AIRGUN, CALIBER and PELLET SELECTION
Airguns are mechanical devices that turn the stored potential energy of a coiled spring or compressed gas into kinetic (moving) energy, and transmit it to a projectile. However, the kinetic energy (or "power"') of a gun is not measured directly. Rather it is the energy imparted to the projectile (a pellet) that is measured. This pellet energy is the product of "velocity" and "weight" (actually "mass"), both of which are measured separately.
Precision airguns that are used exclusively for target shooting (such as the Beeman/FWB 602 air rifle or Beeman/FWB P30 air pistol) require only enough energy (3 to 5 ft. lbs) to speed a .177 caliber pellet through 10 meters of air. The speed component can be low, but the accuracy of a pellet must be exceedingly high, on the order of 0.04 center-to-center (c-t-c).
With target airguns, repeatability of the power plant is a major aspect of high-quality. So are such accuracy related aspects of precision shooting as the character of bigger let-off (and its repeatability), adjustability of trigger pull and let-off and the adjustable fit of the airgun to the hand and body.
The ergonomics of reloading the airgun is also important to target shooters. This function should be as smooth and unstressful as possible to keep concentration at a world-class level. Pellet insertion should be easy.
CO2 and pre-charged airguns eliminate one physically distracting aspect of target shooting - recocking---and contribute thereby to a smoother shooting process.
HUNTING AIR RIFLES:
In addition to reasonable accuracy, (two inches at 50 yards) hunting or field air rifles must transfer three to five times as much energy to the pellet as target airguns. The energy of a hunting rifle pellet should be at least as high at the target distance (pest birds, for example), as target airguns are at the muzzle (4 ft. lbs.).
PELLET CALIBER & WEIGHT:
By far the largest number of airguns are sold in .177 caliber, and this is the pellet size of choice for nearly all target shooting, plinking and some small pest hunting. .177 caliber offers the highest velocity for a given amount of airgun energy, and results in the flattest trajectory. However, the speed of sound--1080 fps at sea level at 32 F sets a practical upper limit on the energy with which a pellet can be propelled. Breaking the sound barrier results in a loud crack-just like a firearm and generally sends the pellet tumbling wildly.
It would take 16.8 ft. lbs. to propel Beeman's Laser pellets to 1080 fps. and 21 ft lbs. for Beeman/H&N Match pellets in .177 caliber.
.20 caliber (5mm) is a perfect example of obtaining large ballistic gains in performance with small, optimal changes compared to .177 caliber. The 5mm trajectory remains nearly as flat, but its heavier weight lets it carry about 40% more energy for the same velocity. This is the best general purpose caliber. The
.22 caliber has a large gain in pellet weight and size and is only usable in the highest-powered hunting rifles. The range of the .22 caliber is less than the .20 caliber, and the downrange energy less than the larger .25 caliber pellet. .22 might be the choice if you owned a single hunting rifle.
. 25 caliber is unbeatable in carrying the most knock-down force to the target because of its maximal pellet weight and resulting incredible shock value. It is the perfect round for the tough tree squirrel and the right caliber in high powered air rifles for any of the larger furbearers such as woodchucks, opossum and even raccoon.
B. Pellet Type.
The single most important factor in choosing a pellet is to obtain one that is accurate in your airgun! Only personal experimentation will let you discover the most effective pellet for your airgun/target combination Each airgun varies slightly in the way it handles different pellet types. Since the accuracy of pellets themselves will vary slightly from batch to batch, it is wiser to buy a years supply of pellets at one time than to buy in smaller quantities.
Using the same propellant, a light pellet will accelerate rapidly and leave the gun barrel at high speed. It's time in the barrel is the shortest, thus reducing the effects of an unsteady hold. The light pellet's time-to-target is also shortest so gravity can pull on it for only a split second. An accurate, very flat trajectory is the result.
Yet in some high-powered rifles, light pellets are ejected so rapidly they do not dwell long enough to get the full energy transfer of the decompressing charge of air. While the same rifle can propel an 8.6 grain .20 Laser pellet to 850 fps and a 14.2 grain Kodiak pellet to 700 fps, these figures show the Laser only acquired 14 ft. labs. of energy while the Kodiak obtained 15.5 ft. labs.
The speed of a heavier pellet is lower in the same airgun versus a lighter pellet. And, because of its slower speed, a heavy pellet takes a longer time to get to the target; this gives gravity a longer time to pull it down.
Note that the drop of any pellet has nothing to do with its mass or weight--all pellets are pulled down by gravity at the same rate. The only thing that counts is how much time gravity has to do the pulling. It is only because heavy pellets take longer to get to the target that their trajectory is more bowed. A light-weight pellet traveling as slowly as a heavy weight would have an equally bowed trajectory
Once clear of the barrel, another 'energy thesis' begins its work: air resistance. Air resistance increases with the cube of a pellet's speed: double the speed, and air resistance increases eight times! This means fast pellets lose energy more rapidly than slower pellets. Energy equals mass times velocity squared. Since the energy imparted to a pellet is about the same and a pellet doesn't lose mass, it can only make up for the different weight by changing velocity.
