Those who have bought my books and read the many hundreds of magazine articles I’ve supplied will know that I have always been a huge advocate of the legal limit (sub-12 ft/lb) air rifle as a hunting tool. It’s use for small vermin control and pot-hunting is limitless if used alongside solid fieldcraft and the skill to get within 30 or 40 yards of your intended quarry. I am a great advocate of the multi-shot pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) air rifle. Like many shooters, though, I cut my childhood teeth on single-shot spring-powered (springer) air rifles. Learn to shoot one of these with accuracy and it will prepare you for any other rifle that is put in your hands. PCP’s eject a pellet using a regulated discharge of air, so are recoilless and very quiet with a silencer fitted. Springers use a compressed spring and piston to throw a charge of air behind the pellet and (compared to PCP) are noisier, even with a silencer. They also recoil due to the reverse inertia of the spring. The ‘springer’ is a desert-island’ gun, needing no air supply … just ammunition. The PCP needs its cylinder replenished with compressed air regularly … via a divers bottle or a manual pump.
If you invest in the charging kit and can get a ‘top-up’ to the air bottle locally, the PCP really is the way to go for air gun hunting. Accurate and whisper quiet. As stealthy as a bow and arrow. Yet, strangely, many PCP hunters are never satisfied with the superb tool they hold in their hands. I would be the first to admit that I have been guilty of this in the past and have written about it often. Even when you’ve been filling the freezer consistently with your sub-12 ft/lb rifle, there can be that niggling feeling that a bit more firepower might increase your bag.
I’ve done it and many of you will be tempted to do it too. Applied for a FAC ticket and bought a FAC-rated air rifle. I’ve owned four in the past 15 years and ended up selling all of them (for a fraction of the price I paid for them … like a new car, they are worthless once used a few times). It took me a long time to realise that the ‘gap’ between bagging a 40 yard or 100-yard rabbit had already been catered for in the .22LR rimfire rifle and that your Firearms Enquiry Officer would be much happier granting a ticket for that than a ‘super-power’ PCP.
Many airgunners who dismiss a rimfire option and apply for a FAC air rifle mistakenly think that ‘noise’ and ‘recoil’ are a justification. I certainly did. Until a friend took me to a range and allowed me to shoot his rimfire using .22LR sub-sonic ammo. I was stunned at both the accuracy and the muted ‘thud’ of the rounds. Nor is there any noticeable recoil in a rimfire shot. I was sold and before long, I had a CZ 455 .22LR in the gun cabinet. A handsome and superbly accurate little rifle fuelled (mostly) with 38gr .22 Eley rounds. These leave the muzzle at 1040 fps with a power of around 82 ft/lb. The sound is barely more discernible than that of a FAC air rifle. Remember you only need downrange power of around 4 ft\lb to cleanly despatch a rabbit or squirrel. I have consistently shot quarry sitting close to each other out at 60 or 80 yards without disturbing the demise of one disturbing the others. And that, within one mil-dot on the scope.
For those who enjoy a bit of farmyard rat shooting or short-range squirrel shooting, there is a tidy and quiet little round made by RWS called the Z Lang. This small 29gr bullet needs to be loaded singly into a .22LR rimfire breech (it is too short to cycle in a magazine). I’ve used these to good effect on squirrels but would trust a sub-12 air rifle far more in the confines of a barn, shooting rats.
If you step up to high velocity (HV) rounds there is a trade-off to be made. You can extend the range significantly (out to 200 yards if you know your trajectories) but the ‘crack’ at the muzzle will empty your locality of all other quarry. I use 32gr CCI Stingers for longer range work. These leave the muzzle at 1640 fps with a power of around 112 ft/lb. Yet you can shoot from 20 to 100 yards without any significant hold-over or hold under. You can’t do that with a FAC air rifle and slug.
I also own a CZ .17HMR rimfire. This is, admittedly, a very noisy gun even with a top-notch sound moderator attached. But it can shoot from 20 to 200 yards on the centre crosshair. It’s real benefit, though, is its capability on foxes. The Hornady 17gr V-Max round spits from the muzzle at 2550 fps and is still traveling at just under 1400 fps at 200 yards. It is absolutely lethal on a 50-yard fox. The calibre comes with a warning though. The bullet can travel 2 miles if unimpeded.
My blog on this site two years ago about FAC air rifles still gets read a couple of dozen times a day by airgunners researching the FAC option. Hence this article. I have the benefit of over 40 years of experience with air rifles and wrote for 12 years for some of the leading shooting magazines in the UK. I’ve experimented solidly with FAC air rifles. My advice is simple. If you want to shoot further, accurately, don’t waste your FAC application on an air rifle which will cost you four times as much as a rimfire rifle. The application process is exactly the same for both. Air economy is a big issue too. Why would you want to carry a gun which needs constant refills, particularly one of those ugly ‘buddy bottle’ rifles, when you can carry a self-powered and aesthetically pleasing rifle like the one pictured below. I rest my case.
Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, July 2020