April 13, 2007

The Ethics of Airgun Hunting

Airgun Hunting Ethics

Airgun hunting is enjoying a renaissance of sorts, rebounding from centuries of obscurity due to the onslaught of first, the blackpowder rifle, and then the modern rifle using smokeless powder. However, as many hunting enthusiasts are learning, there is a lot to be said for hunting with an airgun.

Hunting with airguns isn’t new by any means. It was simply so expensive that only the wealthy, such as royalty, were able to afford the practice. But society has changed, and many more people now have access to airguns that are fit for taking game. With that increased access to airguns comes a need to develop a mindset when hunting that governs your actions as to what airgun is appropriate for the game animal you intend to shoot. And we’ll call that mindset the “ethics of airgun hunting.”

Now before I get started, you need to understand that here in America, with firearms readily available, airguns are often overlooked as a viable hunting tool. In fact, when you talk to hunters, they will often be somewhat skeptical about using an airgun. And if you are hunting large game, then you will really get some strange looks as well as inquiries into your mental health! Suffice it to say that firearm hunters are more or less in love with power, and airgun hunters are more inclined towards finesse.

A short list of considerations with respect to the use of an airgun for hunting would be; the accuracy of the gun in question as well as the shooter’s personal ability, the power level generated by the gun, and the anatomy of the animal being hunted. The combination of these three primary factors, as well as other peripheral issues, will help determine how best to accomplish our hunt.

The primary concern of an airgun hunter should be the accuracy of their rifle. Airgun hunting is an exercise in accuracy, and if your gun won’t put the pellet where you intend it to go every time, then you need to stop hunting right then and there until you have a gun that can consistently place a pellet on target. Notice I said you need to get an airgun that will do this…..but don’t forget the human term in this equation either. Once you have an accurate airgun, YOU, the hunter, need to gain the necessary skills to operate the airgun at the required level of proficiency. Many times, the unsuccessful hunter’s frustration is erroneously directed at the airgun, when in fact it is the shooter that is the cause of the problem.

Once you’ve solved the challenge of shooting accurately, take a look at your desired prey and the power level of the airgun you have chosen to use. If you are using a .177 caliber spring-piston airgun, such as a Diana 34 or similar gun, taking small game such as rabbits, squirrels, and small birds shouldn’t be an issue. You have the power on-tap to do the job efficiently. However, animals the size of a raccoon need to be accorded more respect. Can you kill a raccoon with a .177 springer? Sure, but you are much more likely to wound it needlessly than if you used a more appropriate airgun. 

In a previous article I used a graph provided by Dr. Robert Beeman on the power levels suggested for certain size animals. Here is the link again for that graph:

Read the entire article and note the emphasis on the power level needed at the POI (point of impact), not at the muzzle. And a second emphasis I would point out is the reference to the size of the kill zone on the animal you intend to shoot. As you can see from the article, Dr. Beeman shows a preference for the .20 and .25 caliber. However, in today’s market there is a more extensive selection offered in .177 and .22. If I had to have just one, I’d go with a .22, which allows a larger range of prey animals to be taken.

Along with aiming for the kill zone, it behooves the airgun hunter to have a good understanding of the anatomy of the animal you are shooting at. No matter the size of the kill zone, it is the path the projectile takes to get to the kill zone that is important. With smaller prey like rabbits and squirrels, the path to the kill zone is of lesser importance since they are soft-bodied prey. But when you take on larger animals, you must consider the anatomy of the animal concerned.

For instance, when I hunt feral hogs, I always try to avoid shooting the animal in the heart/lung area due to the natural shield of muscle that hogs possess. A head shot is much more desirable, and a profile head shot directly to the temple is more desirable than a head-on shot in my opinion. And the airgun I use for such hunting? Nothing less than a .30 caliber giving me well over 100 fpe, with 150 fpe and higher the better option. This is a personal opinion, for I know some fellow airgun hunters who can kill a pig with less power from their airgun. But for me, I’m going to stick with the above numbers I mentioned to give me an edge.

Now let’s scale back the size of our animal to an animal you are more likely to come into contact with….the raccoon. The average hunter needs 18-20 fpe minimum to effectively take on a raccoon. Yes, I know, there are many who have killed them with less, but I’m talking to the average hunter like myself who invariably makes a bad shot from time to time, and when that happens, we need a little more “oomph” behind the pellet to still make our shot effective. Is a head-on shot a good idea? I have spoken to firearm hunters who shoot coons between the eyes with a .22 rimfire, only to have the bullet ricochet off the skull. Behind the ear is a much better place to direct your shot, and with the lower levels of power available in airguns, I hesitate to recommend a head-on shot on a raccoon unless you are using one of the bigbores. Again, it is the path that the projectile has to take to get to the kill zone that is the issue here.

One of the peripheral issues I alluded to in an earlier paragraph would be the issue of what range should you be shooting at. The airgun hunter, by necessity, must close the range to his prey in order to make an effective shot. Remember, the skirted pellet loses velocity much faster than the firearm bullet, and the amount of energy arriving on target needs to be considered. The stalking skills of the airgun hunter play a much larger role than that of a firearm hunter as airgun hunting is a close-up affair by comparison. Where I will sometimes take a shot at a deer 200+ yards off with a firearm, all the deer I’ve killed with my airgun were 50 yards away or closer. Likewise, while on safari in South Africa with my airgun, closing within range was the greatest challenge we faced every day. It is very much like bow hunting in regards to the ranges with which I am comfortable, and a good stalk or stand position is of major importance.

So, hunting with an airgun requires an accurate combination of gun and shooter, an airgun of appropriate power for the intended game, and knowledge of your quarry’s anatomy in order to make the best shot possible. Much of this information is acquired through experience, while some of it can be obtained by reading and corresponding with other hunters. A good place to start is with pest control on undesirable avian species, followed by the pursuit of small game during the legal hunting season. As the hunter’s experience and familiarity with his/her airgun increases, there are additional challenges that come with the pursuit of big game with airguns.

In the modern era, some will question why airguns should be allowed for hunting. But if you will take the airgun seriously as a hunting weapon, you will find it up to the challenge. In any form of hunting, be it firearm, bow, or airgun, the hunter’s proficiency is what is in question rather than the weapon used. I grew up hunting squirrels with a shotgun and .22 rimfire rifle, and one shot kills were common, though not automatic. Likewise, with an airgun, I experience one shot kills, occasionally having to use further shots to finish off the prey. What I am finding, though, is that I am more careful using an airgun, and more particular of the kind of shot I desire in order to make that one shot kill. The by-product of this attitude, this emphasis on the ethics of using an airgun, is that my one shot kill ratio is going up since I often pass on shots that I would have taken had I used a shotgun or other firearm.

Airgun hunting is a thrilling challenge that is well worth the effort if you love hunting, for there is always something in season for the airgun hunter, allowing you to hunt year-round. And if you will take into consideration the ethics involved in using an airgun for hunting, your enjoyment of the sport will be assured.

