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Best Air Rifles in 2023 [All Budgets]

Think air rifles are only toys? We go through 5 of the best ones for plinking and even hunting...and across all budgets so you get the perfect one for you.

Want to do some plinking and maybe even some huntingbut not with a firearm?

nrl22 air rifle
nrl22 air rifle

Many gun owners are used to thinking of air rifles as toys…but modern air rifle technology is far from what your grandfather found under the Christmas tree when he was a boy.

He’d be shocked with what he could do accomplish using modern airguns.

Meat, it's whats for dinner.
Aim for the Heart and Lungs!

That’s right, you can even hunt some larger game — such as small deer — with today’s big bore airguns.

And because air rifles aren’t classified as firearms, in most areas you don’t have to go through a background check or waiting period to pick up your gun.

How do You Pick the Best Air Gun?

There are so many options available, it’s nearly impossible to say what the “best” air gun is for any given application. If you’re a beginner, you probably want a smaller caliber, simpler and less expensive air rifle to plink with and maybe even do some varmint hunting or pest control.

If your budget and skill level allows, you might step up to a larger caliber or a more sophisticated power plant — there are a variety of methods used to propel slugs, pellets, and BBs in modern air guns.

But if you really want to do some long range shooting or have a shot at taking anything up to a small deer, you’ll probably want to pick up a “big bore” air rifle in .45 or .50 caliber.

.50 Cal HP Air Rifle Pellet, 185gr. Roughly the same weight as .40 SW bullet.
.50 Cal HP Air Rifle Pellet, 185gr. Roughly the same weight as a .40 SW bullet.

Rather than try to run through all of the possible options, let’s take a look at a few quality air rifles for a variety of applications, and see if we can’t surprise you with what these guns can do. Keep in mind, these weapons are not toys and are meant to be used in serious hunting applications or for responsible plinking.

Summary of Our Top Picks


    Gamo Whisper Fusion Mach 1 Air Rifle

    This gas-powered air rifle is simple and easy to operate. It's lightweight and has a noise-reducing system making it pretty quiet.


    Crosman Benjamin Trail NP XL 1500

    Available in .117, .22, and .25 calibers. This air rifle is very accurate, quiet, and has low recoil.


    Seneca Dragon Claw Dual Tank, .50 Cal

    This precharged pneumatic air rifle packs serious power. It pushes a .50 cal slug at 650 ft per second. Downside is it doesn't automatically regulate pressure.


    AirForce Texan

    This airgun is high powered, feeding .45 caliber while still convenient and portable.


    AirForce Texan SS

    The AirForce Texan SS features a shrouded barrel so noise is dampened on output.


    Benjamin Bulldog

    Being a bullpup format where the barrel takes up almost the entire length of the gun, this helps keep this rifle compact while retaining velocity.

Table of Contents


Entry Level Options

There is a dizzying array of air guns for beginner shooters, and we’ll take a look at a couple that would suit someone with less experience, but who still wants a gun that can serve effectively in a variety of applications.

These rifles are usually available in .177, .22 and .25 calibers, which are the more traditional calibers for airguns. Soft shooting, simple to use, great for beginners of any age.

1. Gamo Whisper Fusion Mach 1 Air Rifle

This is a great option for those seeking a quiet air rifle in .177 or .22 caliber. Newer air rifle shooters will like the Mach 1’s ease of use and simplicity. To operate the rifle, you just pull the barrel down, breaking it open, put in a pellet, close the barrel, and you’re ready to go.

at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

This model operates with a gas-powered piston, so instead of compressing a spring, you’re using compressed gas to power the gun. This has several advantages, including less weight, noise, and vibration, and offers the ability to leave the rifle cocked for long periods of time.

In addition to Gamo’s Whisper noise-reducing system, the break-barrel Mach 1 features a synthetic stock, two-stage trigger, integrated iron sights and a scope. It also comes with a buttstock pad, but the recoil is already minimal, and most shooters won’t have a problem handling the rifle.

Regarding the 3×9 scope included with the gun, many users complain it isn’t up to snuff – but since this is a beginner’s air rifle, that shouldn’t be shocking. One of our editors replaced the original scope with a Simmons Truplex .22 Mag 3-9×32 scope and loves it.

at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

The rifle is accurate out to around 100 yards or more, and the open sights will serve at this range, though if you’re hunting small game, you’ll probably want to use a better scope to ensure accuracy.

2. Crosman Benjamin Trail XL and NP XL Air Rifle

Another break-barrel air rifle, the NP XL feature’s Benjamin’s Nitro Piston power plant, a gas-powered piston system that Benjamin pioneered.

at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

Easy to shoot and benefits from all of the features gas-powered pistons offer air guns, including low noise and vibration, low recoil, and the ability to leave the rifle cocked for longer periods.

