7 Reasons to Take an Air Rifle for Survival Weapon

Does the air rifle have its place in today’s modern survival weapons cache, or is it of use only to those that want to shoot holes in paper or hit tin cans?

I believe that today’s air rifles do have their place in a modern survival weapons cache. This weapon can be used in small game hunting to hunt doves and other birds, rabbits, squirrel, and other small game animals.

There is also historical evidence that air rifles were used for a number of purposes. For example, the Girandon was used during the Lewis and Clark Expedition around 1780‘s. It held 22 rounds of 40 caliber bullets in a bullet reservoir.

This weapon had to be pumped over 1200 times to supply the air pressure needed to fire all the bullets one at a time. The bullet velocity of this weapon was equal to black powder rifles of this period (450-650fps).

Why Should You Use an Air Gun?

Here are some advantages associated with using an air rifle:

  • Air rifles are very quiet – there are no loud bangs to scare off other game in the area.
  • Easy to shoot – this weapon points nicely, and is not too heavy or large for the beginner or inexperienced shooter.
  • It is an excellent, low cost training rifle with a simple design and cheap pellets.
  • Air rifles come with iron sights and are very accurate. When used with a scope, the shooter gets very tight groups (where multiple pellets hit). When hunting with a scoped air rifle, small game may be taken safely up to 50 yards away.
  • They are legal to own and shoot in most states. Because an air rifle uses only compressed air to fire the pellet (and not powder and a primer) most states do not classify them as firearms.
  • Air rifles make an ideal stash gun. It can be buried in an air and water tight container with a couple of tins of pellets and then easily retrieved at a later time.
  • Ammunition will not go bad. The only ammunition an air rifle needs is a pellet, nothing else. There are no cases, powder, or primers to worry about.

Basic Air Rifle Power Systems and Designs

There are three basic power systems in modern air rifles:

  1. Spring and Piston: When the rifle is cocked a spring is compressed. When the trigger is pulled, the released spring pushes a piston forward that, in turn, compresses a column of air that fires the pellet out of the barrel.
  2. Air Cartridge/Tank: This system uses a pre-filled, high pressure air cartridge or air tanks to push the pellet out of the barrel when fired.
  3. Air Pump: The air pump system allows the shooter to pump up the air reservoir to the desired air pressure. Some rifles need only one pump to fill the reservoir while others may need six or more.

In today’s air rifle marketplace there are many types of rifles:

  • Some just fire BB’s and are considered by some to be nothing more than toys (ex. Daisy Rough Rider with its low velocity and short range).
  • Some air rifles can shoot both BB’s and pellets. The Crossman Air Rifle had a little higher velocity and a little better range with pellets. These rifles are considered by most shooters to be training rifles.
  • Competition rifles are very accurate and can shoot very tight groups at the competition range of 15 yards with “iron” match sights.
  • Hunting rifles such as the Gamo Silent Cat (1250 fps) can be used for small game. Depending on the caliber and the pellet weight the velocity must be at least 650fps to about 1250fps to have enough energy to kill.

Things to Consider When Choosing an Air Rifle

Caliber: There are three basic calibers for air rifles.

  • .177  is a small, light, and very fast with top out velocity of 1250 fps. It is used mainly for target practice, competition shooting, and small game hunting.
  •  20 caliber – This is the medium weight caliber with velocities around 850fps to 1000fps. This is not a very popular caliber in the US and obtaining pellets and other shooting equipment can be difficult.
  •  22 caliber – This is the largest  caliber and fires the heaviest pellet for air rifles. The velocities of this rifle range between 650fps to 1250fps.  It is usually used for hunting and practice.

Air Source: Even though pre-filled canisters can give you good velocity in the beginning, their power will decrease after just a few shots. In a crisis scenario, you will not be able to refill smaller CO2 canisters, and larger ones will require a compressor and pump.

Unfortunately, springs do not supply the kind of velocity you will get from a canister/ air tank system.

Most people would say that pump systems offer the best choice because you do not need canisters, and yet they still offer good velocity.

Regardless of the air source, test out your rifle at different temperatures so that you understand how rifle cooling and air temperatures affect both pellet velocity and capacity to fire multiple rounds.

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Selecting an Air Rifle for Hunting

When selecting an air rifle for this purpose, it is important to think about the kind of game that you will be hunting.

Usually, you can hunt rabbit, squirrel, or birds with a .177 or a 22. If you are going to hunt for larger animals such as raccoons, you will need heavier pellets such as the 22. In order to kill game efficiently, the pellet velocity must not go below 650 fps.

