FAC air ri­fles

Pa­trick Hook looks at whether FAC air ri­fles jus­tify them­selves.


One of the peren­nial is­sues fac­ing the air gun­ner who wants to move up to some­thing big­ger is where to go next. Like­wise, there are also shoot­ers who al­ready have large cen­tre­fires, but find that they need to shoot in places where they are way too pow­er­ful.

In both sit­u­a­tions, the ques­tion is whether it’d be bet­ter to buy an FAC air ri­fle or a rim­fire of some kind. Many con­sider the for­mer to be un­nec­es­sary, and that the lat­ter will do ev­ery­thing they can do. My per­sonal opin­ion is that there’s a place for both – I have FAC air ri­fles in both .22 and .25, as well as a .17 HMR in my cabinets.

One of the ben­e­fits of go­ing for an FAC air ri­fle is that they can of­ten be bought sec­ond-hand very rea­son­ably, sim­ply be­cause not many peo­ple have a suit­able open slot on their firearms tick­ets. Some peo­ple like to have their ex­ist­ing air ri­fles up­rated to FAC spec – while this can be done, the process will se­ri­ously de­value it. So, let’s look at the typ­i­cal range of ri­fles in ques­tion – these fall into three cat­e­gories:

Con­ven­tional air ri­fles

In the UK these are lim­ited by law to un­der 12 ft/lb of muz­zle en­ergy, and can be spring, gas or air-pow­ered. They typ­i­cally come in four cal­i­bres – .177; .20; .22 and .25. There are oth­ers, of course, but they’re much more rarely en­coun­tered.

FAC air ri­fles

Once these are on your firearms li­cence they can be of any power level you want. In re­al­ity, most are in the 30 to 50 ft/lb range. Although any of the above cal­i­bres can the­o­ret­i­cally be used, you can pretty well dis­count .177 and .20. This is be­cause the limit to how much power can be gen­er­ated is the speed of sound – as a pel­let nears this it is said to go “tran­sonic” and loses all ac­cu­racy. Un­less you can get well clear of this fig­ure you won’t be able to hit any­thing. The bot­tom line is that .22 works well up to about 30 ft/lb, while .25 can reach about 50 ft/lb. There are big­ger cal­i­bres but they are rather spe­cial­ist and are lit­tle used in this coun­try.


The most com­mon rim­fires are ei­ther .17 HMR (Hor­nady Mag­num Rim­fire) or .22 LR (Long Ri­fle), but there are sev­eral oth­ers too, such as the .22 WMR (Winch­ester

Mag­num Rim­fire), the .17 Mach 2, and the rel­a­tively new .17 WSM (Winch­ester Su­per Mag­num). The laws gov­ern­ing rim­fires in this coun­try are bizarre to say the least – although you are al­lowed to own a .22 semi-au­to­matic, such as the ever-pop­u­lar Ruger 10/22, you are not per­mit­ted to own a self-load­ing ri­fle in the smaller .17 cal­i­bre. No – it doesn’t make sense to me ei­ther!

In the larger .22 cal­i­bre, ammo is avail­able in wide va­ri­ety of for­mats from solid to shot as well as in both sub-sonic and su­per­sonic forms – few peo­ple use any­thing but con­ven­tional one-piece lead bul­lets, though. The real ad­van­tage of the slower round is that it is much qui­eter – with a de­cent mod­er­a­tor the dis­charge can be al­most silent. The dis­ad­van­tage is that it is not very pow­er­ful. Most makes, based on 40 grain bul­let run­ning at around 1,080 fps (330 m/s), pro­duce just over 100 ft/lb (135J). The high ve­loc­ity rounds are bet­ter, but still only pro­duce around 140 ft/lb when run­ning at 1,328 fps (405 m/s). They have the dis­ad­van­tage that they make a loud su­per­sonic crack when fired. On the pos­i­tive side they are cheap, which is ob­vi­ously re­ally im­por­tant if you’re culling large num­bers of bun­nies or rats.

For me the worst thing about .22 rim­fires, es­pe­cially those in the sub­sonic form, is that they suf­fer from a very loopy tra­jec­tory. This is fine if you know what the range of your tar­get is, but it's a sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem if you don’t. In day­light, you can al­ways ping the dis­tance with a rangefinder, but this is much harder at night when us­ing nightvi­sion (NV). I once fired al­most a whole 10-round magazine at a rab­bit sit­ting out in a big flat field. In the end it got bored and walked off! I went back the next day and I re­alised that it had ac­tu­ally been about 175 yards away! It’d ob­vi­ously been a much big­ger in than I’d re­alised, but through the NV it looked much closer – I’ve not used the .22 LR plus NV combo since.

The .17 HMR is, in my opin­ion, an ex­cel­lent round for both day­light and NV pur­poses. It will take rab­bits or corvids to around 175 yards, and for some un­known rea­son, it of­ten spooks rab­bits less than the qui­eter .22. The ammo is more ex­pen­sive though, and its avail­abil­ity seems to go through fits and starts.

Fits the pic­ture

Now we’ve looked at the op­tions avail­able we need to ex­am­ine where the FAC air ri­fle fits into the pic­ture. Let’s start with a few ex­am­ple sce­nar­ios. Imag­ine, for in­stance, that you have to deal with ei­ther squir­rels or corvids/ pi­geons at the top of some tall trees. While a lower power air ri­fle could be ideal closer in, such quarry can take some reach­ing. Rim­fires are im­me­di­ately out of the pic­ture – any­one who fires one up­wards into a tree de­serves to lose their li­cence as the bul­let can still kill when it comes back to earth up to a mile later.

Like­wise, many peo­ple will tell you that a con­ven­tional air ri­fle is per­fectly ad­e­quate for shoot­ing – that’s true as long as you can get close enough. How­ever, this only works if both the ter­rain and quarry are suit­able. If the bun­nies are par­tic­u­larly ner­vous you’ll re­ally strug­gle to get within the nec­es­sary 40 yards. If you’re pushed for time and need to pro­duce re­sults, be­ing able to shoot to 70 yards is ex­tremely use­ful.

Like­wise, although rats can be taken very suc­cess­fully with a sub-12 ft/lb air ri­fle at short dis­tances, they are tough crea­tures and when the ranges are ex­tended I like to use a much more pow­er­ful tool. When­ever I’m asked to sort out these de­struc­tive ro­dents, I reach for my ded­i­cated rat cannon – an old .25 cal­i­bre Theoben 12250 that runs at about 50 ft/lb. It’s heavy and uses quite a lot of air, but I’ve fit­ted a quick-fill port so that I can top the bot­tle up in sec­onds. It is quite lit­er­ally dev­as­tat­ing on them!


So, in sum­mary, I find FAC air ri­fles tick lots of boxes. They’re quiet, rel­a­tively cheap to buy and to run, ac­cu­rate to 70 yards or so, and can be safely used in places where big­ger guns would im­pose a sig­nif­i­cant risk. They’re also fun to use and have the ad­van­tage that most po­lice forces rarely bat an eye­lid when asked for per­mis­sion to own one. What’s not to like?

“FAC air ri­fles are quiet, rel­a­tively cheap, ac­cu­rate and fun to use”

FAC air ri­fle

Pa­trick’s .22 BSA Su­perten runs at about 30 ft/lb


Wood­lands are won­der­ful places to be in early sum­mer – whether you’re a shooter or a squir­rel!

Rim­fire Pa­trick’s CZ .17

HMR is a tool rather than a show­piece

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