From Daisy’s iconic “Red Ryder” BB rifle to today’s cutting-edge tactical pellet guns, many shooting enthusiasts begin their careers as marksmen with an air gun. Although air guns can still make a great introduction to shooting sports for kids, today’s market is full of well-made and well-designed models that an experienced sportsman can take seriously. From plinking to pest-control, air guns aren’t just for kids anymore. This is especially true for pistol shooters, who can now choose from a huge selection of pellet pistols with options for every budget.
Whether you need an air pistol for a specific task, as an introduction to shooting, or just for fun, it pays to know the fundamentals of air guns and pellet pistols before making a purchase. To help you determine your air pistol needs, we’ll go over the best models in different categories, then review the basics of air gun design and the major types of air guns out there today.
Top Air Pistol Recommendations
Now that you have a better idea of what’s involved with choosing the right air pistol, you might still be daunted by the huge selection of guns available. Below we’ll apply some of the factors discussed above and highlight some of the best pellet pistols on the market today. Whether you need a gun for backyard plinking or for serious pest control, this guide will help you navigate the bewildering gamut of air pistol models.
Best Overall Air Pistol
For a great combination of quality, affordability, and versatility perfect for beginners, it’s hard to beat Crosman’s 2240. Well-known for their quality Airsoft products, Crosman also has a reputation for durable, all-metal construction in their pellet pistols, and this model is no exception. The 2240 is also highly customizable: gun modifiers can choose from a wide variety of accessories or parts from compatible models.
The 2240 is a single-shot pistol with a bolt action and CO2 power plant using standard CO2 cartridges so it doesn’t require an initial investment in an air pump or tank. While not ideal for rapid plinking action, the single-shot operation is perfect for improving marksmanship, a major plus for beginning shooters. The 2240 is not a competition-level match pistol but would make a great choice for beginning target shooters or for hunters interested in a practice gun for the off-season.
Although it isn’t the most powerful gun in our round-up, the 2240 can still make a serviceable varmint pistol thanks to two qualities. First, this pistol fires .22 caliber pellets, one of the larger calibers and therefore more suitable for hunting. Second, the 2240 can propel its pellets at up to 460 FPS, an upper mid-range velocity that’s adequate for pest control and very small game.
With all of these versatile qualities, this pistol is a great choice for beginners or experienced air pistol shooters and the best overall model from our selection.
Most Powerful Air Pistol
Evanix Hunting Master AR6
While the ultimate weight an air gun can send downrange depends on pellet characteristics and other factors, it helps to start with a gun that delivers maximum velocity and power. For an air pistol packing the most pure power into one gun, it’s hard to beat the Evanix Hunting Master AR6. This pistol features both classic wood design and a state-of-the-art, high-powered pre-charged pneumatic plant. The powerful AR6 is building a great reputation and is a testament to the best that modern air gun design has to offer.
A .22 caliber, 6-shot revolver, the AR6 claims the highest power of any PCP powered pistol currently on the market. This impressive shooting technology is housed in a beautiful hardwood pistol with wood grips and ergonomic design throughout. The AR6 is capable of double-action shooting, although the manufacturer now recommends only single-action shooting in order to ensure the durability of its parts.
With a maximum charge of 3,000 psi, the AR6 can achieve pellet velocities of up to 1,000 FPS on its first charge. This is a truly powerful air pistol, exceeding the power of most of the other PCP models available today. However, this fantastic power is also combined with serious accuracy for at least 12 powerful shots on a single charge. The gun is also fairly light (3.05 pounds) despite its air reservoir and wood construction.
A fantastic plinking gun thanks to its 6-shot capacity and .22 caliber pellets, this pistol is also ideal for hunting. Unlike most hunting air pistols, the AR6’s increased power means you can go after animals up into the 6-14 pound range, such as turkeys and possums.
The AR6 can accept a number of optical and other accessories, and works with standard PCP filling equipment.
Most Accurate Air Pistols
For air pistol shooters aspiring to serious, competition-level accuracy, there are a number of guns available ranging from top-quality, high-price match pistols to entry-level target models. Here are two mid-range models that combine affordability with truly accurate shooting.
The Crosman Silhouete is the perfect gun for the shooter moving from casual target practice to formal competition. Precision-made German parts and Crosman’s reputation for dependable, well-built models mean you can trust that this gun will help you achieve your best shot placement ever.
