Nothing Light About Air
The airgun category of the gun business is a major asset to our trade. As new brands and manufacturers keep popping up, well-established firms keep churning out innovation after innovation. With more and more people turning to airguns, this category of the trade is all set to prosper.
A WAY IN
Airguns represent a great way to start shooting and a cost-effective way to get into the sport. There are still many simple yet accurate airgun models on the market at remarkably affordable prices. Which is why people ‘in the know’ see airguns as the unsung heroes of shooting, offering fun and great value for money for all ages. Ask many people around the world how they started shooting and the answer in many cases is likely to be ‘with an airgun’. While many serious shooting enthusiasts once frowned upon airguns, the rise in quality, accuracy, looks and indeed power has encouraged even the firearms purists to take a long, hard look at the other part of the woods.
In some countries airguns with more modest power levels can be owned with either no or very few restrictions, while in other countries the rules allow a significant increase in power, making them suitable for taking out everything from rats to other varmints and, with the highest powered air rifles, even larger game.
Airgun types vary wildly. From the humble spring-powered, brea- action air rifle to CO2-powered revolvers and seriously high-tech PCP rifles. Each type has its pros and cons which we will dive into here.
The break-action, spring-powered airgun is a great classic, especially in Europe. Together with nitro-piston powered airguns, spring-powered airguns make up for the majority of sales worldwide. Although one has to note the market share of these best-sellers is slightly declining year after year in favour of the other airgun types such as pre-charged pneumatics. There is more to break-action airguns than the typical models that utilise the barrel as the cocking lever.
Fixed barrel models featuring an additional under- or side-lever have appeared on the market as well. Whatever the cocking method, the essential feature of break-action airguns is that the cocking motion pulls a piston to the rear inside the receiver while compressing a spring. When pulling the trigger, the spring is released, causing the piston to generate compressed air, pushing the pellet out of the barrel.
Not only does releasing the spring cause noise, it also triggers movement in the airgun before the pellet leaves the barrel. In entry level to medium-powered air rifles, this is not exactly an issue. The most powerful spring-powered airguns, however, take some practice to shoot accurately and consistently.
A relatively recent innovation now offered by many an airgun manufacturer is the nitro piston power plant, in which cocking the airgun moves a piston to the rear but, instead of compressing a spring, a gas in a cylinder is compressed.
When the gun is fired, the compressed gas propels a piston forward to compress air in the receiver behind the projectile. The advantages of the nitro piston as a power source include lighter gun weight and a considerable reduction in noise and vibration at the same time.
In a way, a nitro piston power plant offers the same ease of use as a regular spring powered break barrel rifle while getting rid of the disadvantages of the spring itself.
Pump pneumatic airguns, a big classic in the United States, use a lever-operated onboard air pump to pressurise an internal reservoir and then discharge the stored compressed air during shooting. Depending on the design, pump pneumatics can be either single-stroke or multi-stroke. In single-stroke pneumatic air guns a single motion of the cocking lever is all that is required to mechanically compress the air.
The single-pump system has always dominated the casual plinking market, and is usually found in target rifles and pistols, where the higher muzzle energy of a multi-stroke pumping system is not required. Multi-stroke pneumatic airguns use multiple pumpings to achieve variable power levels in order to adapt for both long and short-range shooting. These airguns are usually single-shot, where each shot requires approximately five to 10 strokes. As you can vary the number of strokes, these guns obviously offer the shooter variable power to his or her liking. The slow reloading cycle is the big disadvantage of pump airguns.
PRE-CHARGED PNEUMATIC (PCP)
Pre-charging an airgun by filling up a reservoir in a rifle with compressed air, essentially pre-charging it and using only part of the air to escape with each shot, is a simple yet very effective idea that has been utilized for a very long time.
The advantages of PCP airguns are obvious. Reloading is quick and noiseless and PCP rifles can be very powerful yet easy to shoot accurately as there are no moving parts. What’s more, PCP’s can be made into extremely compact bullpup designs since they have no need of a large receiver housing a piston other types do require.
