Types of BB Guns
There I was, wrapping up a fulfilling morning of controlling pigeons and making my way back to the truck, when a solitary pigeon decided to rest on a cow barn roof, 40 yards from my position. Swiftly and surely, my trusty .22-caliber pellet hit the target with a decisive impact. Amid a flurry of feathers, the pigeon skidded down the corrugated-steel roof and fell close to an indifferent cow. The nearby cows, just a few feet away, were unperturbed and carried on with their meal. The farmer was content – the milk supply was undisturbed, and his dairy farm was now lighter by a couple dozen pigeons.
As far as air rifles go, this one was pretty brutal. However, its built-in noise reduction features disguised its true potential. Powered by a pre-charged supply of high-pressure air, the gun’s reservoir provided 45 shots. When I got home, all I had to do was connect it to a scuba tank and refill it to 2900 PSI.
Airguns of Today – More Power
Let’s face it, airguns have come a long way since the days of Ralphie’s Red Ryder. Yes, you can still buy one, and yes, it still carries the risk of eye injury!
But, the spectrum has broadened, and you can now bring down a 250-pound hog with some of the latest air-powered systems. Spring-loaded (springer) pellet guns, frequently advertised in outdoor catalogs and sports stores, often with overstated velocities, fall in between these extremes.
In the past few years, pre-charged pneumatic airguns, a more exotic third level, have transitioned from a cult following to mainstream recognition due to their proven capabilities. Another class of airguns is specifically designed for quiet shooting in confined areas. Most true match-grade air rifles, designed for 10-meter indoor range competition, shoot .177-caliber pellets below 600 fps. They’re the opposite of a smooth bore BB gun, but neither possess the power to take down anything larger than mice or sparrows.
Similarly, many CO-2 powered airguns are excellent for target practice on cans. Some are nearly identical replicas of popular military firearms, complete with full-auto capabilities, and are a total blast to shoot! However, for the purpose of this discussion, we’re focusing on pest control and small game hunting, so we’ll need to climb up the power ladder.
At the top rung of airguns are the pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) rifles, built for hunting game like deer or feral hogs. These are specialized systems that pack a punch, and aren’t ideal for quiet backyard practice. If you descend a few rungs, you’ll find models suitable for quiet shooting, perfect for dealing with pesky squirrels raiding your bird feeder. Similar technologies allow for hunting in areas where firearms are prohibited. Although this isn’t a significant concern in my region, I feel much safer taking down squirrels from trees with short-range .22-caliber pellets than with .22 rimfire bullets that can travel a mile.
Airgun Pellet Calibers of Today Airgun pellet calibers vary from the common BB to .177, .20, .22, .25, and .35. There are also niche guns in .30, .35, .45, and .50-caliber. The BB is too lightweight for hunting anything beyond small pests and can ricochet like crazy off hard surfaces. That leaves us with pellets as the preferred projectile, with .177 being the most common.
Don’t underestimate the relevance of understanding the guidelines of your new air-powered pal. In case you’re not aware, you can still ‘shoot your eye out’ with any BB gun, regardless of its make and model! But, hey, that’s just one side of the story. Airguns have come a long way from the traditional Red Ryder. Nowadays, we have airguns that can knock down a 250-pound hog, and then we have springer pellet guns that are often seen in outdoor catalogs and sporting outlets.
Up until a few years back, the third kind of airguns, known as the pre-charged pneumatic airguns, were relatively unknown outside a niche group of enthusiasts. However, their reputation has recently skyrocketed, thanks to their impressive capabilities. Let’s also not forget about another category of airguns, specifically designed for quiet shooting in confined areas. These are mainly used for 10-meter indoor range competition and are so precise that they’re practically the exact opposite of a smooth bore BB gun.
Just like their more powerful counterparts, these airguns and the common CO-2 powered variants are fantastic for casual shooting. Some of these CO-2 airguns are replicas of famous military arms and come with full-auto capabilities, making them an absolute blast to shoot! However, when it comes to pest control and small game hunting, we need to go a notch higher on the power scale.
Pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) rifles, designed to hunt deer or feral hogs, represent the top tier of airguns. These are not your regular backyard shooting systems; they are specialized and powerful, making them less suitable for quiet practice sessions. But, as you move down a few rungs, you can find airguns suitable for quiet shooting, even for eliminating those pesky bird feeder-raiding squirrels.
Common airgun pellet calibers range from the common BB to .177, .20, .22, .25, and .35. We also have niche guns in .30, .35, .45, and .50-caliber. BBs might be too light for hunting anything more than small pests, and they tend to ricochet off hard surfaces. Therefore, most airgunners prefer pellets, with .177 being the most commonly used.
These pellets usually have a soft lead composition, with a solid nose that tapers to a wasp-waist, followed by a hollow skirt. The design boosts speed but hampers aerodynamics, limiting their effective range to a few hundred yards or less. This makes them a safer choice for populated areas.
The smaller .177 pellets can achieve higher speeds than larger calibers, in some cases even matching .22 LR velocities. However, they lose steam quickly. Regardless of the airgun caliber, hydrostatic shock is unlikely, so projectiles with a larger frontal area tend to be more effective on live targets. This explains the popularity of the .22-caliber variant. To a lesser extent, .20 and .25-caliber airguns are also used.
Some airgun “pellets” are actually lead bullets that can reach handgun velocities. However, it’s unlikely that you’ll find them in standard retail outlets. With all factors considered, it’s hard to beat a .22 airgun in terms of power and availability.
To tackle large squirrels or pigeons, I prefer a .22 airgun with a muzzle velocity of 800 feet per second (fps) or more. At this speed, a typical .22 caliber, 15-grain pellet generates approximately 20 foot-pounds of energy. The result is much more striking than a faster .177.
The Brits, however, have learned to make do with less. To avoid the tedious Firearms Certificate (FAC) requirements, they use airguns that are limited to 12 foot-pounds of energy, regardless of the caliber. This means that most Brit airgunners lean towards .22 caliber airguns, as they can utilize the available energy more efficiently.
Now, let’s talk about the delivery systems.
There are several types of airguns, each with their unique characteristics:
- Spring Piston: The most common type, a spring piston gun, uses a lever (usually found under the barrel or at the side of the gun) to compress air in a cylinder. When the trigger is pulled, the air is released, which propels the pellet down the barrel. These guns are self-contained and usually very reliable.
- Gas Ram: Similar to the spring piston, a gas ram gun uses a sealed gas-filled cylinder instead of a coiled spring. The gas (usually nitrogen) in the cylinder is compressed when the gun is cocked, and when the trigger is pulled, the gas expands, pushing the piston forward and propelling the pellet out of the barrel.
- Pump Pneumatic: With a pump pneumatic gun, the shooter manually pumps air into an on-board air reservoir. Each pump increases the power up to a certain limit, after which the gun will vent any excess air. These guns are usually less powerful but are easy to shoot, making them a great choice for beginners.
- Pre-Charged Pneumatic (PCP): PCP guns use an external air source to fill their air reservoir. This could be a specialized hand pump or a scuba tank. These guns are very powerful and can be refilled many times before the external air source needs to be refilled. They can also be semi-automatic, which is not possible with the other types.
- CO2: CO2 guns use small disposable CO2 canisters for propulsion. They are convenient but their performance can vary with temperature and rapid shooting can cause them to freeze up. They are less powerful and less accurate than other types but are often used for casual plinking and short-range target shooting.
Choosing the right airgun depends on what you want to do with it. If you’re into casual plinking or target shooting, a spring piston or CO2 gun could be a great choice. If you’re into hunting, a PCP or gas ram gun would be a better fit. And if you’re a beginner, a pump pneumatic gun could be the perfect way to get started.
In terms of choosing an airgun, it’s also worth considering the noise level. Some airguns can be surprisingly loud, and if you’re shooting in an area where noise could be an issue, it might be worth looking into a model with a built-in suppressor.
Lastly, let’s not forget about safety. Always treat an airgun as you would any other firearm. Always point it in a safe direction, never put your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to shoot, and always know what’s beyond your target. Despite being less powerful than traditional firearms, airguns can still cause serious injury or damage if handled improperly.