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What is the best air rifle for deer hunting?
I guess you’re an aspiring deer hunter if you want to know this.
Or maybe you’re an expert just looking for your next rifle.
As you pursue your hunting dreams, remember the funny deer joke.
Two hunters, Jack and Jill, and the pilot.
Table of Contents
Try and try again
Jack and Jill hired a pilot to take them deep into the forest for a serious hunting session. After the hunt:
Jack and Jill: Jeez! We just shot six deer!
Pilot: (looking concerned) The plane won’t carry six deer! The maximum allowed is 4. We’ll have to leave two of them.
Jack and Jill: (looking at each other cunningly) But last year we carried six on the plane.
Pilot: Hmm, Really? Okay, as you say.
5 minutes later – the plane crashes into the thick forest.
Jack: Any idea where we are?
Jill: Certainly, yeah! Around the same place our plane went down last year!
Funny, but every hunter can relate (trust us — you can!).
The zeal to down the biggest deer never dies.
You popped in for a quick list of the best airguns for deer hunting, so here are our top 10 recommendations.
There are much more detailed reviews futher down :
- Airforce Texan Big Bore air rifle
- Seneca Dragon Claw
- Evanix Rainstorm
- Benjamin Bulldog
- Hatsan AT44-10
- Hatsan Bull Boss QE
- Hatsan Flash
- Airforce Condor SS PCP Air Rifle
- Air Arms S510
- Seneca Wingshot II Shotgun
Otherwise, before a detailed look into the individual air rifles, it’s good to have some interesting facts about deer hunting.
Deer hunting facts
Josh Honeycutt of Real Tree lists 15 deer hunting facts that will turn around your hunting perception.
Here are the top 10:
- Every deer has a different nature from the other one
- A tactic you used to shoot one deer will not necessarily work on the next deer.
- While deer hear the same way as humans, they are able to smell nearly 1,000 times better than humans
- Make sure to take a good shower before hunting
- Deer can spot the blue color 25 times better than humans
- Ditch your blue hunting jeans, you are selling yourself so easily
- Deer aren’t territorial, meaning they don’t defend any biographical area
- Don’t follow deer rut signs too much.
- By the time deer season comes to an end, deer will have considerably traveled from stand sites
- Constantly move your treestands to follow the deer.
- Bucks have an average range of nearly 1000 acres – that’s large!
- But the home is about 100 acres, and this is where they spend most of the time.
- So use trail cameras to track where the deer feeds, beds, and waters, then go for the shot
- Deer talk in hundreds of voices
- Learn a dozen or so of their calls to help you identify them.
- Deer select the most nutritious and delicious parts of plants
- Make your food plots and trees the most appetizing by use of fertilizers
- Deer bed mostly near water ponds
- Dig small watering holes near your deer hunting stands.
- Deer sleep facing downwind so as to smell whatever is behind them and at the same time see what is in front of them
- Change your approach of stalking deer.
And now to the meat of the matter:
How to choose a deer hunting rifle
On your way to the local air rifle store, or even an online store, have the following tips at your fingertips.
Foot pounds of energy (FPE)
You need power to kill deer.
And you can’t compare that power to what you use to kill a rabbit.
That’s simple logic.
Below is a recommendation by experts on how much power you need to kill the different game.
|Game||Minimum acceptable caliber||Minimum energy (FPE)|
I would however add a note to the above.
Hunting is subjective. One man’s meat is another man’s poison.
Quite a number of hunters are of the opinion that 200 FPE is too much for deer.
To them, such energy significantly tears up the flesh of the prey.
On the other hand too little muzzle energy will only wound the prey.
What if the deer escapes after the first shot?
And you wound a second one and it likewise escapes?
You end up with a suffering population of deer, the cause being. We can not call that humane.
A good hunter’s aim should be to shoot to kill.
For deer, we can safely say that any muzzle energy 50 FPE and above is enough for deer hunting.
Still on the table above, you can see the minimum acceptable caliber for hunting different game. Here is the breakdown:
- For small deer – .357+
- For medium deer – .40+
- For large deer – .45+
Larger calibers are needed for the required muzzle energy.
Calibers like the .177 may not be of use because of lower muzzle energies.
As is with the FPE, the debate still rages on whether smaller calibers like the .25 and .22 are appropriate for deer hunting.
This brings us to our next point.
