Best Air Rifle Reviews – Complete Pellet Gun Guide 2017

Air rifles mean a lot of different things to different people, but the misconceptions surrounding their function often leads shooters into making bad choices when they make their purchase.

Instead of ending up with a loud, hard-to-use toy you can end up with an amazing rifle right out of the gate, you’ll just need a little bit of extra education to get the one that’s perfect for you.

Gregory, Author Paintimpact
Gregory

Best Air Rifle Reviews

Best Pellet Guns in 2017

If you’re trying to find the best, easily attainable pellet gun around then you’re in luck. We’ve carefully gone over a wide range of options that are commonly available in order to bring you only the best.

PictureNameFPSActionPriceRating
Benjamin Marauder Wood Stock Air Rifle in .25
1100Pre-charged Pneumatic$$$$$5
Gamo Wildcat Whisper Air Rifle in .22
975Nitrogen Piston$$$4.8
Benjamin Trail Nitro Piston 2 Air Rifle with Scope in .22
1200Nitrogen Piston$$$4.7
Crosman Nitro Venom Break Barrel Air Rifle in .177
1000Nitrogen Piston$$4.5
Benjamin Titan GP Nitro Piston Air Rifle in .22
950Nitrogen Piston$$4.5

Most Accurate Air Rifle

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Crossman Nitro Venom Break Barrel Air Rifle (.177)

Coming in at just under 1000 feet per second when using lead ammunition, the Crosman Nitro Venom is exactly what you’re looking for when it comes to pinpoint accuracy. If you’re a target shooter or planning on eliminating pests then you’re in for a treat.

Nitrogen pistons are preferable for single shot purposes in most cases, the cost of the gun will rise when it uses one of these handy closed systems but they function like a normal break barrel pellet rifle without most of the disadvantages that are inherent to the system.

  • It’s still pretty hard to cock, but that’s just something that you have to deal with when it comes to spring powered rifles.

Once it’s broken in, you have the perfect rifle to train your accuracy with out to about 50 yards or so. The “break in” period should take a couple of hundred shots, so make sure you pick up some extra pellets when you grab the Venom.

The rifle’s stock makes it ideal for the “artillery hold” which is common with air gunners. Any kind of piston air gun kicks twice, forward and backwards and by utilizing a light hold with the gun supported on a sand bag or bench you can actually gain more accuracy than if you try to seat the gun like you would a high caliber firearm. It’s the little things that add up to a great shooting experience.

One thing: if you’re trying to get the most accuracy out of this rifle you’ll want to use heavier ammunition. If you’re hearing the secondary crack of a sonic boom you’re missing out on some of the accuracy that you should be able to receive. Generally, pellets in the 9 grain plus range are what you want to use for target shooting with the Nitro.

  • The scope which comes with it also isn’t of the highest quality, but it’s kind of hard to complain about at the price and most serious target shooters won’t be running stock optics anyway.

The trigger can be a bit stiff but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’ll get you used to the smooth “squeeze” rather than the amateur’s “pull” of the trigger which will have some serious impact on your accuracy.

If you’re not spreading out into custom guns that can run over a thousand dollars, you simply won’t be able to beat the accuracy which comes with the Crossman Venom air rifle, and it’s available in a .22 version as well if you want some more power at the point of impact.

Pros
  • High enough FPS for distance, low enough for accuracy
  • Lowered kick compared to normal spring piston rifles
  • Ideal for accurate, specialized holding
  • Rubber recoil pad
Cons
  • Stiff trigger
  • Stock scope is subpar for gun’s quality

Quietest Air Rifle

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Gamo Wildcat Whisper Air Rifle in .22

The Gamo Wildcat Whisper is a great way to take care of pests without damaging your hearing. You’ll definitely want to go with the .22 caliber option, however, since the .177 will break the sound barrier and give you a distinctive sonic “crack” which increases the decibel level of your gun by quite a bit.

