If you’re thinking about purchasing an air rifle, it’s important to find the best air rifle for your specific needs and budget. Let’s face it, not all air rifles are created equal, and if you’ve never purchased one or are unfamiliar with their features, it can be difficult sorting through all of the “fluff.”
Even if you are an avid air gun enthusiast, like myself, it’s easy to get sucked in by the hype and inflated specs offered up by the air rifle manufacturers. “This air rifle shoots at an amazing 1400 fps!”, they say. Yes, it may… but it’s what they don’t tell you that may leave you with a feeling of disappointment and an empty wallet. That’s why, regardless of whether you plan on hunting small game, or plinking pop cans, it is important to fully research all of your options when purchasing an air rifle.
That’s where we come in. Here at The Best Air Rifle Zone, it is our primary goal to provide you with all of the information you need to make an informed decision when purchasing air rifles and accessories. Throughout the site, you will find tons of resources including; air rifle reviews and ratings, interactive comparison charts, videos and more. We’re here to help, so if at any time you have questions, please feel free to contact us and we will do our best to answer your questions.
Ready to get to the air rifles? If you happen to be a seasoned air rifle pro, we recommend checking out our Air Rifle Comparison Chart, where you can sort through over 100 of this year’s most popular and highest rated air rifles by the features that are most important to you. On the other hand, if you’re not a seasoned pro and want a little more guidance selecting your new air rifle, continue reading our helpful guide below.
Choosing the Best Air Rifle
If you are thinking about buying an air rifle, the first, and most important thing to consider is your air rifle’s purpose. Maybe you’re interested in hunting small game, or maybe you just want to shoot pop cans around camp. You might even have a less-recreational purpose for your air rifle, such a rat or coyote problem that needs to be addressed. Whatever the case may be, determining the purpose of your air rifle first, will help you decide what features and specifications you need, and help ensure that you get the best airgun for your money.
Selecting the Best Caliber for Your Needs
When it comes to selecting an air rifle, the caliber that you choose is arguably one of the most important factors to consider. If you are unfamiliar with the term, the caliber of any gun is simply the inside diameter of the gun barrel or the diameter of the projectile (bullet) that a gun shoots. In the next few paragraphs, we’ll discuss in detail some of the common, and less common air rifle calibers, and the benefits and recommended usages for each.
.177 Caliber Air Rifles
The .177 air rifle is by far the most popular and widely used caliber of air rifle for a number of reasons. To start with, the .177 uses the smallest, most cost-effective, and widely available pellets, so they are a great option for recreational plinking or target shooting. These smaller, lighter pellets generally allow .177 caliber air rifles to generate a much higher velocity than larger caliber rifles, often in excess of 1200 FPS. The higher velocity creates flatter trajectories and improves accuracy over longer distances. Because of it’s excellent accuracy, the .177 is generally the only accepted caliber used in professional target competitions and also makes it a great air rifle for beginners.
Though the .177 is typically used for target shooting, it can also used for hunting small game if equipped with a suitable power plant, (which we will discuss in detail in the section “Choosing the Best Power Plant for your Air Rifle”) The important word to keep in mind here is “small” game. Because of the .177′s smaller, lighter pellets they typically lack the necessary knock-down and damage power to take out larger game. With that said, it is generally recommended to stick to hunting animals such as; squirrels, rats, pigeons, crows and rabbits, all at closer ranges. Even though .177 caliber air rifles may be capable of taking larger game, it is important to ensure that game is taken in a humane fashion. So, If your intention is to hunt larger game like possums, racoons or coyotes, a larger caliber air rifle is recommended. To summarize, here are some of the pros and best uses of .177 caliber air rifles:
.177 Air Rifle Pros
- Typically the most accurate
- Ideal for target shooting
- Good for small pests and vermin
- Cheap, widely available pellets
If you’re looking for the best .177 air rifle, we highly recommend the Crosman Optimus .177. First of all, the Optimus is an extremely accurate air rifle. Plus with a sticker price under $100, awesome reviews, and features comparable with much more expensive air rifles, it really is one of the best air rifles for the money. You simply won’t find a better bang for your buck! (pun intented…)
Crosman Optimus .177 Air Rifle
Average Customer Rating: (4.7 / 5)
.20 Caliber Air Rifles
Considered by many as the best caliber for overall use, the .20 caliber air rifle is a good option in between the .177 and .22. With it’s larger caliber projectile, the .20 caliber can produce up to 40% more knock-down power than the .177 while maintaining a flatter trajectory than a .22. Because the .20 caliber seems to have the best of both worlds, many die-hard air gun enthusiasts swear by them. Most .20 caliber air rifles are capable of taking small game and some medium sized game including wild woodchucks and prairie dogs. Here are some of the pros and best uses of .20 caliber air rifles:
.20 Caliber Air Rifle Pros
- Typically very accurate
- Ideal for target shooting
- Good for small pests and vermin
- More knock-down power than the .177
Beeman R9 Elite Series Combo
Average Customer Rating: (5 / 5)
.22 Caliber Air Rifles
Like it’s lower caliber counterparts, the .22 can also be used for target shooting and plinking. However, is it generally considered the one of the best air rifles for hunting small game like rabbits, possums, racoons and woodchucks. Due to it’s larger pellet size, the .22 caliber is capable of generating much more knock down power than both the .177 and .20 caliber air rifles. The added weight and diameter of the .22 caliber pellet will generally create a larger entry wound and do more internal damage than smaller caliber rifles, which will often pass clear through due to the higher velocity and smaller pellet size.
