Hunting with Spring Piston Airguns!
Jim Chapman
Hunting Airguns
I was recently speaking with an acquaintance that works for one of
the big airgun companies, and he remarked that there has been a
sustained growth in the North American airgun market over the last
few years. He attributed this to the growing popularity of airguns for
small game hunting and pest control. Airguns are used extensively for
hunting in many parts of the world, especially in regions where
private gun ownership is prohibited or where population densities are
such that firearms aren’t an option. Many North American
hunters are beginning to appreciate that airguns are quiet, inexpensive
to shoot, and are capable of delivering tack driving accuracy with
enough power to be very effective in the field.

The prospective airgun hunter has a couple options when considering
an airgun; either a spring piston or a pre-charged pneumatic (PCP)
power plant being the most widely used. Pre-charged pneumatics are
filled from a high pressure air source, such as a SCUBA tank, and
offer many advantages to the hunter. They are compact, accurate,
powerful, recoilless, and effective with large caliber pellets. The
disadvantages are that they are expensive, take additional filling gear,
and are reliant on an external power source. The other power plant
mentioned is the spring piston airgun; the advantages being that they
are fully self-contained, can be quite powerful and accurate, and as a
rule cost a lot less than PCPs. The disadvantages are that they tend to
be larger and heavier (not always the case though), have more recoil
so take a bit more practice to shoot well, and require more effort to
cock as a strong spring must be compressed to ready the gun for
shooting.

A compelling argument can be made for either of these power plants,
and there are strong proponents for both. I think that it depends on
your intended use, your specific hunting requirements, personal
preferences, and how deep you want to dig into the piggy bank. I
have both and use both for hunting a variety of quarry, but in this
article we’ll take a look at the spring piston power plant. I find the
idea of a fully self contained gun very appealing, and will often take a
springer along when heading out fishing or camping, anywhere that I
don’t want to carry along a lot of extra gear or can’t be reliant
on an external source of power to keep the gun shooting. So let’s
take a look at what these guns can do with respect to performance,
what’s available on the market, and what type of hunting you can
use them for.


Spring Piston Performance
The spring piston airgun generates power using a powerful spring-
loaded piston that is housed within a compression chamber. Cocking
the gun (using a break barrel, side lever, or under lever mechanism)
causes the piston assembly to compress the spring. When the spring
is released it pushes the piston forward compressing a column of air
in the chamber behind the pellet. The spring piston power plant is
capable of developing sufficient energy to get a projectile moving at
supersonic velocities, though effectiveness as a hunting tool is not
solely a function of muzzle velocity. Pellet design is somewhat
different than that of a firearm bullet, and many do not perform well
at supersonic velocities becoming unstable as they transition across
the sound barrier, which can adversely impact accuracy. In addition,
a major advantage of airguns is that they are quiet. But once the
projectile goes supersonic an audible “crack� is generated, yet
still with a lower sound signature than a .rimfire 22 short. If the
projectile is kept subsonic, then any sound from the gun is primarily
the mechanical noise generated by the piston slamming home. I donâ
€™t mean to imply that you disregard muzzle velocity, by all means
look for a gun with a higher velocity. But then rather than trying to
achieve the highest velocity possible with that gun, which is typically
achieved using the lightest pellet available, try a heavier pellet.  A 14
grain pellet moving at 1000 fps yields more power that a 7 grain pellet
moving at 1200 fps. The heavy pellet moving at subsonic velocities is
generally quieter and more accurate, yielding better terminal
performance on game.

Most airguns generate relatively low power compared to even a
rimfire. This is not always the case; there are a couple pre-charged
pneumatic airguns in my collection that are getting close to 600 fpe.
However, most (not all) spring piston guns are limited to under 20
fpe. This is plenty of power for small game out to forty yards, and
bigger stuff such as raccoon and woodchucks at 30 yards.

In the United Kingdom, where airgun hunting has a huge following,
hunters are limited to 12 fpe guns without a special (and almost
impossible to obtain) firearms certificate. They have taken untold
numbers of rabbits, squirrels, pigeons, and crows with these guns
over the years. The whole objective of airgun hunting is achieving
optimal accuracy from both the gun and the hunter. This is the
overriding criteria; once a gun is doing 14 fpe any small game animal
it connects with is going down cleanly so long as the shot placement
is correct. However, once pinpoint accuracy is achieved, more power
never hurts, and it will permit the hunter to reach out a bit further! Iâ
€™ve been using a Beeman C1 (built by Webley & Scott) for well
over two decades, and this mid 800 fps carbine in .177 has put more
game in the bag than just about any gun I’ve ever owned. If youâ
€™ll be going after larger quarry such as raccoon, a gun producing
20 fpe or more is a good idea.

