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PCP vs CO2 Guns: Which One is Better?

The most talked of debate between hunters and gun enthusiasts is what the best power source of a gun is. 

The five main sources of power behind the pellet that we find in guns are spring power, gas piston (nitro piston included), variable pumps, compressed CO2 gas, and pre-charged pneumatic (PCP). 

These power sources are the heart of all air guns and pistons and may vary, but all of them ultimately do the same thing – firing bullets. 

There are advantages and disadvantages for everything, but in this article, I am mainly going to discuss which power source for air guns is better – pre-charged pneumatics (PCP) or CO2. 

Both PCP and CO2 air guns require tubes of compressed air to work, though PCP guns are considered more powerful. On the other hand, CO1 guns are easier to use and require less time and energy to maintain. Let us further discuss these qualities and compare PCP vs CO2 air rifles. 

PCP Guns and their Working Procedure

PCPs are guns with a lot of range and available in many calibers. The recoil is minimum and the internal part of PCP guns has three major categories – regulated mechanical, unregulated mechanical, and electronic. 

  1. The air cylinder is pre-charged and stored in the gun so that when you cock the rifle, the cylinder is pulled back through the spring. 
  2. The cylinder is released when you pull the trigger and it hits the valve, causing muzzle velocity to accelerate. 
  3. The released air glows through the transfer port to go to the barrel. The valve closes due to the air pressure to get the same force as before. 
  4. Using a PCP gun with a regulator makes sure the air pressure remains the same. 

CO2 Guns and their Working Procedure

CO2 guns have been around for a very long time and come in all shapes and sizes. They are great for a shooting experience and are very similar to traditional rimfire firearms. Similar to PCP guns, there is minimum recoil and the accuracy is at par with spring pistons.

They are not powered by pressurized air but through pressurized carbon dioxide. When the pressurized carbon dioxide is inserted into the cylinder bottle, some of the gas turns into liquid. Therefore, the cylinder has both liquid and gas.

  1. Upon pulling the trigger, the cylinder valve opens. 
  2. Some of the gas transfers into the barrel with great force which causes the barrel to shoot the pellet out of the gun. 
  3. The liquid gas remains the same until the time for it to turn into gas for the next shot. 

Differences between PCP vs CO2

The main difference between the two types of guns is in their mechanisms. Pre-charged pneumatic guns work by manually compressing the air when the folding of the barrel is going on. 

The shots are fired from the pressure of the compressed air and its intensity depends on the system. Meanwhile, the power of the CO2 gun will always be the same, due to the compression of the gas inside the cylinder.  The more the cylinder is filled, the greater the shot will be. 

PCP guns can reach a power of up to 8/10 joules but a CO2 gun can only go up to a 4 J. In terms of FPE, most PCP guns offer more than 11 FPE. Some .25 caliber PCP guns can also reach up to 50 FPE, making them suitable for large/medium game hunting.

(For more on the best air rifle for hunting medium games, see this post)

On the other hand, CO2 guns can only offer FPE up to 16 in most cases. Therefore, they’re not as powerful as PCPs.

Another way PCP is more advantageous over CO2 guns is that the change in air pressure does not affect their performance.

However, CO2 guns also have their benefits over using PCP guns. In CO2 guns, pressure regulators are not required. The power of CO2 guns is usually in the range of what a human can take, and hence are safe from the unnecessary hassle. 

When comparing a PCP air tank vs CO2, the pressure of the vapor does not depend on the tank size but rather on the temperature of the liquid. Large pressurized gas is converted from the small volume of liquid and hence is a very simple system for the storage of energy.

Since both depend on the needs of the individual, let us dive deeper into the comparison of these two guns. 

PCP vs CO2 Rifle Power Comparison

The difference in the powers of PCP vs CO2 air guns is that the latter can go to about 650 feet per second, while PCP has 750 feet per second and can go up to 1000 too. This is because PCP guns get higher pressure in the chamber. 

It also has a longer barrel and though they both have the same trigger and breech, there is higher pressure in the PCP gas chamber.  PCP rifles are of better construction and when there are regulators involved, the performance shoots up as well. 

The CO2 guns have a metal spring inside which can deteriorate over time with use. Hence, that is also one of the downsides.  

