Can an Air Rifle Penetrate a Human Skull?

When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

You’re always a careful shot with your air rifle, never aiming at another living thing. Sometimes, though, the worst happens. Should you accidentally shoot another person with your air rifle, is there potential for serious injury or even death?

Can an Air Rifle Penetrate a Human Skull? Generally, no air rifle pellets cannot penetrate a human skull, but they can penetrate human skin, according to Bev Fitchett’s Guns Magazine. It takes a lead pellet that’s 0.22 inches shot at 250 feet per second of velocity or a lead pellet that’s 0.177 inches shot at 300 feet per second of velocity to pierce the skin. 

Firearm bullets like 158 grain 0.38-inch special plain lead bullets can penetrate human skulls, but only on a single side. If a gun were equipped with 0.357-inch magnum semi-jacketed bullets or 158 grain 0.38-inch Special + P lead bullets, then the bullet can penetrate both sides of the skull. 

While air rifle bullets cannot penetrate human skulls, that doesn’t mean they can’t do any harm. In this article, we’ll talk more about this, including the implications of such an accident (whether air rifle wounds could lead to death) and if BB pellets are any safer. We’ll also include some air rifle safety tips. 

Can You Penetrate a Human Skull with an Air Rifle?

As we talked about in the intro, no, you cannot penetrate a human skull with air rifle pellets. These guns lack the power to make a shot with that kind of grisly impact. Even the bigger air rifles on the market, such as those with 12-foot pounds of energy, cannot penetrate a human skull.

However, their pellets can pierce through ballistic gelatin as deep as seven inches if shot within 25 yards. This gelatin is a lot like some parts of the body, especially the softer ones. 

Lead air gun bullets, like those that are 0.22 inches, can penetrate the skin of a human if shot at 250 feet per second of velocity, like we said. If you shoot at 300 feet per second of velocity using a 0.177-inch lead air gun pellet, then you can still pierce through skin. 

It’s when you upgrade from air guns to firearms that it’s possible to penetrate a human skull with a bullet. 

Should you choose 158 grain 0.38-inch special plain lead bullets for your firearm, these can easily enter one side of a human skull. They will then stay somewhere in the body.

If you upgrade your ammo, such as to a 0.357-inch magnum semi-jacketed bullet or 158 grain 0.38-inch Special + P lead bullets, then a single shot can pass clean through a human skull. That means you’d penetrate not just the one side, but both. 

That’s because 158 grain 0.38-inch Special + P bullets can exit through the body in almost all instances. The only exceptions are if the bullet connects with bone or if it’s an expanding bullet. Then it may stay in the body.

Can Air Rifles Kill?

Now, having the capacity to penetrate skin with an air rifle is not the same as penetrating a skull, that’s for sure. There’s also the misconception that because air rifles and other types of air guns are not real firearms that they cannot kill. As we’ve talked about on this blog, that’s not the case at all. 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if it was an accident or not. It you kill someone with your air gun, you are still responsible. Death can occur in the following ways, none of which involve penetrating the skull.


Some air rifle wounds can lead to perforation of the lungs. When the lungs fail, the brain does not get the oxygen it needs. Even if the lungs aren’t perforated, they can become overfilled with fluids such as blood.

This also prevents the brain from receiving its supply of oxygen. In a minute or less, the person with this lung damage could die. Since the throat is a somewhat softer part of the body, you could potentially cause death by asphyxiation with your air rifle if you’re not careful.  

Pulmonary Failure

A wound near the chest can lead to pulmonary failure. This time, instead of the lungs being severely damaged, it’s the heart. The brain needs blood from the heart, which it cannot get anymore.

This death will also be quick, occurring in seconds. While it’d be hard to pierce the heart with your air rifle because of the rib cage, you could still get a shot from the side and potentially cause death that way. 

Catastrophic Blood Loss 

The body has many blood vessels and arteries that, if targeted with an air gun, could cause a significant amount of blood loss. Once blood loss reaches a rate of about 40 percent, death is pretty much certain.

However, it can take a while for a person to bleed out if an artery is not damaged, so by calling 911 or another emergency number right away (if you’re in another country than the United States), it’s possible to save this person’s life. 

Even if the victim does survive, there’s a possibility they could have to live the rest of their life with brain damage. This is especially likely if their skull was penetrated or otherwise damaged.

While the brain survived the ordeal, it will never be the same again. The person may be in a near-permanent coma. If they do wake up, they will likely be a shell of their former selves, not able to function at nearly the same level.

Can You Injure Yourself with an Air Rifle

Can You Injure Yourself with an Air Rifle?

Okay, so you’re well aware now that you can potentially injure someone else with an air rifle. What about yourself? Can you get hurt if you’re careless with how you handle your air rifle?

Yes, absolutely. There are several ways in which you can cause yourself bodily harm with your air rifle or other types of air guns. Let’s discuss these now.

Eye Injuries

You might not think you could shoot yourself in the eye, but if you lose control of the air rifle when you fire, lots of things can happen. Eye injuries can vary in severity depending on how close you got and the type of bullet used. At the very least, you could have a scratch on your eye, which is still a serious injury that necessitates medical attention. 

Otherwise, you could cause your eye to pool up with blood, which would make it difficult to see. The most serious eye injuries from air rifles can cause you to go blind. You certainly want to use eyewear when firing your air rifle anytime, anywhere. That goes for practicing in your backyard to serious firing. Never forget the eye goggles. 

Ear Injuries

Besides safeguarding your eyes when using an air rifle, you need to make sure you protect your ears as well. Once you engage in any activity at a volume of 85 decibels or more, you’re at risk of hearing loss.

