Air Rifle Buying Guide

When it comes to air rifles and air rifle related products, you have to know what you are looking for when buying for yourself or someone else. Knowing which characteristics to focus on could be the key to happiness with your air rifle purchase for many years to come.

Now, more than ever, there are more models of air rifles to choose from. You should be well informed when it comes to the types of rifles that are offered and the type of product that you want to buy.

The first thing you must decide when shopping around for an air rifle and air rifle accessories is its intended use. There are many different classes of rifles, and they can be broken down further by their expected use. If it is to be used by a youth, then the single shot Ruger Explorer is an excellent option. If, however, it is going to be used for small game hunting, then something more substantial, like another higher velocity .177 or .22 air rifle might be more appropriate. After use, the next thing to consider when analyzing rifles is the propulsion type.

PROPULSION METHODS

The three main types of propulsion methods that are seen in today’s quality air rifle market today are CO2 powered, spring piston, and pre-charged pneumatic. The older, less reliable “pump up” pneumatic rifles that many people are familiar with from their youth can still be found, but are generally considered much less powerful than the other three methods.

CO2 Powered:

CO2 Rifles, such as the Hammerli 850 Air Magnum, require no cocking effort.

CO2 Rifles, such as the Hammerli 850 Air Magnum, require no cocking effort.

CO2 Rifles come in a wide variety of different shapes and sizes, but the one thing that they all share is that CO2 capsules or canisters power them. The most common type of CO2 on the market is the 12-gram cartridge, although other sizes are also on the market, such as 88-gram CO2 cartridges.

The main advantages of CO2 powered guns are that they are very quiet, very easy to use, they are available in a variety of different shapes/sizes, and there is no cocking effort, or force that has to be applied between shots.

One thing to note about CO2 powered air rifles is the difference in CO2 pressure tanks that can occur with changes in temperature. Also, quickly repeated shots can decrease the total amount of rounds that can be fired with the use of a single CO2 canister, so spacing shots (even by a second or two), instead of rapidly firing can increase the total amount of shots from a single canister.

When it comes to CO2 rifles, the Hammerli 850 AirMagnum provides a uniform, rapid rate of fire, while the Beretta Cx4 Storm provides a tactical look.

Spring Piston:

Break barrel spring piston air rifles, like the RWS Model 34, have high velocities and are very accurate.

Break barrel spring piston air rifles, like the RWS Model 34, have high velocities and are very accurate.

Spring piston air rifles are the most common air guns used by adults. They utilize a hefty spring and air piston to propel a pellet down range. For each shot the spring is retracted, and when fired, the spring pushes the piston forward, propelling a charge of air into the barrel of the gun. While the spring piston is the propulsion method, there are several types of cocking mechanisms, such as barrel-cocking, side-cocking and under-lever. The most common type is the break barrel gun. Extremely high velocities and accuracy are attainable with spring piston rifles, and their versatility makes them very popular amongst all shooting styles.

Spring piston guns are popular for both plinking and hunting. Some of the more popular spring piston guns include the low cost Ruger Blackhawk® and the high quality line of German made RWS air rifles which are available in both .177 and .22 caliber.

Pre-Charged Pneumatic:

Pre-charged pneumatics use a large air reservoir of extremely high pressure air, which results in many shots before a recharge is required. Often abbreviated “PCP” for short, recharging of the tank is done with either a high-pressure hand pump or a SCUBA tank with proper adapters. Pre-charged pneumatics are the most powerful types of airguns that are made, and are generally among the most accurate air rifles that are available to be purchased. As a consequence of being the most powerful, most accurate, and made from the highest quality parts and craftsmanship, pre-charged pneumatics are often among the more expensive air rifles to own.

Due to their many advantages, pre-charged pneumatics are among the most sought after guns for the most serious shooters. One example is the the Walther 1250 Dominator comes with an 8-shot rotary pellet magazine and is available with a scope and tripod for increased accuracy.

After intended use and propulsion methods are explored, you should then consider which caliber air rifle is best for the individual user.

Air Rifle Calibers:

Air rifle calibers vary, but the most popular calibers are .177 and .22. Also, .25 caliber air rifles are readily available via online retailers for serious small game hunters..

The .177 caliber is the same diameter as a steel BB and some guns chambered in .177 can fire either BBs or pellets. (Always read the gun’s owner’s manual and instructions carefully or consult an expert before attempting to change ammunition.) The .177 is an excellent target caliber and also serves well for shooters interested in cost effective plinking and some pest control of smaller game, such as mice or small birds. The .177 caliber also boasts high velocities, good penetration and a flat trajectory, which lends itself well to target shooting and competition.