If you'd like to read stories of airgun hunts, I would encourage you to drop by my personal website at:

And also visit the website of Jim Chapman:

You will find several hunting stories from individuals who have been there and done that, so to speak. Enjoy your airgunning! 

April 02, 2007

Nikko Stirling 3-9x42 AO Air Rifle Scope has recently added a line of scopes to their selection which promises to be an excellent choice for the airgunner who likes to have a quality, though economical, choice for his scope needs. The Gold Crown “AirKing” series of scopes from Nikko Stirling provide many desirable features for the hunter and casual plinker. The Nikko Gold Grown airgun scopes currently come in three flavors:

I was sent the 3-9x42AO Gold Crown scope to review and found it a very nice scope that is extremely easy on the pocketbook, as well. Just look at the features you get for a price well shy of $100:

  • An adjustable focus and parallax, allowing you to focus at ranges as close as 5 yards on out to infinity.
  • An adjustable zoom feature from 3-9x.
  • Dust covers that feature an easy-to-use flip open action.
  • Improved lens manufacturing tolerances, as well as a coating to increase the light-gathering capability of the scope. At dawn and dusk, this feature is handy!
  • One piece construction of the scope’s body, giving rigid strength.
  • Rubber adjustments on both the zoom ring and objective ring….very precise.
  • A nice mil-dot reticle featuring 4 mildots in each direction from center.
  • And it comes with a one-piece mount already included…saving you more money!

I have a few different scopes, so I decided to set out one evening on my front porch with several of them and compare them to the Nikko Stirling’s features. The scopes were the budget Tech Force 3-9x40, the Leapers 3-9x40AO, a Tasco Varmint in 2.5-10x42, and a fixed 4x BSA with adjustable AO. To make things interesting, I also pulled out a friend’s Leupold MK IV in 10x, an $800 scope.

What I did was take each scope every half-hour, and focus on a series of objects, close and far away, in shadows and out in the light, from 2 hours before sunset until dark. As the evening progressed and the light grew dimmer, the ability of the Nikko Stirling to keep the image bright began to show up. It was superior to every scope in the test, with the exception of the Leupold. But remember, the Nikko costs just 10% of what the Leupold costs!

I compared the magnification and clarity at each setting on the scope and tried to determine which scope I would want to be looking through in the event I was sighting in on a squirrel or rabbit in the bushes. The Nikko once again got my vote for such a use, clearly beating out the Tech Force and BSA, as well as the Tasco Varmint scope. The Leapers was a close second to the Nikko.

Nikko Stirling is not new to the market. They’ve been manufacturing optics such as telescopic sights, mounts, spotting scopes and binoculars for over 40 years. Malcolm John Fuller, the founder of the company, passed away in 1994, but he founded the company with the express purpose of making optics for hunters. They don’t make any other optical parts for cameras, jewelry, microscopes, or spectacles. They focus solely on hunters and their needs.

The Gold Crown series of scopes from Nikko Stirling are also braced for the recoil that spring-piston airguns deliver, so there is no need to worry about whether or not they will hold up.


I mounted the Nikko Stirling on an RWS 850 Magnum and shot several hundred rounds while using the scope. As you can see, the scope is 13 1/2" long.


The one-piece mount that comes with the scope held very securely, and there was no shifting of impact while carrying it afield or shooting from the bench. I look forward to getting additional Nikko scopes to place on some of my other guns to enhance my shooting pleasure.



Magnification was clear and crisp. Below, you see two photos, the first being a 20 yard focus, the second a 100 yard focus. Both are very nice and sharp, though my camera work may not reflect that.


A 20yard focus off my back porch.



A 100 yard view through the scope at my treeline on the back edge of my property. This scope is clear and bright at all levels of magnification.

I personally rate this scope a best buy in its price range, and I think if you try one, you will be pleased with the performance it gives. 



March 22, 2007

RWS/Hammerli 850 AirMagnum

Are you looking for an airgun that is easy to use, gives you multiple shots from a magazine, and is both accurate and powerful enough for small game? Then take a look at this new airgun called the 850 Magnum, from Hammerli/Umarex, imported by RWS. (Note: Future offerings of this gun will be marketed solely under the Hammerli name.) With the 850 you get German engineering and manufacturing for a great price. This model comes in the following configurations:

I was given the .22 cal version of this gun for testing and this review is based on that model. Everything but the FPS stats will also correlate to the other versions of this gun.

There are many CO2-powered guns on the market, but in my humble opinion, this gun is one of the nicest offerings with many desirable features not found on other airguns. First, let’s start with the overall feel of the gun.

The Model 850 is a solid gun, even though it has a synthetic stock. There is a solid feel to this gun that you don’t get when you pick up other, synthetic-stocked CO2-powered guns. Most other guns feel like children’s toys, far too light, but when you pick up the 850, you get a solid handful of airgun. It is 41” long, with a trigger pull length of just under 14”. Even with the synthetic stock, it is slightly heavier than my wood-and-metal QB-78. I would not call this a child’s toy….it is meant for adults.


If open sights are your chosen method of acquiring your target, you will find the fiber-optic sights easy to use and accurate, as well as adjustable. And if precision shooting is the order of the day, mounting a scope on the 11mm rail brings out the true potential of this gun. The magazine is located under the scope rail, so any type scope mounts you wish to use will work fine. I tried a few shots with the open sights and found it quite easy to roll cans across the yard with no effort at all. Then I mounted a scope and began to try and wring out some accuracy by testing a variety of ammo. I was given several different brands of ammo to try, but found that the 850 gave the best results with RWS Superdomes and RWS HollowPoints. I was able to cover my patterns using these pellets with a dime at 20 yards. JSB exacts shot well enough, but the pattern opened up a bit with this pellet, requiring a quarter to cover the pattern.

The magazine on the Model 850 is a bit finicky. Longer pellets such as the RWS Superpoint tend to extend too far out of the magazine and cause cycling problems when you work the bolt action. And for some reason, Crosman Premier’s tended to jam the mechanism as well. However, using RWS Superdomes and RWS Hollowpoints resulted in smooth cocking, no-jam shooting pleasure. Not once did the magazine jam when using the Superdomes or Hollowpoints. It is obvious the magazine was made with those pellets in mind.

The stock is ambidextrous, though the cocking mechanism isn’t. I do not know if it comes in a left-hand configuration at this time. The synthetic stock is black, with a pebble-like finish on the sides of the forearm and pistol-grip area. The trigger is adjustable and easily accessible with a screwdriver through the trigger guard. I was happy with the setting on the test model I was sent and did not do any adjusting for this report.


Let’s take a closer look at the power source and loading mechanism of this gun. First, remove the cover found at the end of the stock near the muzzle. Push in to disengage the cover from the rest of the stock. See the picture below.

Once it comes loose, slide it forward to remove it, exposing the hidden 88 gram CO2 cartridge. This cartridge provides quite a bit more gas than the 12 gram commonly used in many other CO2 guns, but if 12 gram cartridges are all you have, there is an adapter available that allows you to use a pair of 12 gram cartridges.

