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.
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.
(Deer, Elk, Moose: What’s the Difference? See this post for more)
You popped in for a quick list of the best airguns for deer hunting, so here are our top recommendations.
There are much more detailed reviews further down :
|Airforce Texan Big Bore|
|Seneca Dragon Claw|
Best Big Bore
|Seneca Wingshot II|
|Airforce Texan LSS|
Otherwise, it’s good to have some interesting facts about deer hunting before a detailed look into individual air rifles.
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 to stalking deer.
(Are Deer Nocturnal, Diurnal, or Crepuscular? See this post)
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 the 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 games.
|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.
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? We can not call that humane.
For deer, we can safely say that any muzzle energy 200 FPE and above is required for deer hunting.
Still, in the table above, you can see the minimum acceptable caliber for hunting different games. 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.
(For more on how to choose the right air gun caliber for your game, see this post.)
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 criteria are as follows:
- Muzzle energy above 200 FPE
- Caliber above .25
1. Best Big Bore air rifle for deer hunting: Airforce Texan
AirForce Airguns was the first manufacturer of PCP air rifles in the U.S.
It was founded in 1994 in Texas, and the Texan and Texan SS are its main products.
AirForce has some serious airguns for the serious shooter.
Their rifles offer an advanced design, performance, and versatility for every shooter.
The Texan was released in 2015.
Since then, it has been a monster in the airgun world.
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
|.308||JSB EXACT DIABOLO, 50.15 Gr||50 yards||1/2"|
|.308||JSB Exacts....50.15 gr||25 yards||nickel size|
|.457||340 grain||100 yards||0.75"|
|.457||143 grain round ball||50 yards||one hole|
|.457||150 gr ball||75 yards||3/4"|
|.457||Air Venturi FP 350 gr||50 yards||0.73"|
|.357||Aero Magnum||50 yards||0.66"|
|.357||Predator Polymag||50 yards||1.42"|
|.357||Aero Magnum||100 yards||1.31"|
|.357||JSB Diabolo Exact 81.02 gr||1100||217.74|
|.30||Slug 85 grains||1040||204.19|
|.457||Air Venturi Round Ball 143 Grains||1016||327.85|
|.357||Air Venturi Round Ball 66 grain||1066||166.58|
|.357||Air Venturi Flat Point 127 grain||847||202.36|
|.30||Nielson 122 gr. hollow point||692||129.76|
|.30||Hunter Supply 134 gr. s.p.||721||154.71|
|.457||Semi-wadcutters 215 Grains||835||332.94|
|.457||Air Venturi Round Ball 143 Grains,||1044||346.17|
|.457||Slugs Nielsen 350 gr||809||508.77|
|.457||Slugs 405 gr||765||526.42|
|.457||Air Venturi FP 350 gr||710||391.87|
|.257||Areo Magnum 70gr||1139||201.7|
|.457||Air Venturi PHP 250gr||813||367.01|
|.457||Air Venturi SWC 265gr||820||395.76|
|.457||Air Venturi FP 350 gr||746||432.62|
|.457||Air Venturi FP 405 gr||704||445.82|
|.357||Aero Magnum 128gr||915||238.02|
|.357||Predator Polymag 81gr||989||175.97|
|.457||Roundball 143 gr||907||261.28|
|.457||Hollow point 200 gr||848||319.43|
|.457||Round Nose 350 gr||791||486.38|
|.457||Round Nose 405 gr||750||505.98|
|.457||Hunters Specialty 310gr||806||447.29|
|.457||Hunters Specialty 350gr||769||459.7|
- Pest control – small/medium/large game hunting: deer, hogs, groundhogs, squirrels, rabbits, coyotes.
Pros and Cons
2. High-powered air rifles for hunting deer: Seneca Dragon Claw
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 from this high-powered pellet rifle for hunting deer.
The ammo flies at about 679 fps.
