Airguns have come a long way since the Daisy Red Ryder carbine-action model in the 1980s.

Or those vintage single-shot pistols from the 70s.

Regardless of what you might have begged your parents to buy you as a kid, there’s no doubt that airgun technology is more impressive than it’s ever been, and the sport definitely deserves a second look.

That’s largely thanks to PCP airguns.

But what is a PCP air rifle? How good is it? What is it capable of? And, perhaps most importantly – should you get one?

Let’s take a look at the latest airgun craze – which might not actually be as modern as you might think.

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PCP Air Rifle Meaning – The Quick Version

In the interests of keeping things short and to the point for anyone who doesn’t have the time to read the full article, here’s the brief summary:

PCP stands for PreCharged Pneumatic and denotes airguns that have an internal canister, or removable bottle that is pre-filled from an external source of air – like an air compressor or manual hand/foot pump.

man holding a pcp air rifle

Once filled and loaded, the airgun is ready to fire, and you’ll be able to shoot as long as you have ammo and air left in the tank.

This gives the rifle several distinct advantages over other airguns, and we will explore them – and more – in greater detail, below.

Stay with us to decide if a PCP airgun is right for you.

Different Types of Airguns

First, it’s worth understanding that there are several different types of airguns available, so you know where the PCP fits into the grand hierarchy of things (spoiler –  it’s pretty much at the top).

As you might expect, most airguns use air to propel a pellet downrange – Co2 rifles and pistols being the exception. And there are basically five different versions for how this is achieved:

  • Mechanical spring powered.
  • Gas spring powered.
  • Pump pneumatic.
  • Co2 airguns.
  • PCP airguns.

Of course, each has its own pros and cons, which we’ll no doubt look at in a future article. But for now, head on over to find out how an airgun works for a bite-sized breakdown of each type..

Now let’s take a look at the PCP rifle in more depth.

What is a PCP Airgun?

As briefly mentioned above, PCP stands for PreCharged Pneumatic. PCP air rifles are guns that contain an on-board canister or reservoir, or a detachable bottle, which you fill with air from an external source.

Those sources might be things like an air compressor, a high-pressure pump, or even a diving cylinder – anything that is capable of filling the airgun’s “powerplant” with the correct psi pressure required.

Some custom-made nitrogen and helium models are also available.

Once your airgun has been “precharged” with air, you then have the luxury of shooting pellets without the need to keep refilling or charging the gun, as you would with, say, a multi-pump air rifle.

You might be surprised to learn that this technology is nothing new, and evidence for PCP airguns have been with us since the early 1600s.

Invented by French gun maker Marin LeBourgeoys, they have been used for target shooting, hunting, and even warfare.

Today, they are becoming extremely popular as an alternative to firearms, most commonly used for hunting and target shooting.

The video below offers an outstanding general beginners guide, which covers just about everything you need to know for PCP airguns – and then some.

But how does a precharged air rifle actually work? Let’s find out.

How Does a PCP Air Rifle Work?

PCP guns work by using compressed air (contained in either a detachable canister located somewhere on the body of the gun, or a fixed, internal reservoir) to fire projectiles downrange.

To “charge” the gun with its powerplant, this canister or bottle is filled with compressed air, typically somewhere between 3000 and 4500 psi – depending on the gun.

Once filled (and removable canisters attached back on the weapon) the gun is ready to fire – save with the loading of the pellet.

When the trigger is pulled, a hammer strikes a release valve, and the compressed air travels through a port that sends a projectile downrange. This all happens within a split second.

Depending on the design of this release valve, the PCP gun can be split into three types, and you should be aware of each before making a purchase:

  • Unregulated mechanical
  • Regulated mechanical
  • Electronic

It is this release (or regulator) valve that sets the amount of air released with each shot. As it can make each shot the same, you’re getting a more consistent trajectory than you would with other airguns.

Without going too much into the science, regulated mechanical airguns will offer a flatter power curve (trajectory) than unregulated, and an electronic airgun is going to beat both.

For more detailed information, including some informative graphics on the inner workings of PCP rifles, and a great explanation of the above valve systems – check out the excellent video, below:

PCP Ammunition

What kind of ammunition does a PCP gun use?

The same as you can find for any other type of airgun. You have a choice of either “diablo” style pellets, or ball bearings – both available in a variety of calibers.

Often called “BB guns” air rifles should not be confused with airsoft guns – as the two are distinctly different, although they share similar names, and describe their ammo as BBs.

Follow that link for more information on the differences between the two types.

The most popular airgun calibers are .177 and .22 – and you can follow that link for more information on which is the best to choose.

However, as they offer the shooter more power, PCP guns can fire much larger projectiles than your basic airgun, and are therefore more suitable for hunting larger game.

PCP Airgun Pros and Cons

Below, we’ve highlighted some of the main advantages and disadvantages when it comes to shooting PCP airguns. Hopefully, this will help you decide if it’s the right platform for you.

tactical gear and guns


Accuracy – Put simply, PCP airguns are the most accurate of all the types available. If you want to hit your mark with firearm comparable consistency, then a PCP air rifle is the way to go.