  • Type of air source: Will the rifle use spring piston, compressed air tank, or pump.
  • What type of accessories are needed on the rifle: For precision small game hunting a fixed power scope(4x32mm) would be a good choice.
  • How easy to get ammo: Before the time of a crisis both .177 and .22 caliber ammo will be easy to obtain. A tin of .177 pellets on the average will cost about $8.99 per 250 (all-purpose pellets). A tin of .22 caliber pellets will run about $8.99 per 175 pellets.
  • Price of an air rifle: The average  price for a.177 air rifle is about $160.00. The average price for a .22 air rifle is about $200.00.

Most air rifle hunter’s use either .177 or .22 caliber models. You can also get air rifles with combination barrel sets that include .177 and a .22, that screw into a stock mounted barrel holder.

Accuracy in these 2 barrel sets is excellent and the price is low. I would recommend the Beeman Grizyly Dual caliber to fellow preppers priced at about $129.00. It is truly the best of 2 worlds.

Storing Air Rifles for Survival

small air gunWhen a major crisis hits, you will need a very quiet and accurate small game hunting air rifle. It does not take much time or materials to build a stash container for this type of rifle.

All that is required is a piece of PVC piping a couple of inches longer than the rifle and 2 end caps. In this container you can place the air rifle, a couple of tins of pellets, and a cleaning kit to keep your air rifle clean and well lubricated.

Lastly hide the stash tube in one of your hiding places.

Safety Concerns

When shooting an air rifle safety should be always on your mind.

  • Know what is behind your target area
  • Use pellet traps down range to stop the fired pellets during rifle practice
  • Wear shooting safety glasses when shooting. If you wear prescription glasses, make sure your shooting glasses cover them.
  • Do not pick up or shoot your air rifle when other people are down range
  • No horse play on the range during shooting practice
  • Do not put the wrong size pellet in your air rifle

When picking out weapons for survival do not forget to choose an air rifle. These inexpensive yet very accurate and low noise weapons are a must. Ammunition is cheap, plentiful and you do not have to be concerned with ammunition break down.

As an added bonus, if you cannot obtain a conventional firearm, at least having an air rifle on hand will be better than nothing.

Remember that a personal defense weapon should be something you feel comfortable carrying at all times. Learn from the experts the secret of self-defense. Click the banner below to grab your guide!

This article has been written by Fred Tyrell for Survivopedia.

Written by

Fred Tyrrell is an Eagle Scout and retired police officer that loves to hunt, fish, hike, and camp with good friends and family. He is also a champion marksman (rifle, pistol, shotgun) and has direct experience with all of the major gun brands and their clones. Fred refers to himself as a "Southern gentleman" - the last of a dying way. He believes a man's word is his bond, and looks forward to teaching others what he has learned over the years. You can send Fred a message at editor [at] survivopedia.com.

Latest comments
  • It’s .177 caliber, not .117 caliber.

    • Thank you for catching that – it was my mistake.

      • Your article is really great Fred,
        This is just a small mistake.
        Thank for sharingwith us.

    • Your article was well done. It’s nice to see that others view the air rifle as a viable tool for both training and survival. Some municipalities restrict use of air-powered rifles and pistols but, if you ask nicely, some firearm shooting ranges may let you use their ranges. I have a membership at one locally and they let me bring mine in on occasion when I am shooting other weapons.

    • There are larger caliber air rifles than a .22. A Japanese rifle manufacturer offer one in .45 cal. It uses heavy slugs that can take down medium sized game and can shatter concrete blocks. It is a very capable weapon, albeit expensive.

      • Hello sir I was reading a few of the blogs well yours really captured my attention. By any chance do you know the model number or the manufacturer of the Japanese model you are speaking of?

  • You forgot air rifles were used in combat and come in 303 and 50 caliber for big game hunting

  • I also am former military and police. We used to air rifles and pistols to do small, quiet jobs, like shooting out a light bulb during covert ops. As a kid, I was always in the woods with a BB gun. Great for small birds, but I would discourage trying to take bigger game with a gun too small to do a quick and effective job. It wounds the animal and doesn’t always kill it, thus causing a lot of harm to the animal.
    BB and pellet guns are great trainers for kids. They do have an occasional urge to shoot each other with a BB gun, though. I lost a tooth that way on my 13th birthday.