In fact fast, light pellets lose energy so rapidly that after 35 yards or so they can be traveling slower than heavy pellets. This is inconsequential in 10 meter target shooting, but it becomes a major disadvantage in hunting and field use.
WHAT PELLET SHOULD I USE?
Flat-nosed woodcutters punch perfect holes in paper targets to aid in scoring and are required in competition. The slight effects of higher air resistance on accuracy due to the flat head are unmeasurable at 10-meter range, but do become noticeable at 35 meters and beyond.
Medium weight round nose pellets like Ram Jet offer the best of weight and flat trajectory for medium-powered hunting rifles (12 to 15 ft lbs.). The closer you can normally get to your prey, the heavier the pellet you should use because heavy pellets (e.g., Kodiak. Crow Magnum, Silver Arrow) will penetrate much deeper and be less susceptible to wind deflection.
With the most powerful air rifles (R1/R1 Laser, RX-1, Kodiak. Crow Magnum III) consider only heavyweight pellets.
The Crow Magnum hollow head pellet is in a class by itself-it really expands! This is an ideal pellet for .177 and .20 hunting of all game because of the terrific shock imparted as the pellet doubles in size as it enters the target. Say good-bye to small caliber "over penetration." In .22 and especially .25 caliber, the Crow Magnum pellet is absolutely deadly with larger game--rabbits, woodchuck, etc. at ranges out to 60 yards with the most powerful air rifles.
Assuming an airgun always exerts the same force on a pellet, the accuracy of a pellet's path--it's trajectory--is effected by three major (and some minor) factors:
1) CROWN: During its rush up the barrel, a pellet is constrained from going anywhere but straight forward. At the instant the pellet leaves the barrel, it is desirable that the barrel lip (or "crown") always presents exactly the same surface to the spinning tail of the pellet. Ideally, the barrel loses contact with the entire circumference of the tail of the pellet at the same instant so that the pellet is not tipped one way or the other. Tipping the pellet imparts a wobble, increasing the cross-sectional area through the air.
The wobbling pellet effectively increases its caliber causing more air resistance! This increased area will slow the pellet down more quickly than if it pierced the air perfectly head-on. Many Beeman airguns are "button choked" at the crown of the barrel to assure a perfectly uniform grip on the pellet circumference the instant it leaves the barrel. Others are exquisitely detailed to assure a perfect pellet release. Be sure not to damage the crown of any airgun barrel.
2) UNIFORMITY: Spinning is what keeps a pellet from tumbling, and keeps it facing directly forward as it bores through the air. Robert Beeman has pointed out that if a pellet is the slightest bit unbalanced as it spins, the centrifugal wobble will lurch the pellet off course the instant it leaves the barrel. The direction of that lurch will vary with every shot depending on which direction the excessive mass of the pellet is pointing at the instant it is released from the "hold" of the barrel. This little appreciated factor is one reason Beeman pays such attention to pellet quality control.
3) Wind: Supersonic bullets are more deflected by wind the slower they go. Surprisingly, sub-sonic airgun pellets are less deflected by wind the slower they go, but this seeming anomaly is due to the higher weight of the slower pellet, assuming in this comparison that both are shot out of the same airgun.
For any airgun, a pellet with a higher "ballistic coefficient" will be less deflected by wind. Generally, heavy pellets have a higher ballistic coefficient than lighter ones. (The ballistic coefficient, or "C-l" of a .20 Laser pellet is 0.0096; of a .20 Kodiak, 0.0167).
In one test at 60 yards, a .20 Crow Magnum II rifle was able to print a 1.25" group with Kodiak pellets, but only a one-foot group with Laser pellets. The muzzle velocity of the Laser pellet was supersonic, dropping to subsonic 4 yards out of the barrel, the shock of which caused a violent tumbling.
AIRGUN SHOT REPEATABILITY:
An airgun does not exert the same force from shot to shot. Without such high repeatability, even excellent pellets will not be able to do their job.
Average pellets may safely exhibit a weight differential of up to a few percent in any one tin. When both pellets and air rifle vary randomly, you will find yourself hitting the target perfectly (on some shots) and miss it completely on others.
Every airgun user should obtain a tin of ultra-precise pellets to determine just what the airgun is capable of (bench rest), and what the shooter is capable of (hand held). You can use mid-grade pellets for practice, but always use the most accurate pellets you can find for competition and actual hunting. After tramping in the woods for a hour and a half, and stalking a rabbit for 20 minutes, no one will believe it is cost-effective to have finally scared it off with a single missed shot caused by the non-uniformity of a cheap pellet.
AIR RIFLE HUNTING:
To a varmint hunter, an air rifle is a tool for the job of bagging game. Just as different jobs require different tools (you wouldn't use a tack hammer to drive 3-penny nails), so do different hunting situations require different air rifles.
The paramount aspect of hunting air rifles is acceptable downrange accuracy. If you can't hit your target, no amount of super pellet energy or "penetration" is going to do you any good. Next most important is downrange energy.
Grackles and other pest birds require one-inch accuracy at 20 to 30 yards; Grey (Tree) squirrels require similar accuracy, but at least 8 ft. lbs. of energy at that distance.
