I made mention of Pre-Charged Pneumatics earlier in the series – read on for some exciting airgun innovations of late.
Pre-Charged Pneumatic Airguns
The airgun industry is hard at work producing precision, high capability shooting instruments in exciting configurations. Arguably, the most versatile is the Pre-Charged Pneumatic (PCP). These guns are nearly recoilless, offer serious accuracy and are available in many calibers.
PCP’s store high pressure air in an attached cylinder (or bottle), which is charged from a separate air source. Pressure is read by a gauge built into the gun. During the firing cycle, a specific, measured pulse of air is released into the breech at the trigger pull to launch the projectile. The onboard cylinder/bottle can provide anywhere from 80 shots per fill in some .177 calibers down to just several in .45 to .50 caliber (yes, I said that). “Shots per fill” is an important term and varies by gun. The larger the caliber, the more air to push the projectile – therefore less shots per fill as you go up in bore size.
Pre-charged pneumatics’ are typically single or multi-shot magazine fed, having bolt or side-lever actions. There are also lever action and several semi-auto versions. Guns can come “regulated” from the factory (the delivered firing pulse of air is set for consistency regardless of remaining onboard air), or “unregulated” (the amount of firing pulse may vary with onboard pressure as you shoot). Regulated guns have increased shots per fill (at a slight cost in power). Additionally, the pressure constant in regulated guns can bring prolonged accuracy during a shot string (fill) until air drops below regulated pressure, signaling a re-fill. In unregulated guns, you will get fewer shots per fill and might see a POI (point of impact) shift during a shot string. This is not a showstopper as many unregulated guns are capable of stupendous accuracy due to exceptional engineering.
PCP’s range from .17 to .50 caliber. “Big bore” (.30 cal and above) rifles are capable of achieving velocities greater than 1000 FPS and are advertised as adequate for taking most game in North America. In addition to pellets, big bores can also shoot cast bullets.
PCP Startup Costs
After the gun/optic, there are two startup hurdles: 1) the air fill source, and 2) the adaptor to mate air fill source to gun cylinder/bottle. There are several ways to fill: specialized airgun hand pump, SCUBA tank, SCBA tank, HP airgun tank or specialized HP airgun compressor (your shop compressor won’t work!).
I chose SCUBA because I am impatient, have access to dive shops for refills, and wanted a rapid inroad to PCP’s on the cheap. SCUBA is an OK starter route that doesn’t require the laborious use of a specialized airgun hand pump. I purchased an airgun/tank adaptor for $75 and an 80cu ft, 3000 PSI SCUBA tank on Craigslist for $35. The tank required a visual inspection/hydro-test for $25 and was charged to capacity for $6. I get 20-40 rifle top offs before next dive shop visit and $6 re-fill. Keep in mind some guns require a more expensive 4500PSI tank for complete fills.
If you have a connection at the local Fire Department for re-fills, a 4500 PSI SCBA tank might be an option.
Ultimately a compressor is a THE way to go, but they aren’t cheap!
Noise is a Consideration
If local laws permit shooting in your backyard, keeping things quiet is respectful of neighbors and won’t invite attention. Airguns are generally quiet, gradually increasing in noise level as you move up in caliber, but there are exceptions: I own a .177 Beeman QB Chief that is “rimfire loud” even at subsonic pellet speeds. Conversely, the Benjamin Marauder I have is so quiet you’d think its malfunctioning when fired. The good news is most airgun makers/vendors publish “loudness” ratings up front so one can make an informed decision if noise matters.
As previously mentioned, airgun/ammunition pairing is crucial for accuracy. Just like their gunpowder counterparts, airguns are “individuals” in what ammo they shoot accurately. Test different ammo brands/types/weights for what works best in your gun. Bottom line: what shoots accurately in one gun may not do so in another.
Manufacturers and Vendors
There are many! Prices for higher end guns are intimidating but offer incredible precision, fit and finish. If you don’t want to sacrifice the purchase of your next set of BF Goodrich Mud Terrains on a high end pellet gun, the affordable guns are starting to keep the expensive guys honest, so you almost can’t go wrong.
A quick online search will yield many results for airgun vendors. There also exist some exceptional specialty guys (i.e. Tim at MAC-1) who build superbly capable works of art.
Scott Shenk is a retired naval officer who spent 30 years on warships and boots on ground in numerous deployments around the globe.