The 88 gram CO2 cartridge simply screws into place, and once you’ve replaced the cover, you are powered up and ready to go. Be sure to screw the CO2 cartridge in until it stops. If you don't you won't get a tight seal.

Now let’s load and shoot this thing! Pulling back the bolt action, use your finger to slide the magazine lock to the rear.

Remove the magazine to the left of the action. It won’t come out to the right, so there is only one way to remove it.

Place your pellets into the magazine from the rear, dropping them in nose first. Be careful, for if you tip the magazine backwards, the pellets will drop out the rear. Now, slide the magazine back in place, then close the magazine lock. When you close the bolt, the magazine will rotate and a pellet will be inserted into the barrel ready for firing. The safety on the Model 850 is found at the rear of the action, and is automatic, resetting each time you cycle the bolt. With a simple push, the safety disengages and you are ready to shoot! You can also re-engage the safety is you decide not to shoot at that time….a welcome feature.


I fired literally hundreds of shots in .22 caliber through the test gun I was sent. And with some practice, I was able to work the bolt action, disengage the safety, and subsequently fire an entire magazine in less than 12 seconds. (We won’t talk about my accuracy shooting that way!) So if you like to hunt, this gun will provide you with a fast follow-up shot.

In .22 caliber, using 14.5 grain RWS Superdomes, I was able to achieve 600 fps easily….and this was in 55-60 degree weather. That’s about 12 fpe, great for pest control and small game hunting. It will also allow you to shoot at FT targets without damaging them. Once it warms up, higher velocities should result.

I tested a brand-new CO2 cartridge in this gun and started shooting to determine the number of shots I would get from one canister of CO2. I was able to get 23 magazines through the gun before a noticeable change in velocity registered. There were a few more magazines of lesser-powered shots after the velocity changed, for a total of 25-26 magazines available from one 88 gram cartridge. Again, this is in 55-60 degree weather, and I’m not sure how temperature will affect the available number of shots.

There are some attractive accessories for the Model 850. You can fit a compensator to the muzzle, and there is a Weaver mount available for this model as well. I wasn’t able to test these accessories at the time of this report, but hope to report back at a later date concerning their performance.

No gun such as this one escapes my hands without being tried out on local pests. I am plagued with sparrows and starlings, and as you can see, this gun did a fine job on these ever-present pests. I was able to take this starling with confidence in the gun I was using….no guesswork….point, aim, shoot….and the target falls over. Just like it should be!


Would I buy this gun? Yes, and I consider the price a bargain for all you get with this model. I have bought cheaper CO2 guns and spent additional funds modifying them to get to the place where the Model 850 is just beginning! And none of the guns I had modified were bolt-action repeaters! They were all single-shots! So I put this particular gun in the “acquire” category for my collection. And if you like all the features we just discussed, then you should too.

Calculating the Power of Your Airgun

When it comes to airguns, many people regard the airgun as a toy. However, as I and many others can attest, the airgun is a very viable tool for hunting and pest control. And one of the things that concerns a hunter the most is the power available from their airgun.

There is a simple mathematical equation that you can use to determine the power that your airgun develops. Here is the equation:

Mass (in grains) X velocity (in feet-per-second) squared, divided by 450240 (gravitational constant).

Now what does that mean? Simply put, you multiply the speed of your projectile by itself, then multiply that answer by the weight of your projectile. Then divide by 450240, and you have your fpe (foot pounds energy). Here’s a test for you:

            What is the fpe of a 14.3 gr Crosman Premier pellet going 800 fps?

            Answer: 20.32 fpe

You really need a chronograph in order to determine the accurate speed of your pellet. Many airguns are tested with the lightest ammo available, and the advertising will state the speed as an impressive marketing tool. However, with some reason on your part, you can get a more accurate idea of how powerful your airgun really is, and then determine if it is suitable for the purpose you have in mind.

Now lets assume you know the energy of your projectile at the muzzle, and you want to know how fast that little pellet is really going. Here’s the equation for figuring out the answer:

Take the foot pounds energy (fpe) of the gun, and multiply it by the 450240 we used above. Then divide that answer by the weight of your projectile. Then calculate the square root of that answer (I just hit the square root button on my calculator!), and you have your answer.

            To test yourself, figure the fps of an 8 gr. pellet that yields 8 fpe at the muzzle.

            Answer: 671 fps

Here’s another little gem that helps you with quick calculations. There is a magic number of 671 that assists  the  shooter with figuring fpe. If you have a projectile that is going 671 fps, then the fpe that projectile develops at the muzzle is the weight of the projectile. So, if you are shooting a 14.5 gr RWS Superdome from a .22 air rifle, and the chronograph tells you it is going 671 fps, then you know the fpe is the weight of the pellet….14.5.

Just a few things to help you enjoy your airgunning a little more each day. 

March 09, 2007

Air Rifle Scope Mounting Basics

Scope Mounting Basics

Your brand-new airgun just arrived, and you are eager to try it out. You also purchased a air rifle scope (make sure it's airgun rated if you plan to install on a springer) and the recommended mounts and rings that fit, and all you need to do now to enjoy your new acquisition is to install the scope on the gun. So go ahead…..install the scope and get shooting!

What do you mean you’ve never put a scope on a gun before? Really? Oh….okay. Well, it isn’t hard, so let’s just walk through it together.

Airguns come in many shapes and sizes, and different manufacturers use different mounting systems. As a general rule, you will most likely find 3/8" (11 mm) dovetail grooves machined into the top of the receiver on the majority of airguns. However, some manufacturers use a different system that installs a rail on top of the receiver. Be sure to check the width of the rail so you can order the proper-sized mounts. If you come from the firearm world, and are used to Weaver-style mounts, there are adaptors that convert from dovetail to Weaver, allowing you to use mounts you already possess.

Now consider the air rifle you have purchased. Is it a heavy-recoiling springer? If so, you will want to take advantage of the scope stop that hopefully came with the gun. Often, you will find scope stop holes already provided by the manufacturer on top of the receiver between the dovetails. If the scope mounts you purchased have a scope stop pin, the pin goes in the hole to prevent the entire mount and scope from creeping back on you when shooting. If there are no holes provided, then you can install a scope stop near the rear of the dovetail that will provide that function for you. A one-piece mount is often a good investment if you have a heavy-recoiling airgun, in that it provides a longer gripping surface than a two-piece mount. They aren’t quite as flexible as a two-piece mount, but they are very stable, and lessen the need for a scope stop. If your airgun is a lower-recoiling type, either a low-powered springer or a PCP/CO2-powered gun, a scope stop is rarely called for as the recoil isn’t enough to cause your scope to creep.

Taking the top of the rings off the scope mount, place the mount or mounts on the gun and fasten them to the gun. Don’t bear down on the fastening screws yet, as you may need to make some adjustments.

Place your scope in the rings, making adjustments for a good fit, and place the top half of the rings on the mount.

