Can You Kill a Bird With a BB or Pellet Gun?


BB guns and pellet guns are part of a growing sport. As that sport grows, questions like this are common for new airgunners: “Can I hunt a bird with a BB or pellet gun?”

Pellet guns and BB guns are able to kill birds, and are often used to hunt them. Even lower-powered BB guns shooting at 300 fps have enough energy to kill a bird if the shot lands in the right place. Pellet guns are more popularly used to hunt than BB guns.

You might not think it, but there are entire communities that use airguns to hunt. Here in America, firearms tend to steal the show, so most people would not think about using a BB gun or a pellet gun for more than pest control, but it is indeed possible to kill birds with these guns.

What Should I Use if I Need to Kill a Bird?

You may have come across this article because you are looking for a way to reliably kill pest birds, or you are interested in hunting them. If that is the case, making the right decision the first time could save you a lot of heartache.

Right out of the gate, you should know that most game birds legally cannot be hunted with rifles, so no duck hunting with these things, but you can shoot pest birds like pigeons and crows.

AnimalEnergy NeededAirguns That Work
Sparrow2 ft lbsAny pellet gun that can shoot at 350 or more fps or any BB gun that can shoot at 500 or more fps.
Pigeon3 ft lbsAny pellet gun able to shoot at 450 fps or more.
Crow5 ft lbsAny pellet gun able to shoot at 550 fps or more.
Birds of similar sizes to the ones we have listed will also need similar energy outputs.

Most pellet guns, especially springers and PCP’s will have more than enough energy to do the job you need to.

If you are shooting from far away, you will want to have more energy behind your pellet, as this will help to increase your accuracy and odds of killing the bird instantly on a successful hit.

Most airguns with enough energy to reliably hit and kill a bird will have enough power to shoot a pellet at around 500 or more feet per second. You do only need 300 fps to kill a pigeon with a BB gun, but that is if you hit the thing in the right spot.

You may also want something that you can shoot quickly. If you are okay with a longer reload time, a break barrel or underlever adult spring powered air rifle would have enough power to reliably kill a bird, though just be aware that a break barrel might not be as accurate as some of your other choices.

A multi pump airgun would also work well if you don’t mind the longer reload times. The multi pump will allow you to change the power of your shots by pumping more or less than your previous shot, but will take longer to reload, usually needing three or more pumps between shots.

A PCP would be the all around best gun for this purpose, but will be the most expensive option available to you. The PCP would require the least amount of time to effectively reload your pellets, but requires extra tools to keep running. This is by far the most expensive option, with normal PCP’s costing $400 or more, not counting the extra equipment.

Anytime you are hunting an animal, you want to kill the thing as quick as possible, instantly if you can. This reduces the amount of time that the animal spends in pain before it expires. There is a lethal zone on every bird that you want to hit reliably. That zone is about an inch wide, and if you hit it, the bird will die instantly, assuming your pellet has enough energy.

Do the Pellets that I Shoot Matter?

One of the beautiful facts of pellet guns is the wider range in options that they have regarding what you can shoot with them. By that I mean what you can shoot out of them. Pellets come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, with some having rounded tips, others having pointed tips, some flat, others hollow pointed.

BB guns come in three flavors: steel BB, copper BB, and lead BB. That is about all of the variety that you get when you shoot with a BB gun, and I would guess that most BB gunners have no idea that lead BB’s are even an option.

This is part of the reason that we would not really recommend a BB gun for hunting pests. BB guns make great plinkers, but even though they have enough energy to kill a bird if hit right, pellet guns tend to be more accurate, and therefore tend to be the better option for hunting or pest control.

This is because delivering the pellet is the most important part of the hunting process. It does not matter how fast your pellet goes, nor how well your pellet deforms when it hits the target if you cannot hit the thing.

If you do manage to hit the bird, but don’t kill it instantly, then the bird will die a slow painful death. Because of those things, you should value accuracy over anything else when hunting in general.

