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5 Best Air Rifles for
Squirrels and Small Game

By Patrick Long |
man with air gun

When I was a kid, sneaking through the woods shooting squirrels and rabbits was one of my favorite things to do. Throughout the years, I used a 410 and 20 gauge shotgun as well as a 22lr to get the job done. Using a rifle makes it all the more challenging and fun, and I eventually turned to an air rifle.

Nowadays, air rifles are a lot more powerful and efficient than they used to be. Most of them don't quite compete with a rimfire 22lr, but they are still cheap and fun to use. However, there are specialty air rifles out there that are so powerful that they will put down a hog.

Although today, we are going to look into the best air rifles for small game, like squirrels, and everything you need to know about them before you buy.

What Types of Air Rifles Are There?

Before we get started looking at the best air rifles, you should understand what types of rifles are available. Just like regular rifles, there can be a lot of different ways an air rifle can operate. Some of these operation methods are better than others for hunting, which could help you eliminate a whole class of air rifles from your search when you go to buy one.

Precharged Pneumatic - A.K.A. PCP

PCP air rifles work with a precharged air tank. These air tanks are highly pressurized; most of them get up to 3000 PSI or higher. When you fire, you will use a bit of this highly compressed air to propel your pellet out of the barrel. Depending on the air rifle, the precharged tank can hold enough air to fire 30 to 300 pellets.

These rifles will have some sort of pressure gauge on them so you can see how full their tank is. You will have to refill the air tank when it runs out, which can be a chore. You basically have three options for filling the tank. You could take the tank to a scuba shop, and they will fill it for a fee.

You can also get a hand pump or bicycle pump and fill the tank yourself, but just make sure your pump can handle the pressure rating of the air rifle. Lastly, you can fill it with an air compressor, but you again need to make sure your compressor can keep up with the air rifle's pressure rating.

PCP rifles are very strong and are often able to shoot much faster and hit harder than other types of rifles. Most PCP rifles are going to be very suitable for squirrels and small game hunting.


Spring-powered air rifles, or springers, work by compressing a spring manually. When you pull the trigger, the spring is released and compresses the air inside a piston, which then travels into the barrel and propels the pellet.

Springers are a classic type of air rifle that have been around for a long time. They work very well, and the largest benefit is that you do not have to fill an air or CO2 tank. Although a springer will still make you work, some springer air rifles require up to 40 pounds of force to compress.

Another type of air rifle you may see is a gas piston or gas ram rifle. These are also springer air rifles, but instead of compressing air in their piston, they compress nitrogen gas. These gas piston rifles are known to have a longer lifespan and be a little easier to cock.

These air rifles are not quite as powerful as PCP rifles, but they can still put up impressive and deadly numbers. I have used a springer to take down dozens of squirrels and a handful of rabbits, and you can too.


CO2-powered air rifles function the same way a PCP air rifle does, except they use compressed Carbon Dioxide(CO2) instead of air to propel the pellet. These types of air rifles are very popular for shooters that want to have a lot of fun shooting tin cans and other targets, but they are not the best for hunting.

CO2-powered rifles are not as strong as PCP rifles, and they are more expensive to shoot. You can fill up your PCP rifle yourself with a bit of elbow grease, but you will have to buy a new CO2 cartridge each time yours runs out, and they are not super cheap.


Multi-pump air rifles work by compressing air in an air reservoir. However, when you use a multi-pump, you are adding air to the reservoir each time you pump it. With every pump, you add more air and increase the air pressure in your rifle. That is why the multi-pump air rifle will shoot faster after it has been pumped more times.

These types of rifles can certainly put down squirrels, but not every multi-pump is suited for hunting. You can get pretty fast at pumping these rifles, but it will take at least 5 seconds between shots to reload and pump it 10 or so times, so don't miss.

Which Air Rifles Work for Hunting, and Which Don't

young man with air rifle

It is no secret that air rifles can not compete with regular rifles. With a regular rifle, you really do not have to think too much about whether or not your rifle has enough power to ethically kill an animal before you head out to the woods. A 22 long rifle is usually the smallest gun in a hunter's arsenal, and it is plenty powerful enough to put down most small game.

Although that is not the case with an air rifle. You need to make sure your air rifle delivers enough foot-pounds of energy to the target. A 22 long rifle produces over 100 foot-pounds of energy at 30 yards. A strong air rifle will produce about 25 foot-pounds at the same distance. That's a huge difference.

