Choosing the right airgun for you can be a difficult task, usually limited by your budget. Here are some things to consider when purchasing your first airgun.
You want to be able to hit what you are aiming at, whether or not you are shooting paper targets, plinking, or hunting. Look for an airgun that has a rifled barrel if you plan to shoot distances over 10m or if you plan to hunt. If you just want something for target practice at 10m or less, a smoothbore is more than adequate. Here’s a 6m 5 shot group I shot with the lowly Crosman 760:
The next consideration is power. Again, if you are target shooting at close range, a low powered airgun will be comfortable and convenient to shoot. If you are hunting or shooting distant targets, more power is necessary. Higher power can be achieved through higher speeds, heavier pellets, and larger calibers.
For small game hunting, I’d recommend a minimum of 10 to 20 foot pounds of muzzle energy. .177 is a great choice at these energies. For medium game, look for at least 30 foot pounds. .22 and .25 airguns are needed to deliver this kind of energy accurately. Large game will require 100+ foot pounds of energy for a clean harvest. There’s quite a range of calibers that have been used in this application.
While all airguns use air in one way or another, how this air is compressed and delivered differs from airgun to airgun. Some of the most common ones found are single and multi stroke pneumatic airguns. These are quiet, usually inexpensive airguns on the low powered side of things. I recommend them for target practice and hunting small pests. On the downside, many are cheaply made and require several pumps to reach full power.
CO2 airguns use compressed carbon dioxide in small disposable cylinders or in larger refillable tanks. They produce medium amounts of power and are often suitable for hunting small game like rabbits and squirrels. They provide many consistent shots at a steady temperature and do not require pumping between shots. Their disadvantages is having to purchase the CO2 and the low pressure at cold temperatures.
Precharged pneumatics, or PCP airguns, solve the problems that are mentioned in the previous two powerplants. They power the strongest airguns and provide many consistent, pump-free shots at a wide range of temperatures. Their only real disadvantage is cost. Since they operate at high pressures, they have to be built from higher grade materials. They also have to be filled from a high pressure hand pump or from scuba or similar high pressure air sources. Add it all up, and you can have several hundred dollars tied up in your airgun.
Spring piston airguns are the last major category. They are powered by a compressed spring or gas ram. When the trigger is pulled, the spring or ram is released, pushing a piston forward. This rapidly compresses and heats the air behind the pellet, forcing it out the barrel. For the most part, spring piston airguns produce medium amounts of power, making them a great choice for small game hunting and long range target practice.
I personally shoot spring piston airguns, like the Umarex Fuel pictured above. Spring piston airguns are not affected much by temperature, are reasonably priced, and produce great power for hunting. They do have a major disadvantage – they are not easy for the beginner to shoot. You will have to master the artillery hold if you want to shoot them accurately. They can also be difficult for the young and elderly alike to cock.
I hope this helps you in choosing your first airgun, or finding a different airgun better suited to your purposes. Read as many reviews on an airgun before committing to purchase. Buy the best airgun you can afford. If you get one and it doesn’t seem to shoot as well as you think it should, try a different pellet. Often, a gun will have a pellet it will shoot better than others. Most of all, get out and do some shooting. Be safe, have fun, and pass the sport along to others!