Modern air rifles are extremely accurate and durable. Cost per shot is low, making them ideal for training. For more than 50 years I’ve never been without at least one spring-piston air rifle.
My favorites are those of relatively modest power, such as .177 calibers with velocities in the 500 or 600 fps range. The rifles are fairly light, easy to cock, pleasant to shoot. They have all the power I need for controlling pests (mainly sparrows) around the farm, without damaging the barn and machine shed.
Just as with cartridge rifles, the lure of velocity and power is irresistible to many shooters. Certainly I get the attraction of 1,000+ fps power. Developing such power with a spring-piston rifle requires a powerful spring and a heavy receiver to contain it. The rifles tend to be heavy, difficult to cock, and hard on scopes.
One solution is two rifles, a 500 to 600 fps model for training and plinking, and a 1,000+ fps hunting model. Another is to select a Pre-Charged Pneumatic (PCP) design. Some PCP rifles, such as those used in Olympic competition, are among the most highly developed, sophisticated rifles ever made.
Airforce airguns offer an outstanding line of PCP rifles. They are extremely well made. Considering the exceptional design, workmanship, and performance they are reasonably priced. They are virtually impossible to wear out with normal use. With no heavy power plant, the rifles are light compared to spring-piston rifles of comparable power.
PCP rifles have several advantages. For one, they are virtually recoilless. They don’t have the peculiar “double-shuffle” recoil of spring-piston designs, which is so hard on conventional scopes. With PCP rifles you can use any scope you’d use on a cartridge rifle.
Airforce rifles such as the Condor model allow the shooter to easily adjust power level, from 600 fps to as high as 1,250 fps, depending on caliber and pellet weight.
Since recoil isn’t a factor, why not just run at full power all the time? The principle advantage of reduced velocity is more shots per reservoir fill. In .22 caliber, a filled reservoir will give around 50 to 60 full-power shots, compared to 300 to 500 at reduced power.
For training, 10-meter competition, or small-pest control there’s no need for more than 600 fps. It’s more fun to be shooting than filling the air tank. But if you do need the power, for small game hunting or extended range shooting, just dial it in.
The .22 Condor rifle I’ve been shooting exudes quality in every respect. The barrel is by Lothar Walther, a company known for fine custom barrels. Trigger pull is 2-stage, with smooth take-up followed by a crisp break less than 3 pounds. The trigger piece itself is adjustable for position to suit individual shooters.
Accuracy was very good with groups (five shots at 50 yards) averaging in the 3/4-inch range. Be aware, though, even a light wind is the bane of accuracy with pellets. The combination of low ballistic coefficient and modest velocity (compared to centerfire cartridges) makes the pellets very wind sensitive. The only way I could get small groups was to wait for ideal conditions with virtually no perceptible breeze.
I like a “middle of the road” approach, so I used .22-caliber, 15-grain pellets at around 800 fps. There are hundreds of pellet brands, weights, and styles available. Part of the fun of airguns is finding the one, which works best for your needs. Another nod of respect, incidentally, to the Oehler 35P chronograph. It never failed to detect the little pellets and give an accurate velocity reading.
Much the easiest way to fill the air reservoir is from a scuba tank. The convenience of being able to refill at home likely makes it worthwhile to buy such a tank.
If you don’t want to buy a scuba tank, or if there’s no convenient location to get the tank refilled periodically, consider a hand pump (available from Airforce). It takes a bit of time and effort to pump the reservoir to full capacity, but it’s good exercise and it makes you independent of the need for outside assistance.
Those who still think of airguns as Red Ryder BB guns with a compass in the stock and a thing that tells time might be shocked at what a quality PCP air rifle costs. No doubt they would be equally shocked at the high quality and high level of performance. Combining extreme precision with moderate cost per shot, the modern air rifle should be part of every rifleman’s battery.
By Dave Anderson