Fasten the top of the rings just enough to hold the air rifle scope in place, yet allowing you to still be able to turn and slide the scope forward and back. Now position the scope so that the eye-relief is to your liking, perhaps 2” to 4”. (Eye-relief is the distance from your eye to the rear of the scope, the part that you are looking through). Once the correct distance is obtained, rotate the scope in the rings so that the scope is level in the rings. The vertical reticle in the scope needs to divide the gun in half when you look through it. Now that you have the correct eye-relief adjusted, and your scope is mounted evenly in the rings, fasten the rings down on the scope by alternately tightening the screws. On a four-screw ring mount, I normally do two on the front (diagonally positioned from each other), then two in the back. I then fasten down the others, alternating from front to back. It’s sort of like changing a flat-tire….you tighten the lug nuts alternately, not the ones next to each other.

Be careful that you don’t bear down too hard on the ring screws….you can damage the tube of your scope, which certainly isn’t your intention. After the rings are tightened down, go back and tighten the entire mount to the gun.

There is an issue that affects your scope-mounting procedures. It is called barrel droop, seen mostly in break-barrel designs. Since the open sights on an air rifle are on the barrel, shooting with open iron sights will not affect your point of aim. However, when you place a scope on the gun, the scope is mounted on the receiver, not the barrel. To compensate for the barrel droop found in some airguns, you must sometimes shim the scope in the rear mount to more closely align the scope with the barrel. There are different materials you can use, from tape to strips of aluminum cut from a drink can. However, to avoid having to shim the scope, an adjustable mount can be purchased that will allow you to make adjustments to the mount itself in order to compensate for barrel droop. The RWS C-Mount is a terrific mount. It is fully adjustable for windage and elevation and makes sighting in a scoped air rifle a breeze. You might think that you can just sight your scope in with the adjustments on the scope itself but sometimes the barrel droop is too severe for this and the scope will not have enough adjustments to get you on target. RWS air rifles are know for this and, therefore, the RWS C Mount is recommended for them.

Another option is to buy pre-compensated mounts that have a built in droop allowance already machined into the mount itself. It isn’t an adjustable mount, but the mount was purposefully machined with a slightly higher rear scope ring to allow the scopes normal adjustment knobs to be able to adjust enough within their normal working range to get you on target.

The following link will give you another visible demonstration of how to mount a scope, closely following the steps I outlined above.

Once you’ve mounted your scope, grab a piece of paper or cardboard, some pellets, and let’s go sight in your scope-mounted air rifle. Place the target about 10 yards away. Since we are so close to our target, protective eye wear would be a good thing to have in the event of a ricochet. Take a few shots at the center of the paper, seeking to just get on the page. Using the scope's horizontal adjustment knob, get the point of impact horizontally centered on the target. Once you’ve accomplished this, work on the vertical adjustment to bring the point of impact to about 1” or so below the point of aim.

Now move the target out to 30 yards away and shoot a group of 4 or 5 shots. Don’t worry about flyers that differ from the group at this point, concentrate on the group itself. At 30 yards, you should be close to dead on for most airguns. This will vary from gun to gun depending on the power of each gun. Don’t forget that if you shoot a different pellet than the one you used to sight in with, you will have a different point of impact due to the weight of the pellet and the fit of the pellet in the barrel. So sight in your gun with the pellet you intend to use. Mounting a scope isn’t hard, and the method described above will suit the vast majority of airgunners. There are more advanced methods for FT shooters and accuracy devotees that involve using a level, working up a chart to plot the impact point of each type of pellet, and adjustments to the scope for each shot that occurs at a different range. I’ve never used that method myself, finding the above method of scope mounting more than adequate for hunting and plinking.So now you’re ready to go shooting. Enjoy!

March 02, 2007

Tech Force Contender 89

Tech Force 89

The newest series of guns from Tech Force has arrived on American shores, and this Chinese-made powerhouse compares very nicely with many European models. At 46” long and weighing in around 7.5 pounds, it is a full-size airgun meant for the adult shooter. Click here to view product details and pricing.

Fit and Finish

Below you see the Contender 89 to the right of the RWS 350. Notice the checkering is comparable in quality and placement on the gun, with the RWS 350 being the longer of the two guns by about an inch. It sports a very nice hardwood stock that really fills the hand of the shooter. A nice rubber buttpad with an excellent fit finishes off the attractive hardwood stock.

The forward stock screws are hidden behind a plastic cover that gives the appearance of a spanner screw head, but if you remove the cover, you’ll find the standard Phillips-head screw where you would normally expect it to be. Keeping these screws tight proved to be a deciding factor in gaining accuracy during the test firing.

The trigger and trigger guard are both plastic. However, I noticed in the side-by-side comparison to the RWS 350 that the 350 also sported a plastic trigger guard. The safety is located in front of the trigger, easy to reach with your trigger finger.

A well-fitting rubber buttpad adorns the rear of the gun, assisting in controlling the recoil of the magnum springer.

Shooting the Contender 89

Upon first receiving the two Contender 89’s for a test (one in .177, the other in .22), I cleaned out the barrels, removing the oil and grease used for a preservative by the manufacturer. As you can see, it is a good idea to clean the barrel before ever firing the gun. However, this isn’t just found on Chinese guns… Beeman R-9 had similar deposits in its barrel when I first received it.

The front and rear sights are quality metal, not the cheaper plastic affairs of years past. They are adjustable in both elevation and windage, and work very well if you choose to use the open sights.

In the event you choose to use a scope, the Tech Force 3-12x40 is an excellent choice for this gun. Tech Force scopes are built rugged, and for the money, are some of the best deals on the market today. The Contender 89 comes with a scope stop already installed which you will need to help the scope holds its grip on the scope rails. As I mentioned before, this is a powerful springer, and the scope will creep on you if you don’t fasten it down firmly. Place the scope stop behind the rear mount if possible to keep the mounts from shifting during firing.

So how does the Contender 89 fare against other high-powered spring-piston airguns? I’ve owned the RWS 48, and have fired the Gamo 1250 and RWS 350. In terms of power, the Contender ranks right up there with the two of them in ease of use and firing behavior. It takes roughly 40 pounds of effort to cock the models I tested, but the firing sequence did not have nearly the spring twang I was expecting. Rather, it was within the expectations of such a powerful airgun to my way of thinking, perhaps a little better than expected. I ran a few hundred pellets through both calibers and then proceeded to try and stay on target with a new gun that was still breaking in. The .177 quickly proved to be very accurate, but I had problems getting the .22 to like any pellet I used. I went through my mental checklist of what could be wrong….scope, ill-fitting pellets, loose stock screws….oh, that was it. I had some loose stock screws on the .22 model. Once I tightened those, the target began to look more like it was supposed to. Remember, these are guns that are still breaking in, and accuracy will improve as the parts mesh and the last imperfections are worked out.

