A lot has changed in the world of air rifles since the days of the Daisy Red Ryder BB gun.
Today, air rifles are high-powered precision tools that can be used for hunting or target shooting with extreme accuracy.
You can still buy a Red Ryder for about twenty-five dollars, but you could also pay approaching a thousand bucks for a gun that falls in the air rifle category.
When you start talking about spending several hundred dollars or more on an air rifle, clearly you need to be making a careful selection:
The right air rifle will be:
- Accurate, durable, plus pleasant and affordable to shoot.
- A quality air rifle is something that people of all ages can enjoy shooting, whether it is for fun, competitively or for hunting purposes.
Picking the wrong air gun can lead you down a number of unfortunate paths:
- Some are less accurate than others, which is a bummer of a discovery after you have already thrown down the money to buy it.
- Others have quality issues or require more maintenance. Whether you have to spend more money on repairs, maintenance or circling back and purchasing a different model to replace it, picking the wrong gun can be costly.
Using this guide should help you find a quality product that will provide you a great shooting experience.
This article includes:
- a reviews of some of the best air rifles on the market.
- advice on all the features & specifications you need to pay attention to when choosing your gun
- overview of the most popular air rifle brands
- 1 The Top Airguns of 2018: Outdoor Empire Reviews
- 2 Separate buyer guides:
- 3 Understand These Important Factors
- 4 Know What You Want and Need
- 5 Ups & Downs of Leading Brands
- 6 Airgun, Air Fun!
The Top Airguns of 2018: Outdoor Empire Reviews
These are our top recommendations for air rifles in 2018:
- Best .22 caliber airgun: Get the RWS Model 34
- Best airgun for hunting: Get the Benjamin Trail NP XL Magnum .22 (Read 430+ Amazon reviews)
- Best PCP airgun: Get the Benjamin Bulldog Bullpup
- Best aigun for the money: Get the GAMO Big Cat 1250 .177 (Read 470+ Amazon reviews)
- Best break barrel airgun: Get the Beeman R7
*Looking for a specific feature? Check out our quick-reference chart below:
|Product|| || || || ||
|Velocity||800 FPS||1100 FPS||800 FPS||1250 FPS||700 FPS|
|Action||Break barrel||Break barrel||Sidelever||Break barrel||Break barrel|
|Powerplant||Spring piston||Gas piston||Precharged pneumatic||Spring piston||Spring piston|
|Weight||7.5 lbs||9.7 lbs||7.7 lbs||6.1 lbs||6.1 lbs|
|Length||45 in||48.25 in||36 in||43.4 in||37 in|
|Cost||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price|
Best .22 Caliber
RWS Model 34
The RWS Model 34 is one of the most popular air rifles on the market. It’s proven to be extremely reliable and accurate. At its price point, it is indeed the best .22 out there. Several airguns come close but their cost is almost double of the RWS.
It fires a .22 caliber projectile at eight hundred feet per second. That’s screaming for such a basic airgun. It has a break barrel action that makes it a good small game rifle. It can easily harvest squirrels, rabbits, or other pests.
The RWS Model 34 comes with a fine wooden stock. This gives it a classic look. It’s a throwback to the classic rifles. There is also an RWS 34P that utilizes a polymer stock if that’s what you prefer.
The Model 34 features a real rubber butt pad that is ventilated for comfort. It has an auto safety and a well-made two-stage trigger. The trigger is adjustable for user’s choice; it is 3.3 pounds, feels extremely crisp, and very predictable.
It also comes with an amazing set of iron sights. It is equipped with a set of fiber optic Tru Glo sights that are bright enough to be used in low light conditions.
The RWS lacks a few frills here and there. But as a basic air rifle, it is well-made and quite affordable.
Ammo Type: Pellet
Velocity: 800 FPS
Action: Break barrel
Powerplant: Spring piston
Best for Hunting
Benjamin Trail NP XL Magnum .22
The Benjamin Trail NP XL is one powerful air rifle.
When it comes to airgun hunting, the bigger you go the better. Why? You have to kill an animal and do it humanely. Humane hunting requires the user to make an accurate shot with a powerful weapon. The Benjamin Trail does just that.
