What makes a great air rifle for hunting or target shooting? Power, accuracy, range, and reliability top the list of criteria to be one of our best air rifles. Propellant and caliber are also important, but are a matter of personal preference.
Every pellet gun on this list can take down small game like birds, squirrels, prairie dogs, and rabbits with ease. They all perform admirably in target shooting. If you are looking for larger game such as skunks or raccoons or thick-skinned prey like iguanas, you may want to consider one of our top rated .22 caliber air guns for more power.
Consider this your one-stop resource on the top air rifles to meet your hunting and target shooting needs.
Top 10 Air Rifles Comparison Table
Buying the Best Air Rifle
Before purchasing an air rifle, you should first consider how you intend to use it. Since some air rifles are better at performing certain tasks than others, determining how your gun will be used will help you choose the right air rifle and ensure you have a positive shooting experience. Here is some general information to consider before you purchase.
Types of Power Plant
Air guns fire pellets by using energy created in one of four specific types of power plants. There are inherent advantages and disadvantages to each type. Your shooting requirements will determine which type of power plant your air rifle should have. Here is a basic description of each type of power plant.
- Variable Pump. Air guns with a variable pump need to be manually pumped each time they are fired. One significant benefit to a rifle with a variable pump is that there are no air cartridges to change; this makes them a convenient choice for extended hunting trips. With a variable pump air rifle, thrust is created with a self-contained onboard pump. These air rifles offer a level of convenience but are most effective at short ranges. Air rifles with a variable pump power plant are best suited for target shooting.
- CO2. Many air rifles utilize a 12-gram CO2 cartridge for propulsion. A single CO2 cartridge can provide 40 to 60 shots before needing to be changed. Air rifles with a CO2 power plant provide consistent accuracy but are most effective at shorter ranges. This makes them good choices for target shooting and plinking, but are very limiting when used to hunt small game.
- Spring Piston. Spring tension is a popular source of propulsion in many air rifle designs. In this type of power plant, air pressure created by the release of a coiled spring forces the pellet down the barrel of the rifle. This type of air rifle features a lever which must be cocked before each shot. Some shooters find this inconvenient when rapid firing is necessary. However, it offers unlimited shots when in the field. Air rifles with a spring piston generate greater power than many other types; this makes them a popular choice for many small game hunters.
- Pre-Charged Pneumatic (PCP). Pneumatic air rifles have an air reservoir which must regularly be refilled with a pump or pressure tank. Pneumatic rifles are both consistent and accurate at longer ranges by generating more power than other power plant types. Because of the power and long-range effectiveness, these air rifles are a favorite choice for small game and varmint hunting.
Air Rifle Caliber
Caliber refers to the diameter of the pellet. There are three common pellet calibers used in today’s air rifles.
- .177 Caliber. Most often used in competitive target shooting, this lightweight pellet is capable of faster speeds and higher accuracy. While it can be used to hunt very small game at short distances, it is generally considered ineffective for most hunting situations.
- .22 Caliber. Heavy and powerful enough to take down small game at a variety of distances, .22 caliber pellets are the most common pellets used for hunting.
- .25 Caliber. These heavy hitters pack more punch than smaller pellets. The extra size adds significant weight. Increased weight slows down the pellet causing them to drop significantly when fired at long-range targets. The .25 is a good caliber for hunting small to medium game, varmints, and even predators, although you will need to get up close and personal with your targets.
Top Air Rifle Picks
This ten-shot repeater air rifle shoots like a whisper thanks to the internal shroud. The choked barrel is designed to increase accuracy, and the compressed air pressure is adjustable allowing you to shoot pellets at different velocities at different ranges.
The synthetic stock makes this rifle feather light but well-balanced, and the 2-stage adjustable metal match trigger is positioned for better hand positioning. With a textured ambidextrous stock and reversible bolt, the Benjamin Marauder offers easy, comfortable shooting in all kinds of weather.
With a simplified breech design, this gun is easier to assemble and service, plus you get a wider, stable platform for a larger scope. There are no open sights on this air rifle, so you’ll need a quality scope. However, hunting small game even at longer distances is no problem with this powerful, accurate, and easy-shooting air rifle.
Don’t let the strange bullpup configuration scare you away. The Hatsan FlashPup is an extremely powerful and reliable air rifle. It shoots .22 cal pellets at amazing speeds (up to 1000 fps) making it a terrific varmint gun with real knock-down power and penetration with the right pellet.
The FlashPup is PCP powered with a 165cc aluminum air cylinder. It features a 12 shot magazine, a 2-stage adjustable match trigger, adjustable butt pad, and Picatinny rail. The shrouded barrel reduces noise by as much as 50%. The version we reviewed has an ambidextrous synthetic stock. It is also available in wood.
It would be hard to find more value for your money. Daisy’s Powerline 880 is a single shot lever action with a variable pneumatic pump that lets you can control your velocity and never run out of power. It packs good punch at a modest price, achieving 800 fps with .177 pellets, which is more than enough to hunt small game and hit targets at range. It also shoots standard steel BBs and made our list of the most powerful BB guns.
Good barrel length gives it nice accuracy and range and the size is appropriate for adults and youngsters alike. This model has been a mainstay for air gunners for decades and there’s a reason. If you could only own one air gun, the Daisy 880 might be the one to pick.