Choosing between the different types of air rifles is often one of the stumbling blocks beginners find themselves having to deal with.
Unlike choosing a shirt or shoes where only a few factors matter, air rifles, and pistols often come with a wide range of components that one needs to get an understanding of before being able to make an informed decision.
In terms of air rifle selection, you need to consider the type of rifle you want often based on the type of propulsion method or power plant it uses to push the pellet out of the barrel, what purpose it will be used for which often determines the caliber of the airgun you’ll need and also the type of ammunition you want to use.
While this may be daunting, we set out to explain each of the different factors needed in choosing the best air rifle for your needs. In this installment, we take a closer look at the different types of power sources used by popular rifles and how they can affect your final decision.
In today’s air rifle market, most rifles use one of four major types of power plants. These are spring piston, gas piston, pneumatic and CO2 power. While they all achieve the same thing which is to propel the ammo from the rifle to hit its intended target, the means by which they achieve this are different and because of that each of the systems has their advantages and disadvantages.
Table of Contents
Know The Different Types Of Air Rifles
Spring Piston Air Rifles
Springers, as they are commonly called, are among the most popular air rifles today. They are the top sellers because they are easy to use, don’t require additional accessories (therefore no added costs) to operate, are accurate and powerful.
What these types of air rifles do is use a large spring to compress air in a chamber. When the rifle is cocked the spring is compressed until the shooter pulls the trigger which uncoils the spring that pushes the compressed air to force the pellet out the barrel using air pressure.
Spring driven air rifles are cocked very differently from live ammo guns. They often make use of a cocking lever of some type. The most popular of which is the break barrel wherein the gun’s barrel is hinged and pulling the barrel downwards cocks the rifle. Other cocking methods include the underlever and side lever methods where the barrel is fixed in place and the lever is located under the rifle and on the side respectively.
- Spring piston air rifles offer the most power which is why they are the power plants used in magnums.
- Users only need to cock once, unlike other types of power plants which require multiple pumping strokes to cock the rifle.
- Most springers achieve velocities of over 1000 FPS, with many able to surpass the speed of sound.
- These rifles are ideal for hunting due to their mix of power and accuracy.
- They are easy to clean, which you can do yourself. You can also service them or tweak the rifles without having to go to professionals to have it done.
- They are widely available and there are lots of options to choose from.
- Depending on how tight the spring is, cocking can be difficult. Some models specifically have easier cocking systems but in general, the more powerful the springer the more effort is needed to cock it.
- Users need to check how much cocking pressure is needed before buying. Some spring piston rifles are heavy enough that only adult males are able to cock them.
- Like many of the air rifles, those using a spring mechanism are limited to single shots.
- Expect to experience some recoil action which can affect accuracy.
Gas / Nitro Piston Air Rifles
Gas piston air rifles come by many names, some refer to them as gas struts, other as gas rams or gas springs. These are very similar to spring driven rifles but instead of using a coiled spring as its power source, it uses compressed gas to push the piston that will propel the pellet out the barrel.
- In general, gas piston air rifles are more durable compared to their spring counterparts. Springs can degrade as time passes and lose power.
- Also unlike springers, gas rams can be left cocked for a long time without losing the firing power.
- With fewer metal parts, these types of power plants make for lighter guns
- The compressed gas is able to push the pellet out the muzzle faster than coil springs.
- Reduced noise level
- Less recoil and smoother shooting
- Springs wear out over time but can still be used though they produce less power. When a gas piston starts leaking or breaks, it won’t be able to shoot at all.
- In general, gas powered rifles are more expensive compared to springers.
Pneumatic Air Rifles
Pneumatic air rifles are different from other types of air guns in that their power source is based on pumping air into a chamber. Depending on the type of pneumatic this can be done using a pumping lever or an external accessory like a hand pump or SCUBA tank. These are the three major types of pneumatic air rifles.