It fires a .22 caliber pellet at over a thousand feet per second. It is a gas piston gun that uses nitrogen over a spring.
The stock is made of legitimate hardwood and you have a straight pistol grip with a thumbhole stock for comfort. The stock is ambidextrous so left-handed people are covered.
It features an extremely quiet shot profile. It’s cut about 70% from spring shot air rifles. This reduced noise is important for hunting because it is less likely to scare the game. You may miss and be required to take a second shot. The last thing you want is your small game to sprint away.
The Benjamin Trail also reduces the stress put on a system by a spring. Thus, the recoil is reduced significantly. While recoil on an airgun is very little in general, every little bit helps with flinching. Even minimal recoil can cause people to develop a flinch.
You will also wear a scope out less. The Benjamin Trail comes complete with a 3 to 9 power optic and scope mounts.
Ammo Type: Pellet
Velocity: 1100 FPS
Action: Break barrel
Powerplant: Gas piston
Others: Optic and rings included
Benjamin Bulldog Bullpup
The Benjamin Bulldog Bullpup is one of the unique and efficient PCP air rifles in the world. The first thing you might notice is its odd layout. It follows a design known as bullpup.
A bullpup design is where the trigger and pistol grip are placed in front of the action and chamber. The result is a rifle that is superbly short but maintains a full-length barrel.
The Benjamin is 30% shorter than other air rifles that feature a 28-inch barrel. The overall goal means the airgun is more maneuverable in and out of vehicles, on four wheelers and UTVs.
The Benjamin Bulldog Bullpup is a big bore air rifle designed to hunt the big and bad out there. Most airguns are used to hunt small game, but this is designed to hunt medium game. Instead of rabbits, you are capable of killing hogs, coyotes, and more.
The Bulldog fires a .357 caliber projectile and has varying FPS rating, depending on the weight of the ammunition used. A heavy .147 grain projectile can reach 800 feet per second.
As a precharged pneumatic airgun, it uses a reserve air tank to propel the projectile. This tank guarantees 800 FPS performance for 10 shots. After that, the shots begin to slow down. You also have a quick disconnect to refill it quickly. The Bulldog can use both nitrogen and compressed air.
Ammo Type: Pellet
Velocity: 800 FPS
Powerplant: Precharged pneumatic
Best for the Money
GAMO Big Cat 1250 .177
The Gamo Big Cat is a budget air rifle that is surprisingly powerful and well-made. It fires a .177 projectile at a rip roaring 1250 feet per second. This makes it fast and powerful enough to take small game like rabbits and squirrels.
The Big Cat can be used in a variety of roles, and it excels for target shooting and spinning plates on top of hunting and pest disposal.
Gamo also makes nice airguns that are backed by good warranties and impressive customer service.
The rifle is somewhat plain and very simple, so it’s capable of fitting a budget but you still get some excellent features.
For example, there are ambidextrous controls that make the weapon friendly for left and right handers. It also has a shock wave absorber to reduce recoil and scope stress.
Speaking of scopes, the Big Cat comes with a fixed four power scope and mounts.
So out of the box, you are ready to rock and roll. There is a raised cheek weld on the Monte Carlo stock to make using a scope easier. The cocking effort is only 30 pounds so it’s far from significant, and easy for almost any user.
The Gamo Big Cat is an impressive rifle, especially if you consider its affordable price.
Ammo Type: Pellet
Velocity: 1250 FPS
Action: Break barrel
Powerplant: Spring piston
Others: Adjustable trigger, scope and mounts included
Best Break Barrel
The Beeman R7 is a small, compact and very lightweight air rifle. However, it’s still not a slouch in the power and accuracy department. It fires a .177 pellet right around 700 feet per second.
It is based off the popular R1. The goal was to create a lighter, shorter, and easier to shoot weapon for smaller shooters. To complement this, the double jointed cocking lever reduces the effort needed to cock the weapon. It’s close to 50% easier to cock than the R1.
The break barrel design uses a spring piston to propel the .177 caliber projectile quite accurately. This is an excellent plinker and target shooter. It is also a perfect training airgun.
One of the real joys of the weapon lies in the trigger. It is a two stage trigger that uses the Rekord trigger. You get an excellent and crisp break that is easy to predict. The trigger is adjustable for the most discerning shooters, which breaks at 1.25 lbs.
