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The first thing I ask anybody when they’re looking for a PCP air rifle is: what do you plan on using it for?
It’s important to define this for yourself before getting caught up in all the features and fluff that comes along while doing your research.
Do you plan to exclusively target shoot and informally plink; perhaps you’ve got a pest problem and need a rifle for thinning out squirrels or starlings?
Like many shooters, you may want a little bit of both and thus it becomes very overwhelming to choose the best gun. Let’s discuss a few of the features that are important to Pre-Charged Pneumatics (PCP) air rifles followed by my best recommendations.
I also wrote a page reviewing my favorite air rifle scopes here if you’re interested.
Beeman QB Chief
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FX Impact M3
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Air Arms S510 XS Stealth Carbine
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Want to learn more about pre-charged pneumatic air rifles before seeing the list? Keep reading!
Concept of Power
The power or kinetic energy output of airguns is one of the most misunderstood aspects of the sport. Velocity (FPS) is only one part of the equation, we also need to take into account the weight of the projectile. Faster pellet speed doesn’t automatically mean more power, this is the reason so many folks get sucked into the “1,200 fps hypervelocity” power claims. These manufacturers use the lightest pellet possible to attain the sexiest velocity claim and plaster it all over the box in bold letters.
However, a much more accurate and useful way to measure an air rifles power is by the muzzle energy. Muzzle energy is the amount of kinetic energy (in ft/lbs or joules) a projectile has when it leaves the muzzle and is calculated in a formula utilizing both muzzle velocity and pellet weight. Heavier pellets carry energy more efficiently but are slower, while light pellets are faster but shed energy quickly. Most folks find a happy medium with middleweight pellets that give advantages of both.
On a final note about power (I promise my nerd rant is nearly over). Airgun pellets as a whole were not designed to be pushed especially fast. Pellets seem to destabilize and tumble in flight when pushed much over 950 FPS, particularly in smaller calibers like .177. If you’re having accuracy problems in a “hypervelocity” gun I would seriously recommend trying a heavier pellet. Heavier pellets are physically longer and are able to handle being pushed hard without destabilization and have better ballistic coefficients allowing for superior energy retention.
Sourcing Your Air
One of the things that make PCPs so useful is the number of shots you can attain before needing to refill the air reservoir, unfortunately, it’s also what makes this power plant more expensive to get into as it requires the purchase of filling source to make the gun operational.
The cheapest and most utilitarian air source for PCPs is the humble hand pump. These pumps greatly resemble bicycle tire pumps but operate in several stages to increase compression. PCPs require fill pressures of 2,000 to 3,500 PSI so a normal bicycle pump simply won’t work. When using a hand pump the gun is connected to the fill hose and the shooter will stand on the foot platform of the pump while pumping air into the gun. Depending on how much pressure your rifle has in the tank will determine how long you must pump. Typically with a 3,000 PSI rifle folks will “top off” the rifle when it reaches 1,500 PSI, taking roughly 5 minutes. As the pressure increases the pump will become progressively harder to pump. I won’t lie, hand pumps can be a real work out, but are one of the best options if you want to dip your toe into the PCP world without having to invest hundreds of dollars into a SCUBA/SCBA fill setup. Hand pumps generally run between $180-300 and I favor the Hill hand pump the most as it’s available with rebuild kits so that you can repair the pump right at home.
SCUBA and SCBA tanks are by far the easiest and quickest way to refill a PCP air rifle. SCUBA tanks have a fill pressure of 3,000 PSI and are a great choice if you have just one or two PCP rifles. SCBA tanks are similar to SCUBA but are carbon fiber wrapped allowing greater pressures of 4,500 PSI to be attained. This increased pressure allows you to fill the rifle many more times before having to get the SCBA tank itself refilled. Therein lies the biggest problem with this set up as you will further need to source a way of refilling SCUBA or SCBA tanks. Dive shops can refill SCUBA tanks quite easily for a fee of $10-12, while SCBA tanks need a stronger compressor. Fire stations are a great source as firefighters typically use SCBA tanks for breathing air while doing their job. In the old days, I could bring my tank to a fire station with a box of donuts and stack of gun magazines and they’d often refill my tank for free. However, if you can’t get a fire station to work with you on this aspect you might try paintball shops. Additionally, Crosman has compiled a wonderful “fill map” on their website that allows you to search your area for shops that provide 3,000 or 4,500 PSI fills.
