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Education / Training Have spring-piston air rifles reached their limits?

Have spring-piston air rifles reached their limits?

by B.B. Pelletier

We received this interesting question last week: “It seems that the [spring] airguns being built in 2006 have reached a limit, given the limitation in materials and physics. …What kind of improvements do you think possible for spring [guns]? Is the sound barrier the limit? Do you think we can do more research in making springs to improve the material, so it does not break? If you were [a spring] airgun manufacturer, what would you do to improve today’s technology? Regards, Robert”

Have we reached the limit?
To answer this question, allow me to quote from the classic airgun book Smith’s Standard Encyclopedia of Gas, Air and Spring Guns of the World.“It may be assumed, therefore, that the spring-air design has about reached the perfection of its form.” W.H.B. Smith thought that the 1956 HW 35 with leather seals and generating less than 650 f.p.s. in .177 was the “perfection of the spring-airgun form.” He felt the limits had been reached.

Where are we today?
The “limit” today seems to be a 14.3-grain .22 caliber pellet traveling faster than 900 f.p.s. The handmade Whiscombe spring rifle is capable of accelerating a .22 Premier to an average of 920 f.p.s. A Kodiak tops 800 from the same gun. The most powerful Whiscombe rifle can generate just over 30 foot-pounds in .25 caliber with light pellets. A more affordable Theoben Eliminator can do almost as well, hitting 30 foot-pounds on the nose. So, is that the limit? Hardly!

Velocity IS NOT where it’s at!
By now you should know what I think about velocity and airguns. It’s fine as long as you are hitting the target; however, velocity is almost always a guarantee that you aren’t. The new Gamo Raptor pellet that I recently tested for you in the CF-X report illustrates my point. Fast – yes. Accurate – no. Worth it? For winning bar bets – perhaps. For serious airgunning – never!

Then, why the hype about velocity?
Numbers sell! It’s that simple. When you buy a stereo system, do most people shop with their ears or do they look at the power of the amplifier? I rest my case. But there was a second part to Robert’s question, “…what would you do to improve today’s technology?” Now, that’s a question I can answer!

Make them smoother!
We have gone too far in the power race, until we have rifles like the Theoben Eliminator and the Webley Patriot trying to loosen your fillings every time they shoot! I’ll live without 30 foot-pounds if it means not getting slapped in the face. But I have shot spring guns hand-tuned by Ivan Hancock, the world’s finest spring-gun tuner, that didn’t buzz, kick or hurt in any way. Even powerful guns such as the Beeman R1 with Hancock’s Venom mainspring, piston and seal installed were an order of magnitude smoother than the stock R1 that had only 75 percent as much power. So, smooth is achievable, if elusive. Or is it?

Here’s a smoothie!
Right out of the box, the TX200 MkIII is a smooth spring rifle. It’s easily the smoothest springer on today’s market. There is some room for improvement by hand-fitting the powerplant parts, but right out of the box this air rifle shows the world how it’s done. Yet it isn’t the fastest-selling spring air rifle in the Pyramyd AIR lineup. Why not? Well, there is probably a better reason than what I’m about to say…however, I believe shooters have to pass through distinct stages before they are ready for the best airguns.

Stage 1. Velocity!
This is the reason Gamo markets the Raptor pellet. Beginning shooters only know one thing – if the gun doesn’t shoot at least 1,000 f.p.s., they don’t want it. That’s the reason some marginal airguns are advertised at 1,000, even though they don’t break 900. Velocity shooters own chronographs (or want to) that they stare at for hours, trying to decide if they like or hate their airguns.

Stage 2. Caliber!
This is the Harley-Davidson stage. Shooters want the absolute largest caliber they can find. Know how to ruin a 9mm airgun owner’s day? Tell him there’s a 10mm!

Stage 3. Energy!
The caliber shooter discovers that energy is a factor of both velocity AND projectile weight. This is the modified Harley stage, where the jugs are bored out and a nitrous oxide injector is attached. PCP shooters talk about filling their guns with helium in this stage.

Stage 4. Accuracy!
Shooters in this stage spend all their time looking for the smallest possible spread of pellets, center-to-center. Some shooters become corrupt and start bragging about three-shot groups as if they were the same as five-shot groups, when all the while five-shots are a shortcut for ten-shot groups that actually determine relative accuracy. They buy dial calipers and shoot only from a bench. Many use vices to hold their guns, and the really perverse ones stop speaking to other shooters altogether.

Stage 5. Enlightenment!
Few shooters reach this stage, but those who do have some chance of resuming a normal life, or what passes for one where they live. They admire all aspects of airguns and speak of their continual amazement that pellets can do what they do powered by nothing more than just air! They speak in simple sentences and have the innocence of a child. They sit on toadstools and drink ambrosia while the nymphs cavort in the dappled sunlight of the deep forest.

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

29 thoughts on “Have spring-piston air rifles reached their limits?”

