Hunting with Spring Piston Airguns
JIm Chapman
With all of the talk about PCP airguns these days, we shouldn't loose sight of the fact that spring
piston airguns (springers) provide all the power, accuracy, and self contained performance the small
game hunter or varmint hunter requires. Add in the fact that they are economical and are readily
available in literally hundreds of models, and you'll understand why so many shooters and hunters
swear by them.
Hunting Airguns
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 “crackâ
€� 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 don’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 you’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, Gamo, Beeman, Weihrauch
and others. I have about fifty 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
Webley Patriot, Gamo CFX, and the Beeman R9.
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
Webley Patriot, a beautifully crafted high powered
break barrel air rifle. It is available in .177, .20, .22,
and .25 calibers, though I consider the Patriots
primary mission 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 45.6 inches
with a 17.5 inch barrel. The one I hunt with is a .25
caliber and is set up for shooting the Beeman Ram Jet
24.18 grain roundnose pellet. The gun has a
substantial cocking effort, and produces velocities in
the 800 m/s range for a power output in excess of 30
fpe. This is the rifle I turn to for bigger animals, such
as raccoon, skunks, and fox. On one outing with the
Patriot, a coyote sneaked up to a dilapidated
outbuilding where I was setting up to ambush crows.
Taking advantage of this unexpected opportunity, I
anchored him at 20 yards with a single head shot. I
believe this is the most powerful spring piston airgun
made, and while there is significant bidirectional recoil
it isn’t too difficult to get acclimated to.

The Spanish airgun giant Gamo produces an extensive
line of spring piston airguns, and one that I have
enjoyed hunting with is their CFX model. This is a
high power rifle with a nicely designed synthetic stock
that uses an under barrel cocking lever and has a fixed
barrel. It is available in .177 and .22 calibers. My rifle
is a .177 and is set up to shoot the inexpensive Gamo
Hunter 8.3 grain roundnose pellet. The CFX has a
low cocking effort, and produces velocities in the 980
m/s range. I’ve used this gun on everything from
rats to jackrabbits, and have been favorably
impressed with the accuracy it provides. I used the
CFX to shoot pest birds at a local industrial area
where they have a problem with starlings, pigeons,
and grackles fouling the equipment and facilities. I was
able to pick these critters off with almost surgical
precision out to 50 yards, with every pellet dropping
right on target. The great thing was that outside of the
facility manager that granted me access to the
property and permission to shoot, nobody else even
noticed that I was tucked away out back stacking up
the pest! This quiet efficiency is the reason so many
new hunting opportunities are opened up in urban
areas.

The Beeman R9 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 .20
calibers. This compact rifle comes standard with a
Rekord trigger and a nicely checkered hardwood
stock. My gun is a .177 and is set up to shoot the
inexpensive yet very effective Crosman Premier 7.3
grain roundnose pellet. The gun has a low cocking
effort and produces velocities in the 900 m/s 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 starlings. They
were in the trees, in the barn, in every nook and
cranny of several sheds. Using the R9 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; 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.

Pre-charged pneumatics airguns work more efficiently
with larger caliber pellets, so I’ll usually opt for a .
22 or larger. With springers on the other hand, I donâ
€™t have a strong preference and 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 are only a
handful of guns that are chambered for the largest
conventional caliber, but it is a very effective for
medium sized game.

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. 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 youâ
€™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.
One of my all time favorite break barrel spring
piston airguns in the Beeman C1, a light, compact
mid powered carbine that I've hunted with for 30
years (the same one).
A more recent favorite is the Walther Falcon .25
caliber rifle, which is one of the most powerful
springers in the world, generating approximately 30
fpe.
I scope most of my hunting springers, but like to
keep a couple around with open sights for hunting
in thick bush.
If you scope a springer, make sure it's with optics
that can stand up to the bidirectional recoil. There
are several good airgun scopes available from
Hawke, Leapers, BSA, and Crosman, that can stand
up to known scope eaters like this BAM B40..
Another one of the bigger bore springers, the
Webley Patriot .25. This gun in this caliber has
proven devastating on everything from rabbits to
woodchuck.
A few years ago I spent a couple of weeks in the
Mojave hunting soley with Chinese springers to see
how they stood up to rough usage. Proved to me a
gun doesn't have to cost a lot to be effective, and
these days there are several reasonably priced guns
from the USA and Spain available.
The Gamo CFX was an under barrel cocking gun
that I used for long range pest control, finding it
accurate and shootable.
I often use lower power guns in the 10-12 fpe
range to hunt small game and pest in areas where
buildings or equipment mustn't be damaged.
A low power springer with scope mounted lights
is a great pest control setup for rabbits or rats at
night.
I used a Gamo CFX to take a muskrat that was
digging out the banks of our pond, which waqs
underlining our lawn. A on shot kill at 45 yards.