One potential drawback of the .22 caliber, is that it has the shortest effective range of these three air rifles. Depending on what pellets are used, it is typically most effective in the 40-60 yard range. This is due, in part, to the lower velocity of .22 caliber projectiles . As we discussed earlier, smaller caliber air rifles with higher velocity are typically more accurate and have a longer range than those of lower velocity.
On the other hand, air rifles of larger caliber like the .22, typically shoot at lower velocities but possess more destructive power. This effect, also known as muzzle energy or FPE is actually a much more important factor to consider than FPS (feet per second), both of which we discuss in detail in the section “Understanding Velocity, Muzzle Energy (FPE), and Feet Per Second (FPS).” It is important to keep in mind that with different calibers, comes different velocities and trajectories. Because the .177 and .20 caliber rifles exhibit similar traits, many will agree that the most drastic changes occur when entering the .22 caliber range. Because of these factors, achieving accuracy with the .22 and other higher calibers may require a little extra practice. To summarize, here are some of the pros and best uses of .22 caliber air rifles:
.22 Caliber Air Rifle Pros
- Ideal for hunting small game and varmints
- Good for target shooting
- More knock-down power than the .177 and .20 calibers
If your primary reason for buying an air rifle is hunting small game, then a .22 is probably your best option. With that said, the best .22 air rifle we’ve seen this year is the Crosman Nitro Venom Break-Barrel .22. This air rifle is awesome. For a .22 caliber, the Nitro Venom has one of the highest velocity ratings at 950 FPS (alloy) and 20 Foot Pounds of Energy (FPE). The Venom’s Nitro Piston technology creates very little recoil, and is extremely quiet. Other features include; a precision rifled barrel, fluted muzzlebrake, and wide forearm for accurate shooting. Also equipped is a CenterPoint 3-9x32mm precision scope and a quick-lock mounting system for quick and easy optic mounting
Crosman Nitro Venom Break-Barrel .22
Average Customer Rating: (4.4 / 5)
.25 Caliber Air Rifles
The .25 caliber is the most powerful air rifle of the common calibers. With it’s larger caliber, the .25 is capable of generating higher muzzle energy than the majority of it’s lower caliber counterparts, often upwards of 30 FPE. This makes the .25 caliber the ideal air rifle for hunting medium sized game like coyotes, racoons and bobcats. To summarize, here are some of the pros and best uses of .25 caliber air rifles:
.25 Caliber Air Rifle Pros
- Best suited for hunting larger game
- Most muzzle energy (knock-down power) of common air rifle calibers
If a .25 caliber seems like the best rifle for your needs, we highly recommend the Benjamin Trail NP XL 725. Utilizing Crosman’s popular Nitro Piston technology, the Benjamin Trail NP is capable of blasting a .25 caliber pellet up to 900 FPS, and generating a stunning 30 FPE. Nitro Piston powered rifles produce up to 70% less noise than traditional spring powered rifles, plus add smooth, easy cocking and reduced recoil. This particular rifle also features a handsome, checkered stock, Center Point 3-9×40 scope, bull barrel, Picatinny rail system, pre-installed sling mounts, and a vented, rubber recoil pad. Average Customer Rating: 4.4 Stars (4.4 / 5)
Benjamin Trail NP XL 725
Average Customer Rating: (4.4 / 5)
Selecting the Best Air Rifle Power Plant
When you are in the market to buy an air rifle, choosing one with an adequate firing mechanism that suits your needs is just as equally important as choosing the right caliber. Air rifles come in a wide variety of options in terms of the firing mechanism that powers them. Each of these different types has its own advantages to offer. We’ll take a look at the best air rifle power plants available and discuss the benefits that each of them has to bring to the table.
Pre-Charged Pneumatic Air Rifles
These pre-compressed air rifles are powered using a built-in air tank or an air chamber of some kind that is screwed onto the air gun. These high powered air rifles operate using anywhere between 1,500 to 3,000 PSI of pressure which charges the air tank for firing. There are two methods that can be used to achieve this amount of pressure; the first is by using an external hand pump. The second and more popular method is by attaching a high-pressure tank, such as a scuba tank, to the gun in order to fill it.
Pre-charged pneumatic air rifles, or PCPs, typically generate more power to deliver optimal performance. They are the top airguns for providing exceptional accuracy capable of shooting multiple shots without needing to recharge the tank each time. With certain types of PCP air rifles, you can achieve as many as 30 shots with a single fill. These rifles give an advantage to shooters in several aspects.
