Airguns – I’ll never test ’em all!
by B.B. Pelletier
I’m writing this report at 3:30 a.m., because today and tomorrow I have a television show to tape. There is no more time left to test guns and to report on them, plus do all the other things I have to do! Hopefully this schedule will stabilize within a few months, but right now I am in the eyewall of the storm, and things are pretty busy.
I just answered a question from a new reader that sounds exactly like a hundred other questions I get every month. Have I tested such-and-such an air rifle? My answer was no, I haven’t tested that one (yet), but then it hit me–I PROBABLY NEVER WILL! Looking at my blog schedule and the guns I have waiting in the wings to test plus the other tests and experiments we are running, there’s no way I can ever test them all.
Rather than being the bad thing that this may sound like, it’s actually not bad at all, and I want to share the reason why. First, let’s take a quick look at how a new airgun can “happen.”
Company A decides to offer a new model. They look around and determine there’s no plant space remaining to build a new gun, nor do they want to hire the 2.1 new personnel a new model requires, so they decide to do something creative. They take one of their existing models–the Fast Pro 66, in this case. Right now the Fast Pro 66 is a traditional .177 breakbarrel that comes in a wood stock. It shoots light pellets at 1,000 f.p.s., the same as 24 other models they “make” and sell. They are having this rifle made in China, so the plant space and personnel requirements are at the very minimum. They can easily handle another gun like the Fast Pro 66 with no additional space or people. So, they tell their Chinese plant to put the barreled action in a synthetic stock instead of the wooden one and they eliminate the open sights. A sexy muzzlebrake is added to replace the front sight. They also stick on an inexpensive 4-power scope that comes in its own two-screw-cap mounts.
Voila! A new model exists! They call this one the Hyper-Pro 77 Tactical. It costs them $3.21 more to produce than the Fast Pro 66, so they bump the retail price by $25 and the MAP price by $12.91. The smaller dealers who buy them five at a time charge retail, but big dealers buy 100 at a time so they’re cheaper. The next thing you know, there’s a “new” air rifle on the market. I don’t even know about this new rifle until somebody asks me about it. Then I look and, sure enough, there the thing is. I read the specs and often I can even decode what the company has done to create the new model, but not always.
However, the Hyper-Pro 77 Tactical doesn’t sell very well, so the company only imports 1,200 of them before they decide to drop it from their line. They’re now using the synthetic stock on three other rifles that are selling well, so there is no loss for tool-up. When they make the decision to end “production,” larger dealers have sold 271 guns and all the other airgun dealers combined have sold another 296. So, there are 633 guns remaining in inventory.
Company A then decided to stock 400 of these guns with the wood stock from the Fast Pro 66–creating a new model, the Lightning Ultra 99. They stick on a 3-9×32 scope , but they reduce the retail to just under that of the Fast Pro 66, because they have a glut of 3-9×32 scopes in inventory. The new model kills the sales of the Fast Pro 66 and the Lightning Ultra 99 never takes off, either.
A year later, Company A sells all remaining Hyper-Pro 77 Tacticals, Fast Pro 66s and Lightning Ultra 99s to a large dealer. That, however, isn’t the end of the story.
Airgunners see these guns on the website for three years. They seem to be mainstream models to us. Unless we look closely, we cannot see that these are all the same air rifle, and sometimes even then it’s difficult to tell.
One day, a large dealer decides to clean house and sell off some excess inventory (maybe have a moving sale?). The remainder of these three models are piled on tables for customers and dealers to buy.
In the meantime, I am asked whether I have tested the Hyper-Pro 77 Tactical for the blog. No, I haven’t. I haven’t tested the other two models, either. I’ve been disassembling Diana 27s and testing the penetration of round lead balls and testing a hundred other new models–some of which actually are new and revolutionary.
Here’s the moral of this story and also the reason why it’s not a bad thing that I didn’t test even one of these three airguns. The performance specifications of each one of these rifles are very close to the specifications of 10 other models of breakbarrels I did test over the past 18 months. And when you consider that there are a finite number of airgun manufacturing plants in the world, it’s very likely that several of the rifles I did test are close to these guns, if not the exact same thing! Readers can learn to extrapolate from tests that are reported to models that are not tested, but which will offer similar performance in all probability.
This is not 100 percent the case, however. Long-time readers will remember when I vicariously “tested” a Gamo CF-X on January 6, 2006. I told everyone at that time that I had never laid eyes on the gun and wasn’t actually testing one for that report, but that I had tested so many similar airguns that I was able to “test” the CF-X by surrogate. Well, I heard from more than one reader about that! And a month later I tested an actual CF-X and reported on it. There were some surprises, because Gamo was in the middle of refining their spring gun powerplants at the time. The real CF-X I tested turned out nicer than the BSA Superstar I had used as a comparison.
But, folks, I have to tell you, that kind of surprise doesn’t happen very often. I always tell you in my reports when an airgun surprises me. I tell you HOW it surprises me, so you will know what to look for. If I don’t mention any surprise, there isn’t one–at least not from the gun I’m testing.
I’ll never get to them all. And now you know why. Those of you who have been reading this blog also know that airguns are similar enough that you don’t need to have each one tested to know something about most of them.