Things to consider when buying an air rifle

Spring brings all kinds of new projects. Here are some tips on how to win the war against possums. 

Words: Nadene Hall 

If you have an orchard, or any kind of fresh, new, tasty growth this spring – think all those willow and poplar poles sprouting new leaves – you’re going to find possums. Worse, they may be dancing over your ceiling at 2am in the morning mimicking the sounds of an elephant.

Traps are excellent for ongoing control, but if you have a possum cornered, an air rifle is capable of dispatching it.


Used for: pest control, eg rabbits, hares, possums, rats, ferrets, stoats, wild cats, pest bird species*
*Shooting larger animals is not recommended with common air rifles as a fast, humane cull cannot be guaranteed.

Types: Spring-powered, CO2-powered, pre-charged pneumatic (PCP)

Licence: Not required for spring or CO2-powered but is required for PCP air rifles

Kill range: About 20m, up to 40m for experienced shooters

Pellet range: 50-120m *
*depending on type; note, this is
 the range a pellet will travel before it loses momentum


Spring-powered air rifles have a crank or lever on the barrel that the operator pulls between shots.

This squeezes an internal spring and sucks in some air, compressing it to provide the power to propel the pellet when you pull the trigger. These rifles are cheap, easy to use, self-contained and very robust, but it takes practice to get consistent accuracy as they fire with a small kick.

CO2-powered air rifles use a small canister of liquid carbon dioxide to create pressure. When triggered, a small internal valve releases a squirt of gaseous CO2 behind the pellet. These have no kick when fired, are very quiet and accurate, but need an external supply of CO2 (which you will need to buy separately).

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They are sensitive to air temperature so you tend to get less power when it’s cold.

Pre-charged pneumatic air rifles are at the higher end of the market and have a small tubular cylinder mounted under the barrel. This is filled with high-pressure air, usually by a pump or dive tank.

These work the same way as the CO2 air rifle but do not have the limitations of temperature, and can be semi-automatic. These rifles can be quite expensive because they are very powerful and accurate, and you will require a firearms licence if you wish to buy or use one.


Yes. It’s not as easy as it looks, and if you have bought a PCP air rifle (a gun store will be able to show you the difference) you will need a firearms licence. This link explains the process to get one.

The education required to obtain a firearms licence is ideal for new air rifle owners whether you legally need the licence or not.

A course run by the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council is excellent value and emphasises the seven basic rules of firearms:
◊ Treat every firearm as loaded;
◊ Always point firearms in a safe direction;
◊ Load a firearm only when ready to fire;
◊ Identify your target, ie ‘eye-shine’ of possums is red-orange, rabbits is red-pink, sheep and cattle is yellow-green;
◊ Check your firing zone;
◊ Store firearms and ammunition safely;
◊ Avoid alcohol or drugs when handling firearms.

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Another free source of great information and good practical advice is the New Zealand Arms Code, available for free over the counter at any police station, or you can download it for free.


Most new air rifle owners underestimate what it is capable of, whether they are accomplished shooters or not.

◊ Shooting an air rifle accurately will involve time and practice to learn its capabilities;
◊ Air rifles can shoot well for some people with some brands of pellet and badly with others – try out different types to see what is accurate for you;
◊ Always practice on targets so you learn how to be more accurate, and what your accurate range is.

NZ Lifestyle Block This article first appeared in NZ Lifestyle Block Magazine.
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