What IS a BB gun?

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.

13 thoughts on “What IS a BB gun?

  1. Hello, I see the Buck Jones mentioned in the Christmas story tale. It did have the Daisy bullseye target inside the compass. So that is probably why the autor Jean Sheperd may have gotten confused? Are there any with the compass and sun dial on the left as was the one for Ralphie?

  2. I loved my red ryder air rifle, It was even powerfull enough to kill some small birds!I would be outside at night blasting cockroaches from everywhere for countless hours…

  3. I just cleaned out my granmothers house and found a BB Gun with Buck Jones scribed on it. It also has the compass and sun dial on the left left. What a gun like that worth these days?

  4. If the gun still works and most of the blue is intact and the rust is not too bad and all the screws are tight without nuts on them, it’s worth between $200 and 250. If it’s in bad shape, it’s worth less.


  5. My first air rifle was a Red Ryder. I must have been in third grade, and my dad, an inveterate bargain hunter, dragged me all over Houston, TX, to find the cheapest one. Finally, right when all the stores were closing, we were in a hardware store downtown and Dad still wasn’t happy wiith the price. Dad turned to me and said he was sorry and maybe we could go looking again next weekend. Normally a bland, dispassionate child, I shocked everyone by throwing a fit and walking out of the store cradling that BB gun box in my arms. My father was irritable with me but surprisingly I did not care anymore…I had the gun!

    I /loved/ that gun and everything about it. I lived by the anthem engraved in plastic on the gun’s butt about shooting safety. When I wasn’t in school or at the Westside YMCA, I was prowling our yard for safe targets. The gun was my favorite until Dad, without looking very hard this time, bought me a Daisy pump for my 9th birthday.


  6. Well, of course a real Red Ryder never had a compass and sundial, so the gun you want is either "A Christmas Story" Red Ryder that will cost about $400 and up or one of the more recent re-releases of the Christmas Story gun. The gun was fictional–made up by Jean Shepherd, the author.

    If that's what you want they can sometimes be found on the airgun classified ads.




  7. I bought a red ryder at a yard sale. Could you tell me how old it is? It has a wood stock and forarm,the logo is on the left,banded front site and forarm appear to be steel the screw head that fastens the top of the reciever to the stock has a large head and the size of the shot at the bottom by the loading chamber goes from 7/8" to 1" . It has a fixed rear site.

  8. ccharvat,

    You are on an old blog. The current blog is located here:


    You can ask any question you want — we don't stick to the topic.

    Where was your Red Ryder made? Was it Plymouth, MI or was it Rogers, AR?

    What is the model number?

    I will need to know these things to help you determine the age.


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