Although some are quick to write off an air rifle as a weapon of choice, there are many advantages to carrying an air rifle versus a crossbow or center-fire rifle. There are a wide range of air rifle offerings that extend well beyond the traditional BB gun that you may have used as a kid to ward off crows or prairie dogs. They can be used for hunting, training for self-defense and for effective target practice.
Lewis and Clark carried them when they journeyed across the United States and brought them to the Native Americans. The caliber offerings range from a .177 to .50, and gun enthusiasts can choose from air-compressed, single-pump or multi-pump action. Choosing the right air rifle or pistol for your needs depends on the amount of firing power and use you require from a weapon.
Not all air pistols are recommended for self-defense. While certain varieties are ideal for hunting due to their lightweight and quiet nature, they are most useful to defend crops against birds and small animals, as well as for target practice. A lower pressure, small-caliber pellet or BB is ideal for a first time or young shooter. It allows them to become comfortable with reloading, cocking and shooting an air pistol so that it becomes seamless when they have harnessed enough experience to make the transition to a higher-powered gun.
Pellets vs. BBs
One of the great advantages of carrying an air rifle is its accompanying lightweight ammo, which is typically inexpensive. You can easily carry 2,000 rounds on your person and never notice any issue with it weighing you down. The ammo you choose is indicative of what kind of shooting you will be doing.
BBs are small, round balls that you can typically load large numbers at a time. They are best utilized for target practice and plinking, but are not ideal for causing physical harm or hunting. BBs have the risk of ricocheting off buildings or other objects and are not intended for long-range aim due to the size of the ball and its loss of velocity over long distances.
Pellets come in a large range of sizes and shapes and are designed for accuracy. Like firearm ammunition, there are varying nose shapes to correspond with your end goal of your shooting weapon. Using a heavier pellet in a lower powered air pistol will reduce the sound made by the weapon. One highlight of air pistols is that the ammunition is significantly lesser in cost than that of firearms, making it a more cost-effective option as a weapon.
Pre-Charged Pneumatic (PCP) Air Rifle
The highest powered option, the pre-charged pneumatic air gun, uses either a pump or an air compressor to “precharge” the pressure within the pistol. They tend to also be one of the higher priced air pistols on the market, ranging from $400 to $2,000. There are additional pieces of equipment that can be added to the these lightweight guns to add desired velocity and pack more punch with minimal recoil. Check out the Bulldog .357, designed specifically for hunting. One of its drawbacks is the tiny holes in which you load the pellets and the models that require a special external pump to fill the reservoir.
Break-Action Air Rifle
Break-actions are known for their ability to project ammo at a high velocity. This air rifle option uses a heavy-weighted spring that when cocked and released pushes a piston forward to create enough air pressure to expel the pellet. The spring produces a downfall noisy “thwang” sound that would not be advantageous for hunting. It also only holds one shot before having to reload. These guns are ideal for using as target practice before moving on to a fire rifle.
Variable Pump/Multi-Pump Air Rifle
The variable pump/multi-pump air rifle is typically the most traditional firearm gun enthusiasts are used to thinking of when broached about the subject. This rifle, which is light in weight and compact in nature, is great to put into the hands of a first-time gun holder, as it has variable pressure levels and is intended for many uses. Reloading this gun takes a while, but provides great practice for beginning shooters. The gun, which typically runs between $75 and $100, will need to be pumped eight to 10 times after each shot to re-pressurize the reservoir. Due to its limitations, this type of gun is not favored for hunting due to the amount of movement and noise that occurs when reloading it. Instead, it’s best intended for getting rid of unwanted pests.
CO2-Operated Air Rifle
By vaporizing CO2 internally using small cartridges, CO2-operated air rifles can shoot pellets at about 600-700 feet per second. This makes this air pistol an ideal weapon for hunting small animals, such as gophers and rabbits. The rifle has a reservoir that can store enough gas to power a number of shots by only loading the projectile. In addition, CO2-operated air rifles are easy and fast to reload, with a lot less movement that a multi-pump or PCP rifle may need. And, carrying extra CO2 gas cylinders is not a setback for this rifle due to its compact and light design.
Air rifles are versatile, offering a number of ways to use them, from hunting to self-defense to target practice. They’re a great firearm shooters of all levels should have in their arsenals.