  1. Gotta show this to my son. He’s stuck somewhere between velocity and accuracy. I argue that he don’t need the velocity since all he ever shoots is paper anyway, but he don’t hear me.

  2. Good morning,

    As a new airgunnere, I love your blogs. Have every one of them printed and use them often. Usually to win a bet ot prove a point, but. Question is selection of rifle. Own Tech force 99 in .22 (piece of crap), Gamo 890S Hunter in .177 and lots of daisies in .177. Also bot pistols based on your reports. Want a small rifle to eliminate grackles, squirrels and crows. Daisy 22SX?
    Blue streak? Open sights or scope? Range will be 5 to 30 yards. I am fairly good with firearms. Wife says not to buy cheapest. Strange for a woman to say . Located in northern Vermont so weather is iffy.


    Bill D

  3. In Highschool I learned, that the air molecules fly with the speed of sound. The pressure doesn´t matter, it is generated by the molecules hitting the walls. Only the temperature is crucial. This is already known for supersonic aircrafts. So the air that is propelling the pellet has a maximum velocity of ca. 1060 fps. This would mean, that the sound barrier is indeed the limit, no matter how high you fill your PCP-tank or which caliber you use. Detonating springers may go a little faster, CO2 guns are slower because of the cooling effect.

    Is this right or do I overlook some facts?

    The Problem with accuracy emerge from transsonic speed, where the air evading the bullet is supersonic, creating varying drag. Once it is over the speed of sound, the bullet should be accurate again (like in firearms and artillery). I estimate that the shape of the diablo is the main problem in very fast airguns. Has anybody experience with odd pellet shapes (like slugs or with pointet ends) reaching 1000 fps and more?


  4. The TX200 MKIII .22 is that as good as the TX200 MKIII .177 in terms of accuracy. For .22 caliber between a TX200 and RWS 48/52/54, which would you prefer and why?


  5. BB,
    I have to say that was the most enjoyable blog yet. You accurately described my last 1 1/2 to 2 years of air gunning. Keep up the great work.

    awaiting enlightenment,


  6. B.B.,
    You have the soul of a poet! Today’s post has me straining to reach that goal of enlightenment though I periodically find myself slipping back into an earlier stage with all of the juvenile entrapments hidden therein. If I ever do gain airgun Nirvana perhaps you could advise me regarding the correct caliber of ambrosia for maximum celestial benefit.
    I hope you will come out with a book of your musings sometime in the future. I will be one of the first purchasers (if it isn’t too expensive).

  7. Bill D.

    My wife says the same thing. And it’s taken me a long time to find out that it’s the right thing.

    Now the 22X will be adequate for all the animals you listed, but the Blue Streak will stretch your maximum distance out a bit.

    I like open sights on a multi-pump like a Blue Streak because the scope gets in the way of my hand when I pump. The 22X is an exception because it is easier to pump and the pump handle is in a different place.

    With iffy weather, a multi-pump will be fine, as would a springer or a precharged gun. Only the CO2 guns have a problem with cold.

    I own both rifles but I vote for the Blue Streak.


  8. Highschool,

    I read a long treatise about the maximum possible velocities of airguns several years ago, but I recently shot a Gamo Raptor pellet at 1153 f.p.s. from a Gamo CF-X (see the Feb 21 posting), so I know it doesn’t really work that way. Also I have shot AirForce Condors to over 1,400 f.p.s. in .177 caliber. They use compressed air, so something about that theory doesn’t play out in testing.

    On the other hand, pellets shot from guns by compressed helium do go faster, so there is some science to all of this.

    As far as the accuracy of the supersonic diabolo, you hit it smack on the head. Shooting a diabolo supersonic is like trying to fly a Piper Cub through the sound barrier.


  9. TX200MkIII,

    I wish I could give you a straight answer, but I have never tested a TX200 in .22 that developed more than 12 foot-pounds. I can tell you that the 12 foot-pound .22 is extremely accurate, and knowing the quality of Air Arms I suspect the more powerful one is accurate, too. I just haven’t tested it.

    Now, choosing between the TX and the RWS 48 in .22, I am inclined to go with the RWS if you plan to hunt with the gun. This is a rifle that was made for the .22 caliber! Switch back to .177 and I’m voting for the TX. But once again, I have not tested a powerful TX200 MkIII in .22 caliber.


  10. One of my favorite blog entries yet. I’ve managed to skip stages 1, 2, and 3, and find myself in stage 4. I reason that as long as my shot is accurate and well placed, velocity, caliber, and energy are not that important. Sure, I need enough of all three to quickly and humanely put down the pest I want to put down, but I can make up for lack of velocity, caliber, and energy with good shot placement.

    I did the same when I bought my first bow – salesman was shocked when I told him my main concern was not speed, but accuracy.

