Air rifles have been around for a long time. The Daisy Red Rider took the idea of an air-propelled projectile and made it mainstream, especially in the afterglow of the family classic, A Christmas Story.
An air rifle is just that, a rifle that contains its own air supply–or is supplied with compressed air via a pump or lever mechanism–that propels a projectile at high velocity through a barrel and at a target. It lacks the velocity of a true firearm but can still cause damage.
In fact, air rifles are commonly used against varmints or to hunt small game such as rabbits or squirrels. The most popular kinds are BB guns or pellet guns. They’ve come a long way since the lever action BB guns of yore. Now, you can get your hands on fully automatic pellet and BB guns, using compressed air cylinders.
In the strictest sense of the terminology, even a blowgun technically qualifies as an air rifle. Besides, those wicked, three-inch needle-darts look pretty dangerous compared to a pellet or a BB.
Complete Guide to Air Rifles
How does an air rifle work
There are four methods of propulsion in air rifles–five if you include blowguns. The first is compressed air. The second functions through the use of a CO2 canister. The third functions through the use of a spring piston. The fourth uses a pre-charged pneumatic method. A blowgun is powered via your lungs.
These are single-shooter air rifles, meaning that one pull of the trigger equals a single projectile. Using either pump, lever, or breach action, you reload the air chamber for another round. They require multiple actions to get a full charge.
A spring piston air rifle is a little more complicated. A single pump or lever action sets the piston in place behind compressed air. Pulling the trigger releases the spring, pushing air into the back of the projectile, and forcing it down the barrel. Spring piston air rifles are more powerful than traditional compressed air rifles.
Everyone is probably familiar with this method. It’s already common in paintball guns. A CO2 cartridge loads into the rifle or pistol, and the tip is punctured, holding the compressed air in the cartridge until you pull the trigger, releasing a small amount at a time.
What is a Pre-Charged Pneumatic Air Rifle
This works kind of like a CO2 cartridge, but the air is delivered into a built-in reservoir, where it is compressed at 3,500 to 4,000psi. It requires a second air compressor for charging. Also known as PCP air rifles, pre-charged pneumatics are a lot like traditional, compressed air rifles.
Both hold air inside built-in chambers. The only difference is the compression rate and amount of air in a PCP are much higher than its counterpart. Most PCP air rifles are filled with an air compressor or a separate tank.
One of the more popular and cost-effective means of filling one is to use a scuba tank. The air used to propel a projectile in a PCP air rifle is also the same air that keeps it from firing when you aren’t pulling the trigger. The compressed air keeps the valve shut, while the trigger opens the valve.
What is a Break Barrel Air Rifle
A break barrel air rifle is similar to a breach-loading shotgun or rifle. You don’t see the latter two very often anymore, but you’ve never truly lived life until you’ve dropped two 12-gauge shotgun shells in a barrel-over-barrel breach load.
A break barrel air rifle is breach-loaded too. Once you break it, you will realize that it takes a lot of pressure to open the breach all the way. That’s because the breach-loading action is also setting the piston in place. That’s right. It’s a variation on the spring piston.
You’ll notice the load pop/twang when you fire it. That’s the sound of the released spring inside. These kinds of air rifles are often the kind of rifles you want to throw a small scope on. They have pretty good range and accuracy, especially if you need to keep the squirrels out of the chicken coop.
Why do air rifle shooters wear suits
A shooting suit is more for stability than anything to do with safety, even though that’s a small part. Competition shooters who are using air rifles do wear eye protection as a part of the whole suit get-up.
The shooting jacket may look a little weird, but it’s designed to keep the shooter stable. It’s thick, kind of stiff, and helps the shooter maintain a steady aim. A veteran marksman might scoff at such a thing, but every advantage matters in these competitions.
Then there is the sling. The sling stabilizes the shooter when they drop into prone, sitting, or kneeling positions. Like the suit, it helps to prevent movement and shaking. There is also a hand-stop that connects the shooter to the sling. Competition shooters also use stiff, thick pants for the same things.
Gloves on the off-hand are for stability as well, especially if the shooter likes a stiff V-grip on the hand guards. In between the shooting jacket and the shooter’s undershirt is a shooting sweater, which is supposed to relieve shooters from the stiff, abrasiveness of the shooting jacket.
The good old days of shooting a Red Ryder BB Gun in the backyard are well past. Now we have multiple ways to compress air and fire BBs, pellets, and other small caliber projectiles down range. Except you’re not really “firing” so much as “propelling.”
While they’ll never match high-powered rifles in terms of velocity and raw, destructive power, misuse of an air rifle can still be deadly. Exercise the same amount of caution with an air rifle that you would a 30-30.
One thing is for sure, they are a lot of fun. If you have kids, air rifles are an excellent way to introduce them to the world of firearms–teaching them respect for the weapon and how to treat it safely.
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