You have not landed here by chance. Perhaps it is the popularity of PCP air rifles that drew you. Or maybe just a curious mind seeking to learn what the hype behind PCP guns is all about. You will herein learn all you need to know about PCPs and by the end be in a position to purchase the best PCP airgun for your needs. Let us jump straight in.
What are PCP air rifles?
PCP is an abbreviation for Pre-Charged Pneumatics. This basically points to the mechanism through which the air rifles fire the ammo. Unlike CO2 air rifles, PCP air rifles use the very same air that we breathe. This is compressed to some high degree of pressure, usually around 3000 psi – but this varies from gun to gun. Compressing air is easily done using a scuba tank or a hand pump, just like you pump a bicycle tyre.
You may or may not get to the maximum fill pressure specific to the airgun, but it’s good if you can pump it to the maximum. Now you can use the gun.
By pulling the trigger, what you actually do is release a small amount of compressed air into the barrel. The force by which the air travels pushes forth the ammo within the barrel. And it is that simple.
Having said that, note that the pressure of the compressed air reduces each time you fire a shot. Meaning that after a certain number of shots, the pressure will have fallen to a point that is not enough to propel the ammo with the desired velocity. You remember the common specs that reads Maximum Shots per fill? That’s it. It is then that you refill the tank and start your next round of shooting.
Now, all PCP air rifles roughly use this same principle – whether it costs 250 USD or 3,000 USD. The other details are only slight variations from this basic principle and of course quality of the components.
This is not a new concept as such. Rumour has it that PCPs were in use as early as the 16th Century. But it was not until the Napoleonic wars in the 18th Century that PCPs gained traction. Surprisingly, PCP guns proved more effective than guns powered by gunpowder. The same principle was then widely adopted by companies to make air rifles. And now they are the talk of the town.
When shooting with a PCP air rifle, be it fun plinking, target shooting or hunting, your sober judgement is at all times required to gauge the accuracy of the shots. You see, as earlier hinted, the reduction in pressure with each shot may decrease the velocity of the ammo and thus accuracy of the gun.
Whereas you were first able to hit the target at some given distance, you may soon find the ammo constantly deviating from the target point. The more you go on firing, the more the deviation. This tells you it is time to recharge the gun.
The number of quality shots you can get after one fill varies from gun to gun. The variation is quite significant, for while other guns give only 30 shots per fill, others can yield up to 400 shots per fill. The maximum fill pressure and cylinder size are some of the factors that determine the maximum shots you can get per fill.
Advantages of PCP air rifles
PCP air rifles are first of all advantageous because of their ease of use. As described above, the only thing required is knowing how to recharge the gun, and this is something that can be done even by a teen shooter. Loading the ammo into the gun is also not an uphill task.
PCPs are also notably quieter than other types of airguns. This quality is important especially when silence during operation is required. For instance, when plinking in the backyard, it’s not cool to disturb your next door neighbour with gun noises. Also, when hunting, you ideally need to maintain stealth so that your prey is not scared away before firing the killer shot.
Lack of recoil is another great advantage of PCP air rifles. Recoil is known to affect the accuracy of guns in that the rifle will most likely shift from the line of focus. Recoil is mostly witnessed in springers where Newton’s third law of motion comes into play – for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Since PCPs use compressed air, very little or no recoil is experienced, and thus the accuracy and consistency of the airgun becomes high.
PCPs air rifles are also considerably easy to use. While other guns have a steep learning curve before you can master them, the PCPs can be mastered in a matter of hours or days by someone enthusiastic.
How to choose the best PCP rifle
When choosing PCP air rifles, the most important consideration will be your intended use. Let’s say your aim is target shooting. What you need is a low power rifle, probably with high velocity.
Muzzle velocities of about 550 fps are enough for target shooting. On muzzle energy, you probably do not need anything above 6 FPE. In that sense, your prefered caliber should always be .177. No need for a .22 since you don’t need that much punching power.
Indeed, for field target shooting, the US authorities capped the upper limit at 20 FPE. This can be obtained by a .177 pellet travelling at around 926 fps. Over in Britain, the maximum allowed muzzle energy for field target shooters is 12 FPE. With a .177 ammo travelling at around 800 fps, you can attain this punching power.
For hunting purposes, you can consider pcp air rifles with muzzle energies above 30 FPE. This includes the likes of Gamo Magnum, Benjamin Marauder, and Seneca Sumatra. The punching power is enough to humanely eliminate small game and pests.
