Spring Piston Air Rifles are the most common type of Air Rifle. When you cock the rifle the internal spring is compressed until the trigger is squeezed. The spring is then released, pushing the piston forward. This compresses the air and ultimately shoots the pellet out of the barrel. However, there are many things about the Springer that people aren’t aware of:
They Are the Easiest to Shoot
It’s true! With a Spring Piston Airgun, you can literally just pick it up, break the barrel and after putting a pellet in, shoot. It probably took longer to read that sentence than you’d need to actually do it. But you see this is the beauty of these types of gun.
- CO2 / Compressed Air Guns – If you had one of these and have left it for a little time with the CO2 canister in it, you’ll find when you come back to it it’s empty. It can be a bit frustrating that with these CO2 Air Rifles you really need to go through a canister in just a short period. For those guns that require an 88g canister, this can get quite costly and may be frustrating. If you’d like to know some further great facts about CO2 guns, then take a look at this awesome article.
- PCP Airguns – Pre-Charged Pneumatic guns, like CO2 powered rifles are great but are not without their frustrations. You need to make sure the gun has the right amount of pressurised air inside its reservoir otherwise it’s about as useful as a chocolate teapot. If you don’t have a scuba tank or a hand pump (with the right valves) then there’s not a lot you can do.
Not the case with the Springer though! Take a few shots, put it down, pick it up in a few weeks and bam, ready to go again. Springers are reliable, convenient and easy to use.
Actually, let me give you an example. One of my airguns is a Sig MCX Semi-Automatic CO2 powered rifle. It’s a fantastic gun, my son’s favourite I think and it’s one of mine too. However, it takes a large 88g CO2 canister to drive it and once you put one of these canisters into your gun if you’re not using it, it’ll leak. So, ideally, you use it all at once, which is around 250 pellets or so. My point is, I don’t always want to shoot that many. Occasionally, I just want to shoot 5 or 10 rounds so what do I do? Pick up one of my springers, have a few pops and away it goes again.
They Are the Easiest to Maintain
As long as you don’t mistreat your Spring Piston Air Rifle, you’ll most likely be handing it down to your kids! Unless of course, you are still ‘kids’ in which case, be careful and do what your parents tell you! 🙂 My Dad gave me his Webley Tempest a few years ago, which I remember using when I was a kid. I’m sure it’s never been maintained at all, nothing. I know this isn’t advised (and I bang on about taking care of your guns all the time) but this pistol just keeps on going. Admittedly, I don’t use it that often but occasionally it still comes out. In the forty years or so I’ve been using it I’ve not had one problem! Although you wait, now I’ve said that the next time I try and fire it I’ll hear the spring fail.
Joking aside, when you buy your Air Rifle (or Air Pistol!) it will come with maintenance instructions specific for your gun. For Springers, you won’t find this overly demanding and they can take a hell of a lot of abuse (I know, I’ve seen all kinds). It’s all common sense though. For instance, if you’ve got a break barrel, don’t slam the barrel back up with a lot of force. Over time, this will damage the barrel and you’ll be saying goodbye to any grouping/accuracy you once had.
They Are the Easiest to Own
Well, they just are. There’s a reason why they’re the most common type of Air Rifle. People love springers, they’ve been around for over a hundred years and there’s a good reason why they haven’t changed much. Yes, the seals may be made from a synthetic material and yes the springs are more resilient but fundamentally they’re the same gun as something that would have been used decades ago. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Most people who get into this sport, start by acquiring a springer from somewhere. From there they may go onto a PCP or something but the vast majority will still have a spring piston in their collection somewhere.
Don’t Dry-Fire it!
This was ingrained into my brain at an early age. I guess I should say that this applies to all Air Rifles really, see my post here for further information on dry-firing and whether you can do it or not (spoiler: don’t do it!). The problem is it can damage Springers more than it can damage other types of Air Rifles.
When you shoot a spring-piston airgun, the spring pushes the piston forward, compressing the air. This piston is cushioned behind the air as it builds up pressure behind the pellet. When the pressure becomes too much for the pellet it overcomes its resistance and friction and pushes it out the barrel. So, the piston is actually prevented from slamming into the compression chamber by this cushion of air. Without it, the kinetic energy is greater and can potentially do more damage to the piston.
