An open letter to airgun manufacturers
by B.B. Pelletier
For several years, I've noticed a disturbing trend in airguns. The manufacturers are peopled with employees who know nothing about airguns for the most part. Nor do they know what we want, or, more important, what we NEED. Today, I'll take a stab at answering that question, because airgun makers ask me all the time what I think the airgun market needs. Then, before I can answer, they tell me with a smile that their Chinese maker has a new rifle that's even faster than the one that wowed the market last week. Apparently, their question is rhetorical.
Power, we have!
The pedestal of ultimate power that all manufacturers are scrambling to perch upon is getting crowded. Numbers are inching higher than truth, but the fact is that no one can effectively use supersonic air rifles. Yes, solid "pellets" (otherwise known as bullets) could solve that problem, but they leave the aftertaste of unsafe ranges and ricochets. The diabolo pellet is our best friend, but we need to learn to live in the world it loves...the world of subsonic velocities.
So, what do we need?
We need some smaller, lower-powered air rifles made from quality materials and having great barrels that a person can shoot all day without a Gold's Gym membership. Guns that cock with less than 20 lbs. of effort, and guns that can hit a dime at 50 feet shooting offhand with open sights. Guns with good triggers that wear in to become great. I'll give you some examples.
The Diana model 27
Was there ever another breakbarrel rifle as nice as this one? Oh, it can't keep up with the TX200 Mark III, but my Ruger 10/22 plinker can't keep up with a Remington 40XB, either. I'll probably shoot the 10/22 about 500 times more often than I would a 40XB because the barrel doesn't wear out in 2,000 shots. I'm told I can get a half-million shots from my 10/22, but I doubt I'll live to see that. In the same way, the Diana 27 is a reliable, accurate breakbarrel that you can shoot all day and not have enough. It has the famous Diana ball-bearing sear release that can be adjusted extra-fine, as my .22-caliber model is. Cocking is around 15-17 lbs. and the rifle weighs about 5.5 lbs. No need to worry about the neighbors because the gun's discharge is such a mouse cough that it's unlikely they'll know you are there. And, the 27 is just one of many guns with similar features.
The Slavia 630/631
This rifle has more steam than the 27, but it's still a pipsqueak by modern magnum terms. It's as accurate as anyone could wish for, but a too-wide set of scope dovetails, coupled with the same quirky cross slot scope stop as the Webley Patriot prevents it from being easily scoped. It's possible, but the owner has to learn a lot about scope mounts before it will work. This rifle also has a barrel lock that seems quaint on a gun with this little power.
RWS Diana model 5 pistol
Thought this was just about rifles? Well, the model 5 pistol is a classic that should never have gone away. True there are some more modern spring pistols that can kick its behind in the velocity department, but for an all-day air pistol, you'll have to look a long time to beat this one. If you do find one, chances are better than 50/50 it will be a BSF S20.
I saw my first S20 in a German antique shop, and even then I knew it was really a small air rifle converted to a pistol. What I didn't know for 20 more years was that the trigger, which is a sandwich of riveted sheetmetal plates, breaks-in to become very nice. But it takes 4,000 shots to do it, so you really have to shoot the gun all day long. That's not hard to do though, because it's easy to cock. Recently, I said the Webley Typhoon could become a small carbine by a reversal of the process that created the S20. I wonder if anyone listened?
What do we have?
It's slim pickings for plinkers today, but there are a few worth mentioning. The Beeman R7 along with the HW30 and HW50 are good starters. So is the Mendoza RM-200, the little rifle with the big value. And Gamo has the Delta, which is a nice little rifle with too much plastic. And ditto for Crosman's 795. Oh, yeah, the IZH 61 & 60. Good little guns, all, but nothing like what we had 20 years ago.
Diana had the model 24 then the model 28. They had the models 70 and 72, which were carbine adaptations of the models 5 and 6 pistols, respectively. Every manufacturer had a youth model or two, and a few, like Weihrauch, had adult rifles such as the famous model 55, and they were also low-powered and perfect for plinking.
Every week I get emails from frustrated parents looking for a good air rifle to teach the shooting fundamentals to their children. For some, I recommend Daisy's 499 and for others I recommend the IZH 61. But for a large segment, I have nothing to recommend. They don't want to spend over $300 for an R7, or even over $200 for an HW30. They would like a nice breakbarrel spring gun for around $150. Wouldn't we all? A gun that's accurate plus easy to cock and load. One that doesn't weigh too much and has nice open sights and a manual safety. The RM-200 comes as close as any, but that's just one gun. We need more!