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Choosing your air rifle

Choosing an air rifle, like choosing anything, is a very emotive subject. Each and every one of us has a view on certain things and that bias weighs the decision. That is why there are so many different versions of cars out there. Everyone of them loved by someone and hated by others. Air rifles are no different and everyone has an opinion on the best manufacturer, calibre, type and even what it is made from.

I’m going to talk you through the options available to enable you to see the process I used and the reasons I made my choice. It will probably be different for you.

First you start off by deciding what use the weapon is going to be put to. There are basically three reasons why you would want an air rifle.

  • To target shoot
  • To just play about (or plinking as it is called)
  • To hunt

If you target shoot then you need a .177, one with little recoil and one that is very accurate. Most target shooting clubs won’t allow .22s. They are usually very finely engineered and with telescopic sights. They can, and do, cost quite a lot of money and are designed solely for that use. I suggest that you go to your local target shooting club and get advice there on what to buy. Take plenty of money when you decide to go as the better the weapon the higher the cost. You can even get made to measure rifles. I don’t know enough about these so I’ll stop here with the advice to get advice.

Plinking, well that is the other end of the scale. Usually shooting old cans, old toys or knock down targets either at home or out in a field with friends or at a club. Basically, the cheaper the better for this. It does hone your skills and you learn how to use a weapon. If you are part of a club try a few out for size and how it feels for you when you fire it. You don’t really want it to be too powerful or it damages the targets and accuracy is less of a concern. A glancing pellet will trigger the target. So a .177 is more accurate, flatter trajectory and yet still weighs enough to trigger the hit. For plinking a .177 is great. So the question is which type, so read on about the various types.

Hunting can mean vermin control or hunting for food as in my opinion killing is not solely for sport. If vermin control, then kill what you need to do humanely and dispose of the bodies usefully, eat them if you can. If you are hunting for food then you eat it or you have killed it for nothing and that is wasteful. For hunting therefore, you want to kill and not wound every time. That means that you want it to be accurate and powerful enough for a one shot knockdown. You need to hit your target where you aim over a range of 15 to 30 yards usually. Although sometimes they just walk right up to you and other times the range can be more than that. A .177 pellet is lighter, more accurate over range but gives less of a killing punch. A .22 is heavier, more of a killing punch but the pellet range is limited.

As most of my targets are between 15 to 25 yards, I chose a .22 because I wanted to ensure a kill and not a wound over that range and the heavier .22 would be better at doing that. I also never go for a target more than 35 yards away as an air rifle at the UK limit of 12ft/lb just does not have the power.

Now there are several different types of air rifle available but they all work on two different principles. The first is air or a spring compressed by a lever and the other by using stored air. The lever compressed rifles either have a separate lever or use the barrel itself as a lever to compress air in a holding area or compress a spring which is released on the pull of a trigger. The compressed spring version is called a springer whilst this compressed air version is called a gas-ram. Separate levers mean the barrels themselves are fixed and thus less prone to changes in accuracy. Using the barrel allows a cheaper weapon and it can be made smaller. These are much cheaper to make and also have a distinct recoil. The second type called pre-charged using compressed air or CO2 either has replaceable cartridges, using air or CO2, where one cartridge is one shot or a small cylinder that is charged, using air, and can allow hundreds of shots. The cartridges are cheap and can be replaced quickly each and every time where the cylinders allow rapid reloading and firing until the gas runs out. Then a length recharge is required. The gas ones have less recoil and are usually more expensive, the cylinder models requiring additional equipment to recharge, either scuba type bottles or a pump.

In a survival scenario I don’t believe you can rely on the replaceable cartridges being available or the scuba bottles being able to be refilled. The pump is heavy going and relies on a connector which must eventually succumb to wear and tear. Replacement requires a return to a repair shop. The lever types can be repaired by yourself in your workshop with a few tools which is something worth learning. I’m looking into it myself.

So for self sufficiency I chose a cylinder type pre-charged unit. I looked at a few and they were heavy but comfortable to hold. I chose a black plastic type because I don’t like polishing and it is easier to clean. It has a rotating magazine which holds 8 shots and goes about 25 shots on a full charge. It is extremely accurate in my 15 to 25 yard range and can fire several shots quickly.