.177 cal at 20 yards

.22 cal at 20 yards

After a couple of hundred rounds, I began to record the velocities over my chronograph. The .177 caliber shot medium weight pellets (8.3 grains) right at 1000 fps, for an energy rating of 17 fpe, with lighter pellets going even faster. The .22 caliber hit the high 700’s with 14.3 gr Crosman Premiers, yielding slightly over 18 fpe. These figures will change as the gun continues to break in, but it is plain to see that the energy is there for small game hunting and pest control.

If I were to criticize the Contender 89, it would be over the lack of an integral scope stop machined into the receiver. The scope stop supplied with the gun works, but because it also uses a clamping design, it can occasionally slip as well. Perhaps the manufacturer will address this in future upgrades to this line of airguns.

Final Thoughts

So, would I recommend this gun to the end user? With a 15” trigger pull length, this gun is not for kids or adults of smaller stature. It is a large gun, and if you are larger in build, this gun is for you. It completely fills the hands of the user, and at 7.5 pounds it's sturdy and well built. The firing behavior is pleasant right out of the box, and the more you shoot it, the more you will like it. And at half the price of the RWS 350, this gun should go far at pleasing the budget-minded shooter.

Click here to view product details and pricing.

February 28, 2007

Airgun Powerplants

By Randy Mitchell

Written Exclusively for Airgun Depot

Airgun power plants have a great deal to do with what kind of airgun you choose to buy. There are many variables that may affect your shooting habits….temperature, distance, if you are shooting targets or hunting, plinking or competition…..a lot of different reasons for choosing the correct type of power plant for your needs.

So just how many kinds of airguns are there? Basically, there are 5 types of airgun power plants, and each one has its pros and cons. Let's take a look at the different means of propelling a pellet or BB and think about which kind would best meet your specific shooting needs. The 5 types of power plants are:

  • Spring piston
  • Pneumatic
  • CO2 gas
  • Pre-charged pneumatic (PCP)
  • The traditional BB gun.


The most common type of airgun is the spring-piston type. Unlike pneumatic and CO2 pellet guns, there is no storage compartment for air or gas on a spring-piston airgun. Rather, a powerful spring is compressed upon cocking the gun, and when the trigger is released, a piston is driven forward which quickly compresses air to a high pressure, driving the pellet out of the barrel. This type of power plant is tried and tested, and has the advantage of producing the same power level shot after shot, rather than losing power like CO2 and PCP airguns do as pressure decreases. They are simple to use, and can be obtained in a variety of power levels from low-velocity plinkers to higher-powered hunting airguns delivering 30 fpe (foot pounds of energy). They are self-contained, not needing to be re-charged with air, and all you need to enjoy shooting them is the gun and some ammo. Here is an example of how a spring-piston airgun works: Some of the cons of spring-piston power plants are that they are sometimes harder to shoot accurately for beginners, and in the more powerful models, need a certain type of scope to withstand the vibrations that result from the recoil generated by the firing action. However, once the correct method of shooting is learned, spring-piston airguns deliver years of shooting pleasure that is hard to beat. For proper technique refer to my blog post on small game hunting with spring piston airguns.

Pump Pneumatic

Pneumatic airguns are extremely popular, especially in America. Whereas spring-piston airguns enjoyed a following in Europe and other countries, the pump-up pneumatic gained popularity here in America. Names such as Daisy, Crosman, Sheridan, and Benjamin were household names when describing airguns here in the States. Today, many of the airguns available for the youth market can still be found bearing the Daisy and Crosman names, with Benjamin and Sheridan having combined, and subsequently been purchased by the Crosman brand. Pneumatic airguns contain a reservoir that is filled by pumping up the gun, with the pump usually being built into the gun itself. When the trigger is pulled, the reservoir is opened and the air escapes, propelling the pellet. I grew up with this kind of airgun, and enjoyed one of the obvious advantages of such a power plant. You could vary the power level of the gun simply by varying the number of pumps you used to charge the reservoir. Some of the most accurate airguns available are pump-up guns, many of them using only a single pump to provide a very consistent level of power for target shooting. There is almost no recoil, and accuracy is easier to obtain quickly than from a spring-piston airgun. Here is an excellent demonstration of how a pump-up pneumatic works: The drawback to pneumatic airguns is the need to pump the gun up after each shot. If you are hunting, this means you often lose your game if you missed the first shot due to the movement caused by recharging your airgun for the next shot. It does have the side effect of teaching you the importance of making the first shot count!


Carbon-dioxide, or CO2, is usually supplied to an airgun with a reservoir via bulk filling or from a powerlet, often called a CO2 cartridge. CO2 is an excellent propellant, and allows the shooter to charge the gun and shoot many times before needing to replenish the CO2. Under pressure, CO2 is a liquid, and when placed in the reservoir of an airgun, it self-regulates and provides gas for shot after shot until all the liquid CO2 is converted into gas and used. One drawback to CO2 is its sensitivity to temperature. If the climate is cold, CO2 tends to stay in liquid form, and the power level achieved is much less. In extremely hot conditions, the pressure rises significantly, and often the pressure becomes too great, locking up the valve on the gun. When that happens, you have to cool the gun down before it can shoot again. I've actually put one of my guns in the freezer for a few minutes to regain its use on an extremely hot day! If you are a hunter, CO2 works great in warm climates, or ealier in the season in cooler climates. But once winter sets in, extended periods outside hunting are impractical.


Pre-charged pneumatics, or PCP's, use a reservoir like CO2 guns, but the propellant is high-pressure air, not CO2 gas. The pressures involved are much higher, from 1500 to3500 psi, sometimes higher. The power levels on PCP airguns usually outstrip those available from CO2 or spring-piston guns, and almost all of the modern big-bore airguns that one might use to hunt larger game such as deer or hogs rely on this power plant. The smaller calibers are almost recoil-free and offer extremely good accuracy. PCP has quickly become the propellant of choice for target and FT shooters who don't shoot in the spring-piston class. However, PCP does have its drawbacks. You need a source for air, either a special hand pump or a scuba tank or other high-pressure vessel capable of containing 3000 psi or more. And then you need a source for filling your tanks. It isn't always easy to find a source of high-pressure air, but the most common places are dive shops, fire departments, and paintball game locations. There are commercially available electric and gas-driven pumps available, but they are prohibitive in cost for the casual shooter. You are better off renting or leasing a large tank from a welding shop and having them fill it for you when you run low on air. To fill a PCP airgun, you must have the correct probe or connector that fits the gun attached to a source of air, either a tank or pump. (The probe should have come with your airgun, but if you are buying on the second-hand market, you will sometimes acquire a gun that has no probe. Contact the manufacturer to obtain the correct probe for your model of gun.) In the example below, the probe is inserted into the end of the reservoir, and the pressure valve on the tank is slowly opened to fill the gun.

