Buying a new air gun for yourself or as a gift for someone else is the same as buying any other high-performing product: you need to know what you are looking for if you hope to be happy with your purchase.
Simply put, there are a lot of different types of air guns available on the market today. In addition to different models being produced by different companies, there are many different categories of air guns that work differently from one another. It is also necessary to have a firm understanding of air gun pellets and air gun accessories before making a final purchase.
The characteristics of each air gun will dictate who it is best suited for and what type of shooting it will excel at. Don’t get stuck with a gun that isn’t right for you. Use our in-depth guide on how to choose an airgun to ensure that your air gun isn’t just great but perfect for you.
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO USE YOUR AIR GUN FOR?
Before you begin looking at specific air guns, you must first consider your intended use. What do you want an air rifle for? Are you planning on using it for small game hunting? Or are you purchasing it to give to a youth? Maybe you just want to shoot at cans and practice your target shooting?
Questions like these are important to consider. Knowing what you want to use your air gun for will vastly narrow down your search for the perfect one. For example, a Ruger Explorer is a great gun for a child to learn to shoot with, but a more substantial gun, say a .177 or .22 air rifle, is likely going to be needed if small game hunting is in your future.
AIR RIFLE PROPULSION TYPE
After deciding on what you primarily want to use your air gun for, the next most important characteristic of your gun to take into consideration is its propulsion method.
Propulsion method simply means the way in which the gun powers pellets or BBs through and out of the barrel. The main methods are CO2 powered, spring piston, and pre-charged pneumatic.
You might remember “pump up” pneumatic rifles being popular in your youth. While it is still possible to find air rifles with this type of propulsion method, they are generally considered inferior to the other three types. You would do well to select an air gun with one of the first three propulsion types mentioned.
Let’s take a closer look at the three main propulsion methods for air guns:
- CO2 Powered – Though they are available in all different shapes and sizes, CO2 powered air rifles all share a CO2 capsule or canister. These canisters are what powers them.
There are a number of advantages to using a CO2 powered air rifle. For starters, they are the quietest and easiest to learn to use. There is no cocking effort and there are a number of different models to choose from.
The only fallbacks to CO2 air rifles are that the firing power can change with changes in temperature due to changing tank pressure. Quickly firing shots can also decrease the total amount of rounds that a single CO2 canister can supply.
Think you want a CO2 air rifle? Then the Hammerli 850 AirMagnum are great bets for uniform, rapid fire. The Beretta Cx4 is another excellent choice for those that desire a tactical look.
- Spring Piston – Another quality method of propulsion for air guns is the spring piston. These air rifles have some of the highest velocities and are among the most accurate. They are the most common air rifles used by adult shooters.
Spring piston air rifles utilize a sturdy spring and air piston for propulsion. The spring retracts before each shot, springing forward when the shot is fired. This pushes the piston forward, which then propels a charge of air into the gun’s barrel.
You can find spring piston air guns with several different cocking mechanisms. The most common are barrel-cocking, side-cocking, and under-lever.
Does a spring piston air rifle sound up your alley? The most popular models include the budget friendly Ruger Blackhawk and the more expensive RWS. Other models are available in .177 and .22 caliber versions.
- Pre-Charged Pneumatic – A large air reservoir holding high-pressure air is used as the propulsion method in pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) air rifles.
PCP air rifles are the most powerful and accurate types of air guns. They are also the best made as far as high quality parts and craftsmanship are concerned. Needless to say, their high quality of design makes them among the most expensive air rifles.
Pre-charged pneumatic air rifles are the best choice for serious shooters. The Walther 1250 Dominator is among the most sought after. It comes complete with a scope and tripod for even more accuracy.
AIR RIFLE CALIBER
The next step when looking for the best air gun is to consider which caliber is right for you.
The most popular calibers for air guns are undoubtedly .177 and .22. Serious small game hunters might want to consider a .25 caliber air rifle.
Most .177 air rifles are capable of firing both BBs and pellets. These guns are excellent for those interested in plinking and perhaps pest control of smaller game such as mice and small birds. Additionally, .177 caliber guns provide high velocities, good penetration, and flat trajectories. Best of all, these air rifles are one of the most cost effectives choices.
A .22 is a larger caliber air rifle and is most often used for the hunting of small game. The increased power translates effectively into increased “punch” upon impact.
Unfortunately, a .22 round is slightly less accurate than a .177. For this reason they aren’t used as frequently for target shooting or plinking. Instead, they are used in situations where power is more important than extreme accuracy.
As mentioned above, a .25 caliber air rifle can be found for hunters that are serious about their small game. Though accuracy is decreased even more than with the .22, a .25 air rifle provides the most energy and punch possible.
Of course, you can find air rifles with calibers other than the three mentioned here. However, they are reasonably uncommon. Most shooters, whether fans of target shooting or small game hunting, will be fine with one of these three.
AIR RIFLE ACCESSORIES
Selecting a great air rifle is not only about choosing the rifle itself. It is also about selecting the best accessories, namely pellets and BBs.
Most modern-day air rifles fire pellets instead of BBs. The reasons for this are numerous. In short, pellets ricochet less (making them safer), are more accurate, and move at higher velocities than BBs.
The four basic types of pellets you should consider for your air rifle include:
- Wadcutter – Perfect for target shooting, the wadcutter pellet features a flat nose and is extremely accurate at short distances. A great example of a high-quality wadcutter is the RWS Supermag pellet.
- Domed/Round Nosed – With the best aerodynamics of the bunch, domed/round nosed pellets are often used in field target and small game hunting. They are considered to be an “all around” pellet, getting the job done in any scenario. A great example of a high-quality domed/round nosed is the RWS Superdome pellet.
- Hollowpoint – Used almost exclusively for hunting, the hollowpoint pellet is designed for maximum energy transfer to game, causing the biggest “punch” upon impact as well as expanding when it enters the animal. Accuracy begins to drop off when you are shooting at distances over 25 yards. A great example of a high-quality hollowpoint is the RWS H-Point pellet.
- Pointed – Featuring a tip that offers excellent penetration, pointed pellets are for long range shooting where accuracy is important. These are the most streamlined pellets on the market. A great example of a high-quality pointed pellet is the RWS Superpoint pellet.
Many of those new to shooting air rifles – or at least those with a new gun to try out – purchase a pellet sampler kit. Such a kit contains several different types of pellets so you can find the type you (and your gun) are most comfortable with.
In addition to pellets, there are a number of other accessories you might consider for your air gun. These include air gun scopes (for magnification of the target), reticle point sights (for accurate aiming with both eyes open), and tripods (for a steadier shot).
You should also consider selecting a handful of maintenance accessories when you buy your air gun. Gun oil, cleaning pellets, and a cleaning rod are all essential. They will greatly improve the overall lifespan of your air rifle.
SO WHICH AIR RIFLE IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
The type of air rifle that is right for you depends on a number of things. Chief among these are the age of the shooter, the type of shooting they want to do, and how much money you are willing to spend.
The information discussed in our air gun buying guide will greatly help you in your search for a new gun. Keep the information in mind during your search and you are sure to end up with the perfect air gun for you.