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The cost of PCPs, pumps and compressors

by B.B. Pelletier

We had a comment last week from DB, who says, “I have had some interest in these precharged airguns but the prices for the pumps seem to me to be way out of line, and scuba tanks are even more expensive. You can buy a really nice firearm for less than the cost of this gun [Career 707 Carbine] and pump. Is there any economical option in our future? My wife would kill me if she thought that I would spend $200 on a pump!”

I want to put the prices of precharged guns and gear into perspective for you. Before Daystate began making precharged rifles in 1980, they hadn’t been made since before World War I. New guns were still sold in the early 1920s, but they were assembled from parts made before the War. In today’s money, those smallbore airguns started at a low of about $1,000 and went up rapidly. They developed less than 200 foot-pounds, and their pumps sold for hundreds of dollars (adjusted to today’s prices).

The 19th century was the big-bore heyday
The finest and most powerful big bore guns were made during the 19th century. Power levels got as high as, perhaps, 300 foot-pounds, and guns were sold in kits with all the tools and equipment needed to make them work. A starting price for a complete kit was around $2,000 of today’s money, but the price quickly rose to $10,000 and more on the finer models. These were gorgeous guns, for sure, but they didn’t use scopes and all had to be filled from hand pumps. If one of today’s big bores had been around, it wouldn’t have been inoperative, because no one had the means to charge a gun to 3,000 psi. Those vintage hand pumps could get as high as 1,000 psi in extreme cases, but then they took a very long time to fill the gun because they compressed so little air.

Smallbore PCPs
After Daystate broke the ice, the entire world got into PCPs. Shooters discovered how accurate they are and how easy to shoot. Shot after shot with no pumping, no cocking, nothing but loading and shooting. And, accuracy that surpasses a .22 rimfire out to 50 yards.

The big bore revival began in 1996
Dennis Quackenbush brought out his CO2-powered Brigand rifle in 1996. It shot a .375-caliber round ball and got 60-80 foot-pounds of energy. Accuracy was on the order of 5 shots in 1.5″ at 30 yards. Gary Barnes soon followed, and his early big bores were pushing the 250 foot-pound mark, with accuracy equivalent to Quackenbush. The Koreans saw a market and brought out the Fire 201 air shotgun with a 9mm rifle barrel. That gun got 150-175 foot-pounds and accuracy of 1″ at 40 yards. By now, the 21st century had started and the race for power was on!

The multi-stage hand pump debuted in the mid-90s
Fredrik Axelsson designed a multi-stage hand pump that could compress air to 3,000 psi for the European target shooters and the few sporter PCPs that existed. The name of the first company to market a hand pump was Axsor. Within a few years, Axelsson left Axsor and started another company called FX to make a different hand pump and several models of sporting PCPs. Hill of England came out with a completely different hand pump capable of achieving pressures up to 3,500 psi.

Before we move on, you should know something about the technology in one of these exotic hand pumps. They are actually a pump within a pump within a pump! That’s correct, there are actually three pumps nested inside what looks like a common bicycle pump. I have repaired many of these pumps, and they’re very complex inside. There are about 20 different-sized O-rings in one of them! And they generate great heat when they work – high enough to cause brass parts to fail if you don’t give them a break after five minutes of pumping. I own all three models – the Axsor, FX and Hill, and all my pumps still work perfectly after many years of service because I follow the manual’s recommendations. Yes, $200 is a lot of money, but not when you consider what you’re getting.

Incidentally, DB, a 3,000 psi 80-cubic-foot aluminum scuba tank sells new for around $150, so it doesn’t cost more than a hand pump. I have two tanks. I paid $20 at a garage sale for the last one and $100 for the one before that.

High-pressure electric compressors
You’ll pay $2,500 for a cheap electric compressor that will go to 3,000 psi, unless you buy the FX electric compressor. Yes, it does have the hand pump at its heart, but it is water-cooled for much greater longevity. As long as you don’t abuse it by filling scuba tanks, the FX compressor should last a long time.

“You can buy a really nice firearm for less than the cost of this gun and pump.”
Yes you can! You can also buy a nice lawnmower for less – so what? Neither one is a precharged air rifle. You don’t buy these things to save money – even though I hope that I’ve demonstrated you are now paying less than ever for this technology. Precharged air rifles are science experiments with practical applications. They aren’t firearms, nor should they be used as substitutes for them. Enjoy them for what they are.

What about the future?
I don’t see big bore prices coming down much. What I see is capability going up. Quackenbush now makes a big bore that delivers 1,000 foot-pounds, and Barnes does the same. The Korean guns are pushing past 300 foot-pounds. Smallbore repeaters are becoming more accurate and more reliable. A new hand-pump that is being developed will at least hold the price steady, regardless of where the Euro goes. Plus, there are several lower-priced electric compressors in development. Companies are working toward a target retail price of $600 for a portable electric compressor (the FX compressor is now at $1,200). If you’re interested in precharged airgunning, you’re in, what will someday be called, the Golden Age.

27 thoughts on “The cost of PCPs, pumps and compressors”

  1. B.B.

    I just read your blog ” Cleaning airgun barrels” from last Friday. Very informative. My question (and sorry for being off-topic today) is what about newly purchased rifles? What kind, if any, cleaning should be done on those? I have heard that some manufacturers apply some grease or something as some sort of preservative. Maybe these are foreign manufacturers whose airguns are imported. SHould the barrel of a new rifle be cleaned?

    Thanks.

