While air rifles are often considered “toys” to many gun owners, true firearm enthusiasts know that they fit the definition of a gun while remaining lightweight and affordable. These alternative firearms are not going to fit every situation, but the following are a few of the applications that can be benefited by a good air rifle:
- Hunting: Air rifles are great for hunters who don’t want to carry an actual firearm. Many air rifles are adequate for hunting small game.
- Home Defense: Air rifles present a non-lethal alternative to actual firearms for protection from home invaders.
- Firearm Collecting: Even though there is some debate as to whether air rifles “count” as firearms, many hobby gun collectors will also collect air rifles.
- Target Shooting: Air rifles are a great choice for beginner target practice because they are lighter and generally less expensive than traditional firearms.
Best Air Rifle for the Money
Daisy Outdoor Products Model 1938 Red Ryder BB Gun
For those who are looking for a traditional BB gun experience from the days of old, the Red Ryder delivers a classic shooting experience that reminds you of when Grandpa taught you to shoot in the back yard. For parents who want to give their children the same experience, the Red Ryder is a nostalgic charmer that proves you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel.
You should know that this gun comes in under the $ mark (at the time this review was written) and it is made in China. If you’re looking for something high-powered to take out elk on a hunting trip, this simply isn’t going to get the job done. But if you want to teach your kids how to properly handle a firearm, the Red Ryder is a cheap beginner gun that gets the job done.
There are a few known bugs with this particular BB gun, which is to be expected for the price paid, and often there is a simple fix for these problems. (A simple search through Amazon review comments will turn up a number of helpful answers.) Additionally, if your problem is not easily fixed by you, the company will do whatever it takes to make it right.
Overall, the Daisy 1938 Red Ryder is an entry-level gun that’s perfect for younger users to learn about firearm handling and safety. Please ensure that your children are properly supervised while playing with their Red Ryder, and always teach them safe handling practices.
Gamo Hornet Air Rifle, .177 Caliber
The first thing we noticed about the Hornet was the scope’s quality was disappointing when compared to the craftsmanship of the air rifle itself. This is a high-quality piece that is made in Spain, and for the price, it is a tremendous value.
This particular rifle model helps to cut weight by using a thin wall of steel that is coated in plastic, rather than heavier solid-steel models. It performs well above other units in the under $$ mark, and offers a value rivaling those in the under $$$ class.
Unlike the Red Ryder, the Hornet takes air rifle pellets, and customers recommend taking some test shots to break in your new gun before expecting the accuracy to be up to par. You will need to repeat this process every time you buy a new brand of ammo – even the slightest changes can cause your accuracy to suffer and you will have to readjust.
The only complaint that we ran into with our Hornet was that Gamo does not have the most responsive customer service team. Thankfully, when you purchase your Gamo air rifle through Amazon, the site will help you out in cases where the merchant can’t be reached. We also encountered very few problems with our air rifle, so the need to contact customer service is rarely necessary.
This gun is still classified as an entry-level rifle, and is best suited for target practice and small game hunting. It won’t take down any deer, but if you’re only hunting rabbits, squirrels, and cans, this gun is a phenomenal investment piece that will give you joy for years to come.
Ruger Blackhawk Combo Air Rifle
If you’re looking for an impressively accurate air gun with a price tag right around $, the Ruger Blackhawk is a great budget gun that will serve intermediate shooters with low feature needs. The scope that’s included takes a while to zero in, but once we finally got it right, we were able to achieve 2″ groupings from 30 yards.
This rifle does come well oiled – enough that you may need to wipe it down when you receive it. We were expecting to have to oil it ourselves, so it’s nice that Ruger took the time to handle that step. Although this is a loose clone of the RWS34, we found that it performed with higher power and less trouble than the model it was copied from.
For those looking to perform minor pest control (squirrels, rabbits, etc.) this gun works exceptionally well. Your shots will be clean and humane, and with adequate practice you will be able to kill on the first shot almost every time.
At the price, we did expect to do some maintenance when we first got it, and we found that many of the screws needed to be tightened further. The time it takes to tighten these screws is well worth the money saved – this gun blew us away!
Gamo Silent Cat Air Rifle
Another Gamo product made our list, despite the poor experiences we’ve had with their customer service representatives in the past. We can’t deny, they make a high-quality air rifle for the price. This particular model retails for just under $$, but at the time of this review, it was posted on Amazon for under $$.
While the name Silent Cat would lead you to believe that this gun had a heavy silencer on it, unfortunately, it does not. It is rather quiet when compared to other Gamo air rifles, especially the Big Cat. Additionally, the comfort of the grip is more similar to that of a traditional handgun. This minor improvement over other models is a wonderful value.
This gun has an adjustable trigger, which we found to be a unique selling point. Sadly, we found that we were unable to adjust the weight – only the length. A feature like this is hardly a necessity, though, so we’d rather focus on the bigger picture.
Higher quality pellets are the key to getting better shots out of this gun – we recommend trying Polymag Predator Pellets. At around 20-30 yards, this gun can shoot the Predator pellets through the same hole – talk about an amazingly accurate shot!