  • I have fired a n 0.25 caliber…that s a real weapon. It was a Birmingham Small Arms (BSA) gun, with trap loading…that is to say there was a little rotary trap at the breech end of the barrel. You rotate it, insert the slug, and rotate it back. Cocking was by means of a separate lever under the barrel, so you don’t disturb barrel alignment or have the muzzle in your hand at the end of the cocking action.

  • You made a few errors. Black powder arms of 200 years ago were capable of velocities greater than 600 fps. There are air rifles larger than .22 caliber available today. Precharged pneumatic air rifles do not yield the highest velocity; these rifles are used for target shooting because they yield the most consistent shot to shot velocity. Air rifles should not be stored indefinitely without being used because the seals will deteriorate.

    • I’m glad someone pointed this out. .22 is the largest popular projectile size in the US. In places like the Netherlands much lager calibers are used to take down big game. Even in the states the Crosman Benjamin Rogue is making its mark in the air rifle market. It uses a .357 slug and packs quite a punch. http://www.crosman.com/rogue

      • They quit selling the Rogue in 2013

    • There are MANY stories of people who have shot their Benjamin 392 (or equivalent) pump air rifles after years and even decades of storage with little damage to the seals being reported IF the gun was put away with a pump or two stored in the cylinder–as should always be done–to preserve the seals… And the numbers of small game taken daily by young owners of this air rifle over the decades attest to its legendary hunting prowess. Hunting small game may even be superior to hunting large game because small animals are much more plentiful, repopulate much more quickly (they breed multiples times per year and have large litters), can be approached to within airgun range relatively easily, and can be bagged daily without concern for storage of the excess that you can have with larger animals.

  • I would like to add that under a prolonged emergency state, most if not all air rifles will break down, blow a seal or two or snap cocking lever pin or rivet. In my opinion it would be a good idea to buy spare parts that are prone to wear and tear of prolonged use such as quad seals & o-rings and piston cups. Eventually the seals give out and FPS drops significantly and will render the rifle useless unless these parts are on hand and replaced. Get a repair manual and keep it with or near the weapon along with any basic tools the manual recommends for repair. Better to know your weapon inside and out so you can repair it in a crisis situation. We all hope it never comes, but better to have it and not need it, than need it and can’t get it. Thanks for your time!

  • What if I need to use a higher caliber and shoot more than 10 rounds of ammonition. Do they have air rifles that shot more than one pellet at a time? I have a Crossman pistol that shoots 600 fps & a Rifle rifle that does 1250 fps….

  • I’ve had my Benjamin .177 NP w/scope for a couple of years AND IT IS part of my survival equipment. NP makes it super quiet. Your post validated my ideas. Great way to save on ammo if SHTF for small game, also diversion. Others thought I was off base on this idea – so thanx! Only limitation is the break barrel/1 shot at a time, but the accuracy out to 75 yds is excellent.

  • Good suggestion with mostly good follow up comments.
    Personal add on is don’t get anything with a velocity of over 1050 FPS, or if you want to risk it, 1110 FPS. Then make it the biggest heaviest hardest hitting pellet you have, one blunt another penetrating. the penetrating is more suitable for somewhat larger game, where possibility of a chase is at risk. Yes, I know all about humane hunting and I’m all for it, but, lets face it, when the S.H.T proverbial fan, we need to feed our families, just make sure you can catch they prey and you don’t wound an animal that will die 3 weeks later of infection and mal nourished. There is nothing wrong with air rifles, they work great. I do have a preference for a good crossbow and bolt making parts, but the “ammo” occupies more space and is much more complicated. Oh, and the comment on not to exceed the 1110 feet per second is to make it quieter. If you exceed 1116 fps you will produce a sonic “clap” which will be somewhat louder than the rifle. So keep it quiet.

  • Quick question: is it possible to increase the fps much more by rigging it to a portable tire air compressor?

  • A system that you left out is the Nitro-Piston system.This effectively eliminates the usual problems of blown or deteriorated seals in a break-barelled rifle.Repair can be as simple as having a spare nitro-piston cartridge,undo a few screws,change piston,and re-assemble.No large springs to go out of control,no small springs to drop or lose.I bought a “refurbished” Benjamin Titan NP in .22 calibre.Pellet speed is rated at 950 fps. to 1100 fps. depending upon the type and weight of the pellet being used.I fitted this rifle with a 2-7X32 AO airgun-dedicated scope.At 10 yds. I shoot a 5/8″,5 shot group all day long.Don’t let the “refurbished” tag scare you off.They are completely rebuilt.Mine came to me in new condition,in a factory box,with all the paperwork,and a guarantee.Check out pyramidair.com they are the greatest.And for people in Kommiefornia….you can’t get an airgun by internet,but you can from pyramid.

