One of the most popular recreational outdoor activities in the United States is shooting, and that includes shooting air rifles over actual firearms.
Just as there is an extremely wide selection for different firearms, so there are for different kinds of rifles as well. An excellent choice both for fun target shooting and for small game hunting, air rifles can offer you surprisingly excellent accuracy and firepower.
But if you’re at a loss for what specific type of air rifle that you need, there’s no need to fret. You have a wide number of different options to choose from, and one such option is a Pre-Charged Pneumatic rifle, often abbreviated as PCP.
What is a PCP rifle?
This article will answer that question for you, and we will also cover the following topics:
- The different types of PCP rifles
- How PCP rifles work
- The advantages and disadvantages of PCP rifles
- What makes a good PCP rifle?
- Comparison Between PCP Rifles and Other Air Rifles
- Safety procedures to follow when using a PCP air rifle
- The best PCP air rifles on the market
- Frequently asked questions about PCP rifles
Is the PCP rifle the best type of air rifle? Honestly, no type of air rifle is flawless or ‘perfect.’ They each have their pros and cons. But one unique aspect about the PCP rifle is that they are already pre-charged, and can deliver superior accuracy to other types of air rifles.
Remember, just as there is no such thing as the ‘perfect air rifle,’ there is no such thing as the perfect PCP rifle as well. Each of these PCP rifles have their own unique set of pros and cons. Some cost more, others have more features, some are light and others are heavy, some are more powerful and others are less powerful, and so on.
With that said, here is a list of the best makes and models of PCP air rifles on the market.
Best PCP Air Rifle with Reviews
Big bang for your buck
Best Starter PCP Air Rifle
Best for Hunting
Best for Home Protection
Crosman Benjamin Discovery
Best Entry Level PCP Air Rifle
Gamo Viper Express
Best for Pest Control
Benjamin Marauder Wood Stock Air Rifle
Best Overall PCP Air Rifle For The Money
The Benjamin Marauder Wood Stock Air Rifle is one of the best selling PCP rifles of all time, and remains so toady. It is a bestseller online, and the reviews have been very positive.
This, and the fact that it is a suitable choice for both beginners and professional shooters, makes the Benjamin Marauder one of the best choices of PCP air rifles for the money, if not the very best.
One thing that stands out immediately when you look at the rifle is the professionalism of the design. This rifle has a nice wood stock that reminds you of the quality European air rifle stocks.
Furthermore, this rifle is very ambidextrous and can be easily used by both right or left handed shooters. To use it for left handed shooters, you will just need to move the bolt to the left hand side of the rifle.
As another pro, this rifle is extremely quiet when fired, and is easily one of the quietest PCP air rifles on the market. The trigger is also adjustable to make it as light or as heavy as your desire. The Marauder is also chambered for the .177 caliber, which is one of the most popular calibers for air rifles today and is very plentiful at affordable prices. It’s an effective round for target shooting and pest control/small game hunting alike.
The biggest negative to this rifle is that the pump requires a little more effort to operate in comparison to other PCP air rifles on the market.
While the Benjamin Marauder requires more effort in order to pump and is chambered for the lighter .177 round, it’s also very quiet and has a very classic look and feel to it.
Benjamin Maximus Air Rifle
Best Starter PCP Air Rifle
Are you looking for a PCP air rifle that is cheap and yet high quality and accurate? In other words, are you on the hunt for your very first PCP air rifle? If so, you’ll want to give the Benjamin Maximus Air rifle a close look.
This is one of the best starter PCP rifles in existence, and is a good choice if you’ve never used an air rifle or are buying a rifle for your child. It’s about a step blow the Benjamin Discovery rifle like we talked about previously, which is also an excellent entry level choice.
The Maximus is chambered for the .177 caliber and can reach velocities of 1,000 FPS. That’s pretty darn good for a starter rifle, and also for one that’s relatively cheap.
All in all, if you’re looking for a good PCP rifle but don’t want to throw a lot of money down, the Maximus rifle is a superb way to go.
