This is quite a big topic and isn’t particularly well addressed on the internet. I thought there was quite a lot of information either missing, incorrect or contained on multiple sites so you had to keep swapping between sites to get all the information. The point of this article was to amalgamate all the information, correcting where necessary, into one place. Where possible, I’ve condensed the information into a more user-friendly format. I had to lay the groundwork initially just for those people who have pests but have never used an airgun before so for those more advanced users, my apologies for this, please skip past this initial, defining section.
I wanted this information to be as accessible as possible to everyone but certainly didn’t want to ‘dumb down’ the detail too much so it would appear condescending to the more experienced shooter. It’s a fine balance when you’re trying to accommodate everyone but then, anyone who’s part of a family will understand that 🙂
Pest Control – The Groundwork
As I mentioned above, if you’re already familiar with airguns then you may wish to skip this short section that covers the basics. Ideally, we’ll then all be on the same level when we get onto the next bit.
What’s An Airgun?
An airgun (or sometimes known as a BB Gun) is a gun that uses compressed air to fire a projectile out of its barrel. It can be in the form of a pistol or a rifle and the projectiles are typically BBs or pellets. An airgun can be powered in a few different ways and the projectiles can be in different sizes. More on all of this later but if you want to see some examples, take a look here.
What Exactly Do We Mean by ‘Pest’?
I would commonly describe my son as a pest but in this article, I’m talking about an animal that attacks food, crops, livestock, protected animals, etc. It’s these pests that you want to remove, potentially using an airgun.
Is There A Difference Between Pest Control and Hunting?
If you ask me, there is a difference yes. However, the boundaries are a little blurred. Pest control can be defined as ensuring unwanted animals are not detrimental to the local population’s way of life. This can include food sources, such as crops and livestock. However, it can also involve ensuring indigenous wildlife isn’t at risk from animals that have been unnaturally introduced to the area. When I think about pest control, I naturally think about rats, snakes and squirrels. But that’s just me. Some people specialise in non-native birds for instance.
Can I Legally Control Pests With An Airgun?
It depends where you live. For instance, if you live in France then all hunting and pest control is illegal with airguns.
In the UK, you don’t need a firearm certificate if your air rifle has less than 12ft lb of power or if you’re interested in air pistols, it has up to 6ft lb in power. As in many places, the UK rules are not exactly clear – your best bet is to take a look at their government website on pest control here.
If you’re in the US, then you’ll be pleased to know that there are not as many restrictions on pest control as other locations. However, it’s still not that clear. All these restrictions make me want to scream. Actually, it’s not so much the restrictions but the lack of clarity and the differences of laws between different locations. Why can’t we all agree on one law and apply it across our land? You see, some laws can vary not only between state but also by city. So, let’s take a look at a few states – I should add though that this information is correct as I type but really, just check locally before you go running around shooting little animals, ok? In fact, when it comes to legalities, you can never depend on anything you find on the web really, unless it’s a government website I guess. At least that’s what I’d recommend to ensure you don’t fall foul of any local laws that may have changed in the last half hour!
Take a look at the below map and the key, note that these rules can change so quickly. Make sure you check the rules and regulations of not only your State but your City. The below may be out of date in ten minutes.
Green – less likely to have problems controlling pests or hunting.
Yellow – State may have special rules, consult most up to date info under
Light Red – These States allow game hunting with larger bore air rifles, however, you will need to check on the rules of the state.
Red – No hunting permitted using an airgun.
- Hawaii and Illinois – You can only use an airgun on private property with the owner’s permission.
- Kansas – Airguns cannot be used to kill bullfrogs or turtles, bizarrely.
- New Jersey – The Airgun needs to be at least a .177 caliber (is there anything less?) but no larger than .22 caliber. Velocity must be at least 600 FPS (this rules out some types of guns, more on this later).
- New York – As above, but no upper limit.
- North Carolina – An Air Rifle is classed as a rifle, so stricter rules apply here.