What’s more? Air bolts shot with the Dragon Claw have 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
|.50||Air Venturi Round Ball 177 gr||630||156.03|
|.50||Air Venturi FP 336 gr||556||230.7|
|.50||300 grain Pellet||738||362.9|
|.50||Air Venturi 210gr||640||191.04|
|.50||Air Venturi 336 gr||545||221.66|
Pros and Cons
3. Best repeater air rifle for deer: Benjamin Bulldog
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 2019 – 2023.
|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 was 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 on 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
|.357||H&N Grizzly Hollowpoint 82gr||100 yards||1"|
|.357||81gr JSB Diablo||50 yards||one hole|
|.357||Airgun Slugs 142 gr||75 yards||1"|
|.357||Predator Polymag, .35 Cal, 81.01 Gr||50 yards||1/4"|
|.357||Neilson Speciality Ammo 110 grain slug||55 yards||1/2"|
|.357||81gr JSB Diablo||50 yards||one hole|
|.357||.358 slug of 125 grains||50 yards||0.42"|
|.357||JSB 81 grain||50 yards||0.5"|
|.357||JSB Match Diabolo Exact 81gr||905||147.35|
|.357||Air Venturi Hollowpoint 95gr||777||127.39|
|.357||Benjamin Nosler Ballistic Tip 145gr||728||170.68|
|.357||H&N Grizzly Hollowpoint 82gr||907||149.83|
|.357||Air Venturi Round Ball 67gr||941||131.77|
|.357||Benjamin Nosler Ballistic Tip 145gr||731||172.09|
|.357||Benjamin Nosler Ballistic Tip 145gr||784||198|
|.357||158 grains pellet||880||271.76|
|.357||Hollow Point 130 gr||900||233.88|
|.457||Benjamin Slugs 279 Gr||730||330.22|
|.457||Seneca 300 gr||703||329.3|
|.457||Seneca 405 gr||579||301.56|
|.357||Air Venturi Round Ball 67gr||885||116.55|
|.357||Air Venturi Hollow point 95gr||794||133.02|
|.357||H&N Grizzly Hollowpoint 82gr||830||125.47|
|.457||Hunters Supply 298gr||793||416.22|
- Small/medium/big game hunting: deer, prairie dogs, hogs, coyotes, squirrels, rabbits.
4. Seneca Wingshot II Shotgun
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
|.50||Air Venturi 177gr||739||215|
|.50||Air Venturi 430 gr Air Bolt||507||246|
- Small/Medium/big game hunting: javelinas, deer, coyotes, rabbits, squirrels, prairie dogs
Pros and Cons
5. Most quiet air rifle for deer: Airforce Texan LSS Moderated Big-bore PCP
AirForce Texan LSS PCP air rifle is a powerful and quiet air rifle that is perfect for deer hunting or target practice.
The CF tank’s 475cc, 250 BAR (approx. 3600 psi) fill pressure and updated TX2 valve help boost the Texan LSS’ maximum muzzle energy from an already whopping 600+ foot-pounds of energy to over 800 FPE (in .50 cal)
And, of course, the slightly smaller, carbon-fiber tank weighs less than its aluminum counterpart, bringing the total weight of the Texan LSS down to a feathery 6.35 lbs.
- .257, .308, .357, .457, and .50 Caliber Lothar Walther Barrel
- Velocity: up to 1100 feet per second*
- Max Fill Pressure: 3000 psi / 200 bar (Only use compressed air or dry nitrogen)
- Safety: automatic on cocking
- 490cc air tank
- Pressure Relief Device
- Adjustable Power. See our Manual for more information on how to tune your rifle for the specific ammo used.
- Low Effort Side Lever Cocking
- Available in Original Black Finish
|.457||Hornady Round Balls 143 Gr||1050||350.16|
|.257||72 grain bullet||1130||204.2|
- Pest control – small/medium/large game hunting: deer, hogs, rabbits, squirrels, coyotes.
Pros and Cons
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’s 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 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.
The 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 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 increase.
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 knockdown 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.
(For more on the differences between .177 & .22 and which jobs they do best, see this post.)
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 games. In such cases, the .177 will serve you well.
But if you are looking at medium-sized games, better go for the .22 air rifles.
Which is better, 177 or 22 airguns?
None of the above.
Do you remember that interesting answer to the multiple-choice questions in primary school?
I hope you do.
In short, it all depends on your purpose when using an air rifle.
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 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 more on 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 is the big-bore model 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|