What is a PCP air rifle? Is PCP gun the best choice for you?


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PCP air gun is one of five types of air rifles.

In the market today, PCP air guns have become more and more popular and are sought-after .

In this post, we will take an in-depth look at a PCP rifle, what it is, how it works, its pros and cons and whether you should buy one at all.

Where did PCP Come From?

Second Italian War of Independence

Contrary to common beliefs that PCP rifles have been made only recently, they actually appeared the first time in the mid-1500s.

The first who made the most of them are Austrians.

The Austrians had thousands of PCP guns for their army in the war between them and France.

Their guns were .26 caliber, 24 shots per minute repeaters in the time that a repeating firearm didn’t even exist.

It gave them a huge advantage over Napoleon’s army who only could make 3 shots per minute due to the loading difficulty of the gun powder.

After that time, PCP guns continued to be made.

The manufacture of PCP air gun stopped after World War 1 and was revived in .177 and .22 caliber around 1980.

(For more on the differences between .177 & .22 and which jobs they do best, see this post.)

How it works?

PCP stands for Pre-charged Pneumatic, which means that the compressed air is put into the gun in advance before it is shot.

Basically, it’s the air gun with a hollow tube containing high-pressurized air.

p1 What is a PCP air rifle? Is PCP gun the best choice for you?

Typically, the air is compressed at 3000 psi (pounds per square inch), sometime less, sometime more.

There are multiple ways to fill the air reservoir. 

You can use hand pumps, scuba tanks, carbon fiber tanks or a high-pressure PCP rifle compressor.

Once the gun is filled to a certain pressure level, it is ready to use.

The firing cycle of PCP happens as follows: When you pull the trigger, the firing valve opens and releases compressed air inside the barrel.

The compressed air has no way to go but behind the pellet and the pellet is pushed out of the barrel due to propellant force of the compressed air.

After that, a small amount of air and pressure in the reservoir are reduced.

pcp1 3 What is a PCP air rifle? Is PCP gun the best choice for you?

How long till you need to fill the gun?

PCP air rifles have a gauge which tells you how much pressure is in the air reservoir so you know when you drop out of the optimum pressure curve.

A lot of gauges have red, green, and yellow color marks on them.

Green is good, yellow is OK and red means that you need to refill your gun as soon as possible.

Shot capacity

A PCP air gun allows you to have many shots per one fill.

Depending on each rifle, you can have 20-30 shots before having to refill the gun again.


A PCP air gun filled with high pressure usually starts with low velocity, then increases in speed, and drops again to a low level of velocity finally.

In other words, the chronograph of PCP is the belt curve.

Therefore, you need to shoot several times to find the “sweet spot” so you can adjust the fill to get consistent performance.

pcp air rifle

What if you want consistent shots immediately without having to go through trial and error?

Here comes the great helper: the air regulator.

Many PCP guns have air regulators so you can fill them up and the air regulators will manage the pressure for the firing valves.

As a result, you have a gun with high pressure but the firing valve always receives the same pressure .

These guns often have flatter trajectory than the guns that don’t have regulators.

An air regulator adds more expense for the buyer but the beauty is that you always get the same amount of pressure to the firing valve so your PCP gun gets consistent power shot after shot.

What types of caliber PCP gun can you shoot?

A PCP gun can use a higher caliber pellet than a C02 air gun.

The reason is that a PCP puts more air behind the projectile while CO2 is temperature dependant.

You can’t shoot a lot of caliber with a CO2 gun but a PCP puts a lot of air behind the projectile so you can get very high velocity with large caliber pellet.

In fact, a PCP gun can shoot .46, .58 , or even .72 caliber bullets. Impressive, you say?

Recoil and Noise

A PCP air gun produces very little recoil and they are also very quiet compared to other types of air rifles.

If you are a recoil hater then PCP may be a great way to go.

With its quietness and virtually recoilless performance, a PCP is an excellent choice for young and newbie shooters, although experienced shooters can benefit from it as well.

How about accuracy?

A PCP gun is the most accurate air gun and PCP is also the easiest air gun to shoot accurately.

The average shooter can pick up a PCP gun and be just as accurate as he can with the firearm.

If you pick the spring piston gun, there is a learning curve involved

And there are the holding techniques involved that you need to learn before your shooting group becomes as tiny as you want.

With a PCP, you can enjoy accurate shooting as soon as possible without going through any complicated learning process.

Disadvantages of PCP

The first disadvantage of a PCP is its high expense.

The cost to get into this type of gun is always higher than other gun types.

It can cost you several hundreds of dollars up to more than $1000 for a single gun.

However, if you buy an air tank one time, for your next PCP gun, you don’t have to buy filling equipment so after that period of time, the cost really goes down.

The second disadvantage is a PCP gun requires support tails: scuba tank or hand pump or carbon fiber tank or a high-pressure PCP rifle compressor.

Then you have to find the way to fill the tank like finding an air filling station, for example.

Besides, sometime when you travel with a PCP air gun, the airport authorities may require to look inside the air reservoir which is almost impossible.

So if you travel a lot, it’s better to bring a spring piston gun in case you have trouble flying with a PCP gun.


Although a PCP gun has some disadvantages, it still gains attraction from shooters all over the world.

A PCP gun is a great choice if you want to enjoy the quietness, minimal recoil,  high power, multiple shot capacity, and high accuracy on the hunting field.


  1. Typically how long will a PCP rifle hold its charge? I keep a pellet rifle upstairs where I can open a window and sight down on squirrels raiding my bird feeder so will it stay charged for a week or more up there?

    • Hi Don,

      Your PCP rifle should hold pressure for months if not years. PCP’s like a tire should hold air for a long time unless there’s an air leak somewhere. If I were you, I will try to keep around 1000 PSI (or 80 bars) in your rifle since if you don’t keep air in the gun it will then not hold air for very long at all! After that, you can enjoy taking down uninvited guests in your property !



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