The long and the short of it
I’ve heard many times that for close-range vermin control, a powerful air pistol is a better bet than a rifle. It’s claimed that they’re handier in tight environments such as farm buildings and stables, which is perhaps true, but that’s not the only consideration. Let me firstly put on my ballistics hat and describe what our pellets do in flight, so we can compare the performance of the two types of gun. A high-power air pistol can only have 6 ft.lbs of muzzle energy by law, whereas the rifle can have 12ft.lbs. It’s suggested that at 15 yards, the pistol will have plenty of energy to dispatch such quarry species as feral pigeons and rats, but what are the hard numbers?
Before we go on, I’d like to make it clear right from the start that I’m saying nobody should even try to hunt vermin with an air pistol. The task is simply too demanding on the equipment, and the efficiency with which we’re able to use them.
Using one of the best vermin control pellets available, the .22 RWS Super H-Point as a control round, the pistol would launch them at 422 fps while the rifle would send them at over 600fps, a big difference you’ll agree. At 15 yards, the pellet from the pistol would have under 4 ft.lbs. where as the rifle’s one would still have almost 8 ft.lbs., more than double the energy the pistol can deliver. One of the reasons for the Super H-Point’s success is that when driven hard enough, the hollow nose expands, causing more damage to the vital organs of the pest, delivering a quick, clean kill. However, if the energy is too low, that expansion won’t occur and less than 4 ft.lbs. simply isn’t enough.
Next, we come to the contention that pistols are handier in tight spaces, which at first glance seems obvious, but is it really? Look at the photos and compare the muzzle positions of the rifle and pistol. To see the sights properly on the pistol, it needs to be held fully at arm’s length, which makes it pretty much in line with the muzzle of the rifle. So is there an advantage? I don’t think so.
Then we come to what is by far the most important factor in any hunting situation, which is accuracy. To kill any creature, you have to hit its vital area, usually its brain, to kill it cleanly, and on the pigeon and rats described, this means a target area of about the size of a one-pound coin. At ten yards, this isn’t a particularly hard target for a rifle, as long as the light conditions are good, the target is stationary, and you’re not under pressure, which sounds nothing like hunting conditions at all.
Take rats for example. They scurry around, stopping to sniff and then moving off again. In the moments when they pause, you’ll have fractions of a second to shoot and you’ll welcome any aid that helps you to shoot accurately. Feral pigeons like to sit on rafters and beams, where the light is often dim. When alarmed, they lift their heads, craning their necks around to get a better look. Again, swiftly delivered shots are vital and hitting their small head is quite a challenge, even with a rifle.
As you shoulder a rifle, it naturally lines up toward your target, from where you can line up the open sights or view the target through the scope. These will need only small adjustments before you’re fully on aim. The pistol, however, away at arms’ length takes a great deal longer to aim, unless you spend hour after hour learning the muscle memory, the way competition shooters do. It’s also been suggested to me that you could add a shoulder stock to a pistol to get better stability and accuracy which it might well do, but what you have then is a small, half-power rifle, so why would you do it?
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- 8 Gun test: BSA Meteor Evo Silentum springer
- 9 Is a springer or gas-ram air rifle best for HFT?
- 10 Gun test review: Hatsan Predator
Another claim in favour of the pistol is that they’re fast to shoot, and under certain circumstances I’d agree. In speed shooting disciplines such as IPAS and Practical Pellet pistol, the top competitors can hit their targets five times in under three seconds but they use large targets, perhaps as big as 12 x 12”, not representative of our pound coin-sized target, so the speed with which these competitors doesn’t relate to hunting.
It’s also claimed that multi-shot pistols like the Umarex eight-shot Co2 guns offer rapid fire which would allow you to get many shots off quickly but that won’t be any help as they only make about one and a half ft.lbs. and are only available in .177 calibre. This is the last choice for pest control work because .22 is far superior at close range which is what we’re discussing.
Some shooting technique trainers teach that five seconds is all you need to take a well-aimed shot with a rifle and that in fact is more than enough with three to four seconds being plenty, so at the range I set my shot timer with a four-second par and tried to hit one-inch chalk discs at 10 yards within the time allowed. Unsurprisingly to me, I didn’t do too well, whereas with the rifle I could hit about seven out of 10 times, even with a rifle not designed for snap shooting.
Just for interest’s sake, I wanted to see how well I could group my shots with no time constraints, so I took the Crosman 2240 that I have in for review, to the range. This is powerful for a hand gun and pretty accurate too. Shooting RWS Hobby pellets with my well-practised two-handed combat hold, I was grouping all my shots in 3”. So even without the pressure of speed, I’m not really accurate enough to hunt a living animal with that gun. However, it was excellent fun to plink at tins right out to 30 yards and I hit a lot more than I thought I would, but of course there was no consequence if I only clipped it, whereas wounding an animal is always unacceptable. As ethical hunters, we have a responsibility to use everything at our disposal to bring a swift and clean death to our quarry and I’m sorry, but a pistol just won’t do.
Many people, including pest control professionals, use high-power pistols to dispatch rats and squirrels caught in traps, and under those circumstances I can see the benefits. Their relatively low power is still plenty to do the job quickly and humanely, but remember to wear eye protection for this work. The reason is two-fold. Firstly, it’s quite possible that the pellet could ricochet back to you. Secondly, as the pellet strikes a rat, blood can spatter back, and if it enters your eye, could spread some of the horrible diseases that they so famously carry.
I hope that after reading this you’ll choose to use a rifle next time you need to hunt close-range pests. Only precision shooting will do the job properly and as you’ve seen, the rifle is the only answer. We’re all on our honour to use the best tool for the job of hunting - and that’s never a pistol.