What is a CO2 air rifle and How does it work?


CO2 air guns are perfect for target practice as they are really accurate and you will get repeated shots. As the name suggests these types of air guns use pressurized CO2 gas as their power source. The use of CO2 gas provides the manufacturers with a ton of options while designing the air pistols and air rifles.

These guns come in all shapes and sizes. A lot of replica guns use CO2 cartridges for power. If you are wondering what a CO2 air gun is and “How do CO2 air guns work?” you should keep reading, as we are about to discuss everything you need to know about CO2 air guns and their functionalities.

What is a CO2 Air rifle?

CO2 air guns are similar to Pre Charged Pneumatic (PCP) guns as they both follow the same principle. Both types of guns use air as their power source. The CO2 guns use compressed carbon-di-oxide gas as its source of power. These guns are quite powerful and they are also remarkably practical. They provide enough power for shooting repeatedly without refilling.

The CO2 gas is stored in a cylinder called “Powerlet” cartridge. These cartridges are pretty compact and they can be easily reloaded. CO2 power is mostly used by replica revolvers. A lot of semi-automatic pistols also use them as well. Many modern style air guns and transforming types of guns also use CO2 as their power source. The gun manufacturers are designing new types of products all the time.

The use of CO2 as a power source provides the manufacturers with a lot of flexibility when it comes to designing the pistols and the rifle hardware. Multi shots and semi-automatic shooting is also possible when CO2 power is used. CO2 guns also last for a long time provided that they are maintained properly.


How does a CO2 air gun work?

Most CO2 air guns use the 12-gram CO2 cartridge. These cartridges are non-refillable. They hold the compressed CO2 gas which is released to shoot the pellets.

When the cartridge is loaded into the gun, the cartridge gets pierced. There is a seal inside the gun which holds the pressurized CO2 gas in the cartridge until a round is shot. It will release a specific amount of gas during each shot.

As the gas stays pressurized in the cartridge, when it is released to the atmosphere it expands quickly. This is what creates the pressure which drives the pellet out of the barrel.

Typically, the 12-gram cartridges are used by the pistols. The rifles, on the other hand, use either an 88-gram capsule or a combination of the two types of cartridges.

The ambient temperature kind of determines how the air gun will perform. This is because of the chemical properties of the CO2 gas. On a hot day, the gas will expand which will inadvertently increase the gun’s power. As the gas gets compressed during winter time the gun will lose some of its energy and the speed of the pellets will decrease.

We have actually tested this phenomenon ourselves. First, we shot the air gun at room temperature (roughly 66.2° F) and we measured that the speed was 288 fps. Then we heated the cartridge with a blow drier and then shot the gun. This time the speed increased to 302 fps. The shot also stroked higher than where we were aiming for.

After that, we left the cartridge in the fridge for 2 hours. When we shot with that cartridge we saw that the speed was 221 fps. The speed dropped by 27% and the shot stroke lower than expected.


How to use a CO2 air gun?

  • The first thing you have to do is to load the cartridge into the gun. Before you put the capsule in, make sure to put a single drop of gun oil (For example, Pell gun oil) on the tip of the new cartridge. This oil makes sure that the gun stays sealed.
  • Then you have to screw the cap in. When you do that the cap will pierce the cartridge and also seal it at the same time.
  • As most of the CO2 guns are repeaters, you can shoot several rounds before needing to reload the gun. This is one of the biggest advantages of CO2 air guns. As you keep shooting you will notice that at a certain point the muzzle blast gets quieter than it was before. that is when you have to remove the cartridge and reload the gun.
  • Only shoot the air guns when the temperature is optimum. CO2 guns operate properly within a range of 70-90 ° If the temperature is cooler than that the gun’s power will decrease and if it is any hotter than the gun will shoot at higher power.
  • Then you have to cock the gun and remember to close the bolt. After doing that take the safety off and pull the trigger.
  • As a majority of the CO2 guns are repeaters, you will be able to shoot several rounds without needing to reload.