PCP Air Rifles
PCP stands for pre-charged pneumatic. Air rifles that use types of power plants have a large reservoir that is able to store high-pressure air. To charge a PCP air rifle, you can attach it to a specialized hand pump and pump air into it or decant a SCUBA tank. These two methods are the most common ways to load a pre-charged pneumatic air rifle, with the second method being a lot easier though more costly. The good thing about PCP airguns is once they’re charged you are able to keep firing until the charge runs out. This gives users the ability to shoot quickly when needed.
- PCP rifles pack superior power and are among the most accurate.
- Expensive since these are high-end rifles using top parts and built.
- No recoil and no cocking is required.
- Multiple shots can be fired on a single charge. Most PCP air rifles are repeaters as opposed to single shooters for spring and pump driven airguns.
- In terms of cost, PCP rifles are expensive, which is why they’re mostly limited to serious shooters.
- They also have the extra cost that comes with refilling the air tanks in dive shops.
- If you choose to pump the air yourself, it can be tiring since you’ll be pumping for about 5 minutes as you need to get the pressure to 3000 psi. You’ll also need to purchase a special hand pump to get that high a pressure.
- When in the field, you’ll need to plan ahead and carry spare tanks or bring a pump in case you run out for charge.
Multi-Pump Air Rifles
Unlike PCP air rifles where the power plant gets its compressed air from an external source, multi-pump air rifles have their pumping systems built into the gun. Users will often pump the rifle’s forearm several times. This process fills the chamber with the pressurized air needed to fire the pellet to the target. Most airguns of this style require between 3 to 10 pump strokes to get enough compressed air in.
- Relatively inexpensive.
- They have compact builds and are light in weight.
- Depending on what you plan to shoot you can vary amount of force by choosing how many times to pump the lever.
- Multi-pump pneumatic air rifles don’t have recoil.
- They produce moderate power.
- They are not as accurate as other types of air rifles.
- Pumping can produce inconsistent results which affect precision.
- You need to pump several times in order to fire a single shot, this requires lots of effort by the time you’re done the shooting.
- Takes longer in between shots compared to the other types of air rifles.
Single Pump Air Rifles
Single pump air rifles are very similar to multi-pump pneumatics. The major difference is you only need to pump the cocking lever once to be able to fire the pellet to its target, thus its name.
- Overall, these are very accurate and offer better accuracy compared to their multi-pump counterparts.
- They don’t produce recoil, which allows you to get off more consistent shots.
- Single shot air rifles are for those who focus on accuracy since the offer low power
CO2 Air Rifles
In our list of air rifle powerplants, only the CO2 and PCP power sources are able to provide a shooter with multiple shots between charges. The other propulsion methods mainly rely on single shot cycles requiring shooters to reload and cock the rifle between shots.
CO2 powered air rifles are built with a small chamber where users can insert a CO2 canister to provide power. The compressed air allows shooters to fire off multiple shots until the pressure in the tank runs out. One of the biggest advantages of this type is easy of use, as you only need to insert the CO2 cartridge into the chamber and be able to start firing.
CO2 cartridges commonly come in 12-gram containers with the ability to discharge 50 shots on average. Larger canisters like those that are 88 grams are also available giving you up to 400 shots before needing to replace the cartridge.
- There is no cocking or pumping involved
- CO2 air rifles can shoot continuously
- Very quiet
- Easiest to use since there is no cocking required and you can just keep pulling the trigger
- How fast it fires depends on how fast you pull the trigger
- CO2 airguns produce less power, often around 600 FPS and reaching 750 FPS for the more powerful ones. This pales to the 700 to 1250 FPS seen in spring driven air rifles.
- Once the CO2 in the canister is depleted you need to purchase more
- CO2 pressure is vulnerable to warmer and cooler weather or surroundings, with temperatures lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit degrading performance.
- Because of their lower output velocities, knockdown power is also limited. Most CO2 rifles have the energy of 10 ft. lbs. with the powerful ones reaching 11.5 ft lbs.
- Not recommended if accuracy is needed since temperature drops can severely affect how to the gun behaves.