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.
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 in 2020
1. Beeman QB Chief (Cheapest)
Price Range: Under $200
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 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 budget left over for a high-quality hand pump!
The only cons I see:
- Some quality control issues reported with leaking
- Not backyard friendly without aftermarket sound moderator
2. Umarex Gauntlet
Price Range: Under $300
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!
The only cons I see:
- 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
3. Benjamin Discovery .22 caliber w/ Pump
Price Range: Under $400
My Review: The Benjamin Discovery was Crosman’s first foray into PCP air rifles and by far one of the most successful and versatile guns to hit the market. The rifle is based off the popular Crosman 2260 C02 powered rifle with the Discovery being a 2,000 PSI air powered iteration. The Discovery is available in both .177 and .22 caliber but I tend to favor the .22 caliber as I primarily hunt small game with my guns.
The Discovery is the gun I usually recommend to folks wanting to get into PCP at a low cost and who intend to use a hand pump to charge their rifle. The reason is that the “Disco” is only filled to a pressure of 2,000 PSI making it a piece of cake for hand pump users. The rifle is a single shot and shoots a wide variety of pellets well with JSB Exacts being among the most accurate. The Discovery that I own would routinely print nickel sized groups at 60 yards and depending on the pellet reaches between 18-22 ft/lbs of muzzle energy making it a great choice for small game hunting.
The Benjamin Discovery also has a unique feature introduced by Crosman called “dual fuel” capability. This allows the Discovery to be filled with both air and C02 gas, not at the same time of course. Filling the rifle with air will grant more power, while C02 gas is nearly self-regulating and can be filled from standard paintball tanks with the correct fill connections.
The only cons I see:
- The trigger is plastic and a bit mushy but can be upgraded with aftermarket parts
- LOUD – The Discovery doesn’t come with a shroud or sound moderator so it’s not exactly backyard friendly
4. Benjamin Marauder (The KING)
Price Range: Under $500
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.
The only cons I see:
- 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. Walther Rotek PCP
Price Range: Under $650
My Review: Our friends across the pond in Germany sure do know their PCP engineering and have showcased their skills in the beautiful but powerful Walther Rotek. Available in both .22 and .177 calibers, this PCP air rifle comes equipped with a steel rifled Lothar Walther barrel, ½” UNF threads, Minelli beech stock, two stage adjustable match grade trigger, and a 200cc integrated tank that has its own air pressure gauge and is easy to fill. The Rotek utilizes a single action 8 round rotary magazine and a satisfying bolt-action firing mode.
Walther is one of those brands where it’s a serious task to find any cons to speak of. This PCP air rifle is a fantastic package and really offers a whole lot of power behind its stunning appearance. You’ll easily get over 850 FPS with accuracy that rivals even the most expensive air rifles of today. I suppose the only major thing is that it isn’t silent, however, they’ve thought ahead on that too and have given you a threaded barrel. Silence as you (and the Government) wish!
The only cons I see:
- My only complaint is that its a bit on the loud side
6. Crosman Challenger
Price Range: $700
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.
The only cons I see:
- 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
7. Air Arms S200
Price Range: Under $800
My Review: I’ll guiltily admit the Air Arms S200 is easily one of my favorite PCP air rifles. It’s not particularly powerful or bubbling over with features…but this little rifle is just plain out charming! The rifle is manufactured by CZ Brno who is well known for making extraordinarily accurate but reasonably priced firearms.
There are several versions of the S200 such as the FT, T200 (target), and the S200 Hunter which is a multi-shot .22 caliber. I tend to like the .177 caliber FT version the best, though the .22 caliber Hunter is good fun as well. The S200 features an extremely accurate 19” hammer forged barrel and comes in at a nice carbine length of 35.7 inches. One of the nice features about the S200 is that the air reservoir unscrews from the receiver of the rifle which if you’re inclined allows you to carry spare air tubes rather than carrying a hand pump or tank into the field.
The S200 FT gets around 50-60 shots per fill and puts out muzzle energy of 12 ft/lbs making it perfect for the in-depth sport of Field Target (FT…get it!). As a hunter, I find the Air Arms S200 FT delivers the perfect power level for doing pest control on rats and pigeons in and around buildings where over penetration can be a concern…more power isn’t always better. The Air Arms S200 is a proven platform and there’s a reason that the S200 has had a cult following for nearly two decades.
The only cons I see:
- Air reservoir does not have an air gauge for monitoring fill pressure, though air tubes with this feature are available
- The trigger is exceptional, but gritty at first and may require some adjustment to get the best out of it
8. Sumatra 2500 Carbine
Price Range: Under $800
My Review: When I first got into PCP airguns nearly 20 years ago I saw the Sumatra 2500 in a gun catalog and thought to myself that it was the most god-awful ugly thing I’d ever seen and wondered who in the hell in their right mind would buy it.
Now, two decades later, I’ve owned three and couldn’t imagine my gun cabinet being complete without a 2500 Carbine nestled inside. What the Sumatra lacks in beauty it makes up for with innovative features. There isn’t another lever action PCP air rifle on the market and with it’s incredibly simple 6-shot rotary magazine the Sumatra 2500 is fast with follow up shots. The odd looking double tuble in full rifle form but in my experience, the Carbine is the most ergonomic version as the rifle tends to balance too much toward the muzzle (due to the extra air tube length) making rifle seem unwieldy.The Carbine points and comes to shoulder much faster and naturally, but you’ll lose a few shots per fill due to the shorter air reservoir. It’s the same story with every air gunner I meet who owns a Sumatra, we all thought it was ugly as sin but then the love affair began. You simply can’t go wrong with one of te air reservoir gives the shooter a large number of usable shots and is much lighter than it appears.
What the Sumatra really has going for it is the immense power that it produces. The rifle is available in .22 and .25, but .25 caliber is where the Sumatra truly comes into its own. At the full power setting (yes it has on the fly adjustable power too!) it can produce 78 ft/lbs of energy. To give a comparison, depending on velocity a .22 Long Rifle rimfire will produce 100-120 ft/lbs of energy and that’s with gunpowder! To say that this air rifle is meant for hunting is an understatement.
The Sumatra is also extremely accurate, particularly with heavy pellets. The Sumatra 2500 is also available in full rifle form but in my experience, the Carbine is the most ergonomic version as the rifle tends to balance too much toward the muzzle (due to the extra air tube length) making rifle seem unwieldy.
The Carbine points and comes to shoulder much faster and naturally, but you’ll lose a few shots per fill due to the shorter air reservoir. It’s the same story with every air gunner I meet who owns a Sumatra, we all thought it was ugly as sin but then the love affair began. You simply can’t go wrong with one of these time-tested rifles.
The only cons I see:
- The iron sites aren’t user-friendly at all
- The trigger leaves a lot to be desired compared to similarly priced rifles
9. BSA Scorpion SE
Price Range: Under $1000
Capable of handling up to 550lb, either a single or double nest, and both spreader and non-spreader bar hammocks, this stand was specially built for relaxing with family or a loved one outdoors.
My Review: One of England’s oldest gun makers began in 1861 as Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA). Over the years they’ve made firearms, motorcycles, automobiles and tons of other things. These days BSA is most well known for making some of the finest air rifles ever produced.
The BSA Scorpion, in particular, is one of my favorites and represents a significant step up in refinement and quality compared to the others guns on our list. The Scorpion is a bolt-action repeater available in .177 and .22 caliber. At the heart of the BSA Scorpion is the 18.5” hammer forged barrel which has the reputation of being one of the most accurate air gun barrels ever made, as such, many custom airgun makers use BSA barrels on their projects since they’re so consistently accurate.
The barrel is also threaded for 1/2” UNF for sound moderators but comes standard with a muzzle brake that doubles as a thread protector. The rifle also features a two-stage adjustable trigger that feels great, not just pull weight, the trigger blade is shaped well and brings the whole rifle together. Easily the most underrated gun on our list, everyone at some point should try out the BSA Scorpion SE!
The only cons I see:
- Magazines are a wee bit expensive.
- No shroud
10. Benjamin Bulldog 357
Price Range: Around $700
My Review: This bolt-action monstrosity is one of our favorites here at Marine Approved! Before we get started I just want to make sure you know that Crosman and Benjamin are pretty much the same and as such, there are tons of extra parts and mods that you can get your hands on to further improve this already amazing PCP bolt-action rifle.
One more note here: This rifle actually had a ton of problems and was actually pretty terrible when it first launched in 2015. Those problems have been resolved and the rifle has really made a huge turn around quickly becoming an enthusiast-grade PCP hog destroyer.
It’s a .357 caliber that shoots roughly 910FPS. This thing will take down a buck if you’re a good shot! It’s a bullpup design that allows it to be extremely short when shouldered despite being fairly large in total and is far more comfortable than it looks and I mean seriously, this thing is extremely powerful and is not meant for children. With this power, though, comes the drawback of only getting 10 shots off before you have to refill, which is fine as it was never meant to be a rapid-firing type of PCP rifle anyways, but the filling can be a bit tricky so I’d suggest practicing before taking this bad boy out into the field.
Bottom line: I do like this rifle, but it doesn’t have the build quality of some of the others on this list! That said, it’s one of the most powerful air rifles out there and is a good deal considering it’s price point.
Derek Goins is a former 0311 infantry team leader and Designated Marksman with 3rd BN 5th Marines. He served a combat tour in Sangin, Afghanistan in 2010 in Helmand Province as well as a tour in the Pacific with the 31st MEU.
After serving with the Marine Corps, Derek got an education at one of the top gunsmithing schools in the nation and has worked as a gunsmith for firearms and airguns since 2013. Derek is also an avid hunter, traditional archer, outdoor photographer, and obsessive gun nut.