One point of airgunning you should be aware of is that your gun will like different pellets better than others, and that that varies from gun to gun. Even the same type of pellet will perform differently when produced by different brands. That is a little frustrating, but you should know that the general, all around good pellet is the standard diabolo shaped pellet.

This pellet is the one with a pinched waist and a hollow skirt that trails behind the rest of the pellet, and will probably remind you of a badminton birdie. These pellets usually have rounded heads, but some pellets can be considered diabolo without having that cap shape on their front.

Pellets also have wider ranges of calibers than BB’s do. BB’s come in standard calibers of .177 and… that’s it. If you think you need it, a .22 caliber airgun will still do very well for birds and have increased mass which can prove helpful in many situations, but you usually don’t need more than .177 caliber for birds.

We mentioned the deformation that pellets can go through when they hit their targets. The soft lead that they are made of allow for this kind of thing, and and if they are meant to deform a lot, there will usually be some kind of hole in the head, or a lip that the lead can catch on to.

When a pellet deforms, the shape of the pellet is pulled apart in such a way that it no longer is aerodynamic, and that means that it will dump more energy into your quarry than normal. Dumping more energy into your animal means you are going to do more damage, which means a faster and more humane kill.

Different shapes of pellets that are designed to deform and thus dump a lot of energy into the animal are great if you can reliably hit the animal. Accurate shooting should take priority when you are considering what to shoot, because as we said earlier, if you are not able to hit your target, it does you no good to have a pellet that will deform a lot on impact.

You should test to see which pellets work best for you and your gun. Shoot groups of five at a target to see which will work best for you. You can get sampler packs of pellets that will allow you to test for accuracy without putting down a lot of money on a pellet you won’t use.

How Much Does Speed Matter When I Am Shooting Birds?

Speed matters a lot when you are shooting with an airgun. It affects your accuracy and reflects the energy that your pellet carries as it flies. If your pellet travels too fast, then it will have so much energy, that it generates its own turbulence and throws itself off trajectory.

If your pellet has too little speed, then it will be blown around by the wind more, and that will affect your accuracy too. The best speeds for accuracy with your pellet gun are around 850 feet per second.

Three hundred feet per second is enough to kill a bird if you hit it right, but the faster that a pellet travels, the more energy it carries with it. In fact, the speed of your pellet is actually a result of the energy that the gun gives it and the mass of the pellet. Heavier pellets will travel slower, but have the same energy as a smaller pellet when shot with the same gun.

Again, value accuracy over anything else. If you get an uber high powered air rifle shooting at over 1100 feet per second, you will be more likely to miss than if you are shooting at 850 feet per second. Remember, you can either hit the bird with enough energy to kill it, or you can miss it going really, really fast.

Which Pellets Will be Best for Bird Hunting?

The best pellet you can use for bird hunting will be a pellet that has a wide face or that deforms on impact without sacrificing accuracy. Often pellets that stick to the diabolo pellet shape work well, but because your gun may like different pellets differently, it would be worth shooting several to find the one that will work for you.

Some pellets have pointed tips with a kind of round dish (I guess is the best way to describe it) at the base of the tip. What these pellets do is the point will allow the pellet to penetrate further into the animal before the lead deforms enough to slow it down.

A hollow point pellet will deform almost immediately, and begin to dump its energy into the animal right away. This would probably be more useful to use against smaller game, and shouldn’t sacrifice accuracy too much at closer distances (about 25 yards).

What Kind of Birds are We Talking About?

So far, we have been talking with smaller birds like the common pigeon in mind. If you are satisfied with hunting them, then you should be satisfied with using the airguns that we talked about.

If you are going to get a bit more serious, maybe asking if you can kill turkeys with a pellet gun, then you will be pleased to know that a pellet gun can kill a turkey. You need to be a bit more selective about what gun you choose to use for a turkey, as bigger game will require more power generally, but much of the same principles will apply.

Happy shooting!

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