If you’re new to airguns it’s tough to choose which one may be right for you with so many options and types available today. Spring powered, Piston Powered, CO2 Powered and Compressed Air…what’s it all mean? Let’s get started.
First to consider as usual is your budget, and we’re all on one! Also when determining just how much you want to spend be sure to consider how often you plan on using your airgun as well as your expectation for accuracy and how far away your target will be. If your expectations are high and you’re buying budget from the local discount super store, you may end up with an airgun in the safe and a loss of interest in your new hobby altogether or find your self spending more money on something better soon afterwards. Second to consider is the airgun power plant and here you have a few options.
Spring Piston powered airguns have a large lever on the rifle or on many models the barrel itself is used as the lever. Folding or cocking the lever compresses a large spring which is then locked into the compressed stage. A pellet is loaded and the lever or barrel is then returned to it’s original position. After taking aim at your target, you release the safety and pull the trigger which releases the spring from it’s compressed state. As the spring expands it rapidly pushes a piston down a tube compressing air out the barrel and pushing the pellet along with it. This process is repeated for each shot taken. Spring powered rifles are great in that nothing else is required other than a strong arm, and a strong arm is something to consider as some spring powered rifles can take as much as 40 lbs to cock. As for accuracy, spring piston guns can be a challenge. When the spring is released it recoils the airgun rearward slightly into your shoulder, the spring is moving and expanding inside it’s tube and when the piston reaches the end of it’s stroke, it does so rather harshly taking the airgun from moving rearward to now moving slightly forward. All this movement is taking place while the pellet is still traveling down the barrel. There are techniques used to hold a spring powered airgun and a quality built spring powered airgun being held correctly can be amazingly accurate, but it does take practice. In the end though, a proper hold still won’t overcome poor quality of construction no matter how much you practice. So be sure to consider your use and whether your looking for a good time plinking tin cans in the back yard, trying to shoot tight groups or doing some pesting control.
Very similar to the spring powered airgun is the gas piston. Functionality is the same with the difference being that rather than compressing a spring, a gas piston is compressed. Gas pistons do have some small advantages as being somewhat smoother and when made correctly may last longer than their spring counterparts. Either airgun though when made correctly will last several thousands of shots.
Another type of airgun power plant uses a purchased CO2 (carbon dioxide) cartridge. The CO2 comes compressed inside the cartridge until it becomes a liquid. The cartridges are disposable and thrown away or recycled when they are empty. CO2 cartridges also come in a few sizes so one type of CO2 powered airgun may require one size while another brand or type of airgun requires a different size. With a CO2 powered airgun, you place a CO2 cartridge into a special compartment on the airgun. Upon closing the compartment (usually by a threaded cap) a mechanism inside the rifle pierces the end of the tank and the airgun is ready to be fired. It’s important to note that at this point not to remove the CO2 cartridge until it’s empty or near empty and be sure to follow the instructions that came with the airgun on removing and changing CO2 cartridges. The airgun can then now be loaded and used. A small sliding bolt or side lever is used to push the pellet into place as well as cock the hammer. Pulling the trigger releases the hammer that opens and closes a small valve very quickly allowing a small amount of CO2 to be released. The compressed liquid CO2 rapidly expands pushing the pellet down and out the barrel. Advantages to CO2 powered rifles is you avoid the double recoil you get from a spring piston airgun and there’s no need to cock a large heavy lever after every shot. In addition, depending on the size of the CO2 cartridge and caliber being shot, a CO2 cartridge may last up to a 100 shots. The downside to CO2 is that they are temperature sensitive causing the CO2 to expand at different pressures changing pellet velocity, the cartridges need to be purchased and performance is limited to the characteristics of CO2. That said, if your looking to have a great effortless time plinking with friends or family, CO2 is a great and affordable option and a lot of fun.
Lastly, there are PCP airguns where as PCP stands for Pre-Charged Pneumatic. When it comes to power, accuracy and shot count the PCP airgun dominates… but at a higher cost and a lot more required equipment. PCP airguns will have attached to them an air cylinder or a location that a small air tank can be attached. Like the CO2 gun, a pellet is loaded into the chamber by way of a small lever or bolt that also cocks the hammer. Pulling the trigger releases the hammer that opens and closes a small valve very quickly releasing a small volume of compressed air. The air rapidly expands pushing the pellet down and out the barrel. There’s no double recoil you get from a spring piston, no disposable CO2 cartridges to deal with and power and pellet speed are not limited to the characteristics of CO2.
Depending on the make of the airgun, the air tanks can hold a lot of air, usually between 200 – 500 cubic inches at pressures up to 3000 psi. That all adds up to high pellet velocity, accuracy as well a high shot count. The draw back to the PCP is having a source available to get that much pressure as well as a large secondary tank to store it in.
In most cases you’ll need to purchase something such as a SCBA tank and have a local dive shop fill it or purchase your own compressor such as an Omega Super Charger. Be sure to ask your dive shop first though as many won’t refill an air tank unless you have a diver’s license.
SCBA tanks can come as large as 90 to 100 cubic feet and may hold pressures up to 4500 psi.
That’s a lot of air and in most cases, depending how often you shoot, you may only need to top it off a couple times a year. If you shoot a lot, you may be needing to top it off more often. I mention the word “top off” rather than refill as you never truly empty your storage tank. You only use up the available air pressure to fill your gun. So if your PCP requires a 3000 PSI charge, once your secondary SCBA tank drops below 3000 PSI, it’s time to top it off.
Another consideration of the SCBA tank is it’s life span. Tanks may have a 15 year life span before they need to be discarded while others need to be tested and re- certified every so often. Just something to consider should you find a “good deal” on a used one.
Filling a PCP airgun from your secondary tank is a snap. Just be sure to follow all the instructions that come with the tank and the airgun.
Welcome to the world of airgunning! Be patient, look and test as many rifles as you can before buying, talk to some veterans and most important have fun.