The Beeman’s reduced effort cocking device makes it unique and an overall excellent break barrel design. The fact that it is 5 inches shorter and 2.5 pounds lighter than the Beeman R1 makes it the clear winner.
The Beeman R7 is an excellent air rifle but excels as a break barrel plinker. You also get a set of scope mounts for your optic needs.
Ammo Type: Pellet
Velocity: 700 FPS
Action: Break barrel
Powerplant: Spring piston
Others: Adjustable trigger
Understand These Important Factors
So what kind of air rifle do you want? There are different kinds of air rifles out there and they are further categorized based on their powerplants. Each offers different advantages, cost, and of course disadvantages.
Spring piston airguns are the most common form of high-powered, non-toy grade guns.
As you can imagine, a spring is involved in the gun’s operation. This type uses a really strong spring and air piston to propel a pellet or BB. The user has to manually retract the spring through some form of leverage.
Spring powered guns are typically the most accurate and most affordable choice. The technology is incredibly simple and reliable. Spring guns aren’t limited to budget models but are limited in caliber. When it comes to hunting, they are limited to small game.
This type of air rifles uses CO2 cartridges. These small cartridges are 12 grams of compressed air in a metal container. They are affordable and easy to find. CO2 guns come in both rifles and handgun configurations. All semi-automatic airguns use CO2 for power source.
There is no pumping required. However, they suffer from inconsistency given the fact that the CO2 can decrease in pressure due to outside temperatures. This can cause velocity and accuracy issues. These guns are definitely suited for plinking and recreational shooting.
Pneumatic air rifles use compressed air to propel the round from the rifle.
These airguns require the user to consistently pump the rifle in every shot. These are great target guns because they are consistent in every shot. This also makes it difficult to hunt with due to the noise, movement and time required to fill the reservoir.
This became a favorite because of its convenience. Its air reservoir uses a built-in air pump. If you need to fill it with compressed air, you just have to put some effort on the pump handle multiple times.
Precharged pneumatic, also known as PCP.
Similar to a pneumatic airgun, you still use a controlled dose of air. The reservoir on these systems is precharged by an air compressor, hand pump, or scuba tank. Once charged, it is ready to go from ten shots to a few dozen depending on caliber.
They can be extremely powerful. They can fire large rounds of ammunition capable of killing medium game. The main downside is their high price, and need for an expensive air filling system.
Power categories are commonly based on the speed that a gun can move at a projectile and the muzzle energy. This is often measured in feet per second (FPS). The power rating of the air rifle dictates exactly what it is capable of doing.
When buying an air rifle for say hunting, you may have a different need than buying one to train target practice with.
Light powered air rifles typically in the 600 to 700 FPS rating and deliver a muzzle energy around ten-foot pounds total.
- Often lighter and smaller
- Designed to minimize recoil and noise
- Better suited for target shooting than hunting
- Great for piercing paper and recreational shooting
Medium or standard power air rifles are the category that most airguns fall under. Your basic spring powered air rifle is most likely a medium. Mediums range from 700 to 850 FPS, although some consider 900 medium.
- Its minimal recoil and noise make it pleasant to shoot over and over while plinking.
- Fast enough to deal with small game like rabbits, squirrels, and small pests.
- Most versatile of air rifles
High-powered, or magnum powered air rifles are anything above 900 FPS. These are often the most expensive rifles, and encompass PCP airguns.
- You can hunt animals ranging from squirrels to hogs and coyotes with the proper magnum powered airgun.
- Usually not the ideal weapon for plinking and casual target shooting because of ammunition cost.
- They range greatly in size and caliber.
- Most common hunting option
Airguns have a wider variety of calibers than people actually realize. The caliber you choose commonly dictates what is done with it.
Small Game and Target Rounds
- .177 – The standard in international shooting competitions.
- .22 – Most commonly used for hunting.
- .20 – Used in multi-pump pneumatic air rifles.
- .25 – A good choice for hunting and pest control, especially for bigger animals like raccoons and possums.
Large Game Rounds
The following calibers are better used for hunting medium and large game. They are used in almost exclusively PCP airguns. These rounds are also quite expensive.
