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Which is the Best Around Airgun?

I personally spent a lot of time searching for the best air gun, and after doing a lot of research, I came up with a choice that I believe is the best overall air gun available.  Granted, the best choice for me might not be the best choice for everyone else, but my research might also help out some other people so I'll share what I discovered.  I'll tell you right now that I chose to purchase the RWS Model 34 air rifle in .22 caliber.  After hours of reading and research, I concluded that this was the best choice for me.  I'll explain some of what I was looking for in an airgun, so that you can determine if this is the best choice for you too.  To give you a quick summary of the factors that I was considering, these are the main points that I was looking at in an air gun: quality, performance, accuracy, and value. 

QUALITY - First of all, I decided that I wanted to get an air gun that had a strong reputation for quality and reliability.  It doesn't matter how powerful, accurate, or cheap a particular airgun might be if it breaks or wears out quickly.  A broken gun is worthless except maybe for being used as a club.  So, the quality of the air gun was a very big concern for me.  After reading a lot of customer reviews on different brands of air guns, it didn't take long for me to conclude that RWS makes some of the finest air guns in the world.  RWS air guns are designed and crafted in Germany.  They have an extremely good reputation of making very high quality air guns.  If you do your homework and check around, you will find that MOST other air guns are made in China.  It is true that Chinese manufacturing can produce a good product, but time has proven that Chinese air guns typically do not last as long.  While researching, I saw one source state that a well made Chinese air gun might last 10,000 shots if all went well.  This source stated that a comparable RWS pellet gun could last over 40,000 shots.  That's 4 TIMES AS LONG!  Other brands of air guns such as Gamo are made in Spain.  These probably have a better reputation than most air guns manufactured in China.  Even so, the Gamo airguns only come with a 1 year warranty.  In terms of longevity, naturally there are other factors that come into play such as how the gun was used and how well it was maintained.  Even so, if you start out with a better designed gun, then you are more likely to have less problems and longer life than if you start out with a lower quality product.  One thing to consider is how long the manufacturer warranties their gun.  The RWS probably has the best air gun warranty in the business - a LIFETIME WARRANTY!  That's telling you something about the confidence RWS has in their air guns, and it's also an indication of the quality of their products.  A warranty is only as good as the company that backs it up.  UMAREXUSA is the company that distributes the RWS air guns in the United States.  In my own experience, their customer service is outstanding.  My RWS 34 had a hairline crack in the wood stock.  It was almost invisible and purely a cosmetic issue, but when I contacted UMAREXUSA, they immediately  told me that they would put a new stock on it.  They even sent me a pre-paid shipping label to send it back to them.  Now that's what I call great customer service!  So, I can say from personal experience that the RWS Lifetime Warranty appears to be top notch - just like the RWS products are top notch!  One final note related to quality and long term reliability.  As I was reading about other people's experiences, one of the things that really stood out to me was comments from people that have owned their RWS 34 airgun a long time.  There were comments like "I've owned my model 34 for 20 years and it still shoots as well as when I first got it".  There were multiple comments like that.  That just reaffirmed that the RWS 34 is a top quality gun and that it was the best air gun for me.  That brings up another thing.  The 34 has been around for decades (first released in 1984) and it is based on a tried and true design that has been refined and perfected over time.  This is not some new product design that still has bugs to be worked out.  Even though it is such a fine air rifle, RWS continues to fine tune it with minor upgrades such as a more adjustable trigger.  Currently, the RWS 34 comes with the T06 trigger which is adjustable for pull weight, length of pull, and sear engagement.  Most people will find the factory settings to be more than adequate on their RWS rifle, but the adjustment potential is there for the die hard air gunner who wants to find tune the trigger pull to perfection.  