While this won’t cause any sort of adverse reaction the first few times, gradually, the more you use your loud air rifle, the more you might notice a lack of hearing.

Now, not every air gun fires at a volume equal to 85 decibels. The bigger guns of a higher caliber do though, and your air rifle might be on that list. If so, then make sure you’re wearing earplugs or even protective headphones when you shoot. 

Seriously, ear protection is so important when firing air guns and real guns alike. If you shoot too close to your ear with no protection, then hearing damage can occur. That’s regardless of if the air gun would normally cause hearing loss. 

Gunshot Injuries 

Inexperienced air rifle users could also end up shooting themselves. If you drop or mishandle the gun when it’s loaded, then you could fire at your feet or even your arms.

It’s always ideal to practice, practice, practice with your air gun before aiming at any live targets. Staying calm and confident when using the gun could prevent you from dropping it and seriously hurting yourself.  

Can You Penetrate a Human Skull with BB Pellets

Can You Penetrate a Human Skull with BB Pellets?

Let’s say you own a BB gun instead of an air rifle. The two guns are quite different in a lot of ways, so could they cause the same level of harm?

Before we answer that question, let’s discuss BB guns in more detail. BB guns have been around since 1886. They fire BBs that are often made of lead or metal. BBs are just tiny balls, not pellets or bullets like you’d see in an air gun or a real firearm. That doesn’t mean they don’t hurt or aren’t injurious. 

Many gun aficionados who use BB guns will do so for target practice and other training purposes. Some people will hunt smaller animals with their BB guns, but they have to use a much more powerful gun for this purpose. 

Getting back to our original question, here’s the answer. BB guns cannot penetrate a human skull. After all, if air rifles can’t do it, then BB guns couldn’t either.

That doesn’t mean it’s smart to sleep on BB guns. If you were to shoot at extremely close range with some BBs, you could cause bone fractures and even pierce into the skin, much like you can with an air rifle. 

Now, that level of damage will typically only occur if you’re using steel BBs, not lead ones. That’s due to the metal used for steel BBs. They bounce more than lead BBs and are also harder. 

Could you damage soft tissue with BB guns, such as your eyes, ear canal, or mouth? Sure, you can, once again if you’re firing with steel BB pellets. As a matter of fact, if you use a 0.177-inch lead pellet or a steel BB pellet shot at 450 feet per second, you can burst the eye of another person.

Even if you shoot either of those at only 200 feet per second, you can cause iris detachment in a person’s eye. This almost makes them look like they have double the irises, but not in a good way. 

Tips for Safe Air Rifle Usage

This article has proved that air guns can kill. Even if the victim survives an accidental air rifle shooting, the injuries can change their lives forever. 

That’s why we thought we’d wrap up with a section on how to use your air gun safely. Whether you’re training in your backyard with some target practice or you’re out in a field or hunting site looking for live game, it’s always important to tread carefully. Not only can you prevent injuries and even death for other people around you, but for yourself as well.

All that said, here are our recommended safety tips.

Unload Inactive Guns

If you know you’re not going to use your air rifle again for the rest of the day, then keeping it loaded is a mistake. You could reach for the gun, forget it’s loaded, and end up firing it by accident.

That could injure or even kill yourself and anyone in your immediate vicinity. Unload your gun somewhere safe when you’re done with it. Don’t put it off until later, as you’ll probably forget. 

Don’t Brandish 

No, brandishing is not pulling your gun out. It’s waving the air rifle around, whether to show off or appear dangerous. This may seem like a good idea at the time, even an amusing one, but it could also be a deadly action.

Someone else around the campsite or hunting ground who doesn’t quite know what you’re doing might take your brandishing as a threat. They could shoot you, possibly fatally, and claim it’s self-defense.

Plus, carelessly brandishing your air rifle like this can also cause your gun to accidentally go off if it’s loaded. That could again lead to accidental injuries and/or deaths, including to yourself.

Prepare for What Will Happen If You Miss Your Shot

You may think of yourself as a near perfect shot, but everyone makes mistakes with accuracy now and again. Part of planning every shot with your air rifle is anticipating what would happen should you miss. Where would the bullet go? Could it hit someone else? If so, then you might want to rethink shooting there, or at least clear the area first.

Take Care of Your Muzzle

You want to keep your muzzle as unobstructed as possible. That means putting your air rifle butt down instead of muzzle down on the ground or other surfaces. If your muzzle is clogged up, you never, ever want to aim the muzzle at your face to look inside it. This could result in your death. 

Avoid Dropping Your Gun

When your air rifle is loaded and ready to use, you must do your best not to drop it. If you have to rest the gun for a while, put it down safely and carefully. By dropping your air rifle, it could go off unpredictably. That’s an extremely dangerous scenario.

Don’t Cause Ricochets 

Ricocheting or pellet bouncing can occur if you fire your air rifle at the water’s surface or the ground and other hard surfaces. Like when you drop the air rifle, you cannot say with certainty what will happen.

Pellets could fly in ways you didn’t expect, making them a threat to anyone nearby. You know better than to shoot at water or the ground, so focus on real targets instead. 


Can an Air Rifle Penetrate a Human Skull? While air rifles are powerful weapons, their bullets cannot penetrate human skulls. Only firearms can do that. However, some air gun bullets can pierce skin, and softer areas of the body such as the eyes and mouth could be severely injured. 

You can certainly kill someone with an air gun, even yourself. These deaths aren’t caused by a gunshot to the head, but rather through lung perforation, heart damage, and/or bleeding out. 

By following basic safety tips and wearing protective gear, you can use your air rifle safely without injury or death to yourself or others. Good luck! 

Related Articles