The Silhouette is another pre-charged pneumatic model and can give more than 50 shots per every fill when properly charged. It fires the common .177 caliber, and its specifications and components meet the competition requirements of both the NRA and IHMSA. This is a single-shot, bolt-action gun with very little recoil, another factor that helps to ensure shot-to-shot accuracy. Shooters also report a lighter trigger pull than many similar models. For left-handed shooters, the Silhouette has a reversible bolt.
Adjustable front sights are built into the gun, and there are some after-market sights available that will fit the dovetail. Since the Silhouette fires .177 pellets, there is a wider array of pellets available from many different brands.
With a velocity of only 450 FPS, the Silhouette won’t beat some other guns on our list for power and won’t make much of a hunting pistol. But for the aspiring competition shooter, accuracy is everything, and the Silhouette delivers it at an affordable price.
Daisy/Avanti Triumph (Daisy 747)
Like the Silhouette, Daisy’s Triumph (747 model) is a highly-accurate pellet pistol that won’t break the bank. Featuring parts from the famous Lothar-Walther firm, this match-grade gun is another winner from the classic Daisy brand.
The Triumph 747 is a single-shot gun with a single-pump action on its pneumatic power plant, which means easier charging and greater shot-to-shot consistency. Shooters report seriously small groups with this pistol, especially when stabilized. Chambered for .177 caliber pellets and delivering only about 395 FPS in pellet velocity, the Triumph won’t win any power competitions or take down many varmints, but for target shooters it has the right quality: accuracy, reliability and consistency at ranges of up to 209 yards.
Built-in front and rear sights and contoured, comfortable thumb rests only add to this pistol’s impressive features. Overall, the Triumph is a great gun for target shooters and probably Daisy’s most accurate model.
Best Hunting Air Pistols
Air pistol hunters need power, accuracy and the ability to land multiple accurate shots in a short time frame. These next two models deliver the goods.
Benjamin Marauder Woods Walker
The Woods Walker is another repeating PCP gun, this time with an eight-round circular magazine and firing .22 caliber pellets. This is a truly ideal hunting pistol, featuring camo-pattern synthetic components, compact design, and 750 FPS pellet velocities. With the Woods Walker you can humanely hunt smaller game and varmints at distances of up to 33 yards.
The Woods Walker’s PCP power plant charges to 2,900 psi and uses a quick-disconnect Foster fitting for connection the air source; it cannot use CO2. For keeping track of charge levels, it also comes equipped with a pressure gauge built directly into its body.
This pistol does not include open sights but offers an 11 millimeter dovetail and included CenterPoint Optics Multi-TAC Quick Aim sight. In addition to its standard pistol grip, the Woods Walker ships with an optional, detachable shoulder stock. This is a lightweight and easy-to-carry gun, and many shooters will appreciate the optional stock’s added stability in the field. The trigger is a two-stage adjustable model.
Superior power and .22 caliber, along with its hunting-friendly accessories and design, make this gun a great choice for air pistols hunters who want to spend a little more and go after the bigger game.
For even more power and even bigger game, it’s hard to beat the Airforce Airguns TalonP. This pre-charged pneumatic bolt-action gun fires the bigger .25 caliber pellets. With a 3000 psi tank delivering 990 FPS velocities and as many as 50 foot-pounds of power, this gun can take down game all the way into the 15-24 pound range. Among air pistols firing standard, non-magnum pellet calibers, this is one of the most powerful hunting guns around.
The TalonP is heavier than the average air pistol, so most hunters will want to take advantage of its well-designed ergonomics and adopt a position resting the gun on the other hand’s forearm in a sitting position or gripping it on the scope. It is also possible to add a stock and fire it rifle-style. However you decide to compensate for its heaviness, this gun more than makes up for weight issues in power, increased accuracy, and hunting and pest-control utility.
One interesting feature of the TalonP is the AirForce’s Spin-Loc tank and collar. These allow shooters to recharge the gun without removing the reservoir. On the other hand, the tank is easily removable, allowing you to carry another one with you in the field and swapping them out when you’ve exhausted your first charge.
The TalonP also features a reliable two-stage trigger and dovetail mounts for optics in place of open sights. All in all, this is an impressively powerful gun and a strong choice for pellet pistol hunters.
