Can A Pellet Gun Kill A Rabbit, Squirrel and Other Small Game?


No matter where we live, there is a small predator looking for a way to steal something from your off grid homestead.  For me in Hawai’i, it’s mongoose and rats, for you it might be squirrels and rabbits.  Whatever the case, a good pellet gun can help keep those numbers in check.

A quality pellet gun with a .177 caliber pellet and a minimum pellet speed of 1000’ per second (FPS) is adequate enough to kill rabbit, squirrel, mongoose and other small game.  Shot accuracy and distance help determine the lethality of the shot as well.

I remember being so unsure on whether or not my pellet gun was strong enough to take down a small mammal.  But I assure you, the right pellet gun can certainly pack a whollup. That’s good too, because where I live with neighbors around me, I need something relatively quiet.

6 Things To Consider When Choosing A Pellet Gun To Hunt Small Game

Not all pellet guns are the same.  I have had a few that could not shoot if their life depended on it.  Over the years I’ve spent as a farmer trying to protect my crops from animal pests, I have tried a few pellet guns.  I’ve come up with a few things that I look for when choosing a gun.

Pellet Gun Caliber Sizes For Hunting Squirrels & Rabbits

Pellet guns come in 2 standard caliber sizes, .177 and .22.  The .177 caliber is a smaller caliber pellet and tends to shoot at a higher velocity.  A heavy .177 pellet also tends to be quieter than the .22, which is important when hunting in a neighborhood.  In fact, in some areas, a .22 pellet is illegal to shoot, leaving the .177 as the only option.

The .22 caliber seems to be the favored choice for avid small game hunters.  Many claim it to have more accuracy and deliver a higher percentage of one shot kills.  The .22 is more accurate in windy conditions, most likely thanks to the added weight.  

While it shoots at a lower velocity, the weight of the pellet allows it to still pack a punch that can take down any small game mammal.

If you are curious about how well pellet guns can work on chickens, check out this post I recently wrote, Pellet Guns Vs. Chickens: Will It Get The Job Done.Opens in a new tab. While any of the guns recommended in this article will be suitable for hunting chickens, you may want to go with a smaller gun if you’re only after birds.

How The FPS Rating Affects The Power Of A Pellet Gun

FPS stands for feet per second.  Pellet guns are rated by how fast they can shoot a pellet, but those ratings tend to be skewed.  Either by artificially “dieseling” the pellet and/or by using super light weight alloy pellets.

Most pellet gun buyers make the FPS rating the major consideration in whether or not a gun is good for hunting small game.  However, there is something even more to consider, muzzle energy.

I’m going to let the folks from Airgundepot.com explain it:

The formula for muzzle energy is pellet weight X FPS X FPS / 450240 = Ft. Lbs of Energy (F.P.E) For example, a .177 cal 4.7 grain alloy pellet traveling at 1400 FPS (Energy= 20 ft. lbs) will have a lot less knockdown power than a .22 cal 14.3 grain pellet traveling at 1000 FPS (Energy= 32 ft lbs) So in simplistic terms, the higher the Ft. Lbs of Energy the more knockdown power a pellet will have when it hits a target.

Basically, a heavier pellet traveling at a slower velocity will almost always have a higher F.P.E. than a very light pellet traveling at high FPS.

As you can see, the pellet weight is more important than how fast a pellet can travel.  Not only does a heavier bullet have more knockdown power, it is more accurate as well.  This solidifies the fact that a .22 Caliber pellet gun is better for hunting small mammals than a .177 Caliber pellet gun, even though they may have lower FPS ratings.

Pellet Gun Scope Quality

The scopes that come with your air rifle are notorious for not being very great.  If you are serious about hunting, you may want to consider getting a new scope.  However, there is something you should know first.

Because of the design of the break barrel pellet gun, the scopes barely stand a chance at being accurate.  Each and every time the barrel is reset, something shifts.  It may be minute, but it is there and that can cause inaccuracies with your scope.

For better accuracy, a pellet gun with a fixed barrel, spring pneumatic rather than a break barrel gun would ensure more accurate shooting, but that isn’t always what we have available to us.

When it does come to scopes, they come in a fixed zoom and variable zoom. The fixed zoom is great for hunting small game at close ranges.  Once it is sighted in, you do not need to make any more adjustments, saving you lots of time.

A variable zoom scope is able to zoom in and out, allowing you to hunt larger prey over longer distances.  But it can be a pain to adjust the scope, sometimes leading to lost opportunities.

How Easy Is It To Load A Pellet Gun

The ease of loading your pellet gun can greatly affect your success while hunting small game.  Most pellet guns are single shot, breakneck pellet guns, meaning you have to break open the barrel, usually across the knee, in order to load one pellet in the gun to shoot.

