After waiting silently for 20 minutes in  the small woodlot, attention was drawn to the movement of limbs in an oak tree, shaking from the weight of a gray squirrel that scampered from a nearby hollow in search of acorns. 

The RWS air gun topped with a 4-power scope tracked its movement until it stopped about 25 yards away. The quiet puff and vibration of the weapon sent the 8.2-grain lead pellet on its way. Upon impact, there was a gray blur as the squirrel tumbled into a tangle of honeysuckle vines. A quick search revealed the victim of a head shot curled on the forest floor.

Soon after, nearby movement revealed another squirrel moving along the upper limbs of a tulip poplar tree. Due to the nearly silent operation of the air gun, he had not detected the demise of the previous victim. After closing the distance to about 30 yards, the barrel was pointed in his direction and a hand was braced against a tree trunk to provide a stable rest. At the report of the rifle, the squirrel spun through the air and bounced on the ground beneath the poplar — another head shot!

Within 20 minutes, the scene was repeated and a nice trio of gray squirrels were taken from the small woodlot, and the surrounding squirrels and bird life hardly knew a hunter was there. 

That is the advantage of hunting with an air gun. They are quiet and efficient as long as you respect the range and don’t try to stretch your shots. Limiting shots to 30 yards or less will result in more success. Also, when hunting squirrels, head shots are more likely to result in instant kills than body shots. Sometimes with body shots at 25 to 30 yards, the squirrel will die from the wound, but not instantly. If a hollow is nearby, he might be able to scamper into it and be lost.

Air gun technology is advancing by leaps and bounds. Historically, they have been deadly since before the adventures of Lewis and Clark as they searched for the Northwest Passage. Meriwether Lewis bought an air gun on the expedition. It took hundreds of strokes to fill the air reservoir, was heavy at about 10 pounds and very sensitive. 

Today, hunters only have to search advertisements from outdoor retailers to get an idea of the advances made in air gun technology. Rather than hundreds of strokes to charge the weapons, a simple “barrel-break” will do the job. Some models use levers for charging and require several strokes. If you choose, some models use CO2 cartridges to propel the pellets, so no pumping is required. The gas cartridges are convenient but do not provide the velocity of the pump models.

Ammunition has advanced considerably as well. Lead was once prevalent, but now other material alloys are used. These new ammos, in combination with the superior air guns, provide pellet speeds up to 1,400 feet per second in .177 caliber — faster than a .22 short, which travels around 900 fps. Standard velocity .22 long rifle ammo may be 1,200 to 1,300 fps, and high velocity increases by a couple of hundred fps. This means that new-generation pellet guns are reaching similar speeds as the popular .22 ammo.

Despite this improved performance, shots at game should be restricted to reasonable distances. Lighter ammunition loses velocity faster than heavier ammo, and penetration suffers.

Pellet or air guns are commonly offered in .177 and .22 caliber. Many hunters favor the .177 caliber for its higher velocities; it is a bona-fide squirrel gun. Air guns in .22 caliber boast speeds of 900 fps for alloy pellets and 725 fps for lead. 

Choices in air guns has never been better. The Gamo brand has gained prominence, but RWS, Benjamin, HatsanUSA, AirForce, Stoeger and other names are continually making improvements to capture their share of the market. 

In addition to hunting, due to their quiet nature, air guns are great fun to shoot in backyards. Good backstops or pellet traps should be used to assure safety. Competition with family or friends is great fun and relatively inexpensive as compared to traditional firearms. 

Due to the increasing popularity of air guns, GAMO Outdoors USA, in partnership with Buckmasters sponsored the first annual “Squirrel Master Classic” near Montgomery, Ala. It pitted some of the best names on outdoor entertainment hunting shows in a one-day  contest of skill with air guns on teams of six that included one member of 4-H as well. 

If you are looking for a new way to enjoy outdoor sports and minimizing your investment, purchasing an air gun may be the best choice you can make.