Looking for the best hunting air rifle? It’s not surprising, since many people are interested primarily in hunting with air rifles – it’s what first drew me to them after all – but this begs the question: what is a hunting air rifle anyway? As we explain in more detail in our article on Air Rifle Hunting, hunting air rifles can come in anything between .117 and .50 calibers, with the larger-game rifles generally needing Pre-charged Pneumatic (“PCP”) power plants to propel their heavier, higher caliber ammo at sufficient velocities to maintain accuracy. However, if you aren’t looking to take down coyote, then you’re in luck, since their are some excellent small game hunting air rifles available that provide tremendous quality and value. Here are just a few of our favorites.
Hatsan 95 Walnut Stock Air Rifle Combo
We really cannot think of a more powerful, higher quality and better-looking hunting air rifle – especially one for under $200 – than the Hatsan 95 Air Rifle Combo in Walnut Stock. This beauty comes in .177, .22 and.25 calibers and is extremely powerful in all three – although if you are shooting more squirrels, rabbits, woodchuck opossum and other furred game rather than birds, we say definitely go with the much harder-hitting .22 or 25 version.
And don’t be fooled by it’s seemingly modest FPS ratings of 1,000 FPS for the .177 and 650 FPS for the .25. As we have explained, many manufacturers inflate FPS by using lightweight alloy pellets that naturally fly much faster than standard lead pellets – i.e., the ones normally used for hunting. In contrast, the Hatsan 95′s FPS ratings are actually very conservative and are based on lead pellets. In fact, one user tested this rifle with a chronograph and found that it exceeded the manufacturer’s reported FPS. Overall, users reported that this rifle hits harder than other more expensive high-powered air models, including the Benjamin 392, Crosman Nitro Venom and Ruger Air Magnum. In addition to power, it’s strikingly accurate with it’s stock scope and comes with a simply gorgeous walnut stock that we frankly cannot believe is included in a rifle at this price. Hardwoods of this quality, if used at all, are normally associated with much higher price tags.
With all of this performance and value, it’s no wonder that this rifle has earned a perfect average user satisfaction rating of 5.0 based on 13 reviews to date. In fact, users are so happy with this rifle that they easily overlook it’s drawbacks – it’s loud firing (which is typical of high powered spring-piston power plants) and the added “umph” needed to cock this powerful breakbarrel air rifle.
Diana RWS 48 Air Rifle
If you’ve got a bigger budget and want a first-rate hunting air rifle that will last a lifetime, then there are few that can surpass the legendary power, quality, reliability and accuracy of the Diana RWS 48, which comes in .177 and .22 calibers and is covered by a limited lifetime warranty. These are very powerful spring-piston sidelever rifles that can do pretty much anything from plinking and competitive target shooting to serious small game hunting. In fact, the RWS 48 is the rifle used by the U.S. field target club – so you know if you can’t hit your target it’s your fault!
As usual, if you are more of squirrel/rabbit hunter, go for the greater knock-down power of the .22 version.
The extraordinary level of German engineering on the RWS 48 is not only apparent in the attractive wood stock, but in the heft and balance of the gun, something you notice as soon as you pick it up. However, it’s when you fire this rifle that you really appreciate it’s raw power, which unfortunately does come with lots of noise. Also, this is not a rifle that can be cocked “easily” – which is another inevitable consequence of the RWS 48′s impressive muzzle energy.
Again, with its super high-quality, accuracy and power, the RWS 48 currently has a perfect 5-star following on Amazon.com. Indeed, if you read these reviews you will quickly get a sense of just how much this rifle is loved by it’s owners.
Crosman Benjamin Trail NP XL 725 .25 Caliber Nitro Piston
We would be remiss if we didn’t include at least one of the “nitro” gas-piston air rifles here, and the Crosman Benjamin Trail NP XL 725 is reportedly the most powerful breakbarrel gas-piston available. This claim is definitely difficult to debate given this model’s amazing 30 foot-pounds of muzzle energy, which can send an alloy .25 caliber pellet up to 800 feet per second. This kind of power behind such a large caliber really takes small game hunting to a different level – if you ever had issues with putting down squirrels, woodchucks, hares and other tougher small game quickly and consistently, you will absolutely love the “show-stopping” impact that this gas ram brings. Moreover, this is an extremely accurate rifle that just gets easier to dial in with time.
As we’ve discussed before, the use of a gas piston (nitrogen gas) has many benefits, which adds to this rifle’s allure. Among other things, this technology makes it relatively quiet, easier to cock, shoot with virtually no recoil, and deliver better cold-weather performance compared to a comparable spring rifle. And most importantly, gas piston rifles can be left in the cocked (readied) state pretty much indefinitely without any loss of power, whereas a spring-piston rifle that is held in the cocked position too long will gradually “set” in this state, which over time can diminish performance.
Overall, if you are an avid small game hunter and like the quieter, smoother and more worry-free performance of gas piston rifles but don’t want to sacrifice power, the Benjamin Trail NP XL 725 is very hard to beat.
Benjamin Marauder Air Rifle
Last but certainly not least is the Benjamin Marauder, a real beast that is in our view quite possibly the best and most affordable hunting PCP repeat-shooting air rifle going. This model comes in .177, .22 and .25 calibers and screams in each of them, producing muzzle velocities of 1,000, 1,000 and 900 FPS, respectively. With this kind of power, we suggest you go for the .25 caliber, as this will obviously take care of your typical small game and give you the extra impact power to easily put down larger critters, like big woodchuck, opossum, racoons, and even coyote! But beyond extreme power, this air rifle is extremely accurate, and has already obtained near legendary status for delivering some of the tightest groupings we’ve heard yet.
Finally, this rifle comes with a great hardwood finish, a very aggressive styling that we like, and nice touches, such a pressure gauge and degassing tool that lets you switch from CO2 (an alternative power source) to compressed gas. As with most PCP rifles, if you intend to do any regular shooting, we do suggest that you opt for a scuba tank or some similar compressed gas reservoir.