The Girardoni air rifle, an early air rifle designed in 1779

Air guns are any one of a variety of guns that propel projectiles by means of compressed air or other gas, in contrast to firearms which use a propellant charge and fire a bullet, while air guns usually fire a metal or plastic projectiles including BB's and even darts. Unlike airsoft guns which mainly fire only 6mm plastic pellets, low in power and unsuitable for hunting when compared to air guns.

In their early history, air guns were so powerful that they rivalled real firearms. Air guns in both pistol and rifle configuration are used around the world, used for both hunting and target shooting. Airguns use compressed air to fire pellets. There are different methods of powering an air gun. These methods can be broadly divided into 3 groups: spring-piston, pneumatic, and CO2. These methods are used in both air rifles and air pistols.

.177 (4.5 mm) is the most common caliber for air pistols and air rifles, being used for target practice and hunting small game. Air guns have different actions, most air rifles incorporate a gas spring in some models instead of a mechanical spring. Pressurized air or nitrogen is held in a chamber built into the piston, and this air is further pressurized when the gun is cocked. It is, in effect, a gas spring commonly referred to as a "gas ram" or "gas strut"                                                                            

Pneumatic air guns utilize pre-compressed air as the source of energy to propel the projectile. There are other action types such as Multi stroke and single stroke. A particular type of airgun, which uses a self-contained gas cartridge system (SCGC) has also been banned in some parts of the world after some criminals converted some of them into guns that fire bullets.                                                       


Air guns represent the oldest pneumatic technology. The oldest existing mechanical air gun, a bellows air gun dating back to about 1580. Early air guns proved to be more effective than even early firearms in performance and power.

Air rifles were used by some European and Japanese soldiers as a powerful sniper rifle in the 1700's. Although some enthusiasts suggest air guns posed a serious alternative to powder weapons, that was never proved to be the case, as valve leaks and bursting reservoirs were known problems. Air guns also were delicate, and peasant-soldiers, many of whom had never seen any mechanical tools more complex than horse-drawn carriages, could not have operated or maintained them properly. Improvements were too late and too complicated for production for arming soldiers.

During the 1890s, air rifles were used in Birmingham, England, for competitive target shooting. Matches were held in public houses, which sponsored shooting teams. Prizes, such as a leg of mutton for the winning team, were paid for by the losing team. The sport became so popular that in 1899, the National Smallbore Rifle Association was created. During this time over 4,000 air rifle clubs and associations existed across Great Britain, many of them in Birmingham. During this time, the air gun was associated with poaching because it could deliver a shot without a significant report.                

Air machine guns were used in WW2 for aerial gunnery training due to the low running cost and reusable ammo. Air rifles have also been used by various Cadet Forces.                                                       


Many companies produce air guns throughout the world. Some countries have passed laws which made it harder to obtain air guns but are still legal in most countries.

Manufacturers include:

  • Airrow
  • BSA    
  • Česká Zbrojovka, Uherský Brod    
  • Crosman
  • Daisy Outdoor Products
  • DIANA Mayer & Grammelspacher
  • Feinwerkbau
  • Feltman (now Shooting Star)
  • Gamo
  • J. G. Anschütz
  • McGlashan Air Machine Gun Corporation
  • Palmer
  • Productos Mendoza 
  • Sheridan
  • Steyr Sportwaffen GmbH
  • Umarex
  • Vintage Pneumatics
  • Walther
  • Webley & Scott 
  • Weihrauch


Today airguns are mainly used for target practice also known as "Plinking", small game hunting, pest control and even Olympic target shooters. Field Target is an outdoor air gun discipline originating in the United Kingdom, in the early 1980s which is a competitive form of target shooting in which the targets are knock-down metal silhouettes of targets by using airguns.


In most countries air guns are not considered to be firearms, but in some countries there are certain laws and rules to be followed for air gun owners. Powerful air guns have been used in some countries to attack and even kill a person. There may be minimum ages for possession in countries, and sales of both air guns and ammunition may be restricted. In some parts of the world, those who wish to own a air gun have to go through background checks, the same checks someone would recieve if they were buying a real firearm. Air weapons are legal in most countries, in some countries like Japan air guns are banned as they are seen as real firearms.      



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