pellets can be sorted out for disposal or recycling. We use lead pellets exclusively and practice safe handling practices and teaching for our family and friends regarding lead exposure.
Speaking of friends, folks, and firearms, in my experience one of the greatest tools in our arguments for firearms and pro-firearm legislation has been the fun and safe introduction to folks that have no knowledge other than the propaganda pushed by much of the media and anti-gunners’ agenda.
When they see and hear their children come home from an afternoon of play with our family and the positive experiences related by them in regards to firearm safety and use as well as the fun of learning to safely handle and shoot a pellet rifle. Their curiosity about what their children tell them opens and brings them to us and is our opportunity to show and tell the positive aspects of responsible firearms ownership and use. It is a good thing to have them over for an afternoon of tea and snacks and then introduce them to the fun of shooting a quiet simple air rifle. Now we find the simple air rifle has gone from a survival tool to a pathway into a firearms conversation and introduction, and that is one of the positive aspects of prepping and developing your groups.