Air Rifle/BB Gun - Safety and Operation

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Training Documents
Circle 10 BB Gun Range Manual (November 2009) (PDF File)

Circle 10 Air Rifle Instructor Training (December 2009) (PDF File)

BSA Guide to Safe Scouting BSA National Shooting Sports

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Types of BB Guns


Spring-piston air guns use a manually-operated lever, pivoting barrel, or other device to move a piston which in turn compresses a mainspring located in the frame or receiver portion of the gun.

When the piston is completely retracted, the mainspring is fully compressed. The piston will remain in this retracted position until the shooter releases it by pulling the trigger. The piston, under pressure from the compressed mainspring, moves rapidly forward when it is released, and compresses the air in front of it. The compressed air then forces the projectile out of the barrel. In this type of air gun, the air that propels the projectile is not stored in a reservoir prior to firing; the movement of the piston compresses the air after the trigger is pulled.

In an unusual variation of the spring-piston design, a sealed cylinder of air or gas that is sometimes called an air spring or gas ram replaces the mainspring. When the piston is retracted the air or gas in the sealed cylinder is compressed so that it will force the piston rapidly forward when the trigger is pulled. This air or gas in the sealed cylinder serves only to drive the piston forward, and is not used to force the projectile out of the barrel.


Pneumatic air guns utilize the principle of stored compressed air or gas, and can be divided into two sub-categories: single-stroke or multi-pump pneumatics and compressed C02 air pneumatics.

Single-stroke and multi-pump pneumatic mechanisms utilize a manually operated lever (or a pivoting barrel which acts as a lever) to force air through a valve mechanism in order to compress and store the air in an air reservoir or chamber.

In the single-stroke model, one stroke of the lever charges the air reservoir with enough compressed air for one shot. After the air reservoir has been charged, additional strokes of the lever are not required. In some models, additional strokes will have no effect; in other models, additional strokes may result in damage to the gun.

In the multi-pump model, a similar lever and valve mechanism is used to compress and store air; however, the lever must be pumped several times in order to build sufficient air pressure for one shot. The amount of air pressure in the reservoir is determined by the number of times that the lever is pumped. This adjustable air pressure feature allows the velocity of the projectile to be varied, thereby enabling the shooter to use this type of air gun for a variety of activities.

In both the single-stroke and multi-pump models, all of the air that has been compressed will remain in the reservoir until the shooter initiates its release by pulling the trigger. The movement of the trigger releases a spring-driven hammer, which strikes an air exhaust valve. This valve immediately releases the stored air, which then propels the projectile out of the barrel. Little or no compressed air remains in the reservoir; in order to obtain compressed air for the next shot, the shooter must again utilize the lever to compress and store air.

Compressed C02 air pneumatic guns utilize carbon dioxide gas (CO2) or air that has been compressed and stored in a metal cylinder, or air that is compressed by an external air pump. In some models, a small disposable C02 metal cylinder is inserted into the gun. When the shooter pulls the trigger, a measured portion of the compressed gas stored in the cylinder is released to propel the projectile out of the barrel. Since not all of the gas is released at one time, additional shots may be fired without having to recharge the gun with more gas.

Some models of C02 guns do not use a disposable cylinder, but instead use a refillable cylinder, which is filled from a separate, large-capacity C02 tank. After the gun's cylinder has been filled with gas, the large tank is detached from the cylinder.

Other models in this category utilize an internal air reservoir, which is filled with compressed air from a separate, large-capacity scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) type of tank or from an external air pump. After the gun's reservoir has been filled with compressed air, the large tank or air pump is detached from the gun.