Considerations regarding trigger commonly revolve around adjustment or replacement. If you do not like the stock trigger, can you do something about it?
Some triggers come from the factory ready for adjustment and customization. The aftermarket has created a series of replacement triggers like the GRT 3 by Charlie Datuna. This is a serious consideration for someone who wants maximum accuracy out of their air rifle.
Break barrel air rifles utilize a downward hinging barrel to cock the spring. Once the barrel is opened, you also load a pellet directly into the barrel. These are the lightest airguns and often the simplest. Simple often leads to a more reliable weapon.
They are also simpler to take apart and upgrade. Constantly opening the barrel can cause accuracy issues with a scope, which is a downside. However, with iron sights, the aim will stay true.
Underlever guns place the lever directly under the barrel.
The user grabs the lever and pulls rearward. This cocks the spring and opens the breech for loading. There is no torque when firing the weapon because the lever is placed below the barrel. These are an ambidextrous design that is easy to use.
The lever on this gun is mounted on the side of the air rifle. The user simply grips the levers and pulls it to the side and rearward. This cocks the piston and allows the user to load the weapon.
Sidelevers are tougher and are less sensitive to rough handling. The problem is that they aren’t ambidextrous so it can be challenging for left-handers.
Semi-auto air rifles require zero manual cocking after the first round. It feeds from a magazine and fires one round per pull of the trigger. These guns come in either CO2 or PCP mechanism.
Know What You Want and Need
BB or Pellet?
Do you want to go pellet or BB? BB guns are more affordable and more common. The ammunition can be bought by the hundreds. This is a big consideration, are you looking for a semi-auto CO2 powered recreational shooter? Then BBs maybe for you.
Pellets are bigger and cost more but there is a reason for it. They deliver more power and are more accurate because they engage rifling. They are also more capable for more tasks. Pellets are the chosen projectile for small game hunting, competition, and longer range shooting.
Scopes and Scope Mounts
Before we dive into scopes and scope mounts, we need to address if you even want a scope. If you do not want one, then your option for airguns opens a bit.
If you want a scope, you need to pay attention to the gun’s ability to accept one. Some cannot accept mounts, some accept limited mounts, and some can accept almost anything.
If you want a scope, you need to realize that you can’t toss any old scope on a rifle. A standard firearm scope can easily break on a spring powered airgun. That sounds odd, but it is true.
An air rifle recoils in a unique way, much different from a regular firearm. Spring piston rifles produce a reverse recoil. This means your scope needs to be rated for airguns. If it is not, it won’t last long.
When it comes to mounts, you need to (of course) make sure it can be mounted on your gun. After that, you need to understand that optics come in different sizes.
The tube millimeter measurement will ensure you get a scope mount that fits. Tubes come in different sizes, so checking the measurements on your scope and scope mount is the only way to shop.
If you don’t want a scope, you also have to check a few rifles off the list. Some rifles these days do not have iron sights and are made exclusively for scopes.
Iron sights are much better for short range shooting. It also cuts the price of a scope out of the equation. But what kind of iron sights do you want?
If you have a spring piston break barrel, I’d suggest sights located on the barrel. Other than that, the choice comes down to your needs.
For example if you want to maximize accuracy, peep or aperture sights are the way to go. If you want to shoot in low conditions, like hunters often do, you may want fiber optic easy to see sights. Consider your goals when you consider your sights.
What Is Your Goal?
Your goal is the most important consideration. What are you planning to do with your air rifle? Hunters have different needs than that of 10-meter competition shooters. Different needs require different airguns at different costs.
Hunters need something chambered in pellets, and the pellet needs to reach at least 700 feet per second. A competition shooter doesn’t need that much speed for a 10-meter shot and values accuracy over power instead.
A recreational shooter most likely just wants to have fun and plink at targets. Semi-auto designs are a popular option for recreational shooters.
Once you identify the role that you want for your airgun to play, then you can start isolating brands, operation types, and caliber.
Ups & Downs of Leading Brands
Gamo is the big boss when it comes to air rifles. They share the spotlight with only one other company, Crosman. Gamo produces a very wide variety of airguns which includes rifles, handguns, and even submachine guns.