RWS 34

PERFORMANCE - The next thing that I considered was the power of the gun.  I wanted something that was powerful enough to be effective on varmints at close range.  What I wanted was an air gun that would be a suitable substitute for a 22LR rifle for close range shooting.  With small critters at close range, a 22LR can sometimes be more than is needed.  In addition, an air gun is quieter (unless you happen to be shooting subsonic 22LR in a rifle with a suppressor at the end).  Most people do not shoot a gun like that, so a typical 22LR round will be quite a bit louder than an air rifle like the RWS 34.  When talking about performance, there are 2 factors that need to be considered.  The first factor is VELOCITY (FPS - feet per second) and the second factor is ENERGY (FPE - foot pounds energy).  You really can't look at velocity alone and get a good indication of performance.  The reason for that is simply because energy is what that tells you how much knock down power a particular air gun will have.  The energy is found by multiplying the VELOCITY x PELLET WEIGHT.  The RWS model 34 in .22 is rated as a 800 FPS air gun.  This velocity is only achievable with a very lightweight pellet.  A better indication of the performance of the RWS 34 is with the energy.  Based on my research, I discovered that the RWS 34 in .22 caliber produces somewhere around 14 FPE.  That would put it into the medium power class of air guns.  Many people say that the RWS 34 is more than adequate for small game like rabbits out to around 40 yards.  Some people successfully shoot out much farther than that, but then shot placement becomes much more critical.  A well placed head shot is needed at farther ranges.  With that in mind, more power is not always better.  A magnum class air gun can generate 20+ FPE, but it can come at a cost in terms of accuracy.  A magnum power air gun like the RWS 350 in .22 is known to be good for up to 25 FPE, but it can be harder to shoot these high powered air guns accuracy.  The harsher recoil and vibrations produced by these more powerful airguns can affect the accuracy of the shots.  In order to achieve these higher power levels, a stronger main spring is required to drive the piston faster so the pellet exits the gun faster.  This harder hitting spring piston can create greater recoil and more vibrations that make it harder for the average person to shoot as accurately as a lower powered gun.  So, a shooter might be better off with a medium power air gun that is more accurate, than a higher powered gun with which it is more difficult to control shot placement.  Speaking of accuracy, I'll now move on to that topic in more detail in the next section.

ACCURACY - Something else that is closely tied to the overall performance of a gun is the accuracy.  You could have the most powerful air gun in the world, but that power is not useful unless you can consistently hit what you are aiming at.  Accuracy is also closely tied to the skills of the shooter, but what I'm talking about is the inherent accuracy of the gun.  Take the variable of the individual shooters out of the equation.  How accurate is the gun itself?  Naturally, an experienced shooter should be able to be more accurate with any particular gun that they shoot, but they will still not be able to be more accurate than the capabilities of specific gun that they are shooting.  The way the gun is made, the precision of the mating parts, and the overall quality can have a big effect on how accurately a gun can shoot.  As mentioned earlier, the RWS 34 is classified as a medium power air gun, and this means that many people find it easier to control and shoot accurately than some of the other magnum power air guns.  Many people say that they are able to achieve 1/2" groups at 30 yards.  Some people are able to achieve tighter groups with their RWS 34 at these ranges.  A lot of it depends on the shooter and their experience with spring piston air guns like the 34.  When a break barrel spring powered rifle fires, a spring loaded piston flies forwards.  This creates a recoil which is different than a conventional rifle.  In a normal rifle that shoots gunpowder powered bullets, the recoil is primarily back toward the shooter.  In the case of a spring piston air gun, the "recoil" is actually in the forward direction (away from the shooter).  This causes gun to jump forward and can have an affect on accuracy for the inexperienced shooter.  What you find is that the way the gun is held can have a big affect on the final accuracy of the shot.  This is sometimes referred to as hold sensitivity.  Holding the gun too tightly or rigidly can lead to less accurate shots.  Most people find that a looser hold on a spring piston air gun can result in more accurate shots.  The reason for this is because as the trigger is pulled, the spring piston flies forward and compresses the air that forces the pellet out of the barrel.  This all happens relatively slowly and so the pellet is traveling through the barrel for a relatively long time.  As a result, if you hold the gun with both hands too tightly, then the recoil and vibrations caused by the spring piston flying forward (and hitting against its stop) will cause the muzzle of the gun to jump to a different location every time.  This increases the variation in where the pellet hits on target.  If you leave the palm of your forward hand open upward and rest the forend of the gun stock in that open palm, then that can help reduce the hold sensitivity of some airguns.  In addition, on your trigger hand, if you are also able to hold the gun more loosely, then that can help as well.  Thankfully, people that own the RWS 34 say that it is less hold sensitive then some other air guns. 