For squirrel hunting, you need to use a rifle that produces at least 10 foot-pounds of energy at a distance to ethically hunt them. You can also shoot rabbits, opossums, and raccoons with a similar energy. In general, more energy is better, and you should not use an air rifle for hunting if it produces less than 10 foot-pounds of energy. Ideally, you would want an air rifle producing more than 15 foot-pounds for an ethical and retrievable kill.

A Favorable Action

I have killed many squirrels with a break barrel and multi-pump air gun, but they may not be the best for hunting. For me, it is what I am used to. Once you use a rifle for so long, you will be able to break the barrel over and load it pretty fast, or load and pump it 10 times while moving to a better position.

Although if you are using these for hunting like I was, you may miss a follow-up shot opportunity. If your first shot misses, that squirrel is going to be gone before you reload if he's smart. On the other hand, if your first shot is on the money, additional targets may run off before you get another pellet ready.

Nowadays, they make air rifles that use rotary magazines to hold upwards of 10 pellets. Then it is as easy as working a cocking lever to load a new pellet and be ready to go. This can be done in a fraction of the time you would spend manually loading a break barrel.

The downside is that if you only have one magazine, any squirrels around will be gone before you can remove your mag and load it again. Most of these rifles come with two of these rotary magazines, and you can do some real damage with 20 pellets in the squirrel woods.

Of course, you can also expect these air rifles to cost a little more too. If you are serious about hunting small game with an air rifle, get a PCP rifle with a rotary magazine. If you are casual and want to make as small a dent in your bank account as possible, a standard break barrel springer will work just fine and build character.

What to Look For in an Air Rifle

Now that you have a good idea of how air rifles work and which ones are good for hunting, let's look closer at what qualities you should pay attention to when buying your next squirrel hunting air rifle.


For normal rifles, you have about 100 too many caliber options for whatever it is you want to hunt. In the air rifle world, there are two main options for small game. You can get .177 or .22 caliber pellets. .177 caliber pellets can certainly work for hunting, but they are smaller and not as powerful as a 22 caliber pellet.

Since we are hunting and want to get as much power as possible, I would suggest using a 22-caliber air rifle. There is no real advantage to using a .177 caliber. Air rifles have virtually zero recoil, and you will not feel the difference between these pellets. Since the 22 caliber pellet generally delivers more foot-pounds of energy, it is the preferred pellet for hunters.

PCP or Springer

Next, you need to pick a type of air rifle. PCP air rifles are going to be the strongest. Some of them can deliver more than 30 foot-pounds of energy out of the muzzle. That is more than enough to put down small game within 50 yards. Plus, you can fill the air tank yourself.

A springer will not be as strong as a PCP, but they can still reach a pellet velocity of over 900 feet per second, which produces 26 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle with a 14.5-grain pellet. Keep in mind that the energy at the muzzle is not the same as energy at the target. Energy will decrease as distance increases. For this reason, many air rifles top out at an effective range of 40 to 50 yards.

A multi-pump air rifle can kill a squirrel, but nothing much bigger. These rifles are also very cheap. You can commonly find them for less than $100. If you want an air rifle to hit some targets with and take out the occasional squirrel at home, a multi-pump works just fine. Although if you want a dedicated, but cheap, squirrel hunting air rifle, you are likely better off paying $50 more for a springer.

CO2-powered air guns are not suitable for hunting. They are just not powerful enough to ethically take down small game. They certainly make great toys and are fun to shoot tins or targets with, but that is where their effectiveness ends, in my opinion.

Pellet Velocity

Pellet velocity is the main component you want to look at when calculating the power output of an air rifle. It takes two things to calculate muzzle energy, the mass of a pellet and pellet velocity. Since you can shoot the same 22 caliber pellets through each rifle, what sets them apart is their maximum pellet velocity.

This is different from normal rifles because the power comes from the gunpowder exploding, and you can put the same cartridge in multiple weapons and more or less have the same performance. In our case, the power comes from the air rifle itself.

14.5 grains is a fairly common size for 22 caliber pellets. Here is a quick table showing you how much energy you can expect out of the muzzle and at 30 yards based on your air gun's pellet velocity with a 14.5-grain pellet.

Pellet Velocity
Muzzle Energy
Estimated Energy at 30 Yards
500 8 5.33
600 12 8
700 16 10.67
750 18 12
800 21 14
850 23 15.33
900 26 17.33
950 29 19.33
1000 32 21.33
1050 35 23.33
1100 39 26
1150 43 28.67
1200 46 30.67
1250 50 33.33

Another thing to pay attention to is the speed of sound. The speed of sound is 1125 feet per second. If you get an air rifle that shoots faster than that, the projectile will make a lot of noise as it cuts through the air breaking the sound barrier regardless of how suppressed your air gun is. If you live in a neighborhood, you likely want to get something that is subsonic(slower than 1125 ft/sec).

