What is a Break Barrel Air Rifle?

  • Written By Eric Crouch on October 20, 2020
    Last Updated: February 1, 2021

This article will discuss what exactly a break barrel air rifle is, what the springer and gas-piston break barrel air rifles are, how they work, and some pros and cons of the break barrel. By the end of this read, you will know exactly what this style of air weapon is and whether it’s suited to you as a starter rifle.

Air guns come in many different forms, and there is more to them than meets the eye. Air rifles feature different designs and charging styles that define their name and their best function. Air rifles use air or a mechanical system to fire a projectile without gun-power, unlike a traditional powder burning firearm. How a rifle fires its pellets depends on the mechanism used inside the gun, and these vary greatly from weapon to weapon.

You will find multi-pump air rifles, spring-powered air rifles, pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) air rifles, gas-piston air rifles, and Co2 powered rifles. These all use different mechanics to fire pellets at speed with plenty of power, and although they all look relatively similar, they are worlds apart in function. To cock or “charge” these mechanisms, the gun needs a way to compress a piston, spring, gas piston, or air tank, and this is where the cocking system comes in.

There are many different cocking or “charging” styles, and not every rifle is the same. A springer or gas-piston rifle can be charged using an underlever or a break barrel, a PCP needs charging with a separate hand pump or scuba tank, and a multi-pump is charged with a built-in pump that sits below the barrel. All of these charging methods are relevant to their partnered air rifle type.

What Defines a Break Barrel Air Rifle?

To define what a break barrel air rifle is in the simplest terms, it is an air weapon with a barrel that splits in half on a hinge. When the barrel is split, you can load the pellet and compress the charging mechanism, thus priming the rifle ready for firing.

When the barrel is lifted back up after breaking, it locks into position to once again straighten the barrel, ready for firing. Once cocked and loaded, the marksman can take aim and pull the trigger to release the gas-piston or spring, sending the pellet down the barrel and out the muzzle at speed.

Break barrel air rifles are among the most common styles on the market and the design has been around for decades. The design is timeless, and if your father or grandfather still has an air rifle from their younger days, chances are, it is a break barrel.

There is a reason this design hasn’t changed over the years, and that is because it is simple, reliable, and highly functional. They are also the most affordable option if you are on a budget as there are plenty of models around for a wide price range.

What are the Types of Break Barrel Air Rifles?

You will find two types of air rifles that come in the break barrel design, and these are the “springer” or spring-powered air rifle and the Gas-piston air rifle. Both of these rifles function in pretty much the same way. They are both cocked, loaded, and charged using the break barrel system, but the mechanisms inside that propel the pellet are different.

The spring-powered break barrel has a spring and a piston within the rifle that gets compressed when the barrel is broken and cocked. When you break the barrel of a springer, the spring coils up and locks in place. You then load the pellet and lock the barrel back up.

When the spring is compressed, locked in place, and a pellet is loaded, the gun is ready to fire. When the trigger is pulled, it releases the spring, which forces the piston forward. This generates energy in the barrel behind the pellet. When the energy is released, it tries to escape the muzzle, forcing the pellet out at speed.

The gas-piston air rifle has a gas-filled piston inside that compresses when the barrel is broken and cocked. This piston takes the place of the spring inside a spring-powered air rifle, and instead of a mechanical spring being compressed, the gas inside the piston is compressed and locked. The gas is already compressed within the piston cylinder, so when the break barrel is cocked and loaded, it compresses that gas even further until it holds immense pressure.

When the barrel is loaded and returned to the firing position, the gun is aimed and the trigger is pulled, releasing the piston which pushes forward as the gas-pressure expands inside the cylinder. This action forces the pellet down the barrel in much the same way as the spring-powered air rifle, but usually with more power than a springer.

What are the Pros and Cons of a Break Barrel Air Rifle?

Spring-Powered Break Barrel

Spring-powered break barrel rifles are simple and easy to use, maintain, and source. They have many benefits, but they also suffer a few flaws. Some of these flaws are associated with the rifle’s spring mechanism, and some are associated with the break barrel mechanism. Below is a list of the benefits and flaws that these guns have to help you weigh up these pros and cons.

  • Easier to find a good air rifle on a budget
  • Simple and easy to maintain
  • Accurate and consistent
  • Relatively powerful
  • No external charge source needed
  • Great for skill building
  • Perfect for the beginner
  • Age-old time-tested design
  • Parts are easily accessible
  • Most spring-powered break barrels can be upgraded
  • Easy to load with pellets
  • Usually lighter than underlever spring-powered rifles
  • Can be tough to cock with the barrel
  • Cannot be left cocked for long periods
  • Spring fatigue is inevitable over time
  • Spring will need replacing periodically
  • Requires some skill to shoot consistently
  • More recoil compared to other air rifle types
  • The barrel may droop over time affecting accuracy
  • More hold-sensitive compared to underlever variant
  • Spring susceptible to rust (in some models)

Gas-Piston Break Barrel

Gas-piston break barrel air rifles have the potential to hit hard and shoot accurately. They are easy to use and simpler to master than their spring-powered counterparts, but they are not without their flaws either.

Even though they do not suffer the same flaws as the springer, the gas-piston mechanism does have its drawbacks. Like the springer, the gas-piston air rifle shares the disadvantage of featuring a break barrel charge system. Below is a list of the pros and cons of the gas-piston break barrel.

  • No risk of spring fatigue
  • Can be left cocked without any negative effect
  • Lighter than a spring-powered break barrel
  • Less recoil than a spring-powered break barrel
  • Gas-piston is not susceptible to rust
  • No external charge source needed
  • Great beginner weapons
  • Easier to shoot and master than a springer
  • Easy to load with pellets
  • Lighter than underlever gas-piston rifles
  • More robust and rugged than spring-powered weapons
  • Not as easily upgradable as the spring-powered air rifle
  • The barrel may droop over time affecting accuracy
  • More hold-sensitive compared to underlever variant
  • If the gas leaks it will not work until the system is replaced
  • Parts can be difficult to find
  • Repairs and maintenance are more difficult
  • Can be tough to cock the barrel

Who Would Benefit from Owning a Break Barrel Air Rifle?

Break barrel air rifles use a classic, time-tested design that has been working well for decades. It doesn’t matter whether the break barrel in question uses a spring system or a gas-piston system. They are simple, reliable, and effective.

Break barrel rifles are also much cheaper than underlevers, multi-pump rifles, and pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) air rifles. This makes them perfect for the budget-conscious marksman and beginner marksman alike.

Break barrels come in a range of styles and can be purchased for as little as 50 dollars and as much as 1500 dollars. You will find low-powered weapons that are perfect for target practice, pest control, and backyard plinking for an economical price.

You will find mid-powered weapons that are perfect all-rounders for plinking, target practice, pest control, and hunting small game for a reasonable price.

You can find high-powered weapons with a higher price tag that come in larger calibers and are capable of taking down larger game and shooting long distance.

Overall, break barrel air rifles are a great place to start for people wanting to take their first steps into the world of shooting, and they can also be great for the experienced marksman looking for a new air rifle. The diversity of styles that the break barrel comes in means there’s a model suited for every type of user.

Final Thoughts

So, now you know exactly what a break barrel is, how they work, and the two different types. If you are interested in getting a break barrel air rifle as a beginner or experienced marksman, you should now be able to weigh up the pros and cons of both springer and gas-piston variants.

If you’re looking for recommendations and in-depth reviews of some great break barrel air rifles as well as the other air rifle types, why not check out our airguns section.

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