Local hunting laws
Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife clearly states:
“Deer may not be hunted with the use of dogs, artificial lights, snares, traps, set guns or any firearm using .17 or .22 caliber rimfire cartridges, except that .22 caliber rimfire magnum cartridges are permitted.”
Where are you reading this guide from? Perhaps it’s Wisconsin.
Their law states:
“It is illegal to hunt deer with any center-fire rifle less than .22 caliber, any rimfire rifle, or air gun”
I wouldn’t want to go over all the laws for the different states and countries in the world.
The point is that they are different.
So make sure you know the exact permissions and prohibitions.
This is but a general guide.
Sometimes you need to shoot far.
Sometimes your prey is at close range.
Did you know different airgun types have different maximum ranges?
Here is a generalized breakdown.
- Precharged pneumatic airguns – 75 yards – or 69 meters
- Break barrel airguns – 50 yards – or 46 meters
- Underlever airguns – 50 yards – or 46 meters
- Multi-pump airguns – 30 yards – or 28 meters
Which powerplant wins? The PCP airguns.
But do not be excited yet – the devil is in the details.
Here are other minor considerations in choosing the best air rifle for deer hunting:
- Fit and finish
- Trigger quality
- Accessories included
- Action – single-shot or multi-shot
- Weight and length
Let us now have a deeper look into the individual air rifles proposed for deer hunting.
Our inclusion criteria are as follows:
- Muzzle energy above 45 FPE
- Caliber above .22
We’ve elected to leave out Co2 air rifles for this rundown.
1. Airforce Texan Big Bore air rifle – best air rifle for deer hunting
The .45 caliber delivers an unbelievable 600 FPE, with ammo speeds of up to 1,000 fps.
Perhaps that too much for you.
Why not go for the .257 caliber which yields up to 175 FPE?
I bet this is enough to down the deer in the most humane way.
The air rifle is also available in other calibers. A summary will do you good.
- .257 caliber – 6.5 mm – 175 FPE – 960 fps
- .30 caliber – 7.62 mm – 238 FPE – 1270 fps
- .357 caliber – 9.0 mm – 300 FPE – 1100 fps
- .45 caliber – 11.43 mm – 611 FPE – 1040 fps
- .50 caliber – 12.7 mm – 700 FPE – 710 fps
Other features of Airforce Texan Big Bore (Specific to the .257 caliber)
- 3000 psi maximum fill pressure – partly responsible for the raw power
- 2.06 lb trigger pull – crisp and safe
- 10 maximum shots per fill – enough to down a few deer before the next refill
- 7.65 lbs weight – not so heavy for the averagely built hunter
2. Seneca Dragon Claw – High powered air rifle for hunting deer
This is a purely .50 caliber high powered air rifle that gives you 230 FPE muzzle energy.
Like the Airforce Texan Big Bore, the punching power is not a guess.
Provided your aim is well calculated, no deer, be it big or small, will survive the blow.
The ammo flies at about 679 fps.
What’s more? Air bolts shot with the Dragon Claw have an even higher punching power.
The maximum muzzle velocity achievable is 679 fps.
Other features of Seneca Dragon Claw
- About 3 shots per fill – according to the Tech department of Pyramyd Air
- Can shoot lead ammo as well as air bolts
- Two big air reservoirs that give more shots per fill
3. Evanix Rainstorm II PCP – best big bore air rifle for deer
Of our concern is the .357 caliber model, although it also comes in .177, .22 and .25.
This is the first in our list from a South Korean manufacturer.
For your information, both Airforce and Seneca are American brands.
So I guess you are curious to hear more about this air rifle from South East Asia.
From reliable confirmed user reviews across the interweb, we can confirm the airgun never falls short of 100 FPE.
Of course, that is allowed when the manufacturer’s user manual doesn’t expressly state the energy ratings, and we have not personally tested the air rifle.
Other features of the Evanix Rainstorm
- Repeater function – makes many hunters feel the quick firing action, without the need to load ammo after every shot
- Built-in manometer to check fill pressure
4. Benjamin Bulldog – Best Benjamin air rifle for deer hunting
Names are sure something to go by.
Bulldog! That’s the name.
And the slogan? Big bite, little bark!
That is the reason thousands of people order it year after year.
