Can I Dry Fire my Air Rifle?

I remember my Dad telling me in our old back garden about 40 years ago to never fire our Air Rifle without a pellet in it. So, I never did. I didn’t really question it, just bowed to his superior knowledge. Then, when my son started learning how to shoot a few years back I told him exactly the same thing, only for my son to ask me why. Why was he not allowed to dry fire our air rifle? It was a good question, I told him, before rapidly changing the subject. I realised I didn’t actually know why it was apparently so bad. So I did some investigation and found out the facts and gave him a definitive answer, which I provide you with below.

If you have a spring-piston or gas-ram airgun then you shouldn’t dry fire it unless the manufacturer’s instructions explicitly say you can do this. It is debated online as to how much damage dry firing can cause but the general consensus is that it shouldn’t do it. The worst case is that is can cause internal damage to your air rifle, requiring new components. The longevity of your gun can also be impacted and wear and tear will be accelerated. It is thought that dry firing a PCP airgun is pretty harmless unless air pressure is low. As it is a question that is so hotly debated online I do have some further information that may be useful to you.

Let’s look into what exactly dry-firing is when we’re talking about airguns and air rifles. Like so many things, it’s not exactly black and white. We will explore the reasons behind why the experts say we shouldn’t dry-fire and whether there are any exceptions. Also, we can look at how we can tell whether an air gun has been dry-fired in the past, amongst other subjects.

What is Dry-Firing?

In a nutshell, dry-firing your airgun means coking and firing it without a pellet present. Typically (at least in a springer or gas-ram) pellets are fired by a cushion of air behind them, propelling the pellet down the barrel and onto the target.

Will Dry-Firing my Air Rifle Damage it?

It’s actually quite a contentious point online but the general consensus is that if you have a springer then you could damage the internal mechanism by dry-firing your airgun. The pellet acts as resistance to the air until which point the resistance is overcome and displaces the pellet. If the pellet isn’t there then there is no air resistance. So, what happens is the firing pin won’t have anything to cushion it before smashing into the end of the compression chamber. The air that has built up behind the pellet (and in front of the spring) slows its release down. So, without this cushion of air, the spring snaps back a lot quicker.

There are actually some guns, for instance, Whiscombe handmade rifles that can be totally ruined with just one dry shot! This is primarily because the Whiscombe uses not one but two pistons that come together that produce twice the power of regular springers. Their seals will most likely be ruined. Although this is a particularly extreme example, there are others that are similar. The Whiscombe does make it quite clear you shouldn’t do it.

Are There Any Guns That I Can Dry-Fire?

Relating to springers and gas-ram, I would assume that unless your Air Rifle instructions categorically say your gun is okay to dry fire then don’t do it. You will find that more and more guns these days have the built-in ability to be able to do it. They know it happens and they want to be able to cater for it.

For other types of airgun (for instance PCP airguns), it shouldn’t cause a problem. Although, we’re assuming that there’s enough remaining air left in your PCP. If the pressure has become low and you choose to dry-fire then this can cause problems also.

There is a particular manufacturer, Gamo, that manufactures airguns that allow dry-firing. These guys have re-designed their guns so dry-firing won’t cause any problems at all. In fact, they have tested this themselves by firing a gun around 10000 times to analyse the impact it has on the internal parts, the results of which were very positive.

There are also some shorter-range, target guns that are absolutely fine with being dry-fired – however, I still wouldn’t do it myself unless it specifically said in the instructions of the gun that it was fine to do so!

Also, there are actually some spring-piston airguns that are a little more tolerant of dry-firing. The older springs tended to have leather seals and these, as well as more modern guns that have Teflon seals also are quite tolerant.

If you’d like to check out an example of one of these guns, look at this example.

Are There Any Positives to Dry Firing?

Yes, for practice. It’s arguable though. Some people see it as very useful to be able to use your air rifle without a pellet. You may be in a location that you can’t actually fire the gun or for training reasons. Or, you may be introducing a younger person to shooting for the first time and the best way may be to do this without a pellet initially.

Other people have mentioned that it can be useful to dry fire as you can then hear any problems with the action properly, which you can’t do otherwise.

What Do I Do If I’ve Accidentally Dry-Fired My Air Rifle?

Hope you haven’t done any damage if you have a springer? There’s not much you can do if you’ve already fired it. I’ve found personally that it’s typically the children and younger adults who will do this. It’s just a case of knowing when you can and can’t do it and educating the person who’s done it with the reason why they shouldn’t in the future. I’ve found that if they understand what happens when you dry fire an airgun they’re less likely to actually do it. I think the best thing to do is not worry about it and crack on.

Can I Tell If An Air Gun Has Been Previously Dry Fired?

Not really. Damage can be caused primarily to the seal but also to other internal components. This damage could be caused by general wear and tear so if it’s an older airgun it’s really not possible to tell what caused the damage. This is only really a problem if you’re buying a second-hand gun and if you’re doing this then there are obviously risks involved. But that risk is of course included in the discounted price you’ll have to pay when you get a second-hand gun!

The only way you can be really sure that your air rifle hasn’t been dry fired is to buy it new! As you can get a pretty decent gun quite cheaply these days this may not be the worst choice you ever make.

So, what have we learnt?

Well, we’ve learnt that there’s a lot of people out there who have a lot of different opinions on whether you can, can’t, should or shouldn’t dry fire your air rifle. The vast majority all seem to say the same thing though:

  • Do you have a spring piston airgun? If so, then don’t dry fire unless the manufacturer explicitly says you can. Unless it’s a Gamo, this is unlikely.
  • Do you have a gas-ram airgun? Then see the above.
  • Do you have a PCP airgun? Although not recommended, you should be fine unless the pressure is low within your gun.

Wow, this has seriously been one of the hardest articles I’ve written. I thought I knew the answer and actually, I kinda did. However, the amount of seriously qualified gunsmiths out there who seem to contradict each other really surprised me. My recommendation is simple though. Do you really need to dry fire your air rifle (whatever type you have)? I can’t think of a really good reason myself. Maybe for initially training the young ones?

As it’s been so difficult to get a definitive answer on this, surprisingly, I’m really interested in what you have to say. Do you have a different opinion? If so, I’d love to hear it so please drop me a comment below. Alternatively, dry-firing is a particular problem with spring pistons, if you’re not sure of the different types of airgun available, then check this post out.

Thanks for reading, happy shooting and remember to be safe out there!