What Is An Air Rifle?


If you have stumbled upon this article, chances are that you probably have a pest problem at your house. This is a very common problem, especially if you are living in Florida – the wild side of the United States. 

Although the situation may seem like it’s out of hand, pests can easily be controlled by using an air rifle. 

Air rifles are sufficiently silent and do not scare away these little animals, who usually are very fast and alert. With the sound out of the scenario, they make perfect weapons for short-distance shooting and hunting. 

If you are a beginner at hunting, this article will guide you through the basics of air rifles and their benefits. 

I have compiled everything you need to know, so read on to find out!

What Is An Air Rifle?

Airguns or air rifles are weapons that fire using compressed air or other gases. They are typically long, use BB pellets, and are used for hunting, shooting, sports, and sometimes even in wars. What sets them apart from normal shotguns is their firing system.

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Air rifles usually have some kind of gas compressed behind the pellet which is released during the time of the shooting. They have many variations, like spring pistons and pneumatics,  but technically, any gun that uses compressed gas is considered to be an air rifle. 

History Of Air Rifle

The creation of the first modern air gun dates back to 1580 and is a representation of the oldest pneumatic technology in our world. From the 17th to 19th century, the caliber used for air guns was usually between .30 to .51 and the velocities were generally 650 to 1000 ft. 

In modern times, air guns are mainly used for killing pests or for the sport of shooting and are not considered to be deadly firearms. 

However, you would be shocked to know that these light weapons were preferred for wars during a certain time for their durability in the rain and the fast, muzzle-loading guns. 

Besides that, air guns were silent, smokeless, and did not cover the shooter’s view, – great features for a soldier on the battlefield. 

The first commercialized air rifle was called the Challenger – an air gun model developed by Markham Air Rifle Company in Michigan, in 1886. 

Air rifles first started becoming a part of target shooting during the 1890s in Birmingham, England. The activity was carried out by people divided into teams and matches were hosted in public houses. The sport became very popular in 1899 and many rifle associations started to exist across Great Britain. 

This was the time air guns also started becoming linked to poaching. Although air rifles are not considered to be arms, they can still be deadly and need to be dealt with carefully. 

How Does An Air Rifle Work?

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The main difference between air rifles and pistols is the presence of gas.

In air rifles, the trigger is built in a way that locks the gun with the spring and compresses gas (normally CO2) inside it. When the trigger is pressed, it creates a sudden release of that compressed gas, making the pellet shoot out. 

This system can be found in all sorts of air rifles – spring-piston guns, airguns, and PCPs and is an effective way to silently kill prey. 

Types Of Air Rifles

If you are concerned about which variety of air rifles to pick from, you need not fret anymore. Following is a compilation of the different types of weapons.

  1. Spring Piston

The spring piston gets its name from the fact that it has a coiled spring inside its chamber which is compressed when the gun is cocked. It is a very common beginner’s gun and has an easy system. 

Upon pulling the trigger, the spring is decompressed and the piston is shifted, causing the bullet to shoot ahead. 

Although it is a great buy at an affordable price, it has its cons, like how there is more recoil than other rifles. 

Spring pistons also wear off with time and go weaker over the years. Spring pistons were originally used in shooting games at the Olympics before, but these days are best fit for killing small prey and animals. 

  • Gas Spring

There is only one other type of spring piston – a gas piston/spring and just like its name, it uses a gas spring instead of a mechanical one. 

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Gas pistons also require some experience and years of handling guns. They are best to use in cold climates as they have low frictional heat and need to be greased before usage. 

You should get a gas spring if you want to make consistent firing shots of any kind as they give you a great, accurate vision.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

  1. Pneumatic 

Pneumatic air rifles get their name from their function – using pneumatic potential energy stored in compressed air to shoot pellets. Pneumatic air rifles are of two kinds. 

  • Pump Pneumatic 

Pump pneumatic guns are pneumatic air rifles with a piston and pressure cylinders inside them. 

When the gun is cocked, the compressed air in between them is released and forced into the cylinder, which locks the chamber to keep the air in until you shoot. The bullet is shot by the force of compressed air when you pull the trigger.

Pump air rifles can be beneficial as they are lightweight and have no recoil, but it is not the most popular air rifle out there due to the fact that pumping can become a very tedious task.      

  • Pre-Charged Pneumatic    

Pre-charged pneumatic air rifles are basically pumped air rifles, but minus the process of pumping you need to do before you fire it. It keeps high-pressurized air (up to 3000-4000 psi) in the chamber using scuba tanks or hand pumps. PCPs are considered to be the best air rifle as it is recoilless with a high level of accuracy. 

Its only con would be that PCPs are very high maintenance. They are slightly more expensive as compared to other air rifles and it needs a lot of charging equipment to keep them functioning. 

