Choosing an Air Rifle For Survival

6977512478_3980e395f1_nAir rifles are becoming increasingly popular among the survivalist crowd, and this interest is rightly deserved. No, of course an air rifle cannot match the power or reach of a conventional firearm, but that’s missing the point.

A decent pellet rifle can make an outstanding addition to your “SHTF” kit precisely because they are an inexpensive and reliable way to bag small game – the kind you can likely rely on to feed yourself (and your family) in the event all hell breaks loose.

Why is an Air Rifle Useful for Survival?

Sure, some of you may live in rural areas that are teeming with deer or even wild pigs, and no one would argue that bagging prey of this size would be best to feed several people. But deer are not easy prey by any means, and for most people, especially in more urban areas, good luck finding them, or making kills regularly enough to survive on even if they are present in good numbers.

The kind of small game I’m talking about is the type that you can find virtually anywhere – small birds, squirrels, rabbits and the like. And for these animals, a good air rifle makes an outstanding, ultra-low maintenance weapon. I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to routinely dine on quail, pigeon or squirrel, rather than go several lean weeks trying to bag a deer.

5223844398_3fc0ba311d_nMoreover, if you’ve ever bought just about any type of conventional firearm ammo, you know it’s not cheap and can be heavy if carrying it in bulk. How much ammo can you carry necessary to survive one or two years?

Compare this with a coffee tin full of pellets that will likely cost you less than $50 and last for years with conservative shooting. Add to that the much lighter weight of an air rifle (which typically range between 5 and 10 lbs un-scoped) and the decision is obvious, especially if you plan on needing to remain foot-mobile after doomsday.

So What’s the Model for Survival?

So, assuming you see the benefits of using a pellet rifle for survival, the question becomes – which model is best?

The truth is that many different types of air rifles, including very modestly-priced options, can be excellent for close-range (generally within 35 yards) small game hunting when used by a shooter armed with a bit of practice. However, there are some key things to keep in mind when choosing among the various models available.

Stick With .22 or Larger Caliber Air Rifles

There’s no question that you could take small game with a .177 caliber rifle, but as we explain in this article on air rifle hunting, a .22 pellet (or .20 or .25 cal.) rifle better harnesses a rifle’s power and transmits much more power to the target, making it superior for hunting any type of furred game. Fortunately, .22 caliber rifles and ammo are nearly as common/inexpensive as those for .177 models.

Stay Away From CO2

While the Hammerli 850 is one of the few CO2 air rifles that has plenty of power, like other CO2 models, the cartridges that carry the compressed gas are likely to be hard to come by if law & order fall apart. Moreover, how many CO2 cartridges can one carry on their person? The need for purchasing the fuel supply therefore effectively eliminates CO2 type rifles from the survivalist’s arsenal.

Be Careful With High-Powered PCP Air Rifles

There’s no question that the Benjamin Marauder is one of the hottest hunting air rifles around, and one of our favorites. But this, and many other powerful PCP rifles, really need an external source of compressed air if used routinely, such as a scuba tank (a deal breaker for us). On the other hand, there are some PCP models that are outstanding yet can be more feasibly charged with a small hand pump – like the Benjamin Discovery.

Consider Spring/Gas Piston and Pneumatic Air Rifles

These are among the best air rifles for survival, for several reasons.

First, these rifles tend to be among the least expensive while still delivering great power. For example, one of our favorite pneumatics (i.e., “pump” air rifle) is the Benjamin 392 Bolt Action air rifle. The Benjamin 392 is an extremely accurate and incredibly durable pellet rifle that in the .22 delivers more than enough power (about 15 foot-pounds of muzzle energy, well over the minimum 12 FPE we recommend for game hunting) to hunt virtually all types of small game. In addition, the pump-type charging aspect gives you the freedom to vary the power, which is great so you don’t over-penetrate game at close ranges. Also, as with most pneumatics, these do not suffer any appreciable recoil, so even inexperienced shooters can be making consistent kills with just an afternoon’s practice.

Second, they are not terribly complicated and comparatively immune to failure. A good example of a simple spring-piston (“springers” as they are affectionately referred to) that has got a bulletproof reputation for outstanding power, insane accuracy and legendary longevity among veteran shooters is the Diana RWS 34, which also happens to be our pick for the best air rifle under $300. If you are on somewhat of a budget but still want top-shelf quality in your rifle, this is clearly the best of the best in our book. If you’ve got more money to spend and what even more power and quality, the RWS 54 Air King is an easy choice.

