Pest Control with Low Powered Airguns
Pest Control with Lower Power Airguns
If you were to look at the literature in the outdoor magazines and the marketing materials from the manufacturers themselves, you’d come away with the impression that you need a gun spitting out pellets over 1000 fps to hunt effectively. While there is a lot to be said for the high power air rifles currently available, there are times that a lower power gun makes a lot of sense.
For most small game hunting my preference is for a gun that is going to put out at least 14 fpe. However, when the mission is pest control around agricultural or industrial areas it makes sense to use lower powered guns. I’ve shot rats around the barn, sparrows and pigeons up in the rafters of factory buildings, and starlings invading the animal and bird feeders; and in each of the cases most shots are inside of twenty five yards, the quarry is fairly light bodied, and it is important not to risk collateral damage to surrounding buildings, equipment, or livestock. Nothing will close a shooting spot down faster than punching a hole in the barn roof! This is where the lower velocity/powered guns come into their own.
What Constitutes a Low Powered Airgun
Many of the break barrel springers available today will generate over 1000 fps in .177, and many of the pre-charged pneumatics will equal or exceed this velocity with a .22 or .25 caliber pellet. When speaking about low power guns, I am referring to guns that put out about 10 fpe which is about 625 fps in a .177 and 500 fps in a .22. I don’t think caliber matters all that much as most shots are taken inside of 20 yards, and both calibers are adequate from a terminal performance standpoint. The .22 will open a larger wound channel and at these distances trajectory is not really an issue, however there is a wider selection of guns and pellets for the .177 so it’s really a case of the shooters preference. Either will do fine so long as the gun is accurate, and this is the primary driver when selecting a gun for in-close pest control. I’d say that the gun should be capable of at least ¼” accuracy at 20 yards with the selected pellet. Another advantage of this class of guns is that they tend to be more compact, easier to shoot accurately (compared to a magnum springer at least), and are quieter.
Examples of low powered guns
There are quite a few lower powered spring piston airguns that are ideal for close range pest control duty. The B-3 is one such gun that I’ve used to take rabbits, rats, and starlings in areas where over penetration or damage from a missed shot is a concern. In addition to the reduced cocking effort, these guns tend to be quieter and easier to shoot than high power springers with a harsher recoil.
The B3 is about a 10 fpe gun that can be used for small pest such as starlings.....
Up to rabbits so long as the shot placement is right
A unique gun offered by Gamo is the Express Shotgun; a spring piston airgun that shoots a small purpose designed shell loaded with 17 grain of #9 shot (approximately 25 pellets). The Express shoots about a six inch pattern at ten yards, and while it is too light for small game hunting, is the perfect medicine for moving rats and starlings darting around the shed or barn. I had an opportunity to help out a local facility manager that lets me hunt small game around their rural factory premises. They were inundated with starlings that were building nest under shed roofs, and really fouling the area. He asked me if as a favor I could get rid of some of these nasty little pest birds … without punching holes through his roof. I spent the afternoon walking around the outbuilding dispatching these flying rats. By the time I’d wrapped up this unique shotgunning session I’d taken a couple dozen starlings, even managing to hit a couple of them on the wing. The gun was effective on these light bodied critters, though I was pretty strict about keeping all shots inside of 10 yards. A couple of times I missed and hit the roof of a shed or the rain gutters around the wooden shack used as an office, without causing any damage. With a light attached, this gun becomes an excellent night time ratting tool.
The spring piston scatter gun is very low power and expensive to shoot, but is effective and fun for pest species inside the ten yard line.
Starling inside an around outbuildings is a good application for this gun. It's a lot of fun but not great value for money.
The BAM B57 is a break down spring piston carbine in .177, which generates about 625 fps. This gun is fairly accurate producing just over ¼” groups at 20 yards, but what I really like about it is that the takedown design allows the B57 to be slipped into a daypack when I want to go onsite unobtrusively, then assembled quickly. A lot of places where you might be given permission to shoot are public enough that you don’t want to be seen walking up to the gates with a rifle slung over your shoulder. This kit allows you go quietly on site; perform the pest control task then stroll back to your car without raising an eye. I have used this gun on several occasions to remove rabbits that were causing damage at a local nursery, and at twenty yards using Raptor pellets it just bowled these bunnies over.