Their product lines are varied especially when it comes to price. A base level Gamo air rifle roughly costs $100 to $600. They range from small plinking rifles to serious hunting rifles.
They produce airguns in PCP, spring, and nitro piston models. Their pistol line is almost all CO2 powered models.
- They manufacture very light rifles which is an impressive quality when you consider the fact that they use hardwood in a lot of their builds.
- They make one of the more affordable spring piston pistols.
The few problems that Gamo has usually revolve around their cheaper rifles.
- They tend to have excessive recoil which can wear and tear a scope or make the mounts slide back and forth.
- Many Gamo rifles do not have iron sights so a scope is required.
- Their premium line limits itself to rifles designed for only hunting small game.
- Their pistols are mostly replicas of real firearms and are only useful for plinking.
- The triggers are often heavy and gritty.
Crosman is the other big name in air rifles. They reached this popularity by providing a wide array of airguns. It is an excellent company to start with, and also an ideal starting point for youth shooters.
The Crosman Pumpmaster is probably what most pellet gun shooters start with. Crosman airguns have a firm hold in that beginner market.
They produce M16 and AK clones that can be either semi-auto CO2 powered or nitro piston single shots. Crosman makes a series of impressive pistols, specifically their Field Target Pistol.
- You can find a Crosman at any big box store that sells airguns and anywhere on the internet.
- Their rifles can be priced for as low as $35 and start working their way up from there.
- They have high-end rifles designed for 3 position air rifle contests hosted by the Civilian Marksmanship Program.
- A lot of their guns are not that durable. They are not designed for long years of use.
- Unless you are buying a top dollar Crosman, the airgun you are getting is likely not going to last much after heavy use.
Dandy Daisy BB guns are by far the most popular and most common on the market. Their BB guns range from lever guns to pump actions, semi-automatic pistols, and competition pellet guns. The classic Daisy Lever action is a mainstay in the airgun world.
Their competition guns are reportedly very well-made and accurate. This includes a unique take on a BB gun. They designed a competition BB gun, the Avanti Champion, which is known as the most accurate BB gun in the world.
- Their airguns are very small and light.
- Affordable and a blast to shoot.
- It’s an excellent way to teach the youth about airguns, accuracy and safe handling.
- Certainly one of the best brands for youth shooters to begin with.
- Most airguns are made for kids and are too small for most adult shooters.
- Quite loud for BB guns.
- Cocking mechanisms can be too difficult for children.
- Outside the Daisy competition models, you’ll run into problems with consistent accuracy.
- The use of plastic degrades overall durability.
Benjamin airguns are some of the best on the market. They make unique designs and often experiment with a variety of styles. Their airguns start at over a hundred dollars go into over the thousand dollar range.
They also produce rifles for hunting small game, target shooting competition, and recreational shooting. If you want to go big in terms of power and FPS, then Benjamin has you covered.
Their Bulldog Bullpup is capable of firing a .357 projectile at over 800 feet per second. These guns can be used for hunting medium game and can easily take out hogs and coyotes.
- Their air rifles are known to be of high quality and are powerful.
- Designs vary and are almost entirely modern.
- Customer support is reliable.
- Benjamin trigger tends to be serviceable but are not the best. When you consider the price you pay, you expect a better trigger.
- The only other issue is its weight. These are beefy airguns and the shorter, lighter models like the Bulldog weighs 7 pounds without a scope.
I do like Benjamin air rifles but for polymer frames and stocks, I’d expect some weight savings.
Airgun, Air Fun!
Airguns are an interesting hobby. Every time you think you’ve seen it all, makers come forward and deliver something new. It is a market and hobby that is constantly changing. However, the core concepts typically stay the same.
A general understanding of how airguns work and that they come in different types are the most important considerations. Some shooters also check on airsoft guns, so knowing the difference between the two narrows down your option as well.
Having an idea of the various recreational gun types and how they differ from each other can also be beneficial in deciding what is the perfect fit based on your purpose. Once you grasp that, shopping for one is much easier.
And don’t forget to check if hunting with an airgun is allowed in your state.
Other resources worth checking:
USA Shooting – They train and promote the shooting sport.
Crosman – Some rules for safe gun handling.