Another consideration when choosing a hunting springer is the
cocking effort. It only takes a single cocking motion to prepare the
gun for shooting, but the effort can be substantial. As a rule of
thumb, the more powerful the gun the more effort will go into
cocking it.  That’s why my 30 fpe .25 caliber Webley Patriot is
not the first choice when plinking. The 40 lb cocking effort is very
manageable for a days hunting, but is less ideal if the intention is to
shoot a couple tins of pellets during a range session! I think finding
the right balance of accuracy, power, cocking effort, and field
attributes (size, weight, fit) is key to selecting the right gun.


Example Of Hunting Springers
So what guns are available and where do you get them? It is possible
to find a limited selection of spring piston airguns at the local discount
chain or sporting goods stores. If you live by one of the big hunting
specialty stores, the selection increases. But these only represent the
tip of the iceberg; to see the wide variety of springers available you
need to go to one of the virtual airgun stores. The biggest of these
online shops carries a selection of models from RWS/Diana, BSA,
Webley, AirArms, Hatsan, Weihrauch and others. I have about thirty
springers in my collection, and have had literally hundreds of others
over the years.  As an example I’ll discuss three rifles I’ve
been hunting with a lot recently; the Hatsan Model 125 Sniper,
Crosman Trail NP, and the Weihrauch HW95. There are many other
great rifles, but these three are guns that fit a range of hunting needs.

The uber-magnum in the spring piston class is the Hatsan Model 125,
a well-crafted high powered break barrel air rifle. It is available in .
177, .22, and .25 calibers, though I consider the primary mission of
larger magnum guns to be the delivery of a big .25 caliber pellet with
authority! This is a full sized gun; weighing in at a little over 9 lbs the
overall length is 48.8 inches with a 19.6 inch barrel. The one I hunt
with is a .25 caliber and is set up for shooting the JSB 25.4 grain
roundnose pellet. The gun has a substantial cocking effort, and
produces velocities in the 750 m/s range for a power output in the
mid 20 fpe range. This is the rifle I turn to for bigger animals, such
as raccoon, skunks, and fox. I believe this is one of the most
powerful spring piston airguns to be found at the lower price point,
which still provides excellent shooting characteristics, and while there
is some bidirectional recoil I do n’t find it at all difficult to manage.

The American airgun giant Crosman produces an extensive line of
spring piston airguns, and one that I have enjoyed hunting with is
their Trail NP model, which I use in both .22 and .25 caliber. This is
a high power rifle with a nicely designed wood stock that uses a
break barrel cocking lever and is powered by a nitro piston
(Crosmans trademarked name for a gas spring). It is available in .177,
.22 and .25 calibers. My rifle in .25, which I use the most, is set up
to shoot the 27.8 grain Benjamin Dome pellets. The cocking effort on
this gun is moderate, and produces velocities in the 725 fps range. Iâ
€™ve used this gun on everything from rabbits to raccoons, and have
been favorably impressed with the accuracy it provides.

The Weihrauch HW 95 is a very well made German gun based on a
traditional break barrel design. It is a medium powered air rifle
available in .177 and .22 calibers. This compact rifle comes standard
with a Rekord trigger and a nicely figured hardwood stock. My gun
is a .22 and is set up to shoot the JSB Match Diabolo 18.13 grain
roundnose pellet. The gun has a low cocking effort and produces
velocities in the 750 fps range. This is an excellent rifle for pest
control duty on starlings and pigeons, but it’s also yielded up
good results as a thirty yard squirrel and rabbit gun. A few months
ago I stopped by a friend’s farm to scout the area where I’d
planned to set up my deer stand, and while we were talking he
mentioned that the farm had been inundated with pigeons. Using the
HW 95 I moved around the shed cutting through these winged
vermin, achieving great accuracy with enough power to get the job
done without worrying about damage to the buildings caused by the
(occasional) missed shot.


What Caliber Is Best?
There are four standard airgun calibers used in spring piston airguns;
the.177, .20, .22, and .25, with the .177 and .22 by far the most
common. An old adage I’ve heard repeated by many British
airgunners is; .177 for feathers and .22 for fur. I don’t think it is
quite so simple, and believe that the best caliber depends on what
projectile will be used, what ranges will be encountered, how large
the quarry is, and the hunters ability to deliver precise shot placement
with a particular gun. When comparing the .177 and .22 for instance,
both can be effective; the point is that due to the lower velocities
achieved with the .22 (in the same model gun) the trajectory will be
more arced while the .177 will shoot flatter and require less holdover.
On the other hand, shooters that don’t have a problem judging
holdover will be able to deliver higher impact energy on target with
the .22 caliber. The .25 caliber has been making strong in roads into
the PCP market, and this is translating into the springer world as well.
Many manufacturers now offer established models in the .25, which
is a trend I quite like.

