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Basic Types of Airguns


Airguns come in many shapes and forms. You know this to be true if you've looked over our site or thumbed through a Beeman catalog. You think you might want to own one of these wonderful airguns but can't understand why Straight Shooters imports so many types when you want just one. I'll give you some basic information so that you can make a considered choice. Besides the question of caliber, modern airguns fit into three basic groups defined by their powerplant (means of pushing a pellet out the barrel).
1. Pneumatic Airguns (PCP)
2. Spring-Piston Airguns
3. CO2 Airguns.
4. Gas Ram Airguns



Pneumatic airguns use compressed air for power. The way you get the air compressed in the airgun depends on the type of pneumatic it is. The most common pneumatic airgun is the MULTI-STROKE or sometimes called a PUMP-UP type pneumatic airgun.

To get the tiny bit of air compressed in a Multi-Stroke pneumatic takes, as the name implies, between two and ten strokes of the forend pump lever to get the internal pressure needed to power the pellet out the barrel at a decent velocity. Most Multi-Stroke Pneumatic airguns are compact, recoilless and light-weight. Multistroke pneumatics fall into the light or medium power range. The downside to a Multi-Stroke pneumatic is all the time and effort needed to get a shot off and often a second shot is near impossible before your quarry runs or flies away.
As you pump up a Multi-Stroke airgun, each progressive pump takes more effort and then on top of that, the accuracy from a Multi-Stroke is just O.K. There are too many variables in the pumping process to allow for stellar performance aside from the human error.

A more preferable form of pneumatic is the Single-Stroke Pneumatic Airgun As the name implies, one motion of the cocking lever is all that is needed to compress the air for propulsion. The SINGLE-STROKE format is used on many high end 10 Meter Match airguns, such as the Beeman/FWB 603 rifle and Beeman FWB 103 pistol. Consistency, accuracy and lack of recoil are the reasons top shooters gravitate to this type of power plant. The downside is low power, but the tack driving accuracy at close range is the reason 10 meter shooters love them.

The third type of Pneumatic Airgun is the PreCharged Pneumatic. This results in the best of both worlds. You can get variable power from low to high if you want it. Incredible accuracy, easy cocking, no recoil and lots of shots from an air charge. The charge takes little effort on your part because the air is compressed at the scuba shop into a 80 cu. ft. SCUBA tank (3000 psi) or a Carbon Fiber tank. (4500 psi). All you need to do is siphon some of the 3000 psi out of the SCUBA or Carbon Fiber tank and into the airgun via a special hose with a pressure gauge.

Pre-charged pneumatics come in various configurations ranging from competition airguns for field target and 10-meter to general target and plinking to sporting guns for pest control and hunting. Some of the precharged airguns are single shot versions while others feature multiple-shot magazines.


When someone says airgun these days they probably mean a Spring-Piston airgun, thanks to Dr. Robert D. Beeman's relationship with Weihrauch and Feinwerkbau, two of the best and most prolific makers of high quality Spring-Piston airguns over the years.

Spring-Piston airguns are the easiest airguns to shoot, maintain and own. The Spring-Piston gun most shooters cut their teeth on is the
break-barrel. The break-barrel airgun is cocked by holding the stock in one hand and breaking the airgun in half at the breech while holding the barrel with the other. It actually is easier to do than it is to explain. This action of "breaking" the airgun moves a piston backwards within the receiver at the same time as it compresses a stout spring behind it. The trigger sear clicks into a notch in the piston and holds the whole works under tension.

With a break-barrel airgun, the pellet is placed directly into the breech and the barrel is swung back into position leaving you ready to fire. Al you have to do is click the safety off and put positive pressure on the trigger. When the sear releases the piston, it moves forward briskly with the power of a big spring behind it. All this action pushes a column of air forward into the rear end of the pellet sitting in the breech. The effect of all this causes the pellet to move rapidly out the barrel towards the target of your choice.