The last option would be to simply buy a high-pressure compressor. Since air guns have gained popularity in recent years, a myriad of compressor choices designed for PCPs has come on the market. Most compressors have the advantage of being able to fill the gun itself or your high-pressure tank. These compressors typically range between $600 on up to $4,000. It’s a large expense on top of the gun itself, so usually, these setups are recommended when you have several PCP air rifles or are simply tired of bringing your tank to the shop for fills. Compressors are not very portable making them a poor option when leaving the house for an extended hunt or range session.
Multi-shot or Single Shooter?
One of the best features that you will run into while shopping for PCP airguns is the function of a multi-shot magazine. Magazine fed PCP rifles are a terrific option for hunting and pest control as they allow quick follow up shots and less fumbling with loose pellets in your pocket. The two biggest drawbacks to magazines are that they can become expensive, particularly in higher-end PCP rifles. It’s also not uncommon to have double feeds, jams, or outright having the magazine get stuck in the gun because a pellet was loaded halfway without fully cocking the rifle causing the pellet to get wedged in between the magazine and barrel.
On the other side of the coin, single shot rifles offer simplicity, less moving parts and in many shooters’ opinions, more accuracy. Pellets are made of nearly pure lead and in some cases, magazines can cause small deformations to the projectile when being pushed into the barrel from the magazine. Single shot air rifles also allow a greater variety of pellets to be used, while many PCP rifle magazines won’t fit longer pellets (the Predator Polymag being a great example). The main disadvantages of single shots are that you’ll need to carry pellets in a pouch or pocket and follow up shots take quite a bit longer to get on target.
While shopping for PCP air guns you may have run into the terminology “regulated” or “unregulated”. Quite simply a regulator is a device that meters the amount of air pressure coming through the air tube to the firing valve. A regulated air rifle will typically shoot much more consistent velocities and mostly eliminates the power curve observed in unregulated rifles translating into greater accuracy. For example, a regulated rifle that shoots at 900 FPS will shoot that same velocity for every single shot without much fluctuation over the duration of the air fill. An unregulated rifle might shoot 30 shots or so before the air tube pressure starts to dip thus affecting your velocity and effective shots per fill. We air gun dorks like to call this the “power curve” and is easily manageable with some experimentation. Keep in mind that some of the most successful air rifles of all time are unregulated so don’t get too bent around the idea of regulation as a necessity. One of the main disadvantages of regulators is that it’s another device that can fail, leak, or not be tuned correctly from the factory. On a parting note about regulators, lots of guns are compatible with aftermarket regulators. So if you decide later down the line you’d like to see what they’re all about then they can be easily installed by a competent air gunsmith or even by the shooter with the correct knowledge and tools.
Here is a List of the Best PCP Air Rifles
1. Beeman QB Chief (Cheapest)
My Review: The Beeman QB Chief is a newer rifle that offers shooters a slightly cheaper option alternative to the Benjamin Discovery. If you’re on a budget but still want a PCP air rifle then the QB Chief might be just right for you.
The Beeman QB Chief is available in both .177 and .22 and utilizes the handy fill pressure of 2,000 PSI. The rifle has a 136cc air tube and the .177 is capable of up to 50 shots per fill with the .22 having 35 shots. The QB Chief is based on the hugely popular QB78 C02 platform and is a bolt-action single-shot rifle.
In my opinion, the QB Chief has a better trigger than the Discovery and contains fewer plastic parts overall giving it the feeling of a more serious rifle. The Chief also features adjustable fiber optic open sites making it a viable choice for shooters who don’t want to mess with a scope, although 11mm dovetails are cut into the receiver if you choose to mount an optic.
Depending on the objective size of your scope, it may be necessary to remove the rear sight to allow for scope clearance. At just a touch over $150, the Beeman QB Chief offers everything that a beginner air gunner could want with plenty of room in the budget left over for a high-quality hand pump!
