Antique Big Bore Airguns
by B.B. Pelletier
Here is a video you can't get from The History Channel.
When I was young, in the 1950s, the only airguns I knew about were Daisys, Crosmans, Benjamins and Sheridans. There were no airgun magazines at that time, and the gun magazines seldom ran an article about airguns that didn't have the phrase "For the kids" in the title. How was I to know there had been large caliber airguns for hundreds of years. That the Austrian army had acquired between 1,000 and 1,500 big bore repeating rifles, starting in 1780, and that people all around the world had hunted deer and boar with large caliber air rifles since before this nation was founded?
When Digest Books published the first Airgun Digest in 1976, my eyes were opened to a world of airguns I never knew existed. It wasn't until I started attending airgun shows 18 years later that I began to see these guns close up. Now you can have that same experience with a new video from Bigbore Video Productions.
Airgun collector Larry Hannush talks the viewer through 11 different rare big bore antiques. As he goes, he points out the features on each and tells the story of its creation. Larry knows these guns as well as anyone in the world, so you have a front-row seat with an expert.
The show starts with some smaller-caliber guns in the .31 to .34 caliber range. Were you aware that such small calibers were made? According to the narrator, these might have been good for taking rabbits and similar-sized game in their day. He first shows a curious 1780 ball-flask rifle by Joseph Blunt. The rifle is curious because it is a full flintlock that does not really function but disguises the nature of the rifle until the ball is screwed on.
There are several ball-flask rifles, including a couple disguised as flintlocks. Photo used with permission of Bigbore Video Productions, Inc.
Hannush discusses the working pressure these guns used and the possible number of effective shots each might give. When you realize that someone might have pumped a hand pump 500 times for five or six shots, you can appreciate how fantastic and far out these guns were in their day. Clearly, they were too much trouble to be considered normal hunting weapons, so history has relegated them as the toys of the rich.
He also shows you details, such as the firing valves of some of the guns and how the triggers work. This is information you cannot get in any book, only if you know someone like Hannusch can you ever see detail like this.
One special rifle he shows is a civilian copy of the Girandoni pattern of 1780 - the famous Austrian military repeating air rifle. This one holds 15 .424 lead balls, and Hannusch shows how fast it could be fired. His knowledge of the history of the Girandoni is encyclopedic, and you learn that this rifle was built around the military rifle's butt reservoir.
At the end of the film, you see an original cased butt-reservoir rifle with its original hand pump. Hannusch shows you each part in the case and explains what it does. He then assembles the hand pump and shows how the reservoir is attached.
Hannusch shows all the tools and how they work. Photo used with permission of Bigbore Video Productions, Inc.
He assembles the pump on camera, then shows how to fill the butt reservoir. Photo used with permission of Bigbore Video Productions, Inc.
After that, he actually shows how the hand pump is used to fill the reservoir. This is so rare that even the Smithsonian doesn't have anything equivalent. For an airgunner who wants to know about big bores from centuries past, I don't know of another film anywhere that will show what this one does.
Imagine that your best friend owns 11 vintage big bores and gives you a private tour. That's what you get on this video.