A question from a reader – Part I

Monday, April 8, 2013

First things first: my heartfelt thanks to the folks who read this blog. If you didn’t read it, then the good folks at www.airgunsofarizona.com would have no reason to sponsor it. In addition, although you probably don’t realize it, the readers have frequently come to my rescue with interesting questions that would be fun and informative to write about in this blog. For example, recently, I received this email:

Dear Mr. Elliott:

I am new to airguns and think they would be a great asset to have for putting food on the table for my family in case the electricity ever went out for any period of time.

  1. In your experience, what would you recommend as the best gun (top 3 in order) and caliber to purchase in order to maintain a regular food supply? I live in Georgia in a suburban area with woods all around. (squirrels, turkey & smaller deer) I don’t plan on being a collector of numerous airguns however, price      is not a limiting factor.
  2. What are your preferred scopes and range finders?
  3. Since, in theory, the electricity may be out, I will need to hand pump the rifle. What is the best (most      efficient, easiest to use and reliable) pump available?

Thanks for your time.


Well, Blair, the questions that you pose are interesting and ones that I have thought about from time to time over the years. In addition, my answer to the question of an airgun for reliable game getting has changed recently.

We’ll get to that in a little while, but since you said you are new to airguns, first let’s take a brief survey of airgun powerplants to see which types are available.

Multi-stroke pneumatic (MSP) airguns –require multiple strokes (usually 2-10) of a lever to store compressed air in an on-board cylinder. These guns are virtually recoilless, are relatively easy to shoot well, are completely self-contained, and are suitable to taking small game. In addition, the velocity and power of the shot can be varied with the number of pumping strokes (from, say, 300 fps to 800 fps, depending upon the gun). Once it is fired, a multi-stroke pneumatic must be pumped up again.

Single-stroke pneumatic (SSP) airguns require just a single stroke to charge the gun. Single stroke pneumatics are self-contained, easy to cock, and highly consistent. They are often very accurate over distances up to 20 meters. The power of SSP rifles is usually low, shooting relatively light match-grade .177 pellets at 500-600 fps. SSP pistols are even less powerful.

Pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) airguns use air from a SCUBA tank or a high-pressure hand pump that is stored a high-pressure reservoir on the gun. Many long-range varmint air rifles use this powerplant. These guns are powerful, virtually recoil-free, very consistent, highly accurate and, in some cases, offer on-the-fly adjustable power. They are not, however, self-contained. When the compressed air in the on-board reservoir runs out, you need a SCUBA tank or high-pressure hand pump to charge the gun again.

Spring-piston airguns use a lever (sometimes the barrel, sometimes a lever under the barrel or on the side of the receiver) to cock a spring. When the trigger is pulled, the spring is released, propelling a piston forward and pushing a powerful blast of air behind the pellet. This is the same operating principle behind the beloved Red Ryder. Spring-piston guns are self-contained, often powerful, and can be very accurate as well as relatively quiet. The cocking effort – sometimes as high as 60 lbs — can be challenging in more powerful guns. In addition, the movement of the action when released can make these guns difficult to shoot with consistent accuracy. There are also gas spring guns which use a gas strut instead of a spring to store energy. In my experience, the more powerful a spring-piston air rifle, the more difficult it will be to shoot it with high accuracy.

CO2 airguns use either 12-gram cartridges or transferred from a bulk tank into the gun’s on-board reservoir. They are recoilless, convenient, and (in high quality models) very accurate, and CO2 cartridges are easy to carry in a pocket. But these guns are not self-contained and velocities can sag at lower temperatures.

Okay, Blair, that’s the background information you need to make a sensible choice of an airgun to meet your needs. Next time, we’ll get to the specific answers to your questions.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

–          Jock Elliott


  1. Orin says:

    If money were no object, I would be hard pressed to consider any airgun more suitable for survival scenarios than the FX Independence. High-power, self-contained powerplant, multi-shot, highly accurate. But that is a completely blind recommendation, because I’ve never owned, shot, or maintained one. Other than the Indy, PCP reliance upon an external air source is a major limiting factor. One way to circumvent that restriction might be with a buddy bottle that was only filled from a hand pump in a clean, controlled environment, where the pump seals would be less likely to fail from dust/heat. But that is a lot of gear, and a lot of variables.

    If money were a factor, I would favor a springer for reliability, ease of maintenance, power, and convenience. I’ve never been a huge fan of MSP’s for hunting because cocking them involves a more significant effort and lack of stealth than the alternatives. SSP’s are pretty much out based on power level alone. CO2’s are out based on the availability of propellant.

    With any powerplant, there is always going to be a weak link in the chain. Having the right tools and parts for maintenance would be critical. Extra springs, seals, and lube for springers, extra seals and lube for PCP’s/hand pumps/MSP’s, etc. I’m not sure I believe that any one platform is inherently more reliable than the others (even gas springs, touted as holding pressure forever, seem to have a startling failure rate). But one thing is for sure – a lack of maintenance and care will guarantee the eventual failure of any setup.

    1. Orin says:

      Oops – didn’t mean to imply that gas springs fail frequently, only that the manufacturer statements that they can hold air forever and stay cocked forever are bold claims. I’ve personally owned 2 Crosman gas spring guns, and both of them had powerplant issues. One failed within the first week of ownership. The other slowly failed over the course of a few weeks, after a few months of ownership. To my knowledge, the replacement gas springs have been problem-free ( I sold both airguns, so I can’t say for sure). My experiences might very well have been QC issues that have since been addressed.

  2. Matt says:

    I’ll throw my hat in this ring…. My idea of the perfect combination is a .25 cal PCP rifle and a Hill brand hand pump. The rifle will have the power and accuracy to take game, and be relatively maintenance free. The pump requires modest effort. Best of all, good quality ammo is incredibly cheap compared to firearm ammo.

  3. Luck says:

    I think Matt is right on target with his comment. I have shot air guns for years. I have shot every thing from a pump to PCP rifle in all calibers. My suggestion to you would be 25 cal PCP with a Hawke scope. I have an FX Royal 500 and my father has a Benjamin Marauder in 25 cal. Out of all calibers, 25 cal has been the ticket for small game. The key thing is no matter what you choose, practice with it. You owe it to your self and to the game you are hunting.

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