  • …Must be a dated article. .25 caliber airguns are significantly more powerful and there are now many .25 cal pellet and airgun offerings on the market.

  • I own a 25 caliber Benjamin Marauder. Whoever wrote this article needs to catch up. There are now air rifles on the market that go up to 50 caliber.

  • It’s not a Daisy Rough Rider but rather a Daisy Red Ryder.

  • Where did you do your research?? 25 caliber has been around for a long time. We also have 30,357,45 and many more.
    $160.00 average price !! Serious !! Maybe in 1970.
    You had lots of “information” and plenty of misinformation.
    I think you should apologize to all these good folks and stop looking in books written in the 70’s for your research. There are great forums that can give you the information you need, also some great gun clubs that have air-gunners that can also give you the information you need. When you do your next article I would suggest that you actually interview and participate with people that actually do what you are writing about.


  • One more reason: to an inexperienced shooter, or from a distance, an air rifle looks like an actual firearm. And of course, pointed directly at your face it is very intimidating, air rifle or not. Excellent for personal defense, even if it is part bluff.

  • I would like to thank Fred for the detailed information on pellet guns and BB guns. I like the stealth of the air rifle as it won’t attract attention if the SHTF and bring unwanted curiosity. Living in a suburb and not open country, I could not even justify a shotgun for personal protection much less hunting small game. What size if any could be used for turkey and/or duck? The price sounds affordable for someone like me on a very tight budget and I can graduate to a more conventional firearm as my funds allow.

    Very appreciated article!

    • hmmm.. so if I got a higher no. of an air-pistol,I could “legally carry” without getting a dumb license? Everyone has such horrible gun-control laws now.I also have a very disabled freiend in St. Joseph, MI, and giving her a real shot gun for home protection would be too expensive.I’m think an air rifle for her, a 22, or an air-pistol that has enough force, would be easier for her.She lives right next to a very dangerous big slum, and the near by court house just got shot up(and was on the news,too.) We are both seniors, and I also can’t run as well as I used to.She often can’t walk. both of us need home protection. ANY COMMENTS AND HELP WILL BE APPRECIATED; THANK YOU ALL! GREAT BLOG! I LOVE IT! —DHB IN EUGENE OR 97404

  • How about the .25 caliber? Especially for survival purpose

  • Great Article Fred.
    There are some great comments as well. I have 43 years of Airgunning Experience and currently own just under 70 Airguns. I collect, hunt and target shoot with them. The critical factor in using an Airgun to take Game is to “know what you can and cannot do with it”. Too many people think that air pistols and other sub 500fps Airguns are good options. They are very limited tools. They sometimes believe just shooting at the game will put it on the table, and all too often have no real idea of how far away the game is. Airguns can help make you a much better shooter because “all factors” become critical to making the right shot!

    PS. I disagree with your last point: “They are better than nothing”, they are better than a slingshot and easier to shoot accurately than a bow.

    Robert C.
    Toronto, Canada.

  • Guess I should have held onto my pellet gun! I like the pump guns so you don’t have to buy, refill, or carry extra stuff. An air rifle is a great budget-friendly option too.

  • One trick I used to do with my Crosman 760 was to load a finishing nail in front of a BB. Of course, I didn’t care about the bore too much back then :-). The magnet in the bolt was just strong enough to hold the nail in place if I didn’t tilt it too much toward the ground or shake it around. If you go with the full 10 pumps, it would drive the nail hard enough to penetrate some wood types pretty well (almost a quarter inch, in some cases). Something to think about in a close encounter with someone/thing that needs discouragement. Also, the pump action allows me to adjust the power so that I can get the attention of critters with a nice little welt but no injury. I’ve run off everything from raccoons to dogs with it.

  • Yeh, like all the replies, there are many sizes of pellets and bore diameters now. I think the author was speaking from his experience “back in the day” and not from websites or catalogs available today. Also, there are practical considerations for TEOTWAWKI – it will be much easier to barter for .22 cal pellets than for .25’s and up and the .22 is more than capable for small game. I’ve shot squirrels and pigeons in the early 70’s with a BSA barrel-cocker. It did a great job.