Apart from these, they are great guns that are great for any sort of shooting activity and quickly allow you to shoot more than once in a row. 

  1. Compressed Gas

Compressed gas air rifles have detachable pressure cylinders that are prefilled with compressed CO2 or air/nitrogen. There are three different types of compressed gas guns. 

  • CO2 

Compressed gas guns with CO2 in the cylinders work the same way a PCP air gun would. The main source of firing power is pressurized gas which causes the pellet to move inside the barrel when the trigger is pulled. They are highly accurate, convenient for shooting back to back, and have no recoil.

The cons of CO2 compressed gas guns would probably be that they are high maintenance. 

They get easily affected by the weather since CO2 contracts and expands at different temperatures. It would also be heavy on the pocket to continue buying CO2 cartridges as a hunting enthusiast. 

  • High-Pressure Air 

High-pressure air gas rifles work the same way CO2-compressed guns do – except, they use pure nitrogen or compressed air (since it is 78% nitrogen). 

They were first developed for paintball makers but were proven more efficient as nitrogen is more inert than CO2 and remains longer in the gaseous state. 

  • Air Cartridge System

This is the most modern form of a compressed gas-air rifle which was developed during the 1980s by the company Brocock as their special system. 

What made them different from normal air-compressed guns was that they used special removable cylinders full of gas instead of a built-in reservoir for the gas. 

Although air cartridge guns started as rifles that were not considered firearms, in the early 2000s, due to the rising gun violence, these sorts of guns became illegal due to the damage they could do. 

What Are Air Rifles Used For?

Air rifles are a modern alternative to shotguns. They are quicker, lighter, and easier to manage and make almost no sound with no recoil. 

Apart from recreational activities, air rifles are mostly kept by 63% of families in the US for personal protection – according to a survey conducted by Gallup in the year 2019. 

The following are the three main reasons why people keep air rifles. 

  1. Recreational Shooting

Shooting as a recreational activity, also known as plinking, is a casual method of practicing the rifle. You shoot at random objects within range like road signs, bottles, logs, tin cans, and other targets. Since the target is not any living being, plinking is safe and legal to do as long as you rightfully own the gun.

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It is an easy way to practice your aim, and get the satisfaction of shooting targets without harming anybody. You can also turn it into a game of shooting perfect shots in a row or firing closest to the target. 

Air rifles are also used in 10 m Olympic Air Rifle and Air Pistol events with the increased affordability of PCP rifles. 

  1. Pest Control

Air rifles are also kept for pest control as they are very efficient for this purpose. These guns are silent killers that do not disturb the neighborhood and get the job done easily. 

An air rifle with a .22 – .250 caliber is enough for short-range shooting and rabbiting. 

  1. Hunting

Hunting is another recreational activity that makes use of air rifles for their game. Since they are recoilless and go off silently, it is very easy to hunt with them. 

They also allow rapid firing which makes it more convenient for them. The most common game birds are grouse, pheasant, partridge, and quail. 

Air rifles are also helpful for all types of small, medium, and big game hunting. The table below denotes the use of an air rifle for hunting purposes.

Type of Hunting Animals
Small Game HuntingSquirrels, rabbits, groundhogs
Medium Game HuntingRaccoon, woodchucks
Big Game HuntingWild hogs, Wild bear, deer, bison 
  1. Safety

According to a recently published statistic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more Americans died of gun-related injuries in the year 2020 than in any other year. 

Due to the heavy gun violence in the US, the most common reason for buying air rifles is for their own safety and protection.

Benefits Of Air Rifles Compared To Traditional Rifles

Although a lot of people prefer the traditional, heavy feel of carrying guns and going out on a hunt, air rifles are much safer, easier to use, and affordable in many ways. The following are a few reasons why air rifles are much better than traditional rifles. 

  1. Flexibility in Performance

A good air gun is far more flexible than a traditional rifle. Air rifles are silent, lightweight, and allow multiple shots of back-to-back firing. They are accurate and can be used for getting rid of pests such as rabbits, birds, and squirrels and can even be used for hunting big game. 

On the other hand, a traditional shotgun or rifle cannot be used for general work like killing pests or plinking. It is not neighborhood friendly and can startle anyone with its sound. 

You can also not practice with normal shotguns on an everyday basis due to the sound it will create and the money that will go into the process. 

  1. Affordability

Air guns are more affordable and easier to maintain than traditional firearms. Although good air guns are expensive, a decent air rifle of 177 cal would be easily available to purchase as compared to a regular shotgun. 

Air rifles may be cheaper than their traditional counterparts, but their pellets are even more affordable than those of a regular rifle. 

As a person who owns a gun, it is likely that you have a certain budget for your hobby. You can easily get more air rifle pellets in that amount as compared to normal ones. 

Due to their affordability, you also do not need to worry about how many pellets you spend on a regular basis and can go all out with practicing.

  1. Low Maintenance

With affordable pellets and no need for pumps or extra accessories, air rifles are very easy to maintain. Even their ammunition does not deteriorate over time. 

Regular shotgun pellets are made of lead mixed with other natural metals. So, even if their normal life span (with proper storage)  is anything from six to twelve months, a slight change on the warmer side can easily ruin your best-quality pellets in 3 or 4 months. 

Air rifle ammunition is simply a pellet with no special primer powders, hence it remains ready to use and saves you a lot of money as well. 

  1. Legalized

Air rifles are not considered to be firearms, and are legal in the US in most states. This is not the case with a regular shotgun which can be seen as threatening in many parts of the country due to its gun problem. 

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If your weapon is legalized, you can not only keep it for everything you need it for but also practice and get better at a sport. 

Since most pellets in an air rifle lose their velocity after around 50 yards, it is also considered to be much safer and trustable than a traditional rifle. 


Hunting pests can become a sport once you get a hold of your air rifle and learn how to operate it. Many shooting enthusiasts start with air rifles to kill pests but soon grow to love the sport. Perhaps something similar might happen with you and your first air rifle?

We hope that this article has helped you understand whatever you wanted to learn about air rifles and their pros and cons. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Can A Felon Own An Air Rifle?

An air rifle does not come under the category of a firearm. Hence, it is legal for a felon to own an air rifle. 

  1. What Type Of Air Rifles Are Used In The Olympics?

The Olympic shooting events are divided into 15 events under three groups – rifle, pistol, and shotgun. The pistols used in the ISSF 10-meter air pistol event are gas-driven with a 4.5 mm caliber. The 10-meter air rifle event uses rifles with a 4.5 mm caliber. 

  1. What Is The Fastest Air Rifle?

The fastest air rifle is a pellet gun named Magnum, manufactured by the company Gamo. It has an advertised FPS of 1650. 

  1. Can You Kill A Fox With An Air Rifle?

It is possible to kill a fox with an air rifle hypothetically, but these rifles are used to kill prey like rabbits at a short distance of around 50 yards. The minimum caliber for a rifle to kill a fox should be around .25 cal at 800-900 fps. 

  1. What Air Rifle Should I Get?

You should get an air rifle depending on the purpose of your gun. A good feature for beginners is .177 cal with a velocity of around 1000 fps, although most guns can be controlled with some practice.

  1. How Far Will A .22 Air Rifle Shoot?

A .22 air rifle can shoot up to 100 yards according to the level of power it is at. A rifle of the same range with 1100 FPS and a heavier bullet can even go up to a mile. 

  1. Are Red Dot Sights Good For Air Rifles?

Red Dot Sights work well for air rifles as they have many pros – a wider and easier range, give you direct aim, and make it easier for the hunter to spot the prey. They make a good accessory for your air rifle but are expensive. Hence, they are a great addition that makes shooting easy but is not necessary to go shooting. 

  1. Can You Shoot Pheasants With An Air Rifle?

Technically, it is possible to shoot pheasants with an air rifle, but most people prefer to use a shotgun. If you use a rifle, you would need to aim directly at the head. 

  1. Is Air Rifles Legal In California?

Yes, air rifles and small game hunting are legal in California. Any sort of Caliber is allowed but when hunting turkey, the prey must be hunted by a caliber of at least 0.177. 

  1.  Do Silencers Work On Spring Air Rifles?

Yes, silencers work on spring air rifles, but the brand and quality of the product matter too. 

  1.  Do They Still Make Sheridan Air Rifles?

No, the Sheridan air rifles had been discontinued after nearly 70 years in the year 2013. However, the .20 caliber pellets are still available for purchase. 

  1.  What Is The Best Air Rifle Manufacturer?

Hunting enthusiasts buy air rifles depending on the purpose of the product. Hence, it cannot be determined who the ‘best’ air rifle manufacturer is. However, some commendable names are Hatsan, Weihrauch, Daystate, and Brocock. 

  1.  Is Air Rifle Quiet?

Yes, air rifles are generally quiet as compared to a shotgun as they use a lesser amount of high-pressure air.

  1.  Is Air Rifle Accurate?

An average air rifle with a .22 caliber has the potential to hit accurately up to even 1.28 km. However, this was proven by a record that was broken, and on average, a high-end air rifle can be accurate at 50-100 yards. 

  1.  Will a .22 Air Rifle Kill A Rabbit?

Yes, a .22 air rifle is considered to be the best option for killing small animals like pests and rabbits as it is believed that it gives clean kills. Other caliber rifles of other fps can also be used. 


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