Believe it or not, but air rifles have been around since the sixteenth century.
Many people consider airguns toys. But before anybody accepts that notion, consider that air rifles have been used in warfare too, with some big calibers punching as hard as the .45 ACP bullets at short range.
An Air Rifle Overview
The term ‘air rifle’ literally means a rifle that works using the power of the air.
The first air rifle is said to be a bellows gun dating back to the year 1580. Air rifles have been widely used for hunting and even some warfare from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. Mostly when the arrival of metal cartridges made reloading rifles faster and eliminating other handling problems.
The principle of operation of an air rifle is simple. Compressed air, either stored in an air tank or created by working a lever-piston mechanism is used to propel the projectile. Unlike firearms where an ignition chemical reaction inside the cartridge creates gasses to expand.
Air rifles can be classified into three categories based upon their operating mechanism:
- Spring-piston air rifle
- Pre-charged Pneumatic (PCP) air rifle
- Bottle compressed gas-air rifle
Spring Piston Air Rifle
As the name suggests, these air rifles contain a spring-loaded pump assembly. These are mostly break-barrel rifles. When working the barrel causes the spring to compress gas in the in-built air pump and also cock the trigger.
There are simple spring-piston air rifles that are a tad noisy and also a bit shaky when firing. Since the release pressure of the spring release energy. There’s another variant of this mechanism called the gas spring or more commonly nitro-piston air rifle.
These feature a pump loaded with inert gas, making it smoother and less noisy than traditional springer air rifles. These air rifles can generate high power at short range.
Pneumatic Air Rifles
These air rifles feature an in-built or sometimes detachable air tank. It has to be loaded with compressed air using a charging pump generally. Or some models have a lever that has to be worked several times to charge air for a single shot.
PCP air rifles have almost no recoil or shakiness when taking the shot. These are the quietest form of air rifles and also the most powerful ones. Additionally, these are also good with larger caliber pellets and deliver a quieter reload and faster rate of fire.
PCP rifles are extremely accurate and widely used for competitions and hunting. A lot of the quietest air rifles are PCP.
However, on the contrary, PCP air rifles can only deliver a limited number of high or low power shots per tank fill. Plus, you cannot carry the charging setup everywhere.
Compressed Gas Air Rifle
Their rifles are a bit less popular compared to springers and PCP’s for professional use. These air rifles use a detachable tank that contains compressed gas (mostly CO2). These are mostly used for recreational shooting and practice.
Calibers and Ammo Type
Another important factor to consider for air rifles is their caliber. The most common air rifle calibers are .177 (4.5 mm) and .22 (5.5 mm). Other less common and some special use calibers are 20 (5 mm), .25 (6.35 mm), .30 (7.62 mm), .357 (9mm), .45 (11.43 mm), .50 (12.7 mm) and .58 (14.5 mm).
The .177 caliber is faster than the .22 but deals lesser damage due to its smaller size.
As far as ammo is concerned, air rifles can use either of the three types of ammo: pellets, slugs, or BB’s.
Pellets are the most common, with the diabolo design being the most popular. The different types of pellets are wadcutter, domed, pointed, hollow-point, high velocity, hybrid, and modified-bullet pellets. Each with its own specific application and benefits.
What Air Rifles Do Best
From punching paper targets in a backyard to hunting down cape buffalos (Yes, you read that right. Hunting cape buffalos). Air rifles have a myriad of applications.
Air rifles were invented to be a hassle-free alternative to muskets. Which had a long reloading time and problems like protecting gunpowder from water and storing lead balls safely.
But as time moved on, the use of air rifles started becoming limited to some specific applications.
With a wide range of air rifles to choose from. Some of them are designed to be just fun-shooting rifles. Just for having some plinking fun in the backyard, or teaching the basics of handling a rifle to neophytes.
But let’s delve deeper into each possible application for air rifles
Hunting with air rifles is a very popular sport in some countries.