- Pennsylvania – At least .177 cal must be used but with an upper limit of .22 cal. If you’re thinking of targeting Woodchucks, then you’ll need to use a .22 cal.
- Rhode Island – Again, between .177 and .22 cal must be used only and at least 750 FPS velocity.
- South Dakota – Your airgun must have a velocity of at least 1000 FPS and only certain pellets can be used (the hunting variety so presumably hollow-heads)
Which Airgun Power Plant Should I Use?
Okay, so this is more like it. This is the interesting stuff, right? I wouldn’t be surprised if you skipped straight down to this section and that’s fair enough. This is a very important bit though as there are some mightily unsuitable airguns when it comes to pest control. Pick wisely my friend and you shall be rewarded but pick foolishly and you’ll be trading it back in within a few weeks! So, take a look at the types of airgun and things will become a little clearer.
Spring Piston / Break-Barrel
The spring-piston (also known as the break-barrel) is the most common type of airgun. Powered by a spring and a (err unsurprisingly, piston, hence the name) when you perform a ‘break barrel’ or by ‘snapping’ a lever (either downwards, similar to the barrel break, or to the side). It’s this action that compresses the spring and cocks the gun. After popping a pellet into the breech and locking the barrel (or lever back in place) the gun is ready to fire. When you squeeze on the trigger, the spring uncompresses and pushes the piston forward, compressing the air in front of it behind the pellet. Once the force of the compressed air overcomes the resistance provided by the pellet in the breech, it forces it down the rifled barrel and out towards your target.
If you’d like to see some examples of these guns, take a look here (opens in a new window).
An all in one package, no need to worry about running out of CO2 and having to either stick another canister in or re-pump the air into the gun (with PCP airguns). Relatively cheap, lots to choose from and can be found typically accommodating either .177 cal or .22 cal pellets. Springers can, and are, used for pest control.
Typically single-shot, although you can get some where you can load multiple pellets at one time, these are pretty rare. The spring piston airgun is also the hardest of guns to become accurate with. This is due to the vibrations and movement that’s caused by the internal mechanism moving the barrel slightly before the pellet has actually left.
The variable pump form of the airgun is quite similar to the spring piston in many ways. Except, you have control over the power. After every shot, you will need to pump the airgun before you shoot again and the more times you pump the more powerful the gun will be for your next shot. Up to a limit, typically the minimum is 3 pumps up to a maximum of 10.
Like the spring piston, the variable pump airgun is all self-contained. Don’t underestimate this attribute. There’s a lot to be said for just picking up the gun and pellets and going outside. There are a fair few positives to this type of power unit but as we’re focusing on pest control, they’re not really relevant here.
The problem here is the amount of time it’ll take for you to actually take your shots. Even if this was a suitable type of gun for pest control, which it isn’t, you’d have to hit your quarry first time as it would be up your stairs and in your bed before you got a chance to take another.
Airguns can also be powered by carbon dioxide (CO2). These come in the form of either 12 g canisters (that can be used in pistols) and 88 g canisters (that can be found in rifles). Once plugged in, the gas (which is a liquid in the canister) is used to propel the pellet out of the barrel. CO2 airguns are often used for plinking and basically, just having fun. They’re not great for pest control as they’re unable to deliver the kind of power you’d need to
If you’d like to see some examples of CO2 powered guns, do take a look here (opens in a new window).
This power source enables semi-automatic use, which is a great positive over something like a variable pump. I’ve got a Semi-Automatic Sig Sauer MCX (you can see my review here if you like) – which is just awesome. CO2 powered airguns provide consistent levels of power
A problem I’ve found with CO2 powered guns is that you need to make sure you carry around spare CO2 canisters with you. Several times I’ve run out and not had any left so that’s the end of that. These don’t typically make for good pest control guns due to their relatively low power output. Also, their accuracy is impacted by temperature fluctuations which can be caused by the CO2 itself (it will cool the gun if you shoot rounds off quickly.)
