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Johnson Indoor Target Gun

by B.B. Pelletier

The Johnson Indoor Target gun was a slingshot with a stock!

In the 1940s and early 1950s, the Johnson Indoor Target Gun was sold by sporting goods stores like Stoegers. Although I am calling it an airgun, it isn’t actually operated by air. It is really a catapult gun – sort of a slingshot with a trigger.

Blue Book!
I have touted the Blue Book of Airguns Fifth Edition so many times that you’re probably sick of it by now. However, in the case of the Johnson, they have a few errors. First – is the name. They call it the Johnson Indoor Target “RIFLE,” when it doesn’t even have a barrel, let alone rifling. I’m showing a closeup of the printing on the right side of the gun, and we’ll let you decide.

Clearly a gun and not a rifle, the Johnson doesn’t even HAVE a barrel!

Second – they list the caliber as No. 6 birdshot, like the Daisy .118-caliber Targeteer and the Sharpshooter catapult pistols. In reality, the Johnson shoots regular steel BBs. It’s a repeater in that it stores many BBs onboard in a spring-loaded magazine on top of the gun, but it seems more like a single-shot because of a rather involved cocking procedure.

A very expensive gun!
In 1948, the price for a Johnson was $15. At the same time, there were two Savage .22 rimfires for less money, and a Benjamin 132 pistol went for $13.50! Perhaps, that’s the reason we encounter so many new or nearly new Johnsons today. About 10 years ago, brand-new, old-stock Johnsons still in the box were being sold at airgun shows for $100. I saw one of these as recently as three years ago at Roanoke. Although the price had climbed to $120, it was still an unused gun! This availability of pristine examples has conspired to keep run-of-the-mill guns under $60.

The boxes are all disintegrating
Johnson boxes are made from acidic pasteboard and, as a result, every one of them is disintegrating today. The ends fall off and a cheesecloth screen pasted inside the top is turning to white powder. I suppose a paper conservator could stop the damage, but I doubt whether many boxes will be saved. In 50 years, there probably won’t be a Johnson box left.

Each gun sat inside a box that turned into a shooting gallery with metal spinners on a wire stand that connected to the box. The cheesecloth hung behind to stop the shots. There was also a small bundle of replacement rubber bands.

The gun has fully adjustable front and rear sights. The rear is a peep sight that actually works very well, while the front adjusts for windage. The crisp trigger-pull makes it possible to hit very small targets at close range.

Surgical rubber tubing makes a handy replacement for the original Johnson rubber bands. This arrangement is inside the top cover, where the band can be captured by the launcher during cocking and loading.

The mechanism that both cocked and loaded the gun

Weird cocking!
To cock and load, a pair of metal fingers at the “breech” are squeezed together and pushed forward, pushing a plastic launcher in front of them. A groove in the launcher captures the rear of the rubber band and the entire mechanism now slides to the rear, where the sear catches it with a click. As it passes a metal release lever in the magazine, one BB is dropped into the launcher seat.

Velocity depends on the strength of the rubber band, and my own gun can fling a BB up to 101 f.p.s. It never varies by more than two f.p.s., which makes it even more stable than an airgun. Of course, 100 f.p.s. isn’t much, but the scale of the target gallery is perfect for it.

I admit I don’t shoot mine very much. It’s too cumbersome and too slow! But, I’ll always keep it for the sheer curiosity of the thing.

author avatar
B.B. Pelletier
Tom Gaylord is known as The Godfather of Airguns™ and has been an airgunner for over a half-century, but it was the Beeman company in the 1970s that awoke a serious interest in airguns. Until then, all he knew were the inexpensive American airguns. Through the pages of the Beeman catalog, he learned about adult airguns for the first time. In 1994, Tom started The Airgun Letter with his wife, Edith. This monthly newsletter was designed to bring serious reports about airguns to the American public. The newsletter and Airgun Revue, a sister magazine about collectible airguns, was published from 1994 until 2002, when Tom started Airgun Illustrated -- the first American newsstand magazine about airguns. Tom worked for three years as technical director at AirForce Airguns, the makers of the Talon, Condor, and Escape precharged air rifles. Today, he writes about airguns and firearms for various publications and websites. He also makes videos, and you'll find short clips embedded in some of his artices on Pyramyd AIR's website. Tom is a consultant to Pyramyd AIR and writes under the name of B.B. Pelletier.

16 thoughts on “Johnson Indoor Target Gun”

  1. B.B. Pelletier if you could choose between a single shot .45 large bore rifle or a .50 which would you choose….also I am purchasing a RWS 350 mag rifle w/air force scope did i do ok for the money?

  2. Clamdigger,

    In big bores I usually go with the larger caliber, but of all the guns Pyramyd sells, I like the Big Bore 909 (a .45) best.

    And yes, you did very well with the RWS 350 Mag. Just remember it takes technique to shoot its best. Let the rifle kick, vibrate and move all it wants to!


  3. I would like to post a picture of President Truman holding an engraved presentation model of the Johnson Indoor Target Gun, around 1948, in the White House …presented by GEN McAulifee.

    LTC B

  4. My dad has a Johnson Indoor Target Gun dated 1945 or ’46. It’s still in its original box, as well as having all the accessories (BBs, instruction manual, extra rubber-bands, targets, etc.).
    How much would you say its worth?

  5. I have a nice johnson target gun without the plastic bb carrier. If anyone has one intact, I am interested in fabricating a copy. what I would like are some very good digital pics and dimensions.
    I will gladly compensate for your time.
    you can contact me at woodman07@yahoo.com
    thanks, chris

  6. Dane,

    Your guns in the box will bring $150 or possibly a little more at an airgun show. A complete and working Johnson is worth $90-110 by itself. The boxes are disintegrating because they were made from acid pasteboard and nothing can reverse the process. They are all turning into white dust on the inside. So that is normal.

    The best place to sell any airgun is here:



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