Choosing the best air rifle for hunting can be overwhelming with so many choices. In addition to at least five types of air guns, there are scopes, tanks, pellets, caliber, etc.
This article provides a general overview of the gun types and features to consider so you have the knowledge you need to make a decision.
There are many factors to consider but the information below will provide a good starting point – gun types, features, and a few of the guns I like.
Table of contents
Types of Air Rifles
There are five basic types of air guns, and you will often hear them referred to as air guns, air rifles, pellet guns, and BB guns. People often use them interchangeably.
What is an air gun? I’m asked this question often and simply answer “a gun that propels a pellet or BB with compressed air.”
My face then lights up, and I eagerly announce “but they are so much more!”
There are so many types of air rifles now and they are addictive! These rifles are no longer just “Grandpa’s pest remover.”
Spring Powered Air Rifle
This gun is simple to operate and uses a piston and spring.
You compress the spring when you cock gun and decompress it when you pull the trigger, and the piston moves forward.
The piston compresses the air and propels the pellet forward.
You will find these guns in break-barrel and spring piston rifles. The spring piston is cocked by a lever.
Uses .177 to .25 caliber pellets.
- Ease of Use
- Easy to Service
- Coil will losen
- Practice to Use
The Hatsan Mod 135 Vortex QE is not only a powerful gun, but it is also a classically good-looking gun with its hardwood stock. Moreover, with its Vortex Gas Piston, QuietEnergy Barrel technology, etc., you can’t beat the price for the quality. This is a gun you will hang up.
There are a ton of good options, but as far as features and price, I like the Ruger Air Magnum, RWS 350 Magnum, Ruger Air Hawk Scope Combo. These are all solid guns, and you won’t go wrong whichever one you choose.
Gas Piston Air Rifle
The Gas Piston uses a gas-filled cylinder instead of a spring. It is cocked like a Spring-Piston rifle.
The air in the cylinder is already compressed, and when you cock it, you add more pressure.
The propellant force of the pressurized air forces the pellet out of the gun. Shots are smooth because there is no metal spring.
Uses .177 to .25 caliber pellets.
- No Spring Loosening
- Less recoil
- Does not have to be recharged like a PCP gun
- Less practice needed than a spring-piston
- More difficult to service yourself and parts hard to find
- Gas leak = does not work
The Hatsan Mod 125 Sniper Vortex QE is a workhorse. This is a consistent gun with power, and it’s not going to let you down after it has been “handled” on a long hike. In addition, you are getting a good quality gun with features like a Vortex Piston, Quattro two-stage trigger, integral muzzle brake, etc.
CO2 Air Rifle
A carbon dioxide cartridge (CO2) is used to power the gun.
Compressed CO2 is released when you shoot the gun, powering out the pellet.
Arrive far ahead of the time you plan to shoot so the cartridge can adjust to ambient temperatures. Unfortunately, these are weather-sensitive.
Some hunters consider CO2 guns best as pistols.
Uses .177 and .22 caliber pellets.
- No recoil and very accurate
- Weather effects CO2 expansion, so power can vary by day.
The Beeman QB78 Deluxe is one of few air rifles that consistently rank 5/5 among airgun shop reviews, but what can I say – it’s a Beeman. Looking for a good first gun with a classic bolt action look and plenty of power? This is your gun.
A CO2 is a good step up before a PCP, and there are a LOT of guns to choose from in this category. My other choices include the Crosman 1077 Wood Stock, .177 cal, SIG Sauer MCX, and the Umarex Legends MP40 BB Submachine Gun is a fun gun!
Precharged Pneumatic (PCP) Air Rifle
The PCP gun uses highly pressurized air – up to 4,000 psi.
The pressure is provided by scuba tanks, carbon tanks, pumps, or PCP compressors that must reach a compression level before they are ready to shoot.
Many of these guns are repeaters so that you can shoot them more than once.
This is a quiet gun that can be used for big game.
This can be a very dangerous gun and is not recommended for beginners. Be careful and use a gun range for practice.
Uses .177, .22, .25, .30, .303, .357, .40, .50 caliber pellets.