With a PCP airgun you need to either fill up a reservoir within the gun itself with air which you can do either by a hand-pump or via a scuba tank. PCP airguns can deliver high power and shoot high caliber pellets quite long distances (for an airgun, that is) which can make it a good choice for pest control.
To check out some of the best PCP powered airguns, take a look here (opens in a new window).
PCP airguns are great when they’ve been filled, offering consistent shooting and high power. The fact that they can shoot larger caliber pellets over longer distances mean it could be suitable for pest control and hunting.
Like CO2 powered guns, you need to ensure their reservoir has enough pressure within it. Unlike CO2 canisters, many PCP guns will have a pressure gauge on it so you can tell easily if you’re low or not. If you don’t have a scuba tank, you can spend quite a while filling it up with a hand pump, I hope you’re fitter than me if you take this option!
I won’t spend too much time on the BB gun. They’re great to have a bit of fun with it the backyard but both the power available and the ammunition (BBs – which are typically small metal spheres) just don’t deliver the stopping power you need if you’re considering pest control. Can be powered, typically by CO2 or a spring-piston method.
To see some of the best BB guns, have a look here (opens in a new window).
Well, none if you’re considering pest control, however
Not enough power to consider using for pest control. Also, the barrels aren’t typically rifled and accuracy isn’t as good as the more aerodynamic pellet.
Airgun Power Plant Summary
Just to make things nice and easier and put it all in one place, here’s a cute little table so you can easily compare the different types of airgun and perhaps better understand why some are more suited for pest control (and hunting) than others.
|BREAK BARREL / SIDE LEVER||VARIABLE PUMP||CO2 POWERED||PCP|
|Source of Power||Spring-Piston compression of air via barrel or lever||3-10 Pumps of lever to generate pressure||12g or 88g canister||Internal reservoir|
|Method of Filling||Self-Contained after cocking||Self-Contained after pumping||CO2 canister inserted into airgun||Via scuba tank or hand-pump|
|Shots||Typically 1-shot per barrel-break||Typically 1-shot per barrel-break||~30-60 for 12g canister or ~275 for an 88g canister||Varies dependent on the gun but typically 15-30|
|Ideal Range (dependent on rifle/caliber/pellet)||Up to ~110 ft||Up to ~50 ft||Uo to ~60 ft||Up to ~200 ft|
|Velocity||Up to ~1500 fps||Up to ~750 fps||Up to ~800 fps||Up to ~1200 fps|
|Best Use||Near/Far Targets, Plinking, pest control, small game hunting||Near Targets, Plinking||Near Targets, Plinking||Far Target shooting, plinking, small and large game hunting|
|Advantages||Nothing else required, all self contained.||Velocity controlled by shooter.||Semi-automatic rifles available, consistent.||Powerful and accurate|
|Disadvantages||Requires more skill to become accurate||Can be time consuming to pump after every shot.||Need to keep buying CO2 canisters. Temperature can cause inconsistencies.||Relies on either a scuba tank or a lengthy manual re-fill.|
Which Pellet Should I Use?
If you have a Ferrari you’re not going to ask for it with tractor wheels. Depending on what you want your gun for will dictate what type of pellet you use. You’re here to understand pest control, so let’s forget about the other things you can do with your gun and concentrate on this. There are a few different calibers of pellet you can use, as well as different types.
Now, let’s look at the types of pellets in a little more detail:
- Wadcutter – A cheap, general purpose pellet that is great for lower-powered rifles. Is the type of pellet used in professional 10m competition events. Here’s an example of what they look like:
- Domed – Great for field targets and small game hunting, has better aerodynamics than the Wadcutter so can travel longer distances.
- Hollowpoint – A pellet designed for pest control and hunting. It is designed to expand quickly within the target, maximising damage. Don’t expect good results above about 35 yards though.
