Air rifles need to be loaded correctly for accuracy, safety and to prevent damage. A spring-loaded piston mechanism powers the air rifle. The mechanism compresses air which is released by the trigger to propel either .22 or .177 size pellets, depending on the size of the bore through the rifle's barrel. The rifle's internal spring tightens by a cock-handle or, on a break-barrel rifle, the barrel itself unlocks to pull down and back in the same way that a cock-handle does.
Put the air rifle's safety on using the appropriate button or catch. Leave the safety on whilst reloading.
Grasp the rifle behind the trigger guard with your dominant hand and grip the rifle firmly between your forearm and your body. Aim the barrel slightly downward and in a safe direction.
Unlock the cocking-handle or barrel from the mechanism that holds it in place (pushing on their front end usually releases them) and pull it downward, then back until it clicks. Cock-handles are not necessarily situated underneath the barrel but pull back in the same way. When the handle or barrel clicks and slackens, the air fully compresses inside the piston.
Maintain sufficient pressure on the handle or barrel to pull it back fully, but do not use excessive force or wrench it back further than necessary. Take care not to let go of the handle or barrel before it clicks because it can swing back dangerously under the pressure of the spring.
Snap a cocking-handle back into its original position where it locks in place. Leave a broken barrel open until you have loaded a pellet.
Slide open the compression chamber on a cock-handled rifle and insert a pellet into the breech. The breech is the tapered entrance of the pellet-sized hole at the front of the chamber. Close the chamber once the rifle is loaded. On a break-barrel rifle, the breech is on display at the rear end of the barrel. Insert a pellet and snap the barrel back into its usual position.
Some break-barrel rifles have a shallow breech which can cause pellet skirts to bend when the barrel is repositioned. It can also make pellets more likely to load at an angle. This affects firing accuracy and bent pellets can also damage the rifle. Use either a specially made pellet-seater or a ballpoint pen to push the pellet further into the hole so that the bottom of it's skirt is flush with the top of the breech. Airgun laws differ from state to state so, for guidance, contact your state or local law enforcement authorities.
Always assume air rifles are loaded even if you think otherwise. Wear eye protection when shooting and keep the rifle's safety catch on until you're about to fire. Never aim a rifle at anyone or look down the barrel or put hands over the muzzle. Don't leave a rifle cocked when it is not in use as it can damage the internal spring. Load a pellet and shoot it safely to discharge the rifle - discharging without a pellet can damage the inside of the barrel. Check and clean your rifle regularly.