    DOT

  2. Hi BB,

    I apologize. This question is way, way off topic for today. But maybe some other readers have asked themselves the same question.

    I face a dilemma. I’m trying to decide whether to buy an older rocker-safety sheridan blue-streak or a brand new one. Cost is not the issue for me. I’d prefer to get the better of the two. The older one isn’t perfect; it appears to be in very good mechanical condition, but the finish is fading and wearing (particularly around the grip). You can tell it’s had some use. I’d give it a 3.5/5. However, it’s not a bargain. The gunsmith who has it knows what it is. I’d have to pay almost new price for it.

    On the other hand, if I bought a brand new one I’d get the Benjamin 392. 22cal pellets are a lot easier to find here. I’ve never seen 20cal in any store. But my main focus is getting the better airgun in the long run, one that will function well, shoot more accurately, and last the longest.

    So BB, please tell me. What would you do?

    ~Glen

  3. Glen,

    I paid $75 for the last rocker safety Sheridan Silver Streak I bought (in a local pawn shop in 2005). I bought it BECAUSE the price was right. When an old rocker-safety Blue Streak goes past $100, it had better be in near-perfect shape. There are lot of fish in the sea and your don’t have to compromise your principals to buy a Sheridan for the right price. New price for a Blue Streak is about $149 in most stores and here at Pyramyd AIR. The gun you describe is a $60-75 gun at best.

    There is nothing inherently better or worse about a Benjamin 392 – as opposed to the Blue Streak. Yes, in 1975, a Sheridan was the better gun, but today they are both made in the same Crosman-owned factory and are pretty much equivalent guns. The price differential is based on perceived value.

    The accuracy will be about the same, with more variation rifle to rifle than between the two models. There is no advantage to .20 caliber. In fact, because there are more pellets available in .22, the advantage goes that way. That said, a good Sheridan Blue Streak is a fine air rifle!

    Here is what the older gun has over the new one – a lighter trigger. That’s true for both Benjamins and Sheridans because the legal department has gotten hold of the design. Still, a new rifle of either model is a wonderful gun.

    B.B.

  4. BB

    Lead free pellets{5.0 grains}
    Got 700fps out of a 1000fps rifle out of the box.Its a gamo.It was shot in my backyard and I dont live in a mountain or in a hole.

    bicho

  5. Dear Pelletier,

    In this review you write that you can achieve an” :”accuracy of 1″ at 40 yards with the career 9mm single shot” also called fire 201.I have got this rifle. It’s brand new and scoped with an expensive scope fited with tight scope mounts. I shot the shinsung with 9mm eun jin pellets. I shot it at the range with the rifle rested on a bank. EVEN AT 25 YARDS AND IN THESE EXCELLENT CONDITIONS I CAN’T HIT A COKE TIN !My question is :WHAT CAN I DO TO IMPROVE THE ACCURACY?This expensive rifle is supposed to be excellent and mine is totaly inaccurate! Have I to return it to have it inspected ? Should I replace the barrel ? What would you do ? PLEASE HELP. MANY THANKS. ERIC

  6. Eric,

    You need to shoot more accurate rounds. Those light pellets won’t do it. The 90-grain pellets they used to sell were better, but the 77-grain ones that have to be used in the Ultra feed mechanism just aren’t accurate.

    I recommend a 9mm lead bullet of 100 grains or less. It is important to keep the bullet short, because it needs to be stabilized by the rifleing twist. The Career 9mm doesn’t shoot that fast, so you need a shorter bullet. An 80-grain bullet would be great, just make sure it has a long bearing surface (so hollowpoints are out).

    Second, you need to clean your bore. Use JB Bore Paste on a brass bruch and run it in both directions 20 times. Then remove all traces of the paste. Do not use cleaning solvents for this.

    I have seen 9mm Career single shots group tight at 40 yards, so I know it is possible. The bullet is the most important component.

    B.B.

  7. B.B.,

    Thanks for looking up the norinco 77. I’ve been curious about that gun for a long time. Some of the members of the Talon Airgun Forum recommend the Hill pump over the Airforce pump. I originally had the Airforce pump in mind and I like that it is the less expensive of the two. I don’t plan on abusing the pump. Since you’ve owned all of the brands, is there one you would recommend over the others?

    Jesse

  8. Jesse,

    The Hill pump is very good, but to my knowledge it hasn’t been tested as well as the AirForce pump. I own a Hill and I like it. I don’t own an AirForce, yet, but I’d like to.

    It’s a tough call. I think either one would be great.

    B.B.

  9. hello everyone, i been looking to get myself a electric pump but all the links im trying dont seem to work could someone post a few websites thats sell pumps , to be honest im not to fussed on the maker, i just want to see a few different designs to pick one. so please post some links to sites that sell these pumps.

  10. Look up Airetex compressors on the Internet as that is where I got mine and they specialize in air rifle compressors one which they call the Airetex 45 comes withnevery thing you need in fittings to air up your scuba and hog tanks if you have one in 23 min. They are pricy but if your serious airngunner it will be your salvation in the end if you shoot as much as men and son do. It was costing me 20 in gas to get tanks filled plus 8 per tank to fill plus time. Good luck

  11. The new shoe box costs about 1100 dollars but all I read on them it keeps costing you money with break downs plus it takes 7 to 8 hours to fill a tank which is not good. I just don't think it's ready for the Market yet that is why I spenta little more and bougt an Airetex which pumps my scuba up in 23 min.

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