Here are some of the things you should consider while using a CO2 air gun:

  1. Always use CO2 cartridges in a CO2 air gun. Using any other gas won’t work. This is because CO2 gas is compressed at a pressure of 800 psi. The CO2 gun’s hardware is specifically made to handle that much pressure. So, if you use any other gas like Nitrogen which is stored at a higher pressure then, the gun won’t function.
  2. As mentioned before the capsules are non-refillable. So, when it runs out of gas you will have to throw it away.
  3. Use maintenance capsules after every 4-5 capsules. This type of cartridges has a special lubricant in them that prevents the gun’s seal from drying.
  4. You could accomplish the same results by applying gun oil on the tip of the cartridge every time you put on a new cartridge.
  5. The manufacturers of CO2 air guns strongly recommend not to store the cartridges which have some gas inside them. So you have to release any remaining gas in the cartridge when you are done shooting.
  6. When you release the remaining CO2 gas, it leaves the cartridge really quickly and that is why the cartridge becomes extremely cold. So, wait a few minutes before taking out the cartridge or, your fingers might get stuck to the ice-cold cartridge.


How powerful is a CO2 air gun?

The power of the CO2 air guns can be calculated by multiplying the speed of each shot in fps with the weight of the pellets. So, speed is the key here.

Different types of guns shoot at different speeds. For example, in a blowback gun, as some of the energy is spent on the blowback motion of the gun, the pellets are fired at a lesser speed than other types of guns and they have lesser energy as well.

You should expect to get roughly 60 shots from a CO2 air pistol at 325 fps speed. A CO2 air rifle using an 88-gram cartridge will give you 170 shots at a speed of 600 fps.

The speed and energy of the pellets will depend on the following factors:

1. Type of Ammunition

The speed is what ultimately determines the power of an air gun. This speed heavily depends on the type of ammunition being used. If you use lighter pellets, such as the lightweight alloy pellets you will get a higher speed.

The weight of the pellets will also determine the power of the shot. For example, the heavyweight lead pellets are slow but they have a high amount of energy because of their weight.

We suggest using a pellet with faster speed as the faster the pellet moves through the air the straighter it will go. This will make the shot more accurate.

Some air guns don’t use pellets and they use BB’s instead. BBs are comparatively cheaper because they don’t have a rifle barrel which helps the pellets to spin when they are shot through the air. This spinning motion also helps the pellets to hit the target more accurately.

 2. Barrel Length

The more time a pellet stays in the barrel of the gun the more time it gets to use the air behind it to propel itself. So, if the barrel of the gun is longer then, it will leave the barrel at a greater speed.

3. Type of shell

When you are using a revolver the type of the shell you are using will also affect the speed. If the pellets load from the shell rather than the front, it would be able to use the shell’s length. So, it would get more time to increase its speed before it leaves the barrel and the air gets released to the atmosphere.


How many shots can you get per every CO2 cartridge?

This will depend on the amount of power the gun outputs during each shot. Temperature and the type of action the gun takes will also play a role here. If you are using a blowback gun it will use more energy and thus you will get fewer shots than other types of air guns.

You should get roughly 40-60 shots per CO2 cartridge. So, buying the cartridges in bulk might be a good idea.


Advantages of CO2 air guns

The biggest advantage of the CO2 air guns and rifles is repeatability. A lot of the air gun users use CO2 guns just for that reason only. These guns can be used to teach your children how to shoot. As children can’t cock most of the spring guns, they can easily cock the CO2 guns.

Another advantage of these guns is that they are lightweight. A lot of women and young users can’t handle the weight of a real gun properly. The CO2 air guns can be easily handled and shot.

That is why these guns are the best choice for learning how to shoot.  You can use these guns for target practice. They are safer than other types of guns and they don’t require any specific facilities where you can shoot them.

Final Thoughts

We hope that this article has helped you understand the basics of how  CO2 guns work and how you should use them. But this is not the only type of air guns out there. Although we have discussed some of the advantages of using CO2 air guns, whether they are best suited for you depends on what type of activity you intend to do with an air gun.

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