Best Air Pistols for the Money
For new shooters and backyard plinkers, nothing beats the value of these robust but affordable pellet pistols. Hours of shooting fun await with these solid options.
Crosman CCP8B2 Vigilante
For the best bang for your buck, it’s hard to beat the versatile Crosman Vigilante. This pistol offers the best combination in styling, ammo choice, power, and customization options. It makes a fun choice for a beginning air gun shooter or a pellet pistol veteran who wants a change of pace.
The Vigilante is another cartridge CO2 model, so it comes with all of the advantages (convenience, no extra equipment) and disadvantages (power limitations) of that power plant design. Unlike the other guns on this list, however, the Vigilante gives you the choice between pellets and BBs. The pistol ships with interchangeable revolver-style magazines, with capacities of either 10 pellets or six BBs. While pellets are required for competition and a must for hunting, BBs are still as fun (and cheap) to shoot as ever. With the Vigilante, you can switch between BB plinking and pellet target practice with a quick change of the magazine.
The Vigilante also features Crosman’s usual robust construction, this time in a convincing imitation of a real .357 revolver. The CO2 charges and six inch, rifled steel barrell propel pellets at up to 435 FPS. Just like the revolvers it resembles, this pistol also features both double and single action shooting.
The very solid metal frame also comes equipped with an adjustible rear sight and a tactical rail system for accessories.
Crosman P1377 American Classic
This recent redesign of the beloved American Classic model is yet another well-made, time-tested winner from Crosman. This is truly a classic pellet pistol.
The P1377 is a multi-pump pneumatic model and fires the standard .177 caliber pellet. It typically achieves pellet velocities of around 600 FPS. While not a competition quality model by any means, this gun can provide a lot of enjoyable plinking and casual target shooting.
As a multi-pump gun, the P1377 loses consistency from shot to shot and suffers in accuracy but makes up for this in versatility. 10 pumps will achieve maximum velocity, but you can still have fun with this gun at three pumps. The easy-pump forearm and multi-pump variability also make this a good gun for younger shooters.
As with Crosman’s other models, comfortable grips and generally solid design provide for hours of easy shooting. Fixed front sights and fully adjustable rear sights are ideal for target practice, and simple replacement of the factory breech with a metal version permits the installation of other optics. Other upgrades are possible, including a shoulder stock mounted on the pistol grip.
It may lack the bells and whistles of souped-up PCP models or precision match guns, but this is a pellet pistol that the whole family can enjoy at a price that’s right.
Types of Air Pistols
At its most basic, an air gun is simply a device that fires a projectile by means of pressurized air, without the use of the chemical reactions which explosively propel a bullet from a “real” firearm. Aside from questions of caliber or outer design, air pistols, like all air guns, are usually classified according to their method of producing the pressurized gas that propels the pellet or other projectile. This is known as the air pistol’s “power plant,” and different power plants along with different gun designs will have major impacts on performance, pellet velocity (measured in “feet per second” FPS) and power (measured in “foot-pounds” or ft/lbs). There are five main types of power plants in today’s air guns.
Pneumatic air pistols use a volume of compressed air to propel the pellet from the gun. Typically, this involves operating a pumping lever to bring the internal pressure to the appropriate level to discharge the pellet. Multi-stroke models, one of the oldest and most familiar types of air guns, require moving the lever multiple times. The noise and movement this involves can be a drawback when hunting, for example, and can generally produce inconsistent levels of power and accuracy. Single-stroke pneumatics, which require only a single motion of the lever, are often quieter, easier to use, and more accurate. Many powerful, higher-end match pistols use this method.
Pre-charged Pneumatic (PCP)
These air guns are an exception to the rule that pneumatics require pumping-up or cocking the lever after every shot. PCP air guns work on the same principle as other pneumatic types but receive their charge from an external source of pressurized air, such as a diving tank or a hand-operated pump. The compressed air is held in a reservoir within the gun and provides the power to shoot more than one shot from a single charge. While this power plant avoids the disadvantages of other pneumatic types and can give significantly more power and greater accuracy, these air guns are often more expensive than their pump-up cousins. In general, you’ll also have to purchase a source of compressed air and a means of connecting your gun to the source in order to get started.
