Not that long ago, ‘plinking’ with tin cans was an enjoyable pastime but now there is a trend towards powerful airguns. Rick Sapp sees interest hotting up in the USA…
Shooting at tin cans with a BB gun was exciting when you were 10 years old… but now? Today’s airguns pack a much heavier power load and they are able to bring down game, from squirrels to deer.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition, also known as the Corps of Discovery Expedition, carried a powerful airgun with them across the North American continent from 1804 to 1806. The gun’s power startled the Indians along their route, making a terrific bang but without fire or a cloud of smoke. When it worked properly, which was rare, it could shoot as many as 40 balls without reloading.
Two centuries later, there is a resurgence of interest in powerful airguns. What’s behind this interest? Is it here to stay or just a fad? And can your business take advantage of a new interest in hot air, air beyond BBs?
Airguns come in three basic ‘flavours’:
Spring Piston: You’re probably familiar with spring guns but they’ve come a long way from the Daisy Red Ryder you shot as a kid.
The spring gun cocks with each shot, shoots with little noise and recoil is slight.
Modestly priced, most companies offer break-barrel springers in .177 calibre with BB (such as the 4.5mm, 5.23 grain Crosman Copperhead copper-coated steel) or lead pellet velocities rated to 1,000 fps (with a 9.7-grain Winchester lead flat-nose pellet), even to 1,250 fps (with a 5.4-grain non-lead Gamo PBA Raptor pellet).
CO2: The low end of the pellet/BB gun lines in price and performance are CO2 operated with 12-gram cartridges. These inexpensive guns are sold in quantity through mass merchants.
Performance depends on ambient temperature and pressure remaining in the cartridge; that is, how many shots have already been fired.
PCP: The PCP, or pre-charged pneumatic airgun, packing 3,000 psi of high-pressure air, is the future. Guns like Gamo’s Dynamax multishot in .177 or .22 cock easily and shoot consistently with little recoil or noise.
Like the Lewis and Clark gun, they do not have to be cocked between shots and the power setting can often be adjusted depending on the target. PCP guns require a hand pump or scuba tank adaptor to pressurise the cylinder. Today’s hand pumps incorporate air-filtration systems and have overcome problems of physical and mechanical fatigue during the filling process, temperature warping and condensation.
“Our most powerful airguns are promoted as adult airguns,” says Crosman’s former marketing co-ordinator Laura Evans.
“They’re increasingly popular because they’re less regulated than firearms. Airgun ammo is readily accessible and much less expensive than traditional ammunition.
“Plus, airguns are quiet. In fact, if you shoot our .25 calibre Benjamin Marauder PCP at a metal target at, let’s say, 50 to 75 yards, the sound of the pellet hitting the target makes more noise than the shot! And there is practically no recoil.”
With break-barrel rifles such as the .177 Benjamin Trail NP XL 1500, Laura says: “You’ll get a little more recoil than PCP guns but nothing compared with a rimfire or centrefire rifle.
“And, since pellet range is less, people may be able to use them in their back yard or more urban areas for pest control, even small-game hunting. Set up a shooting range in your basement. You can’t do that with a firearm!”
Laura believes that powerful airguns have created “a fervour among hunters in the same way archery did in the 1990s.
“Hunting with an airgun has the potential to make you a better hunter since you have to hone your skills for close-range shooting.
“Airguns can also extend your hunting season because you can choose to hunt different types of game before or after the whitetail season. And, you wouldn’t believe how accurate Benjamin PCP guns are! Dime-sized groups at 50 to 75 yards.”
Daisy’s Avanti line-up is as close as that company gets to a hot-air hunting rifle.
“On the other hand,” says Susan Johnston, “guns like the .177, single-shot, CO2-powered Avanti 853 CM are designed more for competition and training and have a stable but modest pellet velocity rating of 510 fps. Guns in the Avanti line follow the Daisy philosophy of ‘Teaching America to shoot, one shot at a time’.”
Complementing the traditional Daisy strength in the youth and novice airgun segment, Susan adds: “We’re the exclusive marketer of Winchester-branded air rifles and pistols. Rifles like the 10lb .177 Winchester 1400 CS have muzzle velocities exceeding 1,000 fps so have knock-down power for larger game than squirrels!”
The composite stock of the ‘adult-sized’ break-barrel Model 1400 CS is styled with a thumbhole grip. A fluted, composite jacketed bull-barrel shroud gives the gun “a clean design with no open sights.”
Pre-drilled and tapped mounting grooves accept an included 3-9x32 air-rifle scope.
Infinity and beyond
Regardless of how much fun you had with a Daisy Red Ryder in the 1950s, the air rifle was not a US invention. The first American airguns were built in Europe
Still, it shouldn’t be surprising that manufacturers all over the world have found the US market lucrative and a sharp retailer will compare beyond price.
High-power air rifles like the Turkish-built BT65SB from Hatsan prove that shooting hot air is an international phenomenon.
This PCP is available in .177, .22 and .25-calibre. It rates its .25-calibre pellets at 1,000 fps delivering 56ft/lb of energy.
Pellets are fed from a nine-shot rotary magazine with side-bolt action, and not only is its trigger fully adjustable for pull, but the stock (walnut or synthetic) is adjustable for length of pull. A removable, high-pressure air cylinder delivers more than 20 full-power shots and is easy to refill.
The Condor from Air Force Airguns illustrates the direction of hot PCP airguns. In fact, it is advertised for “long-range, accurate small-game hunting or pest control.”
