10 Best

Air Rifles

of June 2023

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A Guide to Selecting an Air Rifle

Yehudah Posnick

There are lots of uses for an air rifle, whether you want an air rifle for pest control, getting rid of “varmints”, for sport, or just for “plinking”--informal target practice in your backyard. But an air rifle is a much more serious purchase than a typical BB gun or Airsoft gun. They’re built more sturdily and are intended to last for a good long time. They can also be considerably more expensive.

An air rifle is one type of airgun. They are much more powerful than Airsoft guns. Airsoft guns are usually made for plastic BBs, but, if you choose to use a metal 0.2-gram BB, it can propel it at 375 feet per second. On the other hand, an air rifle can achieve speeds of as much as 1000 feet per second! Also, their range is much greater than an Airsoft gun. While Airsoft guns shoot to a maximum of 90 meters, an air rifle can shoot a projectile as far as 137 meters! For this reason, you have to take proper safety precautions when using an air rifle, considering the speed at which they shoot and the energy behind each shot. Let’s learn a bit about the different constructions and specs associated with these rifles, to help you make a decision when buying one!


What are the safety issues with air rifles?

An air rifle shoots a high-velocity round ball-bearing. or a bullet-shaped pellet. There have been instances of significant injury due to air rifle pellets, and even accidental deaths. The projectile definitely will have enough penetrating force to go through human skin and can be lethal if it hits a person in the head or throat region. Even a lead or steel 177 caliber BB can cause serious injury. Experts say never to aim an air rifle at a person, and to treat it like a true firearm.

What safety gear should I purchase with an air rifle?

Experts recommend paintball masks with goggles to provide proper protection when shooting an air rifle. (Ski goggles will not provide adequate protection, and may actually shatter if hit by a BB or pellet.) Some, like the Daisy 880 Powerline Air Rifle Kit, comes with a pair of safety goggles. In any event, you should always consider an air rifle as dangerous as a real firearm. Treat the rifle as if it is loaded. And use any safeties, such as mag lock-out and a trigger block safety.

Types of Air Rifles

We can distinguish between the types of airguns by their method of propulsion:

  • Spring-piston air rifle: This type of rifle requires that you cock the gun to retract a spring. When you pull the trigger, it releases a spring that activates a gas piston. The piston propels the BB or pellet. The drawback here is that you have to pull back the spring every time you want to fire. Also, there’s no way to increase the force exerted on the projectile. An example is the Gamo Varmint Air Rifle (Model No. 6110017154).

Gamo Varmint Air Rifle

  • Pump-action air rifle: These are also called “pump pneumatic” air rifles. They have an air chamber that fills up with air and builds up the pressure by pumping the rifle. When you pull the trigger, a valve opens, releases the pressurized air, and propels the projectile. Pumping more times will build up more pressure, and shoot with a greater velocity. Experts say that these rifles have no recoil, and are more accurate. An example is the Crosman .177 Bolt Action Variable Pump Air Gun.

Crosman .177 Bolt Action Variable Pump Air Gun

One type of pneumatic air gun is the pre-charged pneumatic, or PCP, air rifle, which has a larger air reservoir that can maintain higher pressures. An example is the Umarex Hammer .50 Caliber PCP Pellet Gun. It has a 24 cubic inch air tank and can achieve pressures of 4500 pounds per square inch (=psi). Depending on the type of ammo used, it can achieve a projectile speed of 1130 feet per second! (For comparison, the Crosman air rifle can achieve speeds ranging from 350 fps to 700 fps.)

marex Hammer .50 Caliber PCP Pellet Gun

  • Gas-powered: These use a disposable pressurized gas canister from carbon dioxide, propane, or HCFC (=hydrochlorofluorocarbons) to propel the pellets forward. An example is the DPMS Fully Automatic SBR BB Air Rifle. It uses CO2 canisters, which you have to buy separately. The DPMS rifle can also be set to semi-automatic.

DPMS Fully Automatic SBR BB Air Rifle

  • Nitro-piston air rifle: There are also nitro-piston air guns, which use a pneumatic cylinder filled with nitrogen gas. It has an advantage over a spring-piston mechanism because springs tend to lose their tension over time. But, like the spring-piston rifle, you have to pump the gun every time you take a shot. An example is the Crosman F4 .177 Caliber Pellet High Tech Hunting Rifle. Crosman says that their nitro-piston gun is 70% quieter than their equivalent spring-powered rifle. And it can achieve a projectile speed of 1200 fps!

Crosman F4 .177 Caliber Pellet High Tech Hunting Rifle

What reviewers say

Here are some impressions of people who bought the air rifles featured in the Best Reviews Guide list:

  • Pellets or BBs: Some customers noticed that BBs might not work well in certain air rifles. If you put BBs in the Gamo Varmint Air Rifle, they may tend to roll out of the barrel. So, it’s advised to use pellets instead.

  • Scopes: Many air rifles come with a scope, such as the Umarex Ruger Blackhawk .177 Caliber Air Rifle, which comes with a 4 x 32 scope (= magnification of 4x, and a 32 mm wide objective). Customers say that you don’t have to use a better scope, since it would be overkill: the rifle’s performance would not improve considerably.

Important Features

Here are some features and explanations of the specs of a typical air rifle:

  • Caliber: The caliber is the diameter of the rifle’s barrel. Air rifles will usually be .177 or .22 caliber. (Some, like the Hatsan Piledriver Big Bore Air rifle, have a caliber of .50, which is very large.) If you intend to use an air rifle for hunting small animals or rodents, experts recommend the larger caliber. It has a better chance of killing the animal in one shot. But, the larger caliber will also be more of a risk to humans.

  • Judging the power of an air rifle: There are some specs that will tell you how powerful an air rifle is.

    • Feet per second, or FPS, which is how fast it will shoot a projectile. Experienced hunters say that they can kill a small rodent with a rifle that fires at 400 FPS if the animal is within 15 meters away.

    • Foot-pounds of energy, or FPE, is the amount of energy imparted to the projectile. (In MKS units, the energy is given in Joules.) Hunters say that a rifle should shoot at 10 FPE in order to kill a rabbit.

  • Automatic and semi-automatic: You’ll see air rifles that are semi-automatic, where you can load several pellets, but you have to pull the trigger each time to take a shot. There are also automatic weapons, where you can shoot several pellets with a single pull of the trigger. As we saw, some air rifles will allow you to alternate between automatic and semi-automatic.

  • Rails: Take note if your air rifle uses a Picatinny or Weaver rail. They can be used to mount a scope, a light, or a laser for more accurate shooting.

Final Verdict

We studied some of the options among air rifles in the Best Reviews Guide list. Some of them are powerful enough to shoot almost 200 yards and can have a capacity large enough to hold 650 BBs at once. Besides actually using one to eliminate rodent pests, an air rifle could serve as good training for learning how to use a real firearm. Look over the Best Reviews Guide list, and choose one out today!

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