You’re looking at a spring gun, available at a great price, that makes about as much noise as a staple gun. The key to its quiet shots is in the IGT mechanism. It also keeps the gun super accurate by making sure the shots are consistent.

Gamo-Wildcat-Whisper-Air-Rifle

  • Add in a built in baffled suppressor, and you have a gun which vibrates less and has a mechanism which doesn’t make much noise at all.

One thing to keep in mind: unlike in the movies, pretty much no gun of any sort is going to be truly silent, but you can get pretty close with a subsonic air gun. Pretty much all you’ll hear is the clicking of the internal mechanism, which has been designed to be quiet.

The trigger and scope are pretty standard fare for non-custom air guns, meaning that they’re not exactly match grade but they’re good enough for plinking or minor pest control at the end of the day. Add in how quiet the gun is and you have a great solution for taking care of things in closer quarters.

The trigger seems to be a little bit weak, and the gun itself is light enough to have a “toy” feel to it which some shooters have a lot of disdain for. The scope is serviceable, coming in at 4×32, but you’ll want to replace it if you’re planning on shooting in low light conditions or testing out the maximum range of the gun on a regular basis.

Go with this one if you want to be able to use your gun without the neighbors asking too many questions. The power is enough to handle squirrels or other small pests with ease but keeps it quiet as well. With the Gamo Whisper Wildcat, you can eschew ear protection in favor of making the perfect shot each and every time.

Pros
  • Super quiet
  • Very accurate
  • Built in suppressor
  • .22 caliber variation has enough power for most uses
Cons
  • Scope isn’t fantastic
  • Takes some time to “break in”

Best Air Rifle for the Money

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Benjamin Titan GP Nitro Piston Air Rifle in .22

If you’re looking to get started in the sport, and need a great “out of the box” rifle that’s not going to hurt your pocket book, the .177 caliber variation of the Benjamin Titan GP might be exactly what you’re looking for.

It’s a single shot air rifle which packs a lot of velocity, comes with a scope, and has high build-quality to ensure that it won’t break down quickly. It usually retails for around a hundred dollars online, and it’s better than anything you’ll be able to pick up at Wal-Mart for anywhere near the same price.

It has pretty much everything you need to get started right out of the box, add in some good quality pellets and you’ll be on your way to making yourself an air rifle marksman in no time. The Nitro Piston is also fairly quiet, the loud part of this one is going to come from the sonic boom of the pellet since it packs some considerable velocity.

Benjamin Titan GP Nitro Piston Air Rifle in .22

  • It’s also fantastically accurate if you put a little bit of money into it. A rail adapter and a low end scope for actual firearms will go a long way towards getting you there, the built in attachment just isn’t all that great at the end of the day.

The wooden stock is quite nice, although some people prefer not to have the thumb hole and it isn’t ideal for an artillery hold if you’re going for super long distance shots.

Benjamin’s guns actually perform mostly the same across the board, which is good for you since they’re one of the best in the business. If you decide to spend more money on a different Benjamin model you can expect about the same performance, you’ll just end up with a fancier stock and maybe a better scope.

For the beginner who isn’t sure if they really want to get into the sport just yet a small investment like this can be either disregarded or lead to a lifelong hobby. It’s worth it to give it a shot, and since Benjamin produces fantastic rifles getting one at this price is an absolute steal.

Even better, the basic upgrades which you can apply to improve the gun are within reach and will cost you less than another whole rifle if you decide you are serious about shooting.

Pros
  • Powerful nitro piston power
  • Very accurate
  • Cheap
  • Ready for a beginner out of the box 
Cons
  • Definitely not a quiet gun
  • Needs some modifications to use to its full potential
 

Best .22 Air Rifle

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Benjamin Trail Nitro Piston 2 Air Rifle with Scope

.22 caliber air guns sometimes get a bad rap amongst those who believe that the only real key to shooting with power is in the FPS. It’s deserved at times, there are a lot of inferior .22 air rifles out there.

