You don't have to break the bank to kit yourself out with a decent air rifle. Mat Manning suggests some reliable options for less than £500, both PCP and spring powered.
One of the greatest appeals of airgun shooting is its affordability. For a few hundred pounds you can pick up an air rifle that should give years of reliable service and will meet your needs.
Many Guns start their shooting career with an air rifle and garden airgunning has been a popular pastime during the recent lockdowns. (Have a look at our list of the best airgun targets for the garden.)
I’ve pulled together some of what I believe to be the best air rifles under £500, both PCP and spring powered.
These guns cover quite a wide cost spectrum and the saying “you get what you pay for” certainly rings true here. All are capable of delivering decent performance, as long as you tailor your expectations to suit their price tags. (We’ve also come up with a list of airgun scopes here.)
They may not be high-end models boasting pinpoint long-range precision and beautifully sculpted and figured walnut stocks, but these air rifles are capable of much more than simply toppling tins in the backyard. Even the cheaper ones produce muzzle energy approaching the 12ft/lb legal limit, as well as being powerful and accurate enough to despatch cleanly small pests such as rats, grey squirrels, rabbits, pigeons and corvids, as long as they are set up properly and used over sensible ranges. If you’re looking online for ammunition, you’ll find our list of the best airgun pellets here.)
If you’re looking for a compressor, you’ll find our list of the best compressors for airguns here.)
Best air rifles under £500
This is a traditionally styled, good-value gun that looks and feels better than its modest asking price might suggest. The kit even includes a telescopic sight and mounts. A classic break-barrel springer, it is styled to look like a traditional Sporter and housed in an ambidextrous hardwood stock, with chequering on the fore-end and pistol grip, and an effective ventilated rubber recoil pad.
The Express weighs around 7lb 8oz without the scope fitted and is 45in long. The barrel is relatively long at 18in, but the extra leverage makes easy work of the cocking stroke. Engineering is tidy throughout and the breech lock-up mechanism is secure.
Adjustable fibre-optic sights come fitted but most people will want to use the supplied scope (4×32) to make the most of this airgun’s accuracy potential. Other features include resettable automatic safety catch and two-stage trigger.
2.Hatsan Breaker 900X
With prices starting at £120, the Turkish-made Hatsan Breaker is an extremely affordable air rifle. Don’t be fooled by its modest asking price, though. It is solidly built and capable of reasonable accuracy out to around 25m.
The finish is tidy, the ambidextrous hardwood stock features some chequering around the pistol grip and a soft rubber recoil pad with a neat white spacer. Tipping the scales at around 6lb 8oz and measuring 44in from muzzle to butt, the Breaker 900X is a fairly compact model and should therefore be manageable for younger shooters.
This Hatsan is spring-powered and works around a traditional break-barrel action. It is relatively smooth to cock and felt recoil is modest. Features include a surprisingly good two-stage trigger, integral sound moderator, adjustable fibre-optic open sights and automatic safety catch.
The cylinder is machined with dovetail rails for scope attachment and there is a recoil arrester to stop the mounts from creeping.
This is an old-school, spring-powered air rifle. It’s big, with a long barrel, fairly heavy and extremely robust. Good trigger, automatic safety and precision open sights. You can fit a scope without any trouble.
4.Weihrauch HW 95K
German gunmaker Weihrauch has a reputation for producing accurate and reliable air rifles, and the £395 HW 95K is no exception. Engineering is excellent, as is the finish of the blueing and the ambidextrous beech stock, which features a brown rubber recoil pad. Chequering on the fore-end and pistol grip is both elegant and functional.
The HW 95K has no open sights, but is equipped with dovetail rails for scope attachment and comes supplied with Weihrauch’s effective sound moderator. Even with the moderator fitted, this airgun still measures up at a fairly compact 45in and weighs 7lb 4oz.
The cocking stroke is smooth, the breech lock-up is extremely secure and the firing cycle is crisp with little felt recoil. Features include automatic safety catch and Weihrauch’s legendary two-stage adjustable Rekord trigger unit. Matched with the right pellet, this airgun is accurate to 35m and beyond.
5.Walther Rotex RM8 Varmint
Pre-charged airguns can be expensive but you don’t have to spend a fortune to buy a decent one. This one makes it into our list of best air rifles under £500. The German-made Walther Rotex RM8 from Umarex has a recommended retail price of just £399, though you do need to add a scope and mounts.
You will also need charging gear, either in the shape of a manual pump or a more expensive diving bottle. Many gun shops will do a deal if you buy charging kit with a new gun, and once you have got it you can use the same setup for any other pre-charged airguns you go on to own.
The RM8 Varmint’s stock is an ambidextrous thumbhole design, moulded from a tough polymer that can stand up well to any knocks and bumps in the field. It incorporates a fore-end accessory rail for sling and bipod attachment, stippled fore-end and pistol grip and ventilated butt pad. It is solidly built and weight comes in at just under 8lb, though it measures up at a very pointable 41in
Walther’s airgun runs an eight-shot rotary magazine, and accuracy potential is greatly enhanced by its recoil-less firing cycle — expect half-inch groups at 40m with the right pellet. The magazine is indexed by a very positive side-bolt mechanism, which also cocks the gun and probes the pellet into the breech.
Features include pressure gauge, two-stage trigger and a 400cc bottle that delivers around 180 shots per fill.