Probe Adapter

Insert Probe In Tank

Connect Hose to Air Source Such as a Scuba Tank or Hand Pump

Fill the airgun slowly, no more than 100 psi per second. If you fill too fast, the reservoir will heat up from the pressurized air, which isn't especially good for the seals in your airgun. Once the desired fill pressure is achieved, close the pressure valve and bleed off the excess air in the hose by opening the bleed-off valve. This will release the excess air still trapped in the hose, allowing you to remove the probe from the gun without damaging it. Only fill your airgun to the manufacturer's suggested limit. The valve in your airgun is made to work at that optimum pressure. Air tanks come in a variety of sizes and weights. I would recommend a 4500 psi tank made of lighter-weight materials before using scuba tank. They hold more air and will give you more fills before you need to top them off again. One word of caution: High pressure air is NOT pure oxygen. Pure oxygen is flammable, and you are holding your life and the lives of those around you in low regard if you fill your PCP airgun with oxygen. There have been cases of individuals using medical supply oxygen to fill their guns. Don't be stupid!

Traditional BB guns

The ubiquitous BB gun, such as the Red Ryder from Daisy, is a gun that many of America's youth grew up with. It is a hybrid gun of sorts. It uses a catapult to start the BB on its way, and a very light spring-piston to accelerate the BB down the barrel. They work well, and are often an airgunner's first introduction to airguns. The power level is low compared to other power plants, and you most often find it on the lower end of airguns. The ammo is most often a steel BB that has a nasty habit of ricocheting more than a lead pellet, so caution should be used, especially when teaching youngsters the finer points of safe gun-handling. These are the power plants that allow us to enjoy the sport of airgunning. Choosing which one is best for you is a personal decision that can involve some trial and error….but it is all fun! So enjoy!

Small Game Hunting with Airguns

By Randy Mitchell

Written Exlusively For Airgun Depot

“Hunting? With air guns? You’re kidding me!”

That is the comment I hear on a rather frequent basis when I am chatting with a fellow hunter, or sharing my hobbies with another interested party. With the ready access to firearms that we in America enjoy, air rifles, pellet guns, and other air guns are often over-looked as a viable way to pursue the great sport of hunting, or as an alternative method of pest control versus the use of poison and traps.

Over the last few years, I have more or less dived headlong into the use of airguns as a means of hunting. As a matter of fact, I haven’t used a firearm for any kind of hunting except shooting birds on the wing for over 4 years. I have found that air guns have met my needs for all the hunting I do very admirably, up to and including the hunting of big game such as whitetail deer. However, that is a story for another day. For now, let’s focus on the issues surrounding the use of air guns on small game.

I’m an avid squirrel hunter, and have been since my youth. Many a youngster has found out, either by mistake or on purpose, that a pump-up BB gun or pellet gun is quite capable of taking small game such as squirrel and rabbits. But how many people do you know who use an air gun on purpose, setting out with the intent of harvesting their game with a device powered by some form of compressed air or gas? Let’s address some of the issues surrounding hunting small game with an airgun….caliber, sights, technique, and care of your weapon of choice.

Which Caliber Is Best For Hunting and How Much Power Do I Need?

There are basically 4 different calibers for air guns that are commonly found and that have ready ammunition available. They are .177, .20, .22, and .25 caliber. The .177 and .22 are by far the most commonly chambered for air guns, so we’ll just arbitrarily make a comparison of those two for now and save the .20 and .25 caliber for another day.

Is the .177 caliber pellet adequate for squirrel hunting? It certainly looks very tiny, and I suppose it is a fair question as to whether or not it is a viable hunting caliber in air guns. Now there is a school of thought in the air gun world that uses this rule of thumb: “.177 for feathers, .22 for fur.” In other words, if you are shooting birds, a .177 is sufficient. If you are hunting non-avian game, then consider a .22 caliber. In my experience, it really comes down to the issue of pellet placement on the target. I have had good luck using both calibers in squirrel hunting, and the caliber issue is less of a concern to me than the issue of what particular air gun do I want to carry around with me today.

In terms of power, Dr. Robert Beeman has a handy little graph that gives one an idea of what level of power is needed for dispatching the game you are hunting. According to Dr. Beeman, 3 fpe is all that is needed to dispatch a squirrel, provided you have placed the pellet in the kill zone. With a pellet weighing roughly 8 grains, that translates to about 415 feet per second at the point of impact. In a .22 caliber airgun, an average weight pellet only has to be going about 300 fps to achieve the same level of energy needed to accomplish the deed. You can look at the graph I am quoting from at the following url:

Now, using Dr. Beeman’s graph as a starting place for what kind of power is the minimum needed, one must also take into consideration the ability of the shooter. If you can’t hit the target, what caliber you use is of little consequence. My personal rule, especially with game animals, is that I need to be able to hit the kill zone, whatever the size, 80% of the time. So if you are hunting squirrels, you need to be able to hit a 1” circle 8 out of 10 shots. A 1” circle is the approximate size of a squirrel’s kill zone on either the head or the heart/lung area. That requirement often brings the range at which I will shoot downwards quite a bit. Depending on the gun, I feel comfortable shooting at ranges of up to 50 yards, sometimes a little more. However, most of my shots are in the 15 to 35 yard range. Air guns will kill at greater ranges, but it is my marksmanship that holds me to those lesser ranges out of respect for my intended prey. I’d rather miss than wound.

Do I Need A Scope?

Because the kill zone on a squirrel is so tiny, I almost always opt for a scope on my air guns. I do use some classic air guns of yester-year that have peep sights, but with my eyes, a scope is a great aid in hunting. Not only does it increase my accuracy, but it is an aid for locating the squirrel that is doing its best to become part of the tree, holding still and motionless, depending on its camouflage to protect it from my prying eyes. There are many airgun scopes to choose from, but I find a 3-9x variable scope with an adjustable objective (AO) to be adequate for most hunting situations. The AO is very helpful in bringing into focus the target and the crosshairs so that one or the other isn’t blurry. And the zoom feature aids me in being very precise with pellet placement on shots that are on the outer edge of my effective range. One other very useful feature to a variable power scope is that if my squirrel hunting gun is doing double-duty as a pest control gun, I need to be very sure of my target. For instance, if there are several small sparrows mixed in a group, I want to be sure that I only dispatch the English sparrow, and leave the indigenous song sparrows alone. One is a pest, the other a very desirable singing bird. Yet they look very much alike. A good scope is an excellent aid in identifying the correct target.

One other consideration when using a scope… sure it is rated for the type power-plant your air gun uses. If your air gun is a spring-piston type of air gun, the vibrations from such a power-plant can and have sent many a scope to the graveyard. Air gun rated scopes are cushioned differently than most firearm scopes in order to handle the vibration that occurs when a spring-piston air gun fires. Other types of power-plants such as CO2, pre-charge pneumatics (PCP), or pump-up pneumatic guns need not worry about that issue. They will accept firearm scopes quite handily, though you may need to have the parallax adjusted since you won’t be taking very many 100+ yard shots.

Which Pellets Should I Use?

