Does dry-firing damage airguns?
by B.B. Pelletier
This post was suggested by JB, and I’m glad he did. This is a subject that really needs to be addressed. Dry-firing, of course, means shooting the gun without a pellet in it. One of our readers, CF-X guy, had inadvertently dry-fired his CF-X and was concerned that he might have done some damage. JB researched the FAQ section on Gamo’s USA website and learned that dry-firing will not harm the gun. Today, I want to do a broader look at dry-firing and consider its good and bad points.
Are there good points to dry-firing?
Certainly! In fact, a target gun will be dry-fired up to five times as much as it will be fired with live ammo. The shooter needs constant practice with the trigger, sight picture and grips to improve his scores, so all credible 10-meter airguns have a dry-fire feature for training. But a lot of other guns do, too.
The Beeman P1 can be dry-fired. All you do is lift the top and the trigger is set. The gun doesn’t actually fire, but the trigger works as if it did. On the HW 75M, you cock the hammer for dry-fire. However, a more modern gun such as the Beeman P3 has no dry-fire capability. If an airgun can be dry-fired safely, it will say so in the owner’s manual. Otherwise, proceed with caution. But here are some general observations.
There’s less chance of harming a gas or pneumatic gun than a spring gun when you dry-fire, though I still wouldn’t do it if the owner’s manual didn’t say it was okay. At the very least, you’re wasting gas or air when you do, unless the gun has a dry-fire feature.
Don’t dry-fire most springers!
Spring-piston guns are the ones most likely to be damaged by dry-firing. These guns rely on a cushion of highly compressed air to stop the piston from slamming into the end of the compression chamber. And, in one instance – the handmade Whiscombe rifles – one dry shot is all it takes to ruin the gun! The Whiscombes have two pistons coming together to generate twice the power of a normal spring-piston gun. If they don’t have that air cushion, the seals are destroyed. Whiscombes are the very worst about this, but there are other guns that dislike dry-firing, as well.
The older guns (1960- and 1970-vintage) that had poor synthetic piston seals can be ruined with one dry shot. The list also includes the following:
- FWB 124
- Most Walther spring-piston air rifles – especially the LGV
- The early RWS Diana recoilless guns – both rifle and pistol (Giss system guns)
This is by no means a complete list! Your best guide to dry-firing is whether or not it is allowed according to the owner’s manual.
Springers that are more forgiving
Any spring-piston gun with leather seals is usually more tolerant of being dry-fired. The leather takes up some of the shock, and those guns generally have less power to begin with.
Guns with modern synthetic piston seals are generally more tolerant just because those synthetics are much tougher than in the past. Guns with PTFE (Teflon) seals are extremely tolerant. The Beeman P1 is one of these, as are many of the 1980- and 1990-vintage Webley rifles. In fact, dry-firing is how the factory fits the piston seal to the compression chamber. Apparently, PTFE flows under pressure just enough to take the form of the compression chamber. I once had a P1 that dieseled a lot, until Don Walker at Beeman had me dry-fire it on full power for several shots. The problem went away, and the seal is still in there seven years later.
Gamo is unique
Gamo stands alone as a maker that permits dry-firing their spring-piston guns. In the early 1990s, they undertook a lengthy design study to improve the reliability of their airguns. They redesigned powerplant parts and tested guns by dry-firing them 10,000 times to see the effect on the parts. This kind of engineering deserves high praise, because it is all too rare in the world of airguns. The result is that Gamo can say their guns can be dry-fired. I still wouldn’t do it on purpose, but it’s nice to have that kind of reliability backing up your airgun.
I haven’t touched on BB guns, but they’re in a class of their own. I do know that most Daisys can take some dry-firing, but most Markhams can’t (except for the Markhams made in the 1930s that were really Daisys by another name). The Daisy BB gun mechanism is different than a straightforward spring-piston powerplant. If you want to read about it, there’s a great, but short, article in the Blue Book of Airguns, Fifth edition. I would NEVER think of dry-firing my Kadet BB gun. It’s so fragile that I don’t even like to shoot it with BBs that much! The Crosman M1 Carbine and V-350/3500 seem about as tough as a Daisy, so, yeah, I’ll dry-fire them, too.