Crows require two-inch accuracy at 40 to 60 yards, the same as "wild" woodchucks, but the chuck requires 10 to 15 ft lbs. of energy at that range, the crows only half that. "Suburban" woodchucks can be approached to within 30 to 40 yards, so a less powerful rifle will do.
Airgun shooters should use this guide to help select the three or four different pellet types that seem closest to answering their own shooting needs. Then shoot these pellets for accuracy to get an idea of how well each type behaves in your own airguns. Shoot into bars of Ivory soap at field ranges to learn how well different pellets penetrate and expand for hunting. There is no substitute for this personal testing which will quickly lead to the selection of the most effective pellet type for your own particular use--and boost your accuracy and shooting satisfaction to new highs.
WHY BUY AN PRECISION AIRGUN?
What can explain the rapid growth of precision airgun shooting? Why are so many new shooters suddenly buying precision airguns? People from all walks of life are discovering that airgun shooting can be a relaxing hobby or a rewarding, highly competitive sport.
Target Shooting: It is not surprising that target shooting with airguns is so popular around the world. The top-grade precision airguns are now considered to be the world's most accurate guns, bar none. In many countries such as Germany and England, target shooting at the local clubhouse is mixed with good fellowship and, after the contest, good beer! Americans also target shoot in clubs, albeit in a bit drier surroundings than their European counterparts. While Americans often think of airgun shooting as primarily a youth program leading to adult firearm events, they are now recognizing that serious airgun competition is an end in itself and something in which members of all ages can participate.
Airgun shooting in America is actively promoted by the National Rifle Association. In fact, airgun shooting is one of only three competitive shooting events that have grown in the U.S. during the last decade (combat pistol and silhouette are the other two). The NRA has established 15 levels of marksmanship awards in their 25-ft airgun shooting programs, awards which you can obtain by shooting right in your own home. Target shooters can also compete with each other via postal matches, and in-person at hundreds of airgun matches at the local, state, national and international levels. Airgun competition is also an official Olympic event for both men and women.
In addition to target shooting, many U.S. shooting clubs have started hunting style metallic silhouette and "field target" programs for air rifles and pistols.
Pest Control: With a proper high-powered airgun you ran reduce harmful pests in areas where a firearm would be unsafe or not permitted (please be sure to select an airgun with sufficient power to do the job humanely). Suburbanites, farmers and gardeners appreciate the adult use of airguns in the selective control of crop predators such as woodchucks, opossum and even raccoons. Airguns may he used to control destructive rodents and birds such as Norway rats, English sparrows, Crows, European starlings, and feral Old World Pigeons.
Hunting: Shooters enjoy adding to the larder using the new breed of "magnum" hunting air rifles with 40 to 50+ yard range. Hunting for food is especially popular for such delicate game as pigeon, squirrel and rabbit. And, believe it or not, even eating crow can be quite delicious if it's not too old. Many suburban airgunners are able to hunt on local farms where firearms simply can't be used!
The more proficient you become with adult precision airguns, whether to plink, pot pests, or punch paper targets, the more you will appreciate how exquisitely these elegant rifles and pistols are scaled to human sensibilities. Airguns are fairly quiet, modestly powered and extraordinarily accurate mechanical works of art. Learning to master the discipline of superior marksmanship, and training yourself to approach the performance of which these tools are capable can be an enduringly satisfying avocation. One which you might gladly spend a lifetime attempting to master.
You can safely and economically fire thousands of rounds a year from an airgun right in your own home. A suitable range can be set up in minutes in a basement, garage, or even in the living room of small apartment.
Adult precision airguns may also be used to target shoot outdoors in a variety of social situations where firearms would be out of place. On vacation, while visiting relatives, during a picnic or an outing with friends, you'll discover many opportunities where the near silent pleasure of airgun target shooting adds an activity of high interest. And what unexpected pleasure it is to set up an impromptu target match among old friends. Shooting at home allows you to practice often, without having to travel to distant firearm ranges or hunting grounds. You can shoot indoors or out, day or night, during any weather, all year round. The low discharge sound, low power and negligible recoil (except with certain magnum airguns) makes airgun shooting pleasant and "flinch-free. The soft discharge sound means no earplugs are needed!
Shooting Skill Improvement: All skill sports require frequent practice. The benign airgun can be used to teach the elements of marksmanship which carry over nearly perfectly to firearms shooing. The safe, sheer handiness of airguns means practice can be impromptu, informal and frequent.
Airgun Regulations: Airguns are not subject to the U.S. Gun Control Act of 1968 and many other firearm laws. There are little or no purchase or ownership problems in most areas. However. some cities and communities treat airguns as firearms. It's always a good idea to check with your police department for the local regulations. Normally, you can ship, mail and take target airguns across state and even international borders when traveling and vacationing, although magnum hunting air rifles above 12 ft-lbs. of muzzle energy may he treated as firearms in some countries.
Safety: Even the lowliest .22 caliber rimfire bullet has lethal potential and can carry for well over a mile (2+ km) or even pass through a house wall. Most target airguns have a maximum range of about 400 yards (366 m), and the pellets are so light and their energy so low that the only precaution that need be taken is simple eye protection. Neighbors of airgun shooters need never feel uneasy about your quiet, short-range target practice indoor or out. Indeed they may never realize how passionate you are about the sport unless you tell them!