Practice with your air gun until you have achieved the necessary marksmanship needed to pursue your game. Try a variety of pellets and choose the most accurate for your needs. I personally find domed pellets to be the most accurate in most of my airguns, and if over-penetration is an issue, some of the wadcutter type pellets used in competition matches will reduce the penetration to a degree. This is very handy in the event you are clearing out a barn of pest birds and don’t want to damage the roof after shooting a pest bird.

So, are you ready to go squirrel hunting? Let’s go! We’ve got our air gun of choice, the pellet that shoots the most accurately from that gun, a good quality airgun scope if desired, and we know the range at which we should and should not shoot. As we head off into the woods, we take advantage of natural paths such as dry creek beds, logging lanes, game trails….any means by which we can move quietly through the woods. We’ve located food sources for our squirrels, such as the edge of the woods that borders a cornfield, or perhaps a soybean field. Maybe we are hunting the hardwoods where there is a good mast crop of acorns and beechnuts.  If we’ve done some scouting, we may already have noticed where the squirrel’s nests, called dreys, are located. If we arrive early, we can catch them coming out of them. If it is the evening, perhaps we’ll find them heading back to the nest. Using every bit of advantage we can, we sometimes sit and wait for movement in the trees or along the ground. Quite often we will hear the squirrel before we actually see him as he bounces along the ground over the dry leaves.

The conditions under which we can hunt squirrels may range from early in the season when there is a heavy cover of leaves still on the trees, to late winter when the trees are bare and the wind blows cold. In early season, we watch for the leaves and branches of the trees to sway abnormally as the squirrel makes his way through the canopy. We use the canopy against the squirrel by stalking closer, closing the range since he can’t see us as readily as when there are no leaves on the trees. If we are hunting in late fall, we place obstacles between us and our target, using whatever we can to carefully move into range….or we wait and see if the squirrel will come to us. Only time spent in the woods and experience will help us decide which tactic we use at any given time.

After we have finished our hunt, don’t forget to wipe down your air gun with a product designed to protect the metal from rust. There are several products on the market that achieve this, and I do my best to remove my fingerprints and moisture from the finish of the gun. The oils in your skin and moisture and humidity will quickly ruin the finish on metal. As for the barrel, I don’t clean the barrel after every hunt or firing session. Air guns don’t suffer from powder build-up like firearms, and unless accuracy begins to suffer, a patch run through every so often is sufficient. In the event you do clean your barrel thoroughly, avoid harsh firearm solvents. They are designed to removed powder buildup, and they will quickly deteriorate your seals and o-rings that are necessary to an air gun’s proper functioning. A product such as Goo-gone or another citrus-based cleaner is more than enough cleaning power for an air gun barrel.

In subsequent articles, I’ll try and cover more tactics and share stories of squirrel hunts that describe how you achieve the purpose for which you are in the woods. There are several scenarios that can change depending on how many hunters you have, what time of year it happens to be, and whether or not you are using a dog for treeing purposes. In any event, I encourage you to consider the pursuit of small game with an air gun. It is a rewarding experience that can lead to a lifetime of enjoyment.

Randy Mitchell

Pest Control With Spring Piston Air Rifles

By Randy Mitchell

Written Exclusively For Airgun Depot

Air Rifles are bought for a variety of reasons. Many folks want to punch holes in paper, others want to hunt small game with an airgun. There are Olympic competitions that many aspire to, and I would lay good money down that many firearms enthusiasts got their start with an airgun. But sooner or later, either the actual owner of the airgun, or perhaps their spouse, is going to demand that the air rifle be put to a very useful purpose….pest control.

What Are Pests?

Now a pest can come in many disguises. Among the more acknowledged pests are certain birds, such as the European starling and the English sparrow. Rodents such as mice and rats are also almost universally considered pests. Pigeons, fed in many city parks by well-intentioned individuals, create an incredible mess on rooftops and sidewalks, and seem to take a particular delight is decorating the clean exteriors of cars with their droppings.

Why Use A Spring Piston Airgun For Pest Control?

Using a spring-piston air rifle for pest control makes a lot of sense for several reasons. First, it is a self-contained power plant, needing only to be cocked and loaded. You don’t have to insert a CO2 cartridge or place air in a reservoir in order to use it. Secondly, the design of the spring-piston airgun is robust, giving you good performance under a plethora of conditions…..warm weather, cold weather, rain or shine….it is going to work. Third, there are so many different kinds of spring-piston air rifles available that you can find one to fit your budget and shooting requirements. Airgun Depot's new product finder is a helpful tool in selecting an air rifle that fits withing your budget.

Spring Piston Basics

If you are new to spring-piston airguns, here are a few things you need to know to make your shooting experience more enjoyable. Keeping safety in mind, let’s cock and load the most common design in spring-piston air rifles, the break-barrel. This gun is cocked by giving the barrel a rap near the muzzle, breaking open the action of the gun.

Grab the barrel and bend it down until the gun cocks. Now here is where some people make a mistake. Don’t let go of the barrel …..if the action snaps shut unexpectedly, you run the risk of damaging the airgun as well as causing personal injury to yourself. Many airgun designs incorporate a “beartrap” feature to protect against that, but you are placing your faith in a mechanical device that will, one day, fail. Get in the habit of retaining your hold on the barrel and using the other hand to load the pellet, seating it firmly in place.

Don't Let go of the barrel when loading

Then close the barrel while pointing the airgun in a safe direction. Once your spring-piston air rifle is cocked, you need to shoot it within a reasonable amount of time. Leaving the gun cocked for extended periods of time will eventually cause the spring to take a set, reducing the effectiveness and longevity of the airgun. Some break-barrel designs allow you to un-cock the gun, but many don’t. You will have to discharge the pellet by firing the gun in a safe direction if your pest doesn’t hang around long enough for you to take a shot.

Shooting Technique- It's not the same as a centerfire rifle.

Shooting spring-piston air rifles can be a learning experience all in itself. I have found that holding the gun as lightly as possible works well, and being consistent in the placement of my hand on the forearm helps insure good groups on target. Firearm shooters who buy a spring-piston airgun often have to un-learn the habits they picked up firing centerfire rifles. Shooting springers is almost the opposite of shooting large caliber firearms. Experiment with your hold on the forearm to see where the gun likes to be held. This may seem odd, but you will often find there is a “sweet spot” where the gun shoots the best. Refrain from resting the forearm or barrel on a hard, un-yielding surface. The bounce from the recoil will wreak havoc with your accuracy. I get good results by simply making a shelf out of my hand and laying the gun across it, not actually holding the forearm. I can also be more consistent this way, which helps in my accuracy.

Pest Control Basics

If you will take a look at the hunting laws and regulations in many states, you will find that there is a year-round, no-limit rule for animals designated as pests, allowing the airgunner to enjoy the legal, and encouraged, culling of pests. It is a great way to hone your hunting skills, and allows the avid hunter to enjoy an off-season use for his sport that also benefits the local environment by reducing the competition that pests put upon more desirable species. For instance, many kinds of birds are cavity dwellers….among them the bluebird, woodpecker, and purple martins.

