Airgun Hunting; Is It Ethical?
Is it Ethical?
One of the most frequently asked questions I get from other hunters that use more conventional weapons is “is it ethical to hunt with an airgun”? This is a fair question, and the short answer is yes. If one knows their gun and what it is capable of, both in terms of power and accuracy, they know what they are capable of with respect marksmanship, and know the animal being hunted, then they can ethically harvest game. This is of course the same set of criteria any hunter using any weapon must exercise.
For me personally, it is within my skill and the capability of my many of my air rifles to take a jack rabbit with a head shot at 50 yards. I can put pellets into a half inch group all day long, and the pellet retains enough power at that range to drop a rabbit in its tracks. If I was out with a rimfire, I might reach out to a hundred yards to shoot the same rabbit, as this is within the capabilities of that gun and me as a marksman. Conversely, the idea of trying for a rabbit at 100 yards with my Webly air rifle would not cross my mind, as this exceeds the capabilities of the gun and the shooter. If there was a rabbit a hundred yards away, I'd have to find a way to close the distance. You do need to hunt smarter and hunt better with air power than you do with a firearm, and that is a large part of the appeal. I don’t really see the point of trying to reach out to exceedingly long distances with an airgun (on game), where the capabilities are marginal at best, if you want to shoot prairie dogs at long range….. use a .223! Let me be clear on this; it is possible to reach out much further than the distances I’ve stated, but as you move out further the likelihood of anchoring your quarry with every shot drops, and I believe that when you pull the trigger you should know you will hit your target, and that hit will cleanly kill your quarry. Unless you are doing pest control and the only objective is to remove vermin, I believe the ethical airgun hunter should work on closing the range rather than stretching the capabilities of the airgun. I will not second guess the long range hunter though; as long as you are obeying the letter of the law, it is up to the individual to develop their own ethical guidelines.
Another aspect of the sport I’ve moved away from is trying to take ever larger game in an attempt to stretch the use of an airgun to take quarry that is probably too large. For instance, using a .22 pcp rifle that generates 20 fpe to take a jackrabbit fifty yards out is fine, but taking a pot shot at a coyote that crosses your path at the same distance is not (headshots at a closer range are a different story). When I first started shooting with the big bores for big game, there wasn’t a great deal of up to date information or experience to draw on. But after several years of personal experience, and (I have to admit) sometimes pushing the limit, I believe that when taking larger game the appropriate range must be well considered. Trying to take any animal, even a varmint, at too great a range, with an inadequate caliber or too little power simply to test the boundaries of what can be done goes against my own personal hunting ethics.
Ethics are not simply a question of the tools used to harvest game, but how those tools are applied. I will say that after three decades of firearm and airgun hunting that airguns are a viable option for making humane kills on small game and for pest control. Additionally, big bore airguns are capable of taking much larger game humanely and efficiently when used appropriatly. To summarize; pick the proper gun and pellet, keep it to the appropriate range, know your skills, and you can indeed hunt ethically with air power.