You’ll find it available in .117, .22 and .25 calibers, and is accurate out to around 100 yards. A baffled barrel is an added plus helping to quiet your shots while the wood stock adds a more traditional look to the rifle.

It also comes with a 3×9 scope that is adequate, but some will want to replace it with a more capable after-market model.

The option to pick up this rifle in .25 is very nice, though this caliber is somewhat more divisive because the larger pellet size takes more pressure to reach usable velocities.

You can even take slightly larger varmint species ethically with these calibers, provided you’re well trained and know how to place your shot appropriately.

What’s your take on the NP XL?

Readers' Ratings

4.99/5 (1123)

Your Rating?

High Power Options

If you’re an experienced shooter or you need something with more punch, you might want to consider stepping up to pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) air rifles.

These systems are more expensive but can achieve substantially greater energy output, making larger calibers viable in an air gun platform for the first time. Since these sport larger bores, they are generally called “big-bore” guns and can shoot all the way up to a .50 caliber special slug.

3. Seneca Yang Dragon Claw Dual Tank Air Rifle

This single-shot precharged pneumatic air rifle pushes a .50 caliber slug at around 650 feet per second. That’s a lot of punch. The charging handle sits on the right side of the gun, and each slug has to be hand-loaded and the handle pulled back to ready the gun to fire.

at Airgun Depot

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

The tank sits underneath the barrel and can be filled from a tank of compressed air at the appropriate PSI, or with a special high-pressure hand pump, though this can be a serious workout. A full tank will deliver between 8 to 10 shots depending on a variety of factors.

Be aware, however, that the gun doesn’t automatically regulate pressure — there is a selector to toggle between “low” and “high” pressure to adjust air output depending on the target — and as you shoot, your velocity will drop.

With a wooden stock and blued steel, this is a high-end option for someone looking for a PCP rifle that’s appropriate for taking medium-sized game, and even small deer if you’re experienced and confident in your ability.

While you certainly could have fun plinking with it, it’s really designed more for serious hunting applications. At this price point, you’ll likely want to put it to use.

Though PCP air tanks can be difficult to refill in the field, especially if you’re out hiking all day, the Dragon Claw is a more than capable air rifle.

It has another special feature, as well: you can fire the specially made Air Venturi Air Bolts — they look like a cross between a crossbow bolt and an arrow — out of the rifle’s barrel, essentially making the Dragon Claw a dual-purpose rifle.

at Airgun Depot

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

4. AirForce Texan and Texan SS

With improvements in air rifle technology, big bore guns have become totally viable options for those seeking a weapon that can actually perform in the field.

at Airgun Depot

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

The Texan and Texan SS are PCP-powered .45 caliber big bore options for those who want a lot of power in a portable and convenient platform.

Because these big bore airguns are pushing a lot more pressure, they tend to be louder, and the SS model features a fully shrouded barrel to seriously dampen noise output.

at Airgun Depot

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

These rifles are accurate and definitely capable of taking a small deer within appropriate range.

Perfect for a property with adjacent neighbors and you don’t want to bother them with your shooting, the SS is an excellent option for hunting or just plinking. 

5. Benjamin Bulldog Shrouded .357 Bullpup

This is another PCP air rifle with some innovative features and customizability from Crosman. The rifle is formatted in the bullpup layout, meaning that the barrel runs almost the entire length of the gun.

at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

As with real bullpup firearms, such as the IWI Tavor or Kel-Tech RDB, this helps keep the rifle compact while retaining the velocity necessary to push the .357 slug out with impressive energy.  

What’s different about this gun, though, is its integrated 5-round rotary clip and it’s fully shrouded barrel. This is a quiet air rifle and a relatively light air rifle, and you will probably go through quite a few slugs and air fills before you’ll be willing to quit shooting.

It’s well suited for quiet hunting as well, and is suitable for medium-sized game, though there may be better options for deer.


These are just a few of the air rifles I like, and tons of excellent alternatives are available, with more coming out all the time. Newer designs, such as gas-piston and pre-charged pneumatic systems, have changed the game in the last few years, and who knows what new developments will emerge to change the landscape further.

There’s an air rifle platform for almost any application and budget, and I think in many cases they have surpassed traditional firearms, such as for certain varmint control situations and discreet plinking.

Best of all, these guns are plain fun to shoot.

If you’re looking to get your start this hunting season, our Introduction to Deer Hunting article is a great place to start!

I’m sure you can think of other uses for air rifles, so let us know what you think of the options we’ve highlighted.  Check out the rest of our guns & gear in Editor’s Picks.