For my survival kit I chose a break barrel weapon. An old style air rifle which is also accurate in my 15 to 25 yard range although as it requires the barrel to be broken and a pellet manually reloaded it does not fire repeated shots quickly. However, to be honest I don’t really rapid fire that much on the other one although it is handy knowing it is there.

In addition to the weapons I also purchased scopes for each. These need to be of reasonable quality to withstand the occasional knocks and remain true. You should check alignment on a frequent basis, more so on the lever action because of the recoil, and for the pre-charged weapon I also bought a bipod mount because I didn’t want the mechanism lying in the dirt when I wasn’t using it.

Now the only real outgoings after the equipment has been purchased are the cost of the pellets and, for the pre-charged, the bottle refills. They are about £5 a bottle at scuba diving shops and many gun shops also offer that service as well. The pellets now, that is a different matter. Due to legislation on lead, the fact that the number of people with airguns has gone down dramatically because of the current fear of weapons in our society, means pellets cost over £5 a tin of 500. I want to find somewhere when we can buy pellets at a reasonable price. Where do these shops go to buy them? Anyone know of any foreign countries selling pellets to the UK? People swear that the pellets make a big difference. I agree with them but only as far as basic quality goes. Good pellets from most manufacturers are fine. Poor pellets with dints and varying sizes should be avoided. I don’t bother with all the different modern plastic and tungsten types. They may make the difference over long ranges but for me an ordinary pellet is fine. I use either flat ended or domed pellets and they work great.

For more details on hunting with an air rifle read Total Airguns: The Complete Guide to Hunting with Air Rifles by Pete Wadeson, Pete has been using air rifles to hunt for a long type and writes for all the air gun magazines. He gives his advice on weapons and hunting tips in this book. It is well worth reading if you are looking at hunting with air weapons in the UK.

26 comments to Choosing your air rifle

  • Justin

    Might be worth buying replacement cylinders and seals for the guns. I’ve been meaning to for a long time but haven’t quite got round to it.

    The Total Airguns books is excellent, I agree.

  • Skean Dhude

    Justin,

    It’s on the list. Plus learning how to install and service them. Not enough time in the day.

    I found it very informative and a great help.

  • Neil Dalton

    Good helpful article thanks. There are loads of so called expert hunters out there who tell everyone else about the extreme ranges used to shoot and kill rabbits with sub 12 ftlb UK legal air rifles! This is just plain WRONG – A UK legal air rifle is not powerful enough to kill rabbits humanely at these silly distances. I’d say 40 yards is your maximium with a .177 rifle and 35 yards for .22’s. Remember this is the maximum distance, personally I try to keep ranges within 30 yards (25 is the ideal range to kill rabbits with any calibre airgun). Ignore the many airgun forums which are full of children and plain idiots. Anyone preaching hunting distances more than 40 yards should be totally IGNORED. If you want to shoot bunny’s at 60 yards get yourself a firearms licence and buy a .22LR rimfire rifle.

  • Neil Dalton

    One more thing – for survival purposes I’d recommend you get yourself a good quality springer or gas ram rifle in either calibre (.177 or .22). It’s possible to procure well made reliable springers for sub £200 new or secondhand. Look at one of these –

    Webley Exocet
    BSA Lightning (the best pest control rifle since 1990)
    BSA Lightning XL
    Diana model 48 or 52 (sidelever) expensive but top shelf

    Stay well away from SMK or other cheap Chinese made rifles none of which are powerful enough to kill rabbits cleanly. Try to get a German or British spring air rifle and you won’t go far wrong…

    Keep hunting distances to sub 40 yards.

    • Tom

      BSA Lightning(the best pest control rifle since 1990)????????????
      On first reading your bit,I thought,sensible chap.
      How wrong was i.Have you never heard of the HW80?
      Reknowned as the best springer ever made.
      You also mention the Diana 52.I had one 25yrs ago. Very heavy,awkward to cock & load.
      This is meant to be a page for getting people started.Why not recommend a BSA meteor with a 4X32 scope.Excellent combo for pigeon at 30yds.Or the Airsporter with a 4X40 scope.Good for rabbits at 30yds+.
      Ive been shooting for almost 40yrs(including today,&rabbits down in the pissing hard rain with my HW80 which ive owned for 25yrs.Have you ever been out HUNTING.Not just sitting there waiting for a rabbit to walk by.