Airguns in the home don't pose nearly the same hazard as firearms (however, all guns should be kept locked-up). Airgun ammunition is a simple pellet which poses no fire or explosive hazard. Nor do airguns make good targets for theft as they have virtually no criminal value.
Airguns are the perfect way to teach your family marksmanship and correct gun handling; training that neatly carries over to firearms use. The low cost and safety of airgun shooting, along with the ability to set up a safe range almost anywhere has also led to the use of airguns for hunter safety programs. High-quality, single-shot spring-piston airguns are ideal for these purposes, because they look and feel just like modern firearms. All in all, modern precision airguns offer sporting enjoyment that can be relaxing or taxing, a way to wind down, or a competitive challenge that will get you keyed up. Try precision airgun shooting yourself-a great sport where you call the shots!
THREE BASIC TYPES OF AIRGUNS
Airguns come in many shapes and forms. You know this to be true if you've looked over our site or thumbed through a Beeman catalog. You think you might want to own one of these wonderful airguns but can't understand why Straight Shooters imports so many types when you want just one. I'll give you some basic information so that you can make a considered choice. Besides the question of caliber, modern airguns fit into three basic groups defined by their powerplant (means of pushing a pellet out the barrel).
1. Pneumatic Airguns (PCP)
2. Spring-Piston Airguns
3. CO2 Airguns.
4. Gas Ram Airguns
PNEUMATIC (PCP) AIRGUNS.
Pneumatic airguns use compressed air for power. The way you get the air compressed in the airgun depends on the type of pneumatic it is. The most common pneumatic airgun is the MULTI-STROKE or sometimes called a PUMP-UP type pneumatic airgun.
To get the tiny bit of air compressed in a Multi-Stroke pneumatic takes, as the name implies, between two and ten strokes of the forend pump lever to get the internal pressure needed to power the pellet out the barrel at a decent velocity. Most Multi-Stroke Pneumatic airguns are compact, recoilless and light-weight. Multistroke pneumatics fall into the light or medium power range. The downside to a Multi-Stroke pneumatic is all the time and effort needed to get a shot off and often a second shot is near impossible before your quarry runs or flies away.
As you pump up a Multi-Stroke airgun, each progressive pump takes more effort and then on top of that, the accuracy from a Multi-Stroke is just O.K. There are too many variables in the pumping process to allow for stellar performance aside from the human error.
A more preferable form of pneumatic is the Single-Stroke Pneumatic Airgun As the name implies, one motion of the cocking lever is all that is needed to compress the air for propulsion. The SINGLE-STROKE format is used on many high end 10 Meter Match airguns, such as the Beeman/FWB 603 rifle and Beeman FWB 103 pistol. Consistency, accuracy and lack of recoil are the reasons top shooters gravitate to this type of power plant. The downside is low power, but the tack driving accuracy at close range is the reason 10 meter shooters love them.
The third type of Pneumatic Airgun is the PreCharged Pneumatic. This results in the best of both worlds. You can get variable power from low to high if you want it. Incredible accuracy, easy cocking, no recoil and lots of shots from an air charge. The charge takes little effort on your part because the air is compressed at the scuba shop into a 80 cu. ft. SCUBA tank (3000 psi) or a Carbon Fiber tank. (4500 psi). All you need to do is siphon some of the 3000 psi out of the SCUBA or Carbon Fiber tank and into the airgun via a special hose with a pressure gauge.
Pre-charged pneumatics come in various configurations ranging from competition airguns for field target and 10-meter to general target and plinking to sporting guns for pest control and hunting. Some of the precharged airguns are single shot versions while others feature multiple-shot magazines.
When someone says airgun these days they probably mean a Spring-Piston airgun, thanks to Dr. Robert D. Beeman's relationship with Weihrauch and Feinwerkbau, two of the best and most prolific makers of high quality Spring-Piston airguns over the years.
Spring-Piston airguns are the easiest airguns to shoot, maintain and own. The Spring-Piston gun most shooters cut their teeth on is the
break-barrel. The break-barrel airgun is cocked by holding the stock in one hand and breaking the airgun in half at the breech while holding the barrel with the other. It actually is easier to do than it is to explain. This action of "breaking" the airgun moves a piston backwards within the receiver at the same time as it compresses a stout spring behind it. The trigger sear clicks into a notch in the piston and holds the whole works under tension.
With a break-barrel airgun, the pellet is placed directly into the breech and the barrel is swung back into position leaving you ready to fire. Al you have to do is click the safety off and put positive pressure on the trigger. When the sear releases the piston, it moves forward briskly with the power of a big spring behind it. All this action pushes a column of air forward into the rear end of the pellet sitting in the breech. The effect of all this causes the pellet to move rapidly out the barrel towards the target of your choice.
Spring-Piston airguns come in all shapes, sizes and powers and as explained above, are cocked by breaking the barrel, cocking an underlever, cocking a side-lever, or cocking a top-lever (overlever). However, inside, they all are basically the same in principle. Things like spring rates, diameter of the compression tube (receiver) and swept area can be different depending on the gun designers ideas. Spring-Piston airguns are very reliable and long-lived.