- Incredibly affordable price point
- Excellent accuracy, especially for the price
- Easy to operate, so it’s great for beginners
- Lightweight and portable
- Some quality control issues reported with leaking
- Not backyard friendly without aftermarket sound moderator
- Relatively small air cylinder
- Limited customization relative to higher-end options
2. Umarex Gauntlet
My Review: Air gunners across America rejoiced when the Umarex Gauntlet FINALLY hit the market. The long-awaited Gauntlet had the air gun community buzzing because it combined nearly all features that are desirable in a general-purpose air rifle and at a bargain.
The rifle is available in .177, .22, and, most recently, .25 caliber. The Umarex Gauntlet is a multi-shot bolt action rifle but also comes standard with a single shot tray and is the first rifle on our list to be fully sound moderated making it very backyard friendly. The synthetic stock has molded finger grooves on the pistol grip, integrated sling studs, and an adjustable comb via a handy thumb screw built right into the stock. But the feature that everyone has been most excited about is the Gauntlet is regulated at 1,150 PSI for .177 (70 shots per fill) and .22 (60 per fill) and 1,900 PSI in .25 caliber.
All of this coming in a package that is less than $300 is simply unheard of!
- One of the most affordable air rifles on the market
- High shot count per fill of the air reservoir
- Regulated action provides consistent shot velocity and better accuracy
- Highly adjustable
- The forend bottle cover is a strange design and too large for the purpose it serves
- Heavy rifle overall at 8.5 lbs, especially for a synthetic stock
- Relatively loud for an air rifle
3. FX Impact M3
My Review: The FX Impact M3 has been a game-changer since it was introduced to the market a few years back, pushing the industry’s standards for performance and innovation.
This PCP air rifle offers outstanding versatility, with incredible adjustability that allows shooters to fine-tune virtually every aspect of the rifle from the regulator to the power wheel. And there are plenty of options for upgrades and accessories too, for an even more customized rifle.
As for shot consistency, the FX Impact M3 offers incredible consistency and reliability, thanks to the FX Smooth Twist X barrel system and externally adjustable regulator. Shooters can count on getting tight groups and repeatable accuracy with this air rifle.
Finally, the build quality is superb. This air rifle is precision crafted with incredible attention to detail. Its rugged construction and high-quality materials give this air rifle a long lifetime regardless of what you throw at it.
- Versatile and highly adjustable
- Excellent accuracy and shot consistency
- Great build quality
- Lots of accessories and customization options available
- Higher price point
- May be a learning curve for more complex adjustments and modifications
- Moderate weight
4. Benjamin Marauder (The KING)
My Review: Without a doubt, the Benjamin Marauder is one of, if not, the best PCP air rifle to ever be produced. After Crosman released the Benjamin Discovery, the company gathered feedback from all their customers (how refreshing!) and produced a rifle that every air gunner should have in their gun safe at some point.
One of the best things that the Marauder has going for it is the fully shrouded barrel and it remains one of the quietest airguns on the market today. Additionally, the rifle has a reliable magazine system and the magazines are a steal at just $12 per mag.
The Benjamin Marauder is available in .177, .22 and .25 calibers with .22 caliber being the most versatile in my opinion. The .177 and .22 get roughly 30-40 shots per fill depending on how you have the power adjusted, while the bone-crushing 25 caliber gets just 16 shots per fill.
The Marauder started the .25 caliber craze as it was one of the first economically priced PCPs offered in the quarter bore. The Benjamin Marauder is extremely accurate, due in part to the crisp adjustable trigger.
I’ve shot and prepared hundreds of Marauders when I was a gunsmith for Pyramyd Air and on any given day I could pull a Marauder fresh off the shelf and lay 5 shots into a dime-sized group at 45 yards. They’re just that damn consistent!
Sure, there are more refined and expensive rifles out there, but for the average airgun enthusiast, the Benjamin Marauder is in the perfect price range and offers the most useful features.
- One of the quietest production rifles available
- Adjustable power through transfer port and hammer spring
- Extremely accurate
- Cheap magazines
- Incredible amounts of customization and aftermarket accessories available like barrels, air reservoir extensions, and regulators
- The stock is a little chunky for some tastes
- Gun can be a little difficult to cock until broke in, be careful of double feeds because of this…yank that bolt back like you mean it!
5. Air Arms S510 XS Stealth Carbine
My Review: As a part of Air Arms’ beloved S510 series, the XS Stealth Carbine takes all the best features of earlier S510 models and combines them into a sleek, high-performance package.
One of this air rifle’s most notable strengths is its exceptional accuracy. It’s equipped with a match-grade Lothar Walther barrel, plus a highly adjustable two-stage trigger. These features combine to deliver tight groups and precise shot placement, whether you’re small game hunting or shooting competitively.
The regulated action helps provide remarkable shot consistency. It ensures that each shot has a consistent power level for superior accuracy and minimal differences in velocity.
The build quality is also a huge strength. The stock is made from high-quality materials for durability, but it’s also comfortable and ergonomic.
- Exceptional accuracy thanks to the match-grade Lothar Walther barrel and two-stage trigger
- High build quality and ergonomic design
- Regulated action for consistent, accurate performance
- Higher price point
- Heavier than a lot of other options
6. Crosman Challenger
My Review: I would be remiss if I did not mention at least one dedicated target rifle. The Crosman Challenger takes the cake for one of the most affordable 3-position style PCP rifles on the market. This rifle has been purchased prolifically by 4H clubs across the country for young shooters getting into 10-meter target shooting.
The Challenger only needs to be charged to 2,000 PSI and gets around 70 shots before needing a refill. The stock is ambidextrous to suit left and right handed shooters and is adjustable for both length of pull and comb.
The rifle sports a nifty straight pull bolt action, again to support left and right-handed shooters. Accuracy is exceptional with the Challenger as it sports a match Lothar Walther barrel and a fully adjustable trigger. If your shooting club is looking to outfit their stable with some great target rifles at a budget price, the Crosman Challenger might be your answer.
- Great price for an entry-level 3-position air rifle
- Completely ambidextrous
- Terrifically accurate and even fun to shoot if you’re not a target shooter
- Approved by the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) for 3-position air rifle Sporter Class competition
- Not as adjustable as some of the higher-end 10-meter rifles
- Requires purchase of target sights, though a version is available with included sights
Also Read: 7 Best Airsoft Guns for Beginners
7. Hatsan PileDriver
My Review: The first thing that caught my eye about the Hatsan PileDriver was its heft. This rifle means business, no doubt about it. It’s not the lightest airgun out there, but hey, it’s packing some serious punch, so a bit of weight is expected.
Now, when it comes to power, the PileDriver delivers. With its large air reservoir and high-pressure capability, this bad boy sends pellets downrange with incredible force. It’s like a mini sledgehammer disguised as an air rifle! Take it out for some target shooting or even pest control, and you’ll see what I mean. The sheer energy it generates is impressive.
Also Read: 7 Best Deer Hunting Air Rifles
One thing I really appreciate about the PileDriver is its accuracy. For such a powerhouse, you’d expect some compromise in that department, but not with this rifle. It surprised me with its ability to consistently hit the mark. The adjustable trigger also aids in precise shot control, making it easier to squeeze off those accurate shots.
Now, I must mention that this rifle isn’t for the faint-hearted or the neighborhood with noise restrictions. It packs a punch not only in power but also in terms of sound. When it fires, you’ll definitely make your presence known.
So, if you’re planning to use it in a noise-sensitive area, consider adding a good suppressor to keep things quiet.
- Powerhouse performance
- Excellent accuracy
- Adjustable features
- Rugged build
- Quite hefty
- Loud report
- Limited shot count
- High-end price tag
8. Air Venturi AVENGE-X Series
My Review: The Air Venturi AVENGE-X Series is making waves in the world of PCP air rifles and for good reason. This series is a true powerhouse, offering shooters a combination of raw power, accuracy, and advanced features that are hard to ignore. Whether you’re a seasoned hunter or a competitive shooter, the AVENGE-X Series has something to offer.
First and foremost, let’s talk about power. These rifles are designed to deliver a punch. With high-pressure air and large air reservoirs, the AVENGE-X rifles generate significant energy that translates into impressive knockdown power and extended effective ranges. Whether you’re taking down pests or pursuing larger game, these rifles are up to the task.
Accuracy is another standout feature of the AVENGE-X Series. Equipped with precision rifled barrels and adjustable triggers, these rifles consistently deliver tight groups and precise shot placement. You’ll appreciate the attention to detail in the construction, as it allows for the kind of consistent and reliable accuracy that serious shooters demand.