Third, piston/pneumatic rifles don’t need cartridges or charging with external compressed gas sources. On this note, you should be aware that there is a relatively new twist on the traditional spring piston powerplant you might consider. These new types use a sealed volume of nitrogen gas instead of a metal spring. Like a real spring, cocking the gun compresses the nitrogen, which then expands to eject the pellet as the trigger is pulled. As we’ve laid out elsewhere, these gas piston rifles (a.k.a “gas rams”) offer all of the benefits of springers but are easier to cock, tend to fire more smoothly, and don’t suffer from spring fatigue – which can happen when a springer is left cocked for periods of time – and which may eventually cause the spring to lose some of its explosive force. Because nitrogen is relatively temperature insensitive, these rifles also tend to maintain their peak power better in colder weather than spring rifles. A couple examples of excellent gas piston air rifles for Armageddon are the Gamo Silent Stalker Whisper IGT and the .25 caliber Crosman Benjamin Trail NP XL 725.

Buy Good Quality Pellets & Consider a Decent Scope

While many who intend to use their air rifle for close-range hunting (within 30 yards or so) may not need one, a quality air rifle scope can really take your marksmanship to a different level, which can be vital if using your rifle during a real survival situation. You can learn all about air rifle scopes here, and then compare various top-rated scopes.

Yet even more important than getting a scope is simply buying good air rifle pellets. Even the best air rifles may struggle to accurately fire cheap pellets, and anyone who knows anything about air rifles will tell you that matching the right pellet to your gun and intended shooting is absolutely critical for achieving accuracy. To learn about the different types of air rifle pellets and what they’re used for, read our article “Air Rifle Pellets Explained,” which will help you then choose among the best-rated air rifle pellets available.

3984061273_64ee3eede7_nPractice, Practice, Practice!

Once you’ve purchased a pellet rifle and picked up some good pellets, it’s then simply a matter of practicing with targets and (if you have one) zeroing in your scope so that you are making consistently accurate shots.

As we’ve explained before, air rifle hunting can be extremely rewarding, but to make humane kills one must get used to the very small “kill zones” that apply here. Ideally, you will want to start hunting live game only when you can reliably hit your targets (at the appropriate distances) such that most of your shots group within a one-inch diameter circular area. Begin shooting at closer ranges (under 25 yards), and only extend your range as your skills and knowledge of your weapon improves.

Of course, always be mindful of safety and understand your local laws/regulations as they pertain to air rifle ownership, target shooting and hunting. Good luck!

Photo credits (in order of appearance):

OakleyOriginals under CC BY 2.0

Tnkntx under CC BY-SA 2.0

Frank Douwes under CC BY 2.0

Share this post:

Recent Posts


  1. Ben says:

    What about the Benjamin Marauder pistol in carbine form? I’ve got a .25 marauder and I do pump it by hand usually but it seems that the p-rod would be much easier to pump up, plus very light and accurate.

  2. e. Sam says:

    If you’re on a budget, there are budget air rifles that are great starter guns for you to practice with for under $50. The Daisy Powerline 880s, the Crosman 2100, Crosman Pumpmaster 760, and the Crosman 1377 pistol. They are rated very well for pest control or small game hunting.

    • Rick Butcher says:

      These are fun and inexpensive starter rifles for sure but certainly not powerful enough for small game hunting.

  3. David says:

    These would be some suggestions. Keep in mind different kinds of environments such as whether concealment was necessary and temperature factors, as well as open sights and optics. My experience tells me that most of the game you would take for sustainability would be rabbit, squirrel, pigeon, and other winged prey. If were talking strictly air power I would rule out pcp and co2. That leaves us with spring piston, gas piston and multi-pump rifles and pistols. Rifle would be the obvious choice for power and accuracy reasons. However if bugging out requires the gun to go in a pack hidden then a pistol or pistol carbine may be in order. In a rifle and pistol iron back up sights should be a must. In .177 something in the neighborhood of 15 ft lbs or 1000 fps. In the .22 something in the 800 fps range. Thus a clean kill and quick harvest without having to chase down your target after wounding it. Rabbits and squirrels require only about 5 ft/lbs of energy in a precise shot ideal conditions. Some options on the lower end of power would be Crosman 2100 Classic, Crosman American Classic, Daisy Powerline 880, CZ Slavia 634, Gamo NXG. These options can take game easily with a well placed shot being paramount.

  4. Westgl says:

    In a survival senario there may NOT be any electricity, mechanical only methods. The Hammerli 850 would be a great choice, as mine has been setup for a 13 ci HPA regulated air tank i can get 100+++ good full power shots and the Hammerli can be tuned for more power and also unscrew HPA Tank screw on 88 gram co2 when weather changes and you have a multi fuel gun. Pump it up with hand pump and shoot a lot of shots on one tank also the hammerli is very Accurate. I also have a Marauder Rifle synrod .22 and a Marauder Pistol .22 these three guns are much more accurate because of bolt action and solid barrel and much more quiet than my springers are, i have a Diana 34P, Diana 350 P, Diana 460, Weilrauck HW77k all are in .22 cal.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.