So you want a pellet rifle but a PCP gun is not for you yet. That leaves CO2 rifles, springers, and multi-pump pneumatics. You’re not a fan of CO2 and you desire more power than the typical multi-pump can generate, so now you’re down to break barrels, under levers and side levers. Which is right for you?
The Most Sold Break Barrel Air Rifles
Umarex and Ruger break barrel air rifles, like the SurgeMax and Air Hawk respectively, are among the most common type of spring and gas piston airgun. You’ll see them in stores like Walmart, Academy, Bass Pro, Big 5 Sporting Goods and others. You might even find them at your local gun dealer. Too, you can find them online at places like Sportsman’s Guide and even Amazon. You’ll find other quality break barrel air rifles from brands like Walther and RWS mostly in online stores, but there are some independently owned rifles dealers that carry them. All of these break barrel rifles use the barrel as a lever to cock the powerful mainspring. They’re easy to load since the breech is exposed when broken open. Especially once you get used to placing the butt stock on your thigh and holding the barrel while it’s open while your free hand guides the pellet into the chamber.
Side Lever Rifles are Exquisite
Side levers are few and far between and can be rather pricey. They’re probably the easiest to operate but not the friendliest when it comes to loading a pellet. The breech area is rather small so those with larger hands find difficulty in getting the pellet into the chamber although manageable with a little repetition. They do make up for that in accuracy though! Since there is no pivot point on the barrel everything stays lined up. There’s no opportunity for the breech to misalign because there’s a side cocking arm instead of a barrel to break over. Two such side lever rifles are the RWS Model 54 Air King and RWS Model 48. They’re beautiful and pleasing to shoot. If you’re able to sit at a shooting bench with one of these you’ll find yourself through a half tin of RWS Pellets and all your targets shot up before you know it.
Under Lever Air Guns are Easy to Shoot
Not counting the side-lever, under-levers like the Umarex Synergis tend to be the easiest of all spring and gas piston air rifles to shoot. The Synerigs is available in either .177 or .22 caliber and has a multi-shot rotary magazine. Unlike the most sold break barrels mentioned above, the under lever Synergis, with its multi-shot magazine, eliminates the need to load a pellet each an every time you cock the rifle. This means less time between shots. And like the side lever it also means that accuracy is more inherent than in a break barrel since the breech is never being taken out of alignment with the spring piston or gas ram and the barrel.
Break Barrel? Side Lever? Under Lever?
All are tried and true. The side- and under-lever will generally give you better accuracy because the spring piston (gas ram), breech, chamber, and barrel are never out of alignment. The side lever is the easiest to cock out of all three, but generally exercises just one arm (not ambidextrous) and can be difficult to load pellets one at a time. The under lever pellet rifle is easier to cock than the break barrel and it gives you the option to use either arm to operate the lever, plus the newest one has a multi-shot magazine. While there are some multi-shot break barrels on the market, it’s the under lever multi-shot, like the Umarex Synergis, that checks off more boxes than the others.
The under lever mechanism is easier to operate than the break barrel meaning you can enjoy a longer shooting session. Everything remains in-line from the piston to the breech, chamber, and barrel. The magazine sits lower into the action than most break barrel multi-shots so as not to interfere with a low scope mounting solution. And of course you don’t have to load a pellet each time you operate the lever since the magazine is auto-indexing.
Really, you can’t go wrong with any of them. Each takes a little practice and needs a break-in period. Use a little heavier dome-shaped pellet to start with. These will generally be more accurate, deliver more impact on target, and can cause the rifle to be a tad less noisy.