What's the ideal calibre of air rifle for this quarry? John Knibbs offers the benefit of experience ...

Airgunners have been debating which are the best air rifles for shooting rabbits for around a century.  It’s always a subject for discussion but nobody has yet reached a final conclusion.

I’ve been shooting rabbits for a while now so I thought I’d add my experiences to the conversation.

Air rifles are restricted in power output

Contrary to some opinions, it doesn’t matter what calibre air rifles are. All standard air rifles are restricted in power output to a maximum of 12 ft/lb.Whether they are pre-charged (PCP) air rifles or spring-powered.

A full-power legal .177 rifle firing an 8.5-gr pellet at around 800fps, or a .22 air rifle firing a 16-gr pellet at around 580fps would be perfectly capable of killing a rabbit at normal ranges up to 35-40 yards.

This is on the assumption that the reader is competent to shoot consistently in a tight group of a maximum of 2in.

Small pellets compared to large pellets

  • Smaller pellets will not produce as much kinetic energy as the larger .22 pellets, but will give a flatter trajectory and are likely to be more accurate.
  • While the larger .22 pellet will give more “knock-down” or killing power, it will require more sight adjustment at longer ranges.
  • The size of the air rifle’s calibre will make little difference however if the rabbit is hit in the head. Even if the shot is taken at long range.
airgun pellets

Good quality pellets are the way to go if you want consistent accuracy from your airgun

You must zero your rifle

This is what you must do before you get started. The very first thing to check before you head out into the field after those rabbits with your air rifle is to check that it is correctly zeroed.  What is zeroing? Put simply it means that your rifle will hit where you are aiming.  (If you don’t do this you’re setting yourself up for unsatisfactory results.)

The zeroing rule applies whether you are using open sights or telescopic sights.

You might find it useful to read our air rifle reviews which you can find here.

rabbit shooting

Our contributor Mat Manning out rabbit shooting

How to get your air rifle zeroed

To get your air rifle zeroed just take it along to your local gun shop and ask them to test it. They’ll take a look and tell you whether your air rifle needs a full service or re-zeroing. I’d strongly recommend this – it could make a major difference to your success out in the field.