Air Rifles

Top to bottom: Walther Terrus, the Umarex Octane and the Ruger Targis Hunter.

I know that I’ve said it at least a million times lately, but the spring time is magical in Idaho. Especially after a long winter like we just endured — Snow Armageddon — which makes us that much more excited about it. But even without a bad winter, I think spring is still impossible to beat.

Think about it. There’s bear hunting, turkey hunting, crappie fishing and mushroom hunting. Then on top of that, I’ve been doing a lot of Eurasian dove and pigeon hunting on our feedlot. But despite all of those activities, my most favorite activity is whistle pig hunting.

What’s not to like about whistle pig hunting? You’ll get 400 to 500 shots on a good day, so it’s great practice, it’s a low-key hunt so you can bang around and be loud, and you don’t have to get up real early. Then, on top of that, it’s good for the environment.

You can use a .22, which up until a few years ago, was economical to shoot. Because of the high price of .22 ammo, I started experimenting with air rifles. They’re a great option. They’re not as loud as a .22 or a .223 so the whistle pigs pop back up out of their holes faster. Plus, if you’re taking a kid, air rifles don’t ricochet like a .22 so they’re safer if the kid makes a mistake.

I’d recommend buying a .22 caliber air rifle. They have a lot more killing power than a .177. I’m sure the .25 is even better but I have nearly all .22s and the pellets are more readily available. I’m testing three new ones right now: the Umarex Octane, Ruger Targis Hunter and the Walther Terrus. They are all three sweet rifles, and I am having fun sighting them in and shooting them.

All three of them are break action barrels, which is nice because you don’t have to carry an air tank like you do with a PCP. A break action can be powered either by a spring or nitro piston.

Since most of the game that you will be hunting is small, I’d recommend using at least a 3-9x scope, and for sure you want an adjustable objective. That way you can set it for 15 yards, 30 yards, 100 yards, etc., and have a crisp clear view. Otherwise you will have a blurry view.

If you decide to take an air rifle, make sure you get some high-quality pellets like the ones made by RWS or your accuracy will suffer immensely. I cannot believe how much the accuracy can vary between pellets. It's similar to different ammo in your high-powered rifle.

If you decide to hunt with a .22, the Ruger 10/22 is the most popular model hands down. They are extremely versatile, and there are a ton of aftermarket parts available. Just like with your air rifle, you’ll want a good scope that has an adjustable objective.

Also, .22 ammo accuracy varies wildly. As a kid, I figured my .22s were only able to obtain a 1 1/4-inch group, but as I got older, I started testing higher priced ammo and discovered the reason I couldn’t get a good group was because I was buying cheap ammo all the time.

Well, the heat is coming soon, so I’d recommend that you hurry up and go shoot some whistle pigs while the hunting is still good. I’ve had a banner year this spring.

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana. He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop.