Like many of you, I grew up with a BB gun. Mine was in fact an official Daisy Red Ryder carbine. No compass in the stock, mind you, but a Red Ryder nonetheless. During my formative outdoor years, I carried the little rifle anywhere Dad went. It was, I would come to find out, the ultimate firearm instructional tool. Eventually, I graduated to a menagerie of pellet rifles – a Powerline 880, Crosman Pumpmaster 760, and an old Benjamin 300 series – and with them, became much more adept at ridding my grandfather’s hayloft of English sparrows, starlings and pigeons.
Undeniably Old School air rifles, most would agree. Today, however, air rifles are anything but Old School. Vastly improved operating systems. Futuristic profiles. Scopes. Red dots. Muzzle velocities at or exceeding that of most standard .22 Long Rifle cartridges.
And while small game such as squirrels and cottontails still reign supreme in terms of air-rifle pursuit interests, there does exist a contingent of air enthusiasts who have switched their sights, literally, to bigger game. How big? How about wild hogs?
Whitetails? Or black wildebeest? The playing field for those who enjoy modern air rifles isn’t what it used to be nor are the firearms. Here’s a look at some of the hottest new air rifles on the market today.
RWS Model 34
This well-balanced classic – OK, this one might be considered just a tad Old School – is available in either .177 or .22 caliber, and is ideal for those seeking to keep the barn safe from pests, furred or feathered, or the freezer filled with bushytails or fine-eating bunnies. Made by talented German craftsmen, the Model 34 features a two-stage fully adjustable trigger, adjustable rear sight, and is compatible (11mm) with many aftermarket optics mounts. This time-honored break action spring piston rifle sends .177 pellets downrange at a brisk 1,000 fps; .22 pellets at 800 fps.
Benjamin Trail NP XL
This handsome break action comes in .177 caliber, and does a right nice job in terms of muzzle velocity with a posted maximum of an impressive 1,500 fps. Sporting a fully rifled bull barrels, ambidextrous hardwood stock, textured grip/forearm, and coming complete with a CenterPoint Optics 3-9X40 scope (unmounted), Benjamin’s Trail NP (Nitro Piston) is perfect for small game hunting, plinking, and firearm handling instruction. The benefits of the Nitro Piston operating system include a smoother cocking/shooting air rifle, as well as the elimination of accuracy-altering spring torque and potential spring fatigue, even if the firearm remains cocked for hours.
Seneca Dragon Claw
No, this is definitely not your Grandpa’s air rifle. The Seneca Dragon Claw is a precharged pneumatic (PCP) .50 caliber air rifle suitable for small and medium-sized game including but not limited to feral hogs, javelin, coyotes, ‘coon, foxes, and, perhaps in the proper hands, pronghorn and smaller whitetails. This single-shot bolt action sports a fixed front sight with adjustable rear, 11mm integral scope rail, hardwood Monte Carlo stock, raised cheekpiece, male quick disconnect Foster Fill connection, built-in pressure gauge, and dual air chambers with a 3,000psi maximum fill pressure. Muzzle velocity for the Dragon Claw can be as high as 680fps.
GAMO Big Cat 1250
Another extremely nice single-shot spring piston air rifle, this one from the folks at GAMO. The Big Cat 1250 is a simple, yet traditionally effective .22 caliber air rifle designed for small game and plinking use. With a maximum velocity of 950fps, the Big Cat tips the scales at a svelte 6.1 pounds, thanks in large part to her durable synthetic one-piece stock. Other features of the Big Cat include a two-stage adjustable trigger, fully rifled barrel, ventilated rubber buttpad, Shock Wave Absorber stock, and 3-9X40 scope.
Benjamin Bulldog Bullpup
Hog hunting enthusiasts – This might be your air rifle! The Benjamin Bulldog Bullpup is a .357 caliber PCP, complete with a 5-round auto-indexing rotary clip, reversible bolt, Foster style male quick connect, Sound Trap baffle-less sound suppression system, two Picatinny style rail mounts, and a 340cc air reservoir with a 3,000 psi max fill pressure. At the bench, the Bulldog posts an impressive 800fps with a 145-grain Nosler bullet, or an even faster 910fps when armed with an 81-grain .357 caliber projectile. Aesthetically? Well, Star Wars comes to mind; however, it’s tough to argue with a combination that includes quality, performance, accuracy, reliability, and versatility. And that’s the Bulldog in the proverbial nutshell.
Some like the sci-fi looks of air rifles like the Benjamin Bulldog profiled earlier. Many, myself included, are a little more drawn to the traditional lines. And that’s the Beeman R7; she’s all about traditional. This .177 caliber break barrel spring action single-shot comes with an attractive one-piece beech stock – Think Ruger 10/22! – adjustable front/rear sights, 11mm dovetail optics mounting groove, two stage adjustable trigger, and rubber recoil-absorbing buttpad. The R7 is rated at 700fps , and is the perfect choice for plinkers and up-and-coming competitive target shooters looking for affordable accuracy and ease of operation.
Touted the world’s most powerful PCP hunting air rifle, the Umarex Hammer offers everything the big game airgunner needs and more. Able to launch three .50 caliber slugs per fill, the Hammer uses Umarex’s patent-pending Lightspeed valve to deliver unheard-of downrange velocity and energy. Powered by a huge 4,500 psi carbon fiber cylinder, the Hammer is rated to 760fps for a 550-grain .50 caliber projectile, and an incredible 1,000fps for a 250-grainer. Included in the platform are two two-shot magazines, ergonomic polymer stock, and an 8-1/2” Picatinny rail system for quick attachment of accessories. The Hammer might just be the future of airgunning.
Air Arms TX200 MkIII
Another very traditional-looking adult air rifle, this one the TX200 MkIII from Air Arms. Available in the shooter’s choice of either .177 (930fps) or .22 (755fps), the MkIII begins with a richly finished beech Monte Carlo stock and fully-rifled Walther barrel, and simply improves from there. Features standard to this beautiful little spring piston piece include an adjustable two-stage trigger, unique sliding breech, shrouded barrel, user-friendly underlever cocking system, and deep flawless bluing. An 11mm dovetail groove allows for the mounting of optics; traditional iron sights are not standard with the MkIII.