The .22 caliber is a larger caliber and is more often used for small-game hunting due to its increased energy and “punch” upon impact. With the increased power comes a decrease in the total speed from the .177 caliber pellet. .22 rounds are slightly less accurate than their .177 counterparts and are used less often for target shooting or plinking, but more often in situations where more power is needed, such as hunting.

The least purchased of the “major” calibers of air rifles is the .25 caliber air rifle. For .25 caliber rifles, the energy is increased even more while the accuracy is decreased even more. For the dedicated small-game hunter, this is often considered the best caliber.

AIR RIFLE ACCESSORIES

Pellets

Air rifles used to only fire steel BBs, but have evolved to fire pellets. Pellets are safer (due to fewer ricochets), more accurate, and carry more energy than BBs.

There are four basic types of pellets, with many variations in between:

Wadcutter – The wadcutter pellet has a flat nose and is typically associated with target shooting due to its accurate nature and cleans hole-cutting properties in paper. It’s used exclusively in 10-meter competition. It is well-suited for lower-velocity airguns and for hunting at short ranges (out to 25 yards) due to transferring a lot of energy. Beyond 25 yards, a wadcutter’s accuracy starts falling off. The RWS Supermag pellet is an example of a typical high quality wadcutter.

Domed or Round Nosed – The domed or round nosed pellet has the best aerodynamics and is used in field target, small-game hunting, and general shooting. It is generally considered “all-around” pellet. The RWS Superdome pellet is an example of a high quality domed pellet.

Hollowpoint – A hollowpoint pellet is used almost exclusively for hunting. It allows the maximum transfer of energy to the game, and expands rapidly when it enters the game. If the hollowpoint is effective at expansion, the accuracy generally begins dropping off at distances beyond 25 yards. The RWS Super-H-Point pellet is an example of a hollowpoint pellet.

Pointed – Pointed pellets have a point on the tip, and offer superior penetration. Most people consider the look of a pointed pellet to be somewhat “streamlined”. A good example of a pointed pellet is the RWS Superpoint pellet.

In addition to these four “pure” types, there are a large range of those who mix features from the different pellets to achieve additional effects, or have the same shape but different weights or metal alloy compositions. When deciding which pellet to use, or to try a wider variety of different pellets, people often try a pellet sampler kit which contains several different types of pellets.

For more information on the different types of pellets, and the right one to choose in different situations, see our article, How to Choose an Airgun Pellet. For a comparison of 3 hunting pellets to determine which are best to hunt with, see the article Which Airgun Pellet to Hunt With.

Optics

In addition to choosing the type of air rifle you may wish to consider an air rifle accessory.

Airgun scopes, such as those by RWS and Walther, give the shooter the ability to more accurately acquire and hit a target at increased distances.

Airgun optics offer a way to achieve more accuracy with your air rifle. A good scope can provide magnification of the target you are shooting at. Most scopes have a beginning number and ending number; if it lists 4 x 32, the number four equates to how many times closer the object you are viewing becomes when viewed through the scope, and the number 32 equates to the size in mm of the front lens, also known as the objective lens. The bigger the objective lens is, the brighter the image when viewed through the lens. Many other issues such as scope parallax come in to play when dealing with scopes on air rifles. Other optics, such as reticle point sights offer ways to accurately aim at an acquired target with both eyes open.

Maintenance

Air gun maintenance accessories, such as gun oil, cleaning pellets, and a cleaning rod, are also important to the overall longevity of your airgun. There are recommended 100-shot and 1000-shot maintenance steps that you should undertake to improve the lifespan of your air rifle.

Conclusion

As with any purchase, it really depends on what you are looking for as to how you should approach your air rifle buying quest. The information above can be useful if you are wanting a brief overview on what options are available. If you have any questions about what you might need for a certain situation, feel free to contact Umarex USA’s excellent customer service and their knowledgeable staff will be happy to help you out with whatever you might need specifically.

2 Responses to Air Rifle Buying Guide

  • Frank Boberek says:

    Sirs…seeking an accurate air rifle only to perhaps “sting…inflict pain…discourage return visits” of deer presently inundating my small farm property………………….please advise/recommend a specific weapon and type ammunition…THANK YOU
    Colonel Frank [Ret]

    • Joe says:

      Before you proceed, please check with your state’s game and fish organization. They may be able to provide you some helpful tips and also ensure that you meet local laws & guidelines.

      A PCP (pre-charged pneumatic) class airgun would provide you the best accuracy. One step down from the PCP class is spring piston and gas piston airguns that cost less and still have very good accuracy. A good possibility would be the Umarex Octane gas piston break barrel air gun.

      See: The Best Airgun Pellet for Hunting. The RWS Superdome pellet would be a good choice for accuracy.

      Also, take a look at our Air Rifle Buying Guide.