Predator Hunting with an Air Rifle

When, why, and how to use an air powered gun to effectively hunt North American
predators.

                                                                                                                            Jim Chapman
Airgunning for Predators
As more hunters are becoming familiar with the use of airguns for small game and varmint hunting, I am
frequently asked if they can be used for larger predators. The short answer is yes, but with some qualification.
It depends; on the gun, the quarry, and conditions under which they will be used. Many raccoons, fox,
bobcats, and coyote have been cleanly taken with airguns. Many animals have also been lost when a guns
terminal performance is not up to the task, or the shot is taken at an inappropriate range and the proper shot
placement is either not selected or not achieved. In this article I’d like to present my world view on predator
hunting with airguns, though you’ll find others with different outlooks. The basis of this discussion for me
is that I believe no matter what you hunt the gun and the ammunition used must be able to cleanly kill the
quarry. This is especially true with predators, as a poorly hit coyote has more potential to be a problem animal if
wounded, and at any rate wounded once he’ll be a lot smarter second time around. So if you are going to
use smaller calibers or lower power because the situation mandates it, the hunter has to compensate by being
that much more selective about distance and shot placement.

Raccoons and Fox
Smaller predators such as raccoons and foxes can be taken with standard caliber .22 and .25 rifles. While it is
possible to kill just about any animal with any gun, when I talk about “appropriate guns� I mean those that
will anchor quarry consistently and reliably when the shooter does their part. I believe that there are magnum
spring piston airguns appropriate for raccoon sized quarry; for example the .22ncaliber Gamo Hunter Extreme,
Walther Falcon and Beeman RX-2 have proven to be reliable for this application out to 40 yards. These guns
generate adequate terminal ballistics; delivering power, accuracy, and when matched with a good hunting pellet,
excellent penetration. Having quite a bit of field time with these guns I can say that when used to shoot a
raccoon in the head, he is going down. Lower powered small caliber springers can be used to kill a raccoon
with a well placed head shot, but I’ve seen several animals lost and don‘t recommend them for larger
animals. This is where the .25 caliber spring piston rifles have impressed me; in my experience they have been
consistent performers. If you start to stretch the range or stray from headshots with the smaller calibers the
success rate starts to drop, but the magnum .25s provide a bit more latitude. The same guns mentioned above
in .25 caliber are good selections. With a precharged pneumatic airgun the additional power allows heavier
pellets in a smaller caliber to be used than does a spring piston gun, making the .22 a viable option. I have had a
lot of success cleanly dispatching medium size predators with guns like the Evanix Rainstorm, Benjamin
Marauder, AirArms 400, FX Royale and Airforce Talon SS, all in .22. These guns will kill a raccoon sized
animal with a heart / lung shot at longer distances, but the potential risk of losing them still exists. When using a
pcp I will stretch out to 60 yards, but prefer to stick with headshots when possible.

Coyote and Bobcats
When we step up to bobcats and coyotes, more powerful guns in larger calibers are advantageous, and that
means regardless of caliber only pcp powered guns are appropriate. Itr is possible to kill a bobcat with a
springer to be sure, it’s been done, but there is no marguin of error and there is always some uncertainty as
the trigger is squeezed that even a good shot is going toi anchor the quarry. There may come a time when the
right combination of spring piston gun and new pellet designs may alter this opinion, but that hasn’t
happened yet.  There are a couple ways to approach shooting bigger predators (by which I mean coyotes); one
school of thought is that a big bore (.308 up) will deliver both the energy and open a large enough wound
channel to allow chest shots to be a primary target. I and others have taken coyote out to eighty or ninety yards
with guns such as the Quackenbush, Sam Yang and Shinsung large caliber rifles.

There is no doubt that these bigger bore guns will punch a hole through a coyote, but with less than perfect
shot placement the animal might still escape before giving up the ghost. For this reason I like to keep my range
around 40 - 50 yards, where I don’t have to deal with the trajectory and over/under estimation of holdover
that can result in a shot being slightly off. The best and most experienced airgun coyote hunter I know of is
Brian Beck, and he uses his Haley .308 to shoot song dogs at over a 100 yards with head and chest shots, with
very good results.

The other school of thought is that as lung shot predators can carry a surprising amount of lead, so the airgun
toting coyote hunter should stick solely with head shots. Accordingly, subscribers to this approach believe that
a large caliber gun is not required, and that a heavy .22 or .25 caliber pellet delivered by a high powered pcp
rifle to the noggin will effectively drop a bobcat or a coyote. It is reasoned that a flat shooting, highly accurate .
22 will enable the predator hunter to deliver the projectile more precisely and consistently than if having to
compensate for the more pronounced trajectory arc and rougher shooting characteristics of the big bores.
Airgun hunting pioneer Ron Robinson told me in a chat one time that this is his view on the subject, and his
opinion carries a lot of weight with me.