The worst thing you could do to any Spring-Piston airgun is to "dry fire" it. That means to fire it without a pellet in the breech. What happens when this error occurs? The piston head is smashed into the front of the receiver (compression tube) because the missing pellet cannot offer the needed resistance to the air column. This resistance cushions the piston from the tremendous energy produced when the compressed spring releases and moves the air column.
Spring-Piston airguns last a long time, but the springs do wear out at some point. But don't worry. A spring piston replacement and piston seal change are relatively cheap and very easy for an airgunsmith to accomplish, but again we are talking years of use and thousands of pellets.
An additional by-product of a spring gun is the gun's forward/backward motion. Most firearms shooters like the recoil sensation felt when shooting a spring airgun. This is a smooth steady push to the shoulder as the spring inside the airgun does its work pushing the pellet out the barrel.
As their name implies, these airguns are powered by CO2, either in the 12 gram cartridge form or decanted from a bulk CO2 tank into the airgun reservoir depending on which CO2 airgun is purchased. CO2 as a power plant for an airgun is somewhat unique because it is used in some of the mass-produced, non-precision airguns as well as with the highest of the high-tech 10 meter match airguns.
Kept at room temperature, a CO2 cartridge yields approximately 900-1000 psi and is very consistent for shooting. But raise or lower the temperature and the point of impact of a CO2 airgun can change.One would wonder, with this "point of impact change" situation, why serious match shooters choose the CO2 propulsion system to attempt to break records. Well, these people are smart. They bring their CO2 airguns to the range, let the airgun stabilize to the ambient temperature for a couple of hours at the range and then sight in.
Right-left (windage) point of impact will be constant, your up-down (elevation) zero will vary slightly until you sight in. The real issue with CO2 as a powerplant is for the airgun hunter or plinker. The airgun hunter who sights in on a warm day and goes out to hunt on a cool day or visa-versa will not know where the airgun will hit. A temperature change during the day will also be a problem. A few test shots are always necessary to verify the pellet's point of impact.
On the positive side, along with their inherent accuracy, CO2 airguns are generally easy to cock and recoilless to shoot. The match CO2 airguns are very consistent and incredibly accurate at 10 meters.
GAS RAM AIRGUNS.
Gas Ram or Gas Piston rifles are similar in function to spring airguns because both types are cocked and shot in the same way. The difference is that when cocking a spring rifle, a spring and piston are compressed and "cocked". When released by pulling the trigger, the spring and piston fly forward pushing air which is compressed in the compression chamber which results in the pellet flying down the barrel. A gas ram or gas piston works on the same principle but instead of the cocking stroke compressing a spring and piston, it compress a piston and a volume of compressed air contained in a tube or cylinder. A gas ram is a sealed tube filled with compressed air and the cocking stroke compresses that air in the tube even more. When released by pulling the trigger, the compressed air expands back to it's original state, pushing the piston forward which in turn, forces air into the compression chamber. That resultsin powering the pellet down the barrel just as it does with a spring rifle. But the compressed air stays in the gas ram and is used over and over again.
Gas rams are self contained rifles, unlike PCP's which expend air with every shot and have to be re-charged after X number of shots. Gas rams retain the air in the cylinder and last for years of use. In addition, a real benefit to a gas ram rifle is the smoothness of the shot cycle. There is no metal spring to jump around inside the gun which means that the shot cycle is incredibly smooth. That smooth shot cycle is also much quicker than that of a spring rifle. It feels a bit more like shooting a firearm than a typical spring airgun so shooters coming from the firearm world will find a familiar and comfortable feel.
HOW TO CHOOSE AN AIRGUN
Trying to figure out which airgun is the "right" one to purchase can be a very difficult task nowadays. There are so many airguns on the market to choose from that a new shooter can get confused very quickly. Customers tell us every day that sorting through all the manufacturer advertisements, dealer website pages, gun pictures, gun reviews and chat forum posts can give a prospective buyer a headache from information overload. By the end of the day, a new airgunner can be more confused than when he started doing background research on airguns. But in reality, choosing the proper airgun need not be difficult at all. To make the whole decision process easier, we have come up with a few basic, but vital questions that will help you determine which gun models to consider for your shooting needs. Just start with the following questions:
Airgunners usually use an airgun for plinking, target shooting, pest control or hunting so here's Question #1 you will need to answer.
1) What is your intended use for the airgun?
In many cases, the answer is a combination of uses. Just be sure you know the intended use of the airgun. For example, if you require a multi-use gun, then it is helpful to determine what percentage of your shooting will be directed to each use. A fairly common usage combination is 50% target shooting and 50% pest control.
Knowing the answer to Question 1 is vital because all airguns are designed and built to fit certain market needs. Some are designed for general shooting while others are designed more specifically for hunting or competition target shooting. It is true, to a degree, that any airgun can be used for any purpose, but experienced airgunners know that it is always better to buy a gun that is designed for your intended use. It is possible to use a magnum powered hunting rifle for plinking and target shooting but in reality, a medium powered gun built for general use would better fit the task.
The next most important question concerns distance because knowing how far you will need to shoot effectively will determine the power level required. So it will be important for you to answer Question #2 .
2) How far will you be shooting?
