A new criterion for the onset of entrainment of coarse sediment grains is presented here. It is hypothesized that not only the magnitude, but also the duration of energetic near bed turbulent events is relevant in predicting grain removal from the bed surface. It is therefore proposed that the product of force and its duration, or impulse, is a more appropriate and universal criterion for identifying conditions for particle dislodgement. This conjecture is investigated utilizing two theoretical models, representative of two modes of entrainment: saltation and rolling. In these models, instantaneous, highly fluctuating turbulent forces are simulated as short-lived pulses of characteristic magnitude and duration, which transfer adequate fluid momentum to the particle, to trigger its entrainment. The analytical solution of the respective equations of motion is employed in deriving representations of threshold conditions in terms of the impulse characteristics. It is shown that hydrodynamic forces of sufficiently high magnitude are capable of entraining a particle only when they last long enough so that their impulse exceeds a critical value. To illustrate further the validity of the critical impulse concept, as well as extend and generalize its application to different entrainment levels of an individual grain, a novel experimental setup is utilized. This setup facilitates observations of angular displacement of a steel mobile particle in air due to electromagnetic pulses of different magnitude and duration. The experimentally obtained conditions for partial or complete entrainment support the concept of a critical impulse.