Air rifles are weapons in which projectiles are propelled by the rapid expansion of a compressed gas. They are not suitable for hunting use, as their performance is much weaker than that of firearms.
However, as sporting devices or for practice, they are useful for hunters, for example, to practice basic marksmanship. Besides, air rifle shooting is a lot of fun in conviviality and can be done on your own property if some safety rules are followed.
Here are the most important facts about air rifles, and what to look for when buying one.
How does an air rifle work?
There are systems with spring accumulator as well as with gas pressure accumulator. In the spring-loaded system, a spring is compressed before the shot is fired, which accelerates a piston forward in the direction of the shot when it is released. This piston generates an air pressure of over 150 bar, which accelerates the bullet. Systems with gas pressure accumulators, in contrast, have a pressurized gas canister or a CO2 cartridge. When the trigger is pulled, a valve is briefly opened, creating the pressure needed to accelerate the projectile.
The advantage of the spring-loaded cartridge is that there is no cost except for the purchase of the ammunition. CO2 cartridges must be replaced when empty, but they allow repeated shooting without cocking a spring. However, CO2 cartridges are somewhat temperature sensitive.
The muzzle velocity of the projectiles in air rifles is about 170 m/s, but there are models in which this velocity can be regulated.
The projectiles used in air rifles are called diabolos and usually have a diameter of 4.5 mm and weigh about 0.45-0.60 grams.
How far does an air rifle shoot?
Sometimes the longest possible shooting distance of rifles with 7.5 joules of muzzle energy is given as 250-300 m - but that is assuming one shoots with a 45° barrel elevation upwards. For shooters, the effective range is far more interesting. With freely available air rifles one can assume about 25-30 m effective range. More powerful models with so-called export springs, for which, however, a gun ownership card is necessary, can have an effective range of up to 80 meters. In the field of sport shooting, the range is 10 m.
What is the most powerful air rifle?
Air rifles up to 7.5 joules muzzle energy are freely available in Germany. Any air rifle that is more powerful, i.e. has a higher muzzle energy, is only available with a purchase authorization, for example with a yellow or a green weapons possession card. Often manufacturers of air rifles offer so-called "export springs" for higher ballistic performance, but the subsequent installation of such a spring is not allowed, because the weapon becomes subject to licensing.
The most powerful air rifles sometimes have a muzzle energy of over 50 joules (according to the manufacturer's specifications), which accelerates the bullets out of the barrel of the gun at a speed of over 300 m/s. By comparison, a bullet in the .308 Winchester hunting caliber has a muzzle velocity of about 850 m/s, depending on the laboratory finish and barrel length.
Air rifles available in Germany that require a permit have a muzzle energy of up to 30 joules.
How much does an air rifle cost?
Entry-level models for recreational use are available new from a price of about 100 euros, the limit upwards is open especially for high-tech sports rifles.
Where can you buy an air rifle?
Like other weapons, air rifles can be purchased online, although less stringent safety requirements are necessary here than for firearms, for example. Due to the legal situation, no credentials are required for free weapons other than proof of age - i.e. no hunting license or gun ownership card.
Popular stores and marketplaces for air rifles, air pistols and C02 weapons are eGun, the weapons market of the VDB, auctronia, or bspw 4komma5. On Gunfinder, all online offers for air rifles can be sorted and displayed in a bundle, without having to compare all offers individually.
What are the best manufacturers for air rifles?
Die-hard Weihrauch fans find fault with Diana products that the company made many parts out of plastics early on. Fans of Diana guns, on the other hand, say that many of the metal parts used in Weihrauch guns oxidized significantly after a few years or decades.
The high-quality plastics used by Diana are as good as new for a long time. This is clearly a matter of taste. The majority of Walther's air rifles, on the other hand, are already visually different from Weihrauch's and Diana's products.
While the high-quality products from Weihrauch and Diana are mainly made of wood, polymer and steel and come close to the design of classic hunting rifles, the air rifles from Walther are futuristic-functionally designed high-performance weapons. Walther's match air rifles easily reach a price of more than 3,000 euros.
Air rifle test winner 2021:
It's hard to say which air rifle is the best. On Geartester the most important products for hunters and sport shooters are tested.
The most popular manufacturers on Gunfinder:
What are the most popular models?
The following models are the most popular among Gunfinder users:
What ammunition is fired with air rifles?
The most common ammunition for air rifles as well as air pistols are diabolos. Sport shooters use diabolos with a diameter of 4.5 mm (4.48-4.52 mm), which is the caliber. 177 corresponds in the field of air or C02 weapons, however, you can say caliber 4.5. However, there are also larger diabolos, but they are rather rare: 5 mm (.20 cal), 5.5 mm (.22 cal), 6.35 mm (.25 cal), 7.62 mm (.30 cal), 9 mm (.35 cal) or 12.7 mm (.50 cal).
Depending on the application, diabolos with differently shaped tips are used: Hollow point bullets and pointed point diabolos are used for pest control. This is prohibited in Germany for vertebrates without a permit and is punishable by law. Sport shooters mainly use diabolos with round head or flat head.
A typical diabolo with the diameter of 4.5 mm weighs between 0.4 and 0.6 g. Important manufacturers of diabolos are, for example, H&N, RWS and Umarex.
What sights do air rifles have?
Most recreational models are shot using the simplest sighting device: Rear sight and front sight. However, rear sight and front sight have the disadvantage that three points must be seen "in focus", namely the rear sight, the front sight at the muzzle and finally the target. In addition, the rear sight and front sight optically obscure part of the target - which can be a problem with small targets. Another sighting device, which is also used in sport shooting, consists of a sight and a pin or ring sight.
A sight is a vertically and laterally adjustable plate with a very small aperture for looking through. It provides a view of the front sight, a pin front sight or a ring front sight. An advantage of this device is that sighting is easier, and less of the target is obscured than with a rear sight.
Furthermore, telescopic sights are also sometimes used on air rifles, but the requirements for their performance are much lower than those for firearms that operate at much greater distances.
Legal information about air rifles:
Air rifles (like air pistols) are freely available for sale in Germany up to a muzzle energy of 7.5 joules to persons 18 years of age and older. These weapons are marked with a F in pentagon symbol. However, they may only be carried in public if a firearms license is available. On private property, however, they may be freely carried and used. However, if the muzzle energy is more than 7.5 joules, registration in a weapons ownership card is necessary, unless the air rifle in question was manufactured and marketed in the territory of the former GDR before January 1, 1970 or April 2, 1991 (WaffG, Appendix 2, Section 2, Subsection 2, No. 1.2).
The legal situation allows air rifles to be used even within pacified territories. Although their ammunition is much less dangerous than rifle or shotgun ammunition, it is necessary to pay attention to the danger zone. With air rifles of up to 7.5 joules muzzle energy, one should take the precaution of expecting a dangerous range of 250-300 meters. Basically, the projectile must not leave one's own property, even when shooting with an air rifle, a safe bullet trap is a prerequisite for a shot.
Is it allowed to hunt with an air rifle?
Theoretically, the effect of an air rifle would be sufficient to hunt birds or pests such as rats, for example. However, this is forbidden in Germany for reasons of animal protection - even if the shooter is authorized to hunt by his hunting license.
More articles on air rifles: