PCP Air Rifles: The Ultimate Buyer’s Guide

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Looking back to when I bought my first air rifle, I think it was a bewildering experience. But I have since learned the ropes and understand most things I should have known then.  One thing you should know is that there is a diversity of guns on offer that leads to confusion when it comes to deciding on which air rifle to buy. Well, if you haven’t yet checked our article on our favorite PCP air rifle, here it is.

FX Bobcat MK2

One thing I found useful before buying any kind of gun is a visit to local gun ranges. I find the time and opportunity to test a range of air rifles, and this makes me buy exactly what I need. I would recommend this to anyone wishing to buy their first air rifle. 

Simply put, you will find lots of different air rifles in the market today. Besides the many models produced by many companies, air rifles also have different categories. You will find out that air rifles work differently from one model to another. 

When you understand the characteristics of each air rifle, you will know who it is suitable for, and the kind of shooting it is for. You might buy a good rifle but not right for the job you have at hand. In this article, you will find the in-depth guide on how to choose a PCP air gun to ensure that your air rifle is not only great but perfect for you.

Understanding the PCP Air Rifles

Variation Types

The first step before buying any rifle is understanding the use you will have for it. What do you expect from the rifle? It can be for small game hunting or a gift to a youth who is ready for target shooting practice. 

For example, a Ruger Explorer is a great rifle for children to learn to shoot with, but a more substantial gun, say a .22 air rifle or .177 is the best for small game hunting.

Ruger Explorer

Air Rifle Propulsion Types

The next part of selecting your air rifle is considering its propulsion method. The propulsion method means how the gun powers BBs or pellets through and out of the barrel. The main methods are pre-charged pneumatic, CO2 powered, and spring piston.

Let’s take a closer look at all three main propulsion methods for air rifles

The Pre Charged Pneumatic (PCP) Air Rifle 

Now we start with the most popular and leading air rifle in the market today. The PCP is known for both types of shooting, either pest control or target shooting. Great for both types of shooting, target shooting, or pest control thanks to its recoilless action. 

A PCP air gun is powered by a compressed air cylinder usually on the front of the gun and it runs parallel to the barrel. The compressed air inside is usually pressured at 200bar, and this enables you to make a good amount of shots. Some air rifles can give up to 40 shots, while others can give in excess of 300 plus shots. It all depends on the size of your cylinder and if the air rifle is regulated or not.  

Most PCP Air Rifles are magazine-fed and cocked with either a side lever or bolt action. All leading rifle manufacturers make Pre Charged Pneumatic Air rifles. It is because most people consider it to be the best air rifle of all the three types available. 

The PCP air rifles are also accurate and powerful of all the types of air guns. They are also made of the highest quality as far as craftsmanship is concerned. Because of the high quality and all-purpose functionality, they are also among the most expensive air rifles.

The PCP air guns are the best choice for all serious shooters. The Walther 1250 Dominator is among the most sought after, and it comes complete with a tripod and scope for more accuracy.

Walther 1250 Dominator

The Spring Powered Air Rifle

It is among the most interesting additions to the world of air rifles. It is fairly accurate and good on power, and unlike the other two air rifles, it is self-sufficient. How it works is simple. Break the barrel to compress the spring, then pop your pellet into the breach end, close it up, and fire. 

As a result, the spring-powered air rifles have some of the highest velocities and are also among the most accurate. They are among the leading air rifles that adults prefer to use. Similar to the PCP air rifles, the spring-powered air guns are versatile and can be used for both target shooting and hunting.

Spring piston air rifles utilize a sturdy spring and air piston for propulsion. The spring retracts before each shot, springing forward when the shot is fired. It pushes the piston forward, and this propels a charge of air into the gun’s barrel.

You can find spring powered air guns that use different cocking mechanisms. The most common are under-lever, barrel-cocking, and side-cocking.

The most popular models include the affordable Ruger Blackhawk. Other models spring powered air guns are also available in .22 and .177 caliber versions.