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13 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    The Huck

    These are the best modern air guns? Really? Lewis and Clark used the .46 caliber 22 shot Girardoni air rifle, why have we gone backwards in technology?

    July 2, 2019 9:07 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      The reason is that for military purposes, gunpowder firearms overtook and surpassed air-powered. This resulted in a lack of reason for pursuing development.

      July 11, 2019 1:23 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        No the real reason was American Gun lobbyist groups. The gun he mentions was used as an Austrian sniper rifle incredibly reliable deadly and silent. There are advantages to a air powered gun. Put a barbed arrow in it and you could take out a polar bear.. sorry there is actually no good technical reason why air guns on this weak. Except manufacturer's got lazy. If you just look at the Lewis and Clark rifle and think a sniper round they can kill a buffalo and makes no noise no flash I think you can imagine that has some military use and that was a weapon used in Austria in war.. and out performed most gun powder guns if it's time.. I didn't the advantages of the gun came with its own ammo making kit could fire bolts with borbbed ends required no black powder.. yep it was politicians getting bribed.

        November 27, 2019 4:55 am
        • Commenter Avatar

          The Girardoni was a piece of crap. It was very fragile and easy to break, making it useless. It was a pain to operate as it took something like 1,500 pumps from a hand pump to get up to max pressure, required extensive maintenance, and each shot lowered the effectiveness. You can buy a modern air rifle that is not only far more reliable, but also more effective.

          April 12, 2021 9:56 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    What about pre-charged pneumatics (PCP)?

    November 27, 2018 8:24 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Out of the "Gamo Whisper Fusion Mach 1 Air Rifle":
    Is there much of a sound difference between .177 vs .22?
    Which caliber is quietest for the backyard?

    October 17, 2018 7:50 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      David, PPT Editor

      I've owned both and I couldn't tell a difference in noise level.

      October 18, 2018 11:30 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Bravo Tango

    If you are looking at one of the break barrel options, be aware that you have to use the "artillery" grip, or light grip, to shoot extremely accurate with them. It takes some getting used to for the crowd that's used to holding a rifle firmly. I have the Benjamin NP XL 1100 (.22 cal.) and love it. The scope really isn't that bad. It's no Leupold, but it works. Have fun.

    September 30, 2018 5:36 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    AVID hardcore airgunner for past 15 years, been down the road of many types and styles, I don't like being critical but of all Pew Pew Tactical's articles, Airgunning is one that cant be done in just one short article, there are just too many nuances and differences in the various options available to be able to just pick one up and it fill your needs. I do appreciate how the selected guns represent a bit of the diversity in airgunning, though personally wouldn't have chosen a couple of them as the "representations" of those particular niches in the airgun market having owned them personally and others of the same genre, but that's just me.
    My recommendation is before purchasing, apply some due diligence and search, research, and search some more. Brief example, for the "hotrod" PCP air guns the AirForce line is a great accurate powerhouse, quite versatile, very customizable etc, very much enjoy mine. Few brands I would add to the line up are AirArms, FX, Beeman.
    Once you purchase your air rifle buy a few different pellet "Sampler" kits. Air rifles are even more finicky to which pellet it will shoot accurately then powered burners are with bullets. For the .22" and .25" caliber air rifles I have found that the overall the JSB line of EXACT pellets tend to work rather well. Most of my air rifles over the years have shot these sub- 1/2MOA, my two most accurate prefer these as well. In .177" the Crossman Premier Light's tend to be the least finicky and most accurate and purchased in boxes of 1250 count. Again, not all air guns will shoot these accurately but these particular ones do shot well in most and some are crazy accurate with them, (oh, and they are excellent hunting rounds as well for air rifles of this respective caliber).

    LOVE the air guns, mouse fart quiet, powerful enough to take 35lb rodents out to 100 yards, the proper rifle and matched pellet amazing accuracy.

    September 30, 2018 4:45 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      David, PPT Editor

      Great information, thank you! Editing and working on this article with Ethan educated me that air rifles were a much deeper topic than I thought it was.

      October 1, 2018 11:22 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Steve West

      I think its great that people who messed up in the past with felonys ...can rifle hunt again.
      I couldn't imagine not being able to buy a gun & hunt, or not being able to keep a family heirloom such as a great grandfathers gun passed down.

      October 1, 2018 3:03 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    John p mattei

    Great discussion.
    Tons of quality air guns available for teaching, plinking and hunting.

    Thank you

    September 30, 2018 4:40 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    John Napiorkowski

    Not a bad backup for those of us in restrictive states. I can even order from Amazon

    September 13, 2018 5:38 am
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