The disadvantage of PCP airguns is they require an external device such as a hand pump or a diving cylinder, either in metal or carbon fibre, to fill up the gun’s internal reservoir with compressed air. The increasing affordability of higher-power PCP rifles has allowed large projectiles and further target distance for competition purposes as well as for hunting and pest control.
Last but not least are airguns powered by compressed gas. These use small, pre-filled, removable gas cylinders as a power sourc, and are commonly referred to as CO2 guns, due to the ubiquitous commercial use of bottled carbon dioxide gas, usually in the form of 12 gram cylinders.
Although the internal pressure in a CO2 gun is limited to the pressure produced by the vaporizing CO2, this pressure is high enough to drive pellets at speeds of 60 to 700 ft/sec. These CO2 cylinders hold enough gas to fire a series of shots, without doing anything but reloading pellets.
This is the same principle as the powerplant paintball guns use. More high-end compressed gas models sometimes use larger compressed air (known as High-Pressure Air or N2) cylinders, which have higher operating pressures but are also more expensive and less commonly seen. CO2 guns are popular for training, as the guns and ammunition are inexpensive, relatively safe to use, and no specialised facilities are needed for safety.
Long gone are the days when airguns were considered mere toys. Next to backyard plinking, many sportsmen and hunters are now taking airguns seriously… and rightly so.
PLINKING AND TARGET SHOOTING
Because of their relatively low power and noise level, airguns are extremely well suited for safe backyard plinking and informal target shooting without alarming the neighbours. They are also well suited to introduce young and new shooters to shooting accurately and safely, offering lots of trigger time at a cost far below that of any firearm.
Competitive shooting disciplines were specifically set up for airguns. These disciplines include Olympic 10 metre air rifle and air pistol events, Field Target and Hunter Field Target.
Field Target (FT) is a competitive form of target shooting in which the targets are knock-down metal silhouettes of animals, with a 'kill zone' cut out of the steel plate. Hunter Field Target (HFT) is a variation, using identical equipment, but with differing rules.
The distances FT and HFT competitions are shot at range between 7.3 and 41.1 metres (24 and 135ft) for HFT and 7.3 and 50.29 metres (24 and 165ft) for FT, with varying sizes of 'reducers' being used to increase or decrease the size of the kill zone on the targets.
The air rifles and pistols used in the various competitive disciplines are purpose-built with features to meet particular requirements such as a maximum power level etcetera.
Although rabbits and squirrels are typical game animals taken with airguns, larger species such as deer, wild boar and antelope have been taken with airguns. Be sure to familiarise yourself with local laws before going off hunting with an airgun.
Another activity where airguns come in to their own is pest control. Pest species such as sparrows, mice, crows, rats, pigeons, raccoons or foxes can be dispatched efficiently and quietly with a sufficiently powered airgun. This is where PCP air rifles really shine as they are powerful, accurate, quiet as a whisper and allow for quick follow up shots.
One of the trends in the airgun world picking up pace are break action or pneumatic pump models featuring a military / tactical design reminiscent of AR style rifles.
Next to this, firearms brands such as Marlin and Blaser are linking their designs and brand to airguns. Germany’s Diana, for example, makes a Blaser NR8 featuring the signature synthetic ‘Professional Success' thumbhole stock that Blaser uses for its R8 rifles.
What’s more, the surge in chassis systems in the firearms world has spilled over in the PCP arena as well, offering PCP shooters the possibility of an air rifle chassis system and improve upon their rifle’s accuracy, adjustability and quality of construction.
BRIGHT FUTURE AHEAD
The role of the airgun in the shooting world is immense and must not be underestimated. The benefits airguns bring are ongoing as they provide inexpensive fun at the entry level and offer pinpoint accuracy, sheer firepower and stunning looks in the mid and premium segments.
Hunters, competitive shooters and backyard plinkers are all spoilt for choice. The number of quality airguns continues to increase as technology improves and customers demand more from their airguns. As supply is improved and spurred by ever growing demand, the airgun world looks all-set and ready for a bright future ahead. What other sectors can offer so much?