Most airguns fall into the following 4 power categories: Light, Medium, High (Magnum) and Super-Magnum (Specialty Rifles). For the most part, we tend to combine magnum and super-magnum guns in the same "high power" or "magnum" category. Generally speaking, light powered airguns are great for plinking, target shooting and light pest control to roughly 35 yards. That's where the light powered guns are at their best. Sure, you can plink or target shoot at any distance but the gun will perform best to approximately 35 yards. Medium powered airguns will extend your range to 50 yards. Magnum rifles will extend the range to 65 yards and super-magnum rifles to 75-80 yards. So you can see why it is important to know your intended shooting distance because it enables you to fit a gun with the proper power level to your required shooting distance needs.
If you can answer the first two questions, you are well on your way to narrowing your search for the right airgun. For example, if your intended use is pest control to a distance of 40 yards, a medium powered airgun will serve your needs well, with plenty of power to do the job properly. If however, you wish to target shoot or hunt to 65 yards, it's best to choose a magnum or super-magnum rifle.
Are there other factors to consider in choosing an airgun? Yes, there are quite a few and we'll review a few other considerations. But as important as all the other factors will be in the decision process, they are all secondary considerations. Always determine the required power level and gun use before dealing with the following considerations.
Gun Type - Once you have the answers to Questions 1 & 2, then you can decide whether you want a Spring Gun, Gas Ram or PCP. Springers and gas ram rifles will require heavier duty scopes than a PCP but are self contained in the sense that they are designed to be cocked and shot. No charging equipment is needed as is the case with PCP rifles. On the other side of the coin, the PCP's tend to have more power and can use less expensive scopes because they have no recoil. Each have their strong points and you can decide which category of gun fits your needs.
Fit and Finish - This is a subject that is important to most shooters although it actually has little to do, directly, with how well a gun shoots. But fit and finish can make a big difference to a shooter. Fit and finish includes factors such as the shape of the stock, overall looks of the rifle, quality of the bluing and other cosmetic factors. Cosmetics are based on personal taste and I do believe that if a shooter feels more comfortable with a rifle for any given reason, he is likely to shoot with more confidence and that could lead to better shooting results.
Trigger Quality - Airguns are built at all different price levels and trigger sensitivity will vary depending on the price and intended use of the gun. Most adult airgun triggers are factory set at roughly 3 lbs. of pull. And they can usually be adjusted down to roughly 1-1.5 lbs of pull. However, if a lighter trigger pull is needed, then look at a match gun with a match trigger which is designed to be set to mere ounces of pull. Don't expect a sporter model airgun to have a match grade trigger or you'll end up disappointed. And I should mention that many times customers buy a sporter gun designed for plinking, pest control and hunting and then use it for shooting field target competition. But although the gun may be used for field target competition, it doesn't mean that the gun was designed for field target competition. It's still a sporter rifle, not a competition rifle so it isn't going to have a match trigger or field target stock available as an option.
Power - It is a good idea to use a spring gun with the correct power level for the job at hand. It is not a good idea to buy a gun with far more power than is needed to do the job. Why? Because with spring guns, you pay a price for higher power. As the power level of a spring gun goes up, so can the price of the scope required. A high powered spring gun will likely break any but the high recoil scopes. And of course, the gun will cock harder and shoot at a louder volume. So be aware of these issues when choosing a power level based only on high velocity or greatest power. These facts will not apply to PCP rifles, however because PCP' s have no recoil and consequently you can use any scope.
Features - Every shooter has their own idea of what makes a great gun. Some people love fine wood, others like a certain shape or style. It's always important to know what features you would like to own when choosing a rifle. Knowing what features are important to you further refines the selection process.
Features vary from spring gun/gas rams to PCP's. Typically, PCP's have more features to choose from than spring guns or gas ram rifles. But nevertheless, all types of guns have some feature choices available to the shooter. Spring guns/gas ram guns offer calibers ranging from .177-.25 depending on the particular model. Some spring rifles are available in all calibers, some in just one or two calibers. Some offer a choice of beech or walnut stocks while others feature only a beech stock. Some rifles are break barrels, others are side cockers or under levers types. Some are heavier in weight and some are lighter.
PCP's tend to offer some features not available to spring or gas ram rifles. Adjustable power is a feature offered on some PCP's which is not available on spring rifles. PCP's generally have higher power levels and more stock options, including some with synthetic stocks. And PCP's offer more styles of guns also. Some have traditional looks while others have a paramilitary look and appeal. But whichever type of gun you choose, the features offered will play an important part in the selection process.
I hope the information provided above will help you to make a good buying decision. It's really not a difficult thing to do if you consider the practical side of the equation first (Questions 1 & 2) followed by the subjective side (Other Considerations). I believe you'll be able to narrow your search for the right gun down to a couple of guns very quickly. And of course, if you have any questions about the guns, you can always email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 320-240-9062 central time.
What is Power?
Some airgun enthusiasts believe that the quality of an air rifle is derived from it's power level. Power can be calculated in a variety of ways.
For instance, a rifle's power is rated on velocity and muzzle energy, while a pellet's power is rated on its kinetic energy (knockdown power).