So which approach do I subscribe to? Well I think that there is a certain amount of validity to both views, and
that either can be ethically applied so long as certain conditions are met. Most airgun hunters I’ve spoken
with have had consistently good results with chest shots on coyote using large bores inside of 50 yards, but the
success has dropped as the shots have moved further out. Yes, animals are still (assumed) killed, but with more
lost animals occurring. For that reason I think chest shots with big bores are fine when the range is kept around
50-75 yards. If the range goes out past that mark, I will try for head shots as this tends to result in either a
clean hit or a clean miss.

Sticking to head shots with smaller caliber guns also works, with more clean kills and not surprisingly more
clean misses, and as a result fewer wounded animals being lost. However, when using a standard caliber there
is a need to utilize every foot pound of energy that the gun produces and drop the pellet into a target zone the
size of a fifty cent piece. For this reason I believe that the acceptable range of these guns on coyote is no more
than forty yards. Closer is better.  It is worth mentioning that the smaller caliber guns, many designed with a
shrouded barrel, are a natural choice when hunting in urban areas. The sound signature of a .22 caliber AirArms
410 generating 30 fpe is a fraction of that produced by a Dragonslayer .50 caliber (which in turn is quieter than
a rimfire), so this gun is perfect for head shooting fox or coyote in settings where noise is a concern.

Techniques
All of the predators discussed can be hunted in much the same way; where legal I think the most effective
approach is lamping. This means hunting at night with a light; and makes a lot of sense as this is when most
predator species are out hunting themselves. I like to set up in an area the use either a mouth blown call or an
electronic call for a couple minutes then sweep the area with a light, and repeat. Here in the Midwest I’ll put
about 30-40 minutes into a set before moving on, but when out west only spend 15–20 minutes before
moving on. When I see a set of eyes coming in, I hold the light high so the direct beam is not on the animal.
Some guys use a red filter, but I have a hard time seeing in these conditions and any advantage related to not
spooking the animal is lost on me because I have a harder time seeing them in the first place. It is helpful to
have a scope mounted light to switch over to as the animal comes into shooting range, especially if hunting
alone.  I have been looking at a new ND 3 collimated laser locator light that is mind blowingly good at picking
up an animal at night, but will write about this in detail in an upcoming article. I think this lighting system with
shrouded high powered tackdriving airguns is the future of urban predator control.

Regardless of whether you hunt in the day or at night, calling with a distress call is one of the most effective
means of encountering a predator within airgunning range. I use a lot of rabbit distress calls for coyotes, fox
and bobcats day or night, but have found that baby squirrel and woodpecker calls work surprisingly well for
raccoons in the very early morning and late dusk hours. Some people don’t consider coons a predator, but Iâ
€™ve just about had them run me over when charging in on baby squirrel distress squeal.

Wrap up
You will hear people argue that big bore guns, and small bores for that matter, can kill a coyote further or with
less than perfect shot placement. This is undeniably true; over the years I have seen and heard of many
predators taken under a variety of less than perfect conditions. I have also seen too many lost animals due to
pushing the envelope and ignoring the requirement fir perfect range selection and shot placement. So my
answer to the question we opened with is now qualified; yes, airguns are effective, efficient, and ethical
predator getters so long as the right gun, the right shot placement, and the right range are selected. In this
respect it is no different than the judgment exercised by a bow hunter or firearm hunter before taking a shot.
Spring Piston air rifles provide
the power and accuracy to
cleanly kill medium sized
predators such as this raccoon at
closer ranges. In my experience
headshots is the most effective
placement. This is one of the
instances when the hypervelocity
hard alloy pellets work well.

This photo was in my files, but I'm not
sure where it came from. If it's your
photo let me know and I'll give you
credit.
Big bores for bigger animals give a bit more
latitude in shot placement. I used the .457 to
do a heart lung shot on the dog to the left,
which ran about 40 yards and dropped. The
dog on the right was hit in the head at 60
yards with a .50 caliber roundball fired from
the Dragonslayer. This one dropped dead on
the spot.

Another gun I find interesting is the Benjamin
Rogue, which is a .357 caliber rifle designed
to be a predator hunting gun. It has a
shrouded barrel, uses a 6 shot magazine, and
can be set up for a specific bullet weight. I'll
be writting more on this gun after using it
more this season.
Brian Beck is a coyote killing machine, and
uses a .308 caliber rifle to take coyotes
near and far using both headshots and
body shots .... and it's hard to argue with
his success!

You need to be practiced cocking, loading,
and shooting quickly as more than one
coyote will often come into the call. You
may also make multiple sets before
returning to your air tanks. I like a short
barrel for moving around, but you need to
have multiple shots on tap so it's a
balancing act which is best for your style
of hunting. I use a carbine and carry a
small CF tank.