High Pressure Air in America
Gun Trade world discovers that the US is a hotbed for the air rifle market and a lucrative one, too.
In the UK and Europe, it’s fair to say that many regard air rifles as a starting point for gun ownership, with a proportion graduating to rimfire and centrefire use. However, a combination of strict licensing laws and a lack of space mean that many simply don’t move on to more powerful bullet rifles but stay with airguns, while demanding more accuracy and features.
When you therefore consider a country like the USA, with its wide-open spaces, history and culture of gun ownership and not much in the way of gun control, you might think there would be little interest in air rifles. However, the reality is that for the last 30 years the adult American airgun market has grown at a steady pace and demand is stronger than ever.
For a long time, as in other markets, compared to other branches of the shooting sports, air rifles were a niche interest in the country. However, if such a thing exists, the air gunning hall of fame has its fair share of Americans. Bob Beeman and Tom Gaylord, for example, are revered as the modern sport’s founding fathers.
Some of the biggest names in the game, such as Crosman, Benjamin and Sheridan, are from the US, and a browse of the internet soon reveals many of the sport’s social network personalities as coming from the Americas.
Whilst US gun companies continue to be a major force in the global airgun industry, especially with mainstream manufacturers like Ruger, Remington and Browning adding air rifles to their range, European companies have expanded their presence too.
Unlike many US brands, whose heritage and, indeed, main business still lies in bullet rifles, most European companies have only ever made air rifles and, as a result, lead the way in terms of innovation. And while stringent power limitations in the UK and Europe are seen by some as a barrier to adoption, they have served to drive a focus on improving accuracy, consistency and ease of use.
The US does not have the restrictions that exist in Europe. As a result, it has become a lucrative market for manufacturers whose engineers relish the opportunity to see just how far they can push the envelope when the sky’s the limit in terms of power output.
Pioneering companies such as the UK’s Daystate and Brocock have cleared a path for British and European airgun technology and offer USA specification models with muzzle energy up to 100 ft/lb, making them capable of sending a pellet at 1,000 feet per second with pinpoint accuracy over ever-increasing distances.
Of course, such capabilities are highly prized by hunters and target shooters alike; you only have to look down the line at events such as the Airgun Extreme Benchrest in Arizona to see that. But the enduring popularity of the air rifle continues to be the fact they bring the shooting sports to many who might otherwise have to take up golf or cycling to fill their spare time!
Other areas of development focus, such as the need for air rifles to be quiet, have also been in response to US market demands. Certainly today’s pre-charged pneumatic airguns are not only powerful but whisper quiet, something that is very difficult to achieve with a firearm without resorting to special ammunition and perhaps a special permit.
In addition, airgun ammunition is cheap and can be easily posted, air rifles are very clean as they don’t suffer from powder residue and power levels can be adjusted to suit the environment the shooter finds him or herself in.
Where cost, space or city restrictions apply, airguns are often the only practical way for enthusiasts to pursue an interest in shooting. Within the realities of an urban environment, air rifles, especially pre-charged pneumatic models, when compared to bullet rifles, are much more environmentally friendly; they expend significantly less lead (and lead-free pellets are an option) into the environment and, with a simple pellet catcher or backstop, pellets can be collected up and disposed of responsibly.
In truth, in most back-garden situations, most air rifles will deliver at least acceptable levels of accuracy, certainly enough to satisfy all but the most discerning shooter who likes a challenge and is blessed with a big enough yard. Those lucky enough to have permission to shoot over open ground, or have access to a range, will likely gravitate to higher quality rifles.
Today’s high-end air rifles are brim full of technological advancements that surpass those in firearms. For example, no firearm is able to offer a range of power settings as quickly and easily as an air rifle. And, thanks to sophisticated electronics, like that in many Daystate rifles, such adjustments can be made with unmatched digital accuracy.
However, for many, aesthetics is every bit as important as the performance of an air rifle. In Europe there is still a strong demand for walnut stocks and classic sporting lines, while in the USA the tactical ‘AR15’ modular black gun look is growing in popularity.
So, while we enjoy our firearms don’t forget to consider an airgun as it gives you many features and benefits that just cannot be found anywhere else.