  • Skean Dhude

    Neil,

    Welcome and thanks for that.

    I’ve been looking out for decent priced old air rifles for a while now, I am after a Diana 52, but I suspect that most people just throw them out now as they are frightened the Stasi come and get them. It is a pity that more kids don’t get involved with them. I have let a few kids use mine, under my supervision, and they have to follow the rules or they lose the privilege. They all have a great time and I gave out prizes. None of the losers ever cried their way home so I suspect they were not normal kids.

    Generally in life you get what you pay for. In survival, as in extreme sports, cutting corners can be fatal.

  • Neil Dalton

    Yes the Diana 52 is a fine fine spring airgun. It’s actually THE most expensive spring air rifle on the market at around £500 plus. The Air King is basically a Diana 52 with improved stock comb. For value for money you simply can’t beat A BSA Lightning (standard not XL version which is more expensive). The Lightning is the world’s most used rifle for pest control purposes. In the UK it retails for about £280 new and many gunshops will include a mid-range scope if you ask. For survival I think that a springer or gas ram is the way to go…

    Remember with a .177 springer the max range is 40 yards despite what you hear from other so called experts on the gun forums. With a .22 keep ranges less than 35 yards.

  • Skean Dhude

    That is a pity. I won’t be getting a Diana 52 then unless I find one in a car boot sale or something. I’ll do a search for Air King on the web and see what I come up with. The document I read also talked about the Chinese B2.

    • Philbert

      You dont want a B2 makes an average of 6 ft lb. you would have more luck throwing it at rabbits than shooting with it!

      • Skean Dhude

        Philbert,

        I understood the B2 could be heavily modified particularly in the power department and that it was a cheap copy of the Diana 52. Know anything about that?

  • Philbert

    Yes it can be modified but in my opinion its not worth it. it will never offer a humane kill to your prey.It would take a few fancy (expensive)internals to up the power levels which would make the gun harsh and difficult to use correctly (massive recoil for one) plus finding spares could be a nightmare!

    If its a cheap chinese break barrel your after then i would get a XS19 or one of the copies. Last one i bought new was £90 and can be picked up for buttons 2nd hand.Chinese quality control has improved no end these days, these make the legal limit out of the box and the internals are really pretty good,and can be modified cheaply into a superb rifle.

    Just my tuppence worth!

  • Skean Dhude

    Philbert,

    Interesting. I’ll see if I can acquire one when I get some cash and see what they are like.

    Thanks for the advice.

  • Neil Dalton

    I would recommend you get yourself a BSA Lightning (either the standard or XL version). A new one here in the UK will set you back upto £280. A far better idea is to get a good secondhand gun. Try here –

    http://www.guntrader.co.uk/

    Guntrader is a truly excellent online resource. I used it to aquire my guns (I have my shotgun certificate and firearms certificate). I use air rifles where it’s dangerous to use live rounds. I possess a Diana Model 48 and a BSA Lightning. Both are UK legal hunting airguns capable of killing rabbits at ranges upto 40 yards.

    It’s quite possible to find a BSA Lightning for only £100 which is an excellent bargain. Try to get one in good condition. Amint one secondhand should be found for £150.

    A secondhand Diana 48/52 will be found for £200 upwards. I paid £225 for mine in mint condition.

    I have an English (Birmingham) made Webley Exocet in mint condition that I don’t use much. It’s very powerful and capable of killing rabbits humanely. It’s a .22 rifle.

    Forget Chinese air rifles – they simply don’t have the power to do the job properly. They are also badly made compared to UK and German rifles. The X19 mentioned above is just about ok but you will find a far better deal if you seek out a German or English made rifle.

    My star buy for spring air rifles:

    1. BSA Lightning

    Preppers should stay well away from PCP and CO2 rifles. These need air bottles to fill up. It’s highly unlikely air will be easy to obtain when the baloon goes up. In any case these guns are very expensive for what they are and are no more powerful than other cheaper types. Stick to a simple SPRING or GAS RAM model.

