My first 'gun' was an air rifle. At 12 years old, I was slayer extraordinaire of wildlife on our farm, most especially the squirrel population. My father approved immensely, as squirrels rampaged through our market gardens like great hordes of Visigoths, destroying all in their paths.
That rifle was a Sheridan Blue Streak pump air rifle in 5mm, an unusual creature for it it's day and even more rare now. It's best feature was raw power, delivered by a supreme quality design that skimped in no way at all. At five pumps it's would quietly bag a rabbit at 20 feet, and at ten pumps it would send a squirrel spinning off a branch on even our tallest oak tree.
I grew up with an air rifle, keeping it going long after I had .22s and 'real' firearms in the cabinet. The pellets for that arm tiring beast came 250 to a box, which fit perfectly in the back pocket of a young boy. It was just the thing to quietly cruise the woods, fields, and ponds near my home... bringing home quite a bag of squirrels, rabbits, frogs, and even the occasional wounded goose who fell from the air to our fields during season.
Over the years, I've generally managed to keep an air rifle around, and to date have worn out three Blue Streaks between myself and the boys. That's an uncountable number of pellets sent down range, and an equally uncountable number of smiles to go with them.
Technology has changed, and the spot near the back door reserved for air rifles has a new tenant. I've moved from the elderly design of the Blue Streak, to a far more modern and powerful Gamo Whisper air rifle. Used almost daily, this adult sized powerhouse is rapidly becoming a treasure. While most small game is safe from me at the moment, having neither market garden now patience to skin little critters anymore, The Gamo has whispered the doom of enough crows and tree rats to make it's territory distinct.
The Gamo family of break action air rifles is one of decent quality at decent prices. Not a 'Tousand dollar match rifle, but still miles ahead of the pack when it comes to accuracy, consistency and power. The magic of the single shot spring action is also it's biggest downcheck. Being a spring action, the barrel becomes the handle to compress the spring piston. This means something good..... every shot will have the same velocity, unlike cheaper CO2 and pump action air rifles. It also means something not so good..... it's single shot only. Being a bit old fashioned, and believing in accuracy over spraying lead, I happen to enjoy the single shot aspect.
The whisper, and most of the Gamo air rifles in this class, comes with excellent sights the are full adjustable. They also have a decent set of fiberoptics built in, making low light sighting an easy task. Unlike many, the Gamo fiberoptics are quite small, and designed to make fine accuracy
shooting easier, rather than rapid point shooting. The sights are also mounted to the barrel, rather than having the rear sight on the receiver like a cartridge weapon. This keeps the sights all on one piece of the rifle, rather than split between two that may not have exactly the same alignment from shot to shot.
The rifles typically also come with a scope and mounts, if that is of interest. While I enjoyed using the scope supplied with my Whisper, I found it just TOO darned easy, and have reverted to the open sights for my shooting to introduce at least a little challenge.
The Gamo fires .177 pellets, rather tiny little lead things that can be a slight bit fiddly to handle and load. Their small size and relatively light weight limit the rifle to the small game category, although history is full of air rifles built to much heavier specifications and calibers. The logs of the Lewis and Clark expedition tell of their using high powered air rifles to shoot deer sized game, and even earlier history tells of air rifles being banned from the battlefield, as they were too quiet and considered assassins weapons.
A feature perhaps unique to the Gamo line of air rifles..... many of them come supressed, as my Whisper does. The suppressor is a built in unit that reduces muzzle noise a claimed 52%. My experience backs this claim up, as the loudest part of firing the rifle is the 'SProing' of the piston compressing the air. That is.... as long as standard weight heavier pellets are used. The lighter weight PBA pellets move faster than sound, and offer a healthy 'CRACK' as they break the sound barrier on the way down range. One can choose the pellet one desires, though, and my Gamo has proven accurate with every decent pellet I have tried.
Since this type of air rifle is entirely human powered, and the only thing needed to make it work is a middlin strong arm, a good eye, and a little skill..... its fantastically cheap to shoot. GAMO Pellets are available for $15 per 1000, and often even less. That is equivalent to the price of .22 rimfire ammo when I was a kid. A years supply can be put aside for less cost than a case of decent lager, and that's if the air rifle is used daily and often.
Put together as a package, one can purchase a decent air rifle and enough pellets to last a year for LESS than the cost of even one case of Russian Mosin ammo. After buying the air rifle, keeping it fed is a matter of ordering up a few tins of pellets every once in a while.
For those looking for the same advantages, only in a pistol sized package, Crossman makes decent quality air pistol inspired by the Sheridan of my youth. This little pumped up pellet blaster can easily take small game, and makes a fair training pistol as well for working on the basics of trigger control and sight picture. For those who wish, there are also some half way decent air pistols developed to mimic full sized firearms such as the S&S M&P, and the Beretta 92. While these are typically powered by CO2 cartridges, they are still vastly cheaper to shoot than their real namesakes.
All in all, I have air rifles to credit for my ability to shoot whenever I wish. Cheap to shoot, no limit to availability, and quiet enough that I needn't wear ear protection at all.... all these add up to something I can enjoy shooting every single day. Relaxing on the patio out back, a steel target becomes the point of zen concentration, rewarding each correctly fired pellet with a 'ting' and swinging steel plate. It's a beautiful thing!
Advantages: Ultra-cheap to shoot, can be used almost anyplace including a fair sized basement or garage, almost zero maintenance, an excellent life span in use, the ability to take small game and eradicate pests without fuss, and downright fun to shoot.
Disadvantages: Can't think of one. I'll get back to you on that.