Look at the following list of Pyramid Air’s top selling high end air rifles for the period 2015 – 2018.
|1||Benjamin Marauder||Benjamin Marauder||Benjamin Bulldog||Benjamin Bulldog|
|2||Benjamin Bulldog||Benjamin Bulldog||Air Arms T200 Sporter||Benjamin Armada|
|3||Airforce Texan Big Bore||Benjamin Armada||Seneca Dragon Claw||AirForce Texan Big Bore|
|4||Air Arms T200 Sporter||AirArms TX200||Airforce Texan Big Bore||Air Arms TX200|
|5||Benjamin Armada||Airforce Texan Big Bore||Benjamin Armada||AirForce Texan SS|
|6||Sam Yang Dragon Claw||AirForce Condor SS||Airforce Condor SS||Benjamin Marauder Filed & Target|
|7||Air Venturi Wing Shot||Air Arms T200 Sporter||Air Arms TX200||Seneca Dragon Claw|
|8||Sumatra 2500||Hatsan Gladius||Seneca Sumatra 2500||AirForce Condor SS|
|9||Air Arms TX200||Sam Yang Dragon Claw||Seneca Wing Shot II||Seneca Wing Shot II|
|10||AirForce Condor SS||Air Venturi Wing Shot||Airforce Texan SS||Air Arms T200 Sporter|
Starting with the big bite, the .357 caliber gives you the authoritative muzzle energy of 200 FPE.
Your ammo can attain speeds of up to 910 fps.
The air rifle is fairly consistent regarding the speed of the ammo.
See the graph below for deeper insight.
- Testing done with 81-grain JSB pellet
- Starting pressure – 3000 psi
- Ending pressure – 1900 psi
Moving on to the little bark, the airgun’s barrel is fully shrouded to reduce the noise levels.
With a rating of 4/5, we cannot claim it is the quiet air rifle in our list, but at least it is quieter than the high power rifles we already mentioned.
Other features of the Benjamin Bulldog
- Ultra-modern bullpup design that trims the overall length and reduces weight
- Has numerous picatinny rails for ease of customization – add as many accessories as you can
5. Hatsan AT44-10 – Best value for money deer air rifle
Now this badass weapon from Turkey.
The Hatsan Arms Company never disappoints.
Reason why the next three in my list are all Hatsans.
I call it “value for money” to preempt the high quality you get at a relatively lower price.
You can get this air rifle for less than $500.
With a muzzle energy of 46 FPE and muzzle velocities of up to 870 fps for the .25 caliber, you can go deer hunting with confidence.
What makes my heart race is the 27 shots per fill capacity.
This allows you to forget the air pumps and solely focus on hunting.
Other features of AT44-10 QE Air Rifle
- Uses the Quiet Energy technology to achieve noise levels of ⅖ – perfect for stalking on the prey without scaring it away.
- Anti-double-feed system to ensure only one pellet loads after cocking the gun.
6. Hatsan BullBoss QE – best air rifle for white tail deer
Yet another bullpup air rifle in our list.
To bring you up to speed, bullpups are air rifles designed with the action behind the trigger area.
The purpose is to shrink the length and reduce the weight of the air rifle, while keeping the power and accuracy high.
This favors hunters with milder physique.
If you ever hunted, you can really tell the burden of carrying a heavy weapon across the ragged terrain.
That said, the Hatsan Bull Boss is only 8.6 lbs in weight.
Of course, it is not the lightest out there.
But it’s worth it given the high muzzle energy of 42 FPE.
Other features of BullBoss QE
- Quiet Energy technology cuts noise levels by up to 32%.
- Incredible capacity of 30 shots per fill – keeps you shooting for hours before thoughts of refilling
- Overall length of 36 inches.
7. Hatsan Flash QE PCP – best affordable air rifle for deer hunting
This powerful Hatsan air rifle will set you back only 300 bucks, and you are ready to go for the bucks.
I believe that’s quite manageable to most beginning hunters.
You are looking at muzzle velocities of up to 900 fps and muzzle energy of 40 FPE.
That’s commendable for the price.
No complaints at all.
What more, the air rifle features a synthetic skeletonized stock that brings down the overall weight to the amazing low of 5.9 lbs.
Teen hunters were surely favoured here.