Needless to say, this can result in missed opportunities.

There have been some advances to pellet gun technology that have enabled some to be able to load a magazine of bullets.  This accounts for more shots being fired.  Only drawback, you still have to break the neck of the pellet gun in order to reload it for the next shot.

Good Weight For a Pellet Gun

Some pellet guns are downright heavy, making them cumbersome to use when hunting small game.  I like my pellet gun to be lightweight and versatile, but that cannot always be had depending on what kind of hunting you do.

I like having a lightweight .177 caliber pellet gun for hunting rats and chickens, but breakout the .22 when a mongoose rolls by.  When mongoose hunting, I tend to be more stationary, quietly propping my pellet rifle at a distance so as not to scare them.  For chickens and rats, you have to be more on the move.

A good weight range for a pellet gun is between 5lbs – 8lbs, anything heavier and it’s just too heavy.

Keeping The Noise Level Down On Your Pellet Gun

The reason many of us choose a pellet gun over a conventional gun is the need for stealth, mainly because you are probably shooting it with a neighbor around.  While most pellet guns are already pretty quiet, some come with special muffler technology that can decrease the decibel level of your gun by as much as 25%.

The quietest pellet gun on the market is the Gamo Silent Cat Air Rifle, tested at 69 decibels. That’s pretty quiet for a pellet guns.

I have been able to take my Benjamin Trail NP which is typically shooting at 91 decibels, install a suppressor and was able to bring it down to 79 decibels.  Accuracy and power did not seem to be affected by using a suppressor.

In addition, pellet size seems to affect the noise level of your gun, with the larger .22 caliber size being more quiet than the faster .177 size.  Typically it’s the speed the bullet is shot that affects the noise level.  The sound barrier is broken at 1100fps.  

If you have a .22 that shoots slower than 1100fps but still packs enough muzzle energy, it will never break the sound barrier and therefore won’t exhibit the loud crack that faster speed guns exhibit.

My 2 Favorite Pellet Guns For Small Game Hunting

After going through a few pellet guns, I have come to land on 2 in particular that fit my small game hunting needs.  In fact, these two guns have done more for putting food on my table than any fishing pole or garden has yet to accomplish.  So it’s important to find one that works.

The 2 Pellet guns I use on my homestead for hunting small game such as squirrels and rabbits are the .177 Benjamin Trail NPOpens in a new tab. and the .22 Gamo Swarm Fushion 10x Air RifleOpens in a new tab., with the .177 Benjamin being the gun that I use most often.

The .177 Benjamin Trail NP, while not the lightest gun, is light enough.  It shoots a .177 pellet with deadly accuracy at 1500fps.  It is quiet, easy to load and has taken down all manner of small game, from rats and chickens up to smaller squirrels and rabbits.

The .22 Gamo Swarm Fushion 10x Air RifleOpens in a new tab. is the gun I use when the mongoose is on the scene.  I need a gun that can shoot at a distance and still be accurate and the .22 Gamo delivers.  I once took down a Mongoose with a single shot at over 60 yards away with this pellet gun. This gun also has a magazine that can hold up to 10 pellets at one time, allowing for easy shot reloading.

The .22 Gamo is heavy though, coming in at over 10lbs.  That is probably the main reason I come back to the .177 Benjamin Trail NP for most applications. 

How Small Game Fits On The Off Grid Homestead

Part of the reason that I chose to live off grid was to provide many of my needs on my own.  And when you have a problem that can turn into a solution, you find a way to capitalize.

I regularly get mongoose showing up on my homestead, (when I lived in California it was squirrels, rabbits and gophers).  These critters attack my veggie crops, go after baby chickens and eggs and are just an all around nuisance.

Without many natural predators, it has become my responsibility to keep their numbers in check.  It is also a responsibility of mine, my kuleana, to produce food for my family and neighbors.  These predators need to be gone to ensure good harvests from our land.

At the same time they can also be food.  We don’t eat rats, but mongoose can be delicious.  And I’m sure you’ve heard of people eating squirrel or rabbit soup for dinner.  There is nothing wrong with the meat on these small mammals.

Not only do we consider the food that we purposely grow to feed us as food, but the wild plants and animals beyond our border as well.  These wild foods help enhance what we can produce on our lands.  Turning a problem into a solution. 

Sean Jennings

Sean has been living simply Off-Grid in Hawai'i for over 18 years. He lives debt free on Hawai'i Island with his family and over 40 chickens. When he's not tinkering around the homestead, he's off exploring the shorelines for fish & surf.

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