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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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