While this is mostly a firearm blog, I do have some interest in air rifles. While I certainly don’t think they are as “fun” as a traditional firearm, they do serve a purpose in certain applications. For instance, in some municipalities, you can’t use a firearm for pest control. Also, in many places you can’t use your rifle for practice in your yard or basement.
Air rifles have come a long way in the past couple of decades. With the erosion of gun rights in Europe, a market arose for larger caliber rifles with more power and capacity. Shockingly, air rifles in .357, .40, .45 and .50 caliber are available generating up to 200 ft/lbs of energy! While these air rifles may be less powerful than many of their traditional firearms counterparts, they are capable of inflicting significant damage if mishandled.
Air rifles come in a number of different operating systems, but for me, the pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) air rifle is the most interesting. Unlike traditional air rifles that normally have a lever or use a hinged (breaking) barrel to charge the air reservoir for each shot, the PCP air rifle carries a small air tank that is under high pressure (typically around 3,000 PSI). PCP rifles aren’t new. In fact, Lewis and Clark carried one with a 22 round capacity on their expedition (you can read about it here)!
Not only do PCP air rifles offer greater power than their manually cocked spring driven cousins, but the air tank allows rapid follow up shots in repeating actions- like a bolt or semi automatic. Pretty neat, huh?
The one downside of the PCP air rifle is charging the air tank. To do this, you need a special hand held pump, a scuba tank or a specialized compressor. The hand pump takes a lot of effort to use. If you don’t dive, you won’t likely have air tanks laying around. This means most shooters will have to use a compressor. Typical home use air compressors can only produce around 150 PSI, or about 5% of the pressure needed to charge a PCP tank. The specialized air compressors used to cost a lot of money, my first unit was close to $1,200. Nowadays, systems can be purchased for a few hundred dollars. While this is a considerable expense for most budgets, it should last for years and can be used across a wide variety of rifles.
I bought my first PCP air rifle, a Benjamin Marauder a decade ago. It was a large 22 caliber bolt action repeater that had built in sound suppression. Quiet to fire outdoors with little recoil, I mounted a Leupold Mark 4 scope on it. In the right lighting conditions, I could actually watch the rear of the pellet as it flew downrange into the target. Quite an amazing site.
As times have progressed, there has been an expansion of traditional firearms companies marketing PCP air rifles as well. When I saw the Sig Sauer MCX Virtus pop up on my Amazon page, I couldn’t help but be impressed. I ordered one.
Two days later I received a large cardboard box with a picture of what looked like a standard AR-15 M16, but was in fact an air rifle.
The similarity to a real firearm is shocking. With a few exceptions (the magazine and air tank) the Sig MCX Virtus PCP presents like a real firearm. To assemble the rifle, I simply screwed the air bottle onto the rear of the rifle and installed the recoil pad assembly. Sig includes a tool in the pistol grip that facilitates this.
Sig includes a set of polymer flip up sights and a 30 round magazine. This air rifle is all business. The trigger pull on it is longer than a traditional rifle. The trigger is connected to two “teeth” in the magazine well that engage the magazine and feed the next pellet into place, giving the rifle the effective functionality of a semiautomatic (however the system is more like that of a revolver).
I decided to check the accuracy of the MCX at 7 yards on a paper plate and was impressed. Some of the groups I saw on YouTube looked pretty lame. This gun held them in a dime sized group. I can work with that.
Pushing back to 20 yards, the Sig opened up to a little over an inch. While this is less accurate than my other PCP rifle. My other rifle doesn’t look nearly as cool and doesn’t have a 30 round magazine.
I am pretty impressed with the Sig MCX Virtus so far. It offers shooters something different for a reasonable price point. With the cost of ammunition and lack of access to adequate firearms ranges for a large segment of the population, it offers shooters an interesting alternative. I would like to take it to a real range to shoot, it, however, I’m afraid everyone will mock me for bringing an air rifle. If I do, I’ll check back in here!