The Benjamin Maximus is an excellent starter air PCP rifle that provides great value, even if it doesn’t offer quite the performance of a higher grade model.
Crosman Challenger PCP and Co2 Rifle
Best PCP Air Rifle For Hunting
As the name suggests, the Crosman Challenger PCP and Co2 Rifle can be fired using both Co2 or pressured air as the primary air source. This makes it one of the most versatile air rifles on the market as a whole, in that even if you run out of Co2 you’ll still be able to use the rifle.
The Crosman Challenger is marketed as being one of the very best hunting air rifles on the market. It comes with a nice, light, and crisp adjustable trigger that makes it easy to fire.
It has been approved by the National Three Position Air Rifle council, and has found widespread acceptance and success for both hunting and for competition use.
The Crosman Challenger’s biggest asset is its versatility and the fact that it can also use Co2 cartridges. The adjustable trigger is a nice plus as well.
Benjamin BPBD3S Bulldog PCP Air Rifle
Best PCP Air Rifle For Home Protection
If you’re looking for a PCP air rifle to defend yourself, your home, your property, and your family from home invaders, then your first look should be at the Benjamin BPBD3S Bulldog PCP Air Rifle.
This rifle is chambered for the .357 caliber and can deliver velocities up to one thousand feet per second. And no, it’s not chambered for the .357 Magnum round. Rather, it’s chambered for a pellet that’s simply .357 in diameter.
At that one thousand feet per second, this PCP air rifle is quite powerful. This means it’s not only well suited for home defense if need be, but it can also effectively be used for hunting small game as well.
As a Benjamin product, the BPBD3S is very durable and well made. Benjamin is one of the largest manufacturers not only of PCP rifles but of air rifles as well. They are one of the largest players on the market, so quality is not something you will need to worry about with this rifle.
That being said, no PCP rifle is flawless, and yes, the BPBD3S has flaws. The most notable flaw is the fact that this rifle is very heavy for a PCP rifle. No, that doesn’t mean that it’s heavy overall. It just means that it’s heavier than other air rifles in general. It’s something to keep in mind if you plan on packing this rifle around in the woods.
While it’s heavy, the Benjamin BPBD3S Bulldog is also very powerful for a PCP rifle and can be used for home defense if you need it to be.
Benjamin Discovery Pre-Charged Pneumatic PCP Dual
Best Entry Level PCP Air Rifle
Another PCP air rifle offered from Benjamin is the Discovery air rifle. The most notable aspect about this rifle is the fact that it comes chambered for three different calibers: .177, .22, and .22 dual fuel. No, you can’t fire all three calibers out of the same rifle. Rather, the Discovery is sold with three different models, each in a different caliber. And the higher the caliber, the higher the price.
The dual fuel .22 model in particular is cool because you do not need to worry about how filled the air tank is. Instead, you can just use your Co2 tanks and your degasser, and you’ll be all good to go. In other words, you can use both Co2 cartridges or a pressured tank as your source of air. This makes this one of the most versatile PCP air rifles on the market today.
As far as cons are concerned with this rifle, it does not come with a yoke, fill adapter, pump, or tank. This means that you’ll have to purchase each of those separately, which can add on to your costs.
Furthermore, the highest level of PSI for the Discovery is around 2,000 PSI. That’s good for beginners, but it’s hardly what those at the moderate to expert level would favor. So it’s just something to keep in mind.
But as far as entry level PCP rifles are concerned, the Benjamin Discovery is easily some of the best. Versatile, practical, and available in a wide variety of calibers, it provides you with excellent value for the money.
What the Benjamin Discovery lacks in terms of power it makes up for with the quality of design and the fact that it will also accept Co2 cartridges. It’s an excellent choice for a beginner.
Gamo Viper Express Air Shotgun
Best Pest Control PCP Air Rifle
Last but not least, if you’re looking for a PCP rifle that you can use for homesteading use around your home or property, one of your best choices will be the Gamo Viper air rifle.
