Air pistols offer great variety, from low-cost BB guns designed for plinking, through realistic replicas useful for training purposes, to high-power .22 models capable of pest control. Whatever kind of shooter you are, there's an air pistol that will provide entertainment and challenge, and in the following concise guide, we talk about the important aspects you'll want to consider when buying. We've picked a few favorites at the end of this article that offer price and performance options to suit most. If you're searching for the ultimate in power and accuracy, you need look no further than the superb Crosman Benjamin Marauder.
Considerations when choosing air pistols
There are four main considerations when choosing an air pistol: caliber, muzzle velocity, power supply, and physical size and style.
Caliber, or the size of ammunition being fired, is either .177 (which includes both BB and pellet guns) or .22. The latter can do more damage, but larger ammunition is no good without sufficient air power to drive it effectively.
That's where muzzle velocity comes in. It's measured in feet per second (FPS), and varies from around 150 FPS in entry-level models to more than 700 FPS in the most powerful pistols. Muzzle velocity has a big impact on range, though caliber and type of ammunition also have a bearing.
So, what provides the muzzle velocity? There are four kinds of power supply available. Spring release, where a plunger drives air behind the pellet, is the least powerful. Manual pump utilizes pressure built up with a lever. These can be quite powerful, but may only fire a single shot, or at most three or four. CO2 cylinder, a small, self-contained disposable tank concealed within the pistol, fires anywhere from 25 to 200 shots. (Semiautomatics allow you to fire until you exhaust the clip.) Finally, compressed air -- much like CO2 but rather than a disposable cylinder, must be refilled from a larger tank -- is powerful, but not common.
Style and physical size are very much a question of personal taste. A small, lightweight pistol is ideal for the beginner. Those that mimic modern automatics allow for draw-and-fire practice and save money by using much cheaper ammunition than a real firearm. If you're into westerns, a classic replica Colt revolver might appeal. If you want to shoot at a range or for pest control, a longer barrel will improve accuracy.
Sights are seldom fitted to cheap air pistols, but better models can have adjustable versions, and some have accessory rails to accommodate laser sights or lights.
Air pistol safety
Every air pistol should have a safety mechanism. Make sure it's engaged when not actually firing. An air pistol is unlikely to kill, but can do serious damage to soft tissue, and could potentially blind someone. Never, ever point them at anyone, even if you think it's not loaded. Replica air pistols -- whether current automatics or classic cowboy revolvers -- can be beautifully made and are certainly tempting. However, law enforcement has no idea if they are copies or the real thing, so never take them on the street or in any public area.
Air pistol prices
The cheapest air pistols, for basic beginner target practice, can be found for less than $20 -- though sometimes poor performance can put people off. We would probably look at spending $30 to $70 for a good, reliable mid-range pistol. Top-quality air pistols and replicas can be anywhere from $100 to $400. Competition models are a different ball game and regularly top $1,500.
Q. Are air pistols difficult to clean and maintain?
A. No, and unlike an ordinary firearm, they should not be dismantled because you risk damaging the seals. Pellets leave very little residue, so cleaning and lubrication is only required every 500 to 1,000 rounds. Your owner's manual will provide details.
Q. Is there a particular type of shot I should use?
A. BB guns are usually restricted to round balls. Pellet air pistols offer a choice, and round-topped pellets are what most people start with. However, there are several other styles, made of plastic, metal or both. They aren't expensive, so it's fun to practice with each until you develop your own preference.
Air pistols we recommend
Best of the best: Crosman Benjamin Marauder Air Pistol
Our take: Powerful target pistol and small-varmint rifle for discerning sharpshooters.
What we like: Powerful compressed-air pistol fires .22 caliber pellets at up to 700 FPS. Will take out small game at up to 100 feet. Eight-shot magazine with bolt-action loading. Optional shoulder stock included. Quiet.
What we dislike: Expensive. Requires separate high-pressure tank to fill.
Best bang for your buck: Beeman Sportsman Series Deluxe Air Pistol
Our take: High-quality introduction to air-pistol shooting at a great price.
What we like: Lightweight and comfortable in the hand. Good-quality sights. Smooth trigger pull and rifled barrel help deliver consistent accuracy. Uses .177 pellets at 410 FPS.
What we dislike: Noisy firing. Needs manual pump for every shot.
Choice 3: Colt Commander Air Pistol
Our take: The style and feel of a real firearm, ideal for early training.
What we like: Highly detailed semiautomatic action with metal frame and drop-free magazine for authentic feel. CO2 powered with muzzle velocity of 325 FPS. Mag holds 18 .177 BB rounds.
What we dislike: Some owners have had problems with seals and gas malfunctions. BBs can jam occasionally.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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