Shooting Times's airgun expert Mat Manning offers a few pointers to help new shooters make the right choice
Choosing the right airgun can present the newcomer with a minefield of choices, and picking a power source is usually the biggest quandary. For decades, spring-powered airguns were the only option but over the past 15 or so years, precharged pneumatics — often referred to as PCPs — have really come to the fore. Both options have their pros and cons and the choice will ultimately boil down to the one that best suits your particular needs.
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Precharged air rifles hold a charge of air — usually between 180bar and 230bar — in an onboard cylinder or bottle. Pull the trigger and a valve releases a pulse of air to drive the pellet down the barrel.
- Their firing cycle is virtually recoilless at sub-12ft/lb, and even at FAC power levels, felt recoil is hard to discern and muzzle flip is minimal.
- This lack of movement makes it relatively easy to achieve consistent accuracy when shooting a precharged airgun. It also means they can be shot from the support of a bipod, or even rested on a hard surface such as a gate, without shifting the pellet’s point of impact.
- The absence of a lengthy spring and a heavy piston also means that there are some light and compact PCPs available — a key consideration for smaller shooters.
- Because the air that drives the pellet has already been compressed, the cocking procedure — usually delivered by means of a side-lever or rear bolt — requires little effort. Many modern PCPs also incorporate multi-shot magazines that are cycled by the cocking stroke. This handy feature makes for fast follow-up shots in the field and great fun on the plinking range.
- Cylinder PCPs usually hold enough air for 50 to 100 full-power shots at just under 12ft/lb, while models with large buddy bottles can hold enough for as many as 500. Shot capacity is significantly less at FAC power levels.
- Precharged airguns tend to cost more than springers — upwards of £400 for a quality model.
- You also need to add the cost of charging gear to your initial purchase because your gun will eventually run out of air. Diving bottles offer the easiest option, providing clean, dry air at the turn of a tap. Prices are upwards of £200 and you will need a charging facility close to home to refill it when it runs empty — this costs £5 to £10.
- A stirrup pump is cheaper, with prices starting at £100. This option saves you the extra expense of refills but filling a large-capacity air reservoir with a pump is a slow and laborious exercise.
Pros of PCPs
- Recoilless firing cycle
- Easy to cock
- Smooth shooting at FAC power levels
Cons of PCPs
- More expensive than springers
- Charging equipment required
- Specialist maintenance and repair
- Spring-powered airguns, or springers, have a cylinder that contains a mainspring with a piston in front of it.
- When the gun is cocked — either by a stroke of the barrel or a cocking lever — the spring is compressed.
- Pull the trigger and the spring is released, driving the piston forwards and pushing a blast of air through the transfer port and behind the pellet to propel it down the barrel.
- Gas-ram airguns work to a similar principle, only they feature a sealed strut rather than a spring. Their firing cycle is generally a little faster but their recoil can be more snappy as a consequence.
- Springers are pretty much always ready for action and tend to cost significantly less than PCPs — you can pick up a good one for less than £200. All you need to do is cock the spring and the gun is primed ready for another shot.
- These guns require very little maintenance and the average spring will be good for thousands of shots before it needs replacing.
- Recoil is one disadvantage of spring-powered guns. The motion of the spring and piston can cause quite a kick and, because this movement is taking place while the pellet is still in the barrel, it can affect accuracy.
- A lot of people try to strangle the recoil out of a spring gun by using a very tight hold but the best way to overcome it is to use a gentle hold so the gun is allowed to recoil in the same way every time.
- Spring guns can recoil very unpredictably when shot from a solid rest. For this reason, they don’t usually produce consistent accuracy when fired from the support of a bipod or shooting sticks.
- The simplest springers employ a break-barrel action. These guns are cocked by breaking the barrel and drawing it all the way down until the spring is locked into the cocked position.
- Cheap spring guns often feature inadequate barrel lock-ups and their barrels have a tendency to become slack over time, which is detrimental to accuracy. This is not usually a problem with better-quality spring guns, though opting for a fixed-barrel model — which is cocked by means of an under-lever or side-lever — will eliminate the problem.
- Excessive recoil can be a problem with FAC-rated springers as their internal parts have to work hard to produce the extra power.
Pros of spring-powered guns
- More affordable than PCPs
- No need for charging gear
- Easy to maintain
Cons of spring-powered guns
- Recoil can compromise accuracy
- Cocking can be difficult for smaller shootesr
- Increased recoil at higher power levels