Little or no recoil – Ideal for younger shooters, or if – like many firearm enthusiasts – you don’t particularly enjoy the kickback from a regular gun. Even a high-caliber PCP rifle will barely move.

Consistent velocity – perhaps surprisingly, a PCP airgun shows a consistent velocity throughout the lifecycle of the air cylinder – thanks to its ingenious valve regulators (mentioned above).

Very quiet when suppressed – barely make a sound with a whisper-quiet suppressed airgun – which is ideal for those stealthy hunts. Even without a suppressor, they’re much quieter than firearms.

You should still consider ear protection, though – especially if you’re a high-volume shooter with a larger-caliber airgun.

And this article on shooting range etiquette will give you some extra safety tips and tricks that are easily applicable to PCP airgun use.

Multi-shot – It’s possible to get up to 100 shots (and sometimes more) from a single canister charge with a PCP airgun – without the need to pump or refill. And if you’ve come with backup canisters, then you’re good to go.

Semi-auto and full-auto airguns have also been developed, which is a real boon when it comes to comparing airguns to firearms.

Good choice of caliber options – PCP rifles offer an excellent selection of calibers, which means you can really punch a hole in a target.

Shallow learning curve – contrary to firearms, a PCP airgun is easy to pick up and shoot, once you’ve mastered the relatively simple process of “charging” the air canister.


Expensive upfront – PCP guns have a very high initial starting cost. These guns don’t come cheap.

Having said that, over time, they can be more cost-effective, and they will hopefully start to become more affordable in the future.

Requires additional fill equipment – They can’t run without an extra piece of equipment that fills the canister with compressed air.

This also adds to the expense, and if you don’t have such a device at home, you need to gain access to one.

Furthermore, manually filling your airgun canisters can take A LOT of effort – especially considering the psi levels involved. Heck, I sometimes struggle to pump up a bike tire…

Travel can be complicated – PCP guns aren’t the most portable option out there, especially with the addition of canisters and air compressors.

And when it comes to flying, you might have problems – even when securely storing the gun as part of your check-in luggage.

TSA regulations on compressed air canisters can give you a headache at the check-in desk, so make sure you’re fully aware of what you can and can’t bring with you – and arrive at the airport in plenty of time.

For more general information on flying with firearms, follow that link.

Who Should Choose a PCP?

Now you understand the basics of PCP-powered air guns, the question remains – should you get one?

There’s no doubt that PCP airguns are top-of-the-food-chain when it comes to the different types of air rifle, and as such, they attract a certain type of shooter.

PCP owners are serious about the sport – whether for hunting, competition target shooting, or even heavy-duty recreational plinking, you’re not buying one of these guns to keep it in storage.

It’s going to see a lot of use.

A PCP rifle might be a good choice if you live somewhere strict firearm regulations are in place, or you enjoy shooting but aren’t particularly fond of real guns.

They’re extremely popular in many parts of Europe, for example, where people still like to hunt, and there are fewer firearm-related incidents and accidents.

A PCP gun is certainly a safer choice compared with that of firearms, and the lack of recoil makes them the perfect option for anyone who is apprehensive about the kick of a rifle or shotgun, for example.

But they are a significant investment, and startup costs can be very expensive. Still, once you have the guns and gear, they can work out cheaper in the long run – especially when compared to firearms.

tactical gear and guns


What’s the FPS of a PCP airgun?

Depending on the weapon itself, a good PCP airgun is typically capable of shooting at 700-1000 FPS, and often more.

Be advised though – manufacturers like to bump up their FPS claims, so take it with a pinch of salt when reading the specs.

Can a PCP airgun kill a deer?

Yes, of course! With some caveats – you should be using a high-powered PCP gun, with the right type and caliber of ammo.

Range, conditions, shot placement, and skill of the shooter will all factor in success, but for deer, and larger game, your minimum caliber should be .30 – at the very least.

Although smaller calibers can achieve good results, I wouldn’t take the chance, and keep them for rabbits, squirrels, fowl, and other such critters.

Remember – when hunting anything, it should only take one shot for a kill, and avoid any unnecessary and cruel suffering for the beast. Always hunt with the right caliber weapon for your choice of quarry.

Can you use rifle scopes on an airgun?

As most rifle scopes are generally only designed to handle recoil in one direction (rearwards), they are considered unsuitable for airgun use.

However, it depends on the scope and the rifle it’s being used with. Some manufacturers claim that their rifle scopes can be used on both.

By all means, you can check this article on how to choose a rifle scope which should still give you some useful information on optics in general.

But I would err on the side of caution and only choose a scope that has been designed for airgun use – specifically PCP weapons if that’s what you’re running.


What is a PCP air rifle? It’s a PreCharged Pneumatic airgun that gives the shooter the freedom to fire multiple shots without ever needing to reload the airgun “powerplant.”

Let me know if this sounds like something you’d be interested in running, or if you have a PCP-powered rifle already, and you’d like to share your experience using it with the community.

Stay safe out there, and happy shooting!