When I was young, I got my dad to buy me a cool new air rifle. It was going to be the best thing ever, and I was going to shoot so many squirrels, cups, and anything else I could find. Although when we took it for a test drive, it was supersonic and sounded like I was shooting a 22 lr. Sadly I just couldn't use it because we lived in a subdivision at the time, and I would have surely got the cops called. Eventually, I got a slower shooting Crosman springer and went to town on the local squirrels silently.

5 of Our Favorite Air Rifles

Now that you know exactly what you are looking for, I thought I would give you a few examples of air rifles that I would use to go squirrel hunting with. I tried to include a mix of air rifles, and I think these five selections have something for everyone.

1. Umarex Origin 22 Caliber Air Rifle

The Umarex Origin is a PCP air rifle that shoots 1,000 feet per second. This is an awesome air rifle that can take down squirrels and other small game with ease. You will also get two 10-shot rotary magazines with your purchase. You simply have to pull the charging handle to load the next round.

Its air tank holds enough air to power 40 shots. You will also receive a hand pump with your purchase, and it takes 13 pumps to fill the Origin’s tank. This 22 caliber air rifle also comes with a two-stage trigger and is optic ready with a picatinny rail. This air rifle costs between $300 and $400 and is about as nice of an air rifle as you can get.

2. Crosman Mag-Fire Xtreme 22 Caliber

As the name suggests, the Crosman Mag-Fire Xtreme does have a magazine. This rotary magazine holds 10 rounds. Instead of a charging handle like the Umarex Origin, this air gun is a break barrel. This is a bit different since you do not have to load it when you break it down. This will make your shots slower than the Origin but much faster than a traditional break barrel.

This springer is a great air gun for squirrel hunting. It can launch a 22 caliber pellet at 975 feet per second. You will also get an adjustable 3 - 9 X40 scope to go with your new squirrel slayer. Plus, its ergonomic design and pistol grip make it easy to maneuver while hunting. You can pick up this air rifle for around $200 to $250 at your local Sportsmans Warehouse.

3. Umarex Surgemax Elite 22 Caliber Air Rifle

This air rifle is a classic break-barrel springer. Although it is a gas ram, it uses nitrogen instead of air. This means your Umarex Surgemax Elite will last longer and be a little easier to use than the competition. This is a single-shot rifle; you will have to decompress the spring and load it after each shot.

Out of the box, this air rifle will have front and rear fiber optics, but it has a picatinny rail, which you can mount a scope. This is a relatively basic and lightweight air rifle, but it still reaches a pellet velocity of 1000 feet per second. You can pick the Surgemax Elite up for less than $150.

4. Crosman Benjamin Prowler 22 Caliber Air Rifle

The Crosman Benjamin Prowler is another gas piston springer reaching 950 feet per second pellet velocity. The Prowler comes with a 4x32 CenterPoint scope out of the box which is more than enough to use this rifle at its maximum effective range. This air rifle is also said to have reduced recoil and produce 70% less noise than other break barrel air rifles, thanks to its Quietfire sound suppression technology.

The Crosman Benjamin Prowler also has a rifled steel barrel and a two-stage adjustable trigger. This is a great rifle for new hunters. It has a traditional design but with a modern synthetic stock. It is a single-shot break barrel but costs less than $200.

5. Crosman Legacy 1000 177 Caliber Air Rifle

I know I bad-mouthed multi-pump air rifles earlier, but this one actually fits the bill for a reliable squirrel killer. The Crosman Legacy 1000 reaches a pellet velocity of, you guessed it, 1000 feet per second with alloy pellets. With a standard 7.4 grain .177 caliber pellet, it can reach a muzzle energy of 16 foot-pounds and has an estimated 30-yard energy of 10.67 foot-pounds, which does pass the 10 foot-pound requirement we had.

Make sure you are using alloy pellets while hunting because lead pellets will only reach speeds of 750 feet per second out of this rifle, which is not enough to get 10 foot-pounds of energy at 30 yards.

The best part about this rifle is that it costs less than $100. It comes out of the box with fiber optic sights, but you can also attach a scope to it. This rifle is great for someone that wants to shoot around the yard and take down a squirrel every now and then.