Crosman Nitro Venom Break Barrel Air Rifle
Our final air rifle, also falling in the under $$ range, we have the Crosman Nitro Venom. This gun boasts a velocity of about 800fps, which is powerful enough to kill most small pests at a normal range, with quality pellets. This is not a good rifle choice for beginners or children, as it is significantly heavier than many other air rifles.
We did notice that the trigger is a bit stiff, which is something that the fingers will learn to adjust to over time (particularly if this is the only air rifle you shoot). The gun itself is rather heavy, too, but this helps to counter-balance and keep recoil from ruining your second shot. All in all, it’s an inconvenience we can adjust to.
The Nitro Venom did offer a not-so-friendly reminder that you should always thoroughly clean your guns when you purchase them. Of course, we always do, but this gun in particular had a fair amount of gunky buildup, and even what appeared to be rusting. After it was well-cleaned and properly seasoned, we had no further troubles with it.
One of the things that sets the Nitro Venom apart is that it has the ability to take down larger animals, when in the hands of an experienced shooter. We were able to kill a few small hogs with this thing, although it will not be as clean of a shot as with a more expensive gun.
The Crosman Nitro Venom is generally an impressive gun at the price point, but keep in mind that it is still a “value” gun – those who are serious about their firearm hobbies would be more suited by something higher-end.
New Buyer Checklist!
You will need to do your research beforehand.
When making any type of purchase, it’s best if you thoroughly research any questions you have, so that you have an idea what to ask the seller when you purchase the product. In situations where you are unfamiliar with the product itself, it can help to understand the inner workings. You should take pride in your purchase decision!
You will need valid photo identification.
In many cases, you will not be allowed to purchase your gun without showing ID that proves you are over 18. Some places may also require a background check. Additionally, you will need a photo ID in order to get your permit (below).
You will need a permit.
It’s best if you get your permit before you get your new air rifle, as the laws vary by location and some people may not be legally allowed to purchase their gun until they have shown proof that they are authorized to own a firearm.
You will need to be a member of a recognized rifle association.
In some locations, it may be required to be a member of your state or national rifle association prior to purchasing your new gun. It is your responsibility as a gun owner to check your local laws. Even in cases where it is not legally required, it’s generally a good idea to join the association as there may be people to help you learn how to operate your new gun.
You will need to buy from an authorized dealer.
In most locations, you must buy your firearms from a dealer who is licensed to sell them. It seems silly for an air rifle, but it’s an important safety precaution. Buying from an unauthorized dealer can result in serious legal consequences, and you may miss out on special offers that are only available through licensed sellers.
You will need to get the right ammunition for your new rifle.
Air rifles do not use the same type of ammunition as traditional firearms, and you will need to make sure that you are purchasing the correct ammunition for your product. One of the advantages of purchasing from an authorized dealer is that the seller will be trained to advise you in this situation.
Your first step will be to determine what kind of shooting you will be doing. Small game hunters will require different features than target hunters, and hobby collectors will primarily need an attractive display.
The rifle’s caliber
The two most common air rifle calibers available are .22 and .177. The .177 is able to fire quickly, and has wonderful accuracy at long distances. The .22, on the other hand, has heavier pellets, which will deliver a harder hit to their target.
While generally, a higher-priced air rifle will be higher quality, we advise our readers to not purchase more rifle than they can afford. Your budget can be used as a tiebreaker when deciding between otherwise equally appealing products.
The distance you’ll be shooting from
Air rifles come in three particular power classifications: Light, medium, and high (or super magnum). Light power air rifles are perfect for shooting pests and targets from around 35 yards. Medium power rifles can handle shots from about 50 yards. Super magnum air rifles are intended for targets that are 75 to 80 yards away.
Some air rifles may come with bonus accessories, or the ability to attach your own. The most common accessories include scopes, bags, and silencers.
It’s important to choose a rifle that was created by a reputable manufacturer. Certain manufacturers are well-known around the world for creating high quality air rifles. If you can afford to buy from the best, they are guaranteed to be worth the extra cost.
The rifle’s power
Not everyone needs a high-powered air rifle, but those who do should pay attention to the product specifications. In addition to the specs that the company has put out, try to take a look at what current users are saying, too.
Other customers’ reviews
When at all possible, you should take a look at some reviews from other customers. In many cases, the manufacturer will hire someone to hire someone to praise the finer points of the product, while leaving out the “catch”. Most of the time, customer reviews will paint a clearer picture of the actual user experience.
Types of Air Rifles
There are a variety of different types of air rifles, and depending on your specific needs, any one may be the best choice for you. We have compiled a brief summary of the three main types to help you make a more informed decision.
CO2-Powered Air Rifles
The most common type of air rifle is the CO2-powered air rifle. These guns use concentrated carbon dioxide cartridges to propel their ammunition towards its intended target.
Spring-Powered Air Rifles
A spring-powered air rifle makes use of a piston and a mechanical spring to push the pellets forward. Spring pistons are highly accurate, and are one of the best choices for air rifle hunters, but be warned that they can carry a strong recoil which makes multi-shooting difficult.
Pump-Powered (Pneumatic) Air Rifles
Pneumatic air rifles rely entirely on air pressure and do not make good guns for hunting or home protection. The user will power the gun with either a hand-pump or a cylinder. Cylinders are the preferred method, as they take less effort. Generally speaking, pneumatic air rifles are slow to prepare and are only suited for situations that don’t require speed.