Here at Best Air Rifles, we live, eat, and breath air rifles, and we love to do air rifle reviews! While air files have been around since the Girandoni Air Rifle (around 1780), the technology surrounding air guns have improved vastly. At the present, you can find air rifles for almost any purpose, whether it be for hunting, precision shooting, or just everyday plinking. While air rifles are often regarded as a step down from conventional firearms, there is much more technology and components that go into air rifles. Air rifles are severely underrated, but the top survival voices always recognize that having one is important to your survival arsenal. Not so trivial any more. Perhaps in the past there have been limited types of air rifles on the market, with the types of rifle firearms coming in many more shapes and sizes. In today’s market, the diversity in air rifles have extended the hobby of air guns to people of all interests. This presents a problem: how do you choose from all of the models, makes, and calibers available? Read on for all of your answers!
Got ADD? Here’s a list of the top air rifles in each power plant category.
Table of Contents
- How do you choose the best air rifle caliber for you?
- Choosing the Best Air Rifle propulsion platform for you!
- FPS vs. FPE
How do you choose the best air rifle caliber for you?
Choosing a caliber is probably the first hurdle you will face when choosing an air rifle. The four calibers you might have seen around are .25, .22, .20, and .177. The most common air rifle calibers by far are .177 and .22. Within these two choices, you’ll also find many more types of ammo/pellets available. For the purpose of providing a thorough guide, lets walk though all four calibers, starting with the smallest.
.177 Caliber Air Rifles
Being small, .177 caliber pellets obviously lack the known-down power of larger calibers, however, they are cheaper to shoot and good for general plinking. Although they carry less kinetic energy, they still offer a very flat trajectory with high velocity. This caliber commonly gets shot out at 1000+ feet per second, well beyond the sound barrier.
.177 caliber rifles are sufficient for almost anyone who wants to hunt small game, however, a larger caliber is recommended for a more humane kill. Otherwise, hunting at closer distances, and/or smaller animals like birds are fine with a .177 high velocity air rifle.
.20 Caliber Air Rifles
Bathed in history, the .20 caliber are rifle is often the tool of choice for many old school and old-time shooters. It has often been regarded as the compromise between .22 and .177 caliber. As such, it will shoot flatter than a .22, and kit harder than a .177. With modern .22 caliber air rifles shooting flatter than ever, it is making the .20 caliber pellet less viable. This is why you won’t see many .20 caliber air rifles on the market these days. Though if you already have a .20 caliber air rifle, many different types of pellets are still available.
.22 Caliber Air Rifles
I won’t profess that .22 caliber air rifles are the best, however, it can be used for almost any role you throw at it. With its hard hitting power and high velocity, it is a powerful choice for hunting small rodents (i.e. rats, squirrel, and even woodchuck). Why is a bigger pellet more effective than smaller ones? Kinetic energy is defined as 1/2*mass*velocity^2, and when crunching the numbers, due to their higher velocity, .177 pellets appear to have a higher kinetic energy. So why is it inferior for hunting? It all has to do with the blunt end surface area.
A large .22 caliber will impact with a larger leading edge surface area, and provide more of a “shock” to the animal, while a .177 pellet will tend to travel right through its target.
The .22′s heavier weight also provides high shooting consistency, which leads to excellent accuracy. The key here is momentum! (Don’t worry, I wont mention formulas any more!) Newtons law says that an object in motion will continue to travel unless otherwise acted on by another external force. Basically, the heavier the moving object, the less it will be affected by the wind. .22 caliber air rifles are here to stay and is often regarded as one of the best, most versatile air rifle calibers. The wide availability of pellets for this caliber are a testimate to its popularity.
.25 Caliber Air Rifles
When jumping into the .25 caliber air rifle, we also tend to jump into the world of PCP, or Pre-charged-Pneumatic air rifles. The heavier weight of the .25 caliber pellets make this necessary in order to maintain high velocities. This is the modern day air rifle on steroids that provides high velocity, and lethal rounds. PCP air rifle technology tends to make shooting .25 caliber a little more expensive and involves, but the results at the range can be rewarding. PCP air rifles will be covered independently in another section below!
