The best break-barrel air rifle

Brett Dvoretz

Break-barrel air rifles should only be used by responsible individuals who have been trained on how to use them and the best practices for safe operation.

There are many types of air guns, but the most popular and most reliable are break-barrel rifles. These have a hinged junction where the shooter cracks the barrel in half, which cocks the gun and in most models, exposes the breech for loading a pellet.

Break-barrel air rifles can look like traditional hunting rifles, assault rifles or, as is the case with the Black Ops Break Barrel, a sniper rifle. Depending on the model, they’re suitable for competition target shooting, small game hunting, pest control or simply taking potshots at cans in the backyard.

What to know before you buy a break-barrel air rifle

Gas vs. spring piston

Break-barrel air rifles utilize either spring or gas pistons to compress the air needed for propulsion. In the former, a metal spring is compressed when the gun is cocked, and released when you pull the trigger. The latter works in a similar manner, except it relies on a piston to compress a cylinder filled with gas. The gas expands rapidly when the trigger is pulled, pushing the piston forward and firing the pellet.

One of the main benefits of gas-piston rifles is that you can leave them cocked without worrying about causing damage over time. They also perform more reliably in cold weather. On the other hand, spring pistons are capable of shooting at a higher velocity but need to be cocked immediately before shooting.

Air rifle calibers

Break-barrel air rifles come in several calibers. The most common is .177 followed by .22. Both of these are suitable for small game hunting, but only .177 are allowed in International Shooting Sport Federation governed tournaments. For large game hunting, you can find guns that shoot .357, .45, .50 or .58 caliber pellets.

Air rifle velocity

Air rifles shoot pellets between 600-1,300 feet per second, depending on the propulsion method, model and the caliber. Most shooters find that 800-1,000 feet per second offers the right balance of power and pellet stability.

Break-barrel air rifle features

Ammo capacity

Air rifles can hold as few as one pellet or as many as 50. The capacity is one aspect that determines how quickly you can shoot, which can be very important if using your air rifle for hunting and you miss the first shot. Often, the larger the caliber of your rifle, the smaller the ammo capacity will be.

Accessory rail

An accessory rail on top of a rifle allows you to add accessories like scopes, laser sights, iron sights and flashlights to your gun. If you’re looking for an air rifle with an accessory rail, it’s best to choose one with a Picatinny or Weaver rail, as these are compatible with the widest number of accessories.

Aiming aids

Some air rifles come with included aiming aids. Most commonly these are iron sights or a scope; however, some models may include a red dot sight or a bipod attachment.

Sound-suppressing technology

Break-barrel air rifles are loud. Many shoot pellets that break the sound barrier, which can create a loud pop. To reduce the sound as much as possible, some manufacturers incorporate sound-dampening technology into the barrel or chamber. 

All-weather construction

Though not a necessity for someone just plinking cans in their backyard or participating in shooting competitions, an all-weather construction is important if you’re using your air rifle for hunting, since you never know when you might unexpectedly get caught in a rainstorm.

Break-barrel air rifle cost 

You can find budget-friendly break-barrel air rifles that start as low as $50. For a quality rifle, expect to spend at least $100, and as much as several thousand for top-of-the-line models.

Break-barrel air rifle FAQ

Are all air rifle pellets the same?

A. All air rifle pellets are not the same — they come in a variety of calibers and shapes. Some common types of air rifle pellets include hollow point, roundheads and high-velocity. Each of these has properties that affect how they shoot and how much damage they do when they hit something.

Do I need a license to buy an air rifle?

A. Whether or not you need a license for your air rifle depends on where you live. Some states lump air rifles into the same category as powder guns, while others don’t regulate them at all. It’s important to check both your state and local laws before purchasing or using an air gun.

Which break-barrel air rifle should I get?

Best of the best break-barrel air rifle

Black Ops Break Barrel Sniper Air Rifle: available at Amazon

Our take: Scoring high marks for both accuracy and consistency, the Black Ops Sniper Rifle is a good choice for small game hunters and competition target shooters. 

What we like: It comes equipped with a powerful scope and an adjustable bipod, and it features a rugged metal build that can withstand extreme conditions. 

What we dislike: It's heavier than many other guns, which can make it difficult to carry for long distances.

Best bang for your buck break-barrel air rifle

Beeman RS2 Air Rifle: available at Amazon

Our take: With a build quality that belies its reasonable price tag, the RS2 offers a lot of value for your money.

What we like: You can adjust the travel of the trigger, as well as the windage and elevation on the included iron sights. Plus, it has a beautiful European hardwood stock that gives it a high-end look and feel.

What we dislike: It’s very loud, so it may annoy neighbors if using it in the backyard and they live close by.

Honorable mention break-barrel air rifle

Gamo Swarm Maxxim G2 Air Rifle: available at Amazon and Dick's Sporting Goods

Our take: This multi-shot option is great for taking down small game in all kinds of weather conditions.

What we like: It’s made with comfort and quietness in mind, featuring a shock-absorbing recoil pad and noise-dampening chambers in the barrel.

What we dislike: The included scope is low-quality, so most people will want to replace it with something better.

Brett Dvoretz 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.

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