    But still, I haven’t gotten myself to be as accurate as I’d like yet, and the fault is my own, not that of my various air guns. I do measure outer edge to outer edge with calipers, but I don’t go past 0.01″ in resolution, as I know I can’t tell the out edge of the holes any better than that. I do keep my targets, the gun I shot, the pellets used, and any other notes I feel important – like “windy, felt tired, etc…”


  11. BB,

    Super post! I think I fit right in between stages 3 and 4 . Energy for long range accuracy! I do love all airguns though, so perhaps there’s a chance for me yet to reach level 5 and the nymphs.


  12. BB, .couldn’t agree more.

    enjoying and appreciating the capabilitys of the gun in your hand IS the Zen of airgunning.

    …so why do I spend so much on this sport ?!?!?! 😉

    (CI, “nirvana” hahahaahah

  13. cold shooter,

    It’s been several years since I shot a Twinmaster and it was the target version, not the trainer. Anything I say about the gun is only based on their reputation – not on personal experience.

    I found the Twinmaster target pistol to be accurate with a relatively good trigger. I would expect the Twinmaster Trainer to be a lot like the Drulov DU-10, except that it has eight shots instead of five.

    Beyond that, I can’t really comment.


  14. hmmm … stage 5 … what a waste … the one sitting on the toadstool should instead be using it to steady the camcorder while his buddies cavort WITH the nypmphs, and no simple sentences needed LOL ! (after all, this is about ADULT airgunning, isn’t it ?!)

  15. BB,

    Thanks again for this blog. Nymphs cavorting in the deep forest??? Never thought I would see that written HERE!! Can’t get the smile off my face.

    Keep it up, I’ll be back for more.


  16. I’ve had a couple of those nymphs in my Leapers recently, but can’t get a good bead on ’em. Ya might say I’m havin’ trouble seein’ the Nymphs through the forest!


  17. hello every one, I think the .177 pellet guns are maxed out..
    i hear after a 1,000FPS. pellets break the sound barrier and adds in bad performance in. I’ve got many B.B guns and Pellet guns.
    my favorites are a .22 Cal benjiman pump pistol from 1945
    rebuild 4 years ago and my classic
    Beeman R-9.

  18. That helium in PCP guns reminded me of a skit I heard one time. Something about people getting addicted to inhailing it or whatnot. Start out hanging around parties that had ballons. Then work your way up to carring around a helium tank. Funny stuff.

  19. Another interesting thing is that the speed of sound is different for different gases (see http://hypertextbook.com/physics/waves/sound/). CO2 is about 850fps, air is about 1125fps. Note that the speed of sound in nitrogen is slightly slower than for air! The speed is temperature dependent too.

    I suspect the maximum speed of a PCP is related to the gas used for propulsion.

    What kind of results do you get from PCP with helium? The speed of sound for helium is about 3166fps!

    (Don’t try hydrogen, it would explode!)

    .22 multi-shot

  20. 22 Multishot ,

    This is one problem that has occupied my mind for months now. Some guy called Alex had posted a comment somwhere above abt this. I agree with his views. However there are quite a few catches. I can quite imagine a springer exceeding SOS however I am tearing my hair out trying to figure how PCPs do it.

    And the undeniable FACT is that PCPs easily do it. I dont think you need a Condor to do it. Just load a very light pellet in any PCP rated at 35+ FPE approx, and you’ll break SOS.

    I have a theory but not at all sure.

  21. I don’t see where the raptor pellets are that fast, I have three break barrel spingers , a gamo shadow, and two gamo 890s, they all shoot under 1100fps with raptors and they all shoot 1175– 1200 with senco and crossman silver eagles, both of the later pellets shot those velositys very consitant, the raptors are not. As far a shooting past the sound barrier, I was shooting today at 16 yds. and put four pellets in a group that you could cover with a dime and every one of those shots was at between 1171fps and 1201fps,, I could not get 5 shots to group that tight, but I’m handicapped and only have a little bit of use of left hand and none of my right, the temperture today was 58 degrees and the chrony was 30 inchs from muzzle, I’ve shot these guns on warmer days with constant 1240 to 1299fps using silver eagle wadcutters 4.8G, so lets get off this raptor kick, I can’t even break the sound barrier with them on a cold day. Marvin. Ps. Thought I’d throw this in, One of my 890s shots like it has been tuned, no Twang and buzz, just real smooth and of course it has not been tuned, I bought it brand new and have only shot about 1200 rounds in it, on the other hand the shadow sport is very light and a lot of fun to shoot, but it does have a lot of twang and buzz, but shots very , very well. My two cents. Marvin

  22. Hey BB,

    Couldn't the problem when airguns lose there accuracy because the pellet hits the sound barrier be fixed by making a cylindrical pellet that is more stable when it goes supersonic just like they do with real guns?

  23. Michael,

    Yes, that does work. And it also brings another problem into play. A Condor that can only shoot a pellet out to 500 yards can now shoot a 29-grain bullet (which is what you are describing) out to a mile and a half.


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