Ruger Blackhawk

The Co2 Powered Air Rifle

Most people see the Co2 powered air rifle as a slight step up from the spring-powered air rifle in so many aspects. The most obvious is that the Co2 uses a multi-shot magazine while the spring-powered air rifles use a single shot magazine. 

The Co2 air rifles are available in sizes and shapes, and all share a Co2 canister or capsule. The canisters are what powers your shot. 

The advantages that come with using the Co2 air rifle are only two. They are among the quietest and also easy to learn how to use, and there is no cocking effort.

The fallbacks of the CO2 air rifles are that the firing power changes with changes in temperature because the tank pressure will also change.  

When you fire quick shots in succession, you will also decrease the total amount of rounds that you can get from a single Co2 canister.

They are recoilless action rifles, and therefore it makes them the best for hunting small game and target shooting. The best Co2 models are the Beretta Cx4 for a tactical look and a Hammerli 850 AirMagnum, for rapid-fire. 

Hammerli 850 AirMagnum

How Does a PCP Air Rifle Work?

As you already know, PCP stands for Pre-charged Pneumatic, and this means the compressed air is put into the rifle in advance before it is shot. 

The compressed air goes behind the pellet, and this pushes the pellet out of the barrel because of the propellant force of the compressed air.  As a result, a small amount of pressure and air in the reservoir gets reduced. 

How Long Till You Need to Fill Your PCP Air Rifle?

PCP air rifles have a gauge that tells you the amount of pressure still left in the air reservoir. The gauge lets you know when your air rifle has dropped down from the optimal pressure curve. The gauges use different colors like green, yellow and red marks. Green is good, and your canister is still full. Yellow is also okay, but red means you need to refill your air gun as soon as possible.

The Types of Caliber You Can Shoot With Your PCP Air Rifle

A PCP gun can use a higher caliber pellet as compared to a C02 air gun. The reason is a PCP air rifle will put more air behind the projectile, whereas the CO2 air rifle is dependent on the temperature.  The PCP air rifles also have a higher velocity with a larger caliber than the Co2. The PCP air gun can shoot .46, .58, or even .72 caliber bullets. 

The next step when looking for the best air rifle is to know which caliber is the best for your gun and your shooting needs. The most popular calibers for air guns are unmistakably the .22 and .177. But if you want a lethal caber for hunting small game, you can consider the .25 caliber for your PCP air rifle.

Most .177 air guns can fire both the pellets and BBs. These guns are excellent for those interested in pest control of smaller game such as mice and small birds and perhaps plinking. Additionally, most hunters prefer the .177 caliber pellets for their air rifles as they give out higher velocities, flat trajectory, and good penetration power.  Best of all is that the .177 calibers are among the most cost-effective choices.

A .22 is a larger caliber than the .177 caliber, and most people use it for hunting small game. The increased power is a direct effect on the increased punch it gives upon impact. 

The downside to using a .22 round is that they are slightly less accurate compared to the .177 caliber. Because of this most hunters prefer them in situations where power is needed rather than accuracy. As a result, they are not the best for target shooting and plinking. 

As for the .25 caliber air rifle, most hunters prefer this when shooting at small game. Compared to the .22 caliber, the .25 caliber is even less accurate, but it will give a higher punch with the most energy.  

Even though it is possible to find other calibers besides the .22, .25, and the .177 calibers, they are extremely rare and uncommon. 

PCP Air Rifle Accessories

When choosing an air rifle, you should not be limited to the stock itself but consider the accessories it can accommodate. The best accessories for your PCP air rifle is the BBs and the pellets. As you will find out, most modern rifles prefer the use of pellets than BBs. 

The reasons are many, but the obvious is because pellets have less ricochet compared to BBs, and this makes them safer. Pellets are also more accurate and move at extremely higher velocities than the BBS. 