One of the key strengths of the AVENGE-X Series is its versatility. These rifles are available in various configurations and calibers, catering to different shooting preferences and needs. Whether you prefer a compact carbine or a longer-barreled rifle, you’ll find options to suit your style.
Additionally, the inclusion of features like adjustable stocks and Picatinny rails allows for customization and the addition of accessories such as optics, bipods, or sling attachments.
- Impressive power
- Excellent accuracy
- Highly versatile
- Very customizable
- Quite heavy
- Higher price point
- Fairly noisy, though not as loud as some others on this list
Check out our article on ‘7 Best .30-06 rifle‘
9. Hatsan AT44 QE
My Review: The Hatsan AT44 QE is a reliable and feature-packed PCP air rifle that offers impressive performance at an affordable price point.
One standout feature is the air rifle’s Quiet Energy (GE) technology, which helps keep the noise down via an integrated soun moderator, perfect for helping new shooters acclimate or just for those who want a quieter shooting experience. It also helps reduce disturbances to neighbors and wildlife while hunting and backyard shooting.
The precision rifled barrel and adjustable trigger helps shooters deliver tight groupings and single shot kills for pest control. The two-stage adjustable trigger allows for a customized pull, further helping comfort and accuracy.
And speaking of comfort, this air rifle was designed with ergonomics in mind. You have the option of either a synthetic or walnut stock with a textured grip, and the Hatsan AT44 QE has am ambidextrous design that allows for comfortable shooting for both righties and southpaws. Finally, the raised cheekpiece on the stock helps with proper eye alignment when shooting with optics.
- Quiet Energy (QE) technology
- Precision-rifled barrel and adjustable trigger for impressive accuracy
- Ambidextrous, ergonomic design
- Moderate weight
- Factory-supplied sights are only so-so, but the rifle’s dovetail rail makes installing an aftermarket optic easy
10. Diana Stormrider
My Review: The Diana Stormrider PCP air rifle is a budget-friendly option that punches well above its weight class. With its attractive price point, this rifle brings PCP performance to a wider audience without compromising on quality and features. Let’s delve into what makes the Diana Stormrider a solid choice for both beginners and experienced airgun enthusiasts.
One of the standout features of the Stormrider is its accuracy. Equipped with a precision-rifled barrel, this rifle consistently delivers tight groups and precise shot placement. Whether you’re plinking in the backyard or engaging in target shooting, you’ll appreciate the reliable and consistent performance that the Stormrider offers. It’s a fantastic option for honing your shooting skills and building confidence in your abilities.
Another advantage of the Stormrider is its lightweight and compact design. It’s a breeze to handle and maneuver, making it ideal for shooters who value portability and ease of use. The rifle’s ergonomic stock and adjustable trigger further enhance the shooting experience, allowing you to find a comfortable fit and achieve optimal trigger control.
In terms of power, the Stormrider offers a respectable level of performance. While it may not match the sheer power of higher-end PCP rifles, it’s more than capable of dispatching small game and pests with authority. Its moderate power output also contributes to a higher shot count per fill, allowing for more shooting time before needing to refill the air reservoir.
- Highly affordable
- Impressive accuracy and consistent shot placement
- Lightweight and compact
- Adjustable features
- Factory sights are just okay
- Trigger isn’t as smooth or crisp as higher-end options
- Moderate power output limits applications
- Limited shot count
Let me know if you have any questions or comments below. Thanks for visiting out our website! Be sure to check out some of our other pages before you go.
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.177 is great for long distances because it is lightweight and has a flatter trajectory.
.22 pellets are a little bit heavier than .177 and good for short distances. However, it also does more damage.
Yes. A scope will heavily increase the accuracy of your air rifle. There are different types of scopes available for different purposes.
Scopes are good for hunting and recreational gaming.
The best and basic way to store an air rifle is to put it into a cabinet. A cabinet will protect the rifle from outside dust and weather.
A locked cabinet will ensure that children do not accidentally access it.
No. Air rifles can be used for fun, gaming but not for self-defense, especially when your life depends upon it.
You have to own a real gun for self-defense purposes.