The Benjamin Trail is not one of them.

This sleek rifle is ready to do just about anything you might need it to do, and can punch a .22 pellet at around 1200 feet per second. That’s a surprising amount of force, and you’ll find that even many .177 struggle to keep up with lobbing that kind of force.

In addition to the power, it also comes with a built in suppressor and a lightweight stock with a functional thumbhole to allow you to get a better grip on the gun and a great scope and rail system.

Like any air gun, there’s a couple of issues but they’re relatively minor in the grand scheme of things.

Benjamin Trail Nitro Piston 2 Air Rifle with Scope

  • The trigger, out of the box, is fairly tight but it is adjustable to a point and with a little bit of work you can get it exactly where you need it.

The larger issue is the fact that the break in period on this rifle can take a while. You’ll probably end up putting a couple of hundred rounds through it before it completely settles in. Thankfully, you can use cheap pellets during this process since it’s mostly just the nitro spring getting broken in. It’ll buck a bit for the first fifty shots or so, so you might want to take the scope off at first.

You’ll also need to make sure you don’t twist the shroud when you’re cocking the gun. This can take some getting used to, since a lot of us manhandle our guns, but if you consistently twist it you’ll definitely cause some problems with the shroud coming loose.

If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, however, you end up with a .22 air rifle that can make short work of pests up to the size of raccoon, acts with pinpoint accuracy, and might just become your favorite part of the hobby for quite some time.

Basically, until you get into custom guns that run three to four times as much as the Benjamin Trail, you’re not going to find anything which is overall better.

Pros
  • A lot of power
  • Good optics right out of the box
  • Very accurate
  • Integrated suppressor
Cons
  • Long break in period
  • Need to be careful when cocking

Best Pellet Air Rifle for Hunting

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Benjamin Marauder Wood Stock Air Rifle

If you’re looking to do some serious hunting, then you need something a little bit bigger than most air guns. .25 is the generally accepted standard for making sure you can take down mid-sized animals like raccoon in a humane way, and the FPS ranges on these guns is often quite a bit lower than most people would like.
Benjamin-Marauder-Wood-Stock-Air-Rifle

  • Which means that the Benjamin Marauder’s 900 FPS rating is delivering some serious energy to the target. In addition to the high FPS rating, it’s also a PCP rifle, which means that it’s pre-charged and you won’t have to deal with breaking it open to cock while you’re in the field.

All of this adds up to a pretty awesome hunting experience, especially for small game. Once the rifle is broken in, it’s also acceptable for some light predator hunting if you can make sure to achieve headshots on the animals.

For regular small game, a .25 caliber round is sufficient with the normal shot placement you’d use with a firearm. It’s also a surprisingly quiet gun, the pre-charged action and lower FPS keep it from producing a whole lot of noise which means a missed shot might not alert your quarry immediately.

There are only two real issues with this gun: the first is that it doesn’t come with a scope. You’ll have to pick out your own, which isn’t so much of a drawback as long as you know what you’re doing when it comes to picking it out.

Benjamin-Marauder-Wood-Stock-Air-Rifle--

  • Use a 50mm scope for predator hunting, since coyote, raccoon and the like are more active at dusk and you need the extra light. A smaller 32-45mm scope is perfect for small game like rabbit and squirrels.

The other factor is, of course, the cost. The Marauder will run you about as much as a cheap .22LR rifle, so you’re only likely to pick one up if you’re ready to go full bore into air gun hunting.

It also has a rather long break-in cycle which can turn some people off since .25 ammunition can be a bit pricier than other pellets. If you stick with it, however, you can have the best hunting air rifle around without getting into guns which will run you four figures.

Pros
  • Extremely powerful
  • PCP action leads to quicker shooting
  • Higher caliber delivers more energy on impact
  • High-quality construction will last practically forever
Cons
  • Very expensive
  • Doesn’t come with a scope
 

Air Rifles-What You Need to Know

Air rifles are not toys, let’s get that out of the way.

