Entry Level PCP Air Rifles

Airguns are an efficient and effective means of dispatching varmints, especially in areas that are noise sensitive or where the possibility of collateral damage to buildings, livestock or equipment is a concern.

Entry Level PCP Air Rifles

The author’s Umarex Notos (lower) with Leapers UTG Sniper scope and Umarex Origin.  

So, what makes a great air rifle for hunting small- to medium-size varmints and pests? There are specific requirements related to the targeted species and shooting conditions, such as caliber and power output. But there are general requirements such as accuracy, physical dimensions and fit, cycling action, shot-to-shot consistency and number of shots per fill that are important regardless of the specific application. Let’s look at these first.    

In my opinion, accuracy is the key criteria for any rifle, and my baseline for a standard caliber varmint gun is half-inch groups at 50 yards using a medium to heavy pellet or slug. The gun does not have to be regulated, though in general this does provide better consistency, resulting in minimal velocity variation over the shot string. My preference is a side lever cocking action that actuates a multishot magazine, which must cycle smoothly and reliably. Another personal preference is that the gun generates 25 or more full-power shots per fill. I think that full-size rifles, carbines and bullpups all have their pros and cons, and which is best is often a question of individual preference.

When it comes to performance, I give more latitude to power output than accuracy. The power requirement is directly related to the type of game and conditions a hunter expects to encounter. If there is a gun I enjoy shooting, that is highly accurate but at the lower end of the power spectrum, I’ll still hunt with it. However, this might require limiting the range, targeting smaller critters and being much more selective with shot placement. 

As a general rule of thumb, for an all-around varminting gun my preference is a .25-caliber that generates power in the 40+ fpe range. The bigger the quarry and/or farther the anticipated range, the more I like these larger calibers. Another nice-to-have feature is adjustable power, which will let you dial the rifle down to shift from shooting prairie dogs in wide open grasslands to pigeons around the barn. This is the equivalent of handloading for the powder burners.

Of course, if you have a specific application such as rats or pest birds in an industrial area, where the targeted species is small and shooting will be at closer range or in a building, a lower power and smaller caliber makes sense. A .22 putting out 12 to 16 fpe might be the best tool in this scenario. A gun for this environment would also benefit from being compact, both for transporting to the shooting area and maneuvering through confined spaces. Another consideration is the level of noise generated, because out on the open grasslands the moderate sound signature of a powerful .25-caliber rifle might be a non-issue. However, if shooting in a building it might well be. For this reason, I prefer a gun to either have a shrouded barrel or be threaded to accept a suppressor. 

And finally, the price of the rifle should be budget friendly, which I define as the $250 to $600 range. But keep in mind that you must also factor in a means of filling the gun, which is an added cost. The options are a hand pump, a tank that can be filled at a paintball or dive shop, or a compressor. This is a different topic in its own right, but I will mention that the costs of portable compressors have come way down in recent years, and this will provide an endless air source for low-cost shooting.

As an example, I’ll share my thoughts on some of the rifles I’ve been hunting with over the past several months that I would recommend as good entry-level rifles. They balance performance, features and budget to provide great options for varmint and pest control shooters.

The Avenge-X Tactical with Leapers Integrix scope is an excellent choice for hunting varmints.
The Avenge-X Tactical with Leapers Integrix scope is an excellent choice for hunting varmints.

Umarex Notos 

I’ll start off with the Umarex Notos, which is a very compact and lightweight airgun, available in any caliber you want as long as you want a .22. Joking aside, this carbine is just about perfect for small pests and varmints — rats in the barn, rabbits in the garden or squirrels in the orchard are easily handled by this 16 fpe carbine. It checks all of the boxes: it is accurate and appropriately powered, uses a side lever action (positioned on the left side) with a seven-shot magazine and it is compact with a fully shrouded barrel. Another key feature of the Notos is that it is regulated, and though not adjustable it ensures consistent velocity throughout the shot string. I think as a pest control gun used for close range (inside 40 yards) this gun stands way above its modest price point. Additionally, this is one of the most fun to shoot plinking rifles I’ve found in a long time.

