Should you buy a hand pump for your airgun?

By B.B. Pelletier

Filling a precharged pneumatic is easy when you use a scuba tank. What about using a hand pump? You’ll hear all sorts of conflicting reports about hand pumps, and it’s difficult to know what to believe, so I thought I’d take a stab at it.

Are hand pumps reliable? Yes, they are IF you don’t rush them! Their makers tell you to pump for a maximum of five minutes, then let the pump cool. I’ve found this to be good advice. If you just keep pumping, any hand pump available today will fail in a very short time. If you stick to five-minute sessions, it will last for many years.

How hard is it?
The higher you go, the harder it becomes. Any average adult should be able to pump up to 1,500 pounds per square inch (psi) with one hand! That’s anyone! From 1,500 psi to 2,000 psi, the pumping is easy, but it may take both hands. From 2,000 to 2,500, the effort starts to increase, but most adults should be able to do it with no trouble. However, from 2,500 psi to 3,000 psi, a hand pump is difficult to operate.

When the pumping effort becomes hard for you, you can stop pumping with your arms and let your entire body weight do the work by doing deep knee bends. That is a well-known pumping technique. But people weighing less than 150 pounds may find at some point that their entire body weight cannot make the pump handle go down all the way.

One more bit of advice; go all the way with the pump handle on both the upstroke and the downstroke. The pump does most of its work in the final inch of travel in both directions.

How many pumps?
How many pumps it takes to fill a gun will vary with the size of the gun’s air reservoir. A BSA Hornet has a tiny 75cc reservoir that fills very fast, while an AirForce Talon SS has a huge 490cc reservoir that fills slower. BUT, and this is an important point, you get more shots from a larger reservoir. In other words, the BSA may give you 20 shots at a certain power level while the Talon SS gives you 40 shots at a higher power level! So, consider what you get from each gun.

As it turns out, it takes pretty close to the same amount of air to deliver the same power from all precharged airguns of similar caliber. One gun may be a little more efficient than another if it has a longer barrel or perhaps a more efficient valve, but the rule of thumb with hand pumps is that they take one to three pump strokes per shot they deliver from any smallbore air rifle.

Pumping big bores is harder!
One BIG departure from everything I’ve said so far are the large bore precharged guns. That’s anything over .25 caliber. The big guns give from two to ten shots per fill, and they take just as many pumps to refill as the smallbores. Most shooters prefer to use a scuba tank to fill the big guys, but a hand pump allows you to go hunting without dragging that heavy tank along.

I’ll leave you with this: if you can follow the rules and let your pump cool between sessions, get a hand pump. If you are an impatient fellow, avoid hand pumps at all costs!

8 thoughts on “Should you buy a hand pump for your airgun?”

  1. I have a hand pump and its just about like you say only I find that it starts getting real hard at 2200 psi Mines a FX that I got here at the airgun mallabout a year ago Do they get harder as they get older.

  2. No, the pump should not get harder to pump as it gets older. The difference between yours and the number I mentioned might be that our two gauges don’t agree. Yours might read 2200 psi where mine reads 2500 psi and they are boh at the same pressure. Small gauges like the one on the pump are often off by several hundred psi, which I should have mentioned in my post. B.B.

  3. A lot of hand pumping is technique — as in most things athletic (and, I find this a great way to end a shooting session with some aerobic exercise), using the whole body is the best way. If you try to pump with just your arms, you will poop out both physically and be unable to get to high pressures. Use your legs, arms, and back to pump. Bend your knees on the downstroke and straighten your arms so you can get your body weight on top of the pump to get a complete stroke.

    Why at the end of the session? Because this will raise your heart rate considerably (not a bad thing, in general) as well as working out lots of muscles. Better shooting depends on a relaxed state and you may feel better for the exercise but you won’t shoot better immediately after pumping.

    Great BLOG,


  4. so if the gauge is off by several hundred PSI, is that dangerous? Im thinking of a talon SS and cant decide on a scuba tank or a hand pump. Im thinking the hand pump will pay for itself before too long but I dont want to blow the tank up in my face!

    How many sessions does it take to fill a talons tank? They say dont take it past 2800ish and let it run down to 1800-2000 before a recharge. also, when im done shooting for the day or for a while is it ok to leave pressure in the tank, and if so what would be the maximum pressure(s) for long term vs. short term? Thanks a ton for this blog.


  5. The.Man,

    No, the fact that small pressure gauges are always off a bit is not dangerous – any more than a faulty gas gauge in a car. There is a large safety margin built in. But performance is another issue. This is why owning a chronograph is so vital to a PCP owner.

    AirForce does not say to fill their reservoir to 2800 psi. They say 3000 for both the Talon and Talon SS. 2800 refers to the Condor.

    It takes 3-4 sessions of 5 minutes each to fill a reservoir from empty. After that one time, you never let it get empty again. It takes on 5-minute session to top off the reservoir between shooting.

    You MUST leave pressure in the tank all the time! That is a maintenance practice. To empty it is to invite valve failure. As I have said numerous times, My Talon SS reservoir has been filled continuously since 2001. I keep it at 3,000 all the time.


  6. I recently acquired a hand pump that I intend to use to fill my paintball marker compressed air resevoir, but the pump I have has the wrong fitting. I was wondering if either of you happen to know of the specific type of adapter I need to fill a compressed air tank. I think I need a universal fill adapter, but I don’t know much about compressed air, so I’m not sure. Thanks.


  7. Bob,

    There are many different fittings on compressed air tanks. You need to determine whaich one you have. The maximum air pressure the tank will hold (by law) plays a part in this, but it’s not that simple.

    I think the easiest way to figure this out is to contact Airhog. They make most of the custom fillings for the U.S. airgun community.



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