    I also use a CZ/BRNO Rimfire .22LR rifle which is a superb tool for rabbit killing at distances upto 100 years. You need a Firearms Licence to own one. Don’t be put off applying for one. Providing you haven’t served a prison sentance it’s quite likely you will get one.

    My guns include-

    1. Diana 48 Air rifle for rats and rabbits
    2. BSA Lightning back-up rifle
    3. AYA Yoeman (12 bore shotgun) side by side
    4. Baikal Single barrel 12 bore
    5. CZ Model 452 .22LR rimfire rifle
    6. BRNO Model 5 (1966) rimfire .22LR

  • Skean Dhude

    Neil,

    I’ve been looking for a Diana M52 for a while now but at the moment cannot afford one. When I get back on my feet I will start looking again. They are an excellent weapon and highly modifiable.

    I’ll email you about the exocet and we can discuss.

    I’ve a Ruger .22 myself and it works great. I’ve also a Mossberg which I had when I was a kid before all the rules came in.

    I’ve a couple of air rifles, gas powered bottle, two spring loaders and a pump up gas one. The bottle one is by far the most accurate but as you say they won’t last long after an event.

    I’ve been on guntrader since it started but never bought any weapons from there.

  • cliff

    Hi,

    Not sure where abouts your from but you can get cheap pellets from Trago mills, there are a few around Devon/Cornwall way.

    I did get some of ebay a few years ago, not sure if they still sell??

  • Skean Dhude

    Cliff,

    Welcome.

    I’ve not heard of them but it seems everything is down that way. Must be worth a visit when I am there next.

  • Your arbitrary dismissal of Chinese airguns is so, so blinkered and so,so wrong. OK they don’t have the finish of expensive guns BUT they are not expensive guns. What most certainly are, are diamonds in the rough out of the box as many owners have found out when they have tuned them. I say to those buying their first gun, don’t be put off by those who have an agenda and have unconsidered opinions but go to a club and make up your own minds (don’t be put off by ruthless gunshop owners looking large profit margins either). You may well be pleasantly surprised. Any safe and reliable air gun that introduces new members to our sport is fine by me. Just ensure you find a club that doesn’t put great store on the ‘snob’ value of airguns. I find it great sport to match expensive guns shot for shot with a nicely tuned Chinese rifle but don’t just take my word for it – http://ukchineseairgunforum.myfreeforum.org
    Oldham and District AGC http://oldhamagc.myfreeforum.org/posting.php?mode=reply&t=198

  • Skean Dhude

    Steve,

    Welcome.

    I think you will find that they were not dismissed out of hand and nobody has a agenda, well, not against any tools anyway. We are talking the merits of air rifles and no matter what you say their only advantage is that they are cheap. I have one myself for the kids and it is inaccurate and underpowered out of the box, which it didn’t come in. Not everyone knows how to modify them for maximum advantage and the commenters are just putting their views for others to consider, as have you.

    There is a place for these rifles and some will purchase them for their uses. If you have any instructions on how to tune them up and maximise their accuracy then let me know and I’ll post them. If you want to review one then do so and I’ll post that.

    Thanks for the links.

  • Phil

    Omg, I can’t believe you have the cheek to give out advise like you are.
    Pcp rifles have nearly no recoil so your accurancy is easier to achieve.
    You rant on that in no way is a legal limit air rifle powerful enough at over 40 yards yet it’s not the power that isn’t good enough it’s getting an accurate shot that’s the problem.
    You make me laugh, your in the past and you need to catch up with modern technology.

    Just my oppinion

    Go ahead and fire back I won’t be on thi site again any way

    • Skean Dhude

      Phil,

      I do say that it is my opinion. It would be better if you actually wrote your views so others could learn.

      I’ll stick to my views until someone shows me some evidence and all the literature I’ve read supports my views about distances.

      Perhaps after an even when you are desperate you can ignore the advice but not at the moment.

