Despite their cute fuzzy reputation and their innocent looks, rabbits and hares can become a huge problem for farmers if their numbers are not kept in check.
Making a clean and ethical kill on a rabbit with a pellet gun requires some understanding and some skill.
Air Rifle Shot Placement on a Rabbit
Rabbits and hares in the United States are typically smaller overall than other game animals. The smaller size makes hunting rabbits and hares with an air gun a challenge that attracts lots of hunters.
To hunt hares and rabbits ethically, it is critical that you ensure a clean and quick kill.
Between the Eye and Ear
The ideal spot to target a rabbit or hare is a headshot. Under perfect conditions, your aiming point should be just behind the eye and about halfway to the ear.
A rabbit’s skull is weakest at this point and will almost certainly give you a clean and ethical kill.
Between the Eyes
Often, we aren’t presented with a perfect side profile view of the target. If the rabbit is looking at you, the next best headshot is between the eyes just above the nose.
The bone in this area over the sinus cavities in the skull is relatively thin as well and is easily penetrated by air rifle pellets.
In the Eye
Depending on your level of marksmanship this may or may not be possible. However, if you are good enough to make this shot it is sure to make a clean and ethical kill.
Naturally, a rabbit’s eye is extremely soft, making an easy pass-through for a pellet. Once the pellet passes through the eye it will head directly for the brain.
The other benefit of this shot is that if you miss you will likely end up making a shot between the eyes which we mention above as another good option.
Most hunters opt not to take a heart shot over a head shot. The main reason for this is that with a headshot you are almost sure to hit the brain.
However, with a heart shot most air rifles don’t deliver enough energy to ensure a clean kill with a shot to the vitals.
Although, if you can get close enough and have a powerful enough rifle a heart shot will almost always drop a rabbit on the spot.
However, it’s rarely the case that you can get that close or have a powerful enough rifle, this is why we recommend sticking to a headshot.
How to place the shot successfully
Rabbits and hares, by and large, are nervous and timid animals. They are constantly on alert and actively scan their surroundings as they forage for food.
Frequent head movements are part of this movement. Making a successful headshot takes skill, patience, and practice.
Why Not Take a Vitals Shot?
The main reason I don’t advocate taking a vitals shot on a rabbit is the likelihood of a less than clean kill.
Air rifles are more than adequate to make a clean kill on an animal of rabbit size provided the shot placement is correct.
Rabbits and Hares in the US
The US is home to about 15 different species of rabbits and hares that require management from an agricultural standpoint. Rabbits and hares are also hunted for sport and for food by many people.
In some states, rabbits and hares are considered game animals and require you to have a hunting license. There may even be bag limits and seasons for these animals.
Before doing any kind of hunting check with the local game warden or wildlife office to make sure you are hunting legally
The Eastern Cottontail
For all practical purposes, the Eastern Cottontail is found in every state in the continental United States. This may be the most hunted rabbit in the US.
Cottontail rabbits are abundant in every habitat where they range. Cottontail rabbits are active year-round and can be hunted most of the time.
Always check with your local wildlife department to ensure that you are hunting legally. Some states impose bag limits and other requirements on hunting.
Understanding Air Rifles for Hunting
Another aspect of successful rabbit hunting with an air rifle is the need to understand the velocity, range, and delivered power you can expect from a quality air rifle.
The knowledge of what you can expect from your air rifle can mean the difference between success and failure during a hunt.
In general, the two most popular sizes or calibers of pellet for air rifles in the US are .177 and .22 caliber. The numbers represent the size of the pellet in inches.
Both .177 and .22 air rifles are easily available in the US at most sporting goods-related retail outlets.
Our recommendation is to stick with a .22 caliber air rifle for hunting rabbits. The .177 caliber is best used for target shooting and plinking. The heavier pellets in .22 caliber deliver more energy to the target.
Delivered Energy and Pellet Size
The real key to hunting rabbits with an air rifle is the amount of energy a lightweight pellet can deliver at a given distance. Delivered energy is a combination of pellet weight and velocity.
The chief concern with an air rifle is maintaining velocity over distance. A key factor is the velocity of the pellet at the muzzle of the air rifle.
From this chart, we can easily see that the lighter the bullet, the more velocity it takes to deliver energy to the target.
To determine the best pellet weight for hunting rabbits we need to look at the ballistics chart for these different air rifle pellets.
What Does This Mean Downrange?
This chart points out the way both pellet weight and the pellet material can affect the delivered energy on target. A heavier pellet is not always a better choice.
The 13-grain pellet delivers more energy at a more distant range than the heavier pellets.
Most experts agree that to make clean and ethical kills on rabbits, you need to deliver at least 5 to 8 ft-lbs. of energy on target. On a good-sized rabbit, the typical lethal area on a rabbit is approximately 1.5 inches in diameter
Getting it Right Hunting Rabbits with a Pellet Rifle
Successfully hunting rabbits with a pellet rifle can be challenging and enjoyable. Our recommendations are to use a .22 caliber pellet rifle that produces at least 600 FPS of muzzle velocity.
You should choose a high-quality pellet in the range of 13 grains. Most importantly, you should practice honing your accuracy and stalking skills before you start your hunt.