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Guide To Airguns: Pellet Guns vs. BB Guns vs. Airsoft Guns

WriterAubrey McShan
15 min read
guide to airguns

Whether you have a beginner’s interest in firearms, have taken up the hobby of small game hunting, or are just looking to have some tactical fun, you’ve likely heard of airguns. But with the many varieties of airguns available and their own distinct differences, breaking into the world of airguns can be an intimidating feat.

Thanks to the experts at Academy Sports + Outdoors, finding the right airgun for you doesn’t have to be a shot in the dark. Keep reading to learn the distinctions between pellet, BB, and airsoft guns, and discover which type of airgun is right for you.

Key Takeaways

Types of Airguns Overview

In contrast to a traditional firearm that relies on combustion to propel a projectile, an airgun is any type of gun that relies solely on compressed air to launch the projectile. Most airguns typically fall into one of these three categories: Pellet guns, BB guns, and airsoft guns.

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Types of Airguns
Airgun Type Ammo Range Gun Styles Best Use
Pellet Gun Metal pellet 50-100 yards Rifle, pistol Target shooting, pest control, small game hunting
BB Gun Metal BB 30-50 yards Rifle, pistol Target shooting, plinking
Airsoft Gun Plastic BB 50-60 yards Rifle, pistol Recreation

What Is a Pellet Gun?

Pellet guns fire metal projectiles, or pellets, that are designed to penetrate their targets — whether those targets are small animals or inanimate objects. For this reason, pellet guns are a top choice of small game hunters, pest control enthusiasts, and sport shooters alike.

Pellet guns come in both rifle and pistol varieties — with rifles typically providing the most accuracy and power. Additionally, pellet guns are generally considered to be more accurate in a pellet gun vs BB gun scenario due to their rifled barrels and aerodynamic pellet shapes.

Aside from the two main gun styles, there are four main types of pellet guns that vary based on power source:

  • Classic pump pneumatic: This gun type comes in a single-pump or multi-pump style and requires the user to hand-pump, which forces air into the gun and dictates how much force the pellet will be shot with — uniquely allowing the user control over each shot’s force.
  • Spring or gas piston: This gun type uses either a coiled spring and piston, or a nitrogen-gas-filled chamber and piston, to propel the pellet down the gun’s barrel.
  • CO2: This gun type uses CO2 to shoot the pellet out of the gun.
  • Pre-charged pneumatic (PCP): This gun type uses built-in air tanks to store highly-pressurized air that is released in short bursts when the trigger is squeezed, thus shooting the pellet with force.

Pellet Gun Ammunition

Pellets come in four main sizes — called calibers — listed from smallest to largest: .177, .20, .22, and .25. Smaller caliber pellets are typically used for plinking or target shooting, while larger caliber pellets are best for hunting small game.

Different pellet gun models and their users may prefer one pellet size over another. In order to shoot a predictable and precise trajectory, a low-powered pellet gun should use lighter pellets, while a high-powered pellet gun should use heavier pellets.

pellet gun ammunition

Here are three main shapes of pellets:

  • Domed: This pellet shape is most commonly used and is arguably the most versatile, since the domed head is not easily damaged and the shape provides a high degree of targeted accuracy.
  • Flat: This pellet shape is typically a top choice among target shooters, as the pellet’s flat top “punches” a clean hole in the target’s surface upon impact, making scoring in competitive scenarios easier.
  • Pointed: While these pellets are fairly uncommon, they are sometimes used by small game hunters. However, many pellet gun owners opt not to use this pellet shape, as they require additional care and attention to keep the pellet’s pointed tip intact (failure to do so can cause the pellet to shoot in an unpredictable trajectory).

Pellet Gun Range

Beginner pellet gun models can shoot a distance of 50-100 yards with accuracy, while higher-power models are able to accurately shoot much further.

What is a BB Gun?

Named after the small, round, metal projectiles they shoot, BB guns are similar to pellet guns in that their shots are designed to penetrate their targets. However, the average BB gun is not powerful enough to deliver a clean shot to most small game.

This airgun type is a good choice for those only looking to shoot for target practice or other training purposes. Like pellet guns, BB guns come in both rifle and pistol varieties.

Typically, there are three different general types of BB gun styles depending on how each style derives its power:

  • Break-barrel / spring or gas piston: This gun type uses the decompression of a coiled spring or a nitrogen-gas-filled chamber to fire the BB. This gun type is also generally seen as the most popular due to its affordability to operate and comparatively good accuracy and power.
  • CO2: This gun type uses a CO2 canister to propel the BB.
  • Pre-charged pneumatic (PCP): This gun type uses built-in air tanks to store highly-pressurized air that is released in short bursts when the trigger is squeezed, thus shooting the BB with considerable force.
bb gun ammunition

Like their pellet gun cousins, BB guns shoot small metal projectiles — called BBs — that are designed to penetrate their targets. These BBs are made with steel or lead and are most commonly found in their standard 0.177 caliber size, although other less common sizes do exist.

Despite the similarities that pellet and BB guns appear to have, you can expect a significantly different experience when you pull the trigger. They are also less accurate than pellet guns.

A BB's round shape is prone to erratic, unpredictable movement through the air and ricochet on impact. Both of these factors make this type of airgun not ideal for hunting.