Pre-Charged Pneumatic Air Rifle Pros
- Delivers incredible accuracy
- High powered air rifle is ideal for shooting at a greater-range
- Suitable with higher caliber ammo for taking down bigger game
- Very minimal recoil
- Provides convenience
Due to the great amount of pressure these air guns can hold, they are ideal for use in shooting medium sized game for predator or varmint hunting. If your intended purpose in looking for a high powered air rifle is to control unwanted critters then you may want to consider the Marauder Rifle .25 Synthetic Stock. This .25 caliber PCP air rifle offers a particularly quiet operation using a choked and rifled, shrouded precision barrel. This air rifle features a few modifications including a new all-weather synthetic stock for better balance when carrying in the field. It has an impressive velocity of up to 900 FPS boasting a power increase of 12% as well as a 30% greater shot count in comparison to the .22 and .177 caliber models. Additional features include 16-shot capability on a single fill, adjustable two-stage, match-grade trigger for custom shots that are smoother and steadier, a built-in pressure gauge, 8 shot magazine, a Dovetail optics rail, and an ambidextrous raised comb.
Spring Powered Air Rifles
The spring driven air rifles are similar to the PCP air rifles in that they use compressed air as well. The difference is that these Springers’, as they are most well-known by air gun enthusiasts, operate by applying a spring to compress the air which propels the ammunition using a single-cocking lever. These produce a great velocity for superior power with just a single cocking action.
There are different designs of spring powered air rifles; however, the most popular is the break barrel rifle. These are designed with a break or a hinge feature that allows you to swing the barrel down (breaking the barrel). This action will cock the spring and from there you load the barrel using a pellet, then bring the barrel back up to its initial position and you are set to take aim.
Spring Driven Air Rifle Pros
- Puts out excellent power and accuracy over long distances
- Easy to Use
- Ideal for small game hunting, target shooting, and controlling pests
- Typically less expensive option among air rifles
With spring piston air rifles, the bigger the spring the more power it puts out which consequently makes them harder to cock. If you are in need of a top quality spring driven air rifle that is relatively easy to cock and inexpensive then the Crosman Quest 1000 FPS Air Rifle is just what you are looking for. This is a .177 caliber spring piston with a rifled steel barrel. It features a Fiber Optic Front Sight and a two-stage trigger that is adjustable for optimal customization. As you may have guessed from the name, it shoots at a velocity of 1000 FPS and is available for a bargain at just under $100. It is the best air rifle at a value that can’t be beat.
Gas Piston Air Rifles
Gas powered air rifles bring innovative technology to the industry of air rifles and they are becoming increasingly popular. These are much like spring powered air rifles, except they are powered by nitrogen gas rather than a spring. They also offer a few key advantages over the spring driven models that make them more ideal for the novice air gun shooter. These guns offer greater noise reduction, deliver a better overall performance, and do not fall short where power is concerned.
Gas Piston Air Rifle Pros
- Up to 70% quieter and less torque than spring rifles
- Simpler to cock
- Maintains same level of power at low temperatures
Our recommendation for a top-notch gas air rifle is the Crosman Nitro Venom Dusk. There is much to be desired in this .177 caliber break barrel air gun. Powered by Nitro Piston Technology it does not disappoint, shooting at a high velocity of 1200 FPS in a single-shot quiet operation. Additional features include automatic safety, a neat ventilated rubber butt plate, and two-stage adjustable trigger just to name a few. This Crosman Gas Piston air rifle is sure to deliver smooth performance whether you are using it to knock out field mice or simply plinking cans.
CO2 Powered Air Rifles
Although not quite as popular, the Co2 Powered air rifle is often used as another pressure source option when it comes to PCP air rifles. Co2 is an inactive gas which is considered perfectly safe and offers a few notable benefits, such as the capability of firing semi-automatically. These particular air rifles use liquefied Co2 that is stored in two types of cartridges: 12 grams or 88 grams.
Co2 Powered Air Rifle Pros
- Can fire multiple shots on just one cartridge
- Offers convenience
- Simple to use
These air guns are primarily intended just for target shooting or knocking out milk jugs, though one exception is the Winchester M14 CO2 Dual Ammo Air Rifle. The .177 caliber Co2 air rifle shoots at a maximum velocity reaching 700 FPS. A unique feature to this gun is the 8-round dual ammunition magazine that can hold either .177 caliber pellets or steel BBs. This provides a maximum of 16 rounds before you have to reload. It uses two 12 gram Co2 cartridges that are easily accessible, features a micro-adjustable rear sight, and a durable composite stock.
Regardless of what type of air rifle power plant you choose, one factor that plays an important role is the velocity. Just because an air rifle boasts an exceedingly high velocity does not always guarantee outstanding accuracy. High powered air rifles with velocities that exceed the sound barrier (1,100 FPS) stand a greater chance of deterioration taking place upon flight. The best air rifle to look for in terms of accuracy, especially when shooting at long ranges, is one that offers a velocity of 1,000 FPS with a heavier pellet.