- Pointed – The best type of pellet for penetration but generally regarded as not being quite as accurate as domed pellets.
It would be easy for me to list half a dozen links to pellets on Amazon or somewhere here but I don’t think there’s a need for that. They’re easy to find. My one tip though would be to not buy the cheapest. This is actually okay if you’re outside plinking but for pest control
If you’d like to check out the best place to buy your pellets from, head over to here (opens in a new window).
Despite all the above information, remember that even if you have the best pellet for the job, if you put it in the wrong place it’s not going to kill. Similarly, although some pellets are better than others, if you’re close enough then whatever you shoot – it’s going to hit your target and go through it.
Summary Table of Pellet Types
|Ball Bearning (BB)||.177 Cal||.22 Cal||.25 Cal|
|Material||Steel (copper coated)||Lead or lead alloy||Lead or lead alloy||Lead or lead alloy|
|Weight||0.33g - 0.35g||0.35g - 0.7g||~1g||1.7g - 2g|
|Energy||4 FPE (Ft lbs energy) ~ 600 FPS (feet per second)||17.5 FPE @ 1000 FPS||20.5 FPE ~ 800 FPS||42 FPE @ 830 FPS|
|Typical Use||Plinking||Plinking, targets||Plinking, targets, pest control, small game||Pest control, small and medium game|
|Advantages||Cheap||Fast, good for targets||Okay for targets, pest control and small game||Lots of mass, good for hunting larger game|
|Disadvantages||Not many uses and not very accurate.||Not good for hunting||Not good for larger mammals||Limited uses available|
Summary Table of Activity vs Choices
Let’s Put It All Together
I know that’s quite a bit of information but if you put it all together, we’re left with this.
- Gun Type: Springer/Break-Barrel, PCP or possibly CO2 (for a pistol)
- Caliber: .177 or .22
- Pellet Type: Depends on the range but a hollow-point will usually get the job done. Although, if at close range even a Wadcutter can get the job done.
There are always exceptions. There will be people reading this that have been happily removing pests from their land for years using a different configuration, and that’s fine. My recommendation is based on what I’ve learnt through experience over the last forty years. Not just that though as I’m certainly not able to say I know it all, in fact far from it. But I speak to a lot of people in the clubs I attend. What’s of interest to me specifically is what people actually use their airgun for and I was surprised as to how many people use it purely for plinking in the backyard. I think my son will be one of those people and I actually do this more now than anything else. Actually, that’s just because it’s an excuse to spend some time with my boy but I actually really enjoy it a lot more than I used to.
Are There Any Guns That You Recommend?
Certainly. Firstly, do look at my gear and products page (opens in a new tab) – there’s a lot of guns in there that I can recommend. However, let’s focus on just the subject of this article – what kind of gun can I recommend for pest control? In the interests of keeping things simple, I’m going to suggest just two, a rifle and a pistol:
Gamo Varmint – the Varmint is a .177 caliber break-barrel (spring-piston) air rifle and has been around for years. It’s capable of over 1200 FPS and is not expensive. If you’re looking for a great rifle for controlling pests, then do yourself a favor – if you haven’t got one of these in your arsenal then add it. If you don’t have a rifle but need one for pest control, then just get this. Yes, you can get more expensive (arguably better) and definitely more powerful rifles but if I had to recommend just one, it would be this. If you’d like to check the latest price then click on the image below or the link above.
Crosman 2240 – Arguably, one of the most recognizable Air Pistols in the world. The Crosman 2240 fires .22 caliber pellets powered by CO2. It shoots up to 460 FPS, so although it won’t give you the highest velocity, remember that it is a pistol and the .22 caliber pellet is heavier than a .177 pellet. So, it does have a fair amount of stopping power at short-range. It’s also been around for years and the reviews on this one (like the Gamo) are astonishingly good. As per the above, if you’d like to know the current price then click on the link above or the image below.
