Power isn’t what hunt­ing is about, the ed­i­tor says

Air Gunner - - Contents -

Are air­guns pow­er­ful enough for hunt­ing? Phill Price de­bates and then an­swers the age-old ques­tion

As many read­ers know, my shoot­ing in­ter­ests ex­tend be­yond the won­der­ful world of air­guns so I meet many peo­ple from the wider shoot­ing world. Al­most ev­ery­one I meet has their own airgun story, from those beloved mem­o­ries of their father’s English-made break-bar­rel, to their own first airgun, and al­most to a man they tell the sto­ries with heart­felt af­fec­tion. How­ever, every now and then I get con­fronted with a shooter who says that air­guns are just not pow­er­ful enough to make them hu­mane sport­ing ri­fles. This is usu­ally backed up with an anec­dote about how he once shot a rab­bit, pi­geon or squir­rel and that it didn’t die on the spot.

If the teller of the story al­lows me to ex­plore the cir­cum­stances of that shot, it can usu­ally be ex­plained. I ask was the ri­fle ze­roed? The an­swer is most of­ten ‘no’, or ‘what do you mean?’

Was the ri­fle in good work­ing or­der, and had the power been checked re­cently? An­swer ‘no’. How far away was the quarry? “Oh, only about 55 yards.” This one al­ways up­sets me.

2000 FT.LBS

All th­ese an­swers tell me that that the shooter didn’t know what he was do­ing, and ‘ just had a go’. Well, I’m sorry, but that’s not good enough. Of­ten, th­ese peo­ple are shot­gun shoot­ers who see their guns with 2000+ ft.lbs of muz­zle en­ergy launch­ing 250 pel­lets at a time as in­vin­ci­ble, but the proof of my own eyes shows that they are not.

I work labradors on game shoots, and the most im­por­tant job I do is to use the dogs to gather in quickly any shot bird that is not killed out­right. The ones that are dead in the air can be col­lected at any time, but a wounded bird must be ‘picked’ now, so that I can de­liver the coup de gras, a quick blow to the skull with a ‘priest’ or cosh that dis­patches the bird as speed­ily as pos­si­ble.

The truth is that we all need to un­der­stand the lim­i­ta­tions of what­ever type of ri­fle or shot­gun we use if we’re to call our­selves sport­ing gen­tle­men or ladies. The over­con­fi­dent shot­gun shooter hav­ing a go at a 60-yard pheas­ant is every bit as un­sport­ing as an air­gun­ner at­tempt­ing a 50-yard squir­rel.


Shot­guns may de­liver mas­sive power and mul­ti­ple shot loads, but just like air­guns, their killing abil­ity drops off rapidly as range in­creases, and the fur­ther away our tar­get is, the more aim­ing er­rors are mul­ti­plied.

It’s a fact that some of our quarry will be shot and lost, but it’s our duty to min­imise that with every ounce of ef­fort we pos­sess. Get­ting closer is much more im­pres­sive than shoot­ing fur­ther, and if we want to be called ‘sports­men’ then dis­play­ing our field­craft skills is what it’s all about, for me. Avoid­ing windy days, never shoot­ing rab­bits close to their war­rens, and en­sur­ing that our ri­fles and skills are tip-top con­di­tion are key to re­duc­ing the chance of wound­ing.


You’ll be un­sur­prised to learn that I be­lieve hav­ing a gun­dog by your side is also a very good idea. Not only will you have a lov­ing com­pan­ion to ac­com­pany you into the coun­try­side, but also their abil­ity to find quarry that could oth­er­wise have been lost and wasted is quite in­cred­i­ble.

Power is only a small part of a suc­cess­ful kill. A pel­let through the brain will drop any airgun quarry where it sits, but a badly placed shot may not stop it at all. This is why get­ting closer is so im­por­tant. The closer you are the more likely you are to shoot ac­cu­rately and put the pel­let where it needs to be to do the right job. At long range, the wind be­comes a huge fac­tor in ac­cu­racy. The dif­fer­ence between five and ten mph is hard to judge, but will have a huge af­fect on our pel­let’s flight. At 25 yards it might not mat­ter too much, but at 50 yards, the de­flec­tion will be huge. If that causes you to miss, then tough luck. If it causes a wound, then shame on you.


Over my shoot­ing ca­reer I’ve killed lit­er­ally thou­sands of rab­bits, squir­rels and pi­geons, with a good amount of rats, fer­als pi­geons and corvids thrown in for va­ri­ety. I know very well that the 12 ft.lbs. airgun was ca­pa­ble of killing them all cleanly as long as I did my part cor­rectly. I’ve also used 50, 60 and 90 ft.lbs. air­guns along­side 100ft.lbs. rim­fire .22s and I can as­sure you that the higher power made them no more dead, and that ir­re­spon­si­ble shoot­ing still risks wound­ing.

The hon­esty, in­tegrity and knowl­edge of the man have al­ways been more im­por­tant than the equip­ment, and I be­lieve that stands true today, whether you’re hold­ing a mod­est 12 ft.lbs. airgun, or a 3-inch mag­num shot­gun.

“Shot­guns may de­liver mas­sive power and mul­ti­ple shot loads, but just like air­guns, their killing abil­ity drops off rapidly as range in­creases”

I know air­guns can kill cleanly be­cause I’ve done it thou­sands of times

Hav­ing one of my dogs by my side is in­surance that I value highly

2000 ft. lbs. works well if you keep the dis­tances sen­si­ble

It doesn’t take much power to kill a rab­bit if the pel­let is ac­cu­rately placed

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