16 facts about CO2 Powered Air Rifles

If you’re considering buying an Air Rifle and aren’t familiar with the positives and negatives of such a power plant then look no further – as all is revealed here! There are many, many positives to owning an Air Rifle that’s powered by carbon dioxide but also a few downsides that you should be aware of. Make sure you know what you’re getting into before you buy!

CO2 Cartridges Come in Different Sizes

The CO2 cartridges that fit into your Air Rifle will typically be either:

  • 12 grams – these are the most common size and can be found in most CO2 powered air pistols.
  • 88 grams – also to be found in paintball rifles, this larger size canister is what’s used to power most CO2 rifles.

You may find the occasional airgun that uses the small 8-gram canister but they are rare and typically you’ll either be looking at the 8 or 12-gram variety.

CO2 Rifles Are Quiet

If you’re worried about waking up a neighbour or scaring that first-time shooter then a CO2 powered air rifle could be just the thing for you. Unlike spring-piston airguns, you don’t have all those loud internal parts smashing around all over the place. Just nice and quiet carbon dioxide. You’ll still get the noise of the pellet escaping the barrel of course but you can even do something about this if you wanted by adding a silencer to it!

A 12-Gram Cartridge Can Shoot Around 50 Pellets Before It Runs Out

However, it can vary by a tremendous amount. For instance, it could be as low as 30! There are quite a few factors involved, unfortunately, so it’s hard to give an exact figure. Such variables, like:

  • Temperature – typically, you will get loss shots when it’s colder than when it’s nice and warm.
  • valve – when you pull the trigger on your CO2 airgun, a valve opens for a very short amount of time. That valve lets in a tiny amount of carbon dioxide which of course is used to power your pellet out of the barrel. These valve opening times can vary by tiny amounts. But these amounts add up. A shorter opening time could give you more shots per cartridge but less velocity.
  • multi-fire – if you have a semi-automatic pistol and want to shoot rapid-fire, that’s cool – quite literally! Quick, successive shots will result in your rifle cooling down to a noticeable degree. Now, see the first point about temperature 🙂

An 88-Gram Cartridge Can Shoot over 250 Pellets Before It Runs Out

Or maybe more, see the above item to see how this can fluctuate. But, let’s put it another way. A typical tin contains 250 pellets, so you can get through a whole tin using one canister. Personally, I think that’s pretty good. Well, it would be if they were free! Unfortunately, they are not (I have another point on this so will leave this here.)

The Different Sizes of Cartridge Are There to Accommodate the Rifle

Let me give you a perfect example. I have a Sig Sauer MPX semi-automatic CO2 rifle. It’s awesome. It uses an 88-gram CO2 canister for its power plant, which as we now know, will allow me to shoot through a whole tin of pellets. Let’s imagine instead of the 88-gram canister, I have a 12-gram canister. That could mean that I might not even get through one magazine (it holds 30 pellets in a mag) before the CO2 canister is empty. I can shoot through those 30 pellets in around 10 seconds if I’m really in the mood. So, in 10 seconds I could potentially be changing my CO2 canister (if it had a 12-gram one on it). Hence why it needs something bigger.

Actually, these larger canisters have made it possible for so many more types of air rifle to be produced. All kinds of semi-automatic rifles are now viable, because of this standard. It’s the plinkers dream!

The CO2 Cartridge Will Leak

As soon as you plug that CO2 canister into your gun, a small amount of gas will leak out over time. This isn’t a problem if you’re just using the smaller 12-gram cartridges as they’re quite cheap and most people will just keeping popping away until the CO2 is drained before ending a session.

However, the 88-gram canisters are a slightly different story and let me tell you why that is, from my experience. We have a semi-automatic CO2 rifle that is primarily used by my son. Occasionally, we like to just pop outside and spend 10 or 15 minutes shooting at a few targets before coming in again.

