We're often asked which is the best air rifle for shooting rabbits. Well, it's rather a broad question but Matt Clark, editor of Sporting Gun, gives a few pointers
Want more success when shooting rabbits with an airgun and wondering what to use? I’ll narrow things down with a run through of the different type of airguns that can be used to control rabbits and then follow that by a look at different calibres.
Springers – probably the airgun that comes to mind
When the word airgun is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is the break-barrel spring-powered model. These are the traditional tools used for pest control and have the advantage of being relatively cheap and self-contained, in that you don’t need any charging equipment. However, springers have a lot of recoil, which makes it harder to shoot accurately with them. The rifles themselves are very accurate, but overcoming the recoil requires a lot of skill on behalf of the shooter. They are also only single shot, so you have no follow-up shot should you need it.
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PCPs give you the all-important second pellet if you fluff the shot
These days we have another option that is low recoil and offers the option of multiple shots – the pre-charged pneumatic. These are powered by compressed air stored in a reservoir, a pulse of which is released to power the pellet when the shooter pulls the trigger. Not having a large spring and piston “whanging” around mean a PCP is almost recoilless. This makes it easier to be an accurate shot. What is more, PCPs come with the option of multi-shots, giving you that all-important second pellet if you fluff the shot.
For these reasons, I would say that for rabbit shooting a PCP is the best fit for most airgunners. The only downside is that they can be expensive and require external charging equipment, such as and dive bottle or stirrup pump. So the initial outlay can be almost £1000. However, once you are set up, pellets are cheap and so you have an economical form of shooting.
Which calibre should you opt for?
Once you opt for your choice of airgun, the next question is which calibre do you opt for. The most common calibres are .22 and .177. Each has their pros and cons. The larger pellet (.22) will have a more “loopy” trajectory, so the shooter has to allow more holdover, this is because it’s bigger and heavier than a .177 pellet.
However, this extra weight transfers more energy to the target, resulting in a cleaner kill. In other words the weight and size of the pellet gives it more stopping power.
The .177 pellet does not impart as much energy to the target, so its impact is not as devastating as that of a .22. But the advantage the smaller pellet has is that it has a flatter trajectory, meaning that the point of aim is closer to the point of impact, making it easier to hit your target.
Of course there is a .20 calibre, which sits in between .177 and .22 calibre but, like all compromises, you get something that doesn’t have all the advantages you want, even if it doesn’t have all the disadvantages.
Pest control used to be with a .22
In the past .22 was recommended for pest control because it was more hard hitting. However, if you are a reasonable shot and aim for the point between the rabbit’s ear and eye, a .177 will humanely dispatch a rabbit out to 40 metres. In fact it will kill them at greater distances because you only need around 3ft/lb of energy to kill a rabbit, but shooting beyond 40 metres with a legal limit airgun is irresponsible because it’s all to easy for the wind to blow your pellet off course at greater ranges resulting in a wounded animal, which is unacceptable.
Basically, your choice of calibre comes down to whatever you think you are most accurate with and that is the same with your choice of air rifle for rabbiting.