I’m just going to say this though. The general consensus is you shouldn’t dry-fire airguns, end of story. However, my 40-year-old Webley (it’s probably older than that) has been dry-fired hundreds of times and not missed a beat. Have I shortened the life-span of it by allowing people to do this? Most likely yes. However, as it’s still going strong after this amount of time, I don’t think it’s doing too bad.
Eventually, It Will Experience Spring Fatigue
But maybe not for a very long time. Like any moving parts, things wear out over time. However, many people may go their whole lives without experiencing this. Things have improved in the last decade or so but it wasn’t as if things were bad before this point. There are so many variables involved it’s difficult to give one answer to this, such things as:
- The amount of abuse the Air Rifle gets, such as being dropped and/or aggressively cocked.
- The amount of use it gets, some guns are used a lot more than others.
- Whether the airgun is ever kept cocked for long periods of time. This should never happen and will definitely reduce the longevity of that spring.
- How old the airgun is, modern components should last longer than older models. A note about this point though, this seems to be a general opinion but not always mine. In a lot of ways, the quality has gone down. Where we used to use metal components, we now use plastic. It’s cheaper as it’s so easily made but you can lose a lot of the quality. I might write an article actually about the workmanship and quality of guns and how it has changed over the last 30 years, I have a lot to say on the matter!
There are a lot of gunners who will perform their own spring maintenance but I wouldn’t advise this. When it comes to the point that your spring needs to be replaced then get it done professionally. There are a lot of things that you can do on your own but the main-spring replacement should be performed by an expert.
Springers Have Recoil More Than Other Types
Some people, and I’ll put myself into this category, love the recoil that you get from Spring Piston Air Rifles. Others can find it somewhat invasive. To me, it makes me feel like it’s a proper gun. It’s like it’s almost alive – it gives it character is what I’m trying to say I think. When you fire a CO2/Compressed Air or a PCP you don’t get an awful lot of feel through the weapon. You literally squeeze on the trigger and shoot and away the pellet goes. This isn’t the case with a Springer though. As you squeeze the trigger with one of these you will feel the piston and spring moving inside. It’ll vibrate the whole gun. It’s not particularly loud but you certainly will know about it.
This above point leads me to the next quite nicely. Spring Piston airguns can take a bit more skill to get consistent accuracy. This could be related to mechanical problems or user problems. With more ‘stuff’ moving around inside, there are more things that can wear down and impact power. This isn’t typical but I’ve seen it happen. More likely though are user-related problems. Because of the recoil and vibrations caused by the internal mechanics, this can move the barrel a fraction. If you’re moving the barrel before the pellet has been despatched then it’s not going to go where you want it to. There are a couple of things you can do about this though:
- Posture and hold – how you hold the airgun is more important when using a springer. More on this later.
- Don’t ever rest the barrel on a hard surface.
The above reasons are partly why people who move from real guns to airguns aren’t as good at shooting as those that move from airguns to real guns. With a real gun, there’s obviously more power and the bullet has left the barrel before you can move. If they get into a habit of moving the gun and repeat this behaviour when firing airguns, they will find their shots won’t be grouping and their accuracy will be inconsistent. The opposite is the reason why airgun shooters perform well when converting to firearms.
It May Be a Bit Noisy
Your Spring Piston airgun will most likely be noisier than other types of airgun, such as CO2/PCP. This is because, within a Springer, you have the noise of the piston moving at high speed and then coming to an abrupt stop. That kinetic energy has to be transferred somewhere and that will be to both heat and sound energy. So, not only can you feel the recoil and the vibrations when you pull the trigger but you can also hear it as well.
The above is fine if you’re out in your backyard shooting a few targets and tin cans. Where it becomes a bit of a problem is if you’re in a wood, hunting. I hope you’re accurate because if you don’t hit with your first pellet you’re giving your location away to everything within 100 ft! Yes, you can reduce muzzle noise with a suppressor but you’re not going to be able to do anything about that piston noise.
So, if you’re intending on using your Spring Piston Air Rifle for hunting, try a few out as some are quieter than others. I still don’t know why no one is able to apply some decent sound deadening to this part of the rifle. There must be a good reason of course but I don’t know what it is!
They Can Be Cocked by Different Mechanisms
There are a few different ways you can cock your Spring Piston, they are:
- Motorised – there are some guns that try and take all the effort (and arguably the fun) away from the sport. However, if you have a disability these can really help you out. Powered by a rechargeable battery, the airgun will do the cocking for you!