Determining velocity requires the use of a chronograph. Or you can also review the rated listings which are based on rifle manufacturer's information. generally using the lightest possible pellets. When using heavier pellets, the velocity decreases although the relative knockdown power (kinetic energy) usually increases. For this reason you should take the listed manufacturer ratings with a "grain of salt".
Airgun rifle power can be loosely be categorized into three groupings: Light, Medium and High.
High power is generally any velocity rating over 900 fps in a .177 caliber. As the caliber (size) of a pellet increases from .177 to .25 the velocity decreases. You would not expect to find your average .25 caliber air rifle shooting at 900+ fps. For this reason Muzzle Energy is also used to explain power. The higher the muzzle energy, the greater the knockdown power thus the greater the overall power of the gun.
A magnum rifle works well for general shooting and hunting. A velocity rating for a magnum air rifle can range from 800-1000+ fps. This power rating is good for hunting although that much velocity isn't really necessary for pest control and hunting.. Shooters tend to look at a rifle's velocity rating for hunting, but it is really the accuracy and kinetic energy (knockdown power) that determines the effectiveness of a hunting rifle rather than the velocity.
A rifle of standard power typically has velocity ratings ranging from 700-850 in most calibers. That will yield great results for general plinking, pest control and hunting of small game. And in fact, most spring air rifles fall into this velocity range.
The Light rating can be considered a power rating under 700 fps in .177. Generally, Light Powered rifles come in power settings of 600-700 fps and muzzle energy of less than 10 foot pounds. Do not confuse a light powered air rifle with a velocity of 650-700 fps with a match rifle though. A match rifle is designed to be extremely accurate for 10 meters. To this end accuracy is more important than power and velocities are usually in the 500-600 fps range for Match rifles. Generally speaking, in an out-of-the-box spring gun, the less power the gun has, the less recoil and motion it has.
Note that these power ratings and classifications do not hold true for pistols. Power in a spring gun is developed from a heavy duty spring under tension. The size of a pistol will limit the amount if power a spring pistol or single cock pneumatic pistol is able to develop. PCP pistols, however, can achieve quite high power ratings due to the use of high pressure compressed air.
Kinetic Energy is really the most accurate way to assess a rifle's power. Power is most important to a hunter or a long distance target shooter. Kinetic Energy is the actual knockdown power at the target, not at the muzzle. A rifle with a lot of kinetic energy does a better job for the hunter. But while the target shooter isn't really concerned with knockdown power, he is concerned with the ability of a pellet to retain it's velocity and power as long as possible. The better that a pellet retains its energy (and coincidentally knock-down power) the better the pellet's trajectory will be for the target shooter as well.
When selecting a rifle it is wise to determine its intended use. Hunters should determine the type of game and distance needed for their type of hunting purpose. Typical hunting ranges are from 20-50 yards. If your intended quarry will be small birds and ground squirrels, you might consider a rifle with 4-6 ft. lb. of power at the target. If you aren't sure how to do that, check the Our Take section on this site. It lists many airguns in all calibers and the results from shooting many different pellets. The Our Take shows the power level in fpe (ft. lbs) at the Muzzle, 10, 25 and 50 yards. It will make a very good reference for you for most air rifles.
If you are looking to take larger game or game at a greater distance, remember that you will need the same 4-6 fpe for small game kills at whatever distance you are shooting, long or short. If your intended use is target shooting and indoor shooting, accuracy is more important than power.
For those shooters interested in power we have listed our rifles based on the three categories. Just select a power level and review the guns listed. If muzzle velocity is more to your liking however, view our listing of rifles by muzzle velocity.
Inaccuracy - What Causes It?
Occasionally our phone conversations concern a customer's airgun which "can't hit the broad side of a "barn." Invariably, the frustrated owner has "tried everything, but the gun still won't group well no matter what!" Unfortunately, the information supplied with most new airguns is fairly sparse at best and don't offer much assistance, so here is a list of the frequent problem areas to look at before you give up in despair.
Most of this information applies to conventional spring piston airguns but is appropriate to other systems as well.
Loose Stock Screws are probably the most common cause of inaccuracy in airguns. Even a quarter turn loose can translate to 50mm difference at 25 meters. Most airguns have screws securing the action to the stock (two in the forearm, one through the front of the trigger guard and one in the rear of the trigger guard). These must be firm at all times.
Loose screws on the breech-block assembly will also affect accuracy on break-barrel models. CAUTION! Before you stampede to your tool box - airgun screws, just like regular firearm slotted screws, are different. They require special screwdrivers with parallel tapers unlike carpentry screws. Use a regular screwdriver and you risk damaging the screw head and the gun.
Loose Sights. On Open Sight guns - check that the front sight attachment screw is tight and the sight element held within is secure. Check the rear sight for play and tightness on the breech block.
Scope Mounts - Any old scope mount just won't do on an airgun! On magnum, super-magnum springers and PCP's, you must use a scope mount specifically designed for airgun use. Many airgun mounts have a "stop pin" that fits in special holes at the back of the receiver and their bases range in width from 11mm-14mm depending on the brand. These stop pins are necessary because spring piston airguns don't just recoil backwards, they snap forward too. And when coupled with the vibration of the mainspring can drive an improper mount off the scope grooves. Separate scope stops are also available for the same purpose. Scopes can also move through the scope rings (scope creep) but this problem is usually eliminated by using the right scope mount.