Yvette Hicks, operations manager for Air Force, says: “Condor is the most powerful pre-charged air gun on the market because it easily achieves 1,250 feet per second in .22 calibre. The Condor features an adjustable power supply (600-1,300 fps) depending on the power setting, calibre and pellet weight. A shooter can dial the power down for close-range targets or dial it up for long range.”
The Condor also accessorises well. It comes with a 490cc air tank, a scope rail and accepts bipods and under-scope laser pointers.
“It’s an adaptive airgun shooting system,” adds Yvette.
It is termed adaptive because it is available in a remarkable array of .25, .22, .20 and .177 and in blue, red or tactical black.
Selling PCP airguns allows a retailer to sell fill accessories for the gun’s on-board tank. A DIN or K-valve will adapt and regulate air from a scuba air tank and a special three-stage hand pump can pressurise the tank sufficiently for top shooting.
A good hand pump will achieve 3,000 psi and have an integral air-pressure gauge, enough to inflate basketballs, too.
“We’re promoting Benjamin airguns for hunting through broadcast television shows like Jim Shockey’s Hunting Adventures, Ted Nugent’s Spirit Of The Wild and Fred Eichler’s Predator Nation,” adds Laura Evans.
“In addition, we have a great online presence, with personalities like Ian Harford (Team Wild), the Crosman hunting website, blogs and social media.
“We’ll continue with our traditional print-media campaigns and our Shooting Services program that caters to grass-roots non-profit organisations such as 4H, Boy Scouts of America, JROTC Programs and others. Almost two million people a year are exposed to Crosman products through Shooting Services outreach.”
Daisy may not be moving towards big-game hunting but the company prides itself for providing a stepping-stone into the wider shooting sports.
Susan Johnston pointed to the numbers: 86 per cent of outdoor enthusiasts surveyed report that they took their first shot with a BB gun and an overwhelming majority began with Daisy.
“With our inflatable ranges and the ability to partner with leading conservation and youth organisations, Daisy reaches more than a million young people every year,” Susan explains. “More than half of them are first-time shooters.”
Like archery in the 1990s?
“Crosman will continue to develop the two hunting airgun platforms of Nitro Piston-powered break-barrels and PCP technology,” Laura reveals. “In addition, look for Crosman to increase its tactical offerings in the coming year.”
That means more adult shooting and training opportunities.
According to Daisy’s Susan Johnston, Daisy has studied the market for larger-calibre, hotter shooting air rifles but believes its niche is in the BB and .177 markets.
“We’re interested in safe, fun shooting and, of course, have air guns that reach the 1,000 fps market, but for now, and the foreseeable future, that’s the Daisy brand.”
Beeman, too, now that its imported airguns are split between S/R Industries and Air Venturi, is taking a cautious approach to the higher-calibre and higher-power markets.
“Beeman doesn’t get into the high-end, high-calibre stuff,” explains Dani Navickas, product manager at S/R Industries. “It’s not our market. Our niche is in the .177 and .22 rifles. We’ve had some requests for the .25 but our standing on higher calibres is that they are borderline firearms. We try not to cross over or get close to what we feel is a fine line between firearms and airguns.
“The governor recently signed a bill here to allow Los Angeles County and all of its municipalities to regulate airguns and airsoft guns, too. So now every little entity makes its own rules and regulations. Crossing from one city to another or going to the range can be illegal. So Beeman stays away from the high-calibre-firearm realm. We’re strictly into recreational and target shooting.”
Fun… With Safety
* The first thing most customers do with a safety label is tear it off and throw it away. A safety warning is like the tag on a T-shirt or on a mattress. Something the government requires, just to irritate you.
* Airgun safety can actually be a selling point, however… as long as you don’t call it “safety”.
* Compared to firearms, airguns are lightweights. Maximum range varies by design but it is maybe 300 yards and muzzle energy of the .177 (eight grains, about 1ft-lb) or .22 (16 grains, about 23ft-lb) is low.
Even a .22 rimfire is lethal compared with a .22 pellet and will carry for more than a mile. Remington’s 29-grain .22 short, for instance, has a comparable velocity of 700 fps, but delivers 34ft/lb of energy at the muzzle.
* Safety gear? Eye protection. And you probably don’t need a steel safe for protective storage since a criminal, realising that what you own is – in their mind – a BB gun, will sneer. An airgun will fascinate children, however, so be warned to keep guns locked.
* And state laws? Airguns are not regulated by the US Gun Control Act of 1968 and few states restrict ownership. However, as Dani Navickas of Beeman notes: “It is always advisable to check local regulations.” At this time, four US states regulate air rifles and/or BB guns: New Jersey, Delaware, Massachusetts and Michigan.
Air Arms +44 01323 845853 www.air-arms.co.uk
AirForce Airguns +1 817 451 8966 www.airforceairguns.com
Airguns of Arizona +1 480 461 1113 www.airgunsofarizona.com
Air Venturi +1 216 292 2570 www.airventuri.com
Beeman/SR Industries +1 800 822 8005 www.beeman.com
Cometa +34 943 120116 www.cometaairgun.com
Diana-Mayer +49 72 22 762-0 www.diana-airguns.de
Gamo +1 954 58103165 www.gamooutdoorusa.com
Hatsan +1 479 273 5629 www.hatsanusa.com
Pyramyd +1 216 896 0893 www.pyramydair.com
Stoeger Airguns +1 301 283 6981 www.stoegerairguns.com
Daystate +44 1782 791755