Another important variable related to accuracy is the choice of pellets.  Most people find that high quality, precision RWS pellets shoot accurately out of RWS guns.  Many people have also found the less expensive Crosman Premier hollow point pellets to be very accurate pellets.  Keep in mind when choosing pellets that it's best to keep velocity under 1100 fps.  That's because once a projectile crosses that velocity and reaches the speed of sound, it will be affected by the shock wave created by supersonic flight.  In the case of the RWS 34 .22 pellet gun, this will not be an issue because the larger, heavier .22 pellets will not be able to get anywhere close to supersonic speeds.  in the case of a model 34 in .177 and with ultralight pellets, then this might be something to consider.  In any given airgun, the lighter the pellet, the higher the resulting velocity will be.  As long as you stay below 1100 fps, then you won't have to worry about the supersonic affect.  Probably the best way to know what pellets shoot most accurately in your air gun is simply to experiment.  If you want to skip the experimentation, then for the RWS 34 air rifle, the Crosman Premier hollow points and RWS Superpoint Extra or RWS Superdome pellets seem to be popular choices because of their accuracy in this gun.  By the way, exceeding the speed of sound can not only affect the accuracy of the gun, but it can also dramatically increase the noise level of the gun.  As the pellet breaks the sound barrier, the resulting shock wave will create a loud "cracking" noise.  For most people, it's probably best to just choose heavier pellets that ensure you never go supersonic.

Another factor in accuracy of any gun is the sights.  The RWS 34 comes with a very nice set of open sights with fiber optic highlights on both the front and rear sights that make this gun much easier to shoot accurately.  For longer range shooting, a scope can increase the accuracy.  If you do want to put a scope on your 34, then be aware that you need to get a special mount that is designed to fit on the RWS air guns.  In addition, be aware that a spring piston air gun can be very hard on scopes.  The recoil of the gun in the forward direction can ruin cheap scopes and rattle even good scopes apart.  One option is to buy an RWS with a factory equipped scope.  It is possible to buy an RWS 34 with a factory equipped scope package that includes an air gun compatible scope and the proper mounts - all for a very reasonable price.

RWS 34 .22 Cal with Scope        

VALUE - Quality, performance, and accuracy are all very important, but for me the best air gun also had to be a good value.  When I say "value" that doesn't mean that I am looking for the cheapest gun.  I am looking for the most gun for my money.  In other words, I was looking for an air gun that met all my requirements and was not overpriced.  I am happy to pay extra in order to get a higher quality product.  What I've learned over the years is that the initial excitement of a low price can quickly turn sour when there are problems with the quality and reliability of a product.  I can't tell you how many times I chose the cheapest option (often cheap Chinese products) and later lived to regret it!  The old saying "live and learn" comes into play here.  Sometimes we need to learn things the hard way - at least I do.  A lower price is not always a better deal.  That's true in the world of air guns and all products.  On the flip side, the most expensive choice is not always the best air gun either.  I've seen high tech air guns that sell for $1000 - $2000, and no matter how good it is, that is not my idea of a good value!  The nice thing is that at the time I am writing this article, you can find a RWS 34 for as low as $200.  I found one with the wood stock for a little under $200 (including shipping).  You can usually find the 34 P (Panther) model with synthetic stock for a little less money than the wood stock model.  Getting a 34 airgun with the scope and scope mount package will add around $40 to the price tag.  The RWS 34 may not be the cheapest air gun around, but I believe it sure is the best air gun for the money when all things are considered.     

SUMMARY - In conclusion, you can find less expensive air guns (many of which are manufactured in China), you can find more powerful and more sophisticated air guns, but you'll be hard pressed to find a better air gun if you consider quality, accuracy, performance, and value.  In my opinion, the RWS 34 is the best air gun when you consider all those factors.  It might not be the best choice for you if your priorities are different, but it is a good place to start for many people who are searching for a top quality, great performing air gun at a reasonable price.