Why Does My Air Rifle Not Fire?

It can happen to any of us. If you own a set of airguns for long enough then eventually one will fail. It won’t be when you’re plinking in your garden though by yourself. It’ll be when you’re showing off your finest rifle or when you’ve traveled 100 miles with your best mate for a weekend of shooting in your favorite area. Is it something you can fix or will it be the end of your beloved rifle? So, why doesn’t my Air Rifle fire?

The main reason why an Air Rifle doesn’t fire is typically caused by a mechanical related failure of the inner mechanism. This can be caused by normal wear or tear, excess lubrication (dieseling), poor manufacturing or servicing. Replacement parts are easy to find and if the gun is disassembled then the seal should be inspected and changed if required. The internals can then be cleaned before the airgun is put back together. There are however several reasons why an Air Rifle may have problems though so see the below for this information.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, surprisingly perhaps, not a lot. You will find that a spring-piston will have more problems than a compressed air / CO2 airgun but this is simply because there are more moving parts in the spring-piston and more moving bits mean more stuff that can wrong.

Possible Tools Required

  • Spring Compressor – this is like a giant pair of pliers and is essential when disassembling a spring gun. If you don’t have one, look no further than this
  • Cleaning rod – typically used to clean the barrel but might come in useful for removing a stuck pellet – if you need one, then this is the one you’ll be needing.

Glossary

Just in case you’re quite new to the sport, here are a few definitions of words you may not have come across (skip if you’re familiar with airgun terminology):

  • Breech  – this is where the pellet is loaded into.
  • Breech Seal – this is a rather small rubber (typically) gasket that will seal the joint that exists between the barrel of your air rifle and the breech. It ensures you have the maximum amount of compressed air pushing the pellet out through the barrel.
  • Dieseling – when an airgun is lubricated either too much or incorrectly the high temperatures caused by the compression of air can cause the vapour to combust, causing smoke and a louder ‘pop’ than usual. If you’re interested in a bit more detail about this, then please check out the article all about it here.
  • PCP airguns – Pre-Charged Neumatics (or PCP for short) are guns that are filled with air via a hand (or foot) pump or scuba tank (there are other methods). Once the tank on the gun is filled to the correct pressure, it is usable.  To find out more about the different types of airguns available, you can check out another one of my posts here (opens in new window).
  • Sear – this is part of the trigger mechanism which holds the bolt (or hammer/striker etc.) back until the right quantity of pressure has been applied, at this point the bolt is released which fires the pellet.

Symptoms

My Airgun Cocks but Does Not Fire

You cock the gun as normal and everything feels (and sounds) okay but when you pull the trigger there’s obviously no ‘pop’ and the pellet doesn’t leave the barrel. You’ll need to do a bit of disassembling here but as you’re reading this I’m going to make the assumption that you’re okay to do this and know a bit about what you’re doing.

  • Seal – take a look at the seal and check what condition it’s in. If it’s of leather construction you could consider applying a tiny amount of oil to freshen it up a little. Take a look at the breech seal and do the same here, leaving the gun stand on the butt overnight. This will soften the seals up and actually may be the solution. If you’re worried about dieseling then don’t be in this case, it’s rare that detonation takes place with guns that have these leather seals.
  • Refresh and Replace – If the above doesn’t fix the problem then further disassemble the gun to take a look at the main-spring. If you’re at this point then you may as well replace the spring whilst you’re here! Clean all of the internal mechanisms as best as you can, they should come up like new if you do it properly. If your gun is quite old and has leather sills then now may be a good opportunity to replace them for the synthetic variety. Although, if you do this, please remember not to apply oil to them in the future or dieseling will most likely take place.

Next, put it back together again and keep your fingers crossed. A little tip by the way if you’re new to this is to take photos of each stage as you’re disassembling it, you can then refer to the photos when putting it all back together again.

If you have had this problem and your gun is quite new, it’s worth thinking why it may have failed of course. Do you dry-fire your gun at all or could someone else have? This shouldn’t have caused the problems immediately but continually, over time it can cause some issues as you’ve no doubt read about.

My Air Rifle Fires but Not Where I’m Aiming!

This is one of the most common questions I’ve seen relating to airguns. There are a few things to consider here but typically I would take a look at the below (in this order):

  • Scope (1) – You might see your target through the scope but if your barrel isn’t in line with the scope then you’re not going to hit it. Do your shots still group together? If they do and your scope feels secure then it may just need zeroising. If, however, your scope doesn’t feel as tight as it should be then you’ve most likely found your problem! You should first check that the mounts for the scope are tightly screwed to the gun and also that the rings are nice and tight on the scope
  • Scope (2) – Yes, another scope related suggestion but a valid one. If you’re shooting at relatively close range (maybe plinking?) then you may be actually shooting outside of the scope’s recommended range. If you’re not using a scope with an adjustable objective lens then the parallax setting on the scope could well be causing you a problem. Just a suggestion here but if you already have an Air Rifle and you’re thinking about getting a scope, make sure that you buy one that’s a) designed for the gun you’re using, b) a proper airgun scope that wasn’t built for firearms use only and c) one that will deliver results at the distances you’ll be shooting.
  • Pellets – All too often I see people complaining about their consistency and accuracy only to discover they’re using the cheapest possible pellet they could find. You get what you pay for when it comes to pellets and if you go for the cheap option you could be getting anything. Some are even known to consist of slightly odd sizes which can over time cause problems with your barrel. If they’re old pellets and have started to oxidize then don’t expect too much out of them. You don’t necessarily need to throw these old ones away, just use them for some fun plinking. Have a look here if you need to get some quality pellets.
  • It’s you – Well, without sounding too condescending, it may well be. We all have to start off somewhere and I don’t know about you but I was all over the place at first. If you have a springer then these are known to not be that accurate when you’re shooting off any hard surface. Either shoot from a nice soft rifle rest or practise the artillery hold technique if that suits you better. I haven’t found this makes much difference to me but some people swear by breathing techniques. Take a couple of quite deep breaths and on the third one, hold it briefly and during this time squeeze the trigger.
  • Seal – No, I’m not talking about the singer who sang ‘Crazy’ in the early 1990s, I’m talking about your breech seal, silly. If this seal is damaged in any way then your power output will be compromised and will impact consistency and accuracy as well as (obviously) power.

