Movies like “A Christmas Story” may have portrayed air rifles as children’s toys, but the high-powered models available on the market these days are anything but. Some break-barrel air rifles fire pellets faster than the speed of sound and in calibers big enough to take down large game.
Along with the velocity and caliber, there are several other things to consider when choosing a break-barrel air rifle, such as the propulsion method, pellet capacity and what kind of aiming aids it has. Some models, like the Black Ops Break Barrel Sniper Air Rifle, come with high-quality scopes, while others only have traditional iron sights.
Break-barrel air rifles rely on either a spring piston or a gas piston for propulsion. As indicated by the name, the former has a metal spring inside that is squeezed when the barrel is cocked, and released when you squeeze the trigger. The latter has a cylinder inside filled with gas that you compress when cocking the barrel. When the trigger is pulled, the gas expands rapidly, firing the pellet.
Quality spring-piston air rifles are very reliable and can achieve higher velocities than gas-powered rifles, however entry-level models are often inconsistent. This makes them a better choice for people looking to purchase a mid-level or premium break-barrel air rifle. Gas-piston air rifles are consistent in both budget and premium models. They also perform better in cold weather conditions and, unlike spring-piston models, can be left cocked for long periods of time between shots.
Break-barrel air rifles come in different calibers ranging from .177-.58. The most common calibers are .177-.22, and both of these are suitable for competition target shooting and small-game hunting. If you plan on hunting large game, you’ll need to opt for a higher caliber rifle.
When it comes to velocity, break-barrel air rifles can shoot anywhere from 600-1,300 feet per second, depending on the model. Often, the velocity is inversely related to the caliber, with the higher caliber rifles shooting more slowly.
Break-barrel air rifles tend to be louder than other air rifles, especially spring-piston models. This is because the spring makes a loud crack when it is released. Some models also shoot pellets at velocities that break the sound barrier, which adds another loud cracking sound. If noise is a concern where you’ll be shooting, look for a model with sound-dampening technologies in the chamber and/or the barrel.
Break-barrel air rifles vary in their pellet capacity. Some models only hold a single pellet, so you need to reload them after every shot. Others may hold as many as 50 pellets, so all you need to do is repump the piston between shots.
Most air rifles feature some kind of aiming aids. These may be simple iron sights or more advanced gear like a scope or red dot sight.
It is not uncommon to want to equip your rifle with additional accessories that make it better suited for certain tasks or help increase your accuracy. Attachment points allow you to do this, with the most common being a Picatinny or Weaver rail on the top of the gun. Some also feature attachment points on the bottom so you can add more than one accessory.
Just like powder guns, break-barrel rifles can have significant recoil, especially high-powered or large-caliber rifles. A cushioned recoil pad absorbs some of the shock so it isn’t all transferred into your shoulder.
A cheek rest provides you with a padded place to rest your face against the gun when taking your shots. As with the recoil pad, this can make an air rifle notably more comfortable to use. Ideally, the cheek rest should be adjustable for the best possible placement.
Break-barrel air rifles vary greatly in price, with low-quality, entry-level models costing as little as $50. However, you should expect to spend at least $100 for a rifle that is reliable and offers a decent level of accuracy. For premium models, you may have to pay more than $1,000.
A. Nearly all air rifles have a safety. Depending on the model, it may have a manual one that you have to re-engage when you are done shooting, or an automatic safety that you have to manually disengage before each and every shot.
A. In addition to different calibers, air rifle pellets come in different types that affect how they shoot and the amount of damage they do. There are roundheads, high-velocity, pointed, wadcutters, hollow points and more. Some are better for just taking pot shots at cans, while others are better for hunting or long-range target shooting.
What you need to know: Those who like to take long-range shots will appreciate this highly accurate sniper rifle that comes with a powerful scope.
What you’ll love: It features a Picatinny rail for swapping out different accessories, and includes a bipod to help stabilize your shot. There is also an adjustable cheek rest for comfortable operation when taking aim and shooting.
What you should consider: At roughly 10 pounds, it can be fatiguing to carry for long distances.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
What you need to know: Offering a nice balance of form, function and cost, the RS2 is a beautiful yet affordable rifle with a European hardwood stock that operates reliably in the field.
What you’ll love: It is equipped with fiber optic sights that allow for windage and elevation adjustments to dial in your shot. It is also quite robust, and can stand up to a lot of wear and tear.
What you should consider: It lacks any noise-dampening technology and makes a very loud crack when shooting.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
What you need to know: With a 10-shot magazine, the Maxxim G2 is a good choice for hunting, since you can quickly pop out a few more rounds if you miss on the first one.
What you’ll love: An innovative horizontal magazine allows it to remain compact and low-profile, while the 5-pound weight makes it easy to carry for long distances when tracking game.
What you should consider: It includes a scope, but it isn’t the best quality and tends to lose its zero often.
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Brett Dvoretz writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.