Compared to other power plant types, spring piston air guns are known for simplicity of operation and durability. Better models will also provide significant power and accuracy. A strong spring, retracted before each shot, jumps forward when the trigger is pulled and pushes the gun’s piston, quickly driving air in front of it and propelling the pellet from the gun. Unlike many pneumatic models, these guns are usually very consistent from shot to shot, since they don’t depend on inconsistent pumping by the shooter. Mechanisms for cocking the gun include break-barrel, underlever, and side-cocking, among others. Generally, these air guns will fire many thousands of pellets before requiring a replacement spring.
Gas Ram or Gas Piston
Gas ram models, also known as gas spring or gas piston, operate on essentially the same principle as spring piston air guns. The main difference is that the metal spring of the spring piston type is replaced with a so-called “gas spring,” a cylinder of compressed gas. These guns tend to be lighter and more durable than metal spring models but can be harder to cock and may give a sharp jolt to the shooter when fired.
CO2 power plants use compressed carbon dioxide to fire pellets. The gas usually comes either in small metal cartridges that are loaded into the gun or in external tanks that pump into a reservoir within the gun, like in PCP models. CO2 models run the gamut from cheaper plinking guns to top-quality match pistols. They come in all shapes and sizes and are quite easy to use. However, due to physical limitations CO2 cannot provide as much power as other types of power plants, and changes in the gas due to shifts in temperature can cause inconsistencies and accuracy problems.
All of these styles of air guns are available in a wide variety of calibers, although by far the most common calibers today are .177, .20, .22 and .25. Because of the reduced power of air pistols compared to air rifles, .177 is the most popular, and shooting organizations require it for all pistol and rifle events. The larger .22 and .25 are particularly popular for hunting small game and pest control.
Regardless of the caliber of your air pistol, higher-end air guns today usually fire pellets. Many good plinking guns that use BBs are still available, and there are a number of pistols on the market capable of shooting both types of ammunition. However, for hunting and serious target shooting, you need the improved accuracy and greater velocities that pellets provide. BBs also carry a greater risk of ricochet, which is much less of a problem with pellet pistols.
Whatever the types of pellet or style of air pistol you choose, most pellets are lead, hollow, and come in the flared “diablo” shape. Common types include wadcutter, hollowpoint, and roundnose. A number of more advanced pellets with polymer tips or in lead-free, high-penetration designs are also sold today and are especially useful for hunters.
While the type of pellet you select will depend on what you want to do with your air pistol, picking high quality pellets is usually the best choice. Discount bulk pellets are available, but better-quality brands can improve the shooting and accuracy of even lower quality air pistols.
What Do You Want to Do with Your Air Pistol?
Ultimately, the most important factor in choosing an air pistol is what kind of shooting you want to do with your gun. While many air guns can perform well in different types of shooting, picking the best model for your intended purpose can help you get the most for your money.
For backyard target shooting or an afternoon of plinking, there are a number of affordable, easy-to-use and fun air pistols that fit the bill. Since accuracy and shot-to-shot consistency are less important for casual shooting, cheaper CO2 models and pump-up pneumatic guns can be a good choice here. Plinkers should also consider models that can fire both pellets and BBs.
Target and Match Shooting
If you are a more serious target shooter or interested in serious competitive match shooting, higher-end air pistols are the choice for you. For this kind of shooting, .177 caliber air guns are the rule. Spring or gas piston models are a common choice for beginners because of their greater accuracy.
Hunting and Pest Control
Although many air pistols lack the power for even smaller game, there are a lot of air pistol options available to hunters. Effective ranges are well under 30 yards for most models, so larger caliber, higher-powered pellet guns and accurate shooting are a must. Air pistols are more useful for pest-control, but even rats and mice require a high-powered model and the right pellets. Many hunters also use air pistols as an affordable way to practice marksmanship and shooting positions outside of the hunting season. With the right set up and one of the quieter models, you can have regular target practice in your backyard or indoors.
Ready to Begin?
There has never been a better time to join the ranks of pellet pistol shooters than today. New, lighter materials, efficient power plants, and a huge variety of gun designs mean that there is literally something for everyone. No matter your level of experience or your budget, you can find a well-made air gun that works for you. With this guide to the ins and outs of modern pellet pistols, you’re armed with the information you need to make a purchase you won’t regret. Happy shooting!
Taylor Bishop says
This is a really helpful guide to air pistols. I’ll be honest, I hadn’t realized there were different types of air pistols. So pneumatic air pistols require pumping… I’ll have to look into each of these and see which one feels best for me.