Can you hunt deer with an Air Rifle? Deer can be successfully hunted with air rifles but it strongly depends on the specific caliber used and which State you are hunting in.
Deer hunters choose air rifles for very specific reasons:
- Practical reasons – In short, air rifles may be used in areas where firearms are not allowed.
- Noise reduction – Obtaining a silencer for a firearm in the US is both difficult and expensive and since air rifles are generally quieter than other firearms, some hunters will choose to rather use them.
The good news is, if you do require your air rifle to be silenced further, you can do so without special regulations.
- Precision – Air rifles are accurate if used for relatively short ranges.
- Cost Effective – The prices of air rifles vary and it could cost anything from significantly less to even more than a similar firearm; it all depends on what rifle you choose.
But here’s the good news; the ammunition is always much cheaper than that of firearms.
What States allow deer hunting with air rifles? Many States in the US offer you the opportunity to hunt deer with air rifles although typically not the .177 caliber. Each State has their own regulations though and you may want to familiarize yourself with the requirements before planning your hunting trip.
A few examples are Missouri where you will be required to use a PCP of 40 caliber or greater, whereas Alabama requires a 30 caliber.
Although many states allow air rifles only to hunt small game, the list is unquestionably growing for allowing larger game such as deer to be hunted with air rifles.
The rifles that are legal are PCP air rifles using compressed gas and larger caliber pellets.
Yellow: special rules for air guns are applicable here.
Red: These states allow big game hunting with big bore air rifles. Regulations and restrictions of caliber may be applicable here.
New Hampshire does not allow air rifle hunting at all.
Air Gun Calibers for Hunting Deer
So you want to know what air rifle calibers are used for hunting deer? Let’s look at the different options:
.177 Caliber – This is the baby of all pellet calibers, and it has gained the reputation for shooting through game without touching vital areas but it still is the fastest of four small-bore calibers.
They are most often used for small animals like birds, rats, and rabbits.
.20 & .22 Calibers – They are much alike and according to avid hunters they are the most successful calibers, offering hunters a broader impact and punch a larger hole in game, which makes them significantly more effective than .177 caliber.
.25 Caliber – Finally we are talking about the most effective of small animal air rifle hunting of animals such as a raccoon.
That is of course if you can look past the hefty price tag of especially the bullets, so for this reason you may not want to use it for casual shooting.
When it comes to hunting deer though, an experienced firearm and air rifle dealer explains that only a few air rifles can take out deer.
Air guns that fire 9mm, 45 and 50 calibers are ideal for hunting bigger game such as hogs, coyotes, and deer.
Although this might be true, other experienced air rifle hunters argue that the .357 (9mm) has recently become the favorite choice for most hunters merely because of its combination of power, speed, multiple shot capability and accuracy at a great distance – all of which are essential characteristics for any hunter.
According to Outdoor Empire, the 13 Best Pellet Guns of 2018 are:
- Best .22 caliber: RWS Model 34
- Best hunting: Benjamin Trail NP XL Magnum .22
- Best PCP: Benjamin Bulldog Bullpup
- Best for the money: GAMO Big Cat 1250 .177
- Best high-power: Seneca Dragon Claw
- Best big-bore: Umarex Hammer
- Quietest airgun: Benjamin Rogue SBD
- Best .177 caliber: Air Arms TX200
- Best break barrel: Beeman R7
- Best CO2 powered: Crosman DPMS SBR
- Best shotgun: Seneca Wing Shot MK2
- #1 Pick From 2018 SHOT show: TC 35 and 45 Big Bore PCP Rifles
- #2 Pick From 2018 SHOT show: Benjamin Fortitude
Air Rifle Shot Placement
This is quite a controversial topic among hunters, the reason being that the conventional thought is that you should never take a headshot on a deer or other big game because when you miss and hit it in the jaw, for example, it could starve to death.
This is indeed a worst case scenario for any hunter, but such arguments are losing its followers fast. The reason being that you are just as likely and even more so, to wound a deer with a bad chest shot. A missed headshot has limited other areas where it could hit, but a missed heart or lung shot could damage many adjacent areas.
Up until recently, most experienced hunters vowed by neck shots as the best option to put down an animal quickly. But more and more air rifle hunters are currently moving towards headshots as being just as effective.
One such hunter used a Benjamin Rogue .357 killing a buck at 43 yards with a perfect headshot. He reported that no meat was ruined, the trophy was intact and no tracking was necessary because the entry was the size of a dime and with no exit.
Comparing the arguments from both sides, the conclusion is that when a hunter is in the field, it all comes down to a quick decision at the moment when the trigger is pulled. Your experience will tell you if that moment asks for a headshot or chest shot.
One more aspect to consider is the correlation between the type of rifle, shot placement and distance. This has been effectively summarized by Jim Chapman: “it’s not a matter of power, but exact shot placement, and for that reason, my personal guideline is to keep my shots inside of 40-50 yards.”
Air rifle pellets come in a large variety of shapes and sizes; each serving a different purpose. If we look at popularity, the round-head or domehead pellet is by far the most commonly used pellet.
So let’s look at a few options when choosing pellets for deer hunting:
Hollowpoint – Hollowpoint pellets allow for the maximum impact and spear on impact – they basically expand when hitting a target and will, therefore, do more damage to the target. However, they do not perform well at longer distances with their best ranges at under 20 yards.
Ballistic-tipped Pellets – The ballistic-tipped hollowpoint is a specialty hollowpoint. It can be best described as a long bullet with its weight to the rear and a boat like tail. Its purpose is to overcome the aerodynamic problems of the standard hollowpoint – thus making it fly better.
Pointed – Pointed pellets are specifically designed for maximum penetration, especially in light and medium powered air rifles. They’re a good choice for shooting at medium range and can cut through thicker hair and hides. Furthermore, they don’t have to stand back for domed pellets at all when it comes to aerodynamic benefits.
Domehead/Roundhead – The domehead pellets are great for hunting as it performs excellently at most tasks. It cuts through the air very efficiently and do so with less energy loss because it does not easily gets thrown off track by winds. The result is great traveling speed to reach the target quicker.
Practice Makes Perfect
Before you go out in the wild for your first Air Rifle hunt, make to practice a lot and get to know your rifle. I have found the AR500 Steel Shooting Target on Amazon and they are perfect for target practice.