Travis Olander 08.30.23
Air rifles have gained plenty of popularity among gun owners and hunters over the years. If you just want to click or tack some targets, air rifles provide a great alternative to sending expensive ammo downrange. Air rifles are also capable of taking small and even some large game. In recent years, many hunters have relied on air rifles to kill varmint, deer, elk — and some courageous hunters have even taken a bear or two with a large-caliber PCP rifle.
But not all air rifles are created equal. There are so many airguns on the market — with so many different charging mechanisms and capabilities — that picking a PCP, piston, or CO2 gun can get overwhelming.
The Best Air Rifles: Our Picks
Let’s clear things up! Here are our top picks for the best air rifles by category in 2023.
Benjamin Marauder (Best Varmint Air Rifle)
Crosman’s been making their Benjamin air rifles for years, and they’ve quickly become one of the trusted names in the airgun game. The tube-canister, rotary mag-fed, bolt-action Marauder is arguably one of their finest .22-cal lead slingers — and it makes for perhaps one of the best small game and varmint air guns on the market.
The Marauder’s takes plenty of refinements Crosman’s made over the years — improved pneumatic valves for consistent shot groups, easier loading thanks to external magazines, and improved triggers — and stacks it all into a 20″ barrel powered by a 3,000 PSI-rated, 315cc can offering up to 32 shots before requiring a recharge.
The repeater action’s worked by a simple short-throw bolt, and loading is made simple with a small rotary drum magazine that clamps between the bolt face and breech. A built-in air gauge lets you know how much juice you’ve got left before you need to pause the squirrel poppin’ for a trip to the compressor.
Available in .177, .22, or .25, the Marauder offers up to 1,100 FPS at the muzzle, with field reports indicating good accuracy at 50 to 65 yards. Loaded up with some typical 25-grain lead pellets, the Marauder affords up to 70 FPE — plenty of punch for taking most backyard pests and small game.
The Marauder makes a great backyard airgun for its internal baffles, too. It’s one of the quietest air guns you’ll find in the .22-cal category. It’s affordable, too — available in all 3 calibers at just under $600.
Gamo Swarm Viper Gen3i (Best Budget Air Rifle)
That the Swarm Viper gen3i from Gamo is only $280 at retail is impressive — especially when you find out that it’s one of the most accurate long-range air rifles on the market: Slinging .177 pellets at over 1,300 FPS (or .22 at 1,000 FPS), the Viper’s one of few airguns capable of reliably handling targets and varmints at 100 yards or more.
Plus the Viper’s a great lookin’ gun. Its sleek composite scout-style stock, fluted and ported barrel, and optic-ready receiver make it a dream to sight and fire, while a top-mounted rotary magazine makes prepping your lead super simple.
One big bonus is the breakbarrel piston system: No compressor’s needed to gas the Viper up to supersonic muzzle velocities. Just load n’ go. Running the Viper is a measure in good ergonomics, thanks to its crisp two-stage trigger, recoil pad, and rubber cheek rest.
The Viper even comes with some glass to get you started — a Gamo 3-9×40 scope — but its standard base and rings allow you to swap out for any other tube.
With a barrel length just shy of 20″ and a curb weight of around 5.7 pounds, the Viper fits into a Goldilocks zone for stability and size: It’s solid, but not cumbersome.
AirForce Texan SS (Quietest Big Bore Air Rifle)
The Texan SS looks great, shoots well, and sounds fantastic — which is to say it barely whispers at all. Thanks to a massive integral suppressor with loads of baffling, the AirForce Texan SS affords over 400 FPE at the muzzle, without the crack and boom that larger-caliber lead sluds tend to report.
Not only does that make the Texan SS a perfect backyard gun requiring no ear pro, but it affords the silence you wish you had when you’re taking game — and that first shot sends the rest scattering.
The Texan SS is, indeed, one of the most quiet PCP airguns available in .457 or .50, but that’s not its only trick. A 490cc carbon tank provides 3,000 PSI, unleashed by a finely tuned 2-stage, 2-pound trigger. Slugs exit the 25″ barrel at a respectable 935 FPS, affording plenty of knockdown power for medium game — users in the field report plenty of success dropping hogs at 75 yards or more.
That power and accuracy’s necessary, too: The Texan SS is single-shot and actuated by a side lever for hand loading. Rapid fire is a sacrifice that justifies the Texan’s price tag, though — $1,100 out the door for this setup, whereas many .50-cal rifles affording this amount of power often demand double the retail for a semiautomatic action.
