Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably noticed that over the last few years “high powered” pellet rifles have exploded in popularity. And with good reason! They offer a fantastic, low cost way to practice marksmanship and proper shooting technique, potentially without even leaving the yard. They’re a good tool for introducing new folks to the shooting sports. They’re a good, low noise option for dispatching nuisance critters of say the groundhog variety. They’re a viable means for putting food on the table, and legal in many states for small game hunting. Though I’m not sure I completely agree, some argue they’re also a great survival / SHTF option. (Sure, I can absolutely see where it could have a role in such a situation, but it certainly won’t be the only thing I grab! And I do have to admit it’s definitely better than nothing if it’s all you have, because it gives you options. Like I always say, options are good!) Finally, we should all agree pellet rifles are certainly an excellent way to kill an afternoon with an impromptu “shooting gallery” enjoyed by family and friends.
If you are new to the scene, a high-powered pellet rifle is one that can, generally speaking, send a .22 caliber pellet downrange at 800 fps or better, or a .177 caliber pellet downrange at 1,000 fps or better. And these days, there are many options in the “or better” range, with the latest crop of break barrel inert gas technology (IGT) rifles boasting 1,000 fps and 1200 – 1400+ fps velocities for .22 and .177 caliber pellets respectively.
Pellet rifles today come in four popular calibers, .177, .20, .22 and .25, but the .177 and .22 are without a doubt the two most popular. Of those two champs, the .177 is most common. With proper ammunition and shot placement, and assuming a reasonable shooting distance, both should do the job on anything you’d humanely target with a pellet rifle. Though I have heard of some tough groundhogs out there! And yes, I’m assuming a great deal of common sense and good judgement on the part of my readers here.
Sandy: I want you to KILL every gopher on the course!
Carl Spackler: Correct me if I’m wrong Sandy, but if I kill all the golfers, they’re gonna lock me up and throw away the key…
Sandy: Not golfers, you great fool! Gophers! The *little* *brown*, *furry* *rodents* -!
For you “Caddy Shack” fans…
Back to the topic at hand, the .22 will definitely give you better knock down power, courtesy of a bigger, slower projectile, when compared to the .177, and the ability to reach out a bit further, but at least at the time of this writing, .177 rifles and pellets will be easier to find, have more pellet design & weight options readily available, and will be slightly cheaper. I doubt most chipmunks, rabbits, squirrels or crows will know the difference and it won’t matter a lick if you’re primarily punching paper. However, if you plan on regularly going after bigger small game, like killing all the Gophers, *little* *brown*, *furry* *rodents*, or if you just want more effective range, then stepping up to a .22 is the right move for you.
While we’re on the subject, just because your new high power pellet rifle can theoretically (advertised speeds are seldom true to life) send a .177 caliber projectile into the atmosphere at 1200 – 1400+ fps, realize that such speeds often don’t result in the best accuracy. You see, unlike a bullet fired from a rifle, which typically stays supersonic throughout its entire journey, (except for various .22lr loads intended to be subsonic), a light .177 pellet can be affected, sometimes dramatically, as it transitions from supersonic to subsonic. This can result in the pellet tumbling, or yawing on its way to the target, and that will negatively affect accuracy. One solution is to slowly increase pellet weight until you find a pellet that stays subsonic when shot from your rifle, but that also shoots accurately, reliably and safely. Pellets in the 7.9 to 10 grain range work for me, but your mileage may vary. It’s up to you to safely figure it out for your particular pellet rifle.
Either way, if we’re talking about break barrel rifles, inert gas technology / gas-piston designs are better than traditional spring powered rifles because, there is no spring to wear out, you can leave an IGT / GP pellet rifle cocked longer without fear of damaging the spring, recoil is generally less noticeable, and they’re generally quieter.
If there’s one thing in this article that might shock my readers, it’s likely the price of these modern, high powered air rifles. While some can be had for less, the $180 – $280 spread takes you from the sweet spot to basically state of the art. Again, I’m talking break barrels here. Yup, all day long you can find Ruger 10/22’s and other great .22lr rifle options for the same, or less money. But you can’t necessarily shoot those in your backyard! Nor can you get 500 rounds of .22lr for ~$10 anymore.
Now, before you run out to your local sporting goods store be sure to check your local and state laws! Some states do consider bb-guns and pellet guns firearms. It’s up to you to know, and follow the laws in your area. Also, these high power pellet rifles are NOT TOYS, make NO mistake about it, so the safe handling rules you follow with firearms definitely apply:
1. ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in the safe direction.
2. ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
3. ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.
For decades, kids all across America have grown up with bb-guns, and probably have fond memories of plinking cans or pie plates in the backyard, and maybe even carrying trusty “OLD BLUE” on a first “hunting” trip with Dad. So, if it’s been a few years (or decades) since you put away that Red Ryder or 10-Pump Crossman, it’s definitely time to check out thew new breed of high powered pellet guns. This ain’t your Granddaddy’s Red Ryder…
Be Aware! Be Prepared! Be Safe!
© 2014 Inside The X Ring.