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

You always think the rest of the world thinks like you, until something shocks you awake. I’ve experienced this repeated times when it comes to airguns. I guess the first time was at the NRA Airgun Breakfast at a SHOT Show about 10-12 years ago. I was standing in the room talking to the late Bill Saunders of Air Arms when I noticed that a couple other gentlemen had silently walked up and were listening to us. Then, Ken asked me the question I have since come to recognize as a serious plea. He asked me where all the airgunners were in America.

He said his company had only been able to connect with about 30,000 serious airgunners, and he wondered where all the rest of them were. The look in his eye, and in the eyes of those around us, told me this was a very serious question. I told him that I knew of only about 15,000-30,000 serious airgunners (at that time), but that probably half of all firearms owners also owned at least one airgun. There are over 10 million firearms owners in this country, but most of them don’t think of themselves as airgunners. After a few more polite questions, the breakfast began and I thought that was it.

But the same thing has happened to me countless other times. Usually the person doing the asking is from the UK or Europe, but more recently I have had American gun company executives ask the same question.

So, about five years ago I took it upon myself to ask someone from the UK what the big deal was. Why was everyone concerned where the American airgunners were? And he told me! And I was stunned!

The whole world apparently thinks there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of active airgunners in the United States, and that people like me are keeping the lid on who these people are and where they can be found. Why I would do that is a mystery; but since I can’t tell them what they want to know, I must have my reasons.

The NRA does me no favors in this respect because at these Airgun Breakfasts (which are, unfortunately, no longer held), they used to tell all the airgun manufacturers about the tens of thousands of active shooting clubs and the hundreds of thousands of youth marksmen (and let’s be honest — just as many markswomen) there are in the United States. They weren’t lying, either. At the last breakfast ever held, they briefed us that there were over one million youth shooters in 74,000 clubs in the U.S.

If I were a UK airgun maker and heard that, I would assume that either the NRA is making this up or that Tom Gaylord is keeping secrets. Well, here’s the thing. The NRA is not lying — there are, indeed, that many youth shooters in this country. But the moment they graduate from their marksmanship programs, almost none of them continue to shoot! They go on to have lives and develop other interests, but shooting isn’t often one of them. Be honest with yourselves — have you built a Pinewood Derby racer recently? We grow up, and our interests change.

Looking for airgunners in the United States by examining numbers like these is like trying to find snowflakes in Miami in July. You’re looking in the wrong place. But at least the weather’s warm!

But wait!
Here’s the rest of the story. There really are hundreds of thousands of active airgunners in the United States! But you’ll see about as many of them as you do herds of Sasquatch. They’re invisible!

By invisible, I mean these people do not identify themselves as airgunners. If you ask them, they probably don’t even know that they are.

Europeans like to define themselves by what they do. Sports are big in Europe; and if you engage in a sport, that’s one way you see yourself. If you play football (and I mean soccer), you’re a football player. I don’t care if you play in pickup games that are randomly organized, although knowing the European bent for organization, I don’t even know why I said that. A group of 50-year-old European footballers is just as likely to have flashy new uniforms and matching Adidas as a college team.

Not so, the American airgunner. He is more likely to shoot his airguns by himself, where nobody can see or hear him. I once knew a fellow who owned as many as 10 vintage 10-meter target rifles. Know what he did with them? He shot at fluorescent light bulbs in his basement! He liked the way they popped!

The vast majority of American airgunners are not in the sport for camaraderie. They’re in it for personal satisfaction; and the less others know about it, the better. I’m sure those who spend time on social networks will squirm like salted slugs when reading this, but a lot of people do not like the other fellow looking over their shoulder. So, there are a couple thousand vocal U.S. airgunners on chat forums and maybe more than a million hiding in the closet.

The European manufacturers keep looking for that vast group of people who surely must exist in this country, and they’ll have as much luck as someone who hunts for cockroaches with a searchlight. Yet we all know cockroaches exist — just like American airgunners exist. What gives?

Finding airgunners
You want to find cockroaches? Leave food out and they will find it. You want to find U.S. airgunners? Build the kind of airguns they want to own, and they’ll find you.

Crosman knows this. Their new Nitro Piston 2 is like a pool of honey spilled on the kitchen floor. It’s gonna be swarming soon. Their Marauder rifle is already covered with writhing airgunners!

AirForce Airguns knows it, too. Their airguns are like American iron. Ain’t nobody don’t like a GTO or a Harley — or a Condor!

And there are others. Umarex tempts us with the new Walther LGV. Sure it’s expensive for a breakbarrel and sure, everyone will complain about the price on the internet. A lot of them will buy one, too.

I could go on this way for a while, because some other airgun companies are discovering the secret and are starting to do something about it. I can’t name them all, but let Hatsan USA be the example. They started in this country a few years ago with a stable of overly powerful spring rifles that all cocked like the bow of Hercules. They were the airgun equivalent of Raid! But this year, they’re bringing out their new AT-44 Long QuietEnergy — a powerful, accurate, quiet repeating air rifle with a light trigger and a low price. That’s honey on the floor!

That’s the message
That’s my message today. The American airgunner is invisible for the most part. You can draw him out with guns of quality, but you can’t flush him out with high velocity, camo paint and bundled “deals” on things you can’t sell through normal channels. Yes, velocity sells, but it isn’t the recommended way to go. Pogo sticks work well in minefields, too.

What now?
After pouring a lot of thought into this report, I’ll now go somewhere and be buttonholed by another airgun manufacturing executive who will ask me in hushed tones, “So, just how fast do our airguns have to shoot to sell them to all these hidden airgunners?”

Indeed! How dim must a searchlight be to keep the cockroaches from scattering?