Modern air guns can deliver comparable power to lighter cartridges like .22LR. These aren’t the nearly omnipresent Daisy BB guns you might remember, where you’d be lucky to get a BB into anything much harder than cardboard.

That said, due to the lack of noise and some lighter regulations surrounding them you can actually use them in quite a few places where you can’t use a firearm. They make great rifles for target shooting and pest control, and if you make the investment in a heavier one then you can also manage to kill some mid-sized animals with them.

Obviously you should check your area’s regulations before you engage in such an activity, and for actual hunting you’ll still need a license.

Picking one out can be a bit hard for someone who doesn’t know what to look for, and a lot of the desirable qualities are a bit counter-intuitive to even experienced air gunners who don’t have any kind of education in ballistics.

This means that you have to put your thinking cap on before you pick a gun for your desired purpose.

Different Types of Action

There are basically three styles of action for any air guns with real power.

Spring guns use a mechanically loaded pistol to push air out of the end. They’re quite powerful, but also loud and they kick rather hard for the amount of power you’ll be getting out of the gun. The kick is often comparable to a low caliber gunpowder weapon, which surprises a lot of first time shooters.

Nitro air pistons function similarly to a standard spring but use a closed air chamber. The air chamber is loaded with nitrogen, and since they’re a closed system they’re not really ideal for amateurs to work on. They offer roughly the same power as spring action guns, but reduce the recoil and noise of the action by quite a bit, for most situations they’re superior.

Pre-Charged Pneumatic(or PCP) guns are loaded with compressed air and release it in controlled bursts. They offer the quietest action and least amount of recoil of any type of air rifle, as well as comparable power. They’re also more expensive and you’ll need a way to refill the reservoir every twenty shots or so in order to keep the power levels up.

Really, which one you go with is more of a matter of expense as opposed to a real trade-off. PCP guns are superior to nitro air guns which are superior to a standard piston. For most people a nitro air gun makes the ideal balance between cost and effectiveness, but if you’re into serious hunting or going full bore into the hobby then a PCP gun is what you want.

Quiet-Air-Rifle-For-Hunting

Choosing a Caliber

The caliber of your airgun determines a lot when it comes down to it.

.177 are best for target shooting. Period.

They’re too small for reliable, humane kills on anything much bigger than a rat, although with high FPS and a close shot you can definitely handle rabbits and small birds if you pick your pellets wisely.

.177 pellets are cheap, easy to find, and you can have a lot of fun with target shooting with them. This caliber is well suited for most people who aren’t planning on doing any hunting with their air rifle.

You’ll find they’re best for target shooting and pest control. Don’t invest in one if you plan on doing serious hunting in the near future.

.22 are fine for small game hunting, but don’t shoot larger animals with them. The pellets are a bit more expensive, and if you’re looking for a dedicated target rifle then you should go with something smaller, but they can be a lot of fun to shoot if you’re not putting too many rounds through them in a sitting.

Keep in mind the muzzle velocity of a .22LR cartridge is about 1,100fps in most conditions and a good air gun can actually out perform for the first fifty yards or so. Air rifle projectiles will fall off more quickly, however, and you won’t be able to get the same range with a pellet as you would with a bullet.

They’re ideal for rabbits and small birds, as well as taking out squirrels and other rodents. They make a good midline between pest control and actual hunting and are probably the ideal caliber for a beginner who’s planning on getting out there.

.25 and up are pretty much a requirement for any serious hunting. A .25 pellet can easily kill a coyote or raccoon with a headshot, and they’re about as big as you’re going to be able to find without getting into shockingly expensive custom guns.

They’re not going to tear up the meat of most animals too badly either, so they’re also good for smaller game. The pellets tend to be a bit pricier, especially for those which are designed for hunting, but you can use cheap ones to break the gun in and save the good stuff for later.

Use at least a .25 if you’re planning on hunting anything bigger than a rabbit.

