By B.B. Pelletier
A BB gun is the fundamental starting point in our hobby. We shoot them, talk about them, collect them, and, for most of us, just hearing the term “BB gun” evokes a flood of memories. But what we think of when we think of BB guns depends largely on how old we are and where we came from.
The most common BB gun known today has got to be Daisy’s Red Ryder. It was the first BB gun many of us had or wanted and, since it has been around almost continuously since its introduction in 1938, that includes nearly every airgunner alive today.
Contrary to the spiel Ralphie rattled off in the movie A Christmas Story, the Red Ryder is not a “200-shot carbine-action range-model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time.” Author Jean Sheperd got confused when he remembered the Red Ryders of his youth and not only clipped a bunch of shots from the magazine capacity, he also added the compass and sundial that were only found on the Buck Jones pump BB guns. But we forgave him because of the thousands of pleasant memories he brought to life. Daisy even made a special Christmas Story Red Ryder that DID have a compass and sundial, though they put them on the correct side of the stock (the left) for right-handers. Little Ralphie’s gun was built in reverse for his left-handed operation.
If you are under 40, the Red Ryder may not hold the same fascination it does for older kids. You may, in fact, remember one of two other airguns with equal fondness. One is Crosman’s M1 Carbine, a very close copy of the military firearm that was made popular in the 1960s and ’70s. It was a powerful BB gun that cocked by pushing in on the barrel to compress the mainspring. That took some effort, so smaller kids couldn’t do it, which was good because the carbine was very powerful for its size.
The other gun you may remember is still made by Crosman – the ever-popular model 760 Pumpmaster. Millions of them have been sold since introduction in 1966, the same year the M1 Carbine hit the street. The name was Powermaster back then, a tribute to the easy, short pump stroke that developes magnum power with incredible ease. Millions of boys, along with more than a few girls, fondly remember their 760s.
We still haven’t answered the title question, but here comes a bit of confusion. One of the coolest BB guns ever made is the fantastic Russian Drozd. It shoots .177 lead balls that are SO EASY to call BBs, and yet they are not the same steel BBs that are correct for Red Ryders and 760s. They are both larger and softer, being made from pure lead instead of mild steel. The Drozd has a rifled bore of true .177 specifications, so it shoots round lead balls both accurately and with great force! But, if you put steel BBs, which are both smaller and much harder, in your Drozd, you can jam the feed mechanism and ruin the rifled barrel.
So, have I answered the question yet? Not really, because I haven’t even touched on the latest BB-type gun – the airsoft gun. Maybe this is a good place to stop for now, though, because airsoft deserves a decent discussion (or two) of its own.