This rifle is chambered for the .22 caliber and is marketed specifically for pest control use. Gamo designed this rifle to be used within short distances. As a result, it is only effective on game when within twenty or so yards. This means that while the Gamo Viper is not the best option for medium distance hunting, for pest control at closer ranges it utterly excels in the rail.
This rifle also comes with a rail for adding other accessories such as optics or lasers. Its biggest negative is that it is a single shot rifle, which doesn’t make it the best choice for shooting at faster rates or for home defense. But then again, this rifle is designed for pest control use, and for that, one shot is all you need!
The Gamo Viper is a solid entry in the PCP air rifle market, and the .22 caliber makes it more than enough in terms of power for pests and small game.
What is a PCP Air Rifle?
So what is a PCP air rifle, exactly? How does it differ from or relate to other kinds of air rifles that are out there?
PCP air rifles are not exactly the same thing as spring loaded rifles or even Co2 air rifles. Rather, they consist of a reservoir that contains pressured air to shoot pellets. Some PCP rifles need to be pumped manually for each shot, while others will only need to be pumped once before being able to fire semi-automatic. Pre-charged PCP rifles require a unique type of pump and tank.
There is also a huge misconception that PCP rifles are new. But the truth is they have actually existed since the 1700s. Pretty cool, right?
It is believed that Austria was the first country to use a PCP muzzleloader-type rifle in widespread military service, and it had a much higher rate of fire than the comparable muskets of the time. One was also used in the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Today, PCP rifles continue to be made and have achieved popularity since the 1980s. They are most commonly available in .22 and .177 caliber.
Types of PCP Air Rifles
There are three primary types of PCP air rifles. These are:
- Multi-Stroke PCP Rifle
The multi-stroke PCP rifle is by far the most popular type of PCP rifle. To use it, you have to charge the air inside of the gun by pumping the trigger anywhere from eight to a dozen times after every shot.
To do this, you’ll need to hold one hand on the stock near the trigger, while the other hand will be used to pump the rifle. It can be awkward at first, but you’ll get the hang of it eventually.
- Single Stroke PCP Rifle
The single stroke PCP rifle is less common but is also preferred by more advanced shooters. The main reason for this is because, as the name suggests, the single stroke only requires a single stroke in order to fire, which is pretty cool.
The negative side to the single stroke rifle, however, is that they have less power than the multi stroke models. They remain powerful out to about ten meters, whereas multi-stroke PCP rifles can be lethal out to thirty meters or more.
- Pre-Charged PCP Rifle
The third major type of PCP rifle is the pre-charged PCP rifle. This type of PCP rifle is designed to give you the absolute best of both worlds between the multi-stroke and the single-stroke version.
They offer you a lot of power, are easy to pump, and are also quite versatile and fun to use. The con to them is you’ll need to go to a scuba shop in order to fill them up to their full 4,500 PSI, because you’ll need a specialized hose with a pressure gauge. There’s a trade off to everything, right?
In short, a multi-stroke PCP rifle will definitely be the best choice for you if you’re a beginner. They require more effort to pump and prepare, but they also offer the greatest power.
How Do PCP Air Rifles Work?
Let’s go into a little bit more depth about how PCP air rifles work exactly.
Basically, PCP rifles use compressed air as the propellant to fire ammunition. To achieve this, each air tank needs to be compressed to anywhere from 2,700 up to 4,500 PSI. A PSI of around 3,000 is the most common. By the way, PSI stands for ‘pounds per square inch.’
The air is compressed by using a high pressure air pump that comes installed on the rifle, though as is the case with a pre-charged model, a scuba tank or specialized hose and gauge will need to be used instead.
Then, when you pull the trigger on the rifle, it pulls a valve to release a quick burst of compressed air to send the pellet firing out of the barrel. Each time the weapon is fired, there is slightly less pressure and volume of air in the air tank, requiring you to pump again.