A Quick Word About Pellet Ballistics

You can be forgiven for thinking that the best way to go when choosing an air gun is to just grab the one that throws the pellet the fastest. Most people would think that the accuracy would be improved at higher velocities, after all, and it should have more power on impact.

The problem is that pellets drop off pretty quickly and can “tumble” in their own wake when you reach supersonic speeds then come back out of them. This isn’t much of a problem if you’re shooting inside of thirty yards or so, but at longer distances it causes some serious complications.

Unlike most factors, the turbulence disrupting the pellet is inherently unpredictable. This means you’ll have less accuracy if you go over 1100 FPS, and it’s not something you can just compensate for.

Serious target shooters stick in the 700-900 FPS range for this reason.

If you’re breaking the sound barrier, you’ll know. There’ll be a second “crack” after the sound of the piston. If you’re going to be hunting, this can cause issues with getting a humane kill but there is a solution if you grabbed too powerful of a gun: use heavier ammunition.

It’ll take some of the range off of the gun, but you’ll still be landing all of the force you would if you were attaining supersonic speeds.

Most guns ratings are a bit optimistic, since alloy pellets are commonly used for speed ratings to inflate the numbers a little bit so you’re usually safe with anything rated 1100 FPS or below as long as you use lead ammunition. Use the ammo before hunting, however, and make sure you don’t hear the “crack.”

You also want to practice with the ammunition you’ll use for hunting before a hunt, but since specialized pellets can be expensive you can use cheaper rounds for breaking a gun in.

Air-rifle-Hunting

The Break In Period

Due to their nature, all pellet guns will have a break in period. It’s just a part of the game.

Most guns will need between fifty and a hundred shots to be taken through them before you’ve actually got it performing properly. Using cheap pointed pellets is a good idea at this range, and if you’re completely new it’s a good time to practice the artillery hold if you have a piston gun.

Some guns, particularly the better ones, might require a few hundred shots before they’re really there. It can be a bit irritating, but if you make the right choice in the first place then you won’t have to repeat the process for a long time to come.

PCP guns don’t generally need much of a break in period, if any at all.

The “Artillery Hold”

For an actual firearm, maintaining a tight posture is the ideal way to shoot and many people who are a crack shot will find themselves kind of lost when it comes time to grab an air gun since their accuracy will be off by quite a bit.

This is primarily a problem with piston powered guns and it has to do with a double recoil effect. The piston slams forward with a lot of force, moving the gun forwards before recoiling in the usual manner as the spring returns to position. Essentially, the recoil is already going before the pellet leaves the rifle.

A specialized way of holding air rifles has been developed over the years called the “artillery hold.” Essentially, you want to “cradle” the gun rather than keeping it tight to your shoulder in order to maintain optimal accuracy.

By maintaining a lighter hold, and letting the rifle move where it “wants” you can create a situation where the gun moves quite a bit but the muzzle stays properly positioned.

The basic idea is to use the front hand as a light “rest” while also resting the gun lightly on your shoulder. You can utilize this on sandbags, packs, or shooting benches as well. Don’t rest the gun directly on whatever you’re shooting off of, instead rest it lightly on the palm of your hand.

It takes some getting used to, but once you have it down you’ll be able to access the true accuracy of your air gun.

Conclusion

Picking out the right air rifle can be something of a task, but once you know the basics of how they work and what you’re planning on doing with one you can pick the exact gun to suit what you need. It’s a great hobby, whether you like to hunt with them or just punch holes in paper.

No point in hesitating, if you want to get started with shooting air guns then pick out the one above which best suits you and get going. You’ll be surprised what you can accomplish with these simple, but effective, devices.

References

  1. http://www.pyramydair.com/article/The_artillery_hold_June_2009/63
  2. http://www.pyramydair.com/article/Airgun_Calibers_June_2003/4
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_gun
  4. http://www.airgunsofarizona.com/hunting/2012/09/predator-hunting-the-airgunners-grand-slam/