Date: 16/7/2024 5:2
Types of Airgun Powerplants

Types of Airguns

Caring & Maintaining Your Air Rifles & Pistols

There are several types of airgun powerplants, or ways the air is used, and they can be confusing until you know what they are and how they work. We break down each one, answer common questions, and provide links to care and maintenance information that will help you get the most from your airguns.

Airgun Powerplants

Airgun Powerplants

PCP (Pre-Charged Pneumatic)

The term PCP is an abbreviation of Pre-Charged Pneumatic. Pneumatic guns store a charge of compressed air that propels a projectile. The PCP is one of the oldest types of airguns. It takes its place in history before the year 1600. It accompanied Lewis and Clark in finding the Oregon Trail. And it is the most popular powerplant for hunting. Most big-bore, precision target, and sporting airguns are PCPs because they have a consistent performance through the fill pressure of the air reservoir.

Advantages of PCPs

  • Produces the highest velocities
  • Most muzzle energy
  • Has the longest effective range
  • Most versatile for hunting
  • Largest caliber range

Disadvantages of PCPs

  • Higher start-up cost
  • Requires external air supply

Many PCP airguns cost more than other types of airguns, and the price of an air tank, compressor, or hand pump increase that cost, however, the versatility, accuracy, and ease of use provide enough benefit to outweigh those disadvantages for most users. For many, once they buy a PCP, it becomes their favorite type of airgun.

Helpful Links


The next oldest powerplant is CO2. It started in the late 1800s with Paul Giffard. Giffard guns were made in both rifle and pistol varieties. Since the tanks needed to be refilled at the factory, the popularity of the powerplant never took off, until after WWII when a surplus of CO2 tanks provided a ready fuel source, and certain manufacturers began experimenting.

Advantages of CO2s

  • Assists with firearms training
  • Backyard friendly
  • Teach new gun users proper handling
  • Many BB shooting firearm-replicas to choose from
  • Low-cost compared PCP, Spring or Gas Pistons

Disadvantages of CO2s

  • Ineffective at temperatures below 50 degrees F
  • Least amount of range and power
  • Most options are pistols

Helpful Links

Spring Piston

Most commonly seen in the form of a break barrel, the spring piston has been around since the 1800s. Its popularity is second only to the PCP. The simple design requires no extra accessories, besides pellets, and fits easily into the hunting lifestyle ready to use. Less common is the underlever, which functions the same way, except it has a fixed barrel and the cocking lever is beneath the barrel. The spring coil compresses with the cocking mechanism, which draws air into the chamber. The trigger releases the spring, compressing the air, and propelling the pellet through the barrel.

Advantages of Spring Pistons

  • No extra accessories needed
  • Easy to use for beginners
  • Helps perfect marksmanship skills

Disadvantages of Spring Pistons

  • Requires extra practice to shoot sub-MOA groups
  • Commonly single-shot (no magazine)
  • Cocking can be difficult
  • Cannot stay cocked long or spring wears out more quickly
  • Loud, compared to other powerplants

Helpful Links

Gas Piston

Similar to the spring piston, but change out the coiled spring for compressed gas. The gas piston compresses with the cocking mechanism, which draws air into the chamber. The trigger releases the piston, compressing the air, and propelling the pellet through the barrel. Argentine designers made this change, and it brought along a few improvements. They last longer than coiled springs and can be rebuilt. They act faster than springs, produce less recoil, and less vibration.

Advantages of Gas Pistons

  • Ready to use
  • Not temperature sensitive
  • No extra accessories needed
  • Easy for beginners
  • Helps perfect marksmanship skills

Disadvantages of Gas Pistons

  • Cocking can be difficult
  • Commonly single-shot (no magazine)
  • Larger calibers are not available

Helpful Links


Pump pneumatics come in single stroke and multi-pump. Single stroke pneumatics use one pump of air to operate and release the air if a second pump is attempted. They are used mostly for target guns. The multi-pump uses multiple pumps of air to operate and can be used for target shooting or small game hunting. Most multi-pumps use 3-10 pumps. The more pumps put in the more power that is put out. However, never exceed the maximum pumps for your gun because it could damage it beyond repair.

Advantages of Pump Pneumatics

  • Low-cost compared PCP, Spring or Gas Pistons
  • Easy to shoot
  • No extra accessories needed

Disadvantages of Pump Pneumatics

  • Not as powerful as PCP, Spring or Gas Pistons
  • Pumping can be difficult

Helpful Links

Other Types of Air Powered Guns

In addition to the traditional airguns, the other end of the airgun spectrum consists of paintball guns and airsoft guns. These are non-lethal guns powered by air that are made for recreation and combat simulation sports.


Paintball guns (or paintball markers) use compressed gas to fire biodegradable paint-filled (or gel) balls at opposing players in a paintball match. The match is a game of strategy that pits two teams against each other to see which team can claim victory. The paintball marker works like many other airguns. It has a reservoir of compressed gas (CO2 or HPA) that the trigger releases to propel the ammunition through the barrel. Paintball markers are either mechanically driven with a hammer spring, or electronically driven with a circuit panel. The term "marker" comes from its original purpose in forestry and agriculture to mark trees and cattle from a distance. Mechanical markers have a slower reloading and shooting rate than electronic markers and are used more for Woodsball, while electronic markers are used more for Speedball.

Advantages of Paintball Markers

  • Used to promote team building
  • Used to test battle strategies
  • Limited power reduces the likelihood of bodily damage
  • Paint balls leave visible splatter

Helpful Links


Airsoft guns can be powered by springs, gas, or batteries. They propel airsoft pellets (or airsoft BBs) which are round plastic pellets through a smooth bore barrel. They are used most often for recreational strategy games, similar to paintball, or in tactical training for security, police, and military personnel. Some airsoft replicas so closely match the look and feel of the live fire guns they represent, that they have been mistaken for firearms.

Advantages of Airsoft Guns

  • Can be used in combat simulations and training
  • Gives simulations more realistic accuracy
  • Limited power reduces the likelihood of bodily damage

Helpful Links

Care Guides

CO2 AirgunsSpring Pistons Air GunsGas Pistons AirgunsPCP Air GunsPump Airguns

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