6. Stoeger XM1
A new, entry-level PCP air rifle that meets the best air rifles under £500 criteria. Italian styling. Arrives with a sound moderator, 3-9×40 scope, mounts and two rotary, magazines in .177 or .22.
More best air rifles under £500
7. Zbroia Hortitsia RRP
I would be lying if I said my expectations were particularly high when I first heard that I was going to be testing an airgun made in the Ukraine. But the Zbroia Hortitsia turned out to be a huge surprise and I even have one of my own, which has given great service over the past year. So it had to be included in this list of best air rifles under £500.
Easier to shoot than it is to pronounce, this impressive recoil-less pre-charged pneumatic is capable of landing pellet on pellet out to 30m, and still groups tightly at 40m. It retails at £449.99 but, as with the RM8, you have to factor in the additional cost of a telescopic sight, mounts and charging gear.
This carbine rifle measures a stubby 35in and weighs 6lb 8oz without a scope fitted. I’m 6ft 2in and find it comfortable to shoot, and my 10-year-old daughter can also manage it when shooting from a rest. Being such a small gun, it is great for younger shooters and handles very well in the confines of a hide or inside farm buildings.
Engineering and finish are very tidy and, though its design is somewhat stylised, the hardwood stock makes for a comfortable and balanced hold.
The cocking and loading sequence is smooth and fast, thanks to the straight-pull rear bolt action, which drives a very reliable 12-shot magazine. The set-up makes for fast-fire fun on the plinking range and quick follow-up shots in the field.
Features include two-stage trigger, manual safety catch, pressure gauge and shrouded barrel.
8.Gamo Phox Pack
A few years ago I would have said it was almost impossible to pick up a reliable new pre-charged pneumatic air rifle, complete with scope, mounts and charging gear, for under £500. However, the Gamo Phox Pack does exactly that. So it deserves inclusion on our list of best air rifles under £500.
Just scraping into the budget limit for this feature, it offers outstanding value for its £499 recommended retail price. Apart from a very accurate multi-shot pre-charged airgun, the kit also includes a pretty good 3-9×40 zoom scope with mounts, sound moderator, gun bag and a manual stirrup pump for air filling — just add pellets and it is ready to go.
The solidly constructed Phox is 38in long and weighs a little over 8lb. It runs a slick 10-shot rotary magazine, which is driven by a smooth and positive rear bolt action. Based on Gamo’s successful Coyote airgun, it is cradled in a tough synthetic ambidextrous thumbhole stock that features a steep pistol grip and high cheekpiece and is adorned with grippy stippled panels. As well as looking good, the Phox is very accurate, thanks to its recoil-less firing cycle and high-quality cold hammer-forged barrel.
The chunky Whisper moderator really boosts stealth by hushing down muzzle report to a quiet “pap”. Air capacity is sufficient for more than 65 consistent full-power shots from a single fill before it is time for another workout with the stirrup pump. Other features include pressure gauge, manual safety catch and a very crisp two-stage CAT trigger.
Kral Puncher NP-03
The Puncher NP-03 comes with two magazines, a single-shot tray, fill probe and spare O-rings. The length is between 800mm and 880mm without a silencer, and unscoped weight is 2.6kg.
The black anodised metalwork is of a high standard, as is the black moulded polymer stock. The soft rubber recoil pad is comfortable and the cheekpiece can be raised or lowered at the press of a button.
The pistol grip will serve both right- and left-handers.
The .22 test rifle returned just over 70 shots at an average of 11.3 ft-lb. The accuracy was superb, hitting 10p coin-sized groups straight out of the box, making the Puncher NP-03 ideal for vermin control. At the time of writing the RRP was £425.
The Airmax is a substantial bullpup at 940mm long and weighting 5kg. This is largely due to the 400cc metal air bottle which, along with a further 90cc of air stored in a short cylinder, provides around 200 shots from a 200 bar fill.
It is a weighty rifle and you will want to fit a sling to the swivels provided. However it’s pleasant to use from a rested position on the range or hunting.
Hatsan AT44 shooters will recognise the 10-shot .177 and .22 magazine and breech setup. After pulling back the sidelever, the magazine is released by pulling back a short bolt catch which must be returned to lock the magazine in place once inserted. RRP £460.
Lee Enfield Sentry
Lee Enfield Sentry
Priced at just £399, this price point will appeal to those who are keen on getting a PCP. It is a well-made, feature-packed and regulated full-power rifle.
You can expect 80 shots in .177 and 120 in .22 from a 200 bar fill. A pressure gauge underneath the muzzle will tell you when it’s time to fill up.
A two-piece dovetail rail provides room for a scope and there are four Picatinny rails. The barrel is shrouded and finished with a plastic silencer.
Gamo has a name for affordable rifles and the GX-40 is a no-nonsense, well-made PCP that covers the basics well. Its RRP is just £379.
The shoulder fit and stock design are well-thought out and due to its dependable cocking action, good quality trigger and BSA cold hammer-forged barrel, it is as accurate as many more expensive rifles.
It is full-sized at 3.3kg and 960mm, but you will want to fit a silencer to the ½” UNF thread in place of the muzzle brake, especially if you plan to plink a few targets in the garden or go hunting.
The GX-40 takes a 232 bar fill which is enough for a claimed 130 shots in .22 and a little less in .177.
This article was originally published in 2018 and has been updated as new guns come on the market.