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Should I buy a spring-powered airgun or a PCP?

How can you decide between them? Shooting Times's airgun expert Mat Manning offers some tips

spring-powered airgun or a PCP

Spring-powered airgun or a PCP?

Decisions, decisions. So you’ve decided to buy an airgun and you’ve worked out a budget.

Now you need to think about the power source. Back in the mists of time you wouldn’t have had a choice, it would have been a spring-powered airgun and that was it.

However in the last 20 years precharged pneumatic air rifles – commonly known as PCPs – have steamed ahead.

So, what would be better for your airgunning?  A spring-powered airgun or a PCP?

Both have pluses and minuses, so here’s a few things to be thinking about.

Mike Morton of Airgun Shooter notes: “Hmm. Spring-powered airgun or a PCP. Well, a spring-powered rifle will only ever be truly accurate if it is shot consistently. If it’s gripped too hard then the gun will not be able to recoil in the same manner from one shot to the next, which means the pellet’s point of impact will not be consistent either.  (Read our guide to the best airgun pellets.)

“A PCP, on the other hand, is far more forgiving. Recoil is minimal, so the shooter can adopt a series of different holds without affecting where the pellet will land, provided their head and eye position behind the sight remain consistent.” (Read Mike’s piece Spring-powered airgun or a PCP – what is better to start out with?)

DayState Huntsman Revere PCP Air Rifle

Precharged air rifles provide recoil-free shooting and remain smooth at FAC power levels

So, spring-powered airgun or a PCP?

Precharged pneumatics

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 airgun 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. (Read cheap PCPs worth looking at.)
  • 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.
    Filling a PCP air rifle

    A diving bottle is the easiest way to fill a PCP but it is an extra expense

Pros of PCPs

  • Recoilless firing cycle
  • Easy to cock
  • Smooth shooting at FAC 
power levels

Cons of PCPs

spring powered air rifle

The self-contained power plant on spring powered air rifles is very convenient but cocking can be difficult for smaller shooters

Spring power

  • 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.
    spring powered airgun

    Barrels can become slack on cheap spring guns but it doesn’t happen on higher-quality models

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

Benefits of spring-powered airguns

  • They are always ready for action
  • They usually cost a lot less than precharged airguns which can be upwards of £400 for 
a quality model.
  • You can buy one for less than £200
  • Precharged airguns tend 
to cost more than springers 
— upwards of £400 for 
a quality model.
  • They need very little maintenance
  • The average spring in these gun will last for thousands of shots before it needs replacing

So spring-powered airgun or a PCP? Hopefully this article will have given you plenty of thinking material so that you can make the right decision.

What about airgun ‘kick’?

Q: I am struggling with the weight of my spring-powered air rifle but have been told you shouldn’t take rested shots because it can make the airgun kick unpredictably. Is there any other technique I can use to steady my aim?

A: The advice you have been given is correct — in part. Because of their moving parts, and the bouncing action of the piston in particular, spring- powered airguns can recoil erratically if you rest them on a bipod or sticks, or lean them on something like a gate post. These movements occur before the pellet has left the barrel, so the best way is to adopt a gentle, consistent hold and allow the gun to recoil in the same way every time you pull the trigger.

Though leaning the gun directly against different supports and surfaces will change the way the recoil behaves, it doesn’t mean that you can’t support yourself. Rather than placing the gun on to whatever you want to use as a rest, lean yourself against it instead and use your usual hold so the recoil travels in the usual way. The added support of resting a hand on a gate or leaning on
a fallen tree trunk can give a huge boost to accuracy, as long as you remember to use your hand to gently cradle the gun as usual.

This article was first published in 2018 and has been updated.