The problem with this is that, as I said above, the CO2 is leaking constantly, not a great deal but enough. So, let’s say I put a brand-new 88-gram canister onto my rifle. This costs around $10 or so (price can vary of course). We spend 15 minutes or so outside and shoot around 60 to 90 pellets (three magazines worth). We then go inside and store the rifle until the next time. If that ‘next time’ is a few weeks later then there’s a good chance that your $10 CO2 canister is significantly lower on gas.  That can work out to be a costly session.

So, the general advice is to never store your CO2 rifle with a CO2 canister attached. This is easy with the smaller sizes but can take a bit of planning with the larger ones as you can see. Something to bear in mind…

CO2 Air Rifles Shoot Consistently (Velocity Wise)

One of the things people like about CO2 powered air rifles is their consistency. When you first screw that canister in and fire a couple of rounds you may find that at first, they shoot at a slightly higher velocity, due to some initial excess gas build-up. But after that point, the vast majority of pellets will be delivered with exactly the same punch as the previous one. This continues until you get almost to the end of the CO2 volume, where you will find the pellet speed (and therefore accuracy) drops off significantly. 

You see, there are fewer variables within a CO2 air rifle, a lot less stuff that moves about and therefore a lot less stuff that vibrates and can cause your pellets to go off-track.

They Need to Be Maintained like Other Rifles

Although there are fewer things to go wrong within a CO2 powered rifle, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to look after it. The seals need to be in tip-top condition to contain the carbon dioxide and maintain the correct level of pressure for firing. These seals are what’s called ‘O-rings’ and should be inspected annually and if required, a very small amount of silicone oil should be applied.

Temperature Can Negatively Impact Them

If you happen to live in an environment where the temperature doesn’t fluctuate that much, not really a big deal. However, if you’re from a temperate climate and see cold winters and hot summers then it’s certainly noticeable.

Personally, I don’t think this is a big deal – you’ll notice this issue in a couple of scenarios:

  • Sighting – if you happen to zero your sight on a warm sunny day and expect the groupings to be as consistent when you shoot during the winter, cold months then you’ll be disappointed.
  • rapid-fire – on some rifles you have the ability to shoot off several rounds at high speed (semi-automatic rifles). Each time you shoot a CO2 rifle the gas cools down the local environment (i.e. your gun). With several shots this becomes noticeable and will impact accuracy.

The answer to these problems is simple. It only takes a couple of minutes to re-sight a scope (assuming you have one). Perform this task during an average (weather-wise) day and then when you shoot in extreme conditions (for your climate) just re-sight it.

Regarding the rapid-fire issue, well is this really a problem? If you’re using your semi-automatic functionality then you’re most likely having some fun plinking, rather than target shooting. If you are concerned about accuracy, just leave a pause of a few seconds between each shot.

They Can Cost More to Run Than Other Rifles

Purely because of the CO2 canisters. It’s a double-edged sword really, the CO2 opens up more possibilities for shooting different guns. However, with the CO2 rifle you have to not only ensure you have spare canisters available but also account for the cost.

As each canister can cost around $10 and for this you’ll be able shoot (probably at the minimum if all in one session) around 250 pellets this comes to 4c a shot. Might not sound a lot but it does build up and compare this to something like a springer or a gas-ram air rifle where you only have to worry about pellets and it starts to become something you need to consider. Even PCP rifles allow you to pump them up manually.

It’s Not a New Technology

I was late getting into CO2 powered rifles. For years I was perfectly happy with my springers and gas-rams. It was when I had my little boy and he got older that I started to see the attraction and the possibilities the power plant can provide.

CO2 powered rifles have actually been available from the late 19th Century (~1870) but it has only been relatively recently that we’ve seen such a wide range of modern rifles being produced that use it. It makes sense though. I don’t think my old springer rifle would have kept my son’s attention for as long as his new semi-automatic. Not only does it look the part (I wish I’d been able to have one of those when I was 11!) but it’s a ruddy good gun.

It’s Great for Rapid Fire Rifles!