Spring-Piston airguns come in all shapes, sizes and powers and as explained above, are cocked by breaking the barrel, cocking an underlever, cocking a side-lever, or cocking a top-lever (overlever). However, inside, they all are basically the same in principle. Things like spring rates, diameter of the compression tube (receiver) and swept area can be different depending on the gun designers ideas. Spring-Piston airguns are very reliable and long-lived.

The worst thing you could do to any Spring-Piston airgun is to "dry fire" it. That means to fire it without a pellet in the breech. What happens when this error occurs? The piston head is smashed into the front of the receiver (compression tube) because the missing pellet cannot offer the needed resistance to the air column. This resistance cushions the piston from the tremendous energy produced when the compressed spring releases and moves the air column.

Spring-Piston airguns last a long time, but the springs do wear out at some point. But don't worry. A spring piston replacement and piston seal change are relatively cheap and very easy for an airgunsmith to accomplish, but again we are talking years of use and thousands of pellets.
An additional by-product of a spring gun is the gun's forward/backward motion. Most firearms shooters like the recoil sensation felt when shooting a spring airgun. This is a smooth steady push to the shoulder as the spring inside the airgun does its work pushing the pellet out the barrel.


As their name implies, these airguns are powered by CO2, either in the 12 gram cartridge form or decanted from a bulk CO2 tank into the airgun reservoir depending on which CO2 airgun is purchased. CO2 as a power plant for an airgun is somewhat unique because it is used in some of the mass-produced, non-precision airguns as well as with the highest of the high-tech 10 meter match airguns.

Kept at room temperature, a CO2 cartridge yields approximately 900-1000 psi and is very consistent for shooting. But raise or lower the temperature and the point of impact of a CO2 airgun can change.One would wonder, with this "point of impact change" situation, why serious match shooters choose the CO2 propulsion system to attempt to break records. Well, these people are smart. They bring their CO2 airguns to the range, let the airgun stabilize to the ambient temperature for a couple of hours at the range and then sight in.

Right-left (windage) point of impact will be constant, your up-down (elevation) zero will vary slightly until you sight in. The real issue with CO2 as a powerplant is for the airgun hunter or plinker. The airgun hunter who sights in on a warm day and goes out to hunt on a cool day or visa-versa will not know where the airgun will hit. A temperature change during the day will also be a problem. A few test shots are always necessary to verify the pellet's point of impact.
On the positive side, along with their inherent accuracy, CO2 airguns are generally easy to cock and recoilless to shoot. The match CO2 airguns are very consistent and incredibly accurate at 10 meters.


Gas Ram or Gas Piston rifles are similar in function to spring airguns because both types are cocked and shot in the same way. The difference is that when cocking a spring rifle, a spring and piston are compressed and "cocked". When released by pulling the trigger, the spring and piston fly forward pushing air which is compressed in the compression chamber which results in the pellet flying down the barrel. A gas ram or gas piston works on the same principle but instead of the cocking stroke compressing a spring and piston, it compress a piston and a volume of compressed air contained in a tube or cylinder.  A gas ram is a sealed tube filled with compressed air and the cocking stroke compresses that air in the tube even more. When released by pulling the trigger, the compressed air expands back to it's original state, pushing the piston forward which in turn, forces air into the compression chamber. That resultsin powering the pellet down the barrel just as it does with a spring rifle. But the compressed air stays in the gas ram and is used over and over again.

Gas rams are self contained rifles, unlike PCP's which expend air with every shot and have to be re-charged after X number of shots. Gas rams retain the air in the cylinder and last for years of use. In addition, a real benefit to a gas ram rifle is the smoothness of the shot cycle. There is no metal spring to jump around inside the gun which means that the shot cycle is incredibly smooth. That smooth shot cycle is also much quicker than that of a spring rifle. It feels a bit more like shooting a firearm than a typical spring airgun so shooters coming from the firearm world will find a familiar and comfortable feel.