Advantages and Disadvantages of A PCP Air Rifle
As with any other type of air rifle, PCP rifles have their pros and cons. On one hand, they are noiseless and reloading is a simple breeze. After all, the only thing that’s actually moving is the air inside of the rifle. In fact, firing the rifle is just as noiseless as reloading it!
Another advantage to the PCP rifle is the fixed barrel, which greatly aids in accuracy (in contrast to tilting barrel designs).
The biggest disadvantage to a PCP rifle, by far, is the fact that pumping the air required to fire them can be a bit strenuous. For example, multi-stroke PCP rifle require anywhere from eight to twelve pumps on average in order to be fully charged just to fire a single shot. It’s safe to say, PCP rifles have a slow rate of fire and reloading, while simple, also requires some degree of physical effort.
What Makes A Good PCP Air Rifle?
There are many different factors to consider when choosing a PCP air rifle, which we will go over now:
- Longer Barrel
The longer the barrel on your PCP rifle, the better. No, this doesn’t mean you should get an obnoxiously long one hundred inch barrel or anything, but it does mean that longer barrels have a longer sight radius and greater accuracy over long distances. At the very least, a longer barrel will be necessary for hunting purposes.
The best PCP rifles have magazines that hold multiple pellets in contrast to single shot models that require you to load a single shot at a time. Rotary magazines that hold around ten shots are the most common.
Obviously this will be a factor for you to consider if you are on a budget. Don’t buy a PCP air rifle that you cannot afford. The good news is that PCP rifles are offered at a diverse range of prices, and you should easily be able to find one that meets your budget. Some PCP rifles will cost less than a hundred dollars, while others will cost several hundred.
PCP air rifles are available in three primary calibers: .177, .22, and .25. Out of these, .177 or .22 are your best choice. The reason for this is because they are the most common and affordable. Furthermore, they have greater velocity than the larger .25 round.
.177 caliber in particular is an excellent training round, while .22 is a better choice if you’re serious about bringing down small game.
Comparison Between PCP Rifles and Other Air Rifles
As was noted previously, PCP rifles are just one of the many different types of air rifles that are out there. It’s safe to say, the hunter or target shooter looking for an air rifle has a wide variety of options.
While the focus of this article has thus far been on the PCP rifle in particular, in this section we will compare it against other types of air rifles by providing a basic overview and discussion of the basic types of air rifles that you can buy.
This section is intended for novices rather than experts. If you’re currently not sure which type of air rifle that you need for your specific purposes, the following information should help you make up your mind:
- PCP vs. Springer Air Rifles (AKA Break Barrel Air Rifles)
Air rifles have proven to be extremely popular, and this means that the different types of air rifles have expanded beyond the variable pump air rifle style. One such example is the break action air rifle. This rifle is similar to a variable pump, but rather than use a lever to pump air into the rifle, it instead uses a break barrel (as the name suggests) to load and cock the weapon.
Break action air rifles are often preferred by hunters because they can produce much higher velocities in comparison to other types of air rifles. This is because a heavy spring pushes the piston forward to launch the projectile out of the end of the barrel.
One of the negatives to break action air rifles, however, is that they produce consistently more noise than other types of air rifles. Quietness is something you will have to sacrifice if you want a more powerful weapon in your hands.
This stands in stark contrast to PCP rifles, which are much quieter. Furthermore, PCP rifles have a higher rate of fire than break barrel air rifles because they are pre-charged with air, and Springer air rifles need to be pumped and cocked before each shot.
- PCP vs. Gas Piston Air Rifle
The Gas Piston Air Rifle is one of the newer types of air rifle designs and was invented by Crosman, who called their model the Nitro piston. This rifle works by cocking the rifle to move a piston to the rear. But instead of the spring being compressed, nitrogen is compressed instead. The compressed nitrogen then sends the projectile forward. Nitro Piston air rifles have the advantage of being lighter and quieter than other kinds of air rifles, and you can also cock them for extended periods without worrying about weakening the spring.