BB Gun Range

BB gun users should expect to make generally accurate shots from distances of 30-50 yards, although some higher-power models can achieve quality shots from more than 50 yards away.

What is an Airsoft Gun?

While both pellet and BB guns have the potential for more substantial uses outside of just shooting for fun, airsoft guns are designed specifically and exclusively for just that. As a generally less painful and less expensive alternative to paintball, airsoft is a hobby and sport where the goal is to have fun in a safe, fast-paced environment.

Like other airgun types, airsoft guns come in both rifle and pistol varieties, although full-size rifles (called automatic electric guns or AEGs) tend to be the most common Airsoft guns come in three main varieties with their own unique way of deriving power: electric, gas, and spring-powered.

Electric Airguns

  • This type of gun uses batteries to power a motor that then compresses air and forcibly fires the projectile down the gun’s barrel.
  • Electric airsoft guns are the most popular kind since they come in both semi-automatic and fully-automatic varieties while having excellent power and range.

Gas Airguns

This gun type uses green gas or CO2 to propel the ammo from the gun’s barrel and comes in a few different varieties of its own:

  • Gas blowback (GBB): the most common gas airsoft gun
  • Non-blowback (NBB)
  • Gas sniper rifle: the least common

Spring-Powered Airguns

  • This gun type uses the power created by a spring decompressing to fire the projectile.
  • This variety of airsoft gun tends to be the least expensive to operate since there are no replacement batteries or gas tanks to purchase.

Airsoft Gun Ammunition

Unlike both other airgun types, an airsoft gun’s ammunition is designed specifically to not penetrate its target — but don’t let it confuse you, because an airsoft gun’s 6mm round, light, plastic ammunition is still called a BB.

Airsoft Gun Range

An average airsoft gun can accurately shoot targets from 50-60 yards away, with higher-powered versions reaching even further distances.

Why Do People Buy Airguns?

aisoft gun ammo

Airguns can be a great, practical first step to conquering any fear of shooting, teaching your family the correct way to handle firearms, and introducing someone to marksmanship! In most cases, airguns are used for hobby or sport rather than self-defense.

Most airgun enthusiasts just use them to practice their shooting. However, keep in mind that airguns can still be a real threat. Airguns can certainly be used for protection against most pests and other smaller wildlife that wreak havoc on your property.

Practicing the appropriate safety measures is essential for building positive habits and following best firearm safety practices! We explore safety further in this guide.

Benefits of Using Airguns

There are many benefits of using airguns, whether you’re a beginner or an avid recreational shooter. As a less-restricted alternative to traditional firearms, airguns are a more accessible way for people young and old to develop and hone their skills.

  • For beginners who are just being introduced to firearms, airguns offer the ability to practice shooting and responsible gun handling in a safer and more controlled capacity.
  • Airguns are a top choice for people who are training to apply for various forms of firearm licenses.
  • For gun handlers looking to improve their marksmanship and maneuvers with a specific firearm, airgun replicas exist for nearly every 'real' gun available on the market today.

Airguns are also incredibly cost-effective to practice with, with the average cost of pellets for a given gun coming in at around 50% of what that same “real” gun’s ammunition would cost. This lower cost allows those interested in refining their skills the opportunity to do so without breaking the bank.

Can Airguns Be Lethal?

Airguns do have the potential to cause serious or fatal injuries when improperly handled. In that regard, it’s important to always practice the correct safety measures from the time you or anyone in your family operates an airgun.

hunter pointing rifle

Airgun Safety Precautions

Airguns do have the potential to cause serious or fatal injuries when improperly handled. In that regard, it’s important to always practice the correct safety measures from the time you or anyone in your family operates an airgun.

Airguns are not toys. You and everyone in your family should not take them lightly. Improper or irresponsible airgun handling can lead to significant eye damage or loss. Note that pellet guns as well as BB guns can break skin — opening the door to further potential serious injury. By following proper safety protocols, airgun accidents can be avoided.

Here’s how you can prioritize safety when you or your family handles an airgun:

  • Never allow children younger than the manufacturer-stated minimum age to handle an airgun. Make sure that minors operating airguns are always supervised by a responsible adult.
  • Read your owner’s manual to familiarize yourself with the mechanical parts of your airgun, especially the location of the safety (if applicable).
  • Keep your finger off of the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
  • When using pellet or BB guns, never point the gun at another person — even if the safety is on. When using airsoft guns, which are designed to be shot at other players, never shoot at your opponent unless they are in 'game mode'.
  • Always wear protective glasses or goggles to protect your eyes from any stray ammo or debris that is loosened by a shot’s impact.
  • Always wear ear protection to protect your eardrums from loud shots and reverberations.
  • When using an airsoft gun, keep all skin covered by clothing, gloves, etc. to protect yourself from painful BB welts.


Airguns can be a great way to teach or practice proper gun handling habits, improve marksmanship skills, and a way to have some outdoor fun! This guide aims to help you learn the difference between each type of airgun and discover which airgun is best for your needs and preferences.

If you’re ready to pick out the perfect pellet, BB, or airsoft gun, head over to our Outdoor Shop, in store or online, today.