See below a comparison between the Hatsan Flash and Hatsan Flash QE when using caliber .25.
|Specs||Hatsan Flash||Hatsan Flash QE|
|Maximum Muzzle Velocity||900 fps||900 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||40 FPE||40 FPE|
|Air Tube Volume||165 cc||165 cc|
|Fill Pressure||200 BAR||200 Bar|
|No. of shots per fill||90||90|
|No. of shots at optimal velocity||38||38|
|Stock||Advanced Polymer||Advanced Polymer|
|Weight||2.5 kg||2.68 kg|
Other features of Hatsan Flash QE
- Anti-knock mechanism that stops gas wastage in case you knock the airgun
- 2 stage fully adjustable quattro trigger system that feels smooth and safe on your fingers
8. AirForce Condor SS PCP – best pcp air rifle for deer
Talk of accuracy, and I’ll point you to the Condor SS PCP air rifle by Airforce.
Expert measurements rate it at 1” at 50 yards.
Of course, you need to be dead accurate while hunting deer.
A non-accurate air rifle will cost you lots of shots, as well as result in merely wounding deer.
You aim at the brain and get the nose.
Other features of Airforce Condor SS PCP air rifles
- Can be configured in multiple ways, adding to its versatility
- Rip-snorting velocity of 950 fps
9. Air Arms S510 – best air rifle for small deer
With a fill pressure of up to 3,625 psi, you can rest assured the resultant punching power is massive.
The .25 caliber delivers up to 40 ft/lbs energy.
This is enough to humanely eliminate small deer.
Not only power – looks matter too.
The brits killed it with the beautiful brown walnut stock.
Every model would want to brag on Instagram with this cute weapon.
See below an accuracy test of the Air Arms 510 with different pellets.
Other features of the Air Arms S510
- Incredible accuracy – though it has a repeater shot function, its accuracy surpasses that of most single shot rifles, which are always thought to be more accurate than multi-shot rifles.
- 10-shot repeater function – feel the action
- Features the coveted Lothar-walther barrel
- Grandiose hardwood monte carlo stock
10. Seneca Wingshot II Shotgun – best big bore air rifle for deer
Similar to the Seneca Dragon Claw, the Seneca Wingshot II Shotgun is terribly powerful.
Think of muzzle energy of up to 360 FPE.
That’s fit for the biggest deer you can find on earth.
And to think that all that power comes at less than 800 bucks. Seneca rocks!
This air rifle additionally features a ventilated rib on the upper side of the barrel.
Its purpose is to improve the accuracy of the gun.
More so, you can switch between long and shotgun options.
Other features of Seneca Wingshot II Shotgun
- 5 steady shots per fill
- 5-lb trigger pull – sounds heavy, but practice makes it easier
Frequently asked questions
Can an air gun kill deer?
Yes, you can kill deer with an airgun.
To even make it sound more assuring, killing deer with airguns is legal in most states and countries.
I do understand that your country laws may prohibit the hunting of deer with air rifles.
That may be for reasons best known to the regulatory authorities.
For instance, in the UK, you are only allowed to use a firearm.
But most Americans on the other side use the air rifles.
Can a .22 kill a deer?
Yes, and then no.
You see, hunting is a skill that takes time to perfect.
For the expert hunter, a .22 air rifle is just as fine.
Reason being he knows exactly where to aim.
Many hunters use the .22 air rifle for hunting deer.
They mainly capitalize on neck shots.
A novice may not kill a deer with a .22.
Because of relative inexperience, he may only end up wounding the deer several times.
And I guess that is part of the reasoning behind the laws that prohibit the use of any weapon less than .30 caliber.
Why don’t Hunters shoot deer in the head?
First and foremost, the head is a harder target to get.
Rarely does a deer keep its head still for you to make your aim and get it.
The head is always on the move.
Consider also its tiny size compared to the chest.
As such, it is easier to go for the heart or lung shots.
But if you truly trust in your hunting skills, aim at the head and your chances of killing the animal in a single shot increases.
Where do you shoot a deer with a 22 Magnum?
Brian Mccombie of Outdoor Life discusses 5 possible parts to shoot for a clean kill.
- High shoulder – you are able to short circuit the deer’s nervous system if the ammo is fast enough.
- Heart-Lung – Allows for not-so-accurate shots, given the heart-lung area is wide enough
- Brain – the deer dies at the spot if the shot is accurately placed.
- Neck – thick significantly shocks the spinal cord and can instantly incapacitate the deer.