Umarex Origin .25

The Umarex Origin PCP rifle is available in .22- and .25-caliber versions. One of its standout features is that the design makes the gun ideal for those who want the low cost and simplicity of using a hand pump to keep the gun charged. This PCP rifle reduces the pumping effort substantially and requires about a dozen pumps with a hand pump to generate a full-power shot. With 100 pumps to completely fill the reservoir, the .22 will produce 40 shots at over 1,000 fps and 20 shots in .25-caliber at about 950 fps. Leveraging this design feature, the Origin is available as a stand-alone rifle or bundled with a hand pump. 

I do think that if you can swing the price of a portable compressor, this is the perfect gun to use it with. The Origin incorporates the Umarex “Ever Pressure Tank” system, which compresses the onboard air reservoir with a pre-pressurized chamber, reducing the number of pumps (or fill time for a compressor) needed when compared to other rifles in this category. Other features of note include a smooth side lever that indexes an eight-shot magazine (10 for the .22), an adjustable two-stage trigger, integrated fill pressure gauge and a compact and ergonomic traditional sporter design.

Hatsan Flash QE .25 

The Flash QE is another PCP rifle that is available in both .22- and .25-caliber versions. It is accurate and moderately powerful, generating about 40 fpe in .25-caliber. Even though this is one of the lowest priced guns from a major manufacturer, it is feature rich, which I think makes it one of the best values to be found. Some of the standout features include a fully shrouded barrel that effectively reduces the sound signature, the company's proven two-stage adjustable “Quattro Trigger” and an “Anti-Knock” system to prevent air waste. With a long track record of producing performance guns at reasonable prices, my only real criticism of Hatsan’s designs is that they can be large and heavy. However, the skeletonized synthetic stock on the Flash addresses this, with an out-of-the-box weight of 5.9 pounds. This is a rifle that’s been on the market for a few years, but is still a top-level choice for an entry level varmint rifle that you won’t outgrow.

Air Venturi Avenge-X Tactical .25  

The last rifle on my short list in this category inhabits the high end of budget price range, but when considering what you get is still an exceptional value. The Air Venturi Avenge-X line of PCP air rifles is a modular design that can be ordered as a Tactical, Classic or Bullpup configuration, with wood or synthetic stocks, air bottle or reservoir tube air storage and caliber mod kits for .177-, .22- or .25-caliber. There are other guns that offer similar modularity, but what sets the Avenge-X apart in my opinion is that the conversion kits are available, very reasonably priced, and can be used by the typical owner to customize their own guns. 

I have had a Tactical version of this rifle for several months and used it on everything from rabbits to raccoons in agricultural areas to long-range prairie dogs on the open grasslands. The Avenge-X has a smooth side lever cocking action and an affordable and field proven rotary magazine. Both the regulator and hammer spring are fully adjustable to optimize air flow management for specific ammunition, and a fully shrouded barrel helps reduce the report. The Avenge-X can serve as a gateway to airgun hunting but can evolve with shooters as they gain experience.

The Right Air Rifle for You

A few years ago, it was difficult to find a quality PCP air rifle in the budget price category, and even more difficult to find one with a robust feature set. The idea of a well-made PCP with a shrouded barrel, a regulator and smooth side lever action at a reasonable price was the unicorn of airgunning — a nice story but it didn’t exist. But in recent years manufacturers and retailers such as Hatsan, Umarex and Air Venturi (to name only a few) have stepped up their game by providing good options at a good price. Picking the air rifle that best suits your needs is a personal decision based on intended use, what you like and what you want to spend. Having said this, I can recommend any of these rifles for consideration when looking for a standard caliber air rifle for small- to medium-sized varmint hunting.


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