In the year 2014, Crosman improved the Nitro Piston system into the Nitro Piston 2. This design keeps recoil and noise to a minimum while simultaneously enhancing the velocity and power of the projectile being sent out of the firearm. It accomplishes this by eliminating all metal to metal contact. There is also less force needed to cock the rifle.
As with the Springer air rifles, PCP rifles still have a higher rate of fire than Gas Piston air rifles because they are pre-charged with air.
- PCP vs. CO2 Air Rifles
The last major type of air rifle is the Co2 rifle. Co2 air rifles are limited to the amount of pressure delivered by the Co2 cartridges loaded into the rifle. They can typically fire at speeds of six hundred to seven hundred feet per second, which is enough for small game hunting within moderate distances.
One of the biggest advantages to the Co2 type of air rifle is that there is no cocking required once the Co2 cartridge is loaded. All you need to do is load the projectiles in order to fire them, and you can continue to fire them until the pressure has run out in the Co2. Furthermore, the Co2 canisters are very small and can be easily carried on your person while in the outdoors.
A PCP air rifle, like we have already discussed, is where air is pumped into a large reservoir to ‘pre-charge’ the rifle. This means that reloading is faster and extremely quiet, as the air only moves when the weapon is fired. The reservoir can also remain filled without risking weakening the pressure, and you can fire between twenty to thirty shots before needing to reload.
In this regard, PCP and Co2 rifles are similar in that they can both be pre-charged with the propellant (either air or Co2 canisters) and they can then fire a large number of rounds without needing to be pumped or cocked before each shot. Some air rifles, as we will soon later, ar ea combo model of PCP and Co2 air rifles.
- .177 vs. .22 vs. 25
Let’s talk about calibers a little bit more in-depth. For PCP rifles, .177 and .22 are by far the most common calibers. They have more velocity than .25 and are cheaper as well. Between the two, .22 is the better choice for small game hunting because it offers the right balance between high velocity and power, while .177 is a better option for a PCP rifle meant for target shooting because it is slightly cheaper.
In this section, we have outlined and discussed each of the major types of air rifles in-depth. You now not only know what a PCP air rifle is and how it works, but you know how the other types of PCP rifles work and how they compare to the other kinds of air rifles as well.
Safety Procedures To Follow When Using A PCP Air Rifle
While many people understand that firearms are dangerous weapons and need to be treated as such, many of those same people will treat air rifles as being toys.
This is a big mistake. Even though air rifles may have significantly less power than firearms (including PCP rifles), they can still be dangerous in the wrong or uncaring hands. There are many safety procedures that you will need to follow.
The first safety procedure is to be careful about who uses the rifle and who doesn’t. No children should wield a PCP rifle without direct supervision from an adult. Remember, even if a PCP rifle doesn’t fire actual bullets, it can still fire pellets and at a high enough velocity to take down small game within reasonable distances. As a result, it can deal severe damage to a human if the weapon is discharged close enough.
A golden rule to follow is to treat your PCP rifle as if it were an actual firearm. This means that you will need to use all of the same safety procedures. PCP rifles are not toys and should not be treated as such.
In following with this golden rule, always be careful about where the muzzle of your PCP rifle is pointing. Always keep it pointed away from you or another person and do not aim it deliberately at anything that you do not intend to destroy.
Another rule to follow os to never assume that the air gun is not loaded. Check the chamber to confirm if it is loaded or not, keep the weapon pointed in a safe direction, and always keep the safety engaged until you are prepared to fire. Every PCP rifle comes installed with a safety switch that you can easily disengage before firing.
When it comes time to shoot, you won’t need to wear hearing protection since PCP rifles are different (so that’s one safety precaution that isn’t the same as firearms), but you will absolutely need to wear eye protection.
Frequently asked questions (FAQ)
For our final section, we will outline and answer some questions about PCP air rifles that you may have:
- Can You Use A PCP Rifle For Hunting?
Yes, but only within a certain range. It’s important to be ethical as a hunter and to try and bring down your game with a single shot. To this end, stick to range within thirty five yards.
