Hard-hitting air rifles are tailor-made for squirrel hunting. The almost non-existent report lets you and a buddy work a plot of trees together without alerting every bushytail to your presence. But you shouldn’t just grab your old Red Ryder and head for the woods. To cleanly take squirrels you’ll need an airgun capable of putting out at least 10 foot-pounds of energy, which rules out many of the ones you’ll find at the local big-box retailer. Here’s a round up of some of the best around, priced from affordable to aspirational. As a bonus, these make for perfect plinkers, so you’ll look forward to practicing at every chance—without bothering the neighbors.
1. Benjamin 392S Variable Pump
You probably grew up with some version of pump BB gun. Load a BB, pump the fore-end up to 10 times, and take aim at the cans you set up downrange. Benjamin has a grown-up version of that pump, with enough oomph to take out squirrels in your favorite hollow. The .22 caliber Variable Pump looks like an updated version of Benjamin’s fan favorite Silver Streak, which was produced for about as long as I have been alive. The new model ditches the wood furniture in favor of a synthetic Monte Carlo stock and cloaks the metal in a matte black finish, but retains the familiar hardware, including the rifled brass barrel, single-stage trigger, bolt action, and manual safety. As the name implies, the power output is regulated by how many times you pump it: Three pumps net up to 500 feet per second; six pumps, 650 fps; and the maximum 10 pumps deliver up to 800 fps. The last produces 15 foot-pounds of energy, which will reliably drop squirrels at the distances you can connect with them using the pin-front and adjustable rear sight. A .177 caliber version is also available, but it can only put out 11 foot-pounds, which is probably the bare minimum for ethical hunting.
2. Hammerli 850 AirMagnum
Another youth favorite is the CO2-powered pellet gun. These guns offer fast action, as the typical 12-gram CO2 cylinder means you don’t have to pump or cock the gun between shots. It makes for extra fun plinking, but most CO2 guns lack the energy needed to ethically take game. The exception to the rule is the Hammerli 850 AirMagnum, an 8-shot repeater that propels .22-caliber pellets at 760 fps with about 13 foot-pounds of energy—plenty for bushytails. Unlike the CO2 guns of your youth, the AirMagnum uses a massive 88-gram cartridge that provides about 225 shots before it needs to be replaced. Pellets are held in a cylindrical magazine, which can be swapped quickly. The 850 AirMagnum comes equipped with fiber-optic sights that are perfect for squirrel hunting, and the receiver also wears a standard 11mm dovetail rail for scope mounting.
3. Gamo Wildcat Whisper
It’s hard to beat the simplicity of a break-barrel airgun. Just fold the air rifle in two to cock it, insert a pellet, and close it back up. The first generation of break barrels used springs for propulsion. That works, but power drops off as the metal in the spring gets fatigued. The modern equivalent uses a piston containing an inert gas such as nitrogen that stores energy when compressed, unleashing it when the trigger is pulled to provide velocities up as high as 1,500 fps. The gas piston has a much longer service life, and you can safely leave it compressed for hours at a time. Cocking is also smoother, lacking the difficult spots that a spring typically exhibits. Gamo’s Wildcat Whisper air rifle puts gas piston technology in your hands at a really affordable price. It fires a .22-caliber pellet at around 975 fps or a .177 at 1,350 fps. Opt for the bigger pellet for more knockdown power. The combo comes with a serviceable 4x32mm scope as well, so you can be ready to hunt after a quick sight-in session.
4. RWS Diana 48 Sidelever Action Spring Piston Air Rifle
Spring-piston rifles were the first powerhouses. These airguns use massive springs to create big power, throwing pellets with enough energy to knockdown critters weighing 25 pounds or more. One of the most respected springers is the RWS Diana 48 Sidelever, a very consistent shooter that produces impressive groups. Though RWS is known for crafting some swanky airguns, this isn’t one of them. The 48 has a utilitarian beechwood stock, sized large enough to contain the massive spring. It takes quite a bit of effort—39 pounds of force to be exact— to cock this monster by compressing the spring. While most spring-piston air rifles are cocked using the barrel, the force needed to arm this one would warp a barrel in short order, so it employs a side lever to maintain accuracy. The big spring creates roughly 22 foot-pounds of energy at 900 fps in .22 caliber, which is plenty for squirrels, rabbits, and raccoons. You can also pick up the RWS Diana 48 in .177 and .25 calibers, the latter being a good choice for mid-sized game at modest ranges. Prices are subject to change but Umarex USA has it listed for under $250 right now, which is a steal.
