This year, get your shooter the one surefire, can’t-miss, classic Christmas gift. Get an air rifle.
With so many models available today, ranging from $20 to more than $2,000, with some homework to wade through the options, you can find the perfect gun for any good boy or girl, young or old, novice or expert.
Low-powered rifles are perfect for safe backyard plinking. Mid-velocity models can take out back-forty small game. Meanwhile, the highest-powered guns are serious weapons that shine at the range, and in some cases pack enough wallop to take down mid-sized game.
Here’s how to figure out which air gun is right for your shooter.
Before looking at specific models, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the three main types of air-rifle power sources: CO2, pneumatic, and spring-power.
CO2 air guns are powered by a small canister of compressed gas that lasts for about 50 shots. Two big advantages: First, you don’t have to manually pump or #### the gun, and second, this system allows for semi-automatic fire. On the downside, C02 guns tend to be less powerful than pump or spring guns and the cost of replacing the CO2 cartridge adds up. This system is fantastic for fast-paced plinking, but it is a little underpowered for most hunting.
Most pneumatic rifles are pump-action, powered by a lever usually near the fore-end. The more pumps, the faster the BB or pellet travels. Although you have to manually pump these guns between each shot, this allows you to vary the power. Pneumatic guns are typically affordable and capable of 700-800 fps, fast enough for small-game hunting. At the very cutting edge of pneumatic guns, however, is the PCP or pre-charged pneumatic system, which uses a pre-filled air tank to deliver about 30 semi-auto shots per charge at a blazing 1,000 to 1,200 fps or more.
Spring-powered air rifles use a coiled, steel spring to compress air in a chamber. You must manually #### the spring, either by breaking open the barrel or by working a cocking lever, but you only do so once to achieve maximum power. Springers are typically capable of 1,000 fps or better. The only downside is that most are single-shot guns. But as a group, spring guns are well-crafted, serious shooters that can deliver excellent accuracy.
And now, let’s go shopping. Here’s a breakdown of the type of air rifles you can expect to find at various price ranges.
$1 to $50
Some of the most popular and classic air rifles fall into this price range. The 350-fps Daisy Red Ryder Carbine ($33;daisy.com) has introduced more Americans to shooting than any other rifle. For a few dollars more, Crossman’s classic Pumpmaster 760 ($44; crossman.com) and Daisy’s 880 ($45; walmart.com) get you into the 600-fps range. And for $50 on the nose, you can find Crossman’s 625-fps, semi-auto, CO2-powered 1077 ($50;airgundepot.com).
$51 to $100
This range buys you a little more power and a lot more style in the pump category, including the 750-fps Crossman 2100B ($89; crossman.com), the equally fast Daisy Powerline ($84; daisy.com), and the 600-fps Crossman M4-177 Tactical Pump which looks and feels like a real M4 ($73; amazon.com). Just about $100 exactly gets you into the break-barrel springer category with the 525-fps Gamo Recon Whisper ($93; walmart.com), with it’s ultra-ergonomic stock, excellent trigger, and included 4x scope.
$101 to $300
Now we are talking serious air guns, including the top CO2 guns, as well as new PCPs, springers, and Nitro Piston models. Top guns included the 1,200-fps Cossman Nitro Venom Dusk ($150; pyramydair.com), the 1,300 fps, gas-piston Gamo Bone Collector Bull Whisper with scope ($188; walmart.com), the beautifully made Benjamin Trail NP Hardwood .22 Cal with scope and walnut thumbhole stock ($194; airgundepot.com), the classic-looking 1,000-fps Beeman Elkhorn break-barrel spring gun with 3-9×32 scope and RS2 trigger ($240; beeman.com), and the Hammerli 850 CO2 Magnum ($290;airgunstyle.com) billed as the most powerful CO2 rifle in the world, with an 88-gram AirSource cartridge that fires 250 shots at 754 fps.
$301 and Up
This category begins with fast-shooting, highly accurate, beautifully finished guns and ranges into precision-made rifles sporting free-floating barrels and adjustable triggers and designed for Olympic training. Good choices at the lower end include the ultra-quiet 1,000-fps Remington NPSS .22 Nitro Piston with digital camo and 3-9×40 scope ($320; airgundepot.com), the handsomely stocked, PCP-powered, 1,100-fps Benjamin Marauder ($470;cabelas.com), and the futuristic, blazing-fast, PCP, 1,450-fps Airforce Condor .177 Caliber Air Rifle with 2-16×50 scope ($766; amazon.com). From this point on, you are looking at ultra-accurate match rifles, such as the top-of-the-line .177, 12-ft.lb, Air Arms EV2 ($2,000; topairguns.com) or the insanely cool, straight-out-of-Terminator Salvation Anschutz 9003 Premium S2 Precise Air Rifle ($3,750; pyramydair.com), just in case you happen to have an extra four grand lying around and want your good little boy or girl to start training for the 2016 Games.
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