by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

The four smallbore calibers are .177, .20 (5mm), .22 and .25. But have there ever been others?

Yes, there have been other smallbore calibers. Crosman produced their galley air rifles in the 1940s in .21 caliber. I don’t know if anyone knows exactly why they chose that caliber; but given the immediate post-World War II timeframe, I would bet they did it to corner the market. In other words, you had to buy your pellets (in this case round balls) from them because nothing else would fit these guns.

They also made the same guns in .22 caliber, and those are the more popular examples today. And a great number of .21-caliber rifles have been converted to .22 caliber in the half century that’s passed.

Quackenbush (Henry Marcus, not Dennis) also made a .20-1/2-caliber pellet gun for which he supplied pellets. Same reason, I’m sure.

Of course, there was the .118-caliber BB gun made by Daisy, Wamo and the several Sharpshooter catapult gun makers (about 5 in all). We refer to those guns as .12 caliber, but they’re really a whisker less. They mostly shot No. 6 birdshot, but Daisy actually produced copper-plated steel BBs, as well.

A few years ago, there was an abortive attempt at making a .14-caliber pellet rifle. It happened at the same time that the .14-caliber rimfire round was being explored, and I feel confident that the pellet gun maker was hoping to ride the coattails of the rimfire development for the barrels. I didn’t hear a lot about this one; but the claims were higher velocity, flatter trajectory and (hopefully) lower cost for the pellets once the millions of dollars of development cost had been paid to create the small pellets to begin with. People never seem to take that into account when dreaming up these schemes!

What the world needs is an accurate BB gun
That was the ongoing theme of my misspent youth. And the logic is completely sound. You see, a BB is very inexpensive, so little boys can buy lots more of them than pellets that cost a small fortune. Rimfire ammo we allowed out parents, uncles and grandfathers to purchase because that took paper money rather than coins.

But BB guns weren’t very accurate — at least the ones we owned weren’t. But somewhere in the world there were accurate BB guns. In Germany, there was a special Diana model 30 gallery gun that shot steel balls so uniform they might be considered ball bearings. Those guns were accurate! They also had counters on them that tallied the number of shots fired, because they were used by shooting gallery operators who charged the public by the shot.

A Diana model 30 was priced at $1,000 in the U.S. in the 1970s. It didn’t cost that much in Germany, but that was what one costs over here. And the ammo? Well, forget it because the gun violated the entire reason for an accurate BB gun. It wasn’t cheap!

Then there was the VZ 35 bolt-action rifle that was a pre-war training rifle. They were hard to come by in the U.S. and didn’t shoot BBs…they shot 4.4mm lead balls. However, in the 1990s, Compasseco imported a bundle of VZ47 airguns that were a post-WWII production of the same gun. They were just as accurate as the earlier rifles, if not as well-finished. But they cost $250, and who in their right mind would pay $250 for a BB gun?

Then there was the Mars 110 and 115 trainer, the Anschütz 275 and the Haenel 310 — all of which were accurate lead ball shooters. The Haenel sold used in the U.S. at $59 at one time.

Finally, there’s the Daisy Avanti Champion 499 BB gun, also known as The world’s most accurate BB gun. Surely, that would qualify as what we want?

Well, yes, except that one only shoots 250 f.p.s. and it’s a single-shot. What we want is something very powerful, and it has to be a repeater. Besides, the 499 sells for $126, so it’s not cheap.

Let me get this straight. You want a Fender Starocaster guitar for $250 — right?

Well, only if it’s not made in China.

What you want is a time machine because the things you want only exist in the past!

Why are air pistols so weak?
What I want is a powerful air pistol so I can go hunting in the woods and not have to lug a heavy rifle around all day. Why doesn’t someone make a powerful air pistol?

AirForce Airguns makes the TalonP air pistol. It generates over 50 foot-pounds of muzzle energy and can keep 10 shots in six-tenths of an inch at 50 yards. How about that?

First of all, the TalonP is too big. You can’t put it in your pocket like you can a real pistol. Second — it costs $411. Come on! What we want is a gun like the 1377, only one that has some serious power, is a repeater and costs under $150.

I’m going to defer to you readers to tell this person why what he wants is impossible.

Have you ever tried using a primer to power a pellet?
This great idea pops up about every 5-10 years. I even tested one called the Convert-a-Pell, which failed miserably. The velocity ranged from 250 to over 600 f.p.s., and the accuracy through the .22 rimfire liner they supplied was on the order of 2.5 inches at 10 feet!

But there have been many others. Mendoza made guns that used a small blank cartridge to propel pellets and/or BBs. I tested one and found it also failed miserably to do anything other than make lots of noise.

David Pedersoli has a pellet gun that uses a 209 shotgun primer to push the pellet, but I know nothing more about it. Pedersoli has a good reputation for making fine firearms, but I don’t hold out a lot of hope for this one.

There is also a company caller PrimeGun making a BB gun that uses a 209 primer. They claim “hypersonic velocity,” which is what I always want from my round-ball shooters [sarcasm alert]. They talk a lot about the advantages their guns have over conventional airguns, but they never once mention the extreme difficulty of obtaining shotgun primers in the current market when reloading supplies are limited.

So, the answer is, “Yes,” I have tested primer-powered pellet and BB guns and found them to be poor substitutes for real airguns.

The bottom line is that the laws of the physical world have to be obeyed, no matter how much people may want them repealed. And the laws of economic possibility must also be observed. If they weren’t, we could all drive Ferraris and live in mansions.