    A squirrel in MHO is a lot tougher than a cotton tail, but probably not as tough as a jack rabbit or snowshoe hare. I’ve hunted snowshoes in the winter in CO with a 22 pistol – great sport to shoot them while they run in a circle at the edge of their territories and the fillet over the loins is a good imitation for beef as for taste!

    I spent four full seasons in the high Rockies living outdoors at 7,000 ft + back in 1981/1982 and loved every minute of it. I ate game and fish and went to town about every 2 – 3 weeks to by potatoes, slab bacon, dried peas and beans and some Bisquick now and again. I also had wild veggies in the spring and summer, Loved it – every minute.

    Got down to -40 in the winter up above Gunnison. I had a HD down bag and seldom had a problem with cold unless I slept-in and my breath would condense on the inside of my tent roof and would melt and wet my bag if I slept too late! I shot quite a bit of game with my BSA. I have a Benjamin 22 Pump now – excellent accuracy and more power than the BSA and the fellow above is right – I too shoot dogs in the rump when theyu poop in my yard with a low power load and pump it up to get around 650fps with 6-8 pumps, the peak. Don’t believe stories about pumping them 50 time and they shoot like a 22LR – not possible and it is just ignorant to think so. Plus even 20 times pumping is bad for the seals.

    Keep Shootin’ Straight,
    Maui Doug

  • Great page! We share almost the same opinion on the best air rifle. My personal favorite is Gamo Silent Cat Air Rifle

  • Nice article and same here Johnny. I just got the rifle about a month ago and just order a scope for it tonight. Can’t wait till it comes!

  • A high caliber air rifle can be quite dangerous for beginners so maybe start off with a 0.177 caliber. But a PCP rifle can be quite useful aswell.

  • Wow what a great article, never thought about using high powered air rifles for protection reasons but I guess they do a pretty great job if you have one powerful enough.

  • Your post got me lots of confidence, this is very helpful for beginners like me, thanks

  • I read many good comments and I am very happy to see other people’s feelings about air rifles.Altough air rifles can be incredibly accurate and powerful , it is
    safe and easy to use, and has child-friendly model.
    Not heavy, easy to carry. that’s why I lıke it. thanks for sharing.

  • I read many good comments and I am very happy to see other people’s feelings about air rifles.Altough air rifles can be incredibly accurate and powerful , it is
    safe and easy to use, and has child-friendly model.
    Not heavy, easy to carry. that’s why I lıke it. thanks for sharing.

  • I am a hunter and i hunt with air rifles that i have a lot of and I’m a very good shooter sometimes I set out on my deck a night or on my front and one night i was setting out and I saw two guys looking into cars to brake into them so i got my air rifles I set there until they came up to a old women’s house and they broke her window out but just before the guys could get in i have put one down did not kill him but I could have and the other guy was trying to get away running down the street and I stop his ass to with one of my air rifles now like I’ve said before i have stop them and put there ass down and called the police only to find out that it was one of the officer mother and the two guys are in jail for a long time one guy can’t walk on one leg and the other guy lets just say that he has to find other ways to eat food all because of .177 and .22 stopping power 1450 fps and 1250 fps at about 75 yards AIR RIFLES ARE NOT TOYS

  • Take an Air Rifle for Survival Weapon is good, but i think we should keep this gun safe!!

  • How about the .25 caliber? Especially for survival purpose

  • Your article was well done. One trick I used to do with my Crosman 760 was to load a finishing nail in front of a BB.

  • Crosman1322 FTW, cheap, reliable, compact, and modular… Single-shot and slow to reload are it’s only drawbacks…

  • As an air rifle addcit , I am very happy to see your article . All comments are very useful . Since then all have been used for hunting, target practice, and shooting in formal competitions. One general characteristic of an air rifle is its long barrel. Different types of air rifles exist each with its pros and cons. A rifle can be classified as either being a pneumatic rifle, spring piston powered or CO2 powered.

  • I have a varial pump bolt action pellet gun it is the 1322 .22 caliber 460 feet per second with a 10 inch long barrel do you have the formula or do you happen to know off hand the effective range in yards and also what range would you recommend me setting my scope to

  • Well it seems to me that you know next to nothing about air rifles and the impact that they have these days for on calibers aren’t limited to those that you mentioned but also available in.25 .30 .357 .45 and .50 these are not toys but serious ga me hunting with which you can. Take down bear deer sheep wild hog and just about anything else that is In your sights. Thank you

  • .22 Benjamin nitro piston is the best air rifle I have ever owned
    I have taken so much small game with this also a fox great allrounder