- Are PCP Rifles Safe?
So long as they are used properly and you follow proper gun safety to use, PCP rifles and other types of air guns are safe to use. These guns do store high pressure air in their canisters, and so it is important to treat them the same way as other firearms.
To this end, always keep the firearms unloaded when storing them, keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, don’t shoot anything you don’t want to destroy, keep the safety engaged, and always keep your finger off of the trigger until you are ready to fire.
- How Many Shots Can You Get From One Fill of Air?
Honestly, it depends on the specific PCP rifle that you’re using. There are many different factors in place.
The multi-stroke PCP rifle, which is the most common type of rifle, usually only gets one shot off per canister of air. Remember, you’ll have to pump the rifle eight to twelve times in order to fill up that canister depending on the rifle that you’re using. While they’re might be a little bit of air left, enough to take a second shot, chances are almost certain that that second shot will not be as accurate or powerful as the primary shot. So in other words, you’ll need to pump the rifle again.
Other kinds of PCP rifles, however, have much larger canisters. For example, some have a shoulder stock that doubles as a canister, and allow the rile to fire between twenty to one hundred shots before it needs to be refilled. That’s a lot of pellets, though the flip side is it will take a much longer amount of time to fill up the canister and you’ll likely have to use specialized equipment such as scuba Gera in order to do it.
- Should You Leave Your PCP Gun Charged When You Are Not Using it?
Yes, you should. A PCP rifle will hold air in it indefinitely. If you let air out of the gun, it will become ruined overtime. A good analogy to this is the tires we use on cars. Just as the airs needs to be constantly filled up, so does the air in your PCP rifle. A golden rule to follow is to keep it filled at 1,500 to 2,000 PSI levels.
- How Loud Are PCP Rifles?
In comparison to firearms, PCP rifles are extremely quiet.
But in contrast to other air guns, PCP rifles are still in the louder end of the spectrum. All air rifles use a large volume of air in order to push the pellet out of the barrel, which means that they will be louder than spring guns (which use smaller blast of air and are less powerful).
To this end, PCP rifles and Co2 rifles alike would be louder than other types of air rifles.
If quietness if something you value in a PCP rifle. Your best bet would be to go with a rifle that has a longer barrel and to have a velocity of 900 feet per second at the highest, or to use heavier pellets in order to slow the velocity as much as possible. Yes, this means that your PCP rifle then won’t be quite as powerful, but there’s a trade off for everything, right?
- Should Your Fill Your PCP Rifle With Greater Levels of Air?
No, you should not. But only if you want to reduce your power.
Yes, that’s right, filing your PCP rifle with a higher level of air is actually going to lower your overall power (and thus your accuracy and velocity). The reason for this is because the valve will not be able to open far enough against the greater resistance of your pressure. In other words, this creates a valve lock, or where your valve is under so much pressure that it is difficult for it to open up.
For this reason, carefully research the recommended PSI of your manufacturer and stick with that. Most PCP guns operate well with anywhere from 1,500 to 4,500 PSI; 2,500 to 3,000 is more common.
In conclusion a PCP rifle represents one of the best types of air rifles on the market. Now that you have read this article, you understand how PCP rifles work, how they compare to other kinds of air rifles, their pros and their cons, and then the best makes and models of PCP rifles for you to consider.
Is a PCP air rifle the absolute best type of air rifle out there? That’s debatable if it’s the ‘very best.’ But there is absolutely no question that it’s a proven design that has been around for literally centuries. It has seen military service historically and today it continues to be used by target shooters and small game hunters alike.
The best type of PCP rifle to get, if you are new to air rifles, will be a multi-stroke rifle with a longer barrel, a rotary magazine that holds 5-10 rounds, and that is chambered for either the .177 or .22 caliber round. If you can get a PCP rifle that meets those qualifications, you will have gotten a rifle that will be equally as effective for small game hunting within reasonable distances as it is for fun recreational target shooting on the range.