5. AirForce Talon SS
Precharged pneumatic airguns are the hot ticket these days, but the concept is far from new The Girardoni air rifle carried by Lewis and Clark on their expedition to the West Coast was fed by a detachable air reservoir that provided about 30 shots. Though the Texas-based AirForce company didn’t invent the concept, they have certainly helped perfect it. The Talon has done a lot to popularize the precharged pneumatic system with American shooters, and it is still one of the better ones on the market. The SS model added a shroud over the 12-inch Lothar Walther barrel that decreases turbulence created by the air following the pellet out, lessening the report significantly. I’ve used this air rifle for bird removals in urban areas, with passers-by being none the wiser to the shooting going on behind them. The output is adjustable via the power reel on the barrel, so you can dial it down to 400 fps or all the way up to 1,000 fps to really reach out. Depending on the setting, it will deliver up to 40 foot-pounds, so you can reliably take game larger than squirrels with it. This bolt-action single-shot features an adjustable two-stage trigger and is available in .177, .20, .22, and .25 caliber. I suggest giving the .20 a try; just keep in mind that the pellets can be hard to come by.
6. Stoeger XM1 Air Rifle
Stoeger recently jumped into the world of precharged pneumatic airguns with its 2020 introduction of the XM1, an affordable option ideal for the squirrel woods. You’ll get plenty of hunts in with the XM1′s integrated tank, which holds enough air for about 50 shots before accuracy starts to suffer. The .22 version of the XM1 pushes pellets at around 1,000 fps; the .177 models are a little faster but don’t pack as much punch. Both are very quiet, as the built-in suppressor slowly bleeds off excess air to dampen the report. The thumbhole stock can be adapted to fit just about anyone—righty or lefty—with both standard and high cheek pieces to ensure a good sight picture. Removable spacers and two different-sized pistol grips provide a custom fit. There are a few different models available, any of which is a bargain for a serious PCP air rifle. The top of the line model is ready to go out of the box with a Realtree EDGE finish and a 4x32mm scope.
7. Benjamin Marauder Semi-Automatic
One of the biggest advantages of airguns is the minimal report they produce. If you happen to be lucky enough to hunt in an area with a lot of squirrels, you can utilize this stealth to take several off the same tree. And the faster you can get rounds off, the better. Because there’s no excess gases created by the combustion of a round, engineering a semiauto airgun is a tall order. The market reflects this, with limited options currently available. But recently, Benjamin developed an autoloading version of their beloved Marauder, which can empty the 10-shot magazine as quickly as you can pull the trigger. The Marauder Semi delivers .22-caliber pellets at 950 fps with 29 foot-pounds of energy, which is more than enough to cleanly take squirrels, raccoons, and other small game. Filling the on-board tank to 3,000 psi gives you about 60 shots before energy starts to drop. An adjustable, raised cheek piece provides an excellent cheek weld and the Picatinny rail—a rarity on airguns—makes it easy to mount optics.
8. Hatsan FlashPup SYN QE
I’ve never understood why bullpup designs aren’t more popular for still-hunting. The compact size makes weaving your way through the woods just that much easier. Perhaps one reason is the typically poor trigger pull created when you move the trigger away from the action. Fortunately, the Hatsan FlashPup SYN Quiet Energy lacks the spongy trigger pull present on many centerfire bullpups. In fact, the match-grade, two-stage adjustable trigger breaks pretty cleanly. The FlashPup has more than enough power for squirrels and other small game, pushing a .22-caliber lead pellet at about 1,000 fps with 38 foot-pounds of energy. Report is further mitigated by Hatsan’s patented QuietEnergy shrouded barrel, which reduces sound by up to 50 percent, keeping other squirrels in the dark. The new FlashPup SYN QE is produced in .177, .22, and .25 calibers. I like the.22 for squirrels.
9. Benjamin Marauder Woods Walker Air Pistol
Hunting squirrels with a handgun is a great way to boost the challenge. Using an air-powered pistol takes it up another notch. Most air handguns are designed to take out cans, and don’t have nearly the horsepower needed for clean kills on squirrels. Benjamin downsized the engine behind the popular Marauder series to produce the Woods Walker, a powerful air pistol that delivers 15.5 foot-pounds of energy at 700 fps in a compact package. The Woods Walker feeds from the same 8-shot auto-indexing circular magazine as its larger kin, so you can take quick follow-up shots by manipulating the rear-mounted bolt. The 18-inch-long precharged pneumatic pistol is wrapped in Realtree AP camo so you can stay hidden, and a red-dot sight makes getting on even moving bushytails easy. If you decide you’d like to give yourself more of a handle on the Woods Walker, you can swap the grips for the included shoulder stock.
10. FX Impact MKII
If you absolutely hate having money and want to hunt squirrels (and just about anything else) with one of the best air rifles in the world, pick up the Impact MKII from Swedish manufacturer FX. This innovative air rifle looks like something Q put together for James Bond. It utilizes a series of barrels and barrel sleeves to transform the bullpup from .177- to .30-caliber to take a variety of game. You can even select from an array of sleeves in each caliber to tailor the twist rate to match the weight of the projectile your using for match-grade accuracy. Output power is also easily adjusted, using the external regulator. Most of us don’t have a lot of experience with super-premium airguns, but the AR-style pistol grip and safety will be familiar. The cocking lever is placed just above the trigger, letting you cycle the next pellet in without breaking your cheek weld for rapid follow-ups. But as with centerfire rifles, true precision comes at a price.