An extended optics rail provides easy mounting for your favorite glass, but you’ll want to invest in some rubber for the buttstock. Felt recoil’s the one foible found on this otherwise high-performing PCP gun.
AEA Zeus GEN 2 (Most Powerful Air Rifle)
The Greek god of thunder is a fitting name to call AEA’s flagship PCP rifle. It is, by far, the most powerful airgun on the market in 2023: It can sling an 850-grain, 72.-caliber lead slug fast enough to afford over 1,500 FPE. That’s more muzzle energy than the hottest .50 AE cartridges, and just 25% less power than that afforded by average .243 Winchester loads.
Indeed, the Zeus GEN 2 is a rifle capable of instantly dropping big game, and plenty of North American hunters have taken large antlered bulls with ease. For all its power, the Zeus isn’t the most sleek or mobile airgun: It requires a 32″ barrel to get those big .72-cal slugs up to speed, and its 660cc tank is one of the largest you’ll find on any PCP airgun.
But the gun is still manageable enough for a stint in the woods during hunting season: All up, the Zeus GEN 2 weighs about 11.6 pounds before adding an optic atop its receiver’s Picatinny rail. You can opt for a much smaller barrel ( as short as 16″) but you’ll sacrifice about 20% of the Zeus’s potential muzzle velocity.
Beyond its raw power, the Zeus GEN 2 is a comfortable, fun gun to handle. Its solid wood stock sports plenty of curves n’ contours for a solid cheek weld, comfortable sight picture, and excellent recoil mitigation (also helped by a generous rubber buttstock pad).
Beeman 10616 (Best Beginner Air Rifle)
Ever feel compelled to throw a little bit of sunk cash at a new hobby, ready to accept you might not get any value out of those dollars? Even if you give air rifles a shot and find them wanting, you’ll be happy with the performance of the Beeman 10616.
It may suffer an uninspiring name, but the 10616 provides good performance and power for a piddly $130, and Beeman proved their worth when they introduced their popular .177-chambered R7. This spring piston-powered, single-shot air rifle affords up to 950 FPS at its .22-cal muzzle (if you’re loading alloy pellets).
That’s enough power to reach out and touch targets at 100 yards, and the included 4×32 optic provides basic sighting to get the job done. An 11mm dovetail rail makes swapping out for better glass a cinch, and the padded synthetic stock, 8.5-pound curb weight, and muzzle-mounted suppressor keep things comfortable and quiet.
The 10616 isn’t just a good beginner air rifle for its price. The breakbarrel action takes all guesswork out of the equation — just snap the action, load a round, lock it up, and you’re guaranteed the advertised 950 FPS without the need for a compressor or bottle.
Brocock BRK PCP Rifle (Most Versatile Air Rifle)
The bottle-feld BRK is perhaps the most badass, high-quality, and feature-packed air rifle in the game today — and it demands a price to match ($2,200 without the extras and goodies). But in exchange for dropping more than two bills on the BRK, you’re getting a hyper-accurate and fully modular setup that makes short work of 100-yard shots with some of the highest qualities components you’ll find on a not-a-firearm.
For starters, the BRK can send .177, .22, .25 and .30-cal slugs downrange just by swapping the barrel. You’ll get up to 129 FPE — plenty of power for small game and flat trajectories — with the heaviest loads, backed by a 300cc or 480cc carbon bottle.
A fully shrouded 23″ barrel keeps things quiet, and sub-MOA accuracy is of little concern when the onboard, 20-option pressure regulator is set to max. The rotary magazine affords 10 shots down the tube, but magazines can be magnetically stacked to double up capacity in between recharges.
Speaking of charge: Set up your BRK for .177, and you’ll get nearly 300 rounds of capacity in between bottles. Even at max pressure with the heaviest .30-cal loads, you’ll still get 21 shots of consistent power before needing more air.
The action on the BRK is just as impressive: A fully adjustable trigger allows for dialing in weight and travel. The bottom of the one-piece aluminum receiver is made to accept AK grips, which affords plenty of aftermarket options. The oversized bolt is buttery smooth, and the bullpup action provides excellent balance with a short OAL (33″ with the longest barrel).
For all its capacity and features, the alloy- and carbon fiber-fitted BRK is incredibly light, too: Just 7.3 pounds in its largest configuration.
Not convinced by our top picks? Check out our review of the Benjamin Armada. It’s an affordable semiautomatic PCP airgun capable of sending 40 rounds of .22 per charge at just below 1000 FPS and 26 FPE.