Air rifles offer silent options for suburban small-game hunters.  The obvious attraction to air rifles is they offer a safe and silent option while shooting near civilization. While working retail several years ago, nearly every air rifle we sold was to a customer looking for a quiet alternative for controlling backyard pests like bird-feeder-raiding squirrels. Others wanted to eradicate garbage-can-looting raccoons that nightly scattered litter, or cottontail rabbits and ground squirrels raiding family gardens or mama’s flower beds. Still others targeted invasive birds, such as starlings, pigeons or Eurasian/collared doves.


Before you proceed, confirm the legality of firing an air rifle within city limits, and study game-commission regulations for targeted game. For instance, tree squirrels likely include established season dates, bag limits and hunting-license requirements. Being issued a $300 ticket for shooting a squirrel out of season just isn’t worth it. Raccoons, rabbits and game birds such as quail, mourning and white-winged doves normally include similar stipulations.


Always think safety. If you miss a squirrel or pigeon perched on an elevated bird feeder – where will your pellet ultimately arrive? Put out a neighbor’s window and big trouble will certainly follow. Don’t take chances. You should always have a solid or safe backstop, such as a wide tree trunk, heavy wooden fence, empty woodlot or open lawn. Modern air guns are not toys!


Air rifle choice determines how effective your small-game efforts are. The goal is a fast, clean kill, as you never want to wound or cause lingering death. Look at air rifles pushing .177-caliber pellets to at least 1,000 fps and
.22-caliber pellets to at least 650 fps—with the pellets you’ll actually be shooting. I say this because advertised speeds are typically established using light alloy pellets ill suited to hunting. GAMO’s Swarm Maxxim 10-shot (advertised 1,300 fps in .17; 975 fps in .22, using alloy pellets), GAMO Magnum (1,650 fps in .17; 1,300 fps in .22), Whisper Fusion Mach 1 (1,420 fps in .17; 1,020 fps in.22), all self-contained break actions, or Urban PCP (800 fps in .22) or Coyote Whisper Fusion (1,200 fps in .17; 900 fps in .22), pre-charged pneumatic rifles, are all excellent examples, though GAMO offers others. Generally, air pistols don’t produce sufficient energy to cleanly dispatch small game.


When shooting small game choose heavier lead or pure copper pellets for maximum impact and sufficient penetration—around 7 grains minimum in .17 caliber, 14-plus grains in .22. I strongly recommend .22-caliber for rabbit- and raccoon-sized animals, simply because these pellets carry much more energy, even when pushed at slower velocities. Generally, you’ll also want to choose a hollow-point or tipped hollow-point pellet for squirrels, rabbits and small predators, soft-lead flat nose pellets acceptable for birds, though hollow-points are always best. Pointed and light alloy pellets are for target shooting; BBs are for kids. GAMO’s Red Fire, with polymer-tipped hollow-point weighing 7.8 grains in .17 and 15.43 grains in .22; Rocket hollow-point with hardened-steel tip weighing 9.6 grains in .17 and 16.2 grains in .22; Tomahawk pointed hollow- point weighing 7.8 in 17-cal; and pure, soft copper Bullet PBA weighing 7.1 grains in .17 and 14.4 grains in .22, are all worthwhile small-game ammo.


Assuring humane kills also means careful shot placement, just as is required when big-game hunting. Center of mass normally gets the job done on smaller birds such as starlings and ring-necked doves, but a fat pigeon and especially a crow requires aiming smartly for the wing butt or head/neck area. With tree squirrels, and cottontails in light cover, classic heart-lung shot placement delivers lethal results, though some small amount of trailing may be required after shooting a rabbit. In heavier cover—like nasty briars or around junk piles where rabbits can burrow out of reach—or with species like ground squirrels/gophers that invariably dive down a handy burrow even when hit fatally, head shots are typically recommended. This is also highly advisable on larger predators such as raccoons, about the largest target I would recommend tackling with air rifle.

To purchase a GAMO Swarm Maxxim please visit


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