I don’t usually like writing “best of” recommendation lists. Well, only rarely. The reason why that is my opinions are based on very specific circumstances. That’s not to say they’re particularly uncommon. Just that I know that my life and what I use an air rifle for will not necessarily be the same as yours or anyone else’s.
A big guy like me needs a different rifle than another person might, which is not a slight on anyone but rather an understanding that
in order to enjoy a sport like shooting, you have to feel comfortable. In the same way you wouldn’t wear somebody else’s pants that don’t fit; the best PCP air rifle for me might not be the best one for you.
Understanding PCP Rifles
For air rifles, the energy that propels the pellet forward comes from a release of air that can come from one of several sources. For some, you have to pump a part of the gun a number of times to build up a charge that is then released. For others, a canister of CO2 is inserted into the gun someplace and is slowly released over time.
If you’re new to the sport, PCP stands for “pre-charged pneumatic”. With a PCP pellet gun, you “charge” the weapon in advance by either hooking it up to a hand pump or, more common, using a scuba tank with a special attachment that allows you to send a certain amount of compressed air into the chamber to be released in small bursts. There is usually a gauge to show you how full the chamber is, and when it’s the right level you stop filling. This will give you a number of shots of varying power depending on the rifle you’re using before you have to charge it again.
Regular readers will know that I talk a lot about the weight of a gun. That’s because weight plays an important role in how a gun is used, when you can use it, and for how long. Carrying something heavy around all day is difficult, and holding it for extended shooting sessions if you’re not using a bench rest can really wear you out.
But when it comes to weight, you have to keep in mind that you’re not just dealing with the gun when you have a PCP. You’re also dealing with scuba tanks, which can be pretty small, but weigh up to 15 pounds apiece. If you’re out and about, this can be very difficult to carry for extended periods, no matter how strong you are. Sometimes a simple pump action like a Ruger Blackhawk Combo is better for you and you want to avoid PCP all together.
But if you’re willing to deal with the weight, the heaviness of a PCP rifle can work to your advantage. Heavier weapons have two major advantages. The first is that they sit more firmly in your hand. This can be good, especially for guns that have hard recoil, because gravity helps it resist the urge to jerk upward. In most air rifles, unlike with bullet-based firearms, the recoil happens before the pellet leaves the barrel, so anything that reduces that tendency adds to accuracy.
The other advantage is that weight is usually a good indicator of quality. When you’re dealing with a PCP rifle, plastic parts don’t last very long. You’re adding air under pressure to the inside of your weapon, and even the highest grade plastics will snap under that pressure given enough time. Heavier guns are made from better materials, making them last longer from the internal pressures, and also be able to better take the bumps and bangs it will inevitably suffer the more it’s carried around.
What You’re Using It For
A PCP pellet gun can have as many uses as any other air rifle can, so what you’re going to use it for has a lot to do with which one you’re going to want. Something that is good to target practice is not going to be great for hunting necessarily. Different speeds, different pellets, and different loading and charging mechanisms play a huge role in which gun is going to be the right one.
For many pre-charged pneumatics, they work best when hand pumped using a high pressure hand pump that resembles a bicycle pump. If you are just entering the realm of PCP air rifles I would recommend going this route. However, while this is a perfectly reasonable way to charge a PCP, I can’t stand it. There is just too much work involved for me for what I would use it for. I much prefer the scuba tank method, which is faster, but more difficult to avoid over charging it and possibly doing damage to the rifle until you’re used to the process. It also involves a larger upfront investment because you will need to purchase a scuba tank and an adapter to fit your rifle. Crosman sells their own adaptor, but in my opinion it is way overpriced. Ninja paintball has the same one for much less, but you have to buy the hose separately.
You also have to keep in mind that every gun gives you a different amount of bang, literally and figuratively, for your buck. For example, my favorite PCP, the Benjamin Marauder, charges up to 3000 psi in the tank, which is quite a bit, but you only get about 20 shots out of that. >>Update, Benjamin has come out with an updated version of the Marauder that includes upgraded valves for up to 32 shots per charge. I’ll post a new review when I get the opportunity to get one in my hands.>> That being said, every shot is very powerful and because so much energy is put behind expelling that pellet through the barrel, it tends to be more accurate. I use mine primarily for target shooting as a result, not only because it’s accurate, but because I don’t have to drag the scuba tank around and can recharge it at will.
However, for some people who would rather use their PCP for hunting, having a less powerful shot, but getting more of them per charge, might make it easier to spend a day out and not worry about recharging on the go. You don’t necessarily need your shot to fly at 1000 fps, and sometimes 650 will get the job done and allow you more firing time.
A PCP is a very personal purchase, and I can no more tell you what is going to make you happy than anyone else. What you need to do is find the one that you feel comfortable with and will do the things you need it to. Keep the above things in mind, and you’ll be sure to get the best PCP air rifle for you.