  • Neil Dalton

    Skean,

    You are 100% correct with your quoted range distances – a .177 airgun = 40 yards max and a .22 airgun = 35 yards. As for the above comment about distances it’s NOT just accuracy it’s also about PENETRATION. A UK legal airgun produces 12 ft per pound at the muzzle. As the pellet travels it loses power. The penetration of a UK legal airgun at over 40 yards is NOT sifficient to kill living creatures with certainty. Stop listening to all the childish fools killing creatures at 60 yards plus. As for the fool telling people to get a PCP airgun – a PCP airgun needs recharging. In a survival situation a spring or gas ram airgun is a much wiser buy as all you need to hunt is the gun and a few pellets. I have been hunting since I was 8 years old and I’m 49 now. I retired from the MOD Police (MDP) after 23 years service of which 7 years was spent as a firearms instructor at Force HQ in Essex. I left as a Chief Inspector. The point I’m making is that I have a good level of knowledge with all kinds of firearms including airguns (legal and FAC). It’s unfair to shoot living creatures in excess of 40 yards with a UK legal airgun. Distances can be increased only if you use a FAC airgun which produces upto 50 ft per pound (and then only to a maximum of 60 yards).

  • Neil Dalton

    Further – Chinese made airguns are indeed mostly crap and not worth the money!

    Stay well away from Chinese made airguns.

    Find a secondhand German or British airgun instead.

    Look for a SPRING/GAS RAM BSA or WEBLEY airgun which are sold privately for £150 or less.

    The B2 you talk about isn’t worth wasting money on.

  • Tom

    Hi all,
    Ive always believed that a 4.5mm rifle is most suited to target shooting. If you hit a rabbit,(lung or heart shot).you’ve got more chance of losing your quarry as the pellet has a far greater chance of going straight through it,(& it runs down the nearest hole & dies a slow,painful death).5.5mm has a far greater stopping power.Better still if its a hollow point.All pointed ammo should be banned for the same reasons as 4.5mm,the pellet has more chance of going straight through.It is purely my opinion that,if anyone caught field hunting with a 4.5mm weapon,they should have the gun taken off them. They should then be made to join a club and learn the basics of ammo penetration.

  • Neil Dalton

    It’s a fact these days that most hunters are choosing the .177 for pest control purposes over the .22

    In all honesty there really isn’t that much difference between the two in terms of power (they both produce 12ft/lb). The .177 pellet travels faster and gets there quicker but it is much smaller than a .22 pellet. The .22 pellet is larger and will possibly do more damage.

  • Neil Dalton

    BUT – The .177 is much easier to shoot accurately.

  • Tony

    Can I just clear up a few misconceptions in the original post. There are six types of air gun, PCPs or pre charged pneumatics, they are recoilless and accurate, but they require charging with a pump or dive bottle and work between 100 bar and 200+ bar.

    SSPs single stroke pneumatics, again accurate and recoilless as they pressurise air into a cylinder, but rare.
    Pump up guns, these require you to pump a lever on them multiple times to reach full power, normally cheap and may not be that accurate, but they are recoilless.
    CO2, recoilless, can be accurate, but affected by temperature and require charging with capsules.
    Springers, can be break barrel, side lever or underlever, they do recoil but can still be extremely accurate.
    Gas Rams, work in the same way as springers, they use a nitrogen filled ram in place of the spring.

    There are four calibres, the common two are .177 and .22, the less common are .20 and .25. .177 has a flat trajectory that makes judging distance less of an issue, a rifle in this calibre can be zeroed at 25 yards and be on target from 20 yards out to 35 with holdover to 45. obviously each step up in calibre increases the curve in the trajectory of the pellet.

    What ranges you choose to shoot out to is up to you, but .177 will kill cleanly at 45 yards, .20 at 40, .22 at 40, .25 at 30. Learn the kill zones and be proficient at hitting them before you attempt to shoot anything. Body shots won’t always kill instantly.

    While the various Chinese air rifles can be improved upon, I would stay away from the DB2 and DB4, there is only so much you can do. If you must buy a cheap rifle, look at the SMK XS 19 and XS 20.

    Diana’s are expensive and have a reputation for breaking scopes, they also tend to be heavy.

    The new BSA XL Tac’s are a huge improvement and made in Birmingham, very accurate and worth a look.

    Most Weihrauchs are okay but for weight and build the 95 is good.

    Hope this helps.

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