The Evil European Starling

The European starling is a huge competitor for nesting sights, and has the assets that nature has provided to evict the afore-mentioned birds from their nests. With a dagger-like beak, and a much heavier build, the starling can and will kill the other birds in their nests, taking over the nesting cavity for its own use. English sparrows are just as deadly to our indigenous bird population. In my back yard, just last year, I witnessed the death of a family of bluebirds at the hands of English sparrows, which subsequently built a nest over the top of the murdered young bluebirds. See the picture below as evidence.

English Sparrow nest built over top of family of blue birds

Payback- 4 Less European Starlings=more bluebirds, woodpeckers etc.

Not all pests are avian. Rats and mice carry disease, and dwell in close proximity to man and man-made dwellings, flourishing nicely off of our refuse. And in some parts of the country, groundhogs and their relatives cause foundation damage by hollowing out the ground underneath support beams and concrete slabs. In Louisiana, my home state, the nutria rat has to be culled by the police department around New Orleans due to their habit of burrowing into the levies that keep the water at bay. Louisiana has even posted a bounty on the pest in an effort to encourage the reduction in population of this animal whose behavior can have catastrophic results.

In addition to these acknowledged pests, there are instances where game animals become pests. If you are lucky, you may reside in a state that has hunting rules that allow one to shoot game animals out of season in the event their behavior becomes damaging to crops or property. For instance, crows may be harvested year-round in some states if they are in the act of crop depredation, even though there is a dedicated season for general hunting of corvids. When squirrels moved into my attic, I called the department of wildlife in my state of residence, and was told to just shoot them. The wise thing to do when you have a game animal becoming a pest is to check with your state and local authorities to keep yourself out of trouble.

Offer Your Pest Control Services

Airgunners can often engender good will by offering their services free of charge to land owners, ranchers, and farmers. Both parties benefit from such an arrangement, the land owner getting pest control for free, and the airgunner securing another shooting venue. I know several airgunners who have a standing invitation to control pests at several different locations. When the hunting season is over, they head for these spots to continue honing their skills by culling pests. There are even individuals who do pest control as a job, coupling their hobby of airguns with a pest control business.

Now I enjoy shooting pests, as I try and give all my desirable bird species a leg up over their competitors. English sparrows and European starlings fall with regularity to my airguns. I actually spend about half an hour each morning as weather permits waiting for starlings to roost in the front yard tree. Shooting from the porch, I discourage them from nesting in the hollows of the tree. I try very hard to reserve those hollows for bluebirds and woodpeckers. I also spend many enjoyable moments observing my bird feeders, and when the English sparrows come calling, their bodies start falling. Squirrels that start looking around the eaves of my house for potential nesting locations are quickly dealt with. Occasionally, a groundhog will take up residence under the old barn on my property, and out comes a suitably powerful airgun to deal with the unwanted pest.

Check Your Laws & Educate Your Neighbors

When you are engaged in controlling pests, you often are in a residential area. In light of this fact, let me share a few words of caution. Check your local ordinances to ensure you are shooting legally. Also consider the attitudes and prejudices of your neighbors. There are very few pests that are worth gaining the enmity of those with whom you interact on a daily basis. I talk with and personally know the head of my local law enforcement department, and as an avid hunter himself, he has shown an interest in my airguns and their uses. All my neighbors know of my airgun hobby, and don’t get alarmed when they see me in the yard with what appears to be a scoped rifle. Be sure of your backstop, always knowing where your pellet will go if you miss. And never, ever shoot a domestic animal that is merely trespassing. It isn’t the animal’s fault, it is the fault of the owner. Go and talk with them in a reasonable manner. If that doesn’t achieve the desired results, contact your local animal control officer. Let them deal with the owner of the offending animal. They have the law on their side and will save you much heartache if you let them do their job before resorting to handling the situation yourself.

In a perfect world, everyone would recognize the need to control pests. However, you will run across individuals who will ask why you are shooting the pretty black birds (starlings), or the cute little sparrows (English sparrows). Knowing more about your pest and being able to speak with authority about their habits goes a long way in convincing those who object to your pest control methods. Explain to the well-intentioned objector that starlings and sparrows (the latter a member of the weaver-bird family and not a true sparrow) were introduced into the United States over a century ago, and that they have spread in almost plague-like proportions, competing with our own songbirds and other indigenous bird life for food and nesting sites. They cause millions of dollars in damage to our agriculture each year, consuming or fouling grain-based foods for the livestock industry, contributing to the spread of histoplasmosis and other diseases, and causing unsightly messes with their nest building habits. Municipalities yearly spend millions of valuable tax dollars trying to cope with the large winter flocks of starlings. Remind them that the next time they are at the grocery store, they should look up at the eaves of the building, or over the entrance of the door and see if they don’t spy an untidy bird nest nestled right over the path they are walking.

Pigeons- Another messy pest

Baiting Pests

From time to time you will find a pest situation that calls for the baiting of the pest in order to eliminate it. Rats are among those pests that are susceptible to being baited out in the open in order to cull their numbers. Nocturnal shoots work best with rats, and baits consisting of peanut butter and other very smelly baits will draw them out into the open allowing the airgunner an opportunity to deal with their unwanted presence. In many pest control situations, over penetration is not desired. Consider using wadcutter pellets, or perhaps hollow points in order to limit over-penetration. Another way to control the results of a missed shot is to build a backstop and place your baits in front of it. I have even seen plans on the internet of a glow-in-the-dark backstop that outlined the pest as they stepped in front of it! There are countless variations on ways to use subdued lighting, baits, and backstops to accomplish the goal of pest control….so use your imagination and enjoy your hobby of airgunning.

Airguns Are Safer Than Using Poisons

The use of air rifles to cull pests is more precise, as well as more environmentally safe, than using poisons that have been developed for the pest control industry. Many of the poisons used to control avians have a nasty tendency to pass from the target pest into the surrounding environment. In other words, if you poison a starling or pigeon, it will fly off and die somewhere other than the poison site, and a scavenger that picks it up and eats it may perish from the same poison. This puts at risk your dog and cat, raccoons, foxes, birds of prey as well as vultures, and many other animals that eat carrion. When you use an airgun, you can pick up after yourself and dispose of the pest in a safe manner.

Which Caliber Should I Use?

The size of a pest will help you determine which caliber of airgun to use. Sparrows and starlings rarely need anything more powerful than a medium-powered .177. Pigeons and crows are tougher, and I like to use a .22 caliber air rifle on these pests. Rats and mice all fall to the tiny .177 just fine, though you will run across some rats that may make you wish you had a .22. Groundhogs and nutria are pushing the upper limit in the size of most common pests, and I recommend a .22 caliber or larger airgun for these larger animals. Remember our discussion earlier about backstop issues and plan accordingly so that your use of an airgun for pest control becomes a positive event and not a negative liability.

In short, let your hobby and enjoyment of airguns be put to the very useful purpose of pest control when the need arises. And if you hunt, let it be an additional training ground for when you go out in pursuit of game animals. Have fun, and shoot safely.