The .177 caliber air rifles are mostly used for bringing down birds and small game-like squirrels (you may also check out the best air rifles for squirrel hunting). Whereas the heavier .22 caliber air rifles can be used for bigger games.
Air rifles are also very popular for vermin and pest eradication. Since many jurisdictions, especially in the backcountry, have lenient laws for air rifles. These are inexpensive and less dangerous alternatives to real firearms. Especially when one is targeting small critters that do not require too much punch to kill.
Air rifles are also employed for some uncommon uses like hunting deer, hogs, or even larger game with bigger calibers and some high-power air rifles.
Air rifles are a safer alternative to firearms. Especially when recreational shooting or teaching the basics is involved. There are a lot of youth air rifles to choose from. Air rifles have a short effective range, so they can be used for plinking in a backyard with a light background for stopping pellets.
Plinking with airguns is a very popular recreational activity. You can also find stalls in fairs or exhibitions offering you a chance to test your aim.
PCP air rifles are widely used for competitions. The Olympics Games have special 10 meters and other events for air rifles. It is one of the most extreme precision shooting events. Where success and defeat are decided by margins of mere millimeters.
Special projectiles like feather darts are used with air rifles as tranquilizer guns in zoos or wildlife sanctuaries.
Where Air Rifles Fall Short
Air rifles are amazing for sure. They are safe, inexpensive, fun to shoot, almost recoil-free, and a lot of other things. But there are a few factors where air rifles also fall short. Such as power, range, usability, and a few other factors that we’ll discuss.
Air rifles are great weapons. They are lightweight and easy to handle. But their use is somewhat limited because of a few mixed factors. For example, no air rifle caliber is truly versatile. I mean like the .270 Winchester in firearm rifles that can take down anything from a small to a big game.
The calibers limit the application of an air rifle to some specific game or use. On the other hand, air rifles are not tactical weapons. Some people suggest and even use air rifles for home defense situations. But the reality is that one can never be so sure with an air gun.
Whether it’s breaking barrels to load a springer or handling PCP tanks. Air rifles have their own world of applications. And they are good at that till you respect their limitations.
Talking about limitations, let’s also consider a common misconception about air rifles. Many people seem to not take air rifles seriously and think of them as a kid’s toy. That’s outright false.
All air rifles can severely wound or even kill a human under the right unfortunate circumstances. Even a .177 air rifle can do that. So always treat an air rifle with respect and care.
How to Take Advantage of Air Rifles
In order to utilize the maximum potential of your air rifles. You’ll have to look out for some modifications and accessories. Like adding a good scope, bipod, custom stock, sling, and maybe a light. Let’s take a look at them.
Improve the Range and Accuracy
The naked human eye can sight a target clearly to just a few yards. But when precision and shooting distance increase their demands, adding a scope on the air rifle becomes imperative.
The scope you’ll choose for your rifle will depend upon a couple of factors. The maximum effective range of your air rifle and the magnification you need. Most air rifle scopes fall in the range of 1x to 9x of magnification.
Some people prefer fixed magnification, but I personally would go for a variable magnification scope. That too a strong one. This becomes even more useful when you also have real rifles to work with and you want to switch scopes.
Adding a good bipod to your air rifle is a very bright idea. Especially if you use it for hunting. Adding a bipod greatly improves the stability, while also offering an improvised shooting platform in uneven terrain.
You may also opt for a customized stock with glass bedding to further improve the harmonics of your rifle. Additionally, the idea of attaching a sling to your air rifle is also great. Especially if you have to travel long distances on foot while tracking games.
Air rifles come in a variety of models. From low-power plinking guns to high-power air rifles designed to bring down big critters. An air rifle is subject to legal regulations so always make sure to study and abide by them before buying one.
These rifles can be used for hunting, recreational shooting, and competitions. And are also eligible for upgrades with many amazing aftermarket accessories out there.