Caution – For all the above-mentioned parts, the brain shot is the most certain, especially when considering a .22 Magnum.
For the other areas, there is a high possibility of simply wounding the animal.
Can you kill a deer with a .177 air rifle?
I would personally not recommend the use of the .177 air rifle in killing deer.
Consider the gamo magnum air rifle, which is one of the most powerful .177 air rifles.
It yields a muzzle energy of 26.6 FPE, which is way lower than the minimum recommended punching power of 100 FPE.
Is .177 or .22 stronger?
The .22 is certainly stronger than the .177.
The muzzle energy is a function of the pellet weight as well as the velocity.
The combination of these two parameters for the .22 caliber always yields a higher punching power.
Is .22 or .177 better for hunting?
Based on our answer above, the .22 air rifle is better for hunting.
In hunting, what concerns you most is the killing power.
That is not to disregard the .177 as an effective hunting air rifle.
It may be that your focus is small game. In such cases, the .177 will serve you good as well.
But if you are looking at medium sized game, better go for the .22 air rifles.
Which is better, 177 or 22 airgun?
None of the above.
Do you remember that interesting answer for the multiple choice questions in primary school?
I hope you do.
In short, it all depends on the purpose you are putting the air rifle to.
Some applications like fun plinking need nothing above the .177.
The .177 caliber will as well suffice for sports shooting competitions and field target practice.
And for hunting, you may need the .22 and above.
Should I get a 177 or 22 air rifle?
First get the .22, followed by the .177.
Aren’t we speaking of deer hunting?
I hope it is very clear to you now that the .177 is a no-go-zone as far as deer hunting is concerned.
So start with a .22.
After tasting of its capabilities, consider going higher or lower in caliber, based on your hunting experience.
In case you are looking at the 2 in terms of costs, smile at the fact that some air rifle models cost roughly the same for the different calibers.
What you might need to spend on more is purchasing the pellets and BBs. The .22 pellets generally cost more than .177 pellets.
Can a 1200 fps pellet gun kill?
To take you back, we don’t measure the ability to kill by muzzle velocity.
We measure the killing power by muzzle energy.
This takes into account the speed of the ammo as well as the size of the ammo.
Speed alone is an insufficient indicator of killing power.
If the airgun with a muzzle velocity of 1200 fps is of .50 caliber, it can not only kill, but instantaneously incapacitate even the cape buffalo.
What is the most powerful deer rifle?
To be on the safe side, let me preempt that the most powerful deer air rifle are the big bore models of .50 caliber.
Below is a breakdown of the most powerful .50 brands and models in the market
|Air rifle||Muzzle Energy|
|.50 Airforce Texan LSS Big Bore PCP Air Rifle||700 FPE|
|.50 Hatsan Pile Driver PCP Air Rifle||800 FPE|
|.50 Seneca Double Barrel PCP Air Shotgun||360 FPE|
|.50 Seneca Dragon Claw PCP Big Bore Air Rifle||230 FPE|
|.50 Umarex Hammer PCP Pellet rifle||700 FPE|
It is my sincere hope this detailed air rifle buying guide has been both informative, eye-opening and practicable.
My wish is to get you started on your hunting endeavors as quick as possible.
After all, time waits for no king.
Anyways, here is a 5-point take-home
- Go out of your way and learn the behavior of deer
- Know the laws of your country concerning deer hunting
- Know your exact air rifle needs, and shortlist all that will satisfy those needs
- Compare the air rifle prices
- Make a purchase
By having the right gun, your hunting expedition is set to be more fulfilling. (For more on 5 types of air rifles you need to know before buying, see this post.)
But on top of that, remember that the gun is as good as the hunter.
A powerful weapon in your hands will not necessarily kill.
You need to constantly sharpen your skills so as to always return home packing lots of meat.
Sean Campbell’s love for hunting and outdoor life is credited to his dad who constantly thrilled him with exciting cowboy stories. His current chief commitment involves guiding aspiring gun handlers on firearm safety and shooting tactics at the NRA education and training department. When not with students, expect to find him either at his gunsmithing workshop, in the woods hunting, on the lake fishing, on nature photoshoots, or with his wife and kid in Maverick, Texas. And after all that, he manages to spare some time to share his experiences with his ever-growing online audience. Read more about Sean bio >>