Three Types of Air Rifles

Updated April 17, 2017

Whether hunting, shooting targets in your backyard or playing paintball with friends, the best of times are to be had when using an air rifle. Categorised by their power source -- the manner in which the pellet is expelled from the barrel -- air rifles come in three varieties: spring-piston, pneumatic and CO2.

Spring-Piston Air Rifles

Spring-piston air rifles, the easiest to shot and maintain, are the most widely used air rifles in the world. The most popular spring-piston type is the break barrel. Loading and cocking break barrels involves separating the stock from the barrel by bending the barrel downwardly from the stock, loading the pellet into the breech and closing the gun by straightening the barrel. This cocking action pushes a piston backward while compressing a spring behind it. The trigger clicks into place, holding the spring-loaded piston back. Pulling the trigger releases the spring-loaded piston, which then launches the pellet from the barrel.

Spring-piston air rifles come in other models similar to the break barrel. Under-lever, side-lever and over-lever models of spring-piston air rifles employ the same spring-piston propulsion technology as the beak barrel model, only a lever is cocked instead of the barrel.

Pneumatic Air Rifles

Compressed air is the power source for pneumatic air rifles. The multi-stroke, or pump-up, model is the most popular type of pneumatic. A fore-end pump lever is used to compress air, which drives the pellet out of the barrel. It usually takes between two and 10 strokes to completely pump-up a multi-stroke pneumatic. Multi-strokes are only moderate in power.

CO2 Air Rifles

CO2 air rifles are powered by compressed carbon dioxide, available in small 12-gram cartridges or in large bulk tanks. CO2 guns are used for a wide range of activities, including paintball. CO2, when kept at room temperature, provides very consistent pressure. If the temperature is raised or lowered, however, the point of impact will change. Shooters get around this by letting the gun stabilise to ambient temperature before sighting in.

Air Rifle Safety

Whenever you're shooting an air rifle, it is important to practice basic gun safety. Air rifles are not toys and must be treated with respect. The safety should be kept on and the guns should remain unloaded at all times when not in use. Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction -- away from people -- and wear eye protection. Your trigger finger should rest along the stock of the air rifle until ready to fire. Understanding basic safety concerns like what lies past your target is essential to the enjoyment of air rifles.

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About the Author

Gerald Fuller began writing professionally in 2010, specializing in cycling, swimming and history topics. He graduated from the University of Florida in 2006, earning a Bachelor of Science in psychology.