Best Air Rifles And Pellet Guns For Survival (+ 5 Reasons Why)

If you are seriously into your guns and take your prepping seriously, you may have overlooked the humble air rifle. If you are anything like me, it’s likely you haven’t shot one since you were a kid, and don’t really regard them as a serious weapon, especially in a survival situation.

This is a shame, because I’ve recently realized that no bug-out bag is complete without a decent air rifle (or three). I’ve got plenty of friends, serious preppers themselves, who swear by their air rifles.

I know what you’re thinking. Air rifles are for kids, right? Well, no.

It’s true, of course, that no air rifle is ever going to deliver the power of a “proper” hunting rifle. In a survival situation, you are never going to be able to take down a deer, a moose, or a bear with a .22, and trying to do so is likely to get you killed. But I’d like to point out that in a survival situation you are not going to be shooting at large game very often, or at least you shouldn’t be.

In reality, the majority of the food for you and your family is going to come from much smaller game – squirrels, rabbits, etc. If you manage to hit a small animal with your AK (no mean feat given the recoil) you are not going to have much animal left to eat. Hitting small game with an air rifle is easier, and means you don’t end up with squirrel mush.

Hunting With Air Rifle, Image Credit

Beyond this, there are several other reasons why you should get an air rifle for survival situations. Today, I’ll take you through some of them, outline a few options you have when choosing an air rifle for survival, and then take you through what I would recommend.

Why An Air Rifle?

#1: More Effective

Why should you get an air rifle for a survival situation? Well, let me quickly say again what I said above – that for hunting small game, they are simply more effective. You can hit a squirrel more easily with an air rifle than with a full hunting rifle.

#2: Relatively Powerful

And don’t think that just because you used one when you were a kid, that air rifles are not powerful. Nowadays, the best air rifles deliver huge power. Though they usually shoot a .177 or a .22 pellet, modern air rifles achieve fairly high muzzle velocities and can kill most small game stone dead.

#3: Size and Weight

Air rifles have a number of other big advantages in survival situations. First and foremost, they are much lighter than a full-sized rifle. This is true not just for the rifle itself, but also in terms of the ammunition you need to carry. Going out hunting with even a dozen rounds of full-sized rifle ammunition makes you slow, and limits the number of shots you are going to get. In comparison, a coffee tin full of .22 pellets is lightweight, easy to carry, costs less than $50, and will last for years as long as you are careful with it.

#4: Usable by Anyone

Lastly, one factor that is often overlooked when thinking about guns for survival is that your kids (and perhaps your wife) are not going to be able to handle a full-sized hunting rifle. I would recommend getting your son or daughter an air rifle in any case because I had so much fun with mine when I was a kid, and this is a great way of getting them into firearms young.

#5: Teaches Shooting Skills (and adds another hunter)

Teaching your kids how to shoot an air rifle is not only a great bonding activity, but will also have huge advantages when the SHTF. Think about it as adding another hunter to your group – with a bit of practice, your son or daughter will easily be able to go out an bag a few rabbits and this could make all the difference.

Types Of Air Rifles

If you haven’t used one since you were a kid, it’s worth reminding yourself that air rifles come in a variety of different designs.


The first factor to consider is the caliber. Air rifles generally come in two calibers – .177 and the larger .22 pellets. In my opinion, if you are buying an air rifle for a survival situation, only the larger caliber is a real option. .177 pellets can be used for killing small game, and are great for teaching your kids the basics of shooting, but in truth they are a little under-powered for survival situations. The .22 pellets deliver their energy to your target much more effectively, and will improve your hunting performance.

That said, caliber is not the only factor that affects the power of an air rifle. As you will see below, one of my choices for today is actually a .177, but one that has a huge muzzle velocity. The most powerful, and unfortunately most expensive, .177s produce a good deal of stopping power, but I think that for most people the .22 is best.


Then we come to the design of air rifles. A lot of the most popular air rifles available today are CO2 -powered guns, a relatively recent invention. I think these are the most popular because they essentially take out all the work from using an air rifle – using a compressed gas for power, you simply load the rifle and pull the trigger. That’s great right now, but this type of rifle will have a huge disadvantage in a survival situation: getting those CO2 canisters. They are likely to run out pretty quick when the SHTF. In addition, carrying around a load of bulky canisters essentially eliminates one of the other advantages of air rifles in a survival situation – their light weight.

For this reason, my advice would be to stay old-school when getting an air rifle or pellet rifle for a survival situation. The best air rifles, in my opinion, are the ones that use a ‘pump-action’ design. The simplest form of this–and the air rifles you are likely familiar with from your youth–are those that use a spring mechanism. By pumping the stock on these rifles, the spring inside is compressed, and when you pull the trigger the spring is released, shooting the pellet. As the simplest design of air rifle, this type is easily maintained in the field, and is really reliable.

That said, one disadvantage of spring-based air rifles is that the spring has a tendency to wear out after a while. It will being to lose power and may eventually fail. There are two solutions to this. One is to make sure you have a few spare springs and make sure you know how to fix your rifle. The second is to take advantage of an advance in the design of these rifles, and get a ‘gas-ram’ gun.

This type of rifle works on the same pump-action principle but instead of compressing a spring it uses a canister of gas, most often nitrogen. Unlike CO2 powered air rifles, because the gas stays inside the canister, it does not get consumed, so the only consumable is still your pellets.

Our Choices

There are a huge number of great air rifles available, but the most important features in an air rifle for survival is reliability, specifically a rifle that has built up a great reputation in the field.

For a truly old-school air rifle that has built up a great reputation for both accuracy and reliability, look no further than the Diana RWS 34. This is one of the simplest designs of air rifle you can get, and in a survival situation the ability to maintain your weapon easily is going to make all the difference.

If you’re looking for an air rifle that almost anyone can use, take a look at the Gamo Varmint Air Rifle. This is a .177, and whilst I said above that this caliber is not powerful enough for most survival situations, the muzzle velocity produced by this rifle more than makes up for the smaller pellets. It will produce 1250 fps, and because it uses a smaller pellet the recoil is lighter on this rifle than some others.

If you’ve got a but more cash to spend, consider having a look at gas-piston air rifles. Though they cost a little more, they are more reliable. A good choice here would be the Gamo Whisper Silent Cat, which offers huge power in a compact design. The skeleton stock on this rifle make it even more portable than your average pellet gun, and when out hunting it feels like a full-sized rifle. In addition, the incorporated scope makes it an even more accurate hunting weapon for small game. Another good option is the Crosman CFRNP17SX Nitro, which develops a serious amount of power and is a great choice for hunting small game.

Lastly, I want to mention the Black Ops Tactical Sniper air rifle. This is one of the most powerful air rifles around at the moment, and has been designed to replicate military-style sniper rifles. While the heavy pump-action and larger frame means it takes some getting used to, if you’re looking for an air rifle with huge stopping power, this is the one.

Author Bio

“Sam Bocetta is a retired engineer and writer at Gun News Daily. He’s is an avid hunter with over 30 years experience.”

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