With springers, I don’t have a strong preference though gravitate
to the .22, but will use the .177 on most small game without
reservation. The .20 caliber is a good trade-off between the
advantages and limitations of the two more common calibers, but
both guns and ammo are a bit limited in availability and selection, yet
still worth consideration. The .25 is the big kahuna when it comes to
spring piston air rifles, and can generate upwards of 30 fpe. There ius
an expanding range of guns that are chambered for the largest
conventional caliber, and it is a very effective option for medium
sized game while also working very well on the smaller stuff. Over
the last coupe season I’ve used guns in .25 for squirrel and rabbit
and have been very impressed with the performance..

An in-depth discussion on projectile styles is out of the scope of this
article, but I will say that a wide selection is available. There is a pellet
style and specification for virtually any hunting application;
wadcutters and hollowpoints that limit penetration, roundnose and
hunting points that increase it, and specialty polymer tipped pellets
that optimize the tradeoff between penetration and expansion. There
are light alloy pellets that allow lower power guns to increase
velocity, and heavier pellets that allow more powerful guns to deliver
greater energy at longer distances. I’ve also had very good results
with the polymer tipped hunting pellets in all three standard caliber
offerings. The typical cost for a tin of high quality .177 roundnose
pellets is around $6.00 for 500 pellets; though you can spend half that
or twice as much depending on what you want, inexpensive any way
you look at it.


Increased Hunting Opportunity
There are many options available when it comes to the selection of a
spring piston air rifle for hunting. The one that is best suited for you
depends on what you want to hunt, where you will hunt, what ranges
you’ll shoot at, and of course, which rifle appeals to your sense
of aesthetics. Many of the newer spring piston airgun designs are
capable of supersonic velocities. But as discussed, there is more to it
than simply getting the highest muzzle velocity; it’s picking a gun
that yields adequate power and exceptional accuracy. When you hit a
small game animal with a head shot at 35 yards, it doesn’t really
matter if the muzzle velocity was 900 fps or 1130 fps. It’s all
about shot placement! When making your rifle and pellet selection,
keep in mind that once the pellet goes supersonic there may be some
degradation in accuracy depending on pellet design, and it will be
louder. With the right gun and pellet combination, a spring piston
airgun provides more than enough power to cleanly and efficiently kill
just about any small game or pest species found in North America.
And because they are quiet and have limited range, they are practical
for use in more built up areas. This can result in more hunting
opportunities closer to home, and opens up otherwise inaccessible
areas where even a rimfire is too loud and carries too far be practical.
These days it's easy to get caught up in all the
talk about high powered precharged
pnuematics, or mid and big bore airguns. But
springers have been the mainstay of
airgunners for most of the history of the
modern airgun, and there are still many
compelling reasons to use them: they are
relatively inexpensive, they are accurate and
powerful enough for small game hunting,
they are moderately quiet, they are fully self
contained, they provide a great platform for
learning or improving marksman ship .... and
they are a lot of fun to shoot!
I hiked hundreds of miles through the Mojave with my C1
This little mid powered .177 is still my all time favorite!
My C1 has taken thousands of ground squiirels and
jackrabbits, not to mention pigeons, crows, ans starlings.
I want through a phase of buying inexpensive Chinese
clones like the BAM B26, and tuning/rebuilding them
with varying degree of success. This one was a winner,
and did a fair ammount of filed time with me.
There are quite a few .25 calibers available these days,
and readily available ammo as well. This caliber can be
a solid perfromer in todays spring guns. Hatsan,
Crosman, and Umarex models shown.
Heavy cocking actions aren't a big problem, as these
magnum springers are hunting guns that will only
require a few shots in a day.
Many of the current spring piston mnodels have an
option for a synthetic stock, and a camo finish is a
great option for a hunting rifle.
The stutzen style stock is one of the most elegant
springer designs ever built in my opinion. They are
made by BSA and Gamo, this is my old Gamo in .177,
and a gun I love to carry in the woods.
I used the early Hunter Extreme in .25, but when they
dropped the caliber I lost interest. A gun this big
should shoot .25 or the additional size is not justified
IMHO!
Even when the primary hunt is with a PCP, I take
along a springer as a reliable backup. I've never had a
springer fail me.