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Sales of compressed air guns have soared in recent years. Their numerous advantages, which include their precision and ease of handling, have resulted in many marksmen preferring them to firearms. As regards the price, this can vary depending on the weapon’s quality, model, type and manufacturer. Some of the main manufacturers of compressed air rifles and pistols are Gamo, Storm, BSA, Croman and Walther.


PCP carbine Gamo Dinamax available in calibeer 4,5 or 5,5 mm.

Compressed air guns are mainly used for recreational shooting, however, in some countries it is also permitted to use them for hunting. One of the main recreational shooting activities is Field Target, a competition which originated in Great Britain in the eighties. Field Target is a recreational target shooting discipline, using metal targets in the form of small animals (rats, doves, rabbits,…), which has gained followers year on year. For this speciality, two main categories of compressed air guns are used: spring or piston rifles, and PCP rifles. To complete the group, there is also a third and final category: CO2 rifles and pistols. The rifles and pistols are therefore divided into three types: PCP, CO2 and spring, according to the gun’s loading system.


The Target Field is a sport of target shooting that can be performed with pre-compressed air rifles (PCP)

On this occasion, we are going to take a closer look at PCP compressed air guns, analysing their history, their function and their main advantages compared to other systems on the market. The initials PCP are derived from the English term Pre Charged Pneumatic, that is to say, pre-compressed air. Although these guns are a relatively recent addition to the market, their history dates back centuries. In fact, we must go back to the 15th century, a time to which historians have traced back the development of pre-compressed guns which were used at that time for hunting activities. However, the root of their fame can be traced to the Austrian army’s confrontation with the French troops in the Napoleonic wars, which took place in the last third of the 18th century. The rifle used by the Austrians substituted the use of gunpowder with the use of air, which enabled them to achieve up to twenty shots per minute, while Napoleon’s army could only manage three shots per minute due to the difficulty of loading gunpowder weapons.

One of the main problems with this original pre-compressed air gun was the amount of effort required to refill the air reservoirs. For this and other less significant reasons, the PCP gun was retired from the battlefield, and was destined mainly for hunting activities.


In the Napoleonic wars between France and Austria spread the use of PCP rifle for military purposes

With the arrival of the 20th century and the start of the Great War (1914 - 1919) the PCP rifle returned to the war scene and its mechanism was perfected. During the last few years of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century the use of PCP (Pre Charged Pneumatic) weapons has expanded rapidly.

PCP rifles and pistols operate in a very similar way to CO2 weapons, in other words, they possess an air supply reservoir, which passes to a valve through a loading mechanism. The valve opens with a gate mechanism and the air is released using all its pressure to fire the gun ammunition, which is shot at high velocity. The pressure of the air in the reservoir lessens successively with each shot, although this varies depending on the model of the gun. However, these variations are not very pronounced, and all offer very similar shots.


PCP guns and rifles running through the pressure transmitting the natural air

The main problem which is attributed to PCP guns is the system for refilling the air reservoir. Currently developments are still being made in this area, with a view to making it easier to fill the reservoir by incorporating multiple pump systems. However, the most common system involves use of manual pumps which, although they require great physical force, cost less than other refill systems. Electrical pumps can also be used as compressors which refill the rifle precisely and quickly, however, this comes at a high cost.


Special hand pump high pressure refueling PCP rifles and pistols by BSA

Another system available is the use of high pressure external tanks (3000 PSI = 300 bars). The most common are used in diving activities requiring independent equipment, in other words Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus, better known as SCUBA. These tanks provide air at the correct pressure for the gun through a series of adaptors. The disadvantage of these tanks is that they can be expensive and sometimes difficult to obtain.


Bottle filling recharge BSA guns


Recently, the use of PCP rifles and pistols has been superseded to some extent by CO2 air weapons. As many compressed air gun users will confirm, the advantages of PCP rifles over CO2 rifles are varied, although they can all be summed up in one phrase: maximum precision.

Firstly, the PCP rifle, like its CO2 counterpart, has a recoil (the kickback which the gun makes on the shoulder of the user at the moment of shooting) which is almost imperceptible. This gives the gun utmost precision by having less vibration, thereby limiting the accuracy problems found with many pre-compressed air guns.


 PCP air gun by BSA Scorpion Tactical Multishot  model with 10 BB charger

The main disadvantage of CO2 weapons is that the precision and velocity of the shot depend to a great extent on the ambient temperature in which the shot is fired, due to the physical properties of the gas. In warmer atmospheres, the pressure and velocity are higher than at cold temperatures. Also, with carbon dioxide guns, on firing the shot, the temperature of the gas drops rapidly thereby reducing the pressure and velocity. It is therefore recommended to take intervals between shots so that the gun can regain temperature. This is a characteristic which is not present in PCP rifles, as they are practically insensitive to changes in temperature, and their changes of pressure are lower.


PCP pistol Twinmaster Match with adjustable trigger. PCP air guns show little decline

To sum up, it can be said that pre-compressed (PCP) air rifles and pistols comprise a group of high power and precision guns which are highly effective for recreational shooting. PCP guns are gaining ground over other systems on the market and are increasingly a feature in many gunsmiths’.


PCP Air Rifles

PCP Pistols

BSA PCP Carabines


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