For big game hunting, look into the likes of Seneca Dragon Claw (230 FPE for .50 caliber), Sam Yang Recluse (154 FPE for .357 caliber), and Airforce Texan SS (140 FPE for .30 caliber).
It may also be possible that you need a pcp air rifle simply for plinking soda cans in the backyard. Do not spend a fortune on a lethal weapon. Think of an air rifle that is more toy-like.
Quietness level also matters. Air rifles are graded on a scale of 1 to 5. 5 is the higher end while 1 is on the lower side. Level 5 quietness is certainly not the best for backyard plinking. You may get flagged down in the entire neighbourhood. So opt for fully shrouded PCP air rifles. The louder models can be used in the open field.
The desired feel is also something to consider. What I mean is, how do you want to feel when using the air rifle? Do you want to feel like the American soldiers in World War II? Or do you want to feel like part of the Wild West? Or is your desire to imitate the action fighters you see in movies? You have a choice between the pistol types and rifle types. Some air rifles.
Further, you may choose between the single shot rifles and the repeater rifles. Air rifles with a repeater function may make you get into the action mode better.
Your mode of operation is another key determinant in the type of air rifle you shoot. Are you in a position to carry a scuba tank or hand pump to the shooting field? Or you are the type that simply fling the rifle across the shoulder and wander into the woods for endless shooting? Talking here about the maximum shots per fill.
Let us now compare the PCP air rifles and the break barrel air rifles.
PCP air rifles vs break barrel air rifles
We already defined the principle behind the operation of PCPs. What about break barrel air rifles? These use a spring powerplant to compress the chamber. The guns have a cylinder that houses the main spring with a piston at its front end.
Cocking the gun involves breaking the barrel downwards, loading the ammo, and finally breaking the barrel back up into position. The barrel is designed to swing on a hinge. And that’s where the very term break barrel comes from.
Breaking the barrel this way compresses the string. When you pull the trigger, the spring is released and drives the piston forward. The piston forces a blast of air into the transfer port. This results in the ammo flying moving forward within the barrel and finally flying out.
One significant difference between break barrel air rifles and PCPs is cost. Generally, springers are priced cheaper than PCPs.
A good springer will cost you less than $200. On the contrary, to get a good PCP of similar quality, you may need to cough $ 400 upwards. Not only that – remember the need for a hand pump or scuba tank.
A decent hand pump will set you back by about. $ 100. Decent scuba tanks require an additional investment of about $400. Further down the road, you find that the costs of operation for PCPs are higher than that for springers.
Secondly, springers are notorious for their huge recoil. For your reference, Newton’s third law of motion states that for every action, there is always an equal and opposite reaction.
As the trigger is released and the spring plunges forward, the reaction force forces the gun to move backwards. This may have a very profound effect on the accuracy in case the shooter is not sturdy enough. It requires enough mastery to know how to absorb the recoil shock and steady the gun as you fire the shot.
Novices will realise that hitting the target with a springer is not as easy though. There is quite a steep learning curve with the springers. As for PCPs, especially those with muzzle energy below 30 FPE, the recoil effect is negligible. They are therefore easier to master.
The fact that you need to break the barrel frequently when using springers subjects them to gradual slack. With time, you realize that the barrel lock up is inadequate. This is especially true for low quality springers. And the effect of this is inconsistent velocities and inaccuracy.
Finally, cocking the springers may not be possible for teen shooters. They simply do not have the strength to do so. But it may be argued that pumping PCPs is likewise not favourable to the teens. Yes, that’s very correct. The good thing is that one fill of a PCP may give a higher number of shots than the break barrel air rifles.
Striking the balance
So you want to choose the best budget pcp air rifle. The question is: How do you balance between the quality of the air rifle, your purpose and your budget?
The first thing I would advise you is to list the specifications you desire according to your intended use. The basic specs include maximum muzzle velocity, muzzle energy, quietness level, maximum shots per fill, single shot or repeater shot function, stock type, weight, pistol or rifle design, and accuracy.
With your list of specs, check out the air rifles that meet your criteria. You can shortlist around 5. Next read honest reviews of the air rifles. We at Airgunmaniac have detailed reviews of most of the PCP air rifles. Doing so will let you understand the features, benefits and shortcomings of the guns you have in mind.
Also make sure to compare different brands like Air Arms, Air Venturi, Airforce, Avanti, Beeman, Crosman, Daisy, Diana, Gamo, Evanix, Hamerli, Ruger, Umarex, and Winchester, among others. You are bound to come out right.