Choosing the Best Air Rifle propulsion platform for you!
Getting down to the technical side of air rifles, its important to know the main types of propulsion methods. The air rifle power plants available are: PCP (Pre-charged-pneumatic), multi-pump pneumatuc air rifles, CO2 powered, and Spring Piston air rifles.
1) Pre Charged Pneumatic (“PCP”) Air Rifles
To put simply, these types of air rifles are initially filled to an average of 2,000 psi, and are able to fire multiple rounds on this single charge, often with great consistency. Pressure is attained by an external source, such as a hand-pump, or even a high pressure tank such as a scuba tank. These are the “Cadillacs” of air rifles. Whats the difference between a PCP air rifle and a pneumatic pump air rifle? A plain jane pneumatic air rifle needs to be pumped after every shot, where a PCP does not. In the case of using a PCP with a hand pump, you’ll get multiple shots from a pump. Scuba tanks are another popular option for powering PCP air rifles. The Benjamin Marauder is a popular option when it comes to PCP air rifles
2) Multi Pump Pneumatic
You probably get the idea after reading 1), these require multiple pumps to fire off a single pellet. The nice part; the power of your shot can be adjusted by the number of times you choose to pump it. The clunky pumping noise while pumping makes this type of air rifle less than ideal for hunting, as all the noise might scare away your target. The advantage is that there is no need for pricey C02 packs. As such, MPP’s are a good choice for your survival or SHTF weapon. Many parts are common, as many of these air rifles function similarly. With that said, multi pump air rifles are a very popular and common air rifle.
Many people would consider these to be the best air rifle; due their power variability and simple function. These are basically PCP air rifles with attached pumps! A direct comparison in the PCP world would be using a PCP air rifle with a hand pump. This setup is the same thing, except your pump in the begging and acquire a certain number of shots after that. Pump air rifles allow for a pump-fire-pump-fire sequence. This is good for surprise hunts, as your next shot would only be a few pumps away. This is why many prefer precharged tanks like scuba tanks for their PCP air rifles.
3) Spring Piston Air Rifles
As far as being convenient and always ready to go, spring piston air rifles take the cake. Typically, they utilize a break-away barrel in which only one pump is required to engage the spring with the piston to create high air pressure. Because each shot requires one pump, they are by nature very consistent. There’s no remembering how many pumps you pumped it last, which is not fun when you’re trying to sight in a new scope. In simple terms; one pump = one shot.
4) Co2 Air Rifles
CO2 air guns come in as many forms as you can imagine. Initially, they were popular mainly for air pistols, given that there wasn’t much space to put a pump. CO2 canisters are small, and would take up the space within the hand grip. Nowadays, we see a lot of air rifles that utilize this technology. The CO2 cartridges come in sizes ranged from 12 grams to 88 grams. With 12 gram cartridges being the most popular. What are some advantages to CO2 air powered air rifles? CO2 powered air rifles quiet, and easy to use, since there is no pumping involved. The 850 AirMagnum .22 is a fantastic example of a CO2 air rifle. This technology also allows air rifles to be semi-automatic, such as the Crosman 1077 air rifle. Semi automatic air rifles allow for rapid firing without cocking or pumping. The downside is that they use a little more air than their bolt action counterparts, due to some of the air being required to chamber a new round. Overall, CO2 canisters are meant to be disposable, so if you shoot a lot, expect to go through a lot of cartridges. Luckily, cartridges are cheap, at around $20 for 40 cartidges from amazon.
FPS vs. FPE
Feet per second vs. Pound-foot of Energy.
Often, air rifle manufacturers will advertize their air rifles FPS data and use it as a selling point. There are many more things that define a good air rifle than just feet per second data. The FPS data often comes from light weight pellets, which carry a minimal impact force. The true power at impact can be measured using FPE instead. For hunting, this data point is much more valuable than simply knowing the FPS. FPE is also a measure of kinetic energy, which can be written as 1/2*m*v^2. As you’ll see, the mass “m” plays a factor in the energy. Simply, a slower heavier pellet will impact harder than a fast moving smaller pellet.