Accuracy

On average,  CO2 guns are around 800 PSI, while PCP rifles work on around 2900 PSI, which means they have three times more pressure.  This huge increase in pressure causes the compressed air to give the pellet an instantaneous push, unlike a CO2 gun which is comparatively slower. Hence, PCP guns have more consistency and accuracy.

The accuracy is the same for both of them when it is at a short distance. It also depends on the number of bullets you carry. Two capsules in a CO2 gun or a cartridge can also help shoot accurately. 

(For more on the best CO2 air rifle on the market, see this post)

Noise Level

CO2 guns make noise depending on the power level of the gun. A .22 short caliber gun can make a loud, popping, ripping sound. With a sound suppressing system in the CO2 gun, the noise can be reduced as it does not have a spring inside like a spring-piston. They are, however, much quieter than a normal gun.

PCP guns, on the other hand, are noiseless. There is a small ‘ping’ sound which is made when air is passed through the tube of a sudden, but the noise is not the same as other guns which make a banging noise. 

Upkeep Cost

When it comes to an overall cost for purchase and maintenance, in the PCP vs CO2 pellet gun debate, CO2 guns definitely take the win. 

It is noteworthy that the starting prices of high-quality CO2 guns are less expensive than the prices of low-range PCPs.  An expensive CO2 gun can cost about $150 while a good quality PCP will cost you around $500 – and this amount is without the extra charges you pay for the equipment and maintenance of these guns. 

Extra materials like a hand pump or an air compressor are also needed to recharge your PCP gun. These may cost around $6 per piece or more and maybe a small amount to pay for the extra accuracy, but over the long period, it can prove to be expensive. 

In contrast, CO2 guns not only start at a lesser amount, but you can also get a handful of CO2 cartridges for just about $5. For a beginner who is just trying the sport and is not sure if they would continue, the CO2 guns are budget-friendly as well as efficient. 

Which One is Better For Pest Control?

CO2 guns are great for simple shooting. With their low cost at a decent range, they are a great pick for normal uses. Though high-end CO2 guns may vary from low-quality CO2 guns, the difference is not binary and also depends upon the model.

It would be wrong to recommend a CO2 for hunting, as its purpose is mostly that of shooting small things once in a while, hence, the gun is the better pick out of the two for pest control.

PCP guns definitely cover up most of the functions and mechanics one would need as a hunter, so they can do the work of any other gun and be used for pest control as well, but that is a waste of gas – especially since PCPs are expensive. Therefore, you can leave these small tasks for your CO2 gun. 

Which One is Better for Hunting Games?

The sport of hunting is where the PCP will come into play and be the best at it. It is obvious that its great build is perfect for shooting, but if the target does not require continuous shooting, then it is alright to not use a PCP as well.

While CO2 guns can have a range of about 40 yards, with all its repeatable consistency, the range of PCP guns can go from and past 75 and 100 yards. This does not only cover a medium to large range, but your PCP bullet can also go at a speed of 750 per second or more. Shooting from large distances also makes hunting a fun activity for some. 

PCPs are also way more powerful when compared to CO2 guns. Their FPE can reach up to 50 whereas most CO2 guns fall short here. 

(For more on the best PCP air rifles on the market, see this post)

Conclusion

Which one you choose is really your decision at the end of the day, however, to sum it up, a Co2 gun will be perfect if:

  • It is a small situation like pest or vermin control. 
  • The situation is just a practice of casual target shooting
  • You are looking for something low maintenance. 

PCP guns are the way to go if:

  • There is no limitation on budget and you can afford the best regardless of its price. 
  • You are going to use the gun for a lot of hunting and competitive target shooting. 
  • You want to keep the gun in good condition for a long period of time.
  • You want to opt for large or medium game hunting. 
Sean Campbell
Sean Campbellhttps://airgunmaniac.com/about-autor-sean-campbell/
Sean Campbell’s love for hunting and outdoor life is credited to his dad who constantly thrilled him with exciting cowboy stories. His current chief commitment involves guiding aspiring gun handlers on firearm safety and shooting tactics at the NRA education and training department. When not with students, expect to find him either at his gunsmithing workshop, in the woods hunting, on the lake fishing, on nature photoshoots, or with his wife and kid in Maverick, Texas.
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