- Break-Barrel – the most well-known form of cocking an Air Rifle. The barrel itself is hinged and can be moved downwards. This exposes the breech (where you will insert the pellet during loading) and if pulled away the down will cock the rifle.
- Fixed-Barrel – a lot of people prefer this as it means you don’t need to touch the barrel at all. There’s always a risk if you keep breaking the barrel that you might slightly twist it or be too firm, eventually causing problems with it and screwing up your accuracy. So, instead of this, you can have a:
- Sidelever – with this, you will find the cocking lever is typically on the right side of the receiver and (as the name suggests) you move it sideways to cock.
- Underlever – here, the lever is on the underneath of the barrel and you, rather predictably, bend it downwards.
- Overlever – guess what this does?
I’ve found that the more expensive Air Rifles use a fixed barrel system. If you’re spending a lot of money on an airgun you’re doing so because you want something that’s quality and also something that’s presumably going to deliver consistent accuracy over time. The best way to achieve this is to prevent you from touching the barrel whenever possible!
I can’t say I’ve ever tried a motorised cocking system. Does it sound odd that I actually like cocking the gun? There’s something very therapeutic about this action that I really like. Maybe it’s the same reason I like manual cars and not automatic, I need to engage with the thing I’m using.
Best Fired Using the Artillery Hold
That’s just great but what’s the Artillery Hold and why do I need to use this technique for my Springer? Good question, glad you asked. The Artillery Hold is a method used to hold the Spring Piston, it’s not new – in fact, it’s over 100 years old! The issue some people have when firing Springers is related to the fact that the pellet doesn’t leave the gun until the piston comes to a complete stop. Which happens rather abruptly.
At this point, your airgun is vibrating and moving due to the recoil effect. Now you might think that to combat this what you need to do is hold it nice and tight. Not the case! This will actually make your Air Rifle shoot all over the place. What you need to do is almost cradle it in your hands. This way, the gun will settle gently in your hands.
I’m not going to try and explain how to properly execute the Artillery Hold, it’s a lot easier if you watch a video. So here’s one, simply put:
Your Gun Will Need to Be Broken In
When you first acquire your Air Rifle (assuming it’s not second hand) it will need to be broken in before it performs at its optimum performance. You will find at first it will take more effort to cock and will not fire at its maximum velocity. Use good quality pellets. It may take around 500 pellets before your gun is fully broken in. Follow any specific instructions that came with your rifle and follow them. Will you notice when it’s broken in? Probably not. It doesn’t just happen, the velocity of the pellet will increase gradually during those first few hundred shots. It’s a bit like the height of my son – I never notice him growing but all of a sudden he’s as tall as his mum, how did that happen? Same reason, because it’s so gradual.
You Shouldn’t Fire When Resting the Gun on a Solid Surface
This is true, but why? Well, it’s related to the point above about recommending the Artillery Hold. Due to the fact that Springs recoil, if you’ve got it sat on something very hard that has no give, it will bounce around during firing. In exactly the same way when you try and hold it firmly. However, if you have it resting on a nice soft cushion, or something designed for it (check this out) then the cushion will absorb the vibrations and the barrel won’t move.
Not only will you find it increases your accuracy, but when you get a little bit sleepy you can use it as a cushion!
Take One When Hunting with a Firearm
If you’re hunting with something more powerful than an airgun (i.e. a real firearm) then a lot of people now carry a Spring Piston Air Rifle with them (although a more powerful version, such as a .25 caliber). A lot of the time they will do this primarily for two reasons:
- If they’re in an environment where they need to keep as quiet as possible, the Springer will be a lot quieter than the firearm.
- If their main weapon fails, for whatever reason, they can turn to their Air Rifle – the Spring Piston is known to be very reliable and so they can depend on it.
So, there you go. I couldn’t think of any more. Can you? If so, drop me a comment and I’ll include it! If you’d like to see some tips on how to shoot better, then take a look at this great article here.
Interested In Buying Something New?
If you’re in the market for a new gun, be it a BB, Air Rifle or Pistol, check out my totally unbiased reviews on what’s best out there right now. These have all been tried and tested so you don’t have to worry about buying something that isn’t up to the job: