Whether you’re a novice shooter looking to get into air guns as a hobby, a match competitor, or a small game hunter, choosing the right air rifle is one of the most important factors in your enjoyment of the sport. There are many different air guns on the market today from companies like Crosman, Gamo, and Ruger, and they range in price anywhere from $80 to upwards of $400. Knowing what to look for will help ensure you save your money and effort, and get a rifle that will provide years of fun and function.
Plinking, Hunting, or Competing?
Ask yourself first, “What am I going to use this rifle for?”. If you are new to air guns and want something you can shoot in your backyard to get a taste for the sport, you should probably focus on factors like cost (of the gun and of ammo), noise level (to make sure you won’t annoy your neighbors), and scope (a lower magnification scope is fine unless you have a huge backyard). Plan to spend around $100 to $150 on your air rifle in order to get one that is high quality enough to last, but won’t break the bank. As for caliber, the.177 is much less expensive to shoot than a.22, and less likely to punch through your backstop. Nitrogen piston rifles tend to be much quieter than their spring-powered brethren, but read reviews first to find out if a particular rifle has a reputation for being ninja silent or nailgun loud.
Hunters, on the other hand, should look for something lightweight, powerful, and accurate. Depending on what kind of game you’re after, a.22 caliber air gun might be more appropriate than a.177 caliber. Look for a rifle with a high velocity for your given caliber, e.g. 950 feet-per-second for a.22. A scope with more magnification will serve you well when you’re aiming at small game from a distance, so either find a scope/rifle combo with a 3-9x scope or buy one separately. Portability is extremely important if you’ll be hiking out on your hunting trips, so a lighter rifle that can use a sling would be ideal. Plan to spend at least $150 to $200 on a quality air rifle with enough power to make a clean, humane kill on varmints.
For the competitive shooter, accuracy is paramount. Several factors affect your precision, such as barrel, trigger, recoil, and sights. If you’ll be doing benchrest shooting, a heavier gun won’t be a nuisance, and the added weight helps with recoil management. A light and crisp trigger is a must, but keep in mind you can often buy an aftermarket trigger if the one your gun comes with isn’t up to your standard. Shooting pellets at sub-sonic speeds (less than around 1,000 feet-per-second) will keep your shots accurate. A quality scope that will hold zero is a must, and a solid stock with cheek risers will help you get the perfect sight picture and alignment.
Picking Your Air Gun
Now that you know what to look for, it’s time to pick out the air rifle that fits the bill. Do your research online first, and check each rifles specs and prices, even if you’re planning to buy in a store. Top brands to keep an eye out for include Gamo, Crosman, and Benjamin. Be sure to read reviews to find out if a given gun really lives up to the specs, or if it only looks good on paper.
Setup and Shooting
Once you’ve got your rifle home, all that’s left is to mount the scope, setup your target and backstop, and break the gun in by sending a few hundred pellets downrange! Enjoy your new hobby, and rest easy knowing you purchased an air rifle that is the perfect fit for you.