At some point you will accidentally dry fire your air rifle, and you may become worried about it getting damaged as a result. This happens to the best of us, and it’s a common concern. The good news is, there are many air rifles and air pistols that can be dry fired without causing any damage at all, but not all of them…

Check the owners manual, if it’s one that can be dry fired, it will be clearly stated. If not, there are a few things to think about. For instance, what type of air rifle do you have? And what has caused you the need to dry fire it? But before we get into those, let’s clearly define what we’re referring to when we say “dry firing” an air rifle.

WHAT IS DRY FIRING AN AIR RIFLE?

Dry firing an air rifle is the act of shooting an air rifle without it being loaded with a pellet. Depending on the type of air rifle you own, dry firing can be damaging to your gun and should be avoided.

HOW AIR RIFLES WORK

Before we get into why dry firing can damage your air rifles, let’s look at the differences between how springers & gas rams fire pellets, and how PCPs & CO2 air rifles fire pellets.

How Springers & Gas Ram Air Rifles Work

When cocking a spring powered air rifle, you force a piston that’s located inside the compression chamber to move backwards and compress the spring. Once the trigger is squeezed, the piston is released, allowing the spring to extend back to its uncompressed state.

The springs action forces the piston forward, until it hits the end of the compression chamber. This forces air to move out of the compression chamber through a small hole which hits the back of the pellet. This then propels the pellet forward through the barrel and out of the gun.

Gas ram air rifles work in a similar way to springers, except gas is being used to propel the piston forward instead of a spring.

How PCPs & CO2 Air Rifles Work

PCP’s and CO2 air rifles fire pellets in a different way to springers and gas rams, as air is not being forced through the barrel from the compression chamber. Instead, CO2 & PCP air rifles use compressed air that’s already stored in an internal tank to propel pellets. 

Squeezing the trigger on a PCP air rifle allows a valve to open, releasing a spurt of compressed air to force the pellet up the barrel. CO2 air rifles use the same principles as PCPs, but they use CO2 as a propellent instead of compressed air.

Not exactly the most in depth, technical of descriptions but good enough for us to grasp the basics.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN AN AIR RIFLE IS DRY FIRED?

Dry Firing Springers & Gas Ram Air Rifles

Normally when you fire an air rifle, the air resistance caused by the presence of the pellet dampens the force on the piston in forward motion. Slowing it down so that it hits the end of the compression chamber without causing any damage to the piston.

When the air rifle is dry fired, there is no pellet to slow the piston due to air resistance, making the piston hit the end of the compression chamber under much greater pressure. This will cause a certain amount of damage, dependent on the make and model of your gun. 

Dry Firing PCP and CO2 Air Rifles

Dry firing PCP or CO2 air rifles will usually be completely safe, as there isn’t a piston to worry about. You’re simply releasing a short spurt of air/CO2 to force the pellet up the barrel. This is very unlikely to cause any damage, and any good manufacturer of PCP or CO2 air rifles that would be damaged through dry firing would make it very clear in the owner's manual. 

AIR RIFLES THAT ARE DESIGNED FOR DRY FIRING

Some air rifle manufacturers have designed guns that can be dry fired over and over. This allows target shooters, in particular 10 metre shooters, to refine their skills by dry firing and getting a better knowledge of their gun.

They focus on their breathing and their brain/muscle control to get the most accurate shots, without having to reload or clean up. This allows them to get more practise time in and improve their shooting.

Which can be very useful for competitive shooters, but remember they have guns specifically designed for that purpose. You will have to check your owners manual or ask the manufacturer if your particular air rifle is safe to be used in this way. 

Since the first spring air rifle was manufactured, there have been problems with dry firing. That’s another reason why modern airguns are capable of surviving a few accidental dry fire shots. That said, don’t dry fire for the sake of it unless your gun was designed specifically for it.

We all know that accidents can happen, and you might get lucky and not damage your rifle, but it’s rarely worth the risk if you can avoid it. Remember every time you dry fire, you run the risk of causing serious damage to your springer/gas ram air rifle.

CAN PCP AIR RIFLES BE DRY FIRED?

As you may have worked out, due to the way they propel the pellet - it’s relatively safe to dry fire a PCP air rifle.

Some advise dry firing to empty your cylinder, others give a definite “do not dry fire”. If your manual isn’t clear, our advice would be to dry fire down to around 60 bar, then discharge the rest manually. This should avoid any internal damage to your PCP.

WHAT TO DO IF YOUR AIR RIFLE IS COCKED AND YOU’RE OUT OF PELLETS

The best and most obvious advice would be to check how many pellets you have before cocking, but assuming it’s happened, what then? Well that all depends on how long you’re going to leave it. An hour or so would be fine, however, if it’s longer than that - some people say there is another option.

The advice you’ll often hear is that you can fire a cleaning pellet to discharge the air, but we would instead recommend only firing a cleaning pellet with a regular pellet behind it. This is because cleaning pellets don’t offer enough resistance to slow the piston down, and so you’re back to gambling with the internal mechanism of your air rifle.

Always Use Caution When Firing Your Airgun

If you do decide to go for the cleaning pellet option, take as much care as if you were firing a normal pellet. Cleaning pellets might only be made of felt, but it’s fired under pressure and can still be dangerous. If you don’t have any cleaning pellets and you’re not going to shoot for any length of time, dry firing might be your only option, as leaving a springer cocked for a long period of time can cause your air gun to lose power.

Remember that even with no pellets the air will leave you rifle under considerable pressure, so be safe. Never aim at anyone and always be aware of your surroundings, companions, and any passers by.