There are only four basic types of pellets that you should consider for your PCP air gun, and they include:

Domed/Round Nosed

The round nose pellets have the best aerodynamics of the entire bunch, and it is why hunters prefer to use it for small game hunting and target shooting. They are among the versatile pellets that can get any job done regardless of the scenario. They are also reliable, and the best high quality round nose pellet is the RWS Superdome pellet.


The wadcutter pellet appears to be a flat nose and is extremely accurate when shooting short distances.  It is the perfect caliber for target shooting. The best wadcutter pellet in the market is the RWS Supermag pellet. 


As the name suggests, the tip is sharp, and this is what makes this pellet have excellent penetration compared to the rest. Most people prefer the pointed pellets for long-range shooting, as accuracy is essential. The pointed pellets are also the most streamlined pellets you can find in the market today. An example of the best-pointed pellets is the RWS Superpoint pellet.


Hollowpoints pellets are almost used exclusively for hunting as they are designed to offer the maximum energy transfer to small game. As a result they cause the biggest punch on impact and also expand when it enters the animal you are shooting. When using the hollow point pellets, you are accurate at distances under 25 yards then it drops. The best hollow point pellets are the high-quality RWS H-Point pellet.

If you are new to PCP air rifles or have just bought one, I recommend that you purchase a pellet sampler kit as well. The kit has several types and different kinds of pellets that you can sample. It will make you know what the most comfortable pellet you like for your air rifle is. 

In addition to pellets, there are several other accessories you should also consider when buying your first PCP air gun. These include air gun scopes as they offer magnification of the target, reticle point sights so that your accuracy improves and tripods to have a steadier shot.

Other accessories include maintenance for your air gun. You should buy cleaning pellets, gun oil, and a cleaning rod as the essentials. Maintaining your PCP air rifle will improve its life span. 

Things to Consider When Buying a PCP Air Rifle


A PCP gun is among the easiest air rifles you can shoot, and it is also the most accurate. The skilled shooter can pick up a PCP gun when they fire and still be as accurate as when they fire their firearm.  With the spring-piston air rifle, you must pass through a learning process. You must know all the handling techniques involved before you start shooting. 

With the PCP air rifle, you can enjoy accurate shooting out of the box without taking any lessons.  


The performance of a PCP air rifle is quite intriguing. When a PCP air gun is filled with high pressure, it starts with a low velocity, and it increases its speed before it drops it again to a low-level velocity.  What this implies is that the chronograph of the PCP rifle is the belt curve.  It is the reason you are supposed to fire it several times so that you can find its sweet spot. Once you do, you can adjust the fill and get consistent performance from your PCP air rifle. 

If you want consistency without having to go through the trial and error shooting, you can get help from the air regulator. Many modern PCP guns all have air regulators so you can fill them up, and the air regulators will do the rest. They will manage the pressure for the firing valves. It means that your PCP air rifle will fire at a high pressure, and the firing valve will always receive the same amount of pressure for all shots. 

The air regulator makes PCP air guns to have a consistent flat trajectory compared to the ones that do not have. 

Shot capacity

A PCP air gun allows you to have many shots per one fill. Depending on the capacity of the cylinder, you can have 20-40 shots before having to refill the gun again.

Recoil and Noise

A PCP air gun produces very little noise and also has far less recoil compared to other types of air guns. With its virtually recoilless performance and the quietness, a PCP air rifle is an excellent choice for newbies and young shooters. It is also the best for skilled shooters for both its accuracy and performance. 


The primary downside to a PCP air rifle is that it needs other support tails. When filling the tank, you will need a hand pump, scuba tank, or a carbon fiber tank. Thereafter you must learn how to fill it. 

Although a PCP gun has some disadvantages, as all rifles do, it still attracts more attention from shooters all over the world. The advantages of the PCP air rifles are many. With a PCP air rifle, you will enjoy the minimal recoil, quietness, high power, high accuracy, and multiple shot capacity on the hunting field.

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