- No Recoil
- Large caliber pellets so effective
- Power and Accuracy/Consistency
- Little cocking effort needed
- Very quiet
- More equipment to operate so more expensive to maintain
The FX Impact M3 is a sharp-looking gun noted for its consistency and power. What I like the best is its versatility – dual AMP regulators, hammer spring adjustment, and external valve adjustment. The price point is better than my next favorite – Daystate Delta Wolf. Whatever you order, prepare to wait.
Variable Pump Air Rifle
This gun uses a piston and cylinder.
The gas is compressed between the cylinder and piston, and you determine the pressure based on the amount of pumping.
The cylinder has a valve that locks in the air until you shoot the gun, forcing out the pellet with compressed air.
These guns can take up to 10 pumps to get the pressure you need to shoot a pellet.
Uses .177 and .22 caliber pellets.
- Light weight and no recoil
- No extra equipment required
- Pumping Action
- Have to pump between shots
The Remington AirMaster 77 was a gun just had to choose, although I almost picked the Daisy! This is a great first multi-pump gun that shoots BBs and pellets. The fiber optic sights and scope are also a nice addition at this price point, although you will likely upgrade the scope on a gun this accurate.
I mentioned the Daisy before, and it is my first alternate, although the next two run a close race. Take a look at the Daisy 880, Crosman 760X Combo, and the Crosman M4-177 Tactical Multi-Pump – all good guns.
Pellet Gun Features to Consider
I’ll summarize the features listed above, but some of this information is found when reviewing the five types of air rifles.
Power and caliber are important if you want to hunt with an air rifle, primarily to hunt larger game.
Consider the spring-loaded rifle if you want some of the same features as a real gun. The recoil and carry require practice. If you can shoot this gun with accuracy and consistency, consider yourself a good shot.
- CO2 is not as fast as PCP, but faster than spring loaded.
- The CO2 has much greater recoil than the PCP.
- The spring in the spring loaded rifle will losen over time, although it is easily replaced.
The larger the caliber, the larger the game is a good rule of thumb.
Rifles with .177 caliber pellets are usually the fastest and most accurate.
.177 are the quickest and most accurate. They are suitable for bird hunting, if you are going to hunt with this caliber.
- .22 and .25 have power but are not as accurate. They are good for medium game hunting like gophers and possums.
- Larger calibers can bring down large animals like pigs and white-tail deer.
- PCP are often used with the higher calibers
The PCP has the smallest amount of recoil, and the CO2 falls in between the spring-loaded and the PCP.
- As mentioned already, I think the spring-loaded gun is a great gun to master. If you can shoot it accurately then you are a pretty good shot.
A gun that fires multiple shots is important if you are hunting game. You want to be able to fire the second shot as quickly and consistently as possible.
- Spring powered rifles cannot shoot quickly but they can continue to fire until you wear out first.
- CO2 and PCP air rifles can shoot a limited number of times before needing to be refilled.
- Pump action guns will have to be pumped multiple times before you can fire again. The game will probably be gone.
Consistency and accuracy are essential with any gun you use, but they are not always the same.
A gun needs to be able to fire a small group of shots consistently. Guns can fire a single shot accurately under specific conditions but still not be consistent.
- Spring powered rifles and air pressurized rifles are not affected by temperature like CO2 air guns.
- PCP air rifles are consistent and accurate.
- Variable pump air rifles can be very accurate under low pressure, although not as powerful, if you need to take a quick second shot.
Price is important for any purchase, especially if only using your air rifle on occasion.
The more complex the gun (requires external parts like a PCP rifle), the more expensive the gun.
- Spring loaded air guns are the least expensive.
- PCP air rifles are the most expensive due to external gas use.
- CO2 cartridges can become expensive depending on how many you use.
Air Gun or Air Rifle Safety
Safety is very important when you using any type of gun.
Air guns make up a large category and the NRA has published a comprehensive document on this topic.
The “Air Gun Shooting Sports Safety Guide” provides both general gun handling safety guidelines and Airgun specific guidelines.
Air Rifles – Final Thoughts
Choosing an air rifle requires research and thought. These are not toys, so make sure you have the room and ability to use one. They can be as lethal as a regular rifle.
On the other hand, they can be a great tool in learning how to use a gun and safely handle it, and they can also be A LOT of fun!