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Antique Big Bore Airguns

by B.B. Pelletier

Here is a video you can’t get from The History Channel.

When I was young, in the 1950s, the only airguns I knew about were Daisys, Crosmans, Benjamins and Sheridans. There were no airgun magazines at that time, and the gun magazines seldom ran an article about airguns that didn’t have the phrase “For the kids” in the title. How was I to know there had been large caliber airguns for hundreds of years. That the Austrian army had acquired between 1,000 and 1,500 big bore repeating rifles, starting in 1780, and that people all around the world had hunted deer and boar with large caliber air rifles since before this nation was founded?

When Digest Books published the first Airgun Digest in 1976, my eyes were opened to a world of airguns I never knew existed. It wasn’t until I started attending airgun shows 18 years later that I began to see these guns close up. Now you can have that same experience with a new video from Bigbore Video Productions.

Airgun collector Larry Hannush talks the viewer through 11 different rare big bore antiques. As he goes, he points out the features on each and tells the story of its creation. Larry knows these guns as well as anyone in the world, so you have a front-row seat with an expert.

The show starts with some smaller-caliber guns in the .31 to .34 caliber range. Were you aware that such small calibers were made? According to the narrator, these might have been good for taking rabbits and similar-sized game in their day. He first shows a curious 1780 ball-flask rifle by Joseph Blunt. The rifle is curious because it is a full flintlock that does not really function but disguises the nature of the rifle until the ball is screwed on.

There are several ball-flask rifles, including a couple disguised as flintlocks. Photo used with permission of Bigbore Video Productions, Inc.

Hannush discusses the working pressure these guns used and the possible number of effective shots each might give. When you realize that someone might have pumped a hand pump 500 times for five or six shots, you can appreciate how fantastic and far out these guns were in their day. Clearly, they were too much trouble to be considered normal hunting weapons, so history has relegated them as the toys of the rich.

He also shows you details, such as the firing valves of some of the guns and how the triggers work. This is information you cannot get in any book, only if you know someone like Hannusch can you ever see detail like this.

One special rifle he shows is a civilian copy of the Girandoni pattern of 1780 – the famous Austrian military repeating air rifle. This one holds 15 .424 lead balls, and Hannusch shows how fast it could be fired. His knowledge of the history of the Girandoni is encyclopedic, and you learn that this rifle was built around the military rifle’s butt reservoir.

At the end of the film, you see an original cased butt-reservoir rifle with its original hand pump. Hannusch shows you each part in the case and explains what it does. He then assembles the hand pump and shows how the reservoir is attached.

Hannusch shows all the tools and how they work. Photo used with permission of Bigbore Video Productions, Inc.

He assembles the pump on camera, then shows how to fill the butt reservoir. Photo used with permission of Bigbore Video Productions, Inc.

After that, he actually shows how the hand pump is used to fill the reservoir. This is so rare that even the Smithsonian doesn’t have anything equivalent. For an airgunner who wants to know about big bores from centuries past, I don’t know of another film anywhere that will show what this one does.

Imagine that your best friend owns 11 vintage big bores and gives you a private tour. That’s what you get on this video.

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.

19 thoughts on “Antique Big Bore Airguns”

  1. “Imagine your best friend owns 11 vintage big bores and give you a private tour. That’s what you get on this video.”

    No way! I’ve seen that video. I don’t even know that guy.

  2. B.B.
    Wow, I had no idea of the rich history of airguns. I’m glad this niche is being preserved by someone.
    A little off topic, but here goes. The other day you were answering a guy about what power scope to use for field target and I think you said 20X or 30X for adequate range finding ability. I then read the article on the pyramyd site about field target competition, but honestly don’t have a clue about the different types of air rifle competitions that there are, how they are run, types of targets, types of people or families that attend, etc, etc. I know someone is always asking for a special Blog, but do you think something along these lines might be possible. You’ve got so much background in competition shooting that I, and I’m sure others, would really appreciate hearing about.
    Thanks again,

  3. Pestbgone,

    Your idea has great merit and I am already working on the field target segment. It wiull have to be several parts long because there is so much to cover. They we’ll look at sillhouette and 10 meter for both rifle and pistol.


  4. Simmons,

    Scopes made today can usually take an airgun’s recoil and vibration. Simmons is one of the largest airgun scope makers. I don’t see why you can’t use this scope without a problem.

    Just be sure not to over-tighten the cap screws when you remount it.


  5. BB,

    You wrote above: “He shows a curious 1780 ball-flask rifle by Joseph Blunt first. The rifle is curious because it is a full flintlock that does not really function, but disguises the nature of the rifle until the ball is screwed on.”

    What’s your guess as to why Blunt or anyone would want to disguise this airgun as a flintlock?



  6. Joe,

    And the rifle I show isn’t a Blunt but another maker’s “flintlock,” Why they made them that way is the subject of conjecture by airgun collectors around the world. As far as I know, there is no difinitive evidence that explains why some guns were made that way.


  7. it seems to me that airguns would be much more effective for combat a few hundred years ago. why didn’t armies have front lines of men armed with air guns to get off 5 or 10 quick shots before retreating? wouldn’t that be more effective than the single shot muskets used?

  8. anyone,

    has anyone had luck with the g1 extreme from crosman? im thinking about getting it, as another cheap break barrel, but ive heard some things about the stock shattering, and such. i think pyramyd also sells it as the phantom shooter kit.


  9. Airgun tactics,

    You might think that military leaders would sieze on new technology immediately, but they don’t for many reasons. Between the wars, Germany saw the advantage of speed and developed their blitzkrieg tactics based on the rapid advance of tanks, airplanes and other motorized vehicles.

    Other countries did not see this possibility and when the war started, they were stuck with slower-moving vehicles. It took nearly the entire war for the Allied technology to catch up.

    As far as we know, the air rifles were assigned to the small unit commanders who each decided how best to employ them. Though the airgun was a curiosity, it probably wasn’t as big a deal as we now imagine it to have been. Most commanders used their airguns individually in a sniping capacity, as far as we know.

    You have to remember that this was not a proven technology. It required lots of support, in the form of wagons with two-man pumps operating continuously, so each airgunner would have two full reservoirs when the battle started.

    Think of it as a rail gun today. What is the best way to use one of those? Nobody knows, because we don’t have any experience with it. It was the same with the first repeating airgun.


  10. Air guns were for the rich in those days. I guarantee that they didn’t do their own pumping so it would have been no trouble at all to order their servant or slave to pump it for them before a hunt.

    There seems to be some lost time with big bore air guns. I have seen pics of them from the 1800’s but then nothing until the 1990’s. Did the world stop making big bores for 50 years or are there a bunch of cool big bores from the 50’s through to the 90’s?

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