When I was growing up, nearly every kid's first real rifle was a pellet gun. We ranged far and wide through the woods with our pellet guns, and birds and squirrels feared us. Of course we soon graduated to .22's and shotguns and our childhood pellet guns were forgotten in the back of the closet. Well, it's time to dig into that closet and pull out your old friend, because a pellet gun can be a handy survival tool. Think about it. The pellet gun is accurate, it's quiet, it's powerful enough to kill small game, and you can hold 250 bullets in the palm of your hand. And if you don't have your old pellet gun anymore, go to the store and look around. Your old model may still be there along with some interesting new arrivals. Pellet guns all operate by using compressed gas to force a small lead or alloy bullet out of the rifled barrel, but the system for compressing the gas is different in different styles of gun.
The Pump-Up Gun
When I was a kid the Benjamin Pump was the king of pellet rifles. The air was compressed in a holding chamber by pumping a lever located beneath the barrel. The more you pumped (up to a point) the more power behind the pellet. The Benjamin came in .177 caliber and .22 caliber. I never have really figured which caliber was better. We argued about it as kids, and as far as I know the debate continues to be unresolved. The .177 has a faster muzzle velocity, but the .22 has a bigger bullet and thus more shock power. I guess they both must be pretty good, because after all these years; manufactures still make both calibers. I had, and still have, a 177. caliber; but that's just because that's the one that my dad bought me for Christmas. You can still buy a Benjamin, and they haven't changed over the years. The cost now is about $125, and they still spit out a pellet at about 1000 ft. per second. My brother-in-law recently bought a good, working Benjamin at a garage sale for $25. I've offered to give him twice that for it, but he won't bite. Several other companies now make pump pellet guns including Daisy and Crossman, but they just don't seem to be the same quality as the Benjamin. For one thing the Benjamin still has a real wood stock, and for another it's made in the USA.
The CO2 Gun
There is a whole class of air rifles and pistols that are powered by CO2 gas that comes in small cartridges. They are hard shooters, but I stay away from them because they are worthless without the little compressed gas cartridges. I'd rather have a gun that I can compress the gas in by hand.
The Break Action Pellet Gun
I had one friend, when I was a kid, that had a pellet gun that broke open like a shotgun. Breaking the gun open to load it also compressed air into a holding tank to fire the gun. I was not particularly impressed with this gun, because it was not very powerful. These break open, one stroke air guns have improved a lot since those days. They now fire with as much power as the pump guns. The Germans developed some particularly high quality, and expensive, guns of this type. This type of pellet gun has become increasingly popular, and there are several companies making them. The level of quality is all over the board. There has been a recent flood of 22. caliber, Chinese break action guns on the market. They are inexpensive, around $30, but the quality is poor. My son bought one at an army-navy store and it shot pretty well, but didn't have as much power as the Benjamin, and it didn't last but about six months. Personally I'd pay the extra and have a gun that I know will last a lifetime. I recently bought a Beeman break action pellet gun, and I have been very happy with it. It is made in the U.S.A. It has a real wood stock, it came with both .22 and .117 caliber barrels, and it has a fairly good scope. I shot it into a catalogue from 75 feet and it penetrated 100 pages. At 120 feet I was consistently hitting rabbit sized targets. This seems to be a good quality gun for the mere $135 it costs, but only time will tell.
Pictured Below: top, Beeman break-action pellet rifle; middle, Benjamin pump; bottom, inexpensive Chinese single pump.
If you do buy a pellet rifle, make sure that it is a compressed air gun and not a spring powered BB gun. A BB gun does not have the power or accuracy to be considered a real hunting weapon.