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Choosing an air rifle for shooting rabbits

When I was in my early teens I learned to hunt with an air-rifle, a BSA AirSporter. I tried a couple of shots at rabbits, but in all honesty I thought that rabbits were much too large a quarry for an air rifle, and I concentrated on wood-pigeons instead until I was 15, and became the proud owner of a single barrel Spanish twelve bore. Then the rabbits became legitimate quarry, but since then I have learned to use air rifles much more effectively.

Can an Air Rifle Kill Rabbits?

Air rifles are actually a very effective tool with which to control rabbits. There are some things to consider before you rush off to buy an air rifle for that purpose though, and we will try to cover…

…some of the more important ones here. Although this may not be the ideal place to discuss the selection of air rifles, if you own pointers like I do, the airgun can be really usefully employed with the pointer to lower the numbers of rabbits you have – you will have great sport and good food as well.

In the UK, there is a legal limit of 12 foot pounds power for an unlicensed air rifle. This means that the power a pellet has when it leaves the gun is enough to move a 1lb weight twelve feet, or a 12 pound weight one foot. Can’t imagine any air rifle doing that, but that is the definition.

In fact a pellet with 3 foot pounds of energy on impact is sufficient to kill a rabbit, provided it hits a suitable spot. This is the power that a typical rabbiting shotgun pellet has as well, but they have the advantage that several hit the target at the same time.

So where is a suitable point to hit a rabbit? The ideal spot is between the eye and the ear, when a suitably powered pellet will cause instant death by penetrating the brain. A second option, with a more powerful shot, is in the heart/lung region, close behind the front legs and about a third of the way up the body. This is a larger target than the brain, and in larger game, such as deer, it is the preferred target area. It does have the disadvantage of not being an immediate kill area, with the animal often running twenty to thirty yards before dropping dead. With deer that is no problem, and is the preferred option since head shots are more difficult and a slight aiming error can cause a long and slow death. But with rabbits, you have no doubt guessed, you will lose a lot down the holes and into cover.

So the short answer is yes, an air rifle has enough power for killing rabbits.

Are Air Rifles Accurate Enough to Kill Rabbits, and What Will it Cost?

In short, modern air rifles are more accurate than most shooters. So they are accurate enough to kill rabbits consistently, the trick is in getting the shooter accurate enough!

There are two main classes of air rifle now – the older style, the spring air rifle, works in the same way as a bicycle pump would if it was pushed by a spring. The second type is the pneumatic air rifle. These are available in two styles, one running on CO2 (carbon dioxide) cartridges, and the other running on compressed air.

The spring-powered air-rifles don’t need any purchases to keep running – you just cock them manually, either by bringing the barrel down or by pulling a second lever, either a side lever or under lever, to push the spring back. Their main drawback is that they have a relatively large recoil, which means you have to follow through carefully. This in itself is no great problem, and probably develops a better shooting style. I believe that there are recoilless spring rifles, but have no information on these.

CO2 guns are generally recoilless – they stay on target after you pull the trigger. This makes them relatively easy to shoot but expensive to run. The CO2 guns have a relatively high running cost, the CO2 cartridge I use on my budget SMK rifle lasts for about 90 pellets at a reasonable power before needing to be replaced, and they cost £6 – £8. Expensive!

The compressed air versions of the springless air rifles rely on air from either a manual pump or a diver’s bottle. This puts the initial cost up, the pump costing about £100 – £150, or the smaller diver’s bottles (3 litres) about the same. There are two possible running costs – either getting fit enough to manually pump or the costs of getting the bottles charged at a dive shop – I haven’t used one so I will have to investigate the costs there. They have the advantage that they are recoilless and cheaper than the CO2 bottles. These guns are known as PCP – Pre-Charged Pneumatics.

In summary, if you are on a tight budget (less than £200-£300), go for a good spring gun, an under lever if you can afford one (I’ll explain why in another article). These will save you on both initial costs and running costs.

If you are on a middling budget (£250 – £500) I would go for a PCP – either with a diver’s bottle if you don’t mind the ongoing costs, or a pump if you want to get fit.

If money is no object (£450 – £1200+) I would go for a top class PCP with a huge diver’s bottle so that you don’t have to keep running back to the shop to be re-pumped.

I will cover some combinations in a separate article for each price range.

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