Using a Regular Firearm Scope. Leave your old .22 scope on your .22 rimfire! If you are serious about your airgunning and want the best performance out of your airgun, you must use a scope specifically designed for airgun use. American firearm mounts, for example, will not fit properly because they are either 3/8" or Weaver (3/4") in width. Don't get conned or laughed off at your local gun shop! Today's magnum spring piston and gas spring airguns will promptly break a less than proper airgun scope.
As mentioned previously, airguns recoil backwards then snap forward. This action is what destroys regular, non-airgun scopes. Proper airgun scopes have their lenses and reticles braced at the front and the back whereas most regular firearm optics are only braced at the rear. This double recoil peculiar to airguns, coupled with the vibration of the mainspring, will quickly destroy even the biggest brand names in scopes. But be aware that even airgun scopes can be rated for Light, Medium and High Recoil rifles. We, at Straight Shooters rate all our scopes for the proper use so it's easy to match a scope to the power of the gun you choose.
Secondly, airguns shoot at shorter distances than regular firearms and most regular firearm scopes are parallax corrected for 100 yards or more. Proper airgun scopes have an externally adjustable parallax ring on the front end objective or a side focus knob to focus clearly at all distances down to about 10 yards or 10 meters. This can also be used as a range finder to estimate distances to your target.
Finally, airguns have a much more pronounced trajectory than firearms and airgun scopes have an elevation bias so there is more up than down adjustment, eliminating the need to shim the scope mount and possibly crush or bend the scope tube.
Incorrect Barrel Tension. Barrel cocking airguns must have the pivot tension set carefully. Too much and the barrel detent will not consistently lock up and there will be galling of the breech block. Too little and there will be blow-by at the breech. Both situations will cause erratic groups. The correct tension is the point where the barrel will just stay anywhere on the return arc after cocking. Better barrel cocking airguns have adjustable pivot tension. You must use proper gunsmith screwdrivers, keep your fingers out of the trigger guard and don't adjust a cocked gun!
On Beeman R series and Weihrauch rifles, loosen the right hand side screw/nut and tighten the left hand side bolt. When the tension is correct, tighten the nut against the bolt and recheck. On Diana, Anschutz and others, remove the small lock screw and tighten the pivot bolt to a compromise position that allows the lock screw to locate into one of the cutouts in the pivot bolt head.
The Wrong Pellet. Most inaccuracy queries emanate from owners of .177 magnum sporters capable of muzzle velocities in excess of 1000 fps. In the power race, many manufacturers use the very lightest pellet available to achieve their advertised velocity and boost their sales. Invariably, this pellet is not the best for these guns, in terms of accuracy, energy and velocity retention downrange where it counts. Every gun barrel is slightly different and the pellet that groups best in one gun may not work with the next gun even if it is the same make and model. Powerful spring guns work better with medium heavy or heavy pellets rather than light pellets. This will decrease the velocity but increase the accuracy. Buy an Straight Shooters Pellet Sampler in your caliber, and see which pellets shoot the best group at your preferred shooting distance.
Pellet induced accuracy problems on lower powered airguns can usually be cured by switching brands or types. Don't use old and oxidized pellets or any deformed examples, but rather discard them immediately. Only use high quality lead pellets from respected manufacturers. Cheap pellets are false economy.
Dirty Bore. Airguns do foul barrels but not in the same manner as regular firearms. Instead, minute traces of lead and the gun's mechanisms spray lubricants from the compression chamber leave deposits in the rifling. This must be carefully removed with a proper airgun barrel cleaning kit. We strongly recommend the Napier cleaning kit . These kits use a compact flexible rod that won't damage the delicate crown or rifling and cover all four calibers. Carefully follow the directions for the best results. Don't use regular firearm solvents because they will attack the seals. Use a gentle degreaser such as Napier Airgun Oil on a pure cotton patch and make sure the bore is dry before applying a very light coat of polarizing oil to protect against rust. A good quick fix in the field is to use ." If you don't care for flexible cleaning rods, you can also use a rigid rod such as a J.D. Dewey rod, some cleaning patches and Napier Airgun Oil to do the job.
Incorrect Shooting Techniques. Regular firearm dogma doesn't work on spring piston and gas spring airguns. That is why many expert firearm marksmen can't shoot airguns accurately and why many expert airgunners shoot regular firearms so well. There are two basic reasons:
A. Hold your airgun firmly against your shoulder and let it jump around when you fire it. Don't pull it in hard into your shoulder or strangle it's forearm and don't rest the forearm on a hard surface. Let it recoil and vibrate freely - don't try to prevent it.
B. When you sense that your airgun has fired, the pellet is only just starting up the barrel. Although very fast, the lock time is considerably slower on airguns compared to firearms so you have to adjust and follow through. Hang onto your sight picture just a little longer and your groups will shrink.
Naturally, trigger, breathing and stance principles still apply and there are plenty of books available on these topics to consult. If you have followed all these suggestions and still have accuracy problems, your airgun may need the attention of an airgunsmith. Don't even attempt to disassemble your airgun unless you are very familiar with airguns and too use. From experience it is far cheaper in the end to have an airgun specialist attend to it.