Air rifles can go where shotguns can't ...

Follow the air rifle pest control rules and you can usefully rid an area of corvids, greys and rats and play your part in giving the songbird population a safer habitat.

An air rifle is an excellent tool for vermin control. Because airguns are hushed and have limited power they can be used in a confined space – like a garden – more safely and discreetly  than a shotgun.

Silence is golden

Fit a good quality sound moderator to a modern PCP air rifle and you have a piece of equipment that allows quiet shooting of pests without drawing the attention of nosy neighbours.

improve airgun accuracy

You can use an air rifle for pest control in a reasonable size garden. A sound moderator is advisable.

Safety

The key thing to remember is that you will need to use a sound moderator and a safe backstop, because if a pellet strays beyond your land you will be breaking the law. Panel fences aren’t very robust and will almost certain allow an airgun pellet to rip through.

Walls made of stone or concrete will stop an airgun pellet,  flattening the soft lead projectile and sending it tumbling to the ground. The trick is to manoeuvre your quarry (more on that below) to a spot in front of such a backstop where they can be picked off without risk of ricochet.

Alternatively, if the area you’re shooting just has hedging or flimsy panel fencing set yourself up to take shots at a downward angle and safely into the ground. Or put a large concrete slab in place to use as a backstop.

garden air gunning

A large concrete slab makes for a reliable backstop

pest species in garden

Garden pests: it is always a good idea to shoot from an elevated position so that the ground acts as a backstop

Getting your quarry in the right place

Attract squirrels and rats to a location in front of your safe backstop by putting a handful of peanut or birdseed there. Use stale crumbs for magpies because they are a bit fussier and tend to prefer bird tables.

We keep hens in our garden and, apart from drawing in the odd rat, from time to time they also attract attention from magpies who like to sit in a nearby apple tree.

Obviously for reasons of safety I can’t aim at these corvids directly. Instead, I prop up a concrete slab beneath the apple tree, then crack an egg in front of it and scatter a few vegetable scraps to grab the birds’ attention. The magpies will usually flutter down for a closer inspection, offering a safe shot from my hiding place.

How to use an airgun for rat control

If you don’t want the hassle of using cat food, small fishing pellets will keep rats still while you take aim

How to get rats in an air rifle’s sights

I’ve used sweetcorn to attract rats when I was carrying out pest control for an angling club. The anglers told me the rats liked the sweetcorn they used for fishing baits so I used it to lure them to where I could take a safe shot. I accounted for several dozen large rats by night shooting with a scope-mounted lamp. Six years later the fishing lakes only have a couple of rats there now. Reports say that resident duck are flourishing as are a colony of water voles.

Vermin control for pheasant shoots

Rats, corvids and squirrels can seriously reduce the number of eggs and chicks produced by gamebirds. This is another area in which air rifle pest control plays a significant role.

Draw your quarry to where you want it so that you are near enough for a clean kill.  Use safe backstops when necessary. Use grain to coax rats out of their holes and decoys for crows and magpies.

Pheasant feeders usually act as magnets for grey squirrel activity but in late spring feeding ceases, which is frustrating as that is peak nesting season and the greys move their diet onto eggs.

I came up with a solution to this when I was called in to thin out grey squirrels in a wood where the owner fed large amounts of peanuts so he could watch the nuthatches and woodpeckers when they dropped in to feed. However the greys jumped the queue and ate the nuts first. The feeders made life easy for me — I just had to sit back and wait for the squirrels to arrive. It occurred to me that I could employ the same set-up on some of my other permissions. Landowners and keepers were quick to give me the nod, so I built some rather rustic feeding stations that not only benefit wild birds but also create “honeypots” for grey squirrels. By feeding them up for three of four days in a row, I can usually expect a steady trickle of greedy squirrels when I come back with my airgun.

grey squirrel

The RWS Z Lang is a suitable round for squirrels and rats

Air rifle pest control kill zones

Grey squirrels and rats

The head is the most reliable kill area for an air rifle when you’re aiming at grey squirrels and rats. Take them from the side and aim to land your pellet between the eye and ear. A .22 calibre will also produce clean kills with a strike to the heart and lung area, delivered from the side to strike just behind the shoulder. If a squirrel clings to a tree with its back to you, a shot between the shoulders will strike the heart and lung area.

Magpies

Again headshots are the best kill area. However magpies can also be despatched with a strike to the chest, or shot from behind, directly between the shoulders, to hit the heart and lung area.

spring powered airguns for pest control

The self-contained power plant on spring powered air rifles is very convenient but cocking can be difficult for smaller shooters

Should you use a spring-powered or PCP airgun for pest control? What’s best?

Q: I’d like to buy an air rifle for controlling rabbits and grey squirrels in our garden but I don’t really want a pre-charged model because I can’t be bothered with the hassle and expense of using charging gear. I’ve been told that spring-powered airguns  are less accurate – are they suitable for humane pest control?

A: Spring-powered airguns aren’t necessarily less accurate than pre-charged models; they are just a little harder to shoot accurately.

The recoil caused by the motion of the spring and piston can cause quite a kick, which isn’t as easy to master as the comparatively dead action of a recoil-less pre-charged pneumatic.

That said, you should be able to shoot a decent spring-powered airgun very accurately with a little practice. The important thing is always to use the same hold and don’t squeeze the gun too tightly – allow the recoil to follow the same course every time and your pellet should always follow the same path to its target. Never try to rest a spring-powered gun on a hard surface such as a bench – the kick will make it bounce violently and pellets will stray off aim as a result.

Put in plenty of practice on paper targets and you will soon understand the performance of spring-powered air rifle pest control and get a measure of your own capabilities with it. Shoot within those self-imposed limitations and there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to cleanly despatch rabbits and grey squirrels in the garden.