The Crosman 2240 is a CO2 powered single shot pistol that is used by many airgun hobbyist as a platform to build up substantially more powerful hunting handguns and carbines, both CO2 and pre-charged pneumatics. However, even out of the box these guns produce enough power to use for rats and pigeons at fifteen to twenty yards. You can buy the gun at any of the major chains that carry airguns, or you can order from the Crosman custom shop and have the gun built to your specifications for a surprisingly low price. If you like to tinker with things, another option is to buy any of the multitudes of aftermarket parts and kits to build up your own custom guns. With very little tweaking you can get substantial increases in power. I have several, and have mounted both red dot and long eye relief scopes on them, and find them a very adequate tool for clearing smaller pest species.
You can also get a higher powered PCP with an adjustable power setting that allows the gun to be dialed down when a lower power output is desired. This is one of the features I really like on the Talon SS that really like. I’ve used this gun at high power settings to shoot groundhogs, and then dialed down for pigeons in a factory building.
I like scopes on all my hunting guns, but this is especially true for pest control guns as shooting often takes place at when the sun is down or on its way down, or in the shadows of dark buildings. You don’t need a lot of magnification, I think 2x – 6x is fine, and my preference is for a fixed magnification as there is little reason to alter it when all shots are in side of 20 yards. I do like a larger objective as the light gathering characteristics are better, and have been positively impressed using scopes that have an illuminated reticule. In low light, seeing the illuminated crosshair dropping on the silhouette of your quarry makes it much easier to drop a pellet right on the target.
Red Dots are another option, and allow for fast sight acquisition which can be a big plus when your quarry is only going to stay put for a couple of minutes before scurrying away. I have a red dot mounted on my Crosman 2240 pistol, and have much better success than when I use open sights.
There are other accessories that are advantageous on these guns, a high power flashlight with a pressure switch allows you light up the varmint right before the trigger is squeezed. I’ve used red and amber filters over the flashlights lens, and it appears that they don’t spook critters like rats as much as a bright white light. Another nice add on is a laser, which can be used in conjunction with the scope to quickly line up a shot when light is available, but low.
Pellets for Up-close Pest Control
The pellets that I use for this type of shooting are somewhat different than my typical small game choices. When out hunting rabbits and squirrels, the shots are often at thirty to thirty five yards. I want a pellet that is accurate, retains energy at greater distances, and provides a good balance between penetration and energy delivered on target. For the type of pest control we are discussing here, what I am looking for is tack-driving twenty yard accuracy, fast drop off in velocity, and limited penetration. For most small game hunting with high powered airguns my preference is a heavy pellet with a round nose, as I find these generally offer the best all around performance. However, when shooting up close and with lower power, there are other styles of pellets that I have found very useful.
Wadcutters are the pellet of choice for marksmen shooting ten meter competition, because they are accurate at close range. However the ballistic coefficient is not great on these pellets; the velocity, accuracy, and terminal performance drops off very rapidly. But at twenty yards on light bodied pest species they work quite well and don’t over penetrate. Hollow points are also a good choice (providing they shoot well in your rifle) for close range pest control duty, for the same reasons.
Polymags are a hollowpoint with a polymer tip that combines attributes of both a pointed field tip and a hollowpoint, and in many of my guns offers the added advantage of being more accurate than either of these styles. On hitting the target, the Polymag travels some distance before the tip fragments. The main body’s penetration is more limited than would be noted with a conventional pointed field pellet. It should be noted that with the low velocities obtained with the guns being discussed in this article, that hollowpoints do not expand and effectively are the same as shooting a wadcutter in this respect.
I have often been required to use Lead Free Pellets when shooting in areas where there is concern over animals ingesting lead, or people being exposed to lead dust. I think that this risk is probably overrated, but still, if someone is going to give me permission to shoot I’m not going to argue. Not that long ago the selection of lead free pellets available were pretty dismal, but more are coming to market all of the time. There is a new line being distributed by Predator International I’ve been using since the SHOT Show which look promising.
Pest Control Opportunities
If you look around, many opportunities to shoot pest species can be found; be it agricultural areas, dumps, industrial facilities, or storage areas to name a few. The combination of low power, accuracy, and very low noise generation make for an ideal combination. This is a fun way of getting in some reactive target practice, while providing an environmentally friendly way of ridding the area of species that cause damage to property or are vectors for the spread of disease. And you can shoot at just about anytime of the year, rats, pigeons, starlings, and sparrows can be taken at any time and in any numbers through most of the country