Kinda linked to the above post, it really is the best power source for modern rifles that have semi-automatic capability. Take a look at the Sig Sauer MPX review I did a little while back here (opens in a new tab) and you’ll see exactly what I thought of it.

The gas is able to supply consistent levels of power for a prolonged amount of time which means it’s (arguably) the best choice if you want one of these guns. This point leads us very nicely on to the next point…

It’s Not so Great for Rapid Fire Rifles!

Wait, what? I know, I know. I’ve literally just said how great it is for rapid fire guns, and it is! But there’s also a downside. It’s true that using CO2 as the powerplant is fantastic for guns that rely on a steady stream of power to rapid-fire those pellets from your semi-automatic. However, as we’ve already mentioned, when CO2 flashes from a liquid to gas it cools stuff down and your velocity will drop. If you’re target shooting then this will certainly be noticeable in your groupings with a semi-automatic and a 30-round magazine.

There Is No Recoil in CO2 Guns

Which makes it great for a younger shooter or first-time shooter where the slight recoil in a springer can make their shots inaccurate and even uncomfortable to fire. 

If we look at why spring-piston rifles have a recoil we can see why CO2 rifles don’t. Springers are powered by a large spring that is compressed (typically by breaking the barrel down and back). When the trigger is released, so is the spring which pushes the piston forward, compressing the air behind the pellet. There’s a lot going on here, a fair few moving parts and a lot of vibration. All of this constitutes to the noise and recoil you feel when firing one.

Compare this to a CO2 rifle where you don’t have any of this. You just have the gas that’s released and is used to drive your pellet out of the gun.

It Is a Great Power Source for Plinkers

I can vouch for this as all my son wants to do is plinking. He’s quite content with getting a few targets set-up (err usually by me) and then firing away for a bit (until he gets bored). It’s easy and great fun – I agree with this totally, sometimes when I’m at home alone I’ll get his rifle out, set up a few targets and just have some fun. No need to worry about pumping or breaking the barrel after every shot. Once the CO2 is loaded, just insert your pellets into the magazine and fire away. 

They’re Not Great for Hunting

You may think at first that it should be a good power source for hunting. It’s quiet so you don’t scare any animals away and you potentially don’t have to worry about going through the whole re-loading process (both getting the air pressure and the pellet into the rifle). So, what’s the problem?

Primarily, CO2 rifles are made for having some fun. To this end, although they deliver consistent velocity (unless you’re shooting rapidly and the gun cools down) the velocity isn’t typically as high as a spring-piston so you’re not going to be taking down anything bigger than very small mammals.

Can you still remove small pests? Yes, you can – I’d probably recommend a .22 cal for this and something like this Crossman pistol (click on the link to check the price) will do the job for anything that isn’t too far away.

Summary

Overall, I think the CO2 power plant is excellent, as long as you’re using it for the purpose it was designed for. Below I’ve listed the main positives and negatives.

Main Positives

  • Great for having fun and plinking in back-yard.
  • Consistent velocity shots during the vast majority of the CO2 canister.
  • It’s great not having to re-pump your rifle after every shot.
  • Loads of semi-automatic and great looking rifles are available purely for the CO2 power plant.
  • Hardly any recoil and very quiet.

Main Negatives

  • The additional cost of having to buy CO2 canisters.
  • Something else to remember, you need to ensure you have spare canisters available in case you run out.
  • With rapid-fire rifles, your gun will cool down and impact accuracy. Also, you will find you need to re-sight if the temperature outside has changed significantly since you last zeroed your sight.
  • Not great for hunting.

Finally…

Happy shooting everyone, stay safe out there. I’d genuinely love to hear from you if you can think of any other positives or negatives to owning a rifle powered by CO2. If you can, please drop me a comment below! If you’d like some great tips on how to shoot better, you really need to check this awesome article out. Also, if you wondered why the hell people use airguns in the first place, this is a great read.

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:

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