Why Is My Airgun so Loud and Smokey?

Now, this could be two separate things or related to the same underlying issue. Or, maybe it’s not an issue at all. Clear?

  • Dieseling – If you don’t know the history of the gun then maybe the previous owner has applied lubricants incorrectly or too vigorously. This can cause the oil to combust and can cause damage to your airgun. It can also occur in a brand new gun though as the initial assembly lubricants wear off, this will take around 250 shots on average and isn’t a problem. We have mentioned this previously and also in other posts but it’s important to not use any lubricants within the actual compression chamber. To find out more about dieseling, you can check out one of my other articles here (opens in a new window).
  • Damaged Seal – It could be worn out over time or damaged due to dieseling (see above). It may not even be present! Check and replace if you think it looks a bit old (errr or is missing altogether).
  • Supersonic – well this would account for the ‘loud’ bit. If you have a powerful Air Rifle and/or using high-velocity pellets then maybe they’re travelling at supersonic (faster than the speed of sound) speeds. The sound of this will be more of a crack than a bang though so is quite distinguishable with a bit of practice. Try using a heavier pellet which will slow it down to sub-sonic speeds.

My Airgun Doesn’t Fire!

You’ll notice some of these ideas are the same as the above, I won’t post all the information therefore but I have to mention it as it could be the problem.

  • Playing it Safe – Oh I love this problem. Just when you think your beloved airgun is broken you discover you’ve left your safety on. Quick, take a look around and make sure no one saw you. Actually, you might be forgiven as some airguns have an automated safety that activates each time your gun is cocked.
  • Out of Air – Obviously not related to all guns but if you have a PCP gun then have you run out of air? This is the equivalent of running out of gas on the highway but a little less traumatic. Make sure you remove the pellet and recharge your gun. Most will have a gauge on them anyway so you can tell quite quickly how much you have left.
  • Trigger-related – see the above information under the ‘my air rifle won’t cock’ section, it’s relevant here too! Also, undo any recent changes you’ve made (calibration or otherwise) to see if this resolves it.

My Air Rifle Won’t Cock

This isn’t a particularly common problem but if you’re experiencing this:

  • Undo, undo! – You may wonder what I’m going on about but one of the most common reasons for this to occur is after something has changed. If you’ve recently made any changes then undo them first, before trying something else. Any calibration changes or adjustments wind back. If you have a pellet in the barrel then remove it with the cleaning rod that you have right next to you. Doh! Quickly order one from Amazon.
  • Recent maintenance – Have you recently had to disassemble your gun? Have a quick check to make sure you haven’t messed something up by putting it back together wrong.
  • Trigger Happy – It has been known that a trigger can cause problems with the sear catching. Not relevant to all guns buy you may need to make adjustments to resolve.
  • Stop Screw – Again, not relevant to all Air Rifles but take a look at your scope stop screw – does it have a metal stop plate? It should have and it could be this that’s preventing the gun from cocking properly.
  • More force – In some more powerful airguns, you have to apply a significant amount of force for it to cock. So much so in fact that it’ll be just too much for the younger gunners.

Why Can’t I Fill My PCP Airgun?

If you’re not able to fill your PCP airgun, then could it be related to one of these?

  • Running on empty – has your gun been stored with an empty tank for some time? If this is the case, sometimes it might need a little burst of air to move the valve slightly so it can be filled once more.
  • O-Rings – If you think your airgun has damaged fill probe O-rings then replace them.
  • Connected – you might feel a bit silly if it is but are you sure that the fill probe is properly connected to the gun? Make sure you’re using the right probe for the right gun!

My PCP Airgun Jams During Cycling

I don’t mean they get stuck whilst you’re out on your bike, that would be madness. I’m talking about the magazine full of pellets that you’ve loaded into your semi-automatic airgun.

  • Are you trying new pellets in the magazine? Could it be that they are a slightly different size (i.e. longer) than the previous ones you’ve been using? If so, it’s possible that the tips of them will stick out and cause a jam.
  • It’s always worth checking your breach seal – it could be missing so check it’s in place as if it’s not you can find it leads to jamming.

So, what do we know?

I’ve seen many a failure over the years with both mine and my friend’s airguns. Although, when I say ‘failure’, most of the time I don’t actually mean this. It’s generally ‘user-related’ and is typically related to how the scope has been sat on the gun or how the gun is being used. Probably the next most common problem is related to the pellets that are being used.  Whatever happens though, remember with any kind of machinery where friction is involved (err which means all of it) wear will take place and eventually things will fail. A bit like us really.

Happy shooting, Airgunners – stay safe! x

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Comments

  1. Pingback: Why Is My Air Rifle so Loud? - Airgun House

  2. I have a .22 bolt action air gun that was made by hand. It fired when I was at the store. After I went home and fired only 1 round and reloaded not knowing that the round never even left the barrel and I did it over and over.

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