How Can I Despatch The Pest Humanely?
Well, not everyone cares. But, I do – hence this section. I don’t control pests for fun I do it because I believe there’s a requirement to do so. I don’t always agree with that requirement so I don’t always take part in it. However, when I feel the need to do so, I do it as humanely as possible – and that means as quickly as possible.
The first thing you need to do is to make sure you’re close enough. After shooting your Gamo (or whatever you have) for a while you’ll get a feel for how close you need to be but with this, you don’t want to
For whatever you’re shooting, understand where their kill-zones are. For instance, for a rabbit, you’re aiming for the brain or the heart. With a rat, you’re aiming for the skull primarily. Get to know what you need to hit, it’s not the animal’s fault it’s what it is, make its last moments on this planet painless and quick.
So, what pests are there that can be dispatched from an airgun?
- Rats – probably the most common pest and the most common reason for someone wanting to get an airgun. They can be killed easily if you’re a good shot. If you’re not, best to aim for the heart area at close range.
- Birds – tricky one this. Best use the rifle with a scope and you better be quite a good shot 🙂 As you know, they don’t just sit around much. The larger birds, like pigeons, are easier of course so maybe stick with these until you get a better shot. By the way, if you’re looking for a good scope, check out this article that’ll help you choose the best one for you!
- Squirrels – best to aim for the head but note that they can take quite a few hits, most likely due to their thicker hair.
- Snakes – I don’t like snakes, they freak me out a bit – I think it’s how they move. There are some tricks to killing a snake but I don’t know them. I don’t tend to get close enough where I could take a shot (about a mile or so is close enough for me). However, they can be killed with a pellet if you want to do a bit of research.
- Racoon – A shot to the head or heart with a .22 cal will despatch a raccoon if shot not too far away. Remember though that these pests are often only seen at night, maybe invest in a night-vision scope?
- Groundhogs and Woodchucks – Their slowness will be an advantage to you, again – aim for the head or heart.
Can I Earn Money From Pest Control?
Absolutely you can, yes. Can you earn a living from it? Well, that’s more difficult and I’d say probably not. I guess it depends on how much you need to survive though. If you’re asking me, I’d suggest you keep this as a hobby if you enjoy it and use the money for accessories, upgrades, pellets, new guns, etc. Also, one thing to bear in mind is that it depends on your location. In some states
Keep Your Neighbors On Your Side
One of the last things you want to do is upset your neighbors. They have the potential to make life quite unpleasant so be nice. If your neighbors are close then don’t have a really loud rifle, although you won’t of course if you went for the Gamo that I mentioned above. Don’t try and hide what you’re doing. Explain to them why you’re doing this and even invite them round for some plinking, you need to be open, honest and friendly. This often leads to good things, for instance, they may ask you to control pests in their land also, opening up more options for you to practice your sport.
Another good tip for preventing stray pellets from entering their land is to always shoot down if possible, so behind the quarry is soil for the pellet to get embedded into. Alternatively, ensure you have a decent backstop – this is difficult of course if you’re shooting birds in a tree! Just do what you can to try and stop ricochets.
Are There Any Other Options To Using An Airgun?
If after reading all this, or indeed after trying it, you decide it’s not actually for you then there are other options. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and if I’m honest I’m not a great fan myself but do it more out of necessity usually. So, what other options are out there? Well, of course, there are dozens of different methods for killing rats, both with poison and more humane methods. The problem with some of these though is you then need to be careful with any pets you have and also your children.
If you’d like more information about pets in general by the way, you might like to check out our sister site, petskb.com!
Personally, I think if you’ve decided to eradicate pests then an airgun is a good option. A clean shot will turn the lights off very quickly but you do have to be confident with your abilities.
I enjoyed writing this and if I told you how long it took you probably wouldn’t believe me! It involved a lot of talking to people and confirming what I thought I knew, what I heard people say with more authoritative sources. I’ve actually learned quite a bit